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Posted on Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Kingsley Lane developers redesigning Ann Arbor project as small apartments

By Paula Gardner

The attributes of Kingsley Lane remain the same: It’s close to Kerrytown, it’s close to downtown, and it’s close to the west side Ann Arbor neighborhood that appeals to young professionals.

Now the developers behind the project - put on hold in 2007 as the housing market stalled and the downtown condo pipeline clogged with hundreds of units - think a new approach will make it viable.

“We’re going to come back with small rental units à la Ikea,” co-developer Peter Allen said.

Allen and Mark Berg met with city planners last week as part of their efforts to retool the site plans for Kingsley Lane, which celebrated its groundbreaking in March 2007 as 46 condos were planned for the corner of Kingsley and North Ashley, just north of downtown.

That project launch followed the announcement that Pfizer was leaving Ann Arbor, and both Allen and Berg quickly decided to postpone construction as they saw the housing market start to hiccup.

The decision, Allen said, was the right one, since the economy only worsened over the following years.

Today, Allen said he thinks it could take up to five years for the condo market to rebound.

Yet affordable rental housing for young adults who are moving beyond their student years and want their own apartments close to downtown is rare, he said. The recent Moravian proposal for just south of downtown, for example, had many multiple-bedroom units.

So the revisions to Kingsley Lane are focusing on creating about 40 small apartments - from 360 to 700 square feet - pattered after the efficient, “Not So Big House” type of designs for which shoppers can buy a complete set of furnishings and housewares at Ikea.

“These units will be, by their size, affordable,” said Allen.

And for a price of about $1,000 per month or less - including one parking spot - they’ll suitable for someone living alone and making about $40,000 per year, he said.

The new version of Kingsley Lane will look different, too. Architect Marc Rueter is redesigning it in four stories, so the developers will be seeking approvals under the new downtown zoning instead of submitting it as a planned unit development.

Earlier versions focused on making Kingsley Lane the hub of walkable new construction in Ann Arbor. Each condo - from 516 to more than 2,000 square feet - did not come with a parking space, which cost extra. Instead, buyers were going to get a bicycle.

While obtaining financing may be the biggest hurdle to any project right now, Allen believes a local bank will be willing to sign on to the project by 2011.

“We’re talking about $5 million - that’s not a big loan,” he said.

Allen looks to the job growth that both Ann Arbor and the U.S. are starting to see. He also sees Zingerman’s effort to move its plan forward to add to its Detroit street deli as a sign of confidence in the local market.

And while many types of developments still won’t make sense, he thinks what he calls “niche rental plays” will work. Other examples are student housing, like the proposal coming later this month for Zaragon Place 2.

Condos, he said, still don’t make sense for development in Ann Arbor.

“The market’s coming back in a different flavor,” he said. “It’s clearly not condo.”

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.


The Picker

Tue, Apr 13, 2010 : 7:23 a.m.

FYI 20' x 20' = 400sq' - 5'x7'bath 35sq' ________ 365 sq' living area Min. legal bedroom 225sq' 140sq' bonus space

say it plain

Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 10:15 a.m.

Ah, but @atnaap brings up a couple of the bigger issues here. Initially this project had the albeit "cute" idea of not providing parking spaces and including a "free" bike with a condo. I recall somehow that the area wasn't thrilled about adding all those bodies (which turned out to be irrelevant given the condo market) without places for their cars, because lets be real and understand that Ann Arbor is not Manhattan and people will continue to need/want cars to live here. Now as this revision seems to be playing out for apartments instead, a parking space would be included (also "for free"!). That makes the alleged 40K/year target audience more plausible, I think, because you'd need to be able to get to kroger's for milk and cereal, no? You'd have to go fairly frequently too, because there wouldn't be much room in 400SF for a pantry. I don't know how 'green' this model for living is, but hey at least you'd be a quick walk from the bars and coffee shops, so you'd never have to blow change on parking downtown. And most of the coffee shops let you sit and nurse a cup of joe for half the day, so that's like a satellite breakfast nook! All may be fine for people who want to spend two to three times as much per SF on rent to be a half mile closer to downtown. I can't wait to see the designs that make 400SF units on that lot seem worth anything close to $1000/month.


Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

@Tii: I've shopped and eaten at Zingermans since on less than that in the past. Oddly enough, when you live downtown and don't need to spend 30% of your income on a car+insurance+gas, you have a lot more disposable income available. As for the size? A well designed 400SF is a livable space. It doesn't have a lot of room for you to store unnecessary crap, but fortunately most 20-somethings haven't yet accumulated much unnecessary crap.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

I don't know... that proposal sounds like it will totally wreck the neighborhood... we should propose an historic district study to determine the viability of a new district... I mean there are incredible old houses there!; )


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 3:41 p.m.

the master plan did adhere to the moravian project and met the requirements of a PUD zoning over the 5 years of consultation with city staff, who under the leadership of the mayor and council set forth the direction that the developers were to bring forward with their plans. your ignorance to the facts that were undone by city council at the last hour is the reason this project failed. this is just the start, you will start to see more and more younger people that will take a radical stance at meetings such as the townies have been doing for years with their signs and inside players on various commissions. you will see in the next 20 years real projects like this one that was shot down, a sustainable city and a city council that reflects a new vision for ann arbor.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 3:07 p.m.

@bruno_uno: This will be my last response because this thread should be about a GOOD project, proposed as a by right, where the zoning and planning calls for it, not a discourse on PUDs, which Kingsley Lane is not proposed to be. The Ann Arbor ordinance states that the benefits of a PUD are to accrue to the current or future surrounding potential uses (i.e.--what is immediately surrounding the parcel in question, now and in the future), not hypothetical trade-offs for rural wetlands or global warming. This is a local ordinance meant to protect local property owners from incompatible development that would degrade their property, and to protect the health, safety and welfare of the local population in general. If someone wants a windfall variance from the local ordinance, then they need to follow the law and provide substantial benefits to the community that meet the local criteria. Even more to the point, it specifically restricts any PUD from causing detriments to the neighboring property. Taking all the sunlight away is a detriment. Green features are great, but there are already tax incentives, grants and of course, savings on utility bills that encourage and reward those features. Problem is (both with Moravian and Heritage Row), what started out as promises of geo-thermal systems have now turned into lukewarm pinky promises to maybe buy some renewable energy credits or something. Even if the geo-thermal systems were there, this is of little consequence in the eyes of the ordinance. Energy efficiency is one small phrase in a larger paragraph about innovation. Because zoning is such a very important issue in our society, this is why we have multiple steps that prevent the average Joe from walking in to City Hall and walking out with custom zoning just for their own property. That would pretty much defeat the purpose of zoning in the first place. In my opinion, staff did a poor job on the Moravian and Heritage Row. This is why we have a planning commission. As citizens, theoretically with a little knowledge, but no vested interest in specific projects, the PC is charged with reviewing what staff brings it to make sure proposals meet both the letter and intent of the law. Staff recommendations were only a recent thing. In the past, they just provided an objective analysis. With the layoff ax looming over their heads, and revenues for development fees down, planning staff have a lot of pressure on them to approve things. Staff also meet with developers and their consultants for many hours over many months, behind closed doors, developing relationships that ordinary citizens or neighboring property owners do not. Because of the pressures on staff it is the job of the planning commission to fully vet proposals under the bright light of public scrutiny, in a public forum. Their decision to recommend is considered an "administrative" decision, which means it must be thorough, detailed and based on facts. I don't think this has happened lately--especially with the Moravian where the planning commission was most enamored with the developer's photo-shopped rendering. I honestly don't think many of the commissioners even read their packets before the meetings. Council's decision on a PUD, on the other hand, is considered by the law to be "legislative." That means they can use their own discretion. Good government would dictate that they base their decision on sound evidence, the master plans and zoning, and all other information at their disposal. However, they would be perfectly within the law to simply say the didn't like the proposal and vote against it on those grounds.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

David- thanks for the insight! i never knew before that the city council job was to review the planning laws for the planning department in ann arbor. makes perfect sense why you townies and the city council are so out of touch with reality in ann arbor. again, thanks for the clarification on how the professional planners are not the ones in ann arbor who review the planning laws!

David Cahill

Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 2:05 p.m.

Yes, I think both the planning staff and the Planning Commission approved a project that did not follow the strict requirements for giving special permission. The staff/Commission often naturally respond favorably to developers, whom they consider their "customers". A large fraction of the planning staff's budget comes from fees developers pay. It is Council's job to do a careful, independent review of a proposed project and the zoning law. That is what Council did.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 12:36 p.m.

@ david- same question for you...seems your implying the moravian project was not following the zoning rules? if so, then you also believe that the planning staff (proffesionals) and the planning commission both approved a project that was against the planning rules? should we then get rid of them all to save money on the budget crisis based on doing a shoddy performance on the moravian project? it would at least open up some of the money for the union raises.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 12:32 p.m.

How many people earning 40K per year can afford to shop/eat at Zingerman"s.

David Cahill

Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 12:06 p.m.

I sure hope Peter Allen's project succeeds! It is the right kind for the post-student people who want to live close to downtown. Plus, it apparently follows the City's zoning rules.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 11:34 a.m.

