Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Hotels, Apartments, and Houses

22. January 2008 • Juliew
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Tuesday, January 22 at 7:00 p.m. (One day late due to Martin Luther King Holiday)
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda

Highlights:

  • 202 South Division Street PUD Site Plan and Development Agreement. (Replacement for Metro 202. This proposal is for an 120-room hotel rather than the previously-approved apartment building.)
  • 42 North Site plan (Maple Road) (160 four-bedroom student apartments with 640 parking spaces).
  • Lower Burns Park rezoning.
  • Recommendation to change compost pickup to carts similar to waste carts. Residents can buy City-approved compost carts from local retailers (compost bags and bundling of materials next to carts will still be allowed). Also changes to allow selected buildings to store waste carts in front open space.
  • Emergency Request for Additional Funds from the Federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) for the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) on the Charles and Catherine Braun Farm and William Gould Farm in Ann Arbor Township (added after the newspaper deadline).
  • Emergency Purchase and Installation of Conduit from Turnkey Network Solutions and the Appropriation of Funds and Amendment of the Information Technology Service Unit Budget (added after the newspaper deadline).



  1. As Juliew reports, the solid waste changes are mostly about compostables. (There are 6 attachments to this item.) I am supportive of those changes, which essentially eliminate resident-supplied compost containers but still allow the use of the paper bags designed for that purpose, and bundles. I’ve noticed that many people have set out overstuffed containers of various sizes full of big branches, etc. The item says that this is a quality of life issue for the workers.

    I’m glad that we are not all going to be presented with a compostables container that we are required to store. (They may be purchased from retailers, however.) I’m also glad to see no mention of a shortening of the compostables pickup schedule as was cited in the earlier administrative memorandum.

    The provision for allowing storage of refuse containers in open space sounds dicey, but the item references examples where a screen is provided and makes this a case-by-case basis.

    Also the city will promise to pick up compostables in certain downtown locations by 11:00 a.m. unless prevented by an Act of God!


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jan. 22 '08 - 01:59PM    #
  2. I’m not too hot on buying my own cart, cheap Scotsman that I am. I’d stick with stuffing the heck out of the bags. The city supplied my garbage can and recyclable totes, why not the compost can? Along those lines, I wish they’d offer the carts for recyclables. If we all got those big carts the poor guys and gals that toss ‘em by hand could get the robo arm trucks. That’d save some back pain and maybe save a bit of dough. Bet a typical single family home could go down to every other week recyclable pickup if we had those big carts for paper and containers.


       —Thomas Cook    Jan. 22 '08 - 05:44PM    #
  3. I’m not too hot on buying my own cart, cheap Scotsman that I am. I’d stick with stuffing the heck out of the bags. The city supplied my garbage can and recyclable totes, why not the compost can? Along those lines, I wish they’d offer the carts for recyclables. If we all got those big carts the poor guys and gals that toss ‘em by hand could get the robo arm trucks. That’d save some back pain and maybe save a bit of dough. Bet a typical single family home could go down to every other week recyclable pickup if we had those big carts for paper and containers.


       —Thomas Cook    Jan. 22 '08 - 05:44PM    #
  4. I certainly do not support prohibiting residents from using their own containers for the compostable collection.

    What about the environment in general? The harder and more expensive we make it to discard items in an environmentally desirable way the more material that will simply be sent to the landfill. Many of us use cloth shopping bags to avoid unnecessary waste of paper or plastic. Now our city tells us we must purchase new plastic containers (estimated cost – $100) and discard the old ones. The other choice is to cut a tree that is absorbing CO2, make into a bag, and then send if off to be composted which releases CO2.

    The argument that it is a “quality of life issue” for the collection personnel is not convincing. The memo attached to the proposed ordinance change references frozen cans, but that just doesn’t happen in April-November. The allowed weight of the bags, bundles, and cans are all the same, 50 pounds. Why is lifting a 50 pound bag, without handles, easier than lifting a 50 pound container with handles? A graph showing a reduction in personnel injury when the solid waste collection converted to cars is not applicable. Historically most injuries are vehicle related and converting to carts eliminated the need for the operator to leave the vehicle. Converting to a cart-bag system does not eliminate getting in and out of the vehicle and considering the cost of the carts, most citizens will use bags which will still require lifting.

    The proposed change will have a detrimental effect on the attractiveness of the city. It increases the cost of gardening. And those that have provided time and labor to maintain public areas will now have an expense to have the compostables removed instead of simply using existing reusable containers. I encourage the gardeners of Ann Arbor to email Council expressing opposition to this change.


       —G. Thompson    Jan. 22 '08 - 06:52PM    #
  5. An unanswered question is what folks will do with the old containers. When the city converted to carts people were encouraged to reuse old cans for compostables. Now we will have these sitting around unless we take them to the dropoff station (where a charge will presumably occur as this will simply be refuse).

