Now a rarity: Developer finalizing downtown Ann Arbor apartment project
Ann Arbor’s downtown housing boom is just a memory now - thanks in part to the many projects proposed but never built in the last decade.
But one proposal is still making its way to the Planning Commission, and its developer says even today’s economic climate would support it.
“The market’s still strong for the product we’re offering,” said Jeff Helminski of the Moravian Co., developer of the eponymous project. "The market we’re trying to serve (with The Moravian) - we think it’s still there.”
That market is the young professional.
And the product is a four-story building over a level of parking on East Madison between Fourth and Fifth avenues.
The Moravian is taking shape after Helminski’s partnership was unsuccessful in getting approval to build a 14-story tower called The Madison on the 0.85-acre parcel in 2008.
He came back to the city with the new plans in December that year, and has been fine-tuning the proposal - with planning staff - over successive months.
“We’ve essentially been working with planning ever since to craft a project that they could be supportive of,” Helminski said.
The new configuration calls for 63 units - three dozen three-bedroom apartments, nine one-bedrooms, eight two-bedrooms and seven four-bedrooms - plus three efficiencies that will be dedicated as “affordable.”
In addition, there are three live-work units that are “not actually connected to the living space,” said Alexis DiLeo, the city planner assigned to the project.
The proposal is a PUD, or planned unit development, which means it’s not following existing zoning. But in return from some community benefits, the developer seeks approval anyways.
In the case of the Moravian, the affordable housing and fulfilling one of the goals of the master plan - rezoning the current manufacturing district to residential use - are among the benefits cited by Helminski. Others are creating public open space on site and removing a blighted industrial building, along with the potential to build a geothermal heating system for the building.
The exchange: approval to build the four stories with 63 units - a total of 164 beds.
“The issues are similar to the Madison the proposal is much smaller, but it is a large building relative to the neighborhood,” DiLeo said.
Planners and Helminski have been communicating about potential changes, and it recently was the topic of a Planning Commission work session. It comes back for a public hearing on Oct. 6, DiLeo said.
Since the original submission, some things have been changed - such as the architecture, he said.
“(They) worked a lot to make it appear as if it might be two or three buildings with additions to break down the scale,” DiLeo said.
The scale of the buildings will be one issue when the plans go to the public hearing at Planning Commissions.
But Helminski also has had to consider the scale of the investment.
The number of bedrooms and floors will make the project workable, he said.
“We can still make the project work at that scale,” he said. “The biggest factor is the construction costs. The wood frame construction allows it to work.”
Pricing for the apartments have been estimated at from $700 to $1,250 per bed, less than in the recent student high-rises built on the edge of campus.
Helminski said the lack of competition downtown - new higher-end rental construction has been rare, and rental demand seems solid near Main Street - will work in his favor if the project is approved.
“The investors behind this believe in the market,” Helminski said. “Even though the economy has done what it’s done and the world of debt financing has done what it’s done, we believe there’s a lack of supply.
“ The market we’re trying to serve hasn’t gone away,” he said.
Paula Gardner is Business Director at AnnArbor.com. Contact her by email or at (734) 623-2586.