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Posted on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

13-story downtown high-rise draws criticism at Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting

By Ryan J. Stanton


An aerial view of the project known as The Varsity, shown in yellow, as viewed from the southeast on Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Shown in the background is Sloan Plaza condominiums on Huron Street. To the left is 411 Lofts, and to the right is the First Baptist Church.

Image courtesy of developer

A proposal for a new 13-story student high-rise in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor was met with some resistance at Tuesday night's Planning Commission meeting.

The general concept of The Varsity — a dense housing development catering to University of Michigan students — appears to have support, but a few details remain to be worked out.

Following a nearly two-hour discussion during which residents and planning commissioners alike expressed hesitations about aspects of the project — some related to parking, others related to appearance — the commission voted 6-0 to postpone approval of the site plan.

That followed the recommendation of the city's planning staff, which intends to work through various issues with the developer before bringing the project back on Oct. 4


A view of The Varsity's north facade along Huron Street, which some residents aren't happy with.

Image courtesy of developer

A staff report presented to commissioners Tuesday night noted a few outstanding issues hadn't been addressed yet, including corrections to the grading and landscape plans, issues with a drive approach on Washington Street to access a service alley, and other issues related to the development's solid waste plan.

Some of the other concerns expressed about The Varsity at Tuesday's meeting had to do with the appearance of the north facade on Huron Street and the fact cars would be coming and going from the new building from both Huron and Washington streets.

This site is located at 425 E. Washington St. in the block between Washington and Huron, directly east of Division — tucked between another student high-rise called 411 Lofts and the First Baptist Church. The northern portion of the site is bordered by properties in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, which also became a point of contention Tuesday night.

The site, located in the D1 downtown core zoning district, currently contains a two-story office building that would be demolished to make way for The Varsity. The developer, Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Md., intends to market the apartments to college students.

The proposal calls for a 177,180-square foot building containing 181 apartments with 415 bedrooms and 70 underground parking spaces. The building also would contain a fitness center and management office.

A driveway on the north side of the building, off Huron Street, would lead to the lower of two underground parking levels containing 45 vehicle parking spaces. A driveway on the south side of the building, off Washington Street, would lead to a separate parking level — essentially the ground level of the building — containing 25 vehicle parking spaces.

Additionally, a total of 121 bicycle parking spaces are proposed, including six open hoops at the entry plaza on the south side, six open hoops on the north side, 37 covered hoops within the vehicle parking levels, and 72 spaces in a secure storage room.

The primary resident entrance to the building would be on the south side along Washington. Entry to the building also would be possible from several side doors on the east side of the building and through the parking garage on the north side of the building.


Some perspective from Washington Street of The Varsity as it towers above the adjacent 411 Lofts.

Image courtesy of developer

A 5-foot-wide paved walk is proposed on the east side of the building, connecting the sidewalk on Huron Street with the entry plaza and public sidewalk on Washington. A mid-block pedestrian crossing on Washington is proposed to connect south to Liberty Street.

According to the latest plans, the second through 12th floors would have 17 apartments each, while 11 apartments are proposed on the 13th floor. Most apartments would have one or two bedrooms, though a few studios and some four-bedroom apartments are proposed.

Chris Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association and a member of the committee that helped write the city's new design guidelines, told planning commissioners on Tuesday she doesn't object to the project. In fact, she thinks it's appropriate for where it's located.

"But my chief objection has to do with the Huron facade," she said. "For years now, we've been talking about making the Huron corridor a more attractive corridor. And because this particular building on the Huron side is really pretty much surrounded by Old Fourth Ward historic structures, it needs to incorporate in the design that character overlay."

As it stands now, Crockett said the north facade "pretty much looks like somebody's backdoor garage," and that's not appropriate for Huron. She said it should be mandatory that the north facade be made more attractive and treated the same as the south facade.

"This is not the back door to anything," she said. "It is a building that has two facades on two principal streets and they need to be treated with the same respect."

