The Varsity high-rise development proposal wins approval from Ann Arbor Planning Commission
Image courtesy of developer
The project will now go before the Ann Arbor City Council for final approval.
The developer, Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Md., plans to build a 177,180-square-foot building containing 181 apartments with 415 bedrooms, located at 425 E. Washington St. next to Sterling 411 Lofts. An existing two-story office building would be demolished to make way for the development.
The project also calls for 70 underground parking spaces, a fitness center, a management office and 121 bicycle parking spaces.
The commissioners swiftly approved the proposal tonight, lingering only a few minutes to discuss the project following comments from the public.
Aside from "minor" concerns about the prospect of tenants creating more parking demand, commissioner Diane Giannola said, "I actually like the building."
On Sept. 20, the Planning Commission postponed a vote on the proposal due to a few outstanding issues with the project, including corrections to the grading, landscape plans, issues with a drive approach on Washington Street to access a service alley and issues related to the development’s solid waste plan.
Since the vote was postponed, some minor changes were made to the site plan. A walkway on the east side of the building was narrowed, some fencing and decorative features were removed and a few windows were consolidated or eliminated.
The project still drew criticism Tuesday night from some residents. They cited the appearance of the Huron Street facade, traffic concerns and parking.
Because the primary resident entrance to the building would be on the south side along Washington Street, some residents suggested that the Huron Street facade should be made more attractive.
Chris Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, called the project “13 stories of yellow brick, unrelieved by any pattern, any alteration in the brick.”
“The Huron Street facade should be treated with importance,” she said. “This building is not noteworthy and the architect should be ashamed.”
Hugh Sonk, a representative of the neighboring Sloan Plaza condominiums, noted the “lack of architectural detail on the Huron face.” He said the Huron side of the building should be given as much attention as the Washington Street side.
Although the renderings of The Varsity show a brightly colored, yellow brick, architect Brad Moore pointed out that the images aren’t representative of the actual color of the building, which, he said, wouldn't be nearly as bright.
Donnie Gross of Potomac Holdings said the design for the building has been changed 20 to 30 times to accommodate concerns from residents and the neighboring First Baptist Church.
“We are very, very, very proud of this building. It’s something we as developers can be proud of, and you as citizens can be proud of,” he said.
Stacey Simpson, a pastor at the First Baptist Church, said that although she never wanted a high-rise next to the church, The Varsity developers have been "positive neighbors."
"I'm excited about the 400 students that are going to be living right next door," Simpson said.
Although plans for the site don’t include first-level retail space, Gross pointed out that the space can be converted into retail if there is a demand in the future.
“I’m not opposed to retail,” he said. “I’m opposed to retail that’s empty.”
He said he prefers plans for the first floor that will make it “lively,” such as a fitness center and computer lab.
“If the bottom of your building is dark, it looks drab,” he said. “People want to see life along East Washington Street.”