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Posted on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials concerned City Place could move forward - and wonder if Heritage Row could face another vote

By Ryan J. Stanton


These seven houses along Fifth Avenue, just south of downtown Ann Arbor, could be demolished if the City Place apartments project goes forward.

Fearing the controversial apartment project known as City Place could move forward soon, some Ann Arbor officials are hoping the developer is open to compromise.

Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, said he'd be disappointed to see seven houses demolished to make way for the project. If that's going to happen, he said he'd prefer to see Heritage Row — an alternate development proposal for the same site — built instead.

"I believe there are several council members who might be interested in reconsidering their vote on Heritage Row, because the community sentiment was definitely for preservation of the buildings," Anglin said. "I think there is still room for compromise on this issue."


A conceptual image of the Heritage Row planned unit development proposal as presented over a year ago.

Courtesy Image

Anglin and three other council members blocked approval of Heritage Row last year, leaving the developer preparing to move forward with City Place — a project that calls for knocking down a row of century-old houses along Fifth Avenue, just south of William Street.

The approved plans for City Place include constructing two box-like apartment buildings containing 24 units with 144 beds and a 36-space surface parking lot.

Heritage Row, a compromise proposed by developer Alex de Parry in late 2009, promised to preserve the seven houses while building new apartments behind them. In its last version, it included 76 units with 147 beds and underground parking in place of a surface lot.

Anglin, whose lone vote could change the outcome of Heritage Row, said he's hoping to talk to de Parry and his team about the possibility of a compromise.

"They're the people who are holding the cards right now," he said. "If we did have that compromise, I think we would probably request a fast-tracking of it. So I'd like to talk with Alex and I'd like to have that dialogue with him. If it turns out there are no other options for us, then I'm sure council is wiling to talk to preserve the buildings."

City Place was begrudgingly approved by the 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 it.

Until now, it's been uncertain whether City Place would go forward, but city planning officials say recent talks with the development team indicate demolition could happen soon. And that means time is of the essence if the council is serious about reconsidering Heritage Row.

It's still uncertain whether any action by council would stop City Place at this point. De Parry declined to comment for this story, and Jeff Helminski, another developer involved in the project, has not returned phone calls from since last week.

In the past, de Parry was seen as the face of both City Place and Heritage Row, often appearing before the City Council to represent the projects.


Alex de Parry

For more than a year, de Parry fought for approval of Heritage Row, a planned unit development that called for special council approval to deviate from existing zoning. But a series of council votes steered the developer back to City Place.

In June 2010, the City Council voted 7-4 in favor of Heritage Row, but that fell one vote short of the eight required for approval. The four council members who blocked Heritage Row's approval were Carsten Hohnke, Sabra Briere, Stephen Kunselman and Anglin.

In a roundabout attempt to stop City Place, a handful of council members pushed for the creation of a historic district in the Germantown neighborhood, but in July 2010 the council voted 6-4 against granting historic district status.

The six who opposed the historic district were Stephen Rapundalo, Christopher Taylor, Tony Derezinski, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins and Sandi Smith.

At that same meeting in July 2010, the council reconsidered Heritage Row, but none of the council members who blocked its approval the first time around changed their votes.

In December 2010, five council members — Briere, Kunselman, Higgins, Hohnke and Anglin — blocked an attempt to consider a revised version of Heritage Row.

In February 2011, the council eventually decided to give de Parry the option of going back to square one and bringing the revised version of Heritage Row up through the city's plan review process for a reduced fee. But the developer decided he didn't want to go through the city's approval process all over again and didn't take council up on that offer.

Derezinski, D-2nd Ward, said council members who opposed Heritage Row knew the consequences when they voted against it and now it's coming home to roost.

"I was disappointed because I really preferred the project that was very innovative that would have saved the street front and also added incredible improvements on it," he said. "We were hoping, and we did have the opportunity, but it just never came back to us. And it's unfortunate because I really liked that project better. We'll see what happens."