Crockett added that she'd like to see the parking layout changed so that only one entrance is necessary — the one on the Washington Street side. She said that would go a long way to alleviate any potential parking problems and traffic problems.

Commissioners also heard from Hugh Sonk, a representative of Sloan Plaza condominiums, which is located on Huron Street across from the proposed development.

Sonk said Sloan Plaza residents aren't opposed to seeing the site redeveloped, but there are a number of reasons why they're concerned, including the potential for increased traffic on Huron. He also agreed with Crockett that the north facade could be improved.

Ray Detter, chairman of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, also told commissioners he thinks the project could be improved. He encouraged them to take a look at the design guidelines and the recommendations of the city's new Design Review Board.

The project's design team presented The Varsity to the city's newly created Design Review Board on June 22. The board liked the project but offered some suggestions for improvement.

City Planner Alexis DiLeo said the project since has been revised to address some of the board’s comments. She said additional amenities are now proposed within the plaza and walk link, and the north street wall has been redesigned.

"It is not as bland as it was before," Detter agreed. "But it still is 13 stories going pretty much straight up in an area where it's adjacent to historic buildings."

Architect Robert Keane of WDG Architecture based in Washington, D.C., conceded that the original design for the north street wall was relatively industrial and lacked windows before. He said several revisions were made to make it a more welcoming place for pedestrians.

"And so what's evolved is we've got a very nice garage door which looks more like a storefront than it does a garage door," he said. "It's integrated with a pedestrian entrance that has a fair amount of glazing. It's all integrated with a large metal canopy."

Keene acknowledged the towering building will be sitting next to two Victorian houses and The Varsity "obviously isn't a Victorian building." He said the best thing that can be done there is to create a two-story mass that corresponds with the adjacent homes.

"The quality and the treatment of this face is exactly the same quality of treatment that's on the other side," he said. "The difference is we have a plaza on the other side, but the paving materials, the quality of the wall, and all the metal and glass is articulated exactly the same."

The latest plans show the building would rise 151 feet into Ann Arbor's skyline, towering just above the lofts next door. That's still under the 180-foot zoning limit.


A view of the main entry plaza on Washington Street.

Image courtesy of developer

One of the questions still lingering concerns the size of the entry plaza on Washington Street. The city's setback requirements limit any entry plaza at that location to 21 linear feet in width, but the site plan proposes an entry plaza measuring 51 feet in width.

City officials are considering a modification to allow the larger plaza since they agree it creates a more compatible transition between the project site and the church next door.

Ann Arbor-based architect Brad Moore, a member of the design team for The Varsity, said it's preferred that the larger plaza area be allowed, but the developer is willing to move forward with a revised plan that reduces the plaza area if it comes to that.

"The church is clearly in support of having a larger plaza, but the developer is equally suited to proceeding with the project that takes the front edge of the building, pushes it up to within 10 feet of the sidewalk — what the zoning calls for — and proceeding," Moore said.

Moore said even the city's staff agrees that the zoning code limiting the plaza size was written mainly to address streets like Main Street, not the site of The Varsity.

"The code was written for a different context than our site," he said. "We are a transitional site, which goes from buildings that are up close to the road to buildings which are significantly set back, so we were trying to create a more natural transition, stepping back gradually."

Commissioner Kirk Westphal agreed with speakers who said they'd prefer to see only one entrance and exit for vehicles. He said it's inexcusable that the project proposes two curb cuts on busy streets where the city is trying to foster a pedestrian-oriented environment.

"We have the exact same configuration that exists now," Moore said after the meeting. "So I don't think we're asking for anything that isn't an existing condition and we're not asking for anything that isn't already permitted by the city ordinances. They permit two curb cuts."

Moore also said having a single entry to a parking garage would be difficult because the site is about twice as wide on Washington as it is on Huron. Given that panhandle configuration, he said, trying to circulate internally between floors becomes nearly impossible.

"If you look at other developments, like Zaragon 2, they have a very large footprint where you can get the rotational circulation between parking levels," he said. "Or you have a very long building like 601 Forest where you have gradual slopes. We just don't have the geometry."