    I’m a glass half-full type on this question. A couple of years ago the administration proposed eliminating compostable pickup. Then there was the threat of all compostables picked up only in a giant cart. Then the threat of a shortened season. I’ll happily embrace this current solution instead.

    BTW, I’ve heard about back strains in refuse workers for over a decade. And I suspect that not everyone was adhering to the 50 lb limit in cans.

    Another note: recycling pickups are under contract by Recycle Ann Arbor. Either the city or the contractor would have to take on the cost of changing the tote system. And many of us have enough trouble storing just the A2 carts.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jan. 22 '08 - 07:20PM    #
  6. On the agenda is also a proposed revision to the lease ordinance .

    The revision would reduce the waiting period for showing leased properties from 90 days to 70 days, and would (as I read it) eliminate the issue of the ‘waivers’ by stipulating that renters cannot give landlords the right to enter the property sooner than the specified period by merely by signing a statement. Instead, renters must have actually vacated the premises AND terminated any claim on the unit.


       —HD    Jan. 22 '08 - 10:59PM    #
  7. Re: Comment [6]

    Just to be clear, what’s on the agenda is the first Public Hearing on that proposed revision.


       —HD    Jan. 22 '08 - 11:09PM    #
  8. I think a major goal of the changes to compost pick up is to reduce costs by reducing service. Other service reductions may be coming. My notes from a January 2005 council finance committee meeting indicate that McCormick suggested eliminating leaf and christmas tree pickup and reducing yard waste service.

    I doubt we will see any cost savings. When the city implemented curb carts for our regular pickups back in fiscal year 2005, it was supposed to save about $272,000 per year. $200,000 of those savings came from us because some of us were supposed to pay for a second curb cart. According to the city’s audited statements, solid waste operating expenses increased 22% between 2005 and 2006 (8.1 to 9.9 million) Despite the sharp increase in expenses, solid waste reserves still increased $8.8 million in the 3 years the fund has been in existence. I’m not sure what the plans are to spend all this money but it apparently does not include better curb side services for the public.


       —karen sidney    Jan. 23 '08 - 12:41AM    #
  9. According to one of the early speakers during Public Commentary, the awarding of the liquor license has been added to the agenda for tonight.

    The speaker lamented the fact that supporters of Everyday Cook (Mary Campbell), the leading business contender for award of the license that emerged from the open public process starting summer 2007, were prepared to attend in large numbers, but were not there because of the late-hour addition of the agenda item. And the speaker called out Stephen Rapundalo as responsible for the late-hour addition to the agenda.

    If it is not awarded to Everyday Cook, then it would appear liquor license will likely be awarded to the City itself for use at Leslie Golf course.


       —HD    Jan. 23 '08 - 01:57AM    #
  10. So let me get this straight – the city will decide whether the city or someone else will get the license? Isn’t this a conflict of interest?


       —Tom Brandt    Jan. 23 '08 - 03:19AM    #
  11. Did the Purchase of Development Rights request pass? The Braun property had been proposed for a high-density development and Catherine Braun opposed the Township’s efforts to purchase development rights. If they’ve finally seen the light, that would be a huge coup for Ann Arbro A2 Township as it would establish a major chunk of preserved farmland right along Whitmore Lake Road.


       —John Q.    Jan. 23 '08 - 04:25AM    #
  12. John Q.,

    They’ve barely started Council deliberations after the myriad speakers at the Public Hearings.

    If I’ve correctly identified the relevant agenda item, then CM Briere just objected that the Council rules require a 3/4 majority for late addition to the agenda, and the City attorney then confirmed after brief recess that the previous 6-5 vote to add the item (which I believe to be the liquor license) to the agenda had failed and therefore would not be on the agenda.

    I’m fairly certain this was


       —HD    Jan. 23 '08 - 04:44AM    #
  13. The Brauns may have figured that since the twp is fighting them tooth and nail on the high-density development proposal for their property, and since smaller projects in the area have come to a screeching halt due to the soft housing market (cf. the Silverman project at Warren and Nixon, currently on hold), it would be better to take the PDR money than wind up with nothing.


       —Tom Brandt    Jan. 23 '08 - 04:49AM    #
  14. Re: Trailing fragment end of Comment [12]

    No need to try to discern meaning. Failed to strike after editing.


       —HD    Jan. 23 '08 - 04:51AM    #
  15. Re: Housing Code amendment Comments [6] and [7]

    I mis-read the agenda, and I guess I missed the first reading, whenever that was, because the lease ordinance amendment just sailed through its vote.

    Council appears tired and a little loopy at this point, as am I.


