Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Planning Commission Approves Three Downtown Residential Projects

20. January 2006 • Juliew
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Last night, the Planning Commission approved three new mixed-use projects for downtown.

William Street Station: Block of William between Fourth and Fifth. 100 low-income units (rentals from $210-$500/month), 45 units of workforce-rate housing (rentals from $700-$900/month for one and two bedroom units), 45 units market-rate housing (~$1200-$1500/month for one and two bedroom units), 11,000 square feet of office space, 5,000 square feet of retail, one AATA bus station large enough to hold 12 busses at a time. One 12 and one 14-story tower with a four-story base.

Kingsley Lane: Corner of West Kingsley and North Ashley. Forty-eight residential market-rate condos with 6 additional “workforce-rate” condos for those making 80% of median. Building is a nine-story tower and a four-story tower with “corrugated metal inserts.”

Metro 202: Corner of Division and Washington. 44 market-rate rental units with retail on the first floor. Nine stories. Will be owned and operated by McKinley in conjunction with their McKinley Towne Centre across Division.

  1. And Ashley Terrace has a website now too. It even includes a fly-by of the project, posted under the ‘Residences’ tab.
       —KGS    Jan. 20 '06 - 07:00PM    #
  2. the ashley terrace fly-by is kind of cool but it would be so much nicer if it were situated in ann arbor instead of some edition of the sims.
       —peter honeyman    Jan. 21 '06 - 12:27AM    #
  3. That was the SIMS? I thought it was a Flagstar Bank advertisement.
       —FAA    Jan. 21 '06 - 07:08PM    #
  4. Yeah, Joseph Freed isn’t exactly crying in their beer over Glenn-Ann.

    It does seem like they could have at least included One North Main in the fly-by.
       —Juliew    Jan. 22 '06 - 09:17PM    #
  5. Freed isn’t, but Ann Arbor should be.

    I’m down with the massing of Ashley Terrace, but that surface parking and the unrecessed windows on the upper floors are a turnoff.
       —Dale    Jan. 23 '06 - 12:34AM    #
  6. Are there any site plans for renderings of this massive William Street Station development?
       —CriticalThinker    Jan. 24 '06 - 02:56AM    #
  7. In light of Dale’s comments, this might be a good space to talk about architecture. Is there any way the city could alter its practices to produce better architecture?

    Does anyone know what the original Flagstar building was going to look like? (Before Freed got involved.)

    Does any committee at the civic level have any say over architectural styling and detail? Should they? Or would this just be another senseless level of bureaucracy? If so, how could good architecture be encouraged anyway?

    Take the E. Liberty building going up—does anyone know why and/or when the architecture was changed to the more modern style?

    I’m also happy to see more downtown housing going up (though I guess I wouldn’t have been completely opposed to just a bank building there), but I worry that it could become just another unfriendly streetscape block. Buildings like this should also contribute aesthetically to the downtown skyline.

    Any thoughts? I think this is important stuff.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Jan. 24 '06 - 02:24PM    #
  8. McKinley still has this lopsided abortion on their website:

    I assume that was the original Flagstar building.

    I’d call the Freed plan a big improvement on McKinley’s, if only because it gets a lot more use out of the land. And I think the proposed building looks OK, though more cartoonish (big, strip-mallish details, not much in terms of fine texture) than an earlier drawing:

    Regarding Dale’s comment, I don’t mind the surface parking, since it’s pretty well concealed from the street and it allows an L shaped building which I think is more interesting to look at than a solid rectangular block. Plus there are three additional levels of parking below. And regarding “unrecessed windows”, is that part of what gives it the strip mall look, because it’s too smooth? The Life Science complex buildings are also smooth, and also give me that strip-mall vibe.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Jan. 24 '06 - 03:19PM    #
  9. I don’t mind the life sciences windows look so much, for a number of reasons. What I dislike about the Ashley Terrace windows is the white trim flush against the masonry. In my mind, a darker trim should be recessed from the face of the masonry. I definitely get a post-war FHA apartment complex vibe (kind of like the upper floors of Corner House Apartments) that could easily be mitigated.
       —Dale    Jan. 24 '06 - 04:02PM    #
  10. Personally, I think too many people get caught up in what the building looks like than how it will functions. I think we need to work on ensuring that the buildings and parking structures work to promote a positive street-level experience first then we can work on the architecture.
       —John Q.    Jan. 24 '06 - 04:03PM    #
  11. John Q. is right, though I would argue that architecture can contribute to a positive street-level experience. Anyway, the decision to put a Flagstar branch at street level probably inhibits pedestrian traffic a bit, but a bank is better than nothing, and since it was going to be a bank anyway…the residences will help improve things in that regard. All the other banks are over there, anyway. But it would be a shame if it just became 1 North Main Redux. (It’s definitely better than 1 North Main.)

