Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

New construction proposed on East University

10. January 2007 • Murph
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The City has apparently received site plans for “Zaragon Place”, a 10-story building on East University, which would include 66 rental apartments, ground floor retail space, and two levels of that elusive grail, underground parking. The News states that apartments would be furnished, 2- to 6- bedrooms, and priced at around $1,000 per bedroom. (Compare to recent discussion of area rental rates on AAiO.)

These plans have already begun to ring alarms, as the site is currently the home of the Anberay Apartments, pictured. (Photo from City of A2 online assessing database.) As quoted in the News,

Until Sept. 11, 2001, the three-story Anberay was protected as part of Ann Arbor’s Individual Historic Properties Historic District. That historic district was dissolved as the result of a multi-year court battle over whether the city could group individual, scattered properties together for preservation.

The 23-unit Anberay was built in 1923 and designed by Albert Rousseau and George McConkey, who were architecture professors at the U-M. The duo also designed other landmarks, including St. Mary’s Student Chapel and the Trotter House.
. . .
“There are so few (buildings) in that style in Ann Arbor,’‘ said [Susan] Wineberg, who is a board member of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission. “I think everybody cares a lot about that building; of all the apartment buildings that are from that era … the Anberay is the best of those that still exist.’‘

Maggie Ladd, of the South University Area Association, is quoted as saying that her organization is “happy with the plans”, and that the developer met with the association several times during the design of the project.

Zaragon Place is scheduled to go before the City’s “Advisory Development Committee” this Friday at 2pm; the project is not yet scheduled for an appearance before the Planning Commission.

  1. “ .... that apartments would be furnished, 2- to 6- bedrooms, and priced at around $1,000 per bedroom.”

    828 Green Redux?

    Juliew, whaddaya think: is this a fair comparison or not?

       —HD    Jan. 10 '07 - 11:28PM    #
  2. If I might point again to the difference between the Ann Arbor News and a good newspaper: a good newspaper might tell us whom Zaragon was buying this property from, and why this property rather than another nearby. (I think the building is pretty nice and I doubt anything to come will be an improvement no matter how high the wireless bandwidth.)

    I suggest again that preservationists could best spend their time developing an efficient process for facilitating the moving of frame structures so that THOSE parcels would be more attractive for assembly and redevelopment, sparing properties like this one and yielding no net loss of the architecture we love.

       —Dale    Jan. 11 '07 - 12:02AM    #
  3. They are buying it from Dan Pampreen of Dan’s Houses. Currently the apartments are about $630/bedroom including heat and water (no parking). Here is the rental link.

    This is the part that really pisses me off from the new developer: “The current property is almost 90 years old and it’s not in good shape,” said Richard Perlman, a University of Michigan graduate and president of Zaragon Inc., the Chicago real estate company that is the parent of Galileo Associates, which is buying and redeveloping the Anberay site. “This property has issues that need to be dealt with and the smart thing to do, clearly, is to get rid of it and go with something new. Oh please, just fix the damn issues. 90 years old is but a blip and those apartments are really cool.

    While Maggie Ladd may be happy in theory, it is interesting to note that in the Daily today, there was an article on housing that discussed how badly University Towers was doing as half the building is unrented for next year. The students quoted said that it was because of the rent hikes which still make most of the units less than $1000/bedroom/month.

    HD, since 828 Greene was also listed in the article as one of the units that still has available housing (they have at least one full unit and several rooms empty now), and it replaced existing more interesting housing that was several hundred dollars per room cheaper, then yeah, I guess I would have to say it does remind me of the same sort of situation. But I think this one may not go through as the Anberay is more historically significant than the little houses down by us.

       —Juliew    Jan. 11 '07 - 01:01AM    #
  4. Huhnh, sigh. Of course this sort of thing was going to happen…however I didn’t realize the old South U. height limit extended down this far. Interesting, though, that it also took the dissolution of the individual historic district. Another shame.

    Anberay is indeed in sad shape—at least the exterior is. Of course it would be much better if they spent the money fixing them up. They are an important part of the city’s heritage. Dale has a very good point: why not buy and move frame housing for this project? (Or even tear down—not all frame housing is created equal.)