       —HD    Jan. 23 '08 - 05:51AM    #
  16. Okay, so what happened at midnight on CTN Channel 16 was that it automatically switched during the Council Meeting to the placeholder screen with job listings and a Channel 16 house ad that promises gavel-to-gavel coverage of local government meetings. Gavel-to-gavel or midnight, whichever comes first.

    Wonder what happened there.


       —HD    Jan. 23 '08 - 06:07AM    #
  17. There were significant victories for the public at yesterday evening’s Council meeting. I didn’t watch the meeting. The following is based on Sabra’s report of what happened, when she woke me up at 12:40 this morning.

    A lot of citizens spoke against both the student dorm on Maple (42 North) and the Ann Arbor Hotel (202 S. Division).

    One guy speaking on 42 North said he represented the “Anti-Development Action League” (ADAL). He talked about more direct action against developers than just speaking at public hearings, but promised he would not hurt any developers’ workers. Did anyone here on Arbor Update get his name and address? Is he selling ADAL memberships?

    Both projects crashed and burned. They were defeated on identical votes of one in favor and ten against. It was a really bad night for developers.

    Something else happened that bodes well for public participation. Folks may know that in the past Council has had the annoying habit of amending its agenda at the beginning of meetings to add items that the public has not seen. Yesterday evening there was a motion to add three resolutions: to award a liquor license, to declare the DDA a redevelopment zone exempt from liquor license quotas in order to stimulate the economy, and to set fees. These resolutions were not even available to Council when the motion to add them was made.

    There was a debate on the motion to add the items. Briere and others said that they objected to the process, and that they had not even had a chance to see the resolutions. A vote was taken. The motion got six votes in favor and four opposed (Anglin, Briere, Kunselman, and Suarez). Mayor Hieftje said that the agenda had been amended.

    Later in the meeting, Briere made a point of order. She said Council rule 3C requires a ¾ vote to add items not on the published agenda. With ten Council members present, eight votes were needed, not just six. After some shuffling around, her point of order was granted and the items were removed from the agenda.

    Assuming that these four Council members stick to their guns on this procedural issue, we may have seen the end of last-minute resolutions.


       —David Cahill    Jan. 23 '08 - 04:03PM    #
  18. Here is more on the Anti-Development Action League from today’s story in the AA News:

    At one point during the public hearing, one resident turned to the team of developers who were sitting in the corner of the council chambers and pledged to fight the development even it was approved.

    “This means war,” Ken Park told the developers.

    He said he represented a group of residents who were anti-development and Christians who thought projects like 42 North were destroying the earth with unbridled development.

    Parks said the group would fight the project being built and occupied. He said they wouldn’t injure employees or destroy equipment but promised “black ops” and referred to his past military training.

    “Don’t skimp on the security budget,” Parks said. “See you on the barricades.”


       —David Cahill    Jan. 23 '08 - 04:57PM    #
  19. When I read this profile on Ed Glaeser two years ago, in which he argued that liberals were drawing upon tactics and arguments from the civil rights movement now to oppose urban development, I thought he was crazy.


       —Dale    Jan. 23 '08 - 05:24PM    #
  20. “One guy speaking on 42 North said he represented the “Anti-Development Action League” (ADAL). He talked about more direct action against developers than just speaking at public hearings, but promised he would not hurt any developers’ workers.”
    “Don’t skimp on the security budget,” Parks said. “See you on the barricades.”

    Please tell me our police have billy clubs. I’d pay money to watch the baton charge and see these NIMBY’s get beat down. Of course that would never happen in our fair city. Can we just shrink wrap the whole town as is and be done with it?


       —Thomas Cook    Jan. 23 '08 - 05:36PM    #
  21. I like the refuse carts rather than cans. They look nicer, they don’t tip as easily, and the lids don’t fly off. I wouldn’t mind having the compost use carts rather than cans, especially if it is better for the workers, but I would like it to be a phased-in program so there is time to buy the carts and get rid of the cans. There should also be a program for doing something with the old cans (not just throwing them away) and if the city won’t provide the carts for everyone, I would like to have some program to provide them for lower-income residents. People buy bags now so I don’t quite see why there is so much objection to buying a cart. It probably evens out over the course of a year. It was obvious from the comments last night from Council that this was very much of a first draft and there were a lot of issues still to iron out.

    The revision to the lease ordinance was just tweaks on the existing ordinance. I was at a meeting last month where MSA and council reps presented the changes to the landlords and people seemed to feel like it was a good compromise so I expected it to sail through.

    I was happy to see that the late items were not added to the agenda (thanks Sabra). In the case of the liquor license, there has been a lot of confusion over the last few months about the date when it will appear on the agenda and there definitely are people who would be interested in speaking on the issue.

    The 202 South Division PUD did not pass, primarily because they want to use a lane of Division as a drop-off lane and Council members didn’t like that idea. Hopefully that will get ironed out because I think it is a good proposal and we could certainly use more hotel rooms downtown.