Commissioners wondered why ground-level retail wasn't included in the plans. Moore said it just didn't seem viable, but if there was demand in the future, the space could be converted.

"In talking to the other landlords and doing the market study, we just felt that this isn't the time for retail on the ground level," he said, noting 411 Lofts next door is converting its upper-level leasing office into apartment space and moving down into "un-leasable" retail space.

Others wondered if the developer could put all of the parking underground instead of having a portion at ground level. The response was that it would be less economical.

Commissioners Evan Pratt, Wendy Woods and Bonnie Bona were absent.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.


Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

Cendra raises a good point for all these new high-rises. I'm not right on top of it, but I've heard that our downtown water supply pipes are inadequate to support pressure for spriinkler systems in taller buildings. There has been some effort to expand capacity (I think that is part of what has been happening in the 5th & Division work), but I wonder if the planning staff routinely takes these questions (of adequate water supply and other mundane questions like fire accessibility) into account when evaluating these buildings.

Long Time No See

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 5:09 a.m.

As someone who posted a diatribe against City Place, I think the Varsity is OK. It isn't perfect, but it doesn't seem horrible. To me, the biggest difference is location, location, location.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

My college dorm was taller than this building. Since when is a 13 story building a "high rise".


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 5:01 p.m.

IMHO, better to build up than out.

Tom Teague

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 9:01 p.m.

I guess, technically, it's a "higher-than-what's-there-now rise."

hut hut

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.

This building interior and surroundings will not look like this in 10 years. From my observation students do not value where they live because many of them get their bills paid by mommy and daddy. The existing old home student housing did not always look like it does today. It's not the landlords fault that the older homes in the student neighborhoods look that way. Ask any landlord how much it costs to rehab an apartment year after year. ANd how frustrating it is to pump money into a building just to have it trashed. This building will be no different. And now we want to encourage the kind of behavior that trashes buildings and results in many calls to police in downtown?

Cendra Lynn

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 6:58 p.m.

Since the Fire Department's hook & ladder is out of service due to budget cuts, they are going to do what for the kids on the top floors?


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 6:49 p.m.

For all of those who are in love with another tall building, and wanting to get those awful studnets out of the neighborhoods- and are tired of the anti-development crowd; I REALLY TRULY HOPE you are ready for the landlords to turn those home In YOUR neighborhood into HUD section 5 homes. You think those neighborhoods and crime are bad now, just wait! People are lined up waiting to get out of Detroit and Detroit public schools, yea Ann Arbor is the place for cheap housing (sec. 5) and good schools I hope everyone in favor of this project gets what they are asking for! The fact that the city leaders want this tax revenue and there are corporations lining up to suck the disposable income from students doesn't mean it shoudl be approved. The down town area of A2 is a screwed up mess Already with all the road closures, and construction of student housing going on. AND the University is not enrolling any more students than they already have! The student population is not growing!! They cannot make class sizes any bigger!! Say it with me ; Little Deeetroit baby

Zach Yancer

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

Well, yes, there is a shortage of beds, in a sense. Are students able to find housing reasonably close to campus? Yes. Is that housing significantly over priced, given the physical size and economy of Ann Arbor...yes. A housing bubble in these buildings is probably coming up in the next 5-7 years, yes. In the meantime, rents will decline and 'traditional' landlords will be pressured to invest more in their properties and have better tenant-landlord relations. Currently, a lot of traditional landlords seem to run all over their tenants. And while it's not an excuse, it's hard to see the incentive for customer service when Ann Arbor has a near 0% vacancy rate by April each year.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

How many more of these types of student developments can Ann Arbor support? Are they just going to end up like U-Towers on South University in 10-20 years? It seems like there needs to be more foresight in how our elected officials and developers are thinking about our built environment in the long term, rather than the short term.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:54 p.m.

I agree with Commssioner Kirk Westphal: we need to foster a greater emphasis on promoting pedestrian traffic.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.