@ townie- i dont disagree with your PUD intent. however, can't those public benefits change over time? for instance, you mention that PUDs originated for cluster zoning to protect wetlands. don't you feel that the moravian project was protecting wetlands outside the city in the townships where sprawl happens? in addition, your dislike of green concepts leads me to believe you dont understand the next generation of public benefits. in addition, i thought that the project was a mixed use project that was one of the public benefits origins of PUDs that you mention. finally, it seems that if this project went through both the planning staff and planning commissions with approvals, why dont we have them as part of roger frasers cuts? we simply dont need them if we have townies with all the knowledge. by having council disregard their approvals, it also tells me that council feels that the planning staff did not do their job in approving public benefits that met the approval of the public (you the townies). shouldnt we then get rid of this planning staff if council feels they cant take their advice? sounds like you dont believe in the planning process.

Eric P

Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 10:36 a.m.

wait you think there are young people making 40k a year in this town? I know far too many people in their 30s with college educations and grad degrees who haven't broken the 40K mark yet.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 10:24 a.m.

@bruno_uno: Problem with many of the PUD proposals, especially the most recent ones proposed in Ann Arbor, is that they are all GIVE by the City and all TAKE by the developers. PUDs, as our ordinance states clearly, are not intended as simply a way of shoving more capacity into a location where our zoning and master planning say it does not belong. It is not a tool for developers to exploit cheap land. PUDs have their origins in two main areas. One was cluster housing. This was a way of achieving the same density for a given piece of land by clustering the housing in one area of the lot instead of spreading it out. This gave flexibility on a parcel with wetlands, for example, to preserve the wetland, yet get the same number of units. The other area was mixed-use. Primarily, the push was to get around the Euclidean zoning principle of strict separation of uses, and allow more mixed use, like retail with residential above. PUDs are meant to help solve particularly difficult development issues on parcels with unique challenges, or to achieve specific City goals that may require a bending of the rules. This is where innovation comes in to play--not geo-thermal heating systems or other items that developers have been claiming as benefits (and then later weaseling out of).


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 10:02 a.m.

Mr Allen knows the market well, is realistic as well as forward looking. Marc Reuter is an architect whose designs are in keeping with the character of the adjacent neighborhoods.

say it plain

Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

This vaunted 'young professional', making 40K a year or less, is such an odd creature to me! Would even young people who've just gotten out of dorms want to live in 360 or 500 or whatever SF for $1000 a month, just to be near the downtown bars and restaurants? Would these units at that size have functional kitchens? I like the Ikea aesthetic, but I am just not understanding this notion of Ann Arbor having the appeal of NYC. Even Mr. Clark from the Moravian Project in his fascinating blog tells us of how wonderful he feels about his huge and, importantly, charming loft, and how those who'd moved to tiny little boxy places in NYC and pay half their income in rent for them are such suckers...the real estate market here in MI is 'depressed' after all (by which he means not outrageous, except in certain places, like entry-level housing in central locations in Ann Arbor, for instance, or student/"young professional" housing here too lol), and you can live very well and interestingly by comparison to those people who chose to leave Michigan for better career and social opportunities (if you make a decent salary anyway! like, very very decent if you want to live among the downtown bars and restaurants anyway!). If these are actually priced so that a person making 40K spends only 1/3 of their salaries for it and can actually eat inside the place, then they'd count as something new in town!


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 9:54 a.m.

Well maybe we should just get rid or PUD's in our zoning ordinance then if it so controversial?? That's the point of PUD's. Flexibility to underlying zoning, the city shouldn't approve a PUD in the very beginning of a project when an application is submitted. If we only want to allow for "permitted uses" then just get rid of PUD's all together. I am not serious, but it sure seems to be that a lot of people are opposed to a zoning tool which is implemented all over the country! If you actually understood PUD's you would know that it actually opens a door for give and take between a developer and municipality, that's the point.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

Finally a building that sounds like the appropriate size and scale for the neighborhood. Amen.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

I hope people are paying attention to this. THIS actually sounds like affordable workforce housing for young professionals, unlike the student housing in disguise being pushed by other recent proposals like the Moravian and Heritage Row. Further, it is being presented as a "by right" project, meaning Allen is not trying to stuff something into a location where the zoning and master planning say it doesn't belong. Way to go, Mr. Allen! Show us all how this residential development model is not only feasible in downtown Ann Arbor, but how smoothly the process can go for a new development, when the proposal swims WITH the current, not against it.


Sun, Apr 11, 2010 : 7:53 a.m.

I like this idea. This is the right place for this. The details given are few. But it sounds like the building is the right size, the 1 bdr units are what those who speak for the "young professionals" in our community claim to want. And the rents mentioned sound realistic, not some fake number put out to falsely imply that the housing will be "affordable" for our workforce.