Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Citizen Survey Edition

3. April 2007 • Juliew
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Tuesday, April 3 at 7:00 pm. (One day later due to Passover)
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda

Highlights:

  • Platt Road Rite Aid Rezoning
  • Resolution to Approve Closing Huron River Drive for Improvment Project
  • Resolution to Approve Contract with Waste Management of Michigan for Delivery of Yard Waste to the Ann Arbor Compost Center
  • Easy Street Sidewalk Project
  • Resolution to Approve the First Amendment to McKinley Parking Agreement
  • Resolution to Authorize Renewal of Lease for 18 Apartments at Tuscan Creek Apartments and associated services for former Y residents.

Note:
There will be a special presentation of the results of the Citizen Survey at 6:00 pm in Council Chambers. This will also be televised.

Planning Commission (Moved to Thursday due to Passover)
Thursday, February 22 at 7:00 pm.
Planning Commission Agenda

Highlights:

  • Public Hearing and action on Zaragon Place
  • Action on Resolution regarding Floodplain Mitigation.



  1. There are some particularly interesting items in the City Council and Planning Commission meetings this week.

    City Council: The Huron River Drive closing merits its own post, which will be forthcoming. The contract with Waste Management might not sound like much, but it has big implications about selling tax-payer funded City Services at low cost to private entities. The Easy Street Sidewalk project has returned with a special assessment district that includes a sidewalk only on one side of the street which is going to be funded by houses on both sides of the street. The McKinley parking agreement seems to sign over all 252 “McKinley” parking spots in Liberty Square to Google. (Apparently other tenants of McKinley Towne Centre get nothing. Well, until the inevitable Second Amendment is proposed). The Tuscan Creek apartment renewal is important because that is the housing that continues to be provided for the former Y residents while waiting for something to happen at the former Y.

    Planning Commission: The Planning Commission takes another look at Zaragon place. This is the building proposed to replace the historic Anberay Apartments on East University. I wasn’t very impressed with the proposal when I saw it last. The developers were saying cheesy things like “we don’t want to give money to the parks fund to support a park far away from our building so we are proposing to have a very-expensive sculpture in our courtyard instead.” The action on the Floodplain Mitigation is another item that sounds small but could have enormous implications on development and renovation in the future.


       —Juliew    Apr. 3 '07 - 02:36PM    #
  2. Also, the Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway are trying to get people to come to tonight’s meeting because of the formal presentation of the Greenway Task Force report. Here is an e-mail I received about this event:

    The Allen Creek Greenway Task Force report will be formally presented to
    Ann Arbor City Council on Tuesday, April 3 at 7 pm. We ask all available
    to attend to show support for the hard work of the Task Force members, who
    have met during the past 17 months to work on the issues of establishing a
    true Greenway.

    In addition to being present to hear the presentation of the report,
    another way to support a significant and green Greenway is to sign up for
    a three minute public speaking slot to:
    1) state your support for the report’s “maximum open space”
    recommendations for the three public properties in the Allen Creek
    floodplain; and
    2) insist that the three public floodplain properties remain public assets
    in the form of public green open space.

    Call the City Clerk’s office at 994-2725 to request one of a limited set
    of speaking slots at the beginning of the meeting. If you call early, as
    close to 8 am as possible, you are more likely to get to speak.

    We anticipate that there will be acceptance of the report by Council,
    without discussion, and that no formal time allocated for public comment
    regarding the report.

    We will keep you posted about whether there will be subsequent working
    sessions with various entities—Council, Planning Commission, Parks
    Advisory Commission, etc. No dates for these activities are set at this
    time.


       —David Cahill    Apr. 3 '07 - 03:39PM    #
  3. The Second Amendment? Something like, “A well regulated parking system, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms in defense of their parking spaces, shall not be infringed”?


       —Murph    Apr. 3 '07 - 05:21PM    #
  4. Ooh, don’t joke like that Murph! This is parking we are talking about after all. I can see it getting ugly if McKinley and Corner House Lofts end up with all of the Liberty Square parking structure. Come to think of it, they already have a good chunk of Liberty Square’s 573 spaces. I can definitely see shots being fired in defense of a parking space …


       —Juliew    Apr. 3 '07 - 06:08PM    #
  5. The results of the Citizen Survey can be found in the Citizen Survey section of the City’s web site.


