Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

People that live in tall buildings in A2

2. August 2005 • MarkDilley
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Some residents of one of the taller buildings in downtown Ann Arbor are complaining about plans to build a proposed high-rise nearby that they say will block their views…

but more importantly, as we all know what is the most important:

...hurt the property values of their condos.

via Ann Arbor News

tx jenny



  1. Thanks for posting it. This is what I love. On the one hand, the west siders are complaining about too much parking and development. On the other hand, the rich people who live in snazzy high-rise condos are complaining that if another building goes up, they’l “lose their views” which might cost them each $250K, on condos worth more than $900K. Or so a bank president said in an email to the mauor and council.

    ” After the meeting, one of the 101 North Main residents, University Bancorp President and CEO Stephen Ranzini, got into a heated discussion with one of the project’s developers that lasted for several minutes. Mayor John Hieftje went over to intervene.

    Ranzini is not the only influential resident of 101 North Main. City tax records show University of Michigan Regent Andrea Fischer-Newman, former president of University Microfilms Joe Fitzsimmons, Borders Group President Greg Josefowicz, and Ann Arbor Observer Publisher Patricia Garcia also live there. Garcia also spoke Monday.

    Fischer-Newman, Josefowicz and Fitzsimmons did not attend the meeting but were among those listed in an e-mail sent by Ranzini to his fellow residents.

    “Collectively, the residents of this building are powerful in Ann Arbor and now is the time for us to exert ourselves to protect our investment,’’ Ranzini wrote in the e-mail, of which The News obtained a copy. ”

    Oh for pete’s sake, the powerful and mighty striving for self-interest regardless, out to protect the city from other ritzy, high-rise condo developments. That;s civic sacrifice.
       —JennyD    Aug. 3 '05 - 04:23AM    #
  2. Some Friends they are.
       —Dale    Aug. 3 '05 - 08:15AM    #
  3. When I saw that headline in the News, I thought it meant that Studio 4 or the Necto were exceeding capacity.

    Shows you how I keep up.
       —Lazaro    Aug. 3 '05 - 08:37AM    #
  4. If they’re so worried about their views, why don’t they just buy themselves a private helicopter and hire someone to fly them around? They can even include it in the deal when they decide to sell their high-end penthouse.
       —Dan Faichney    Aug. 3 '05 - 10:07AM    #
  5. OK, so do we want people living downtown or not? If we do want people living downtown and we want to develop more downtown, then we are going to have to think about things like views, noise, aesthetics of the tops of buildings, parking, and services. One of the comments that came up in the Calthorpe workshop was the view from the Map Library at the UM and that we should build more buildings with good views. Well, if we are going to sell views, we need to have some plan to keep those views for the people who buy them. A house or condo is the biggest financial investment most people will ever make and for most people it is a large emotional investment too. As an example, the Ashley Mews penthouse web site features a whole separate section on the views. And yes, the Old West Side and Michigan Stadium are there. It isn’t only high-end buildings either. One of the Planning Commission meetings on the Pizza House renovation included a student worried about losing the view out her second-story apartment window. It used to be a little grassy strip, with the renovation it will be a brick wall. You can’t expect anyone to just smile and say “it is for the good of my community” when someone wants to build a brick wall in front of their house/apartment/condo.
       —Juliew    Aug. 3 '05 - 05:19PM    #
  6. Well, sure, if you’ve invested in something, you are generally expected to get upset if somebody comes along and destroys that something, whether by putting up a building that obstructs your views or by taking a baseball bat to your windshield.

    But you also can’t invest in an unobstructed view across a vacant lot in the center of Ann Arbor (and the corner of Main and Huron? the center by definition.) and assume it’s going to stay that way forever. Analogously, there was a story in the DetNews a while back about some people who bought a home that backed onto the freeway, and now wanted MDOT to put up a noise wall, saying, “When we looked at the house and moved in, we didn’t notice the noise, because it was winter, and the windows were all shut and we didn’t go outside. But now that it’s summer, we want to use our backyard and open the windows, but it’s so noisy!” Or think of the people who buy a nice home in the country – and then, come springtime, complain about the smell of manure on the nearby fields.

