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Posted on Sun, May 12, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Controversial 413 E. Huron project at top of Ann Arbor City Council agenda Monday

By Amy Biolchini

The Ann Arbor City Council will resume its May 6 meeting at 7 p.m. Monday night with its final consideration of the site plan for the 14-story high-rise building proposed for 413 E. Huron St. in downtown Ann Arbor.


Ann Arbor resident Widd Schmidt made this poster to show the proposed 413 E. Huron project -- identified by the light yellow building -- in relation to its neighborhood.

Courtesy photo

The project — which the council previously attempted to block with a moratorium on downtown development — has caused the council to re-evaluate its zoning ordinances and drawn hundreds of people to public hearings.

The council has delayed voting on the issue several times — once at the request of the developer, Carter, which is based in Atlanta.

The project is also before City Council without the endorsement of the city's Planning Commission. In February, the project failed to gain enough votes for the commission to recommend the site plan and the demolition of three buildings that sit at the corner of Division and Huron streets now.

The proposed high-rise building would take the place of a vacant 10,300-square-foot building, a former Papa John's pizza store and a house, and would sit next to the Sloan Plaza condominium complex.

The final vote on the issue has been dragged out through the council’s last three meetings, as lengthy public hearings on multiple topics, including 413 E. Huron prompted the adjournment of the April 15 meeting in the middle of the agenda at 3 a.m.


A rendering of the proposed building in relation to the existing neighborhood.

Humphreys & Partners Architects

The 413 E. Huron public hearing continued at the May 6 meeting, when again residents from across the city turned out to speak against the project for about an hour and a half.

At 11:30 p.m. May 6, the council moved to go in to recess right before it was set to take up the 413 E. Huron Site plan, with the contingency that the item would be the first on its agenda at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

Part of the public commentary at the May 6 meeting included a coordinated group of 15 residents who presented a booklet of ways they claim the 413 E. Huron project violated zoning ordinances.

Mayor John Hieftje and Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, have previously said that the city attorney’s office has advised them that the developer would have legal justifications to bring a lawsuit against the city, should council vote down the site plan.

Neither Hieftje nor Taylor would elaborate on what those justifications would entail.

Similar public opposition to a downtown development project arose with the introduction of City Place apartments to South Fifth Avenue.

The Ann Arbor City Council heard from countless residents and some city officials who felt the development was out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.

Ultimately, City Council approved the development and City Place opened to residents in 2012. A row of homes on Fifth Avenue was demolished to make way for the project.

The Ann Arbor City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the second-floor council chambers at City Hall at 301 E. Huron St.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Jay Thomas

Sun, May 12, 2013 : 9:27 p.m.

Just look at how small city hall is compared to this behemoth.

Colorado Sun

Sun, May 12, 2013 : 8:49 p.m.

Watch Marcia Higgins and Margie Teall vote for this project while pleading with crocodile tears that they empathize with the residents whose homes are adversely affected by this monstrosity.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 9:48 p.m.

Those two have to go - since I have started attending more meetings in person I have come to realize what poor representation they give their constituents, and what a poor job of critical thinking and governing in general is coming from that corner of the table.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

I am looking forward to this sad tale ending. Let's hope our brave elected leaders find it in themselves to step up and make a decision.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

This behemoth is wrong in every way. Let's hope Council is strong enough to do the right thing in the face of a bullying developer's threat of litigation.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

Absolutely correct. The mayor needs to get a backbone.

Jon Saalberg

Sun, May 12, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

It's not bullying when the city does not have a leg to stand on, and has allowed these buildings to be built, literally, from end to end of the downtown area (see, building at Ashley and Huron, to the towering structure at Forest and East University). And I certainly do not want our tax dollars to be spent defending a lawsuit that the city will most certainly lose. And look at the bright side - at least it's not another parking garage.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

The "bullying developer" was lured here with your taxes. That's what the DDA does. They take your tax money and lure out of state developers to come here and build these things.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

