'This project must be better' Ann Arbor residents tell East Huron Street high-rise developer
The developers behind a 14-story, 213-unit high-rise proposed for Ann Arbor’s East Huron Street met with about 50 members of the community Thursday night to detail plans and receive public input.
Lizzy Alfs | AnnArbor.com
“This project would set a disturbing precedent of what can be built in downtown Ann Arbor,” Norm Tyler, a North Division resident and a professor in the urban planning program at Eastern Michigan University, told the developers.
“What we really need to have are major improvements that deal with the massing respect the context of the neighborhood and recognize the scale of the neighbors. The development must be better than what we see tonight,” Tyler continued, drawing applause from members of the crowd. Tyler displayed a poster-sized drawing of the building viewed from the north side where he lives.
Georgia-based developer Carter is proposing a $60 million, 14-story student apartment building that includes a mix of one, two, three and four bedroom units. Plans include 149 underground parking spaces in addition to 14 surface spaces, ground floor retail and a range of amenities.
The building would replace a 10,300-square-foot vacant building, a former Papa John’s pizza store and a house, which were all purchased for several million dollars by a Connecticut-based real estate firm earlier this year.
The site is located in the city’s D1 zoning district with a height limit of 150 feet. It’s adjacent to Sloan Plaza Condominiums and abuts the Old Fourth Ward historic residential neighborhood to the north, which many attendees said makes the project out-of-scale with the area.
“I’m very, very concerned that with all the emphasis we’ve talked about in our design review guidelines about character areas, that the historic district, the oldest residential neighborhood of Ann Arbor there’s no acknowledgement of this,” said Chris Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association.
She added: “The massing is hostile to our neighbor, the color is hostile to our neighbor.”
The project went before Ann Arbor’s Design Review Board last month, during which members of the seven-member board offered a range of suggestions to the developers.
The development team includes: the property owner, Connecticut-based Greenfield Partners; the developer, Georgia-based Carter; Oregon-based Ace Hotel acting as a design consultant; and Texas-based architect Humphreys & Partners. Ann Arbor-based O'Neal Construction is the general contractor.
At the citizen participation meeting Thursday night, the developers pointed out changes they made to plans since meeting with the Design Review Board. Those included shrinking the square footage of the retail area in order to increase the setback from East Huron Street, and making design changes to highlight the corner of the building. The developers also said they plan to incorporate retail along Division Street, use a more diverse brick palette and design a two-story foyer on the corner of the building.
“It starts addressing the important corner and that being a focal point,” said Walter Hughes of Humphreys & Partners Architects. “We deleted (some) residential space and gave this big foyer.”
Humphreys & Partners Architects
The development team, however, was quick to point out that the proposed changes are “a work in progress.”
“We’re here tonight to listen and get more feedback,” said Conor McNally of Carter. “We have started to look at some changes, but we have certainly not finished redesigning the building we did, however, want to show up and show we are being receptive.”
Several other concerns that were raised Thursday evening included Ann Arbor’s oversaturated rental market for students, the viability of retail along East Huron Street and traffic issues that could result from the project.
“One of the issues that takes place when out-of-towners come here is they don’t necessarily understand the nature of the environment, the context, or what’s going on in the city,” said Peter Nagourney, co-chair of the North Burns Park Association. “For instance, you have this big focus on retail on here with this imagination that this is going to be successful. There’s no retail on Huron.”
Crockett asked why the developers don’t consider an upscale housing project for empty nesters and retirees — a demographic she said would love to live in the downtown area.
While the majority of the comments were negative, one attendee complimented the developers on the material palette.
“There are a lot of things I like about this project,” said Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of U-M’s A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. “I think the material palette is very fine the wood trim at the sidewalk level, the now-raised two-story entry at the corner.”
But, he added, it’s a “constrained site.”
Many attendees asked if the development team would host a second citizen participation meeting when they had more finalized site plans and could present renderings of how the building would appear from the north side. McNally said they’d look into the possibility of hosting one.
After the required citizen participation meeting, developers submit formal site plans to the city’s planning department. The plans then go before Planning Commission and City Council for approval.