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Posted on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Georgetown Mall visit prioritizes property's maintenance until its demolition or redevelopment

By Paula Gardner

The springtime tax foreclosure urgency facing Georgetown Mall has faded, yet many questions still remain for the vacant property along Packard Road in Ann Arbor.

What’s changing, however, is that neighbors are getting some answers.

No one knows the ultimate outcome yet - like what will end up on the 6.5-acre property along Packard Road - but city officials, neighbors and the owner’s representative have begun meeting around realizing a common goal.

That goal, at the very least, is keeping the mall and everything associated with it in decent repair until it can be redeveloped back into a neighborhood asset.

The Georgetown Mall Citizen’s Committee was formed this spring and met in April. Then, on June 3, the group - including city planner Jeff Kahan, Council Member Margie Teall, county Treasurer Catherine McClary and neighborhood representative Mary Krasan - walked through the property with Bruce Measom, who represented the owner.

Measom told the group that owner Harbor Georgetown LLC, under managing partner Craig Schubiner, still intends to redevelop the property.

The vision, said Kahan, centers on a mixed-use facility with residences and a smaller retail area than the mall’s existing 84,000 square feet.

The timeline is still several months away - fall at earliest - and Kahan said it’s possible that city processes could open up more incentive to develop the property in the meantime.

Kahan will present a city report Wednesday on proposed zoning changes resulting from the Area, Height and Placement Study, completed by the city’s Planning and Development Services Unit.

Among the proposed changes will be changes to zoning for commercial areas - like Georgetown - to encourage less 1960s-style sprawl over the entire lot and more vertical development. Encouraging mass transit and redevelopment are also goals.

In planning terms, if the AHP study is enacted, Georgetown would change from a property that could have 40 percent of its area built upon to one where a structure on the site could cover an area equivalent to 200 percent of its land area. That’s a formula proposed for many similar zoning districts across the city.

So the next development on the Georgetown property could reflect that encouragement for a developer to construct a mixed-use building with moderate height, instead of the single-story retail center surrounded by parking found on the site today.

It’s still early to talk about what any specific proposal could look like. While the developers are discussing the concept in general terms, the public won’t see them until Schubiner sets a neighborhood meeting before they’re submitted.

Financing also remains a concern, as Measom told the group and as the capital markets remind developers daily. I’ve reported on several local projects that have been stalled due to financing, so no one should expect Georgetown - which has had obvious financial issues due to late tax payments - to avoid that.

The best-case timeline presented to neighbors was that they could see construction begin in 18 months.

Amid those plans for Georgetown, the property remains listed for sale, retaining the possibility that a new owner could step into the process. Among the Harbor Co.’s other real estate, its Bloomfield Hills office is listed for sale and its Bloomfield Park development is partially built and in litigation.

Yet in the meantime, the walkthrough also may keep the pending changes to the Georgetown property in perspective.

All have mobilized so far around efforts to focus attention on the property to keep it from decay. Kahan said only some minor issues came up and they’re finding solutions for them.

At the same time, the neighbors are turning it into an opportunity that goes beyond the empty mall: They’re building support among themselves to unify as a recognized neighborhood association in Ann Arbor. The next meeting is coming in mid-July, with the date to be announced.

The result, they hope, will be “steady but sure pressure” to advance the cause and make either demolition or redevelopment the best option for the site’s owner.

“It’s the uncertainty of the timeline that makes all of us crazy,” Krasan said.

The Area, Height and Placement public forum will be from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard. For details, e-mail Jeff Kahan or call 734-794-6265, ext. 42614.

For information on the Georgetown Neighborhood Association, e-mail Mary Krasan.

Paula Gardner is business news director at She can be reached at 734-623-2586 or


Georgetown resident

Sun, Jul 25, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

I used to walk up there and mail letters in the mailbox. One day the Post Office came and removed it. Kroger's manager told me that the landlord made the Post Office do that because he wanted to reduce traffic to Kroger's and force them out. This shows you the kind of person the landlord is. Time for the city to quit believing anything that scumbag says. Take him to court, foreclose on the property, and build housing there. Ann Arbor very much needs affordable housing and a developer could put up townhouses, garden apartments, a playground, and make it nice. This means that the city has to care about what is going on and we need to insist.

Joan Lowenstein

Wed, Jun 30, 2010 : 1:18 p.m.

The current city attorney, Stephen Postema, under the direction of the Council, has been very active in going after nuisance properties. But there are justifiably many legal procedures involved -- no one wants to have a building torn down just because it is unsightly for a short period. Jack Eaton's mantra is that development should be so difficult that no one wants to do it. That's what would happen if a bond were required. It is naive to think that someone will develop a property if there is no profit possible and now we are actually praising banks for being more careful about funding just about anything. I agree that a change in the zoning may provide an incentive for a mixed-use development that will enhance the neighborhood.


Sat, Jun 26, 2010 : 12:07 a.m.

Did they ever secure that building in back of the complex? I know some rooms in there were being used as a brothel for quite some time. The cops said the trespassers were actually getting in through the roof somehow? Hate living near it, but honestly I'm surprised it looks as good as it does at this point. I remember people tagging the windows and dumping massive amounts of trash in that parking lot every single day.


Sat, Jun 19, 2010 : 10:27 a.m.



Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 12:36 p.m.

As a practical form of social responsibility, it would be a good idea to have developers of large projects post a reasonable bond to cover demolition and maintenance costs, should that become necessary. This would provide essential financial assistance to the surrounding community in the event of project failure. It would also discourage developers with dodgy financing from moving ahead while hoping everything will fall into place for them.

