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Posted on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

Ann Arbor City Council begrudgingly approves Maple Cove apartments project on city's west side

By Ryan J. Stanton

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Ann Arbor City Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, and his colleagues shared similar concerns about the Maple Cove project Monday night but he was the only to vote against it. The others recognized it was a by-right project and felt they had little choice but to approve it.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor City Council members expressed disappointment in the developer of Maple Cove apartments as they approved the project Monday night.

The vote was 9-1 with Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, dissenting and Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, absent.

Council members shared the same concerns that members of the Planning Commission expressed last month — that the project at 1649 N. Maple falls short of their expectations and they're disappointed in the developer for not addressing the city's concerns.

Property owner Muayad Kasham, who owns Superior Lawn Care & Snow Removal in Ann Arbor, plans to demolish an existing home and construct two 18-unit, three-story apartment buildings and seven single-family homes, as well as a 64-space parking lot. Site plans for the apartment buildings include 12 one-bedroom units and 24 two-bedroom units.

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"At some point in time, what's your law is your law and you have to make sure you comply with it," said Council Member Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Residents and city officials have cited potential safety risks posed by a lack of sidewalks, which some fear could force children to walk in the street, and having two driveways close together on Maple Road, just north of Miller Avenue.

According to Planning Manager Wendy Rampson, the developer doesn't have to address those issues and the project meets city code.

Kunselman said he couldn't support the project because the developer is "cutting corners" and it will have a negative impact on public health, safety and welfare.

Other council members shared similar concerns but said it wasn't enough to deny the project, especially since it meets the city's zoning laws.

Upon voting in favor of the project, Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, said it was unfortunate the developer refused to make some minor improvements to the site plan.

"I was disappointed that didn't happen," he said.

Mayor John Hieftje said he feared the city could be sued if it didn't approve the project. That's the same rationale the council used for approving the controversial City Place apartments, another project that neither residents nor city officials wanted to see move forward.

"We do have an obligation to follow the law," Hieftje said, adding the city would be "on extremely thin ice" in a lawsuit over Maple Cove.

Council Member Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward, agreed.

"When it meets the code, that's it," Derezinski said. "At some point in time, what's your law is your law and you have to make sure you comply with it."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

Comments

Mick52

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

Go ahead add more regulations. Since it so soooo easy to build in A2, more regulations will not hamper more development.

snapshot

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:31 a.m.

Is Kunselman above the law? Did he violate his oath of office? What's up with elected officials who only advocate their own illegal agendas? Kunselman should be sanctioned or removed from office if he refuses to follow the law. Kunselman's behaviour is a mockery of democracy and the fact that Taylor didn't even show up to is an insult to his constituents. Kunselman also proclaims that he is an advocate of maintaining the city budget through property taxes rather than a city income tax (which being a U of M employee is a conflict of interest for him to participate in any vote on the matter) but he keeps voting against developments that will generate tax dollars. In this case he blatenly acted in an illegal manner that may cost taxpayers money to defend his illegal action in a lawsuit. This guy is out of control and has no business remaining a city council member. He represents only the arrogance of someone who thinks he is all powerful and immune from santion.

snapshot

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:32 a.m.

"sanction"

15crown00

Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

$$$$$$$ and Diversity speak don't they. To Bad!!!!

uabchris

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 10:46 p.m.

Well how about getting off your thumbs and CHANGE the codes and zoning...how long is this going to go on, geez!!!!!

Jack

Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

The zoning code in this neighborhood was changed without notice to many people who were affected. It's hard to change something you are unaware of. I would think Council would have enough consideration for its constituents that it would introduce legislation to reinstate zoning once a project fell through.

Jack

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 6:21 p.m.

My understanding is that this area was originally zoned for residential use only. When a developer proposed building an office structure there, Council changed the zoning. The office development never went through. However, the office zoning remained. That zoning also allowed for the development of the type of apartment structures that have now been approved. Had Council had the decency to restore the original zoning, this never would have happened. Their excuse is that they don't do this (restore zoning once it has been changed). In short, they don't take care of the neighborhoods for which they are responsible. We never expected to have to move out of Ann Arbor. But that may be what we wind up doing if this development negagtively impacts us. We live very nearby.

Jack

Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 10:52 p.m.

Snapshot - While I sympathize with the plight of the City to raise revenue, I question why it is always in the neighborhood of working and middle class neighborhoods. We already have North Maple Estates, a constant source of crime, Miller Manor, ditto, and a litany of other housing projects in close proximity. Gated community? What a hoot! Tell me what's in your neighborhood, Snapshot.

snapshot

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:39 a.m.

We need properties that pay taxes instead of tax exempt university properties. Kunselman works for the U of M and is proud to be opposed to both a city income tax and developments that generate property taxes. folks in Ann Arbor need to understand that if they want a "gated community" they need to put up a fence and establish some concrete conditions and disclosures to potential buyers. I wish you well in your relocation.

