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Posted on Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor downtown zoning review: rethinking incentives offered to developers

By Ryan J. Stanton


City Council Member Sabra Briere, standing, discusses downtown zoning issues with residents Monday night during a public workshop at the Washtenaw County Building, 200 N. Main St.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Ann Arbor's downtown zoning offers developers some incentives — also known as "premiums" — for providing certain amenities in their projects.

In the D1 and D2 zones, they can build bigger if they include residential use, affordable housing, green building technologies, historic preservation, pedestrian amenities or public parking.

But city officials now question whether residential premiums offered to developers are effectively encouraging a diverse downtown population.


Mayor John Hieftje, standing, listens in as residents discuss downtown zoning issues Monday night.

Ryan J. Stanton |

They put the question to about two dozen community members Monday night as part of an ongoing review of the downtown zoning.

The consensus: The premiums aren't working very well.

"Premiums are bogus excuses to let developers do whatever they want," said Ann Arbor resident Peter Eckstein, summing up the opinions of his work group at Monday's workshop.

If there are going to be premiums, Eckstein and others said, developers should have to abide by the city's design guidelines, which lack teeth right now.

Some said premiums should be done away with completely, while others suggested tweaking them to incentivize different types of development — perhaps more office space.

Hired consultants from ENP & Associates facilitated the meeting, which featured a summary of public input received through recent focus group sessions and public surveys.

Erin Perdu, who led the meeting, said her team has gotten a mix of feedback from the community, indicating what's working and not working with downtown zoning.

"In general, we have heard a lot about the setbacks, the height limits and the bulkiness of some of the buildings that are being built — and that the requirements that are in the ordinance are resulting in buildings that are negatively impacting the surrounding area," she said.

"We have heard that the premiums are not working the way they are intended — that they're not really resulting in the kinds of housing the city intended, and some other amenities are not being produced from the premiums and they might need to be re-examined."

On the positive side, Perdu said, the downtown zoning has been simplified since the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown — or A2D2 — changes were adopted by the City Council in late 2009, and that's encouraging more development and mixed-use buildings.


Erin Perdu, a consultant from ENP & Associates, said Ann Arbor residents are fortunate to live in a place that's dealing with expansion, growth and opportunity. "A lot of other places don't have this type of opportunity, so we're happy to be here and we're happy to have this discussion with you," she said.

Ryan J. Stanton |

She said some even have suggested the D1 area should be expanded so more downtown properties can be densely developed.

But the consensus opinion from Monday's crowd, which included many opponents of approved high-rise projects like 413 E. Huron and The Varsity, was that more areas of the downtown should be downzoned, and some areas zoned D1 should be zoned D2 instead.

Participants broke off into different work groups and pored over maps showing areas zoned D1 along Huron Street, William Street and Ann Street. Many said those areas should be downzoned to provide a better transition into nearby neighborhoods.

Eckstein's group came to the conclusion that height limits for both D1 and D2 should be lowered so developments aren't so big and bulky, and the city should use part of its Greenbelt millage dollars to create more parkland and open space around the downtown.

D1 is the core downtown zoning that allows buildings up to 180 feet tall — or in special cases like the 400 block of East Huron, up to 150 feet tall.

Some have argued D2 step-down zoning with a 60-foot cap would be a better fit for certain areas that abut residential neighborhoods and historic districts.

Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager, said lots of good feedback is coming out of the community engagement that's been done so far.

"What we're really trying to do is take this zoning and make it fit a little bit better," she said. "We started with our best guess in 2009, and now we're going to tweak the edges."

Ellen Ramsburgh, a longtime member of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission, said recent high-rise projects like The Varsity and 413 E. Huron show where the zoning falls short.

"I am hoping we revise the zoning so that it reflects the goals that were stated in the Downtown Plan and the character overlay districts, and so that it respects context," she said. "Putting a blanket zoning over an area that's very varied is problematic."

City officials talk about density in terms of "floor area ratio" or FAR, which is the total square feet of floor area in a building divided by the total square feet of the overall property.


Ann Arbor residents discuss downtown zoning issues Monday night.