I wish someone from would explain why they continue to introduce opinionated and inflammatory comments to their "news" articles. This article twice describes The Varsity complex as "towering over" the neighboring 411 Lofts. A 13 story building "towering over" a 10 story building? Please. Based on the architectural renderings it looks like the designers have done a nice job of trying to transition from the height of the 411 Lofts to the height of The Varsity through the two-story glass paneling rooftop. Perhaps it is editorial policy at to sensationalize the news in order to drive traffic and comments to the site, but it introduces unfortunate and unnecessary bias to the story and lacks journalistic professionalism.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Our experience with student housing so far: Our daughter was marooned on North Campus her freshman year and had to ride a bus to all her classes on Central Campus. Right off the bat in the first few weeks of classes many of the dorm students were pledging sororities and fraternities for the next year. So much for the dorm social situation from that point on. If you weren't pledging and wanted to escape from the dorm you had to find a house or apartment fast. And pick out roommates you hoped you would be getting along with as you barely knew them at this early point in time. And sign a year round lease even though you probably didn't want to necessarily stay and live there in the summer. Then move into an old crummy and beat up house in with sky high rental rates. And then the cycle repeats itself one year later. You have to find a place for next year NOW or stay in the same place you've just moved into and haven't even gotten really settled into yet. My point? At least the new high rises are well built and well maintained and have nice amenities like exercise rooms. Maybe this will force the landlords of those old beat up houses to make them more presentable and better maintained and lower the rent a bit due to the new competition. A good question is will the students take better care of living in a nice, new and well maintained high rise or continue to trash them like they tend to do in the old crummy houses they have lived in?

Lets Get Real

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 10:34 p.m.

You'd rather have your daughter on the top floor of a building to which the Ann Arbor Fire Department cannot respond. You'd rather have your daughter alone in a stairway or elevator at night. You'd rather pay $1400 per month for a 100 sq foot room to which she will have to retreat when her roommates have a different idea about lifestyle choices, "study hours" or guests. It's the economics 101 - supply and demand. The crummy old houses have been the only alternative to the dorm supply. These places offer a "new" opportunity, in the short run. Then reality will set in with the living arrangement, and the new will become old, damaged, broken, dirty and used. And then parents will complain about the old crummy high rises that they thought would be well built and well maintained with wonderful amenities - like broken exercise equipment. Your little princess will find similar challenges in life if she chooses to move to NYC or Chicago after graduation; she will learn to research, plan and make good choices based on her education and experience. Its called life. And, in my experience, parents are much more concerned about the place students spend 5-6 hours a day sleeping than the students do - because they are mostly not there: in class, at the library, at the coffee shop, at the bar, at the club, at the game, at the rec building, on the diag, playing pong in the yard . . . . . .


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

Are you willing to pay the $1400 a month rent? And it sounds like it is your daughters first extended time away from home. do you want her living in an apartmetn building by herself with who knows who? At least the dorms have a structure and support system that can help with the 1st year students adapt to the university culture and being out of the house. You won't get that in this place - Guaranteed


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 5:07 p.m.

I Agree. There is less potential for trashing a nice new apt. anyway. The big front porches, big yards, and generally crappy interiors (so who cares about it) are what lead to giant mosh pit parties in the student ghetto anyway.

Tom Teague

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

Bob - Good points. In these discussions I think a lot of people overlook the parents' desire to see their kids in clean and secure housing that's built to modern fire codes and doesn't cost a ton to heat.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:37 p.m.

It will be a tragedy if all the neighborhoods surrounding the university convert back into single family, well-maintained homes. When travelling through these districts, I will be so disappointed not to show my children the red plastic cups that litter the yards each weekend. First it was the ban on couches and now it's the privatizing and consolidation of student housing. We must band together to encourage our city council to drag their heels and ensure that the planning process for new building within 10-blocks from the block-M on the diag takes decades.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 6:56 p.m.