    The only real redeeming features are 1) that the South U. association likes it, and worked with them on it, and 2) it’s not a terrible building (the Zaragon, I mean)—it’s actually the best design I’ve seen out of all the various proposals here and there around town. But I agree with the comment in the paper that it will mean loss of individuality for Ann Arbor architecture. Maybe someday the Zaragon will be equally valued. I doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible. It would certainly be better if built on another propery; if it were, it would be win-win.

    I mean, University Towers has to be the ugliest property on South U…but of course that one gets to stay. Absurd. Same for the Galleria—how come we never get to tear down the worst examples, only the best ones?

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jan. 11 '07 - 05:11AM    #
  5. how come we never get to tear down the worst examples, only the best ones?

    Because the worst examples are the newest and therefore most expensive and the older properties are the least expensive, have the most land, and are the least economically efficient (in theory anyway). That is why historic districts need to exist because historic buildings are almost always the most vulnerable, even if they have other attributes than “highest and best use” (less expensive rent, nice details, emotionally resonant, etc.). And the sad thing is that although this building is pretty much the one building in that part of South U that really shouldn’t be torn down, I don’t think there is a single thing anyone can do about it. It isn’t a historically designated building and the proposal most likely fits within the new zoning. This is exactly the sort of building everyone wanted on South U, just no one thought it would there. I think if everyone named 20 sites around downtown that could be built on, this wouldn’t appear in anyone’s list.

       —Juliew    Jan. 11 '07 - 06:12AM    #
  6. Apartments for $2,000-6,000? Holy crap.

       —AHFB    Jan. 11 '07 - 08:49AM    #
  7. Also, is it just me, or is that main thing that everyone associates with the current building the huge piles of unread Wall Street Journals our front?

       —AHFB    Jan. 11 '07 - 08:52AM    #
  8. Out front.

    /sucks for posting 3 times in a row

       —AHFB    Jan. 11 '07 - 09:28AM    #
  9. Yes, the Ann Arbor News…sigh. Ms. Murray here is the story, “This property has issues that need to be dealt with and the smart thing to do, clearly, is to get rid of it and go with something new.” It was hiding in your article all along. I want to know more about this!

    For sure juilew is right, 90 years is nothing, so why can’t this structure be renovated. There may be good reasons so let’s have them; leaving it at, “the building has issues” sounds like you shrunk it and want to be polite. Given its age I would say the building is approximately 15,000 sf so the developer is figuring around $200 per sf to renovate. This sounds like a lot so they must have figured that the only viable part of the building is its structure. Maybe the building has been neglected which can lead to insidious problems, like mold. Or has it been coated with lead or asbestos? Are the ceiling heights 7’-2”? Give us more than, “it has issues”.

    Or is the problem getting it to meet current codes? Is it storm water (should be grandfathered, I would guess) or does it need an elevator but has no good place to build it, or is it something else?

    From this article it is impossible to comment on the merits of the decision to tear this building down. The News is completely irresponsible if it does not present more specificity regarding the “issues” this building may or may not have. Leaving the discussion where they have certainly will foment opinions and heated discussion but they will be without foundation and fact. The News should know better.

       —abc    Jan. 11 '07 - 07:34PM    #
  10. I have had the pleasure of living in Anberay for one summer a few years ago. This place needs updating badly. The kitchen was barely functional – the refridgerator only opened part of the way before it would hit the cabinets on the other side. THe inside is cinder block. there were cockroaches in our place and not to mention the bathtub wall was rotted through.

    the only nice part was the balcony you could sit and peoplewatch. I for one am for the new development.

       —chris    Jan. 12 '07 - 04:31AM    #
  11. I work near there and the place is not nearly as wonderful as the architectural description here implies.

       —JennyD    Jan. 12 '07 - 05:39AM    #
  12. It is definitely run down. The question is, should it be restored as a historic property, or should it be torn down and replaced?

