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Posted on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 11:25 a.m.

A2Y Chamber calls on Ann Arbor City Council to reject moratorium on downtown development

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber is calling on the Ann Arbor City Council to reject a temporary moratorium on new downtown development.

The debated moratorium proposal, which is being co-sponsored by Council Members Stephen Kunselman and Sabra Briere, is back on the City Council's agenda Monday after twice being postponed amid legal threats from attorneys for the 413 E. Huron high-rise project.

Tonight's meeting also includes a public hearing on the controversial 14-story project, after which council will consider a resolution to approve the project's site plan.


The Ann Arbor City Council must weigh whether to include the 413 E. Huron project in the moratorium, knowing that if it does so it likely would result in a lawsuit against the city.

Humphreys & Partners Architects

The council has at least a few options: Go forward with a moratorium that includes 413 E. Huron, go forward with a moratorium that doesn't include 413 E. Huron, or drop the idea of a moratorium.

If the council does include the 413 E. Huron project in a moratorium, attorneys have threatened that could result in a lawsuit against the city.

The council meets at 7 p.m. inside city hall, 301 E. Huron St.

The chamber sent a letter to Mayor John Hieftje and other members of council, saying it doesn't believe there's a need for a six-month ban on new site plan approvals, even if the city chooses to go forward with another part of the proposal: a six-month review of the downtown zoning.

The chamber suggests such a moratorium could jeopardize "the certainty and predictability needed to foster beneficial downtown development."

The letter is signed by Chamber President Diane Keller and Doug McClure, chairman of the chamber's Public Policy Committee.

"Our current downtown development zoning is the product of a multi-year review by City Council, which culminated in comprehensive amendments to the zoning ordinance which created the D1 and D2 districts for downtown in 2009," the chamber's letter reads.

"The 2009 D1/D2 downtown zoning ordinance resulted in a workable framework and process, with relatively clear rules and procedure, which balances the various interests of the community."

The chamber acknowledges the D1/D2 zoning for downtown does not address all issues to everyone's satisfaction. But on matters such as aesthetics, appearance and design, the chamber encourages developers and community members to try to reach common ground.

"Such local engagement will help ensure that developments gain not only legal approval, but public acceptance, and this will engender lasting community support for our carefully designed D1/D2 downtown zoning structure," the chamber's letter reads.

Council members last week received a letter supporting the moratorium from Norman Hyman, a Bloomfield Hills-based attorney representing Sloan Plaza Condominiums at 505 E. Huron St. Sloan Plaza residents have been actively opposed to the controversial 413. E. Huron project.

Hyman argues in his letter it's undisputed that Michigan law allows a municipality to establish a moratorium of reasonable duration. He doesn't believe the owner of the 413 E. Huron property would be able to meet the burden of proving the moratorium was adopted in bad faith.

When the city adopted its new downtown zoning regulations in 2009, Hyman said, it was clear that it was "an experiment" with "doubt as to how they would work."

"And council promised the citizens that, after seeing how they worked in practice, it would take another look at these regulations," Hyman stated in his letter.

If the council fails to keep its promise to review the regulations and fails to adopt the proposed moratorium, Hyman argued, city residents would be able to claim bad faith.

"Experience has taught that the D1/D2 process is flawed, and we believe that you recognize that," he wrote to council members. "For example, there appears to be not enough sensitivity to the impact of proposed developments on neighboring historic properties."

Hyman concluded by saying 413 E. Huron is not at stake with the temporary moratorium. He believes the site still would be profitably and densely developed, almost certainly with apartments.

"What is at stake is the future character of downtown and of historic properties in and neighboring downtown," he said. "Is there a one-in-one-hundred chance that the 413 developer might be able to persuade a court to invalidate the moratorium and grant some award of damages for a temporary taking? We doubt it, but the likelihood of such a result is so remote that you should not allow your policy decision to be dictated by such a remote threat."

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.



Tue, Mar 19, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

"...the certainty and predictability needed..." Ann Arbor development is predictable all right. Build any ugly thing you can, wherever you can get away with it, with little planning oversight or community input, and you are certain to cash in, because our city council and planning commission has their head up their a$$.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 10:21 p.m.

And now an important announcement from your A2Y Chamber That same pro-business group endorsing ---the downtown Ann Arbor Library Proposal--- "We don't want to sell Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor, but sell Washtenaw County," [Diane Keller, Executive Director newly formed Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber 1/28/2010]


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 9:03 p.m.

Please fix our roads.

Widow Wadman

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

I'm very curious to hear how the new members of Council think about this moratorium.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:24 p.m.