    42 North didn’t pass mainly because it didn’t benefit the city or the neighbors and could cause all sorts of environmental problems. There were a lot of interesting proposals from the neighbors (installing a wind farm was one of them since it is one of the higher parts of town). The Mayor told the church and any current or future developer that they really need to work with the neighbors first to come up with something acceptable for the site.

    The first reading of the Lower Burns Park rezoning passed unanimously. There was some discussion of looking at the zoning in all of the Central area to make sure that it was the correct zoning used in the correct way. As expected, the specter of 828 Greene Street was raised.

    I don’t know what happened with the emergency purchase requests because, as HD commented, coverage stopped at 11:59pm.


       —Juliew    Jan. 23 '08 - 05:42PM    #
  22. So let me get this straight – the city will decide whether the city or someone else will get the license? Isn’t this a conflict of interest?

    A lot of people say this, but what would be a better alternative? The city has to compete for the licenses just like everyone else so how could they get a license if they never applied? Council is at least an elected body so in theory they speak for all of us. I wouldn’t want an appointed group of businesspeople deciding who gets a license and who doesn’t. There are many, many applicants for every available license. How would you suggest these be handed out? In this case, it is possible that the golf courses are the best fit. They certainly have a very large clientele. If Everyday Cook could be covered under the DDA redevelopment zone licensing and would not need a separate license, it would make sense to award the license to an entity outside of the DDA. There are also many licenses that are currently held in escrow and waiting for the highest bidder. I think if you have a license and aren’t using it, it should go back in the pool so a viable business can use it.


       —Juliew    Jan. 23 '08 - 06:06PM    #
  23. “When I read this profile on Ed Glaeser two years ago, in which he argued that liberals were drawing upon tactics and arguments from the civil rights movement now to oppose urban development, I thought he was crazy.”

    These people aren’t liberals, Dale.

    Liberals don’t try and keep people out of their neighborhoods. They are welcoming.

    Liberals also don’t try and pretend that dense housing is less environmentally sound than single family homes.

    Not a damn thing has changed in Ann Arbor in the past 5 years. If anything, the situation has gotten worse. If you want to build/update/open a new business in this town, it’s a complete crapshoot as to whether or not you can get the approvals. And at best, you can be assured that you can’t get the approvals in a timely manner. And to this day, citizens and Council don’t seem to understand what that’s doing to this town.

    42 North passed through both the Planning Dept. and the Planning Commission with flying colors, only to be sandbagged by the whims of Council. To this day, there isn’t anyone on Council asking “why is there this disconnect between Planning and Council? We need to fix this so we can get the projects we want”. Naaah. That would make too much sense.

    The Nimby’s have won the battle. More delays. More not here. Chaos and uncertainty plays to their desires. And they refuse to tell developers either where they should go, or what the projects should look like.

    We now have sites downtown that charge well over $30 per square foot in an economy that could be politely described as a joke. You have to be out of your mind to try and open a business in Ann Arbor. Well, that, or you have to be a chain.

    As for me, I surrender to the Ann Arbor NIMBY’s. You don’t want us in your back yard: message received, zero distortion.


       —todd    Jan. 23 '08 - 06:36PM    #
  24. Agreed Todd: Mr. Park sounds more like an extreme version of a libertarian than a liberal.

    A proposal: Since the council members seem to know everything (at least more than their demoralized staff), why don’t we raise their compensation to around $250k/year and use them to replace the entire administrative staff?

    That’ll save us boatloads of money…a portion of which we could then use to construct Israeli-style walls between neighborhoods (or maybe between every house!). It really won’t be that bad though because we can dress up the walls with things like fairy doors which can be used to promote the walls as cultural enhancements to the region.

    Wait, we don’t actually want to attract people to this area – maybe we can instead use the retained money to divert M-14, US-23 & I-94 around Washtenaw County and place roadblocks and checkpoints on local roads leading into the county. See you on the barricades…


       —keaz    Jan. 23 '08 - 07:52PM    #
  25. I would have thought that an “extreme version of a libertarian” would be opposed to zoning laws that limit what property owners can do.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jan. 23 '08 - 08:12PM    #
  26. I don’t know, I always liked Ken Park.


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Jan. 23 '08 - 08:54PM    #
  27. The News now says that the name is Ken Parks (with an s).

    Todd, since you have surrendered to us NIMBYs, I think it would be appropriate if you gave your sword to Mr. Parks – if you can find him.


       —David Cahill    Jan. 23 '08 - 09:23PM    #
  28. “42 North passed through both the Planning Dept. and the Planning Commission with flying colors, only to be sandbagged by the whims of Council.”