    I prefer the finished design to the sketch, but I guess what irks me most is the bland psuedo-”classical” cornice at the top. That’s where the strip-mall feel comes in, I think. Dale’s right—more contrast and fewer flush surfaces would have been better. But the wraparound windows are a nice touch. And the set-backs at the ends help soften the feel on those corners, which is nice.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Jan. 24 '06 - 09:06PM    #
  12. Another thing to begin thinking about is the effect of development on property values. It’s a tricky balancing act if you ask me: the tradeoff, in terms of local businesses, in my opinion is: more customers versus potentially higher property values. Ask any business owner (well, that I know of, anyway) which they’d prefer, and I’m sure they’d all answer the former—more customers. But if the property values rise faster than new customers are introduced, it could end up causing the opposite of what was intended. I think one of the goals in all of this discussion is to help create a climate downtown that can help support local business better. But it would be disastrous if it had the opposite effect.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Jan. 24 '06 - 09:14PM    #
  13. I agree with YUA in seeing less of a distinction between “architecture” and “urban design” (channeling KGS…). I think architecture and planning are hand-in-glove in creating good buildings that contribute well to good cities.

    I wanna know what the plans are for the building (across from the Ann Ashley structure) where Flagstar is now. That area could definitely be improved by car-independent retail that’s open more than 9-5.
       —Dale    Jan. 24 '06 - 09:15PM    #
  14. If you follow the link below you can see that they’re planning for three tenants, so keep your fingers crossed for something fun or useful in the other two spots. Maybe a Rite Aid? And when Flagstar moves out of the building next door, the vacancy, with its (presumably) lower rent, might attract something local.

    A creepy side note: the one pair of potential buyers the Ann Arbor News spoke with for its Ashley Terrace article were a couple from Bloomfield Hills who wanted to buy one of these condos as a “second home.” If we get eight floors full of jackasses like that, you can say goodbye to ever eating brunch at Cafe Zola again.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Jan. 24 '06 - 10:45PM    #
  15. I think architecture and planning are hand-in-glove in creating good buildings that contribute well to good cities.
    I agree that ideally you would have both. But how do we get there? Corner House Lofts may be ugly and shoddily-built, it is a successful building in that it has both residential and retail that have been filled since it opened. Ashley Mews was built to very high standards, but has had little retail success, it took several years before the residential filled, and turnover has been high. So which is better? Long-term, Ashley Mews might be the more successful building but it isn’t so clear now. But then, my neighborhood is stuck with this, so just about anything else would be better looking and more useful.

    Ashley Terrace looks like a shopping center because that is primarily what Freed does (they are, after all, a proud member of the “International Council of Shopping Centers”). I loved reading their demographics breakdown. I suppose I am a “Brite Lites, Li’l City” type, although other than owning network software, the Lifestyle Traits are pretty far off. Anyone know why they made the distinction between “Asian and High Asian”? I also noticed that Glen-Ann still features prominently on their site. I imagine they are just letting it sit until they are well along with Ashley Terrace. I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of it.

    It isn’t at all surprising to me that people might be looking at these new condos as second homes. A large number of the Ashley Mews units have owners with out-of-city mailing addresses and the only people I personally know who are looking at Liberty Lofts are thinking about it as “investment” property rather than their new home.
       —Juliew    Jan. 25 '06 - 06:43PM    #
  16. Very good points, Julie. This is an aspect of housing that hasn’t been discussed here yet—is there any way of encouraging actual resident ownership of new development? Or is putting up a new building nothing more than a way for a city to maximize property tax income? If so, it is even worth it?

    I don’t quite understand the idea of a housing unit as “investment”, however—surely it would have to be leased at some point in order to make a return!

    Has anyone noticed any discussion of this in any of the public forums regarding either Liberty Lofts or any other planned housing? (including all of the Calthorpe business.)
       —Young Urban Amateur    Jan. 25 '06 - 09:21PM    #
  17. Building off of the last messages, I think it is important to note that ownership is also important for retail space. Newly-built retail space needs to be available to businesses to buy as well as lease. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of the new space being built is owned by companies or people who are leasing the space in order to maximize their revenue, and who don’t have the community’s interests at heart (or just don’t have much knowledge of what that might be because they don’t live here). They will be looking to lease the space to whichever business looks reliable and will pay the highest rates. Which means we’ll get… more chain restaurants. I’m fairly certain nobody has called for more of those downtown!

    We really need to make sure to encourage developers of new buildings (and owners of older buildings), to sell their retail space to the people operating the business.
       —Lisa    Jan. 25 '06 - 10:20PM    #
  18. Is there any way the city could alter its practices to produce better architecture?

    There is one often-discussed way: make the process faster and cheaper. We have a problem with projects coming back again and again to seek approval. Part of this may be incomplete submissions, but more often it seems like the city is just not prepared. I remember a number of times where planning commission couldn’t approve a project because city staff hadn’t finished their review yet. Add the political agenda of neighborhoods that want to quash development of any sort, and you can end up with marathon hearings full of misinformation and rants but very little substance.