Ryan J. Stanton |

In the D1 district, a maximum FAR of 400 percent is allowed by right, with opportunities to add more stories and go up to 700-900 percent with the use of premiums.

In the D2 district, 200 percent is the maximum by right, with opportunities to go up to 400 percent with the use of premiums.

"The premiums that we've identified for incentivizing certain types of development may need to be rethought," Rampson said. "We could remove the residential premiums if the market is already providing residential, and then try to shift incentives to other things we're trying to get in the downtown — like LEED development, green development, public open space, better design."

Ann Arbor resident Betsy Price said her group decided Monday night that premiums should incentivize more diverse and affordable housing, as well as pedestrian amenities.

"We think premiums should be given for those who preserve or protect historic resources and existing residential areas — not just those that are historic districts, but houses," she added. "We thought premiums should be given for open green space, space that is accessible to the public on the ground level — not maybe a third-floor or sixth-floor terrace that's only for those residents."

The City Council earlier this year directed the city's Planning Commission to evaluate the A2D2 zoning and report back in October with any recommended changes.

The consultant team is expected to work through early September to develop options to address priority issues. Another public meeting will be held in mid-September.

The consultant will be working to draft a final action plan at that time, and the Planning Commission is expected to meet to finalize recommendations in late September.

"As far as our evaluation and suggestions for moving forward, our plan is to report back to City Council in early October," Perdu said.

Mayor John Hieftje and three City Council members — Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy and Sally Hart Petersen — were in attendance Monday night.

"I'm here because I want to hear what people are saying and I'm looking forward to getting the total input that comes back from the consultant," Hieftje said.

"The folks who are here are people who have participated in these types of discussions over the years," Hieftje noted of the audience. "I've seen most of them way back during the Calthorpe discussions and I'm glad they're still engaged and coming out and doing this."

Briere, who serves on the Planning Commission, said she heard many different ideas coming out of the groups as she went from table to table Monday night.

"It's very interesting because each small subset has different ideas of what they want," she said. "I'm still at the listening and learning stage."

Briere said the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the issue as the process moves forward and she expects more interesting public discourse then.

The public also is invited to another "community coffee" with consultants at Zingerman's Community Table, 422 Detroit St., from 8-10 a.m. Thursday.

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, Aug 6, 2013 : 10:41 p.m.

If high density development is the key to a winning city, maybe the highrise enthusiasts can explain how Boulder CO ranks higher than Ann Arbor in most every wanna be "list". They were one of the first cities to impose strict growth limits. Hippies in the '60s wanted kick back and enjoy the relaxed openness of their beautiful Colorado. The sky the pines the mountains. Those stringent population and development ordanances are still in place - and have been further tightened over the last 40 years. Maybe being sooo exclusive daahling had some peep draw, too. The throngs downtown seeking out each other's vibrancy do not really "live" in Ann Arbor. Most are like an undergrad hot date - and then are long gone. Other kids come in to party from Beleville, Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Ypsilanti, and even Detroit. A few bars and theatres and restaurants and parking and you suddenly have a vibrant hot spot. Like fiat currency, as long as everyone thinks it has value then it does. That Miami/Chicago/New York living density image just isn't here and will very likely move on to the next developer gold mine when the Tax bill comes due.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:22 a.m.

Yup, the downtown vibrancy everyone keeps referring to is the students and kids from surrounding towns coming in. Very different from a city with residents who live downtown walking around and doing their business, shopping and socializing.

Jeff Crockett

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

Noone I know objects to high density in the downtown core, mostly populated by office buildings and other commercial establishments. Downtown neighborhoods and nearby natural features such as our landmark oaks are threatened when tall buildings 180 foot tall are built immediately next to residential areas with minimal set back. Sensible and sensitive zoning will not preclude high density in the downtown core but at the same time will protect historic downtown neighborhoods. In my book, that's called a win-win.

John of Saline

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

Don't be surprised when people want to build tall buildings when you have a growing population and pass a "greenbelt" law.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:18 a.m.