    I didn’t see the discussion but there are legitimate policy questions associated with this project. It didn’t meet the zoning ordinance requirement for height (and no, this is not downtown). There were also wetland impacts. It also raised a good question about whether the Council wants to encourage high-density student development on the periphery of the city, quite a distance from downtown or campus. Those are legitimate issues for Council to debate that don’t necessarily touch on the areas of responsibility for either the Planning Commission or the staff. As we’ve stated before, that’s how the process works. For these kinds of projects, it doesn’t matter what the PC says as the final arbiter is the Council. Likewise, staff may be fine with the parts of the development that don’t meet the zoning ordinance or other ordinances but it’s the Council, not the staff, that is given the power to exercise that discretionary judgment.

    We’ve discussed before how the process could be made better. I think a process that has a developer present conceptual plans for Council to review and approve before starting through the site plan process would work much better with the current Council than what is in place now. But what is in place now is the process everyone has to work with and slamming Council for asking questions that they should ask and denying a project that they don’t think is prudent, seems to be misguided.


       —John Q.    Jan. 23 '08 - 10:19PM    #
  29. Of course that wouldn’t make an iota of difference (unless the initial conceptual approval were binding) because Council on review would be the final arbiter, not the planning commission, planning staff, initial review.


       —Dale    Jan. 23 '08 - 10:51PM    #
  30. Juliew,

    Yes, council is elected and in theory speaks for everyone, but it will I think be hard for them to weigh the interests of Everyday Cook (or other applicants) against their own interest in moving the golf courses out of the red. I don’t have a resolution to this other than to suggest that the city should not be in the booze business and/or the golf business in the first place. This would remove any potential conflicts the council would have.


       —Tom Brandt    Jan. 24 '08 - 01:52AM    #
  31. You the man, John Q.

    todd, some advice. Avoid these self-revelatory rants. You seem to be awfully frustrated about something. Take some aspirin. Or maybe try meditation.


       —anonymous too    Jan. 24 '08 - 02:10AM    #
  32. Or running a successful, environmentally-friendly business in town. Just don’t try to expand it…or start a new one.


       —Dale    Jan. 24 '08 - 02:13AM    #
  33. “But what is in place now is the process everyone has to work with and slamming Council for asking questions that they should ask and denying a project that they don’t think is prudent, seems to be misguided.”

    I’m not slamming Council, John. I’m criticizing the process. If you think that it’s ok to take 12 months to approve/disprove the blueprints for a crummy apartment complex, hey, that’s great. You’re making it sound like they’re trying to build the Pyramids or something. Strangely, other cities have managed to finish the entire process in less than 30 days. They must have magic dust in those cities.

    You’re also pretending that Council isn’t the group in charge of making the process run smoothly. This project should never have made it out of Planning Commission. There should be this big of a gulf between what Council wants, and what the PD approves. Sorry, but there’s no good reason or positive outcome from this situation.

    I mean, seriously: Council is the body that should make critical decisions about projects built near wetlands? “Ah, I’m glad you spent a year tweaking this project to make the PD and PC happy. But we, like, totally forgot to talk about the, like, wet stuff over there. Oops, sorry, dude. And, uh, you don’t by chance know any Environmental Engineers because, like, we could really use some help in figuring out what to do here”.

    This is how you want the process to operate? They’re nice people, but they aren’t qualified to do what you’re asking of them. Neither am I.

    And, yes, anonymous too, I’m frustrated about the process. Sorry.


       —todd    Jan. 24 '08 - 03:41AM    #
  34. Uh, that should read, “ There should not be this gulf….”


       —todd    Jan. 24 '08 - 03:52AM    #
  35. “You’re also pretending that Council isn’t the group in charge of making the process run smoothly. This project should never have made it out of Planning Commission. There should be this big of a gulf between what Council wants, and what the PD approves. Sorry, but there’s no good reason or positive outcome from this situation.”

    Nope, not pretending and I was going to address that in my comments but it was running long as it was. You’re right, if there’s problems with the process, the Council is the body responsible for that. The Council also needs to be responsible for fixing it.

    As for the PD developments, I don’t think its appropriate for those decisions to be made by the PC. They involve policy choices that are the responsibility of Council. That’s why I think the process needs to be changed so those choices are made up-front, not at the end of the process.


       —John Q.    Jan. 24 '08 - 04:24AM    #
  36. “That’s why I think the process needs to be changed so those choices are made up-front, not at the end of the process.”

    I don’t think that this is a bad idea, but the problem with this approach is two-fold. First, as Dale pointed out, Council’s first look at a project isn’t binding. The second is that it adds yet another layer to an already absurdly cumbersome process.

    We’ve now had 2 1/2 large projects killed in the last several months (the 1/2 is the hotel configuration). The one project on Huron had to sue to get the blueprints through, or it would’ve been four. So essentially we have identified 3 new areas where dense housing/mixed use are unacceptable to citizens/Council.

