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Posted on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

14-story high-rise above Pizza House headed to Ann Arbor City Council for approval

By Ryan J. Stanton

A proposal for a new 14-story apartment high-rise above Pizza House in the South University area is headed to the Ann Arbor City Council for final approval.

The city's Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of the $17 million project geared toward University of Michigan students.

Pizza House restaurant owner Dennis Tice and the Minnesota-based Opus Group are teaming up to bring forward the 83,807-square foot development at 624 Church St. It's expected to contain 76 apartments and between 175 and 185 bedrooms.

"Our project has been in the works for several years and we're excited to see it move forward," Tice told planning commissioners. "We have partnered with an extremely reputable and experienced developer in the Opus Group out of Minneapolis."


A rendering of the proposed 14-story high-rise above Pizza House.

Rendering by J Bradley Moore & Associates

But another competitor in the local student housing market — the owner of the Zaragon Place high-rise, which sits behind Pizza House on East University Avenue — is questioning the fact that the proposed development would have zero front and rear setbacks.

Laurence Deitch, an attorney representing Chicago-based Galileo Associates, which owns Zaragon Place, appeared before planning commissioners, objecting to the site plan approval.

Before the project can be approved, he argued, the city must ensure the development won't cause a nuisance or have a detrimental effect on public health, safety and welfare.

Deitch said Galileo has been advised by Neumann/Smith Architecture, which designed Zaragon Place, and O'Neal Construction that no crane system exists that can install heavy pre-cast concrete panels on a zero setback property line without swinging the panels over neighboring property.

"Zaragon is set back 15 to 23 feet from the property line. This has enabled the creation of outdoor spaces for its residents," he said. "We assert that this project, which we are not against in concept, should provide a setback of 10 feet in order to ensure the safety and security of Zaragon residents."

Deitch acknowledged the Church Street property is in a D1 zone, which provides for a zero setback, but he argued that can be allowed only when it can be done safely.

Jim Caesar, vice president at Opus Design Build LLC in Chicago, addressed the concerns about safety by saying Opus has one of the best safety ratings in the industry.

"I don't think our neighbors fully understand the detailing of our west elevation," he said, adding Opus plans to use a luffing crane to do the work and it's not a controversial construction.

"It's very complicated, but we had our insurance carrier's safety specialists at the site," he said. "We've had multiple crane erectors from the local area and multiple crane rental companies out to the area, and it's simply very feasible, very possible."

Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager, said "constructability" is not a standard for site plan approval, so it wasn't a matter for the Planning Commission to address Tuesday night. Rather, that's something that will be handled through the building permit process.

Scott Bonney of Neumann/Smith Architecture said he still has concerns about safety in relation to the zero setback issue.

"When we designed our project, we were very careful to set back our building from the property line so we could in fact build it without endangering our neighbors," he said. "If we do have to build on the property line, we go to the neighbors and we obtain an easement. They have not done either of these things at this point in the project. Maybe that will happen in the future."

Ann Arbor real estate developer and consultant Peter Allen stood up before the Planning Commission to vouch for the development team Tuesday night. He helped put Tice in touch with Opus last summer and said he even went to Minneapolis to get a firsthand look at the firm's work.

"They're great professionals," he said. "Every one of the people they've brought to Ann Arbor have been above expectations in terms of experience and quality and following through on their representations. They will build a great product in Ann Arbor. We'll be proud of it."


Another look at the Pizza House development.

Rendering by J Bradley Moore & Associates

Mark Bell, a real estate manager for the Opus Group, said Opus is a family-run company founded in 1953 that has developed more than 2,600 projects across the country, including office, industrial, retail, multi-family, government and higher education projects.

"Opus prides itself on safety, honesty and professional expertise," he said. "The project that's proposed tonight, we're extremely proud of. We look forward to a successful project and something that the city of Ann Arbor can take great pride in."

A representative for the Opus Group told commissioners the original plan was to have more beds, but now it's likely to be closer to 175.

Whereas some of their competitors in the student housing market have chosen to offer five- and six-bedroom units, they're looking to offer fewer beds and more square footage. The plan is to have 70 percent of the units one or two bedrooms and 30 percent three or four bedrooms.

"There are a number of things to like about the project," said Commissioner Eric Mahler, mentioning the goals of improved student housing and a LEED Silver rating for environmental design.

Ann Arbor resident Eleanor Linn, who lives about a block and a half east of the proposed project on Forest Court, complained the building will block sunlight from reaching her property.

"The prefab exterior of this building will be unattractive, but I suppose I will need to look at it for the rest of my life," she said.

Linn also raised questions about the city letting the developer lease up to 42 parking spaces in the city's downtown parking system to meet parking requirements.

"If this building is approved, neighborhood residents and employees will continue to stretch their imaginations looking for parking," she said.

Because of the configuration of the apartments, Linn speculated the building is almost certain to be rented uniquely to students whose families can afford the rent. She said the city's regulations are permitting the segregation of affluent students and their less-affluent peers.

"As it is proposed, this building does not appear to break any planning ordinances, yet I feel it is taking Ann Arbor in the wrong direction," she said.

