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Posted on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 6:32 p.m.

City Place apartments appears ready to move forward; 7 houses could be demolished

By Ryan J. Stanton


Seven houses along Fifth Avenue would be demolished to make way for the two apartment buildings and surface parking lot included in the plans for City Place. Neighbors still oppose the project.

Ann Arbor officials say all indications are that Ferndale-based developer Jeff Helminski is poised to move forward soon with demolition of seven houses along South Fifth Avenue, marking the beginning of construction on a controversial project known as City Place.

Helminski, one of the development partners, has been in talks with Ann Arbor officials about moving forward on the project. On Friday afternoon, an engineering consultant representing the developer submitted a petition to the city seeking to revise the approved site plan.

"Every indication has been that they are ready to move forward with construction," said Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager.

For the last few years, controversy has surrounded City Place — a project that calls for knocking down a row of century-old houses along South Fifth Avenue, just south of William Street and downtown, and constructing two box-like apartment buildings. Those buildings, containing 24 dwelling units, would be separated by a 36-space surface parking lot.


Developer Jeff Helminski appears to be taking the lead on the City Place project.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The project site plan was begrudgingly approved by the Ann Arbor City Council in September 2009, despite concerns about aesthetics and whether the project fits the character of the neighborhood. It legally conformed with city codes, so the council felt it had no choice but to approve the project.

Until now, it's been uncertain whether the project would go forward, but the amendments to the site plan are a sign that construction may not be far off.

"We met with their contractors, who indicated they had been working toward the demolition permits, so they have signed the development agreement, and that is being routed through the city to complete the signatures," Rampson said. "We haven't received construction drawings yet."

Proposed modifications to the site plan include:

  • Reconfiguration of the internal floor plan, including optional loft levels for third-floor apartments
  • Elimination of a redundant hydrant
  • Revisions to the parking lot landscaping and photometric plans
  • Addition of rear porches
  • Expansion of lower-level window wells
  • Minor window placement and exterior material changes

Rampson called those "minor changes" and said they can be approved by the city's planning staff without going to the Planning Commission or City Council.

In the past, Ann Arbor developer Alex de Parry, another partner in the project, was seen as the face of City Place. He was almost always the one to appear before the city representing the development, but some suspect he's distancing himself from the project now, while it appears Helminski has assumed a lead role in pushing forward with City Place.

Rampson said de Parry wasn't there when the city met two weeks ago with Helminski and a representative from Grand Rapids-based Wolverine Building Group, the general contractor on City Place, to talk about moving forward with the project.

Neither de Parry nor Helminski could be reached for comment for this story.

Helminski is better known as the face of the Moravian, another development in the same neighborhood that the City Council rejected in recent years. The website no longer exists.

"It's notable that an out-of-town developer seems to be the person who is going to take this over, because I doubt anybody who had ties with Ann Arbor would want to be associated with the project," said attorney Tom Luczak, a neighbor who has fought City Place.

"I'll wait and see how it looks. I hope he makes it as attractive as possible," Luczak said. "And for the community's sake, I hope he uses local union contractors."

The Germantown Neighborhood Association has fought to stop the City Place project over the last few years. In response, de Parry offered a revised project in late 2009 called Heritage Row, which promised to preserve the seven house and build new apartments behind them.

De Parry toiled over the project and revised plans to accommodate the wishes of residents and city officials. Heritage Row still fell one vote short of getting the eight votes it needed to win approval from council last summer, and the council never voted on de Parry's revised version.

The council finally agreed in February of this year to let de Parry bring the revised Heritage Row proposal back through the city's plan review process for a reduced fee.

Considering de Parry was in his fourth year of trying to convince the city to approve a redevelopment of residential property at 407-437 South Fifth Ave. — and that he had paid more than $42,000 in plan review fees — the council cut him a break and agreed to charge only $2,000 to go through the process again. De Parry had 90 days to officially resubmit plans for Heritage Row to the city's planning department, but he never submitted them.

Council Members Mike Anglin and Carsten Hohnke, who represent the 5th Ward, could not be reached to comment on the possibility of City Place going forward.

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.



Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

Wow, it has so much character! Especially the surface parking lot...they always add so much to a neighborhood.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:53 a.m.

PersonX think making an accusation of "blackmail" for a hardworking, free enterprise, American business owner who followed a skewed government procedure while paying sky high fees is good citizenship? He condemns this developer for trying to make a legitimate living on his or her own while employing other American citizens who are trying to make a living. This seems to be a typical, self rightious attitude of an Ann Arbor population that is primarily composed of current and former government workers who have been coddled and insulated from the realities and economics of the real world through the influence of collective union members who can impart undue political influence. Who's blackmailing who?


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 1:38 a.m.

@PersonX, Your demand that Council investigate making a rule for barring approval of two projects on the same site at once would not have prevented this at all. It would actually ENCOURAGE this. City Place IS the first project approved on that site. If your rule was in place, it would have saved the developer the time, frustration and a large amount of money getting jerked around by the neighbors and a couple of council members. So your rule would actually prohibit developers from wasting their time and money trying to make a project better, because in the long run the result will be the same. I would think the developers would love this. I dont like the City Place project one bit, its a real shame. The City Council had a choice and couple of members of council made the choice that City Place is better than the Heritage Row project. Sometimes, its tough, but thats the way the system works. The property owner has a right to build what the rules allow.


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 2:32 a.m.

Personx, My interpretation is correct. None of those previous projects you mention were approved or granted. All were denied. City Place is the first project actually approved for that site. I think it was designed as alot more than a scare tactic, at this point it looks like it was designed to be built.


Sun, Sep 11, 2011 : 1:57 a.m.