Taylor, D-3rd Ward, pointed out Heritage Row would have been approved if not for opposition by the neighborhood. It was a petition filed by Germantown residents that forced the eight-vote super majority requirement that the project was unable to achieve.

"I think that's an important factor in how we got to where we are today," Taylor said. "In terms of where council is on the issue, a majority of council voted for it."

Briere, D-1st Ward, said it's hard to place blame.

"Members who did not support the historic district could be faulted as quickly as members who did not support the PUD," she said. "It depends on your point of view, and that just means this was a contentious project that did not meet everybody's needs here on council."

Commenting on the prospect of City Place moving forward, Taylor agreed it's the developer's legal right, but he doesn't think anybody is pleased with the project.

"I have always thought the City Place project would be a loss to the neighborhood and the city," he said. "I think the houses are an important part of the streetscape and the City Place development won't be a benefit to anyone."

If Heritage Row should come back to council, Briere said she'll evaluate the proposal on its own merits as a PUD, not based on whether it's the better of two projects.

"I know what was offered the last time, but that was a year ago," she said. "If what comes to council is unchanged from that, I really don't know what I'll do."


One of seven houses along Fifth Avenue in the Germantown neighborhood that could be torn down if City Place is built.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Hohnke, D-5th Ward, said he and de Parry negotiated a modification to the PUD that he supported and he doesn't know why that never moved forward.

"I have calls into Jeff and Alex to try to figure out what's going on," he said. "I'm pretty sure we'll get a conversation reignited. I know Alex sincerely cares about moving forward with a project he can be proud of and the community can be happy with, and I don't believe that's City Place."

Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, said his position on Heritage Row is no different than it's been in the past. He stressed council could have stopped City Place by approving the historic district.

"The council chose not to create a historic district to protect those houses and they have said basically that those houses aren't worth protecting," he said. "And so if the concern from the community is that these houses are going to be torn down under City Place — even if the property owner himself says 'I don't want to do this project' — then really the burden is on the property owner. And if he has a concern about the community, then he would do what's right."

That said, Kunselman called City Place a "no one wins" scenario and said he's sure the door could be opened to bring Heritage Row back for reconsideration.


This is the approved plan for City Place, which residents and city officials dislike.

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.



Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 3:10 a.m.

The developer needs to proceed as planned with the tear down and bland, box design. Maybe the city council will learn a lesson. I've never seen such incompetence and pettiness in a city government. It is shameful and emberessing.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 11:27 p.m.

Another example of City Council playing games. No wonder they are seen as disfunctional.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:05 p.m.

Two questions...Is all the student housing already approved filled with renters? Do we really need MORE NEW housing for students??


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:05 a.m.

jns131, I'm not sure if you realize this, but the municipality isnt building the project. Secondly, the project would generate more tax revenue which, if council chose, could provide police & fire protection. Unfortunately, they will probably allocate the additional revenue to an absurd program.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:44 p.m.

No we don't. There are enough housing on UM campus to fit all the needs and them there are apartments that are outside of UM that sit half full. Use what is there and leave German town alone. Ann Arbor has got to stop building and start saving money for what is really important, like the Fire and Police dept.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

Once again Mr. Whitaker's fear of change comes through. Despite its many faults, City Place is a legally approved project, yet Mr. Whitaker is already making threats. Heritage Row is a much better option, but Mr. W and his neighbors are so deathly afraid of change they have forced everyone's hand and created a situation where we all suffer with a sub-optimal project.

Kevin Jacobi

Sun, Sep 18, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

Once again Tom well said; I am very proud to call you a friend and a neighbor, never afraid to speak up for what is right, use true facts and your name to tell them. As far as this neighbor I am not afraid of change for Ann Arbor as long as it is change for the good and we have folks like you to help make that right kind of change.


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

Much to your chagrin, I am not involved in any facet of this project. I wish you well in your efforts to turn back the clock and stop progress. I'm sorry Ann Arbor has changed and will continue to do so.

Tom Whitaker

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 1:39 a.m.