    Also realize that every meeting and every request for more information is more money the developer winds up paying their consultants. Designing a building is not quick or easy, but designing many versions for the sake of satisfying a vague and capricious public is even worse.

    As for cheaper, there are a lot of “requested donations” that the city asks for with each development. By this I am referring to the ‘donations’ for parks and, ironically, affordable housing. The biggest problem is that neither of these costs seem to have an advertised fee structure, and are negotiated from scratch with every project. That isn’t fair or efficient. When you add them to the cost of each unit, they can add $10K or more just by themselves. Spend another $10K on finishes like real brick or stone, better glass or lighting, and you could make a better looking building.

    Does any committee at the civic level have any say over architectural styling and detail?

    No. The Planning Commission can look at aesthetics only for PUDs, and most members (not having a design background) don’t give very constructive criticism. Unfortunately for our small town, I don’t think that design review would be productive or efficient, and would just bog the process down even more.

    If so, how could good architecture be encouraged anyway?

    I think that awareness & education for all parties involved is really the most helpful – for the developer, to hire a more talented architect and allow them to do something beyond square brick buildings; for the architect, to stretch the boundaries and really push themselves to do better design; and for the public, to be more conscious of design beyond “I don’t like it”. Frankly no set of design guidelines can guarantee a good building. Following a set of rules might raise the floor from bad architecture to mediocre, but the corollary is often that it lowers the ceiling too, so fantastic architecture is taken down to mediocre. This was mentioned by Doug Kelbaugh at the bus tour, and I think he has a good point.

    Take the E. Liberty building going up—does anyone know why and/or when the architecture was changed to the more modern style?

    What one are you talking about – the one next to Seva, Lofts 322 ? it has always been on the modern side of design, AFAIK, though it has been through at least 3 developers.

    I agree with YUA in seeing less of a distinction between “architecture” and “urban design” (channeling KGS…).

    Heh. This is something I have struggled with, since I studied both architecture and planning, with urban design being the overlap. My personal thought is that urban planning is usually done on the big regional or city scale; architecture is restricted to a single site; and urban design is really about the streetscape, sometimes a neighborhood. For example, the street improvements around the State Street area are all urban design: the sidewalk widths, the trees, the new benches and other street furniture, new lights, and so on. They give a new and different character to that neighborhood, distinct from Main Street or South U.

    All that said, it is possible to include some urban design principles in the zoning ordinance so that the street experience is improved. This could include things like
    *requiring most ground floors to be at the level of the sidewalk (rather than up or down half a level, like at the Kinko’s or the building next to Liberty Plaza)
    *clear glass and real windows instead of fake or tinted ones (like the north side of BW’s at State & Washington)
    *setting a building height limit next to the street, where the building is set back before going taller, that is equal or less than the width of the right-of-way
    *concentrating most of the detail and good materials on the first floor (or two), where people will really notice them

    There are more ideas of course, but overhauling the zoning ordinance is a very important first step.
       —KGS    Jan. 27 '06 - 04:15PM    #
  19. “As for cheaper, there are a lot of “requested donations” that the city asks for with each development. By this I am referring to the ‘donations’ for parks and, ironically, affordable housing. The biggest problem is that neither of these costs seem to have an advertised fee structure, and are negotiated from scratch with every project. ”

    They are not advertised because doing so would open the City up to legal challenges over the basis for making such requests. There’s been some policy and legal discussion over the years about these practices and I think the advice coming back from the City’s lawyers has always been to keep it informal. Otherwise, you’re guaranteeing that it will be challenged in court. Until Michigan authorizes local communities to impose impact fees, these kinds of requests will always fall into a legal limbo.
       —John Q.    Jan. 27 '06 - 04:34PM    #
  20. People following the saga of William Street Station should read the February Observer’s piece on page 11 under “Subsidies”.

    The WSS developer is asking more than $14.5 million in public funds for the project! Originally, the developer was supposed to pay the City $3.5 million for the property, but things haven’t worked out that way.

    Big-ticket items in the $14.5 million include $6.2 million in brownfield money (with $2.2 million from the City); $5 million from the DDA to pay for parking and such things as storm-water detention; and another $2 million from the DDA to subsidize rents for the apartments.

    Of course $14.2 million is only half the cost of the parking for the proposed Calthorpe Place, but still -
       —David Cahill    Jan. 28 '06 - 05:20PM    #
  21. Hello,

    Since November when the new proposed apartment sites were announced I was excited about them. After visiting this page today and seeing how affordable the William Street Station complex would be, I am even more interested in getting more information about this site. Do you have contact information for a realtor so I can talk to them to find out more about this site and get my name on a list for a unit?

    Thank you.

       —LeAnn Hartka    Jan. 13 '07 - 10:19PM    #
  22. You could try here:

    They wouldn’t be handling the apartment-side directly but can probably tell you who to contact.

       —John Q.    Jan. 15 '07 - 10:06PM    #