Why is this a question? Ann Arbor is not a little town and should have zoning laws on the books. Does it or does it not meet zoning requirements? End of story. By the sounds of it Ann Arbor does not know the answer to this? What a mess?! I am typically for these projects however we need to have rules here as to where, how high, etc. For example no one wants a 30 story building in the middle of the old west side. The homes that set next to this new building will lose value. Maybe the developer cuts them each a check for 50K? Just a thought.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

IMHO: We have attempted for thousands of years, to make concise laws that could effectively regulate how we live together as a society. After all that time and the genius that has been poured into this concept, we still depend on juries and judges to study every individual situation and decipher where the SPIRIT of the law is not being served by the LETTER of the law. Life is complex and there is always a way to exploit what is explicitly permissible to get something that is clearly not in the interests of the community it affects. Zoning is no different. We struggled as a community to codify what should be permissible in this area of town. Even at the passing of the last iteration of the zoning for this and neighboring parcels it was stated that it was experimental- that we intended to review it in one year's time. That revision did not come on time. It did not come IN time. At the end of the day, it is our council and mayor that are supposed to function like Judges and juries in this circumstance. It is cowardice that that they pretend that they are prevented from voting their conscience about this project. The Spirit of the code and the Letter of the code have diverged here and everyone knows it. This is what council is for.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

Amy, can someone find out: 1) Whether the A2D2 zoning (or some kind of zoning; I recall months and months of someone working on getting the zoning plan for downtown Ann Arbor written out and finalized) applies to this 413 project 2) How many months passed between the Zoning finally being finalized and council deciding they needed to review and revise it. It seems to me like they spent a huge amount of time on establishing the zoning, then after a few months, or a few buildings, decided it needs to be changed 3) Every day for the past 8 days I've seen working being done on the Stadium bridge; was that not actually completed? What are they doing? 4) Is anyone going to do some kind of followup on how we were all told that the Justice Center was needed because renovation was not an option, and now they are renovating the building they said couldn't be renovated and using it anyway? It seems like we all deserve some explanation there. 5) Can someone interview the people in charge at the library system who decided to hire that shady PR consultant, and find out what they hope to accomplish by doing that?

Steve Bean

Mon, May 13, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

JRW, as far as we know, Veracity isn't on the AADL board. You're misdirecting your comments. (But then that could be said of many here.)


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 5:17 p.m.

@veracity, the library bond defeat was not a matter of "communication" issues. The people of A2 don't want another millage and they don't want a new library. They want to use the existing facility. The library board and staff need to drop this issue and stop spending money on trying to "market" (i.e. manipulate) the message over and over.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

3) The official Stadium Bridges dedication ceremony is May 14th.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

Understanding why the library is hiring Allerton-Hill Consulting for $28,000 is not difficult. In my opinion, library staff and board members believe that the bond referendum was defeated because they did not present it well. So they are hopeful that the consultant will improve their communications skills in preparation for another bond referendum for a new library.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 1 p.m.

6) What happened at the Tios Cinco de Mayo celebration? There was lots of lead-up hype but only silence since.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

They would have "legal justifications to bring a lawsuit"? And of course, they aren't allowed to elaborate further. Now I'm no attorney, but that hardly sounds like any kind of serious legal opinion. That sounds like a lot of nothing meant to sound like a serious legal threat that can be used as political cover.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

I couldnt agree more.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

State law is the foundation for local planning and zoning. These powers are delegated to a municipality via the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act of 2006 and the Michigan Planning Enabling Act of 2008. If planning means developing the "blueprint," then zoning is to implement the general plan. MZEA Sec. 203. (1) A zoning ordinance SHALL BE BASED UPON A PLAN designed to promote the public health, safety, and general welfare, ... A zoning ordinance SHALL be made with reasonable consideration of the character of each district... "The City Master Plan serves as a guide for public and private decision-makers regarding the future physical development of the City. ... These plans provide a framework for preserving the City's unique character, ensuring its diversity, supporting investment and promoting desired change." From the central area portion of the city plan: Development within the DDA district, especially in the area which forms the Interface between the intensively developed Core and near-downtown neighborhoods, should reinforce the stability of these residential areas ... Ideally, development within this portion of the DDA district should blend smoothly into the neighborhoods at one edge and into the Core at the other. Ann Arbor Code - A site plan SHALL be approved by the appropriate body AFTER it determines that: 5:122(6)(a). The contemplated development would comply with all applicable state, local and federal law, ordinances, standards and regulations; AND (c) The development would not cause a public or private nuisance and would not have a detrimental effect on the public health, safety or welfare.