Unlike certain anonymous posters, who likely are part of the development team, I am not afraid to post my well-researched and documented position using my real name. Certain anonymous posters have been trying to spin this story from day one, but the facts are the facts. In the appropriate venue, the facts will win the day.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

So the written rules allow the development no one wants, including the developer, and the council wont approve the development that everyone does want (except those who dont want any development.) Sounds like council abdicated its responsibility here: they must either approve the best option or stop the development altogether, doing nothing and letting the worst case evolve is an incredible lack of leadership. And by the way the solution of creating a completely unjustified "historic district" to stop a single development is, if anything, and even greater lack of fortitude! Hit the problem head on and solve it, or do not. Personally, as a lifelong and third generation Ann Arbor resident, I honestly couldn't care less which choice is made. Normally I am in favor of development, Ann Arbor is generally speaking better than it was 30 years ago. The neighbors have a right to influence their neighborhood whether I agree with them or not, and the developer does own the property and has the rights for improvement. What I do care about is a city government that produces the worst possible outcome after lengthy and expensive consideration. The library lot is a far more impactful and contentious issue to decide and this leaves no confidence WE will get it right!

Mike D.

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:34 p.m.

Carsten Hohnke, Sabra Briere, Stephen Kunselman, and Mike Anglin: You are solely to blame for this mess. The developer offered a compromise that's a heck of a lot better than what he was allowed to build by law, and you bowed to a few whiny residents and turned him down. That's not blackmail; it's good business. Briere's comment that council could have ginned up a historic district in a hurry to block this development is absurd; that would have been bad form and likely illegal. It's time to get these head-in-the-clouds hippies off council and bring back people with some common sense, even if they do send mean emails!


Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 3:54 p.m.

Right - Mike Anglin votes against this twice and now he thinks the developer should just trust him to try one more time... at a reduced price! What a scam - he shouldn't have to pay another cent.

Peter Jameson

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:02 p.m.

caption "This is the approved plan for City Place, which residents and city officials dislike." I'm a resident, and I like the idea. New homes are more energy efficient and, besides, they can do whatever they want with their money.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

Dear City Council - you reap what you sow. Unreal.

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.

Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf? ALL property owners have rights, not just developers. If both projects trampled on the rights of adjacent property owners, which I believe they did, then both should have been rejected. The City administration had a very defensible position in rejecting City Place as submitted, as it does NOT meet the letter of the code, correctly interpreted, in several key areas. Architect Brad Moore did a good job of fooling a City planning staff that was technically out-gunned. A risk-averse City Attorney likely saw the benefit of forcing the impacted property owners to defend themselves rather pushing back on a developer, or helping his City Council clients negotiate a consensus solution. This battle is far from over. Under the law, some of the most effective remedies at the neighbors' disposal will only now be coming into play. This battle could continue for many more months, or even years, and waste significant resources on all sides. That's unfortunate, especially when a legitimate compromise on the Heritage Row PUD might have been reached with just a little more give from the developer's side to mitigate the negative impacts of the proposal on adjacent properties and to better meet the City's PUD requirements.

Grand Marquis de Sade

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

I thought the Heritage Row project was a great compromise and a perfect example of the "adaptive reuse" philosophy toward historic preservation. It would've preserved the 5th Avenue streetscape while repurposing the existing structures and adding housing units behind them. I saw this as a win for everybody. The city wants to increase population density downtown (I'm still not sure shy they're so fixated on this but... whatever), historic preservationists want to save the houses, and the developer wants to build an apartment block. ALL of these goals could be acheived with Heritage Row. I can't believe that the city council passed on it.

Phil Dokas

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Please City Council, don't let City Place happen!