This area doesn't have a "growing" population, perhaps slowly, but it's mostly transients (students) who come and go, and when the UM enrolls a larger freshman class, but the number of students entering the K-12 system is declining in AA. It's certainly not a retiree mecca, and sure, the UM hires people all the time, but many leave as well, so it's churn. I don't know what the net gain is, but the population projections that were published a while back were far too optimistic and weren't based on any hard data. Slow growth at best.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

For anyone who isn't sure which areas of the downtown are zoned D1 and which are zoned D2, this map is particularly helpful. Enjoy.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

People talk about adverse impact but don't say what that is. How does a tall building downtown have adverse impact? And there are plenty of grocery stores: People's Food Coop, Sparrow Market, and Babo. They are urban places, but may seem foreign to those in the suburbs.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

It's CHANGING! Oooo...scary.

Gale Logan

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

Steve: The new taller buildings are a win/win for the environment. Energy efficiency is required if a developer wants to earn a premium so they all had to meet the standard. These modern buildings are many, many times more efficient than the old rental houses the students are came from where the owner never cared if they leaked or the furnace was old because the tenants paid the bills. The new buildings also have shared walls, multiple floors, one roof instead of 100, way, way more efficient. (Of course there are also many one and two bedroom apartments occupied by working people in the new buildings as well.) They when you consider some of the old houses are being purchased by families moving back into the old student neighborhoods, those houses will get efficiency upgrades too now that the owners will be paying the utility bills.

Steve Bean

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 5:50 p.m.

Can you be more specific about the EE requirements, Gale? I don't think there was a very high minimum for those. Was it even LEED Bronze? Are you sure it was a premium requirement or was it rather just one of the optional incentives they could choose from? And, if so, how many of them did choose it? Yes, the new buildings are more efficient for the other reasons you state. They could have been more so. There is no win/win for the environment that involves diesel, concrete, steel, and living spaces that aren't adequately daylit and naturally ventilated. The thinking that there are helped get us here.

Steve Bean

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

I appreciate the efforts to improve what's obviously not optimal. Nevertheless, it's likely to have no significant impact, as growth is over. The financing for new development downtown will dry up very soon. We missed the opportunity to offer incentives to make the recently constructed new buildings more energy efficient and to protect against the city being left holding the long-term maintenance bag for any that go bankrupt.

Steve Bean

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

No, Chip, the stock market is falling, as is conventional oil "production" (extraction), globally in both cases.

Ryan Munson

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 4:34 p.m.

Growth is over? You obviously don't work or live near downtown.

Chip Reed

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

The sky is falling!

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

In case anyone is curious, I asked Wendy Rampson to respond to a concern raised by a local architect last week that the city's zoning ordinances force buildings to be constructed right up to the sidewalk line and the builder has to comply. "In some areas, the D1 areas, we do require buildings to be put up to the property line as long as there's at least 14 feet of sidewalk," Rampson said. "That's to try to bring the street activity to the sidewalk, which is one of the things that was identified as part of the A2D2 effort as being really important. So maybe we need to refine that so three-quarters of the building could be brought up, and then there's still an opportunity for a plaza or an inset."

Sabra C Briere

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 5:57 p.m.

Our award-winning Main Street is an interesting example of this. Many of the reasons folks like Main Street is all the shop windows they can easily look into. How deep are the sidewalks there? How much front setback? And how deep should the sidewalks be?


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

How having a giant building pushed right up against the sidewalk is supposed to help is anyone's guess, I have often wondered about this. It seems to me that bringing street activity as close as possible to the building has the effect crushing out the pedestrian. There are so many contradictions in the planning guidelines it is no wonder many are unsatisfied with the results.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

Did Rampson explain why 14 feet of sidewalk was considered the minimum setback from the street? Is there proof of any advantage?


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

The wonderful charm of A2's Downtown has already been preserved. We have the many historic districts that cover much of the area. The beautiful campus buildings and huge expanses of green space open to all. But what every downtown needs is people living there to shop, to eat, to work ,to walk about and give it the busyness that sets the great ones apart from the others. Ann Arbor is finally getting this, more people is what makes a great downtown. The current path is a good one and the city should stay on it. Let's not return to the 1970's, before the DDA came in and saved downtown, lets keep moving toward the future.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

"But city officials now question whether residential premiums offered to developers are effectively encouraging a diverse downtown population." Duh!!