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jan. 12 '07 - 05:58AM    #
  13. I’m sure the building was a great place when it was originally built, but the current owner has done nothing to improve it since he purchased it in 2004.

    People who live and work in the area are behind the proposed project hoping it will bring life back to the great area surrounding South University.

       —ashley    Jan. 12 '07 - 06:15AM    #
  14. There’s definitely some unfortunate irony in the building with the greatest architectural contribution being torn down first. Though I don’t necessarily think that, “It’s in bad shape, let’s trash it,” is a compelling case (and certainly not “the current owner has done nothing to improve it since he purchased it [way way back] in 2004”). It may very well be the case that it’s financially prohibitive to bring the property up to code. On the other hand, there are tools available (some would say “incentives”) that could be used to address this, if we really wanted to. (Take a look at Michigan’s Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act, PA 146 of 2000, for example.

    On the other hand, I’m surprised that it’s been since 2001 now that A2’s scattered-site historic district was dismantled, and, despite the lament we hear over it, the properties haven’t been reprotected yet, 5.5 years later. It’s definitely possible to set up single-property historic districts; as I understand it, Ann Arbor just wasn’t going through the proper process (which the State has clarified since Ann Arbor’s court case).

       —Murph.    Jan. 12 '07 - 06:00PM    #
  15. I lived in that building for a time and thought it was charming — rich wood floors, sconces, big windows, pretty porches, high ceilings. The kitchen was cramped, but the rest of the layout was great and the apartment was the best I lived in for years. I’m surprised to hear about its recent decline. The apartments have “good bones”, and unless there are structural problems, I can’t imagine it would be that hard to bring the building up to par. Where are the cinder blocks? I don’t remember any, but maybe there were in the hallways or something. The interior walls were definitely plaster.

    I don’t understand why Ann Arbor can’t write laws that protect individual buildings rather than whole districts. Is there a state law that prevents protecting historic buildings in isolation?

       —Anna    Jan. 12 '07 - 09:48PM    #
  16. Anna – as I mentioned, it is possible to set up historic districts that cover single properties. (Ypsilanti has one, for example.) The issue is that setting up a historic district requires a survey/study of the area via a particular process, regardless of whether your district is 1 property or 1,000. Ann Arbor’s setup, I think, had kind of a nebulous district that individual properties could be pulled into by the commission, and the overturning of this district was based on the fact that the proper process was not followed in pulling those properties in.

    Perhaps somebody who was involved in the process can fill in the gaps in my understanding…?

       —Murph    Jan. 12 '07 - 11:14PM    #
  17. When our Individual Historic District was overturned by the courts on September 11, 2001 (another reason this day will live in infamy for me), we immediately set about trying to find legitimate ways to designate these buildings. A number of thematic districts were submitted to the city, including an apartment district that included the Anberay. Then what happened? nothing. The City Administrator and mayor refused to bring these forward for discussion and a vote by the council. The mayor refused to appoint anyone to the IHP Study Committee. Our terms ran out, no one new was appointed, so the committee is effectively dead. This was a political act and explains why none of the buildings formerly protected have any protection whatsoever. The process for designating a single resource is the same as that for designating a district—the mayor and council must appoint a study committee. Since this has not, and apparently will not, be done, all the formerly protected properites remain in jeopardy. All of this was told to the reporter but it did not get published in the article in the Ann Arbor News.

       —susan wineberg    Jan. 12 '07 - 11:23PM    #
  18. Thanks, Susan!

    If I remember correctly, the Greek Orthodox Church on North Main was also in the IHP district?

       —Murph.    Jan. 13 '07 - 07:28PM    #
  19. The Greek Orthodox Church was proposed in our new ‘churches’ district but it had not previously been protected as an IHP.

       —susan wineberg    Jan. 13 '07 - 09:01PM    #
  20. Susan & Murph:

    I could of course be wrong but I remember this differently. Wasn’t there an article at the time the lawsuit verdict was delivered that had the city attorney saying that the ruling meant there was an open season on “all” individual historic district properties? It was something about the district needing to be contiguous or at least have a common theme like the “churches district.” I figured this was why the committee was allowed to languish, why pursue a district that was open to challenge?