       —Juliew    Apr. 4 '07 - 09:57PM    #
  6. Closing Huron River Drive to cars?! Would the people who live there get some kind of special dispensation? That is the weirdest thing I’ve heard in a long time.


       —Anna    Apr. 5 '07 - 02:59AM    #
  7. At its Tuesday meeting, Council passed a resolution not on the published agenda, asking the DDA to prepare a report by June 1 to analyze the feasibility of constructing additional parking at the Ann Ashley parking structure, the Liberty Square parking structure, the Library lot, and the Ann Arbor News lot.

    At its Wednesday meeting (a day later), according to today’s story in the AA News, the DDA ignored Council’s resolution and decided to move ahead with planning to add 390 spaces to the Ann Ashley parking structure.

    And the beat goes on….


       —David Cahill    Apr. 5 '07 - 03:50PM    #
  8. Yeah but I think the DDA are the ones acting sensibly here…parking is apparently in immediate demand. (However, has the Pfizer closing changed that? Maybe that’s why they called for a study…) Of course Council wants a nice long study to take all spring to finish…the DDA just thinks that parking is needed immediately and has acted accordingly.

    I mean, look at the sites—which ones do you think the DDA wants to stay as far away from as possible? It looks to me like they just know how to stay out of trouble (having been burnt before). Maybe I’m just an uninformed blabbermouth, but do you think I’m wrong?

    (Though I admit maybe they should offer some input on Liberty Square.)


       —Young Urban Amateur    Apr. 5 '07 - 11:06PM    #
  9. I’m kinda with YUA – though, YUA, I don’t think Pfizer has much impact on downtown parking – certainly not enough to make up for the 1,000 person long permit waitlist reported in the recent parking study plus another few hundred immediately for Google, plus likely increasing demand as Google passes the 400 mark. Certainly there’s an ASAP pressure for more parking.

    And, yes, I agree that the DDA is probably wise to leave the Library Lot out of the picture. If we want new parking now, there’s no motivation for them to open up another round of Three Site Plan Meets New City Hall firestorm if they don’t have to, nor would that process lend itself to any kind of timely provision of additional parking.


       —Murph.    Apr. 7 '07 - 03:57PM    #
  10. Something odd is happening on Zaragon Place. The Planning Commission unanimously opposed the project, partly because the city’s housing code requires that each bedroom have a window. Three of Zaragon place’s bedrooms don’t.

    However, according to an article in Saturday’s AA News, the Zaragon Place architect is saying that Zaragon Place only needs to obey the state housing code, which doesn’t have this requirement. The article is a bit unclear, but apparently the City’s staff is agreeing with Zaragon.

    Can anyone straighten this report out? How can a project in Ann Arbor be built that violates the city’s housing code?


       —David Cahill    Apr. 8 '07 - 02:05PM    #
  11. David, that struck me as pretty off as well. I had understood it to be the case that municipalities can adopt building codes that are more strict (and/or just plain different than the general code adopted by the State; if there’s a locally adopted code, that supersedes the State’s. And I think it’s particularly odd that the State’s residential building code would allow a bedroom without a window. (Second means of egress, anyone?)

    On the other hand, I don’t think this is a Planning Commission issue. I think this is a 100% reasonable thing for the City to deny building permits on, but it doesn’t seem like a zoning ordinance issue. (Unless, of course, it’s the ZO that states somewhere that all bedrooms must have a window, which could be the case.)


       —Murph.    Apr. 8 '07 - 04:28PM    #
  12. I chanced across the CTN broadcast of the PC meeting as it was happening and lingered just long enough to see Wendy Woods pose a question about windows. The guy standing before the PC, who I take to be the developer, responded with a discussion about how fresh air was provided by the ventilation system … or something.

    The News article mentions that the City code requires ‘access to’ natural light and fresh air. So it sounds to me like the case the developer is taking to Council (despite the unanimous PC vote against reccommending) is that the project DOES in fact meet City code on account of meeting the letter of the the ‘access to’ requirement, without providing the first option most people think of: a window that can be opened.

    Even if it’s a stretch, I can understand the argument that a ventilation system might conceivably provide ‘access to’ fresh air. The business of natural light, though, is harder for me to imagine. I’ve seen ‘light tube’ skylights described that use highly reflective mirrors to bring natural light from a skylight down through an attic to a lower story. Maybe there’s something like that in the design.