Kensington alum

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

I see a lot of posts about recent speculative development - has that really been occurring on a large scale? Building apartments with ground floor retail doesn't count (not really), since as a practical matter you can't prelease apartments very far out - ditto lots of the retail space. Speculative office is another thing of course, and I wasn't aware that there was large scale (say, over 150,000 sq. ft.) office buildings going up on spec.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

Since many citizens acknowledge that Ann Arbor is doing very well now, perhaps this is the right time to curb further highrise construction. The skyline is already adversely affected by giant structures rising above more modestly-sized buildings. Furthermore, no one, including City Council members and the mayor, have any idea exactly what should occupy buildings proposed in the Connect William Street Plan. Speculative construction has been the rule in Ann Arbor and it remains too soon to state whether recent construction should be considered successful.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

Veracity, Granted that political labels are often unhelpful and inaccurate, nonetheless I don't see much of a problem labeling an attitude that wishes to conserve an ol' timey small town feel as "conservative", and an embrace of progress as "progressive",


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

Tano - I do not consider your definition of progressive or conservative as accurate or meaningful when applied to attitude towards constructing large buildings. Disregarding any labeling, those in Ann Arbor government can not identify a need for tall buildings. The speculative "Field of Dreams"- type attitude of our officials is unjustified and actually disregards the citizens of Ann Arbor who wish to preserve what quaintness, ambiance and small city character remains.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

@ SonnyDog You are calling non-progressive people progressive, and then noting the irony of that. The mayor and his allies are the progressives in this town. The complainers are the conservative do-nothing, spend-nothing crowd.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

I do not understand the "we are doing well, so let's stop" mindset. The "progressives" in Ann Arbor who are so against change really crack me up. The irony just knocks me out.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

Peregrine - I was wondering when you would enter the fray. Some time ago (and I can provide you with the actual date and even copies of the emails) I wrote to each of the City Council members and the mayor asking what type of building (residential, office or commercial) should be constructed on the four lots involved with the Connect Williams Street Plan. Furthermore, I asked what specific enterprises would occupy the office buildings and what commercial companies would occupy commercial buildings. No one would provide responses. Since you choose to be my adversary I presume that you favor the Connect Williams Street Plan and, therefore, I will ask the same questions of you. What specific companies are waiting to occupy office and commercial buildings constructed according to the Connect William Street Plan? Names, please. By the way, I posed these questions to the mayor again at the A2D2 meeting last night and again he could not name a company that would occupy any of the buildings. Thus, the buildings will be speculative and not based on an established need. If you were present at the meeting you may have even heard my request of the mayor.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

"The skyline is already adversely affected by giant structures rising above more modestly-sized buildings. " huh? That is what a "skyline" is. With no large buildings rising above the modestly-sized norm, you ain't got a skyline.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

@Veracity: You state: "Furthermore, no one, including City Council members and the mayor, have any idea exactly what should occupy buildings proposed in the Connect William Street Plan." Is that true? Do you mean they have absolutely no ideas at all regarding quantities or ratios of retail, office, residential, industrial, and public space in the Connecting William Street plan? Or are you playing a trick by inserting the word "exactly" meaning they don't have specific square footages to five decimal points in mind?


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

Yep, it's perfect! I mean NOW! Okay, wait a!


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

The people attending these meetings are generaly the same people who always complain about change. They represent a TINY fraction of the cities population - fewer than 1/10th of 1/10th of 1/10 of a percent! Their view point is no mystery.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

Sorry DJ, your math is a bit off. AA pop = 114,000 10% = 11,400 1% = 1,140 1/10 of 1% = 114 1/10 of 1/10 of 1% = 11.4 1/10 of 1/10 of 1/10 of 1% = 1.14 persons "fewer than that" = 1 person


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3 p.m.

Actually it would be about 140 people.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

@JB A2 I basically agree with your point, but exaggeration undermines arguments, it does not enhance them, at least not for thinking people. 1/10 of 1/10 of 1/10 of a percent of the population of Ann Arbor would be about 1 person. There were 37 at the meeting (or so one commenter reported). So stick with 1/3 of 1/10 of one percent. yes, TINY....