    Maybe the Ypsilanti property has yet to be challenged so the protection is still there. The threat of legal challenges is what caused A2 to act to correct the language in the existing districts. We might need to find an official opinion to sort this out.

       —Dustin    Jan. 13 '07 - 09:57PM    #
  21. Dustin –

    SHPO (the State Historic Preservation Office) has explicitly said (to me) that Ypsi’s single-property district is a-okay, and that single-property districts in general are just fine…as long as they’re created properly. (I asked, as I was curious about why Ypsi was allowed to set up a single-property district after Ann Arbor’s IHP district was overturned.) I did not ask about district themes, but was told that it was Ann Arbor’s process that was the biggest issue.

       —Murph.    Jan. 14 '07 - 01:07AM    #
  22. Thanks Murph, it is possible that there is a difference of opinion between the SHPO office and the attorney at the city on what the ruling meant. The SHPO is not the final arbitrator of these disputes (witness the Glen Ann project) the court is.

       —Dustin    Jan. 14 '07 - 01:27AM    #
  23. The problem wasn’t Ann Arbor’s process, it was a bad court ruling (obviously looking for some excuse to make ONE specific litigant happy) which wasn’t consistent with any reasonable prior interpretation of the law.

    Since then, the SHPO has adhered to the letter of this crazy and unprecedented ruling, and advised communities to avoid the specific things Ann Arbor did that were struck down.

    But if Ann Arbor had done things differently, that same judge would have found some other excuse to throw out that designation. There was no genuine problem with Ann Arbor’s process, based on the way everyone understood the law at the time. It irritates the hell out of me to see a bad ruling enshrined into bad law.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jan. 14 '07 - 05:40PM    #
  24. I assume that all of the above discussion with respect to historic districts, while interesting, has no bearing on this particular building. Since the article says that Richard Perlman is buying the property then it is too late for any protection from demolition using an historic designation, if that is what the new owner wants to do.

    I would like to think that the architects did a thorough analysis of the existing structure to determine how involved it would be to preserve the building but since they have invested in the design for a new building they must believe that it is not worth it. I hope that Mr. Perlman makes it clear as to why this building has to be torn down as it seems to me that, on the surface, this appears to be a building worthy of preservation. Making whatever analysis that was done available to interested parties would actually help to garner support for the new building. If the reasons for tearing the building down remain vague it is easier to think they are not genuine.

       —abc    Jan. 16 '07 - 12:35AM    #
  25. “I hope that Mr. Perlman makes it clear as to why this building has to be torn down as it seems to me that, on the surface, this appears to be a building worthy of preservation.”

    Simple math?

    Existing building – old, 3 stories, 23 units, rental $630/bedroom

    Proposed building – new, 10 stories, 66 units, rental $1000/bedroom

    I know that the math isn’t actually that simple but it’s no different than your typical single-family home teardown where older, smaller homes fall to the wrecking ball so that someone can build bigger and better.

       —John Q.    Jan. 16 '07 - 01:54AM    #
  26. I’m not sold on this project, but it’s way, way different from a single-family home teardown. Single-family home teardowns allow one family to live in a more lavish place than that same family did before. This kind of teardown allows three times as many people to live in the same place, increasing density and housing supply.

       —ann arbor is overrated    Jan. 16 '07 - 02:29AM    #
  27. Point taken. But the end result is the same as something of architectural and/or historical value is lost because someone is more interested in doing something bigger and better than saving what’s already there. As others have noted, there has to be other locations for that scale of project that wouldn’t involve demolishing something that is fairly unique for A2.

       —John Q.    Jan. 16 '07 - 05:24AM    #
  28. This kind of teardown allows three times as many people to live in the same place, increasing density and housing supply.