    The S. University project, I’m guessing, will get killed, too.

    We’ve been discussing this situation here for a number of years now. Someone....a Councilperson, citizen, whatever, needs to step forward and tell us where these projects SHOULD go.

    I’m ok with the “not here’s” all over the place, so long as we’re provided with at least a few “yes, right here, go nuts”. I mean, we’ve got 14 historic districts. Can’t there be 2 or 3 ‘development’ districts? The answer of, “yep…just rip up this farmland just outside the City and build there” answer isn’t working for me.


       —todd    Jan. 24 '08 - 04:43AM    #
  37. “I don’t think that this is a bad idea, but the problem with this approach is two-fold. First, as Dale pointed out, Council’s first look at a project isn’t binding. The second is that it adds yet another layer to an already absurdly cumbersome process.”

    It may add another layer but it’s likely to result in better outcomes. If someone proposes something that no one on Council supports, it gets killed long before anyone spends serious amount of time and money going through the process. That would be an improvement over how things currently work.

    On the other hand, if Council signs off on the concepts up front, that makes it more likely that the final project will be more in line with what Council wants and increase the chance of approval. Plus, developers will know objections up-front and can either make changes to address them or go into the process with their eyes open.

    Either outcome would be better than what we’re getting now. Is it perfect? No. But there probably isn’t any perfect process.


       —John Q.    Jan. 24 '08 - 05:42AM    #
  38. John Q., the purpose of a Planning Commission is for the council to give it a PLAN and the power to sign off on anything that is within the PLAN. If the council refuses to accept the decisions that the planning commission made with the instructions and power given to it by the council, then the next thing you know people will want the council bringing every last liquor license and restaurant permit up for a vote.

    If the council didn’t like the project the planning commission approved, the reaction should have been, “tough luck. Next time, draft the plan more closely to what you actually want.”


       —Tyro    Jan. 24 '08 - 06:11AM    #
  39. The Nimby’s have won the battle. More delays. More not here. Chaos and uncertainty plays to their desires. And they refuse to tell developers either where they should go, or what the projects should look like.

    OK Todd, I totally agree with you that the system is screwed up. I said that four years ago with the Greene Street project and I will continue to say it until it gets fixed. But I have to take offense at your statement above. In most cases, the neighbors don’t even know these projects exist until a week before they are scheduled to appear at the Planning Commission so how exactly can they give input? Showing up and bitching for three minutes is the only way to give input. Most of the time the neighbors would much rather be partners with a developer. In this case, the neighbors had a lot of suggestions and, as the Mayor pointed out, a lot of them were really good. They all knew that there would be housing here, and most of them would have been OK with a fairly dense project. They weren’t looking for half-acre lots. Yes, this project should have been stopped long before it got to this point, but just because it wasn’t, doesn’t mean it should be approved now.

    I mean, come on, the parking lot alone is 3 1/2 times the size of the Library lot. More parking than the eight-story Talley Hall parking structure! They included the parking as part of their open space commitment. Their only “environmental” claim was that they were going to provide Energy Star appliances and porous pavement (which planning staff made them do). It is student housing so far away from campus that they were planning to run their own shuttle system (in addition to the 640 parking spaces). This lot is literally the highest point in the city and upstream from all sorts of existing water and sewage problems. Try driving down Maple during a thunderstorm and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the runoff problems. They would have to run their own pumping station in order to provide enough water pressure for the top floors and any fire fighting. Their buildings are 20 feet higher than the existing zoning would allow. So no, I don’t think the NIMBYs have won the battle. If the NIMBYs had won the battle, this project would never have gotten this far.

    But you ask where projects should go? How about this: build an eight story building with parking on the Detroit Edison lot at Main and William (across from Ashley Mews). Build on the Brown block. Build the hotel on Division. Build up on any surface lot downtown. Build Tierra (approved). Build Ann Arbor City Apartments (approved). Build the 900-unit student housing on North Campus (going up now). Build something taller and more inviting on the Galleria site on South U. Put up a funky, urban cohousing development on the Elks site. Build a LEEDs platinum building on the Maple Road site with integrated wind generators and 20 Zipcars. Get rid of 828 Greene (which is only half rented at the moment) and build a real mixed-use building with 2, 3, and 4-bedroom apartments and small artist’s workrooms designed by one of Peter Allen’s classes. I could, of course, go on. I’m sure everyone in town has their list of possible building spaces and types of buildings they would deem appropriate. Sure there are those who don’t want any building and those who want every building, but most are pretty flexible.

    I think there are many ways to change the process, but it would take a lot of political will and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Most cities don’t have both City Council and Planning Commission overseeing every project. Usually it is just a Planning Commission, which is comprised of professionals in planning, architecture, and environmental issues. In some cities, projects are required to go before the neighbors prior to discussing them at all with the city (Boulder). In others, city staff make all the decisions (Kalamazoo).