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

Yeah, you're right. I'm sure Ann Arbor is secretly the socially conservative, anti-culture, anti-everything town the comments on this web site make it out to be, it's just that up until now the majority of this town never had a forum to express their true feelings.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Sure, that must be it. And thanks for your usual comment about how the comments are unrepresentative of the town.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

Participation bias. See also: the comments section of any article on this web site.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

Then you should have no trouble getting the huge silent majority in favor of high-rises to attend to show how much more prevalent they are. Well, unless your assessment is thoroughly wrong.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

And how is that downtown located grocery store doing? You know, a place to get fresh vegs, milk, cheese, small cuts of meat, a few boxed things and paper goods? Incentives to developers, like what? Bigger parking lot allowances? Peh! You want us to LIVE downtown? You want a WALKING community? Then stop developing and start recreating a core of center town.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:13 a.m.

Agree with Nsider. The current grocery options downtown are overpriced and very limited. A full service grocery store is needed with reasonable prices. Boutique grocery options don't cut it, as in Sparrow and Kerrytown. The coop is way overpriced and the options are very limited. Fresh produce is uneven, at best. The Farmer's Market is a boutique market with the "cartel" of vendors fixing prices (high). It's not a real farmer's market with vendors all growing their own produce and setting their own prices. I've seen "pickers" there who sell berries they picked, and did not grow. I've seen plenty of greenhouse veggies that are no better than Kroger's at twice the price. I've encountered surly vendors who are not interested in good customer service. Too many non food vendors of low quality. It's a boutique event twice a week, not a real produce farmer's market. $5.00 for 4 medium tomatoes? No thanks. As far as Main and Liberty and State Streets, the shops and restaurants are geared to students. There isn't much down there, if anything, to attract anyone other than students and possibly their parents from time to time, who don't live here.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

Babo cannot be counted by most reasonable people as a grocery, neither can Zingermans, or the Farmers Market. I think when people ask for a grocery downtown they are thinking of someplace that has reasonable prices, and is open year-round. Sparrow and the Peoples Food Co-op fit this description. I have certainly appreciated the growth in the Co-op I have seen in the almost 30 years I have been a member. What I have not appreciated is the escalating prices of just about everything else related to "downtown living". We are lucky that a few places have hung in there, and that party stores are not our only choices. Why the clamor to attract Young Professionals? Young Urban Professionals? Yuppies, the Next Generation. Or is Hipster the PC label... Either way, our half-baked planning has made it unaffordable to live downtown.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

"If you have to drive to it from the corner of Main/Huron or Huron/Division, it is too far." ? Literally all four of the places I mentioned are within short walking distance from both of those places.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

I lived downtown from 2010 until January of this year and now live just outside of downtown. I have and still do love shopping downtown at the People's Food Co-Op and Babo market, and once in a while I will pick up something like toothpaste or laundry detergent from CVS on State Street. I don't see a lack of options for groceries downtown, though if we keep adding more bodies downtown there's naturally going to be demand for more grocery options — or the food co-op is going to be bursting at the seams. We just had a story that showed gross sales year-over-year at the food co-op went from $3.4M in 2007 to $6.5M in 2012.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

@sigdiamond - clearly your idea of downtown is not my idea of downtown. You know, that area where the big buildings are? If you have to drive to it from the corner of Main/Huron or Huron/Division, it is too far. The people that make up a core of a downtown, not counting the evening "hipsters", are those of us 65+. We want the services within walking distance, not HIKING distance. I've done my share of walking in AA, I walked more miles than I care to count, a decade or two before the bus system was even in consideration. Now I say bring the services to me (guess who has more disposable income than a 20-something - I'll give you a clue, we're over 50).