The Picker

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 6:39 p.m.

Thanks for the clarity! One learns new things daily!

Jack Eaton

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 5:48 p.m.

Last year, 4th Ward Council candidate Hatim Elhady raised the issue of the Georgetown Mall blight in his campaign. Unfortunately, he lost. Since that election, the City has done little more than form a citizens' committee. I don't regard that as much progress. For years, the City was ineffectual with the blight problem caused by the abandoned Michigan Inn on Jackson Road. Although that site was eventually demolished, the City has done nothing to address the general problem of abandoned buildings and vacant, weed filled lots. An aggravating factor is the City's willingness to "plan by exception", where it grants real estate speculators broad exceptions to zoning requirements through the PUD process only to have the grand plans fail. We have seen this problem with the Lowertown Village site at the bottom of Broadway hill. Another example is the Shops at Arlington site at Washtenaw and Platt. Both the Lowertown project and the Georgetown site involved the closing of a neighborhood grocery store. Vacant properties and the lack of neighborhood shopping centers threaten the vitality of our town. Our population is declining and retail vacancy rates are growing, but the City continues to encourage extreme development projects. The proposed Area, Height and Placement modifications to the zoning code will further encourage unnecessary developments. We need a local ordinance addressing the problem of urban blight. We need to require developers to post a bond that will cover the cost of demolition and maintenance should their grand scheme fail. We need to keep our government from getting so deeply entangled in the planning of these developments. There is no sign that the current administration will do any of these things.


Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 3:34 p.m.

The city council and administration were fairly ho-hum in public while the Georgetown Mall train wreck gradually unfolded over time. On one hand, they did play mainly secondary roles, apparently, with only limited power to act. Still, they could have used their bully pulpit to apply public pressure on Harbor Co. and Craig Schubiner when Georgetown clearly began to go off the rails. Meanwhile, the council's most vocal opponents seemed to give this huge mess either limited attention in their public talking points, or else briefly sought to hang it around the neck of whichever council incumbent they were trying to knock off at the moment. By placing this disaster lower in their priorities, and by deflecting accountability for political gain, even some city council's opponents effectively let Schubiner off the hook. Also, their relentless focus on the Stadium Bridge has done him a substantial favor by distracting attention away from final closure of the mall. I'll guess part of the issue here is that the Georgetown neighborhood hasn't yet proved to be a prime ground for recruiting opposition votes. Apparently, the image of a badly neglected concrete bridge, nearer to the center of town, scores a lot more campaign points in the game of local politics. Sorry, but unless the Stadium bridge completely collapses, causing multiple injuries, the ex-Georgetown Mall is a much bigger deal in this city. The city council, their opponents, and the community should aggressively go after Harbor. Don't allow this to drag on for years and years; don't humor more stalling tactics. Make it seem like Georgetown really matters, even if it is far removed from both downtown and your own neighborhood base.


Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 2:39 p.m.

During the past decade at Georgetown, Harbor Co. and Craig Schubiner presided over what's arguably become the single largest commercial real estate disaster in city history. Bigger than even the twin holes located at Main and William some 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the $2 billion Bloomfield Park fiasco, launched by Harbor along the city of Pontiac's southern border, may well reign right now as the largest such disaster in Michigan history. Some reports in recent years indicated that Schubiner discouraged long-term tenancy at Georgetown, since bigger & better things were supposed to be in the works. After the last tenants moved on, we found the owner and would-be developer to be a semi-broken man without a financial plan. Oops. Both here and in Pontiac, he's brought substantial ruin through overreaching delusions of commercial grandeur. Harbor's ongoing saga seemingly tells the story of an aspiring Ayn Rand hero who falls victim to Shakespearean tragedy in the modern-day marketplace. Yet it's all much too foolish for that. Side reading on contemporary life in Pontiac's Bloomfield Park:$2B-Bloomfield-Park-project-a-monument-to-downturn ----------------

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 8:41 a.m.

Further clarification of the "coverage" issue: it refers to F.A.R. (Floor Area Ratio). A building footprint with a zero setback (lot line to lot line) would be 100% F.A.R., but so would a 2-story building that occupies 50% of the area. A 200% coverage could be a combination of covering more than 50% of the area with a mix of heights in various sections, up to several stories. The proposed regulations have some limits. More information about the proposed AHP changes, and the language of the ordinance, is here on the city website. There is a public meeting on June 16 to discuss them (Cobblestone Farm) - info on the website.

Paula Gardner

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

abc, That speaker is Mary Krasan, the neighborhood rep listed earlier in the story among the people who went on the walkthrough.


Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 7:49 a.m.

Might the last quote also be coming from Jeff Kahan? I didn't notice a 'Krasan' introduced; but maybe I missed it.


Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 7:26 a.m.

It's currently in need of some graffiti removal. And there are those sidewalk sections in front that have been marked and continue to go unrepaired. No way you'd get away with that in front of your house. What an eyesore!

Paula Gardner

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 6:39 a.m.

The percentage is from the zoning regulations - planners and developers use it as a measure for how much building height would be allowed in certain districts and they call it a floor area ratio. A 100 percent floor area ratio probably won't mean lot-line to lot-line either (tho it seems like it could be possible in campus-area business zoning). An area like Georgetown will require setbacks (30 feet on the residential sides) and parking, so that percentage is more about how much is allowed on the buildable area after those considerations.

The Picker

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 : 6 a.m.

200% coverage of its land area? How is this possible? Even if it covered the entire site that would be 100% coverage. A second story would still be 100% coverage. Please clarify!