    If these folks thought that they could prove there was a market for $750-900k 10th floor condos in downtown Ann Arbor, and not have more of those appear on the next block, maybe they should have thought a little harder. “Do I really think this view will last forever, when there’s a big vacant lot there? I’m moving downtown to be in the center of things – to be close to my job and to amenities, and in a place that’s dynamic and changing. My job and amenities are in buildings, as are the other people who want to live downtown and their jobs and their amenities; if I want to be in a place full of uses, that means I should expect to be in a place full of buildings. Gee, maybe I should consider that when evaluating condos.”

    Ashley Mews demonstrates slightly better consideration of this: to the south, the views are pretty well guaranteed by the fact that there’s a nice long strip of brand-new brownstones in the way of anything springing up and blocking the view. Immediately to the south and the west are hills down into the Allen Creek Valley, so that anything of the same height built there would be lower in elevation (were it to be built at all, which it probably wouldn’t). To the north is three blocks of Main St, both a historic district and successful business area which is likely to be pretty stable, and then 1 North Main, which blocks views right back, tit-for-tat. (And I’m betting the buyers of the north-facing Mews penthouses noticed.) There is that gas station right there, but I’m betting it has too small a footprint to build anything penthouse-blockingly tall.

    So, yes, they have a right to complain, but they don’t have the right to dictate terms on other developers – their concerns should be considered alongside the concerns of everyone else. (Between them, I wonder how much they could pay Freed to build Ashley Terrace a floor shorter. If the view is worth $250k apiece, I’m sure they’d be willing to pay $200k apiece to keep it.) It’s part of living at the direct center of town – there are other people there. Just like buying a house on the edge of a cornfield doesn’t guarantee there will be a cornfield and not houses there in five years.
       —Murph.    Aug. 3 '05 - 06:45PM    #
  7. “If we do want people living downtown and we want to develop more downtown, then we are going to have to think about things like views, noise, aesthetics of the tops of buildings, parking, and services.”

    This is really the point worth discussing. I’m sure that few here are going to feel much sympathy for a variation of NIMBY by people who we all would expect would know better when deciding where to live. But that doesn’t change the fact that future residents, who we want to make an investment in downtown residences, are going to think twice about that investment if there’s uncertainty about whether that investment will be impacted by future development. Instead of adopting a snob attitude about it, we should be figuring out how to address those concerns.
       —John Q.    Aug. 3 '05 - 09:10PM    #
  8. “Well, if we are going to sell views, we need to have some plan to keep those views for the people who buy them.”

    So, who is selling these views anyway? Not me! I say that 6-10th floors are not high enough for the investment in the view to be justified. If they want a view, they’d go to University Towers or Tower Plaza. Doesn’t current zoning (and it goes without saying I also mean public opinion here) prevent any more really tall towers?
    It really frustrates me that many vocal opponents to change in this town are able to get away with such ridiculous shows of power. Don’t those people who can afford the $900,000 condos have enough to stand to lose the money invested in their views?
    They can just move into another one of their properties if they don’t like the new view because the odds are they have other homes.
       —Lizz    Aug. 3 '05 - 09:24PM    #
  9. How about turn the view into a something that can be purchased? So if you want to ensure that another building never blocks you’re view, you have to pay some hefty sum to the city, almost like a tax, and then the city will prevent development that blocks your view.

    There’s something in NYC like this called “air rights” or something.

    If the rich want a view fine, let ‘em pay for it and enrich the city.
       —JennyD    Aug. 3 '05 - 09:35PM    #
  10. I’ll grant this is something to consider and we should hear them out, but in the balance, I think Murph is very right in this case. If the development gets blocked for the sole benefit of a handful of wealthy, “powerful for ann arbor” people, that’d be pretty skewed decision making, IMO.
       —Scott Trudeau    Aug. 3 '05 - 09:43PM    #
  11. I just checked the tax records and it looks like most of these people bought the condos at the $300-500,000 range between 5 and 10 years ago. Patricia Garcia and Dennis Dahlmann (a familiar name) did pay $730,000 for their condo last year.