I am all for, the landlords will turn them into section 5 housing, get the subsidized rents from teh govt. and start bussing the families from Detroit. I hope you live in one of these neighborhoods I Truly do


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

If the project conforms with the existing zoning rules and guidelines, then it should be appoved. Sure the city will do it's best to extract as many concessions from the developer as it can. However, the ridiculous idea of limiting auto access/curb cuts to Washington only, would be a huge mistake for a wide variety of reasons, including the fact that Division is one-way. Traffic coming from Huron will then need to circle around the building to either State or Fifth, adding needless traffic congestion versus entering directly from Huron. It does not take a traffic engineer to figure this one out. My condolences to the condo owners across the street who seem opposed to having a garage door on Huron.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

Build up as long as the funding is there with 10% more than planned. And there is never too tall inside of the down town area.

Peter Jameson

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

What business plan doesn't draw criticism in the special interest filled city?

Tom Teague

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

@Ryan - Has anyone contacted University officials to determine if they are delighted/concerned/indifferent to the rapid expansion of the off-campus housing stock? Are there any trends or issues that they've observed with other universities that have experienced similar off-campus expansions? Does this potentially mess with the revenue picture, or reduce the cost of doing business, or free up property that could be used to build or expand academic buildings? If there's fewer folks in dorms, would the University potentially re-size its security force or other infrastructure support? We can all conjecture, but it would be good to know how the University sees it. And if no one is thinking about it yet, it would be good to know that. Related to that is anyone asking officials in other college towns about lessons they've learned and how we might apply those here. I'd love to see some reporting on how other college towns and large universities have dealt with similar building booms.

Tom Teague

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 9:07 p.m.

A quick search turned up information on similar high-rise student apartment trends in Madison, WI and College Park, MD, so this isn't an isolated phenomenon. One article about those buildings included interviews with students and University officials. Typically, the articles focus on the city, the nearby residents, and the developers. My point would be to go talk with representatives from different affected groups and see what they have to say. It will help fill in the picture for us.

hut hut

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

It's the UM's responsibility to provide housing for their customers. Private developers take the pressure off the U to dig into their own wallet for student housing.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:25 p.m.

I would be more shocked if any sort of development in downtown Ann Arbor didn't cause criticism. If a child wanted to open a lemonade stand on Washington we'd hear complaints about it taking up too much sidewalk space or someone's view being impeded by the umbrella at the lemonade stand. We need to face the facts that for a city to move forward and be attractive, it takes development of some sort. I don't think we'd all want Ann Arbor to be stuck in 1970 with no progress. Not all projects deserve to be approved, but we also need to stop criticizing any attempt at development as well (see Zingerman's long history of trying to expand and develop where an abandoned "historic" house stood as exhibit A).

Stephen Landes

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

Considering that so much discussion relates to the North face of the building is it possible to publish renderings of that side instead of just the Washington Street views?

Stephen Landes

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:08 p.m.

Just looked at the article again and saw a view of the North side -- don't know if I missed it the first time or not. Regardless, it is not very attractive -- reminds me of a Post Office building from the 50's.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

I remember a big brew ha on that only tall building in Ann Arbor back in the70's. You can see it as you drive in. I think on Williams. They were not suppose to go that hi but did. Didn't the city fathers ban the height factor right after? I do agree, no more tall buildings in Ann Arbor. The city will loose its flare. O wait, it already is.

Stephen Landes

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

From the artist's renderings the building looks ugly. Too bad as just down the street is the new North Quad building which is, to me, a beautiful addition to the city/campus. I don't think everything has to look like the 1930's buildings the Quad is patterned on, but just think there are much more attractive building styles that could be used.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

Ann Arbor USED to be a nice city with a small town feel. The council over the past 10 years along with the Sierra club and their dense housing agenda has ruined the city. Another high rise to go along with their egos. The fact that the city is asking for retail space and the most recent projects WITH retail space are now converting that space to apartments should tell everyone that the people making these decisions do not understand the market or reality. so what will be the ramifications with an over saturated Student Housing market has anyone thought of that. More vacant buildings around town - or - turn them into section 5 housing in your neighborhoods. You have screwed up A2!!