    Ah, but potentially at a cost if this statement even ends up being true. Is it the right type of housing, is it the right price, is it the right building, will this developer really build what they say they are going to build? Just because it has more rooms doesn’t mean it will increase density if they sit empty. Or if it does fill at $1000/room it could lead to an increase in other rents in the area. Or it could lead to a lot more tear-downs of historic structures and further blight the South U area. It isn’t always so simple to say it has more rooms, therefore it will be better. Sometimes it is a better thing, but sometimes the cost is more than it is worth.

    I would like to think that the architects did a thorough analysis of the existing structure to determine how involved it would be to preserve the building but since they have invested in the design for a new building they must believe that it is not worth it.

    Ha, ha, ha, ha. If only it worked this way. What usually happens is that an out of town developer sees a large piece of property near the University for sale inexpensively and buys it because they think they can make a big profit off of rich students (and thinks that all the developers in Ann Arbor are too stupid to recognize the opportunity). Depending on how astute that developer is, they have either done a lot of research and thorough analysis and will make it work, or more likely they will have looked at the now several-year old self-reported UM Housing stats that says 6-bedroom, 5-bedroom, and efficiency apartments have the lowest vacancy rates and draw up the plan to fit that sketchy data. They often don’t figure in how much the construction costs are and how long it takes to rent (if it rents) so the profit doesn‘t work the way they hope. Many times in teardowns, the developers could have better profit margins if they just spent the money to renovate the existing housing, plus it would be more interesting, more flexible, and less expensive housing than building new.

       —Juliew    Jan. 16 '07 - 08:53AM    #
  29. Energy use needs to become a factor in the consideration of new buildings vs old. Even after extensive energy saving improvements, (insulation, 90% efficient furnace, windows, etc.) our old house has 30% higher heating and cooling bills than my Sister’s new house in the twp. and hers is bigger.

       —Larua B.    Jan. 21 '07 - 12:31PM    #
  30. Do we also get to factor in the increased costs that come from the typical Township lifestyle? Big lawns, long commutes, driving for everything…you get the picture.

       —John Q,    Jan. 22 '07 - 12:56AM    #
  31. “Do we also get to factor in the increased costs that come from the typical Township lifestyle?”

    Or how about all the new energy that’s expended to create the materials for the new structure….and then there’s the energy expended when the structure is put together.

    It’s a complicated equation, with a whole mess of grey area.

       —todd    Jan. 22 '07 - 02:24AM    #
  32. The township lifestyle need not figure into the equation. Lets assume the new house is in town.

    If the development is approved on East U, 66 units will replace 23 on the same amount of space, the new building could be twice as efficient or even better, I don’t know. It would be 1916 VS 2007 construction methods. Does anybody here know how this comparison would work?

    Anyway, if it is twice as efficient, then there will be twice the density with the same amount of energy consumed and the same amount of green house gas production. There will be new energy expended in the construction plus in the production of all the materials but over time, say 10 years, it would seem that it would work out as a positive from an energy used, greenhouse gas produced view point.

    It would be an even better outcome if the new building has some green, energy saving features.

    I just think energy and green house gas production should be figured into the new VS old equation. Of course some old buildings have more to offer than others as do some new buildings, then there’s all the construction jobs and the offshoot economic benefits. Maybe we should not be saving old buildings just because they are old.

       —Laura B    Jan. 22 '07 - 09:38AM    #
  33. Laura,

    Where are you getting your numbers? All you’ve presented is anecdotal evidence that your old house costs more to heat/cool than your sister’s new house , even though your old house is smaller. There’s all kinds of reasons that this might be so from something as simple as you like to keep the house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer to actual differences in efficiencies between new and old construction. But I think leaping to those conclusions based on your personal energy costs is a bit extreme.

       —John Q,    Jan. 22 '07 - 10:50AM    #
  34. “There’s definitely some unfortunate irony in the building with the greatest architectural contribution being torn down first.” … As it turns out this may not be the only irony.

    This is the largest lot on this block and, at less than half an acre, its density (without getting into a lot of minutia) is roughly 46 units per acre. With that calculation it may be the most dense portion of the block, with the possible exception of Crawford House. This area is still loaded with older single family houses of little or no architectural merit that may average 6 units per acre. I would certainly prefer to see the developer going after some of these lots instead. Possibly if the city were more actively involved with shaping development, instead of only reacting to it, we might have a different proposal.

