SGA2 pitches its take into this site’s ever popular discussion topic of downtown development and design – the message appears to be very open to new development, including large/tall development, “but again, only if there is at least some basic level of protection against future buildings that will hurt the downtown experience further,” and expresses alarm that the current draft would make design review voluntary for developers.
City planning staff and consultants will be presenting the current draft of the proposed downtown design guidelines. It is an “open house” style of meeting, with a formal presentation from 7:30pm-8:30pm. This is probably the best forum to get to know this document, but we do not know if there will be Q&A. (If there is, staff is always diligent about noting comments and passing them along to the relevant bodies.)
A citizen committee of design and historic experts worked with the public, city staff, and consultants over the course of hundreds of person-hours to come up with an excellent document. The “steering committee” working with this process (3 people) has told the consultants to both 1) “streamline” the document, and 2) make developer compliance with these guidelines completely voluntary. This is in contrast with what the Calthorpe process led the public to believe and with what the committee, staff, and consultants had originally proposed: all downtown development would be required to undergo a fast, efficient, fair review process to make sure new construction met very basic design criteria as well as “fit in” to the character of their surrounding neighborhood.
It was apparent from the Calthorpe process as well as the numerous subsequent design workshops that the public wanted greater density downtown, but only if the new buildings didn’t detract from downtown’s appeal. That is, there is a recognition that quality design costs developers more, but the public is willing to “pay” for that via giving permission to build taller buildings.
City Council has already voted to strip away some protections from “blocky” buildings (a diagonal requirement), and now it appears there is an effort to remove all requirements for good design. We do not know what forces are pushing the decision process in this direction, but it is widely believed that more buildings in the style of Corner House Lofts (State and Washington) will only serve to fan the flames of anti-density further. There are many people who are willing to increase the allowable densities downtown even further than is currently proposed, but again, only if there is at least some basic level of protection against future buildings that will hurt the downtown experience further.
The following document, particularly from pg 8-10, gives you a summary of what the original design process was supposed to look like: http://www.a2gov.org/a2d2/Documents/2007-10-15_DesignRecommendations.pdf
An outline of the process this far can be found here: http://www.a2gov.org/a2d2/designguidelines/Pages/DesignGuidelines.aspx
and you can find the current draft of the guidelines by clicking on the first item under “News” on the upper right.
I would encourage you to attend tonight if you think quality building design is important to downtown. If questions/comments are allowed, please voice your opinion!
These guidelines will be discussed/deliberated at an upcoming joint meeting among City Council, the Planning Commission, and the DDA on Monday, September 14, 7pm at the CTN Studios on South Industrial (more info to come).
Thanks for supporting a smarter, more vibrant Ann Arbor!