    If what I saw at the Planning Commission meeting when they first discussed the 10-story building is correct, it is actually not going to impinge much on One North Main. The stories are shorter than ONM and because it is down the hill, it sits lower per floor. So it should be relatively easy to adjust to prevent view blockage since the ONM condos start higher.

    Regardless, I still think we need to think about this sort of thing when planning for buildings downtown. The “they should have known” argument is the argument every developer makes when they want to put in crap. That is the exact reason people buy big lots in the exurbs. I thought we were trying to prevent that sort of thing and encourage people to move downtown, not make it as uncomfortable to live here as possible once they make the move. I think it is reasonable to accommodate some of these requests—especially for people who were already here. I also think the City needs to put something (ordinances?) in place now to address views and noise for all downtown buildings. It is done all over the country, we should be able to figure it out too. In addition, a development like LoFT 322 needs be realistic when they are selling their back condos and not promise people that things won’t change.

    Lizz, the views in Ann Arbor are surprisingly good even from low floors because the terrain is rolling and the “best” view is a general vista, rather than a view of something specific like a mountain or lake. It is true that the view from the 8th floor of the Hatcher graduate library is worth something. I had a friend who lived at U Towers on one of the higher floors and I can say I much prefer the 8th floor view. The higher you go here, the hazier it gets so you actually lose some of the view when you go up.
       —Juliew    Aug. 3 '05 - 10:34PM    #
  12. Next door to One North Main, on West Huron, is the old Greyhound station, which is a city designated historic landmark.

    A few years ago, an enterprising developer came along and proposed building a moderately tall new office building in place of the Greyhound station. He proposed to dismantle and reinstall the facade of the old building, one brick deep.

    The Historic District Commission voted to approve this, er, modification to the historic building.

    But apparently the whole thing was a feint. He frightened One North Main folks into buying his air rights (or something like that; I don’t know the details), and abandoned plans for the new building.

    I suppose that’s a lot easier way to make a profit on a piece of property than to take out construction loans, deal with contractors, and negotiate leases.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 3 '05 - 10:54PM    #
  13. It does reek of a ridiculous show of power by some of the City’s elites. But as Juliew noted, it’s an issue that’s been faced and addressed in City’s around the country. It’s also not about blocking development – it’s acknowledging the potential pitfalls and finding solutions to address them. “Solutions” that lead to no development are not acceptable. Solutions that find a way to accomodate height and provide complimentary development are what we should be seeking.
       —John Q.    Aug. 4 '05 - 12:31AM    #
  14. Folks, nothing is going to come of this. The shitbirds at One North Main have shot their wad in the wrong direction and they’re not going to be able to get it up again.

    If you want to talk Orwell, in Ann Arbor power is weakness and weakness is power. By beating their chests and boasting of their power, they’ve made themselves weak.

    The only way to be successful in a situation like this is to play the weakness card. “We, the poor downtrodden ‘friends’ of (insert vacant lot here) are being tied to the railroad tracks by the evil, all-powerful, all knowing, greedy, corporate scum at (insert developer) and the only thing that stands between us and the loss of our ‘quality of life’ (property values) are the white knights at the city council. Oh please, we are at your mercy! And did we mention the salamanders? And the snowy egrets? And the, the, the flowers and shit? We, the powerless! Save us….. Snicker, Snicker.”

    Nothing to worry about. Even Margaret couldn’t save them now.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Aug. 4 '05 - 09:58AM    #
  15. I’ll register my agreement with Juliew; much as a “Horizon Impact Plan” is awfully ridiculable, I think that taking a policy (plan+ordinances) and sticking to it is generally far better than uncertainty and ad hoc policies. I think some significant number of the complaints about development in Ann Arbor are caused by the fact that people just don’t know what’s going to happen. The less uncertain things can be made, the happier people wll be, especially when they’re plunking down money, and Ann Arbor real estate development seems a fairly haphazard business. “They should have known” can be legitimate, or it can mean, “Well, things were so absolutely unknown that, well, they should have been ready for anything!” (This is, of course, the urban planning student pushing for job opportunities…)

    Also, people who buy big lots in the exurbs? Not immune. They just get that much more unhappy when subdivisions do start to pop up on the horizon, because, with the amount of land they bought when they fled Detroit, you’d think they could have avoided anybody moving in next door!