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

"And how is that downtown located grocery store doing?" Which ones? Sparrow/Monahans? People's Food Co-op? Babo? Or the farmer's market twice a week? They seem like they're doing fine to me. They're always packed when I go there. Or do those not count for some reason? If you're somehow not able to find fresh vegetables, milk, cheese, and meat in downtown Ann Arbor, you're not looking very hard.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

I might try the Coop, Kerrytown, or perhaps one of the chain pharmacies for sundries. Downtown is expensive. I don't think we need a Kroger downtown. There is no room for a Thrifty Acres.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

We do want a vibrant downtown, with some tall buildings. D1 zoning is ok in parts of the core downtown, but there are far too many individual parcels that are zoned D1 that abut traditional low rise residential neighborhoods (1-3 story houses), including some historic districts. Even D2 permits development that is too massive adjacent to these neighborhoods. There is more than enough room for density and diversity of development in the core without putting such buildings next to neighborhoods. Premiums have worked for developers but failed for the city. There are many planning documents that are currently unenforceable or voluntary. Why not only give premiums if tied to those, such as the design review guidelines?

craig stolefield

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

I have to agree with Gale, Downtown A2 is the best it has ever been, so much going on. It's one of the major reasons people want to be here. The historic districts on Main, State, William, Washington, Liberty are all looking beautiful and now there are more places for people to live nearby, the sidewalks are full even in summer. I have no problem with more tall buildings, they will never be in the historic districts that cover most of downtown. I am glad to see council made the move to block 4-5 bedroom units in favor of 1 and 2 bedrooms and efficiencies. More density downtown combined with what is happening upgrading the railroads (more transit!) making it possible for more to live without a car, are all moves in the right direction.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

While the tall buildings won't be IN the historic districts, 180 foot buildings can be right next to those districts. And 180 foot buildings could be built on the parking lot adjacent to our 2-3 story historic Main Street, specifically the "Kline's lot" behind the buildings on the west side of Main between Williams and Liberty., and other similar properties. I mostly agree with you, but don't think you or Gale realize what you like could be ruined. We can restrict some parts of downtown more than they are now, without being overly restrictive in the rest of the core. We really can have our cake and eat it too.

Gale Logan

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

I don't understand the fuss. Downtown A2 is one of the best, most lively downtowns of any city this size in the US! It's more vibrant than it was ten years ago, and way, way better than it was in the 70's, its hopping! This is all because people live there, not just work there as they do in so many, many cities that are dead after people go home from work. Why the objection to taller buildings in downtown? This is Ann Arbor, not Dexter or Saline. Lets have more people living in cities, lets save the farmland and open space, lets have more and better transit!


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:02 a.m.

The only reason AA has activity downtown is because of the students going to bars and restaurants. There is little to attract a diverse population beyond students. The population of AA includes about 75,000 residents who are NOT students (115,000 - 40,000 students). The city needs to be doing more to attract some of these people to live downtown, including retirees and families, as well as provide more services located in the downtown area for actual residents, not just students. This has not been happening. The development has been centered on students and the downtown is one dimensional.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

Why the objection? Monstrous dark shadows. Non-existent setbacks encroaching on sidewalks. Lack of parking for the buildings. Out of town interests controlling our town and development.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:54 p.m.

Your satisfaction with Ann Arbor's present state-of-affairs argues against adding more highrise buildings which can only detract from Ann Arbor's attractiveness and character. Though increasing density is the stated goal of proponents for continued highrise construction, no one including the mayor can state how many people reside in downtown Ann Arbor now nor how many more should be added over the next ten-to-twenty years. If you honestly consider exactly what Ann Arbor NEEDS downtown then you must surmise that adding massive buildings can not be justified.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:49 p.m.

"This is all because people live there" Really? Why?

Sam S Smith

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

Good gravy! Another consultant!

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

It looks to me as though Erin is doing exactly what she was asked to do - employ a fresh outsider approach to a community input mechanism. Our current planning staff has been through too many of these exercises and is biased toward intense development (yes, Jeff Kahan, I'm looking at you.). The payment is modest (roughly $25,000) considering the importance of this issue. I'm grateful that the Council chose to put this review process into place.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 11:34 a.m.

This citizen loves tall buildings. There are plenty of historical photographs of A2 that show what this fine town used to look like. Plenty of lovely historical buildings were torn down, though the chance of that happening now is small unless the U buys it. Stadium used to be a dirt road, as did part of Plymouth. It's much nicer now. Let's ask developers for good design with premium materials so we don't end up with more "Ashley Terrace" like buildings going up. Forward peeps! The future is nearly upon us!