AAbornandraised

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

While I don't understand the Planning Commission and Council continuing to approve every apartment plan put before them when so many have not been filled, I do like the idea of this one. It will certainly look better than the blight, overgrowth and run-down conditions that are present in this area now. I drive by there somewhat regularly and will welcome looking at new development and will gladly share the road.

Basic Bob

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 11:27 a.m.

City residents prefer vacant lots and abandoned junkyards to development. The property owner should respect their wishes and let the rats, cats, or coyotes take over.

Observant

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:40 a.m.

I am saving this article referencing plan approval driven by Mayor / Council's fear of lawsuit by developer. When harm befalls local residents, by means of traffic injury, stormwater damage or any other of the numerous shortcomings related to this plan, it opens the door for the City to be held liable for resulting loss, damage or injury. Clearly, they believe the developer is holding a bigger hammer over their heads than the local population. We shall see.

Greenradish

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Your opinion has no basis in fact. There are plenty of traffic safety, environmental planning, and yes even sound business reasons to amend the development code. But this project complies with the laws that we have now, so your strong feelings are better directed to advocating for law reform. You don't blame the fox when the farmer left the chicken coop open.

LXIX

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:05 a.m.

Ah yesss, the sorrowful lament of the experienced politician. "I feel for my consituent. The frustration. The anger. The sheer hopelessness. But my hands are tied by the laws we must make, er, umm, and honor. So... I have to vote contrary to what we both know is wrong here. Oh woah is me. Whoa is me". Oh please...I can't stop laughing.

Greenradish

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

We'll see who is laughing on election day. Vote, and tell the candidates why!

GoNavy

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

A developer cutting corners eh? What's new there? Good thing the council went ahead and approved the project despite their reservations - that way, when the whole thing turns south, the councilmembers can say "they had reservations," which should provide the necessary cover from any political or social fire.

Greenradish

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

Don't ask them why they approve bad projects, ask the tougher question -- why they don't pass better development regulations.

Frank W

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:11 p.m.

The law is the law is the law. If you don't like it, change it. Don't try to penalize people who make good faith investments in projects you don;t like. For once council the right thing.

Sallyxyz

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

'Kunselman said he couldn't support the project because the developer is "cutting corners" and it will have a negative impact on public health, safety and welfare. Other council members shared similar concerns but said it wasn't enough to deny the project, especially since it meets the city's zoning laws.' So, it passes even though the developer is cutting corners which will impact negatively on public health, safety and welfare? This is a terrible decision. They worry about getting sued, but how can the city be sued for denying a project that will have a negative impact on public health, safety and welfare?

Jack Eaton

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

Actually, our zoning ordinance is very clear in its requirement that the City Council must make an affirmative finding that a site plan does not impact public health, safety or welfare. The City Code provides those standards for approving a site plan in Chapter 57 section 5:122(6): "Standards for site plan approval. A site plan shall be approved by the appropriate body after it determines that: (a) The contemplated development would comply with all applicable state, local and federal law, ordinances, standards and regulations; and (b) The development would limit the disturbance of natural features to the minimum necessary to allow a reasonable use of the land, applying criteria for reviewing a natural features statement of impact set forth in this Chapter; 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."

Greenradish

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Sally - See, for instance, the due process clause of the Constitution. The developer has a right to build structures that fit within certain dimensions. There is no discretion to deny a project if it meets the minimum requirements of the law. The government can't deprive someone of rights unless the government is so enabled, and in this case the government has not got authority to reject the project. So your beef, properly stated, is that the minimum requirements are inadequate. You should be asking your council members and candidates where they stand on developing a smarter development code.

PersonX

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 9:57 p.m.

Mr. Tony Derezinski loves any kind of development, no matter how horrible, so it is up to the good people of his district to kindly vote him off Council. More junk architecture by the same people who "designed" City Place. Council surely has an obligation to defend Ann Arbor against such predatory destruction of the city. If the zoning allows garbage architecture, then a)it should still fight it, and b)change the zoning ASAP.

Greenradish

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

It's not really the zoning per se; it's a question of design standards. Many people would find it easier to swallow mid-size buildings if they were actually very beautiful. Instead, we get buildings covered in stucco, aluminum siding, cheap windows, and brick tiles. I suggest a modest bargain -- that we ease up a little on zoning regulations (what land uses can go where, and the area and height of buildings) in exchange for demanding higher aesthetic standards in the review process. Just speaking for myself, I'd have no problem allowing +8 story building by right if, say, 1/3 the facade is true brick or stone, 1/2 are windows, and the design character is consonant with the surrounding blocks.

HappySenior

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 9:46 p.m.