    Until something changes though, I’m have to say I’m glad this one didn’t go through.


       —Juliew    Jan. 24 '08 - 06:13AM    #
  40. “John Q., the purpose of a Planning Commission is for the council to give it a PLAN and the power to sign off on anything that is within the PLAN.”

    That’s exactly what happened. The PC signed off on those elements of the plan that were within its purview to approve. Technically, since the plan didn’t meet the zoning ordinance standards for height, the PC should have denied it. But Ann Arbor uses the PD process and that process allows developers to request for deviations from the zoning ordinance standards in exchange for some public benefit.

    That’s the rub, isn’t it? The question of whether allowing greater height is offset by some proffered public benefit isn’t a planning or zoning decision, it’s a public policy decision. In our system, we don’t allow unelected officials to exercise such discretion. That’s left to the elected officials, as it properly should be. I don’t have any problem with the PC reviewing and approving projects that meet the standards. But when those projects come with a trade-off, as the PD projects do, the people who are elected and are accountable to the voters should be making that call.


       —John Q.    Jan. 24 '08 - 06:28AM    #
  41. John Q. is right. Both Planned Projects (like the student dorm) and Planned Unit Developments (like the hotel) involve the developer asking the City for a favor – the violation of existing zoning rules in exchange for something. The city ordinances make it clear that this “trade” is discretionary with the City, not mandatory. In other words, no developer has a right to a Planned Project or a Planned Unit Development.

    It should come as no surprise that a gigantic student dorm project, far from campus and with a bunch of other problems, got turned down by Council. As for the hotel, the Planning Commission recommended that the City Council deny the PUD. Since the lot was too small for a hotel, and the hotel would even have taken over part of a public street, no one should have been shocked that Council agreed with Planning Commission.

    Juliew mentioned several possible building locations. One she overlooked is the Old Y site across from the Downtown Library. It is certainly large enough for the “Google Hotel”.


       —David Cahill    Jan. 24 '08 - 02:41PM    #
  42. “John Q. is right. Both Planned Projects (like the student dorm) and Planned Unit Developments (like the hotel) involve the developer asking the City for a favor – the violation of existing zoning rules in exchange for something.”

    PUD’s exist (in Ann Arbor, at least) because Council hasn’t finished/started(?) updating the zoning in Ann Arbor. They aren’t “favors”. They are a band-aid for outdated zoning.

    Anyone remember the whole Calthorpe thing? You know, the thing where we spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to figure out where new growth would occur in Ann Arbor? Remember that?

    Don’t you think that that was, well, a bit of a waste of money if Council’s intention was use PUD’s permanently, and never update zoning? Given that Council is supposedly changing the zoning and allowing for larger projects and changing things like parking requirements, a PUD is supposed to be a stop-gap between the start of the Calthorpe visit, and the implementation of the zoning changes.

    So, anyone know when the zoning changes are kicking in? Me neither. How much longer do we have to wait? I don’t know.

    So….in the meantime, we have the PUD’s, with (or so I thought) increased communication between Council, PD, and PC, together with a streamlined development process because Council had recognized that the system was broken, making things confusing for developers, and yielding bad projects that are increasingly expensive.

    Lowenstein seems to have remembered this point. So, as I said, the NIMBY’s are running the show, again. Not because the specific project West of town was killed. That’s not what I meant, Julie (my apologies for my lack of clarity). The developers, as they were before Calthorpe, are completely in the dark as to what can be built in this town, and what is a “good” project. Just as before.

    Yes, as Julie pointed out, projects are getting through….but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a crap shoot for new projects. And what’s worse is that PD and PC can’t be counted on for guidance…and not because they are incompetent, or because Council is incompetent…but because the three parties aren’t communicating with each other. There’s no excuse for a project taking 12 months ‘til a rejection, sorry. Especially given the context of Michigan’s economy.

    We’re back to approving one project at a time through Council, and by default, the length of the line speaking against a project determines a project’s chance of approval. That’s not Urban Planning. And yes, that puts those who don’t want development at the wheel.

    And the sites that Cahill and Julie mentioned. What can go there? How big? How tall? Mixed use? What are the transportation requirements? No one knows the answer to these questions, and Council doesn’t seem to have a deadline for when the zoning changes are going to take effect so that we no longer have to fiddle with PUD’s. PUD’s are bad news for everyone, given the context of U. Planning in Ann Arbor.


       —todd    Jan. 25 '08 - 02:10AM    #
  43. “We’ve been discussing this situation here for a number of years now. Someone….a Councilperson, citizen, whatever, needs to step forward and tell us where these projects SHOULD go.”