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

Is there going to be big demand for high-end student housing after the South U building goes up? And how can developers compete with the university on price? And if they can't fill it with students, then where is a whole building full of young professionals going to come from? Because one thing is for sure: no grownups want to share a building (without adequate parking, no less) with students. Is this really a feasible project?


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

IMO there should be no new industrial buildings allowed that do not include high-quality green roofs and top LEED certification. None.

Marshall Applewhite

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 2:53 a.m.

I agree. We should also have a mandate that every Ann Arbor resident drives a Toyota Prius. For everyone who tries to drive a gas guzzler on our roads, we should say, "We don't allow your kind in this city."


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.

Agreed! how could a "progressive" city like ours allow anything less. It's not even that hard or expensive to do.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Really?? Do we really need more student housing? Let's be sure we fill what is already built and being built before more is approved.

rusty shackelford

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

More development can only push down rent in the long term (or at least force slumlords to provide better housing, creating better value for money), which is exactly what the ridiculously overpriced rental market in this town needs.

Tom Joad

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:57 p.m.

There goes someone's view. These densely packed highrises will make Ann Arbor look more like Columbus, Ohio than the quaint college town we've grown to love and adore. To recoup this massive investment, it's a thousand dollars a bedroom.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

I realize "quaint college town" is a subjective term but its not one I would use for Ann Arbor.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

I do think the project should include a subway or an elevated train to the new Fuller road choo-choo train station. ;)

Long Time No See

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 5:03 a.m.

Heh... made me chuckle. (and I'm mostly in favor of the Fuller road choo-choo train station)


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

'415 bedrooms and 70 underground parking spaces' So 1 parking spot for every ~6 beds - - seems short for a luxo' student highrise. UofM students have cars - if this was near some other university it might work, but certainly not here in Ann Arbor. More parking spots are needed.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

I'm all for it. Students in this demographic spend their parents money, not their own. Then their parents come and spend more. Density strengthens downtown retail, improves walk-ability and bike-ability, and better connects the downtown with central campus. Taller is better; so long as it doesn't look hideous. This is no architectural marvel, but it doesn't look bad. If you don't like the look, perhaps some publicly funded art. (Sorry, I couldn't resist). This may be optimistic in this economy, but it may spur turnover of rental ghettos that could use some TLC. I'll take a corporately managed student high rise over the mish mash of rental agencies that survive by doing as little maintenance as possible. I don't know how else you improve roads, police protection, etc, without increased tax revenue. Here it is.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

Yes, it closed. I remember asking them why. "Not enough foot traffic," was the reply. Comparing Ashley Terrace to the recent student high-rises is apples and oranges. This really isn't a right or wrong issue. We disagree. Those are also apples and oranges.

hut hut

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

It's obvious that you haven't lived here for long. There was a full service newsstand on the 200 block of S Main several years ago. It closed. Ann Arbor's attempts at downtown density have resulted in half empty buildings and foreclosures most recently Ashley Terrace (do you know where it is?), overpriced condos, and the loss of downtown businesses. And like I said, the cry for density was first for retirees, then young professionals and now developers are telling us that the demand is from students. They were wrong before and they're wrong now. All they care about is building, making a profit (nothing wrong with that) and selling to the next owner. And when profits are low, for whatever reason, maintenance gets cut from the operating budget. For all the claims of increased tax revenue from downtown development, and there has been downtown development in the last decade years, the alleged tax revenues have not materialized. Please provide some source for your claim that corporate absentee landlords are any better than any other student landlord. I doubt that you can and from my and many Ann Arbor residents decades long observations, you're wrong. But for a few exceptions, student housing, high rise or not suffers serious degradation after a few years. Many of them get sold when the real estate tax breaks expire, resulting in a new, less interested owner. Some students may drive nice cars, but I bet that they're paid for by their parents and most are in debt for them and this has no bearing whatsoever on the pros and cons of student housing. And those cars need their own bedrooms. Less expensive? Don't make me laugh. Municipal infrastructure costs $$ Big sewer lines for big buildings. Roads, traffic.. more $$. You do know that the city does not have a tall ladder truck for fighting high rise fires. Care to pitch in some $$ and help buy one to protect those students on the top floor? Development should be based on real demand not speculation.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

