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Posted on Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Blighted gas station on Ann Arbor's Detroit Street could be replaced with 3-story development

By Lizzy Alfs


The former Clark gas station at 544 Detroit St., pictured in 2005, is being targeted for development.

Ann Arbor News

An Ann Arbor developer is targeting a long-vacant, graffiti-covered building on Detroit Street in Ann Arbor for his next project.

Dan Williams of Maven Development submitted an application to Ann Arbor’s Historic District Commission to demolish the 400-square-foot blighted gas station at 544 Detroit St. and construct a new three-story building.

The flatiron-style building would have office space and covered parking on the first-floor with condominiums on the second and third floors. Each story would have steel balconies featuring metal work by a local artist, Williams said.

The building would total about 4,000 square feet and the two condominiums would each be 1,670 square feet, according to the plans.


A rendering of the proposed project at 544 Detroit St. in Ann Arbor.

Rendering by Marc Rueter

“The most important thing is the uniqueness of the building,” Williams said. “There aren’t really that many flatiron buildings around; there are only a few in Ann Arbor…the lot really dictates this kind of building because it’s a triangle.”

For years, the site — a former Clark gas station — has been deteriorating. The gas station has been boarded up since it closed more than 30 years ago. Williams currently is under contract to purchase the property from Jack Epstein, a former Ann Arbor resident who now lives in Maryland.

The property’s assessed value is $50,700 for the 2012 tax year, and it was listed for sale with Doug Smith of Swisher Commercial for $149,500.

Because the property is located in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, the plans need to be reviewed by Ann Arbor’s Historic District Commission before moving to Planning Commission and City Council.

City Planner Jill Thacher said she doesn’t anticipate any problems with demolishing the blighted building since it’s non-contributing and was constructed after the period of significance for the Old Fourth Ward.

Williams — who also developed a student housing project at 133 Hill St. — said the “prominent corner” near Division and Detroit streets was an attractive location for a development because of the proximity to downtown and the Huron River.

“We feel this is a good complement to Kerrytown and we’re cleaning blight,” he said.

Smith, the listing broker, added: “I’m sure the neighbors are going to be thrilled to have that site cleaned up and have something happen there.”

Williams already has met with neighborhood associations and residents to talk about the project and get feedback.

Ray Detter, chairman of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, said neighbors were mostly receptive to the plans during those meetings.

“These people have come forward with a plan that we think is good,” he said. “Basically, the neighborhood liked the fact that there was going to be a building there that included residential and office and parking on the site.”

He also noted the simple design and said it would fit with the character of Detroit Street.

The architect for the project is Marc Rueter of Ann Arbor-based Rueter Associates Architects.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

If you look on Google Maps (or just drive by yourself) it looks apparent that the tank(s) were taken out long ago. A lot of these small sites were remediated in the early to mid 90's when the State had a program to assist gas station owners with old tanks. The fund was either depleted or no longer appropriated in 1995.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 11:11 a.m.

This is great opportunity. Perfect sized development.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 11:10 a.m.

Wonderful idea and the perfect size development. Nice work.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 10:05 a.m.

Has the state or county brownfield authority committed to fund any necessary soil or groundwater cleanup?

Michigan Man

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 6:51 a.m.

Appropriate, I suppose, the blighted property is on Detroit street. Makes its somewhat easier to remember that street name. Will the curse of that street name become an unexpected negative on the new development and it ultimate success?


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 1:08 a.m.

Geez, they always forget to finish sentences at, below statement should continue with .....contingent on county brownfield program clean up AKA city taxpayers dollars subsidizing yet another developers project "Williams currently is under contract to purchase the property from Jack Epstein"......


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 11:43 p.m.

lets wait for the environmental clean up bill folks, we the taxpayers will be on the hook for this one. know the truth!


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

How will this structure 'fit' in with the rest of the buildings in that particular part of the Historic District?

Leah Gunn

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 8:04 p.m.

It will "fit" better than an abandoned gas station.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 7:15 p.m.

Maven!!! Your mindreaders stole my idea for that site! I hope it happens quickly and smoothly.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

Is there any environmental clean up that will hinder the project? I know a lot of old gas stations require testing and clean up before a new development can begin.

Ann English

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:45 p.m.

Sounds like whoever decided to build on the former Shell station site at Miller and Maple were smart to build right after the underground gas tanks were removed. Nothing left to linger and spread underground.

Larry Baird

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 5:21 p.m.

Good news regarding the possible removal of a blighted property and increase to the city tax base! Bad news it took 30 years to happen and now only a top 10% income household will be able to afford the estimated $500K plus for a two bedroom condo unit. The property taxes alone will be at least $1,000 per month or $500 per bedroom.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

If you look at the tax records, he was only paying on average $2000 a year or less for some time. Not a big burden to carry while waiting for the right development to come along. I'm sure he got a good return on his investment.

Dog Guy

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

This building would fit well with the neighborhood. It would have a commanding view and no water-drainage problems. Closeness to that deli obviates daily cooking. Shouldn't the city of Ann Arbor send Jack Epstein a thank-you note and free pass to the Dreiseitl sculpture for 30 years of generous tax contributions?

Andy Piper

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

They will be expensive, no doubt, but there will be big demand and as someone else pointed out, they will probably be sold before the project starts. Looks like a great project! A big improvement to say the least.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

Why does the city want to develop this property? They will only get fees for building permits, increased tax revenue from future assessments, and increased taxes on the neighbors around the building. Most cities would love and encourage this but Ann Arbor wants to be "Green" and preserve this historic landmark!


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.