    From the article:

    “Zaragon Place architect Scott Bonney of Neumann/Smith Architecture said he determined with the city Friday that the project does indeed meet the housing code [I think this means City code—HD]

    ...

    The housing code question was whether each bedroom in the apartment building has to have access to natural light and air – in other words, a window. City code requires the access, but state housing code does not. [This sentence is, I think, a source of confusion, which allows the erroneous interpretation that the developer thinks that merely satisfying the state code is sufficient—HD] About one-third of the bedrooms in Zaragon Place are interior rooms.”

    I suppose we’ll get more clarity when it comes to Council.


       —HD    Apr. 8 '07 - 05:06PM    #
  13. So I watched the whole Zaragon Place item at Planning. It is my opinion that the developers are either idiots or assholes, most likely both.

    They do, indeed, want to have approximately ten bedrooms per floor with no exterior windows. Even better, they are planning to have clerestory windows between the bedroom at the front of the building with windows, and the bedrooms with no windows. So not only does the occupant of this room get no windows, they also get no privacy. Great. All the ventilation is going to be standard HVAC-type ventilation, which works as long as there is electricity. Basically what it came down to is that it is a Housing Department issue and not applicable at this time. However, it seems to me that it would make a lot of sense to have the Housing Department involved in the early stages of a residential building to see if the rooms are actually ever going to be able to be occupied. Housing has to give Certificates of Occupancy and it would be a bad thing to get a building totally built if a lot of the rooms aren’t habitable. I know that for a house, you must have a functioning window in a bedroom for it to actually be a bedroom. I don’t know what the rules are with new apartments. They seemed to think that it was allowable.

    Six units on each floor will be four-bedroom apartments and the two end-units on each floor are two-bedrooms. For each unit, the only operable windows will be two small windows in each living room. No bedrooms will have operable windows. The developers looked on this as a “safety feature” because of the prevalence of students jumping out of windows (really, they mentioned this several times). This is also why they aren’t building any balconies. They made no mention of fires and how they are planning to provide multiple means of egress out of those windowless bedrooms.

    As previously mentioned, they didn’t want to do the parks contribution because it wouldn’t benefit them (they wanted to buy a statue for their courtyard in lieu of a parks contribution). That was finally resolved by City Staff to allow them to give money to the South U Merchants Association (so you know that will be the new trend).

    Although the building is ostensibly “mixed-use,” it was designed with the absolute minimum mix. Only about a third of the ground floor is actually open for retail and the rest is a large driveway and apartment entryway. The remaining nine floors are residential. That was probably the biggest sticking point the Commissioners had (shades of LoFT 322).

    Then the developers had the nerve to say that they were building a “green” building because they were installing a roof of white material, using concrete and metal materials, putting parking underground, and not building in a wetland. Now, some of those things do get you points toward LEED certification, but even the developers said they were going for the “easy” ones. It is hardly in the spirit of LEED certification or “green” building. Stuff like light and ventilation are important to most people.


       —Juliew    Apr. 10 '07 - 10:13PM    #
  14. But Juliew, how do you really feel? Thanks for these comments. I would just add “shades of 828 Greene”. I hope the council will not continue to vote for expensive, obviously student rental-oriented (note 4 bedrooms), housing that provides inferior conditions. Much better to build decent apartments that students can also rent, but accessible to other people who want to live in that area. Any idea about possible rental rates?


       —anonymous too    Apr. 11 '07 - 11:31AM    #
  15. How obnoxious, bedrooms without windows. I slept in one once and it is very creepy and disorienting to wake up in total darkness.

    Anyway for those who are curious there are ways around having an egress window from every bedroom and the most likely thing they are going to propose is a sprinkler system. Unfortunately, (from the good design perspective) the building code allows you to dispense with emergency egress windows if you provide a sprinkler. And apparently the housing code’s obtuse description of ventilation has held open the door to windowless bedrooms. I agree that this is a real shame because while the building can be called ‘residential’ it is really limited to students. Which family of four would want to rent a place with windowless bedrooms?

    I am embarrassed for Neumann / Smith; to frame the discussion of a substantial residential building around the specious argument that the lack of windows is a safety feature. It was wrongheaded arguments like that that led to the construction of some of the most inhumane public housing blocks of the 50’s and 60’s.