Colorado Sun

Sun, May 12, 2013 : 8:53 p.m.

Hope to see you at the meeting tomorrow, Christine!


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

The ONLY plus I see for this project is it might keep some students from getting together and renting a house in neighborhoods where they might cut the grass twice a summer. The city will not enforce grass cutting ordinances. And slumlords are not requiring their tenants to do even basic chores as a condition of the rental agreement. And their is a particular well named realtor family that has numerous rentals on the west side that fit this category.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

That's a continual fantasy here. The only older homes that have gone back to single family have been tear downs replaced by a condos.

Dirty Mouth

Sun, May 12, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

This may clean up traditional student housing. Who knows, I've even seen a few of tese older homes (that City Council targets) go back to one-family homes and beautifully restored.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 11:51 a.m.

I wonder if support for projects like this would materialize if they were required to make, say, 20% of these units available as standalone apartments, rather than rental bedrooms, to low income families? Not that easy to find a 4br apartment, and upkeep on a cheaply built house is cost prohibitive for non-handy parents with low income, so those houses become blighted.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 11:06 a.m.

Yes, another night on the hard wooden benches of City Hall, awaiting the outcome of Council's deliberations. With the hearing closed, no one from the public can speak, but i imagine many will still be in the audience to witness the statements and the vote, if it finally comes, of Council members and the Mayor. If any Council members are absent, different strategies could come into play. An unfortunate, and some say unfair, aspect of Council's deliberations is that the public can no longer counter the developer's misstatements, sometimes outright lies, and misrepresentations of facts and rationale. Council can have the developer at the podium and ask them endless questions, but not so the public. Those opposed to the project have delved deeply into the City's zoning ordinances and development regulations and understand what is going on very well. Beyond all rational and legal arguments, and the fear of lawsuits, the project is still bad for the city, the adjacent historic neighborhood, and the safety of pedestrians. It does not comply with all applicable laws and ordinances and it does not comply with the city's Master Plan. Zoning says the building should be viewed "in the round" with open space in front, like Sloan Plaza and Campus Inn, and this project does neither. If there is precedent on the block that justifies D1 zoning with the East Huron 1 Character Overlay, then it should be followed on this important corner.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

As I stated in the comments for the other article, I do believe the relatively small number of people who will have their view significantly obstructed should absolutely be compensated by the developers. This is however a very small number of people, and I perceive that these people aren't even the ones behind the vast majority of the baseless (in my opinion) complaints.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 5:14 p.m.

Well, @widmer, perhaps you won't live in the shadow of this building once it's built, nor have your view blocked. Many others will.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

I have been following this, and seriously don't understand the rationale for the opposition. The one objective justification for opposition that Ionic writes is the current design lacks open space in the front. Otherwise, he mentions the aesthetics of the building. Frankly, I think it's a good looking building, and certainly has more character than Sloan Plaza, Ashley Terrace, etc. I live nearby in Kerrytown, btw. I think for many people in opposition, what it really comes down to is fear of progress/change.

Kai Petainen

Sun, May 12, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

"With the hearing closed, no one from the public can speak" aren't 10 slots allocated at the beginning of each council meeting? and don't they allow speaking at the end of the meeting?

Dirty Mouth

Sun, May 12, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

Why bother? It will be built whether we agree or not. The fact is that Democracy in Michigan is dead. Long live Gov. Snyder and Highrise Heftybag.


Sun, May 12, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

One would hope that your councilman/woman, by now, is on top of all the complaints raised, can discard the hyperbolic ones, and focus on the meat of the objections. There are at least a few who have taken the complaints to heart.