According to an earlier article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, architect Brad Moore speaks for the owner (http://annarborchronicle.com/2012/03/27/despite-concerns-north-maple-housing-okd/): "Representing the owner – Muayad Kasham of Dynasty Enterprises – architect Brad Moore described some highlights of the project, including rooftop decks for sunbathing and picnics. The complex is also very close to city parks, he said, including Hollywood Park and Garden Homes Park. The owner plans to add a vegetative roof if funding allows, Moore said, similar to one Moore designed for the Big George's store on West Stadium Boulevard." "Regarding stormwater issues, Moore said the project will include paying for 10 footing drain disconnects, so the development will be taking more stormwater out of the system. The overall site plan is 100% compliant with city zoning codes, he said, and he urged commissioners to recommend approval." Let's all remember to thank Mr. Moore, who is also the architect for the Campus Crest project on South Maple. (http://www.annarbor.com/business-review/developer-proposes-new-student-housing-project-for-grace-bible-church-site-in-ann-arbor/)

Tom Whitaker

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

The proper use of the term "by right" is only in reference to the "use" of the parcel in question. The zoning ordinance specifies uses that are "permitted as a matter of right" for the various zoning districts and may include things such as apartment buildings, gas stations, single-family homes, etc. So, if a proposal is for a USE that is on the list for that parcel's district, such as a single family home in the R2 district, then that is a "use permitted by right." However, no project is entitled to an APPROVAL as a matter of right. All proposals must meet the requirements of the zoning ordinance which specifies a number of dimensional requirements and other attributes, as State law, and certain Federal laws, too. The zoning ordinance cannot possibly anticipate every circumstance and therefore, it must be INTERPRETED by staff, planning commission and council. This interpretation must be based on the duly-established master plans of the city, much like laws are interpreted on the basis of the ideals put forth in the Constitution. As the City did in 1996 with the proposed Burger King at Huron and Ashley, sometimes a project is rejected on the basis of an impact to the "health, safety and welfare" of the community. Sure, it's vague, but it has withstood court challenges when properly documented. It provides a community a way to avoid bad outcomes when weaknesses in an ordinance are exploited. Of course, the best way to avoid this situation is to have a zoning ordinance that is up-to-date, clear, illustrated, and consistent with the master plan and State laws. Most of the current incumbents have failed to take an active interest in reforming our zoning (except for downtown), and as a result, the City remains vulnerable to proposals that may be less than ideal. Meanwhile, reform efforts like the R4C study and "ZORO" are languishing--years after they were initiated.

PersonX

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

Absolutely on the mark. Please take this into consideration and vote out Teal and Derezinsky while you still can.

Peter Eckstein

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.

If everyone agrees that ths is a faulty project but that it meets the code, why isn't the next step to tighten the code so that it doesn't happen again? Vivienne Armentrout makes a similar point i more detial in her comment above. She will be a great addition to City Council if she wins the Auust 7 primary in the Fifth Ward.

Kevin McGuinness

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:14 a.m.

Why do the only intelligent comments come from people who use their name

motorcycleminer

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

Not addressing the " citys " concerns ...no thats the "councils " concerns ..if it meets the regs then it meets the regs just because the council doesn't like it than so be it.. what do they like besides art ? , and all the " pet " projects for the 1% ers that think they run this place..no wonder developers stay well clear of OZ ..as long as the munchkins and big talking head run the show it's a smart move....

Sparty

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:56 a.m.

Ever consider posting anything positive?

Goober

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

So move......

Goober

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

Oh well. You win some and lose some. Now back to planning what art to buy. Maybe plan a train station or two on city owned park land.

Steve Hendel

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:13 p.m.

"At some point in time, what's your law is your law and you have to make sure you comply with it," said Council Member Tony Derezinski, D-2nd Ward." Profound or what?

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

Clearly, if existing code ends up allowing the construction of a project that everyone concedes is bad in many ways and does not meet a number of criteria (sidewalks being one) for what our city policy says is acceptable, our existing code needs to be fixed. If Council approves every faulty site plan that comes before it with the excuse that it "meets the code", why is Council even in the loop to approve site plans? The Planning Commission, or even their staff (why spend time discussing?) could do this work for them. It wasn't always like this. Council used to exercise some judgment on site plans. It is my understanding (though I can't cite chapter and verse) that the use of "by right" is fallacious in describing a project that meets the bare minimum requirements of the code. This appears to have been a concept that was developed under the current regime to avoid even the bare possibility of a lawsuit. It is a shame that the city is so unwilling to defend policy decisions made by Council. This particular project is an example of unintended consequences (zoned office, AHP guidelines changed, built as residence under office rules). We probably need to anticipate those better and draw tighter zoning guidelines if such things happen regularly. I support the findings of the citizen advisory committee on R4C/R2A zoning as an example of "fixes" needed. It would not have prevented this, however.