    Larry – from my attendance of a few Downtown Area Citizens’ Advisory Committee meetings, I got the impression that Bill Martin was the owner of the Greyhound station, and was going to be proposing plans to develop it approximately 1 second after Ashley Terrace was approved across the street (at which point AT would be precedent for building whatever was desired on the Greyhound site). It would be awfully “enterprising” to have already ransomed off the air rights, though….
       —Murph.    Aug. 4 '05 - 10:54AM    #
  16. I don’t know about the Greyhound station, but I’m pretty sure Bill Martin owns the block sized lot just across Huron. I’ve also been told that he owns the surface lot a couple of blocks east on Huron at the corner of Fifth.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Aug. 4 '05 - 11:44AM    #
  17. It’s all about the context. If they’d said “You know, this is an important issue for city planning,” it would have looked better. Instead it unfortunately sounds like elite whining. (OTOH, maybe they’ve been misrepresented in the press. Who knows.)

    The concerns of all residents should of course be taken into account when planning developments, especially residents in the neighborhood, and now is the time for them to give their input. They’re entitled to do so! I reckon downtown residents should have some say over what gets built downtown. Yes, views are a part of “high-rise” living (or whatever you want to call it around here…) However, unless your city consists of a single ten-story building surrounded by one-story houses, someone’s view somewhere is going to lack natural scenery.

    Declaring the penthouse floors of One North Main to be the height limit for building in Ann Arbor seems like a sad parody. The new buildings (and they are going to happen) have to go somewhere—so sooner or later, someone’s view will be blocked. I mean, in some cities, people actually enjoy urban views!

    But Freed certainly can’t build as high as he wants; maybe in this particular case, the residents of ONM are right. And we certainly want individuals such as the residents of ONM living downtown. But eventually, something as tall or taller will be built in the area (I hope so!) People are just going to have to get used to this idea. And what’s wrong with it? Buildings can be pretty. And we’re not talking about midtown Manhattan here. I assume at least some of the Huron valley will be visible from most apartments!

    Maybe a story could be taken off, but this just seems like more of the typical “Ew, icky, it’s one story too high!” attitude that seems to drive (into the ground) the process around here. I’m all for sensible, landscape- and neighborhood-friendly design. But couldn’t we, you know, actually try to help developers build more housing to feed the demand? Imagine: it could actually lower the price of housing! What a concept.

    Clearly this is an issue to keep in mind going forward. But any solution is eventually going to have to include compromise, pure and simple. (BTW, I like the air rights idea—that’s the sort of thing the city needs to start implementing. We should continue to look at how other cities have solved “problems” like this one.)
       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 4 '05 - 12:30PM    #
  18. PSD: Yes, First Martin owns the “Brown Block” (the full-block Huron to Washington, Ashley to First) and also the lot kitty-corner from the Hands-On Museum. Both are leased to the DDA for use as public parking for (I believe) slightly more than the property tax that First Martin has to pay for them, while FM lets other things be built around them, which will no doubt raise their value for eventual sale or make it easier for FM to develop something on them themselves. I expect site plans to be submitted for the Brown Block fairly quickly upon final approval of Ashley Terrace and whatever is proposed on 1st/Washington, especially since the Calthorpe exercise seemed to show that people would be perfectly happy with a sizeable building there.

    YUA: I was at the Council meeting when the ONM neighbors spoke; Ranzini was not, in my opinion, misrepresented by the News. He did propose an alternative site plan, which he had sketches of, but I didn’t get a chance to see them. I think the Council chambers need easels standing by, or something, so that speakers can put up their visual aids for the layfolk to peruse after showing them to Council.
       —Murph.    Aug. 4 '05 - 01:38PM    #
  19. Thanks, Murph. I hope they go to some pains, if they develop the Brown Block all at once, to keep it from looking like a hulking monolith. Maybe break up the facade, vary the height a bit. Buildings that fill entire blocks can be pretty grotesque.