    Anberay Apartments, whether easy to renovate or not, is a somewhat dense development close to campus with an architectural presence not found in any of the surrounding buildings, except some of the university’s buildings. I think we should be tearing down the one and two story houses in the area and turning those into 10 story projects.

    “This kind of teardown allows three times as many people to live in the same place, increasing density and housing supply.” … Yes, but if it replaced 3 or 4 houses on small lots it could have more than fifteen times as many people, and we would get to have both the new energy efficient building as well as the locally designed and architecturally interesting building.

       —abc    Jan. 22 '07 - 10:03PM    #
  35. I agree with John Q, I wish someone had better numbers. When we did the remodeling our builder told us that we could do a lot to save energy but that our old house (1940’s) would never be as efficient as a new home, not even close. From what I can see and know of the Anberay Apartments having had a friend who lived there 10 years ago, there were a lot of leaks. All I am saying is that in the coming age of increasing energy costs, energy consumption per dwelling unit should be a factor in considering old VS new.

       —Laura B    Jan. 23 '07 - 10:01AM    #
  36. Laura,

    What kind of work did you have done on the house and of those, what were targeted at energy efficiency?

       —John Q.    Jan. 23 '07 - 07:32PM    #
  37. Laura B, I think your experience is very interesting. I live in a house that was built around 1919. We made a few minor adjustments and our house is actually quite efficient (and we haven’t replaced the old furnace or any of the windows or the things people say are necessary). I would be surprised that a house built in the ’40s would be that inefficient because they were built really well at that time.

    In fact, older houses tend to have a lot more passive efficiencies that allow for less energy use. We have big windows that let in a lot of light and so reduce our need for electricity (curtains and storm windows help conserve heat in the winter). Our south-facing wall has few windows and a very large deciduous tree shading it in the summer that allows sun through in the winter. Our dining room has a candle chandelier. All the rooms have cross-ventilation and we have two porches that shade the main rooms so air-conditioning is not necessary. The rooms are small and easy to heat in the winter. We have very little unused space that needs to be heated or cooled and no vaulted ceilings for heat to escape to. I have a co-worker who has a house built in the late 1800s but they have added solar panels and geothermal heat so they barely use any energy. Any new building with air-conditioning is going to use more energy than an old building without so if you are building south-facing apartments with windows that don’t open, no cross-ventilation, and no shade, they will use more energy. As pointed out above, new construction is almost always going to use more resources than making an existing building more efficient. So I guess it depends on what you mean by energy consumption. New buildings can certainly be very efficient, and older building inefficient, but age isn’t the deciding factor.

       —Juliew    Jan. 24 '07 - 01:09AM    #
  38. I agree with Juliew — my former home was built in 1900. After I installed new storm windows, the heating bill went down to on-par with my neighbors’ newer houses, I guess partly because of the very large windows that flooded the house with sunlight in the winter. In the summer I never used air conditioning becasue those same big windows allowed cross ventilation and during the hottest parts of the day, I let down the shades. I had a couple strategically placed giganormous shade trees over the house — even into the 90s the house stayed very comfortable until early evening when the heat accumulated a bit, but then it cooled quickly as the outside temperature dropped.

       —Anna    Jan. 25 '07 - 09:00PM    #
  39. Saw this transaction go by on one of my news clippings –

    A local investor known as Anberay Apartments LLC sold the 23-unit Anberay Apartments complex in Ann Arbor, MI, to an undisclosed buyer for $5.5 million, or approximately $239,000 per unit.

    Located at 619 E. University Ave., the 20,940-square-foot complex consists of three one-bedroom units, two two-bedroom units, 15 three-bedroom units and three four-bedroom units. The units range in size from 475 square feet to 1,235 square feet. Amenities include a laundry facility, gated courtyard and keyless controlled building entry.

    Jonathan Dwoskin and Robert Bender of Marcus & Millichap represented both parties.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Feb. 14 '07 - 10:44AM    #