Mick52

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

I think A2 building codes are already considered so restricted it is a nightmare to build anything and it can take forever. To add more regulations is not going to encourage development. How much sidewalk traffic would there be on this block? Seems odd to require a builder to add sidewalks if there is little if any pedestrian traffic. Also the sidewalk becomes the property of the city and so demanding sidewalks is like extortion for a freebie. A2 has always been nasty to property owner regarding sidewalks. If they want them, they can put them in.

Greenradish

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

May I suggest going a step beyond the downtown design guidelines and replacing the zoning code in its entirely with a form-based code. I don't think its a bad tradeoff to cut the red tape but raise the design standards: http://www.formbasedcodes.org/

rm1

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 4:08 a.m.

"Council used to exercise some judgment on site plans. It is my understanding (though I can't cite chapter and verse) that the use of "by right" is fallacious in describing a project that meets the bare minimum requirements of the code." I believe this statement makes no sense, except maybe political "sense", and that you really should try to "cite chapter and verse" for such an extraordinary assertion, or find out that you can't, which I think is the case. I believe I remember this correctly: either a project meets the requirements of Code, in which case it is "of right", or it doesn't, and should be turned down. There's no halfway concept of "meets code, but can be turned down at Council's choice," as you seem to suggest. Council can attempt to obtain improvements, by tradeoffs or urging or whatever. But if council turns down a project that meets requirements, the developer has a lawsuit against the City that is likely to succeed. And this is the part that has changed, which I think I am remembering correctly. Until a decade or so ago, all the developer could win in that lawsuit was an order compelling approval of the project. But then the law changed. A Michigan Supreme Court decision held that a developer could also recover the damages suffered by reason of the wrongful delay. Before then, when Council turned down a project, the worst it faced was the courts reversing that decision a year or three down the road, and the developer bore his losses. But with that change in the law, suddenly Council's decision had real financial consequences. If the rejection was wrong, the City might have to bear the developer's losses. So it's not too surprising that Michigan municipalities became less willing to turn down projects -- became more cautious, or more cowardly, if you will. Of course, if Code were tightened to require the features this developer disappointed Council members by not providing, it would be dif

sbbuilder

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Maybe the city could reduce the two lanes on Maple down to just one, and add some real neat bike lanes on each side. Who cares about cars anyway? It's all about getting the whole city to hop on bikes and ride the bus! Eventually, we'll be reduced to using ox carts and donkeys. But the bright side is that it'll be green green green.

a2cents

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

If it weren't for bike lanes where would all the delivery people (mail, parcel, pizza,...), trash, trash bins, and turning autos be put? It's a war out there and motorized vehicle owners are using every tool at their disposal to intimidate and discourage cyclists (who happen to be legitimate road users).

oldblueypsi

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

@Macabre Sunset: For whom or what are you proposing the "significant" Donkey Diaper Ordinance? For the four legged creatures who pull the carts, or the members of City Council?

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

I'm sorry, but ox and donkey droppings are hardly green, and the gasses expelled when producing this waste leads to global warming. If we go this route (and I agree that an automobile ban seems to be the goal of Council), we would need a significant Donkey Diaper Ordinance.

Mike

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

Now all they have to do is narrow the road in that area............

Jack Campbell

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

Ridiculous. Why does the community in which this mess is going not have a say? Everyone in the neighborhood is strongly against this moving forward.

Jake C

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 4:58 a.m.

" Why does the community in which this mess is going not have a say?" You did have a say when you elected your local representatives. You will have a say in a few months when you can vote them out of office again. Welcome to a Democratic Republic in action.

TMC216

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

It may be "legal", but truly this is another reason to move. The Maple Road area is already a disaster (try Maple & Scio Church and Maple & Liberty at 8 a.m.& 4 p.m.) now. Sure. Now lets now add 700 beds and the corresponding traffic?!

motorcycleminer

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

So move.....

Goober

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

I've gotten no where complaining about lights. In fact, I once received an email from one of the city traffic engineers (?) stating an intersection was so sophisticated that blinking yellow and blinking red at 4 am could not be done. My complaint was waiting at a timed light at 4 am, while going to work and no other traffic used the intersection while I was there.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

I'm not sure how this project would impact those intersections, but I have noticed that the timing of those lights is beyond dreadful. Those intersections should be handling twice the traffic with no stress to the system.

Captain Splat

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 7:47 p.m.

And they're only adding 81 beds and not 700

Richard

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

Except this developement is on North Maple, north of Miller. No where near Liberty or Scio Church.

M

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

I say good. This city isn't built on the whims of the very few. If the man is following the laws, let him build. If you have a problem with the laws, change them. Vote Kunsellman out, he clearly doesn't understand how laws work.