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

I'm betting there will not be any truly historic structures demolished to make way for new construction, unless the U does it, in which case we will have zero input.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

Yes, I can support your call for good design and premium materials. But we will kill the "goose with the golden eggs" by building too many more giant tombstone-like buildings and ruining the charm of our little town. We really do need to keep the human scale and especially the historic structures of what remains. They are what makes Ann Arbor a desirable place to live and visit. And yes, I'm thinking of the future.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

At least it's uniform.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

This citizen does not like tall buildings which, in Ann Arbor's case, uniformly degrades the appearance of downtown. As long as the zoning ordinance allows building to a height of 180 feet, developers will propose structures that tall in order to maximize their fees. Building to maximum allowable dimensions can not be defended since all recent construction has been speculative. The D1D2 zoning discussion that is ongoing at this time creates hope that the zoning ordinance will be significantly modified to protect Ann Arbor's award-winning character and appearance.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

Don't forget your policy, Sabra, that you made clear when the public art millage was voted down; you're there to represent the people who have the opposite opinion of the ones whose voices you heard at this meeting as well. It's important to represent them too, right?, please post the attendance numbers of this meeting and the cost of hired consultants from ENP & Associates. Is this not easy info to get?


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 6:09 p.m.

My point being, Sabra, that regardless of the general consensus (like with the public art millage being voted down), your approach to it should include the fact that when someone seems AGAINST development (like how they seemed against a public art millage), it is still important for you to take into account the ones who seem FOR it (like how you said it was important to represent the people who voted FOR the art millage). To clarify; I hope you don't only place importance on those minority vote opinions when they happen to agree with your desires, but then change philosophies and focus only on majority opinion when it, again, happens to be what you yourself are going for.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:53 p.m.

RUKiddingMe - The success of these "information-gathering" meetings is dependent on the outcome. Having attended three meetings up to now I have observed a general bias towards reducing the size of future construction and trying to make structures fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. My prejudice about the adoption of the 2009 zoning ordinance is that the density-at-any-cost proponents received carte blanche privileges to completely change the appearance of Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, those wanting more density appear not to want it all in the form of student residences. But little else was being financed during the years following the adoption of the zoning ordinance. Ann Arbor and its downtown is generally accepted as being attractive and vibrant now which is why the city continues to attract national awards and high ratings. Instead of enhancing Ann Arbor's success further development according to present zoning ordinances will likely damage Ann Arbor's image. Ann Arbor has many intelligent and well-educated citizens who are suggesting meaningful changes to the 2009 zoning ordinance. Hopefully, members of the Planning Commission and City Council will seriously consider citizen recommendations resulting from the evaluation process which they established.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

Thanks veracity, for the info and the links. Did you find this meeting a useful and productive one, that will result in a more broadly accepted (by councilmembers and the citizenry in general) zoning plan? And do you have any indication from this meeting what exactly went wrong with the initial A2D2 process, which took forever and was somehow a complete failure in terms of results?

Sabra C Briere

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

RU, I'd love to hear more voices. You know how to reach me, right? (And I've been to all the public meetings - have you come?)


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 12:35 p.m.

I counted thirty-seven citizens in attendance. I understand that ENP & Associates is being paid $24,000 for operating the evaluation process. This information has been published in previous articles.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 11:10 a.m.

Politicians, Just love 'em. Okay council members, now let's talk about casino and conference center development. Now ee all know that our constituents despise such structures in their town, but just in case a developer comes along and insists on building a few, we oughtta have some zoning in place to deal with them. So let's spend a lot of our responsible effort focusing on casino and conference center development now even though they are unwanted and unlikely to ever be built here if our residents had anything to say about it. First off, let's talk about outdoor gaming table setbacks...


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 10:51 a.m.

Too little too late.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 10:23 a.m.

This is the same thing council and the planning commission was told 5 years ago and citizens then were labeled anti's, as in anti-development. It is reassuring council is 'starting' to listen to citizens but the reality is it is window dressing for the voters it is an election year. The damage to the downtown character of the city has been done, the bureaucracy in city hall reinforced.


Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

Yep, downtown is finished. It started with the paving of the streets.