    Oh, and speaking of tall buildings, I walked through one of those Frigid Windswept Canyons (corner of Maynard and William) this morning on my way to work, already hot and sweaty from the trudge in, and then the wind hit me. It was deeeelightful. So what may be a drawback in winter, can be an amenity in summer.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Aug. 4 '05 - 03:15PM    #
  20. PSD: that corner is the only ‘windswept canyon’ in the city that I have ever known, but people talk about there being SO many of them. Are you aware of others? (I wish it would be windy more often during the summer! It matters a little less when you’re not sweating.)
       —tomo    Aug. 4 '05 - 05:13PM    #
  21. Personally, I’d prefer to see the Brown Block developed as a few distinct pieces, even if all developed at the same time. (Like Ashley Mews is a few pieces – tall and short.) If you look at an aerial, you can cut the Brown Block in quarters, and each quarter is the size of,

    * 1 North Main
    * The Fourth/Washington parking structure
    * Half a dozen of the historic buildings along the 100 blocks of W. Washington, W. Liberty, or S. Main.

    My plan would be to develop something distinct on each quarter, with an east-west alley cutting through the center (most alleys in town are north-south, but I wouldn’t want one to end on Huron). Put tall things, 8-12 stories, on the NE quarter (Huron/Ashley) and SW quarter (1st/Washington), to match Ashley Terrace and whatever the 1st/Wash site ends up as in height.

    On the other two quarters, do about four stories, possibly designed to look like a few buildings in each chunk – though I imagine you’d want to build each quadrant as a single structure, cost-wise, but the facades could vary so that it had a look/feel closer to the historic blocks.

    All residential, 4 and 12 stories would average to 8, a Calthorpe-Workshop-High-Rise-Chip. Ground floor retail, and maybe some office space mixed in on the second floor, would be somewhat less, but still within the spirit of what seemed to be a pretty common use of that block in the presentations. (I don’t think David Milling’s 30-story office building would work well.)

    And, yes, I agree that the tendancy of tall buildings to “blot out the sun” and create wind tunnels is unpleasant in February, but around now, I’d like a little more sun-blotting, thanks.
       —Murph.    Aug. 4 '05 - 05:13PM    #
  22. Windswept corner: South University and South Forest. At Village Corner. Note the painted fire hydrant outside VC, painted by my then-fourth grade daughter. It’s supposed to look like Georgie O’Keefe.
       —JennyD    Aug. 4 '05 - 09:52PM    #
  23. Martin’s original plan for the Brown Block was to build a convention center, but that obviously never happened.

    I work in the Allmendinger Building directly across First from the Brown Block, and if anything is built there it will block my view of ONM. I’ll sue.
       —tom    Aug. 5 '05 - 08:50AM    #
  24. “A house or condo is the biggest financial investment most people will ever make and for most people it is a large emotional investment too.”

    I am on the opposite side of the argument once again (surprise, surprise).

    Pretend there are two people who own large lots downtown. One develops the lot and puts in a ten story building, with condos on the upper floors. The other owner sits on his property, focusing on other ventures.

    A few years later, the other owner finally decides that the time is right to build a ten story building that is nearly identical to the first owner’s building. To his surprise, the locals have decided that no, you can’t do that. Why? Because the view of the first tenants would be obstructed by the second. What??

    So if we are so in tune with ownership rights, what about the rights of the second owner? Oh, that’s right, we’re operating under the “I was here first” principal here in Ann Arbor. Let me take a stab at it and guess that if the first owner has crappy, noisy stuff on the roof of his building, that he will have zero obligation to make it nice for new buildings that may (or, apparently, may not) pop up nearby.

    Terrific. More expenses for new buildings. Fewer stories because of yet another bogus complaint from neighbors to the proposed project. Higher rents/sale prices. Less money collected in property taxes. Sweet. Where do I sign?

    Question for the floor: after witnessing yet another example of selfish complaints about new projects brought on by surrounding neighbors, have any of you finally come to the conclusion that I’m right: You cannot allow input from citizens on individual projects.

    If you allow input on individual projects, citizens will select the option that create the most gain for themselves 99 times out of 100. Why are we listening to these people? I’m shocked that some of you are buying this crap. These aren’t valid complaints.

