Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Considers Incentive-Based Zoning Downtown

11. January 2005 • Brandon
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At yesterday’s meeting, Ann Arbor leaders debated several possible downtown rezoning schemes, aimed especially at increasing the number of residential units in the center of the city. Many Council members favor an incentive-based approach.

The Ann Arbor City Council may consider an incentive-based zoning for its downtown to get developers to build the type of buildings and businesses it wants.

That was one of about a half-dozen zoning proposals the council heard on Monday night at a work session as it tries to streamline its approval process for developers.

Incentive-based zoning means the city offers bonuses, such as extra height on buildings or parking, to get developers to build a certain type of structure in an area deemed appropriate.

In theory, this will make the inclusion of affordable housing downtown more feasible.

The reshaping of downtown has become a central issue with the council. The city is preparing to accommodate population growth as it protects open space in the surrounding townships. It is also trying to provide affordable housing for working families in the city’s hot real estate market.

The key is finding ways to make housing more affordable in the most expensive part of the city to build.

Officials want to change zoning to give the city more flexibility and to address developers’ complaints about lengthy delays in the approval process that add time and expense to projects.

Council Member Joan Lowenstein, D-2nd Ward, said incentive-based zoning is appealing to her.

“We know what we want,” Lowenstein said. “We want to be able to have residential development downtown and be able to give developers some incentives so they can make development affordable.

“In an area with only two-story buildings, we’ll say, ‘We’ll give you three more stories if you can lower the cost and give us an interesting design. We need to have higher buildings, better architecture and mixed-used development.”

Mayor John Hieftje said he was leaning toward the incentive-based zoning, too.

Lloyd said the city has conventional “use-based” zoning, under which parcels are designated in categories such as residential or commercial. It also uses a Planned Unit Development designation, which many city officials believe is the cause for lengthy delays. In PUDs, the city and developers individually negotiate deals for zoning changes that have to go before the city staff, the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council for final approval.

The Planning Commission will present a report with recommendations to the city in April.