Perhaps shold monitor all comments and tally everyone's "voter score." Anyone who manages to maintain a negative score could then have the number of allowable lines reduced in proportion to their score, from say, five lines for a zero score to one line for negative ten or worse. They could also restrict the number of posts on an article in the same way - less popular, less posts and less lines. That way, the least popular people could have less space.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

The city is not developing it. The city doesn't own it. What exactly are you complaining about? That it's somehow the city's fault that the private land owner didn't do anything with it for 30 years?


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

Please read the article before commenting. The city isn't developing the property. The city doesn't want the property to be "green." The city has nothing to do with this property other than having to approve the plans, which involves a second layer of approval because it sits within the historic district. Thanks for your helpful insights.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

So they have blight in Ann Arbor? One would think it was all in Ypsilanti to read Tom Perkins articles. Thirty years and no action from the city , makes one wonder.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1 p.m.

2 or 3 blocks from Zingerman's? Have you walked that area and seen all the other high priced condos on Fourth and Fifth? No problem selling condos in that neighborhood. It's hot. Plus, Dan often has his projects sold before he even starts them. No zoning variations or TIF kickbacks. And I think the old gas tanks were taken out years ago. The property has a secured building on a cleared lot, no danger to the citizenry. No reason for the City to get involved with the man's property whatsoever.

Thomas Jones

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

YEA, Development!!!!!


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

My only concern is that the high cost of constructing downtown may require the developer to price the condominiums above the market rate. This happened with Ashley Terrace which ultimately went bankrupt. Other expensive condos built near Maynard Street had trouble selling because of high price tags. Has Dan Williams indicated the prices that the two condominiums will be offered for sale?

music to my ear

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:52 p.m.

if they build them they will come(and buy).

Yael Ganet

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

un hunh. 'second' this emotion. high-cost housing is our A2 tradition!


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

Why is that your concern? Isn't that the developers?


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.


music to my ear

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

it will be nicer. Mr.Paul give it some time.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 3 p.m.

Won't be for long.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 12:11 p.m.

Looks like an old Clark gas station. The new development looks great. But, the real question here is why it took 30 years for action to be taken to demolish this obvious eyesore. You've seen a similar pattern of inaction by the City on other blighted properties.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 11:42 a.m.

Clever use, plan, and design. Wish the rendering depicted context of proposed building relative to existing neighborhood (vs blue background). View of rolling topography from steel balconies will likely include Huron River, historic Gandy Dancer, Amtrak activity, and northerly treed neighborhoods. Nice improvement for the neighborhood.

music to my ear

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 11:42 a.m.

saline had a clark abandon gas station on mi ave. it sat for years apparently it is very costly to remove the tanks under ground, but yet I am sure they had to pay taxes(or did not) now it is an abandon field but A2 could use the space 30 years gone un-develope is a waste .glad to see the land going to good use.

music to my ear

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:50 p.m.

I watched them removed them about 4 years after it closed perhaps they were still paying taxes thats all I could figure. but yes you are correct they are suppose to be removed Saline is a little more laid back on this kinda stuff (but hey do not drink and drive in this town.) which is good Because I know our guys(police) will get er done.know what I mean vern.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 5:51 p.m.

I've been told if it is abandoned? The tanks have to be removed due to hazardous conditions.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 11:13 a.m.

great that this eyesore is finally going to be cleaned up after 3 decades. 3 decades????? i think that the names of owners of blighted property in the city should be published weekly so that everyone knows who it is that feels it's alright to destroy neighborhoods. how about a 'blight ann arbor' listing?


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 2:35 a.m.

Who would pay the paper for that listing?? Our taxes are high enough, without increasing them to print that list even every month!! We need more police and fire fighters, and well paid ones!!


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

@lizard: i know. i think there should be a weekly published listing in the news.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 11:35 a.m.

Publice records show it belongs to a Jack Epstein from Rockville, MD. The city website has all the information.

Susan Montgomery

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:51 a.m.

What a great solution for this corner!

Leah Gunn

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 8 p.m.

Read the article. "Covered parking on the first floor".


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Great solution. But there is no place to park in that area. Good luck finding someone to move in there.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:41 a.m.

The fact that an abandoned building has been sitting for 30 years tells you a lot about the cities priorities... Why has the property owner not been forced to either maintain or demolish the building? Why has the city not demolished it and assessed the home owner? Have the tanks be removed and the soil tested?

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

There is nothing strange about land owners sitting on their properties and waiting. Just look at Detroit; everyone is waiting to pull the trigger and nothing will happen.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

Ordmad: Your definition of maintained and mine are very different. I look at the picture of the boarded up building with weeds growing and empty sign frames and that is "not maintained" in my book. It's an eyesore.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

I've walked by there almost every day for the last decade. It has been maintained, not perfectly, but the graffiti gets removed a number of times a year, the grass gets cut regularly, etc...., etc.... Facts first, assertions second, not the other way around please.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

Maybe it took 30 years to get the price right.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

Good point. And I guess the owner felt that keeping the land until now (and paying taxes on it) was a good investment, but 30 years? Strange.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:21 a.m.

How dare they destroy yet another historic building in Ann Arbor? I drive by this gas station every day. How are the youth supposed to spray paint illegible text and symbols on a nice, shiny new condo building? I hope the Ann Arbor Historic District Commision comes to their senses and decides to preserve this historic structure for all of us that we may continue to enjoy it for 30 more years.


Wed, Sep 26, 2012 : 3:12 a.m.



Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Yeah, just a bit o the ol' sarcasm!


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

Sounds like he's mocking the HDC. Just a bit of sarcasm.


Tue, Sep 25, 2012 : 10:46 a.m.

Who exactly are you mocking? It doesn't sound like anyone has a problem with this development.