    From Neumann / Smith’s website – “Whether designing office buildings, classrooms, recreation centers, student housing, museums, city halls, urban lofts, hospitals, medical centers, custom homes, parking structures, shopping centers, mixed-use developments or interior environments, we look beyond the ordinary for the unique expression of each client’s vision.” Just what is this client’s vision for this project? Prison?


       —abc    Apr. 11 '07 - 12:32PM    #
  16. JulieW: “Then the developers had the nerve to say that they were building a “green” building because they were installing a roof of white material, using concrete and metal materials, putting parking underground, and not building in a wetland.”

    Julie, I don’t think that you were paying close enough attention to the presentation.

    What the developer said was that they were going to paint the entire building green.

    See, so they’re all set. Not having windows allows them to use more green paint, which makes the building, you know, “greener”.

    Pretty cutting edge, really.


       —todd    Apr. 11 '07 - 01:07PM    #
  17. Well, actually, I don’t see Zaragon Place being much like 828 Greene. I actually was pleasantly surprised that the apartments had four and two bedrooms, rather than six (I think there are a few six-bedrooms apartments on the top floor). Those are much more flexible than six-bedrooms. This building has parking (love it or hate it, people do want it). While it is housing geared toward undergrads, I don’t actually see much interest at this time from other groups to live in that area. The building size and height is appropriate for an area so close to campus/downtown. What I object to primarily is the lack of any sort of environmental or livability aspects. Zaragon Place is replacing a building specifically geared toward a good living situation for all the residents. The fact that the Anberay has been allowed to deteriorate doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a beautiful and cool building with lots of balconies, windows, interesting architecture, interesting landscaping, and very livable. At this point, I don’t think anything can save the Anberay, but I do think what replaces it should have all it has and more. We should be moving forward in design, livability, and environmental impact, not backward.

    As for possible rental rates, given the location, and availability of parking, I would guess they were shooting for something in the $700+/bedroom range.


       —Juliew    Apr. 11 '07 - 01:21PM    #
  18. Agreed. This sounds ike a pretty despicable project in every conceivable way. If we’re going to lose something as charming as the Anberay, it would certainly be nice if the replacement had something going for it beyond density. In fact, it was tenements like this that gave density a bad name in the first place.

    Zaragon Place makes Corner House lofts look like the Dakota


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Apr. 11 '07 - 01:27PM    #
  19. The crucial words are “at this time”. We need to position all building in the center city so that its use will remain flexible over the long run. What is being proposed sounds as though it could become a slum over time. And yes, the point is that “even” student housing should be decent and liveable.


       —anonymous too    Apr. 11 '07 - 01:31PM    #
  20. Ah yes Todd, the devil is in the details, isn’t it!

    Actually the white roof thing was funny. The Commissioners asked the developer to explain the white roof and he was like “well, it is a white roof.” There was a sort of uncomprehending silence and then he went on to explain that it was a roof, painted white. Ahh.


       —Juliew    Apr. 11 '07 - 01:31PM    #
  21. I can’t quite get on board the Zaragon-Sucks Bandwagon until I know more about the proposed laundry facilities. Anyone have details?

    By the way, the bedrooms with only clerestory windows to an adjoining bedroom don’t sound so bad to me. You get all the advantages of natural light with all the interior design flexibility of three uninterrupted walls. Put your bed there, or there, or even THERE. Hang your pictures here, here or even HERE. Plus—and this goes back to laundry—if it is your wont to prance about neckid as you sift through the clothes you’re trying to find to start the day, then no worries about the view the outside neighbors must endure.

    Also, if you look at the clerestory windows as something more than just a way to get through the City’s loophole of ‘access to’ natural light, I wonder if parents of little kids would see this as as offering increased livability. The idea here would be that if the 7-year-old’s bedroom adjoins the parents’ bedroom and they’re connected by clerestory windows, that might be a good thing from a parenting point of view. I’m a non-parent, so this is at least sheer speculation and perhaps delusion.

    One thing I do know. They should do a statue in the courtyard anyway, even if it doesn’t count as a parks contribution. It should bear the title “The Sword of Zaragon” and should consist of a sword in a stone. They should arrange it so that every prospective tenant would get a try at pulling the sword from the stone. One day, someone will succeed in extracting the sword. On that day, the tenant will be allowed to use the sword to cut windows into all the bedrooms.


       —HD    Apr. 11 '07 - 02:52PM    #