A. From my direct experience, they maintain properties better. Many property management agencies work for absentee landlords and have to survive on 3% including maintenance. Money spent on maintenance come out of their profit. It's a poor model and one that results in whole neighborhoods deteriorating. b. Really? Look at what some of these kids drive. c. Maybe someplace where you could buy a magazine. Downtown is, and has been a restaurant-only district. d. Density makes it less expensive and more equitable to provide services. Search string sustainable-urban-land-use.

hut hut

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

And what makes corporate managed absentee landlords better? Can you or anyone else for that matter, actually provide us with dollar amounts that students spend? Your claim is little more that a popular myth. Most students I know, even subsidized by their parents do NOT have large amounts of excess cash, nor do their parents (me). If by downtown retail supported by residential density, maybe another 7/11 or another burger joint, bar or student clothing store? All minimum wage jobs done by... students? And how exactly does this development improve roads and police protection? Let's see we add 1000 more students crammed into a high rise while the city cuts police and fire with no prospect for replacement. No gas taxes here. I see a recipe for trouble.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:08 p.m.

Not a good idea. Students tend to NOT take care of things.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

Any building in Downtown Ann Arbor always seems to be opposed by the same old groups of people. They say it isn't artistic, it does blend with the neighborhood, too much congestion, not "GREEN" enough, etc etc! More housing downtown will not only benefit students but also downtown Ann Arbor retail merchants, businesses and allows a lot more diversity. Why in a Progressive town like Ann Arbor is some group always trying to keep people out?


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 7:53 p.m.

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Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:07 p.m.

because the other dozen projects like this have not produced any added revenue to down town merchants. in fact it is probalby the reason there are so many vacant store fronts now on main st. This town did not look like this 10years ago. the residents that live here liked the town the way it was. the current administration is trying to turn it into a mini-detroit.

Jon Saalberg

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

I know a sure way to get this project approved - just add some sort of parking garage to the plan - the city power-that-be can't get enough parking structures, and will be thrilled with another project that adds yet more parking to Ann Arbor's overabundance of parking spaces.

hut hut

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

First the unsustainable development crowd pictured owner occupied condos with Rich Retirees. Then they said it those tall buildings would be for Young Professionals working downtown. Now it's more students. Folks this is why they're called &quot;housing bubbles&quot;. Instead of the market for housing serving the actual demand based on more than speculation, the pro development bunch here in Ann Arbor willing grasp at any straw to turn our city into exactly what it is not. Do we want more downtown residential building that could easily end up as half used office space? Do we want more student housing, on our main thoroughfare in the city, that within 10 years will look like yet more crowded student housing?


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

Frankly, I don't like it.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

The Mayor's drive to remove all students from residential areas is going to continue to result in wind tunnel producing tower buildings now that he has been successful in changing most zoning to allow these high rises. This is a monumental shift in the fa├žade of Ann Arbor which I can assure you future residents are not going to like. When you allow the taller building, developers can afford to knock down quaint buildings. There is a vacancy on Campus. This will just insure a larger vacancy. A number of Ma &amp; Pa landlords planning on retirement income from their little 2 family homes are in for a bad awaking. I am not sure why this is not akin to shipping jobs overseas. We are removing the livelihood from locals and shipping it to developers from out of town. I love the hypocritical fervor surrounding City Place in trying to protect the status quo and prevent a tall building, but as long as it is 'not in my back yard', it is fine. This is just yet another reason why one person should not be in office this long. The amount of power the Mayor is amassing by virtue of his appointments is alarming, but I suppose as long as he is with the correct Party, he must be ok--- Right??


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 10:51 p.m.