You might be surprised to know that most of the moratorium supporters agree with the Chamber but draw startlingly different conclusions based on the REFUSAL OF THE DEVELOPERS OF 413 E. Huron TO ACTUALLY NEGOTIATE WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS. The snub started with not having completed materials for the citizen participation meeting. Right now, some negotiation is said to be going on with the City Attorney's office. That can't be right. "The 2009 D1/D2 downtown zoning ordinance resulted in a workable framework and process, with relatively clear rules and procedure, which balances the various interests of the community." The chamber acknowledges the D1/D2 zoning for downtown does not address all issues to everyone's satisfaction. But on matters such as aesthetics, appearance and design, the chamber encourages developers and community members to try to reach common ground. "Such local engagement will help ensure that developments gain not only legal approval, but public acceptance, and this will engender lasting community support for our carefully designed D1/D2 downtown zoning structure," the chamber's letter reads. I think this is the whole point behind reviewing the process.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:56 p.m.

No. First, the phrase is "as of right" and that means the proposal has complied with the City processes as well as ordinances. That is not the case here. The City process starts with a citizen's participation meeting. Note the word participation. The developers did not even show up with complete records enough to answer questions let alone respond to suggestions. No changes were made as a result of this meeting. The process continues with the design review board meeting. The developers heard much the same questions here as from the citizens. The developers must have concluded that stepping down the building as suggested by the blue-ribbon panel would not work on this site although it has on others. The lack of meaningful give and take was a component of the questions faced by the developers at the Planning Commission meeting on the site plan. Failure to plug in to the process resulted in a denial of approval from Planning Commission. Again, this isn't a backyard, it is one of a relative few buildable sites along Huron near the downtown core (no matter what is supposed "downtown" these days, this is. The point of A2D2 and suggested zoning was to encourage diversity (not a student canyon), provided for a transition to the residential neighborhoods (so the houses don't have to become lawyers' offices and funeral parlors) and to maintain a decent street level experience (not making walking along Huron even more of a windblown, trafficy ordeal).


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:36 p.m.

The problem is, the developer doesn't really have to negotiate with anyone, let alone the neighbors. That's the nature of a "by rights" project. It's legal to build as long as it conforms to all zoning and building codes. And apparently, this project, in all its ugliness, does qualify. Imagine for a moment that you wanted to build an addition to your house, and it's legal for you to do so, would you let your neighbors determine the size and color of that addition? You'd probably tell them about your plans, listen to them on matters that don't inconvenience you for the sake of peace, but you probably wouldn't let them veto your entire project and possibly force you to sell your house because they don't like what you're legally allowed to do with it.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

Historic preservation can only truly be attained, by destroying everything manmade in this once pristine valley!


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

It's time for the City Clowncil to create a moratorium on arbitrary rule and reactive governess. I for one; will declare a moratorium on my property taxes until I'm completely sure they are not being squandered by special interest groups. Where is Ann Arbor's EFM Mr. Snyder?


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:01 p.m.

Ryan, the Historic District Commission passed a resolution in support of the moratorium last Thursday. Do you have a link to an article about that or at least a link to that resolution?

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:39 p.m.

I'm checking with the city to see if I can get a copy. I did write a story on the HDC's stance against the 413 E. Huron project already:


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:53 p.m.

If a moratorium is declared on downtown development, it seems to me that the DDA should be shut down at least for its duration because its function will be suspended.

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

Do City of Ann Arbor tax dollars go to this organization?


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

The chamber doesn't vote. My guess is most of the members are not Ann Arbor residents. this about the right of the electorate to control their city's destiny not the developers,nor the developers proxy the DDA.

Tom Whitaker

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

The membership certainly doesn't vote on these communications, which are created by a very small group on the Chamber's public policy committee. I've spoken with many Chamber members in the past who were disgusted by the statements made in their names. Most business owners recognize the value to their businesses of customers who are workers, families, established professionals and retirees--folks who build up loyalties and who live in Ann Arbor 12 months a year.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

Mr. Hyman is so right, Amen and Amen. Its a slippery slope if the charm of this town is to be preserved and this is the pivot point. Bullying by developers lawyers should not and cannot be the basis for councils decisions. If a project like the one on north main where to have been presented it would have sailed through approvals. No objection is made to development, its an objection to unsightly tenaments!

Tom Whitaker

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

Mr Hyman represents the Sloan Plaza condo owners, not a developer.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

You say you disapprove of developers' lawyers trying to influence Council decisions. But you start your comment by praising a developer's lawyer who is trying to influence a Council decision. The developer represented by Mr. Hyman seeks to undermine the proposed development next door to his, because he thinks it will detract from it. No lofty motives here.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

The linked letter by the attorney is worth the 5 minutes it takes to read it. In short, the developers were on plenty of notice about the City and citizens' concerns about this D1 zoning and the law clearly supports a moratorium that includes this project. The developer has pointed to one piece of law that supports its right to build this project. Doesn't mean the developer won't sue, but is the message we really want to be giving as a City is that we're a legal doormat and if you threaten a super weak claim we'll simply cave? I, for one, do not.

Tom Whitaker

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:46 p.m.