Ray Detter, chairman of the city's Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, voiced his group's support for the project put forward by Tice.

"I have to recognize the fact that he's putting his life into this project," Detter said. "It's being built on top of that very successful restaurant, and that's a major local commitment."

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 email newsletters.



Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

Monstrosity. Worse yet, where the two high rise buildings face each other, there will be zero views and zero sun. And how much are those apartments renting for? There are a limited number of rich UM students and there are plenty of other high rises either completed or in progress. This is not needed and only serves to fatten the wallets of out of town developers and the city tax coffers. Yet another unbelievably ugly building with inadequate parking. This monster building totally overwhelms the surrounding smaller structures and looks ridiculous next to smaller houses and buildings. What a disaster! Here's a thought: just tear down all small houses and historic architecture in the center city, and fill the center city with bloated high rises. Oh wait. That's what they are already doing!

jon doe

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 7:23 a.m.

Sound's like someone's stuck in the past.... historical buildings are all well and good, but you can't expect everything to remain the same for your entire lifetime.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

Pizza House has been the site of the campaign victory parties of a number of local political officeholders, including Mayor Hieftje.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:45 a.m.


Ben Freed

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

I think it's interesting to think about at what point the student market will saturate, if it will happen at all. These kinds of developments started in Austin, Texas about 7 years ago and they haven't stopped building yet.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:47 a.m.

Yeah. They'll re-purpose it, like Ann Arbor Inn. After it reaches about the same level of shabbification.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

Ben: 1) Enough with the facts. This is an A2 Disccusion (rant) section. 2) More seriously, all this foreboding on "what happens when they can't fill it?" is nonsense. If it happens (big "if"), someone will buy the property cheap and then offer lower rent to the students. Or they'll re-purpose it for young adults and based on the low cost of acquisition it might even be "less-than-high-income-housing". I might even be able to afford to move Downtown!


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:35 p.m.

In the rendering it looks so similar to the building behind it. Are they supposed to be "sister" buildings or something? If they had a to take a cue from a nearby building, I would rather they do it from a classic like East Quad.

Paul Wiener

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:12 p.m.

It's not that people necessarily oppose hi-rise development, wherever it is, for students or townspeople. It's the unceasing, phenomenally ugly, unimaginative, outdated, blocky monstrosities that continue to be designed, discussed and constructed that disgusts many of us. Many would honestly like to see something sexy, cool - dare I say modern - built in town that approaches the architectural sophistication and beauty that have inspired new buildings all over the country in the last 50 years. Why is A2 architecture so consistently awful, conservative, dark, uninspiring, depressing, and utilitarian? Are we making the town into a permanent film noir set?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:54 p.m.

Do you have examples of apartment/condo buildings that you like? Maybe a link or two to pictures? Are "sexy and cool" possible for a utilitarian, green building?

Peter Eckstein

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

Sorry, but I got confused between this project on South U and the other one on Huron, much closer to downtown, to which my previous comment is more relevant. I would still be interested in knowing which governmental entity will get the bulk of the new tax revenues from this project.

Peter Eckstein

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

Because it can be called "development," I assume it will be approved. But doesn't it directly contradict the city's avowed policy of making downtown a place where young professionals will seek to live. Instead, they are clearly building a huge structure aimed entirely at rich students. By the way, will the additional (non-school) property taxes generated by such a project go to the DDA or to the city, the county, and WCC?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

ENOUGH with all of these high rises being built in Ann Arbor on campus. Pretty soon you won't be able to tell its UofM, but maybe then the New Yorkers will feel more at home.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

Perhaps the city should pass an ordinance requiring all new residential structures to provide adequate parking for all of the units. While this might add 30% on to the cost of the structure, it sure would make life more bearable.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:12 a.m.

No, all that does is push the campus rental market further out from central campus. Then you have two parking places for one automobile: one for the apartment, and one within an easy walk of campus. You'll still have congested parking. The zoning takes into account that many tenants won't need or have automobiles, because they live adjacent to campus, within walking distance of home and work. If the landlord tells the tenant that no parking is available, or that it will cost an exorbitant amount, you don't bring a car; or if you HAVE to have a car, rent an apartment on the outskirts, and ride the AATA in to campus.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

There are requirements to provide *some* parking, hence the leasing of parking spots from the DDA.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

If you mention Laurence Deitch, you should state whether he is a Regent of the University of Michigan or co-incidentally has the same name as Regent Laurence Deitch of Bodman LLP . Follow the money, there is a bigger story here....


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:04 a.m.

It's the same Larry Deitch. There's only one who's a regent and a real estate lawyer.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

at least this one is in the student ghetto!


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:23 p.m.

IMO it is, anything close to campus is. Check the crime map.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:24 p.m.

Church and Hill is not the "student ghetto."


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.



Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:40 a.m.

"Laurence Deitch, an attorney representing Chicago-based Galileo Associates, which owns Zaragon Place, appeared before planning commissioners, objecting to the site plan approval"


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:41 p.m.

I.e. not e.g.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

E.g. he was there rent seeking.