    We should have called our business “Leopold Bros. of Ann Arbor Brewing, Distilling, and Complaining”, because it’s pretty clear that the most profitable enterprise in Ann Arbor is complaining. Want to keep the supply of housing the same while demand rises, making your own property value go through the roof? No sweat, just complain to council, and they will kill all projects near your home.

    Want to make it so you have access to parking, while eliminating all other users in the area? No sweat, just complain, and council will pass a law that protects you and only you.

    To restate my broken record: Move local input upstream, ala Calthorpe workshops, and eliminate input on individual projects, and you will get the result that is the best interest of the entire city. Remember the entire city? You know, the people who don’t live downtown and who don’t get all these city funded perks like parks or 4 parking spaces?
       —todd    Aug. 6 '05 - 10:08AM    #
  25. i agree with PSD (in #14) that the Don’t Usurp My Awe Some Sun Sets crowd played their hand badly. the News skewered ranzini with his declassé-conscious ralph kramdem line and especially the thurston howell iii grumble about having to go to the second floor of his penthouse to see the M! (“lovey! i spilled your martini on my smoking jacket while climbing the circular staircase to view the block M!”)
       —peter honeyman    Aug. 6 '05 - 11:23PM    #
  26. Around the Observer, we were remarking how it’s the only time the News ever has mentioned the name of our publication in print (Ann Arbor Observer publisher Patricia Garcia…). In the same issue of the News, in an article about the Dexter school board audit prompted by an investigative report in the Community Observer (which I edit), they referred to it as “a quarterly publication.” They call the regular Observer a “monthly publication.”
    Because it was a chance to embarrass Patricia, though (whose remarks were never quoted in the article)... the existence of the Observer is finally acknowledged.
       —Michael Betzold    Aug. 8 '05 - 02:00PM    #
  27. Once upon a time, I was editor of a magazine in the circulation area of one of the News’s sister publications.

    It was the same deal; the paper never, if possible, mentioned the name of our magazine.

    We used to joke that if our building went up in flames and everyone died, the lede would be: “A fatal fire claimed the lives of all employees of a monthly publication located in Morristown.”
       —JennyD    Aug. 8 '05 - 02:34PM    #
  28. The News also studiously avoids mentioning this site or any other by name. Any story run about blogs is about middle schoolers with livejournals…

    I wonder how much of MLive’s traffic comes from links from this site and AAiO?
       —Murph.    Aug. 8 '05 - 03:02PM    #
  29. No, AAIO has been mentioned by name in the Ann Arbor News, at least twice.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 9 '05 - 03:06AM    #
  30. IIRC, they mentioned us once or twice in a Talk About Town column, early on.
       —Scott Trudeau    Aug. 9 '05 - 11:20AM    #
  31. (thread bounce) Yow. I just read Mary Morgan’s column from last week on this topic. It’s at least as scathing as anything we’ve come up with:

    Boo hoo.

    Some of the people living in the upper levels of 101 N. Main St. are upset. A proposed development about a block away might wreck their views and hurt their condo property values.

    It’s a shame, really, that we live in a society where people can’t get what they want all the time. Especially people who can afford $700,000 or more for a condo in downtown Ann Arbor. Don’t they deserve to dictate what gets built within a half-mile radius, at least?

    I’ve been trying to imagine a scenario in which I’d feel sympathetic toward these folks. So far, I haven’t come up with one.

    And so on…
       —Murph.    Aug. 16 '05 - 12:10PM    #
  32. Clever bump, Murph, juxtaposing the Friends and the ONM residents. Real clever.
       —Dale    Aug. 16 '05 - 01:09PM    #
  33. Do you see a difference between the two, Dale? I know I don’t.

    Unless, of course, you factor in that the Friends are going to spend millions of dollars on a personal park that is ‘linked’ to the Huron greenway by a brownish bike path that’s surrounded by a dinky chain fence.
       —todd    Aug. 16 '05 - 01:16PM    #
  34. Who, me?
       —Murph.    Aug. 16 '05 - 01:24PM    #
  35. I would say that the Friends are marginally more evil. I don’t even like the word “friend” anymore and have taken instead to using “chums”, “mates”, and “associates”.

    And I killed a Quaker. I just couldn’t help myself.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Aug. 16 '05 - 01:40PM    #