Case law has long upheld the right of municipalities to learn from experience and study, and then adapt and modify their zoning where necessary. Nothing about zoning is set in stone, and developers know this. It is a risky business that requires a lot of due-diligence. In this case, the same attorney now speaking out on behalf of the developers was also speaking out on behalf of the property owners at the time the zoning was established. They threatened to sue then, too. That attorney was there the night that council voted to call for a review of the zoning after one year, because so many late and controversial changes were made. Also, the zoning review has been in the planning commission's workplan, which is posted on the city website, since 2011. The developer cannot claim they were surprised by a call for a review. The Supreme Court has held that zoning must essentially remove all economic value of a property before a property owner can claim they are entitled to compensation. As long as they continue to have the ability to develop something of value--even something as small as the owners of the Huron property were considering building a few years ago, they have no claim. Overpaying for the property is no defense. No one has ever said that nothing should be built on this site--only that whatever goes up is consistent with the master plan, which calls for a step down from the tall buildings across the street to the neighborhood to the north. This is what was established in almost every other circumstance around the edges of downtown, where there was lower-scale residential just outside the downtown boundary.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:19 p.m.

Hi 2bits: I agree - the claim would likely come if/when there is a zoning change (but I'm no lawyer). To me, though, the entire idea of the moratorium would be to change the zoning. If there isn't a high likelihood of changing the zoning, then the moratorium is pointless.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:57 p.m.

1bit. I see your bit and raise you! How funny. By the way, the moratorium is to study the zoning to see IF and what needs changing. There is no certainty that anything would be changed. That is a key point, since without that certainty, the developer's suit is premature. They don't know if anything is going to be changed or not, and they have to wait until that time comes in order to have a "ripe" case.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:34 p.m.

I read the linked letter. The moratorium itself may not be a problem but clearly the intent of the moratorium is to change the zoning laws. Mr. Hyman believes that the value of the property would not be affected but this does not ring true and a change in zoning at this late date would certainly invite a lawsuit.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

That's "NOT pointed to one piece of law that supports its right to build this project."

Richard Lindsay

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Neighbors to the north... student housing in old buildings in disrepair that may have once been charming. Slumlords there couldnt care less. Tennants dont care as long as the walk to the bars in not detoured. Neighbors to the south... whaaaa my view will be ruined......

average joe

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 10:26 p.m.

@ Tom- I'm not taking sides here, but the person who invested in the exterior work you mentioned did so on his/her property at the same time the current zoning laws that the owners of the property at 413 were working with (and investing also) were in effect. So just because the historical home owners did so much work doesn't make any difference. Both owners were working within the laws in effect at the time.

Tom Whitaker

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 6:20 p.m.

You clearly don't know what you're talking about, or if you do, are deliberately trying to mislead. There are three designated historic properties immediately adjacent to this property and two of them are owner-occupied. One is on the National Register of Historic Places and just underwent a comprehensive and very expensive exterior restoration. Numerous other properties in the area are also owner-occupied and thanks to the historic district, have been decently maintained. If we are to have a vibrant and sustainable downtown, we need to make sure that all ages and incomes are accommodated with a variety of housing options. If we only cater to 19-23 year olds with fully-furnished apartments, the only businesses that will thrive will be inexpensive chain restaurants, bars, and convenience stores. Long-term residents buy furniture, appliances, art, hardware, and lawn and garden supplies, as well as maintenance and repair services. All ages and incomes are important for a balanced local economy, but it is especially important that we make a place for those who purchase durable goods. Folks who are more established also contribute significantly to the community by attending meetings, volunteering to serve on commissions and boards, and generally paying close attention to what is going on around them.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

Now we will really find out who runs this town, the citizens or outside developers


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

You left out another entity! The self righteous high brows in city government that think they can change the rules every time something does not meet their vision!


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

Why do all of these articles refer to "legal threats" from the developers? Shouldn't they be refered to as "the inevitable response from an aggrieved party to the random walk approach of the city council"? I don't love this development, but the reason one sets rules for development in a city is so that developers have some certainty when they invest time and money in a project. If you don't like the zoning rules in the city, change them and make them right, but there needs to be a consistent set of rules. And when someone tries to arbitrarily change them because someone doesn't like a particular development, well, that will lead to fully justified legal action.


Tue, Mar 19, 2013 : 3:21 a.m.

Sorry 2Bits, but I have watched the zigs and zags of development policy in Ann Arbor. I'm fully supportive of a thoughtful, measured approach to development in Ann Arbor. But rules have been laid out and they should be followed. If they believe there is a specific issue with this development, then great, challenge it on that. But a full moratorium that is clearly geared toward one devleopment leads one to believe that there aren't specific zoning issues with this project. Millions of dollars have been spent on projects that haven't gone anywhere in this town - for instance repeated attempts to build a solid business hotel. Set a policy, set a goal, I'll probably be fine with any reasonable proposal, but then stick to it!!


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:53 p.m.

You said arbitrarily. This action would not and is not being taken arbitrarily. That is an absurd statement if you have been paying any attention at all.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

I want to vote this up over and over again. I don't want a single tax dollar spent fighting a lawsuit (even if its a win) that came about only because council can't make up its mind.