    The best place for growth is turning out to be the Lower Town/Wall Street/Maiden/Broadway area. In the next 5-10 years there will be massive development here and it may well end up the most dense area in AA. The Broadway Village/Lower Town development now finally underway plus all the UM towers and parking structures planned/under construction will only make this area more attractive to developers.

    Also, with the 950 student development at the top of Broadway as a bookend and lots of little rundown houses on the street, I can see redevelopment all the way up and down Broadway.


       —imjustsayin    Jan. 25 '08 - 04:39AM    #
  44. Sorry to burst your bubble, imjustsayin, but Broadway Village is, once again, in trouble.

    The developer has not yet closed on its construction financing with Key Bank. It wants to transfer the project to the latest in a series of recently-created corporate entities, and close on the financing on January 29.

    On January 23, Stephen Postema, our City Attorney, wrote a three-page letter to the developer’s local attorney detailing the developer’s multiple failures to produce documentation so that the City can decide whether or not to approve the transfer.

    The highlight of the letter is this statement: “In addition, as previously discussed, Lowertown Project LLC recently wrote a tax payment check for $45,157.98 which has been returned to the City due to insufficient funds.”

    The writing of a rubber check to the City will probably not result in a warm glow of good feelings.

    Tom Gantert of the AA News has the story, but he has not yet broken into print.

    Another scoop for Arbor Update!


       —David Cahill    Jan. 25 '08 - 02:23PM    #
  45. Gantert’s article is on the AA News’ website.

    (I hate Textile formatting – what’s wrong with html?)


       —Tom Brandt    Jan. 25 '08 - 04:55PM    #
  46. Notwithstanding Gantert’s latest tempest in a teacup, Broadway Village will certainly be moving forward. And as perhaps the largest private development in Washtenaw County since the construction of Briarwood Mall, it will surely bring, as imjustsayin suggests, massive changes to the Broadway neighborhood.

    Indeed, with the giant student development at one end and a new Buffalo Wild Wings in Broadway Village, Broadway Street will be a veritable racetrack of a shortcut for students rushing back and forth in their high-end SUV’s, hardly even acknowledging the existence of Broadway’s puny speed bumps.

    And just as Briarwood Mall spawned several satellite apartment complexes, Broadway Village will certainly hasten development of similarly large scale projects all up and down Broadway. I don’t think you need a crystal ball to know that in five years you’ll hardly recognize that sleepy little part of town. In fact the jungle drums are saying that several developers are already quietly making offers for a handful of those “little rundown houses” on Broadway. Personally, if it were me, I’d sell early lest a condo complex go in on both sides of me, leaving my crappy little house stranded on a tiny island too small for anyone to want to buy it. Yep, I’d sell early and move the whole shootin match to, say, Saugatuck where I’d feel more at home among the little beach cottages.


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Jan. 25 '08 - 05:39PM    #
  47. David, I admire your restraint – “with…lots of little rundown houses on the street, I can see redevelopment all the way up and down Broadway” I thought for sure would draw a response from you.

    For those not in the know, that’s David & Sabra’s ‘hood, as well as my former ‘hood of about 5 years. And I certainly don’t see any wide-scale redevelopment of Broadway likely in between the developments underway at either end. There are a few “little rundown houses”, but I have to question your standards if you’d characterize the whole neighborhood that way; additionally, I think the width of the road and the grades involved would place some practical difficulties on running major development up the hill. Nodes at Broadway/Plymouth/Maiden Lane and at Broadway/Plymouth/Murfin, and the piece in between staying about as it is seems both most likely and most desirable to me.


       —Murph    Jan. 25 '08 - 05:51PM    #
  48. “For those not in the know, that’s David & Sabra’s ‘hood….”

    No kidding? I had no idea.


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Jan. 25 '08 - 06:38PM    #
  49. PSD – of course you didn’t; they never make a point of it.


       —Murph    Jan. 25 '08 - 10:28PM    #
  50. Look, i really don’t wish the Broadway residents ill will. 8-)

    I’m just stating what i actually believe is the next hot spot for development in AA. Cheap land adjacent to new development = money to be made!


       —imjustsayin    Jan. 26 '08 - 04:15AM    #
  51. imjustsayin – I would agree with your assessment if we were dealing with a flat, featureless plain, from both a regulatory and geographic standpoint. But I think Broadway has a number of factors that will prevent significant development between Lowertown and Baits Drive, including topography, infrastructure, site assembly, the master plan designation, and the zoning, among others. I think it far more likely that development will happen in nodes at either end of Broadway, and skip the middle. And that assessment is even before considering the political clout of the street’s residents. Sure, we’ll probably see a few new fancy-pants duplex/townhouses sprout on Broadway within a few years, but no widespread redevelopment.


       —Murph    Jan. 26 '08 - 04:54PM    #