While it is great the people offered ideas to make the project better, and the ideas were not pie-in-the-sky or covert attempts to stonewall. What I find interesting is that folks are trying to entrench Ann Arbor into a historic way of life? I agree aspects need preservation, but we can't ignore the possible outcomes of resisting modern change. Youngstown would love to be in Ann Arbor's position. Let's be careful not to resist too largely. With that said, I do wonder is there the demand for student housing or office space? I can say I know of at least two companies that had to move out of the core to get office space in the recent years.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

many of the &quot;ma-and-pa&quot; landlords you speak of don't maintain their properties and are far from 1-house opperations. My experience with these companies was far from satisfactory and i have no sympathy for them. The Student Ghetto got its name not from the students, but from the beautiful victorian homes being converted into hastily made multiple-family dwellings. Essentially, these &quot;ma-and-pa&quot; opperations you speak of are glorified slum lords.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:24 p.m.

um, the mayor supported heritage row, so no hypocrisy.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 1:10 p.m.

&quot;I love the hypocritical fervor surrounding City Place in trying to protect the status quo and prevent a tall building, but as long as it is 'not in my back yard', it is fine. &quot; It's not hypocrisy, it's called planning and zoning. Zoning is intended to protect adjacent property owner's rights, and the general welfare of a city. The City spent over five years developing a new downtown master plan and zoning that provides for tall, dense (population-wise), mixed-use buildings. The intent was to achieve the efficiencies and economic benefits of having more people condensed into a smaller area--namely downtown where many of our local businesses are based. City Place is in a residential neighborhood where the master plan calls for preserving the one-house, one-lot, traditional character, and calls the combination of lots for new development &quot;inappropriate.&quot; Two blocks away, Zaragon West is going up on a downtown-zoned lot and received support from the same property owners that oppose City Place. Why? Because the Zaragon project is located on a lot that was zoned for this purpose, not in a neighborhood that even the DDA's master plan calls for preserving.

hut hut

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:29 p.m.

When Hieftje and the rest of the unsustainable development crowd told us several years ago that they wanted thousands more people living in downtown Ann Arbor within the next 10 years, I don't think that they or anyone else imagined that they would be students... Or did they?


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 7:50 p.m.

I can imagine a lot of homeowners/permanent residents wouldn't mind if it gets the students out of their neighborhoods.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:16 p.m.

The Varsity project is not bad persay, but what I fail to see how the city can even consider going forward with this type of dense housing development and not make substantial improvements to our city's transport infrastructure? Think of the congestion? I'm not talking more parking garages, but real, sustainable public transportation. The quality of life? Think!

Adam Jaskiewicz

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:07 p.m.

The Huron facade doesn't look too bad, really. I like the two-story vestibule, it adds a base for the building to sit on and relates it better to the surrounding houses and pedestrian traffic. Beyond that, it's a pretty generic apartment building. I'm not too concerned about parking. If this is aimed at students, it will mainly be a problem at move-in and move-out. They may need more bike spaces, though.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

I generally take a laissez-faire attitude toward these sorts of things and the whole &quot;too tall&quot; thing never bothers me. I just wonder where the students will come from? Is there currently a shortage of &quot;beds&quot; for the campus crowd?


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 6:24 p.m.

Yes -- given the roughly $500/month that bedrooms cost in old houses in the campus area and given the numbers of students living farther out (to find cheaper &amp; better housing) and commuting in to campus, there is demand for more quality housing near campus. The effects of greater supply are ultimately going to have to be lowered prices and/or better quality on the part of student housing landlords (including, possibly UM, whose dorm costs are pretty high).


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

actually, yes, there is a shortage of beds for students. Admissions has had continuously growing incoming classes and the dorms don't have room for every student. I don't know what the solution for this is, perhaps lowering the level of students admitted instead of allowing ever-increasing class sizes might be a better solution than building more highrises.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:19 a.m.

That's a lot of students in one congested area. At least the University controls the street impact during their move in process. What will happen when they all arrive to move in to this place and 411 Lofts?