You apparently do not know the history of the project. CIty Place was not the original project. After a proposal for PUD was not approved, City Place was put together not as a PUD that required rezoning, but as one that fit within the zoning rules, but it was clearly designed only as something scary to force council to vote positively on the next version of the PUD. Your interpretation is simply incorrect.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 6:25 p.m.

that'll turn slummy real fast...can see that parking lot a magnet for breakins and theft...then go ahead and illuminate the whole thing-nice outside your windows. Who would really want to live there? Shame.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 2:56 p.m.

I am sorry, but I must strongly disagree with footbar417. The fact that it was "blackmail" or "the better of two bad options" is NOT irrelevant. The Council consists of our elected representatives and should not be ever subject to any kind of blackmail. Now any developer who faces problems with a project can just slap together a legally acceptable but purposely horrid project (such as City Place) and use it to force Council to accept something that should not be allowed, just because it is the "better of two options." This has the potential to cripple decision making, whatever anyone feels about council, and this is unacceptable. Council should immediately investigate the legality of creating a rule that would bar any developer from being able to propose a second project for a site if that developer already has a previous one that has been granted. This would prevent things like this happening in the future.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 1:23 p.m.

Private property owners should also not be subject to "blackmail". A previous city council, for better or worse, approved the zoning on the site. That means the property owners have the right to build something consistent with the zoning. While the property owners explored doing something more aesthetically appealing, they have always had the right to build something like this. Just because the council doesn't want them to do so is irrelevant, once they approved the zoning. Given all that, a realist would say "let's work out a deal to make it better." The council refused to do so, so the private property owners get to exercise their property rights. The proposal in the latter half of your comment makes no sense. If such a rule were even legal, then the property owner would float 2 ideas, see if one got traction, and then submit the one most likely to be approved. In this case, they would have just submitted City Place, consistent with zoning, gotten approval, and then built it.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

PersonX - Here is the underlying problem, people have property rights. This is in the US Constitution. Cities have the right to create zoning, but it has to be applied consistently. If zoning is not applied consistently and it impacts property rights, then the owner of the property has the right to compensation. In this case, City Place met all of the zoning requirements, like it or not, the owner of the property has the right to build it. Anything else and he has the ability to seek compensation from the city (e.g. sue and win). The issue is that the zoning allowed it and the city developed the zoning. Fixing the underlying zoning rules before it happens again, should be the focus here, this train left the station when the zoning was created originally.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 11:18 a.m.

The city council had the opportunity to take the better of two options and declined. The fact that it was "blackmail" or "the better of two bad options" is irrelevant. The city is getting the worse of two options, and that is the city council's choice. Those elected representatives who blocked Heritage Row have no one but themselves to blame for the building of City Place.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 10:14 a.m.

If the picture above is a true rendering of what the new property will look like, I agree with the neighbors. It's ugly. I would fight this change if it were to happen in my neighborhood. Thanks city council and our mayor for the visionary leadership.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 9:22 a.m.

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but having been born & raised in AA I am getting tired of all the over development and the little strip malls popping up like weeds with their "quaint" little facades that look like every strip mall and or apt complex in everytown, USA. Ann Arbor used to be such a unique place..... At least, for the time being, we still have the Arb and Gallup park.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 5:07 a.m.

The notion that the neighborhood should have approved anything the developer proposed just because he had come up with a blackmail project that was much worse is absurd. You have to do what you think is right. CIty Place was clearly designed as something unthinkable, to force Council and the neighborhood to accept something else. Now a developer from out of town, who cares not about the quality of life in Ann Arbor, and who has no decent track record, just will build this barbaric project. No one brought this on themselves--it is simply greed and tastelessness at work. A lovely street scape will be turned to architectural garbage and the whole city suffers. Council needs to find a way to stop this. A city has to be able to protect itself from selfish destruction.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 3:47 a.m.

PersonX, you think making an accusation of "blackmail" for a hardworking, free enterprise, American business owner who followed a skewed government procedure while paying sky high fees is good citizenship on your part? You condemn this developer for trying to make a legitimate living on his or her own while employing other American citizens who are trying to make a living. This a typical self rightious attitude of an Ann Arbor population that is primarily composed of current and former government workiers who have been coddled and insulated from the realities and economics of the real world.

Chip Reed

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 11:56 a.m.

"you have to do what you think is right" is absurd.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 2:10 a.m.

The neighbors sure shot themselves in the foot with this one. A developer bends over backwards to come up with a more suitable project but they still fight it ... the developer threatens to build the already-approved project nobody wants and they still fight it. Sometimes an unyielding NIMBY attitude comes back to haunt you ... these neighbors brought City Place upon themselves.

hut hut

Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 12:21 a.m.

Some people just aren't happy with what happens. They have to be haters too. And a lot of them don't live here, but have opinions 180 degrees from real residents. They post hate anyway.


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 12:46 a.m.

Don't you just hate people like that?


Sat, Sep 10, 2011 : 12:19 a.m.

Mr Luczak - You and your neighbors had a choice. You chose to fight the better of the two options, knowing that the developer really did not want to go forward with the other option. You left him no choice, so you might as well welcome City Place to your neighborhood. I would not be surprised, since you commented on local union labor, if the labor is non-union and non-local.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 11:35 p.m.

Tom Luczack, an attorney and a neighbor who fought the development says, "I hope he uses union contract labor" and "I hope he makes it as attractive as possible". No concern for helping cause delays over four years and costing the developer 44,000 dollars while being jerked around by the city planning commission. Typical ao Ann Arbor residents. I say build it ugly, use non union labor, and use them as halfway houses for paroles.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

I like our business friendly city council. "It legally conformed with city codes, so the council felt it had no choice but to approve the project." It's not the city council's money that is at risk with the project.

Tom Joad

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 10:46 p.m.

City Place, Near North, Who comes up with these inane names?