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

Why should the developers possibly take the chance of being jerked around again!! Wait, THIS time maybe Council will approve it. Contrary to what some people think, the property owner has a right to develop his property within the rules and does NOT have bottomless pockets. The owners have already spent $100,000s on trying to appease neighbors and some council members only to have their repeated offers for a compromise rejected. The neighbors and Council gambled on this and lost. Its a real shame, Heritage Row was a unique project that the City could have been proud of, and most importantly, would have encouraged future developers to be creative and not just put a boxes like the City Place project. Instead, Mr Hohnke and crew said just the oppposite. Lesson: Dont bother wasting your time and money on a creative project and offering reasonable compromises, save yourself and propose a no-risk project that meets code. The City Council had the ability to look at the big picture and not just the interests of a few self-centered neighbors, they failed and Mr. Hohnke's attempts to save face now are rather laughable.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Housing built since the 70's has usually used very cheap materials and poor workmanship. These buildings are almost designed to turn into instant slums. Apartments often have light switches that sit at an angle and storm doors and screens that blow off in a mild storm. Water pipes that begin leaking within 10 years often cross electric wires and cause fires. It is time to enforce, maybe even increase, building codes, both in building new projects and in those already being used. Slum landlords are not small businesmen. They are scammers who take advantage of everyone, politicians and tenants. Projects to increase employment should also be looking at quality projects which will last and have value into the future, not just provide temporary jobs. Look at the quality of the work done by the alphabet agencies during the New Deal.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

Judging by these comments you would think city council wasn't in favor of heritage row. This mess is the fault of the so called German town neighborhood and those few council members who pandered toward them.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

To them


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

What a "PRO-BUSINESS" city council we have "in a roundabout attempt to stop City Place, a handful of council members pushed for the creation of a historic district" What a bunch of Democrat/liberal/progressive (what ever) Politicians! How can any Honest businessman deal with people like this? Think before you Vote in November!


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

7, a majority, were in favor of heritage row. What article is your comment about? Oh yeah a majority was also against a historic district.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:40 p.m.

To quote a previous post, it's not nice to blackmail city council. This is a disgrace and one can only hope that the people who will make the final decisions will think this thing through in a calm and proper manner. What are the long term consequences of allowing either project, especially the cheap one that would soon become a major problem for the city? What are the consequences of bowing to such blackmail, and therefore inviting similar actions in the future? This is a serious matter, and, putting aside nasty sniping that is characteristic of so many postings here, it puts the less dogmatic members of our council in a very difficult position. I personally hope that they can stop both of these disgusting exercises in architectural horror, but I am glad that I am not in a position to have to make decisions. I do agree that council missed a chance with the historic district. This project may just be the beginning in turning the area into another suburban garbage heap. Ironically, this might happen just as the growth of student housing elsewhere may be forcing landlords to spiff up the houses in Germantown to make it even more attractive ...

John of Saline

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

So, exercising property rights is blackmail now? Who knew?

Lifelong A2

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

Kunselman and Briere don't get it. There is absolutely no correlation between these projects and a historic district. A historic district should be approved or denied based solely on its merits, the criteria for which are spelled out in federal, State, and local law. Historic districts should never be proposed -- let alone imposed -- to stop a single development proposal. It's disappointing that they don't understand this important distinction.

John of Saline

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

It may be disappointing, but not surprising. They want to block stuff they don't like with technicalities, not decide what's historic and then protect it.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:12 p.m.

It would be a shame, but I can't help thinking the developers should simply tell Council, "We've wasted more time and money than we can afford going back and forth with you on this, in hopes that we could negotiate something we could all live with. We can't afford any more costs and delays, so we're just going to go ahead with our by-right project that's already been approved. Sorry."


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

City Place conformed to code. Heritage wasn't quiiiitttteee what we want. Oh, wait, but maaayybeee THIS bed , ah PROJECT, will be just right! What? You don't want to talk about it again? WAAAH! And so goes our city coincil on the merry-go-round of self-indulgence while business waits. But, if say this were a project which fails code and will function as a halfway house with a giant liquor store in the bottom and Zingermans pleads downtown housing for it's employees, wwwelllll, no problemo, Dude. We are city council and ill make that happen. Stop jerking de Parry around and let 'em build finally. People needs jobs in the building trades and frankly seeing a few under maintainanced rental dumps go bye bye is not a tragedy. After that let's talk about a downtown conference center with hotel again and get it right this time .

hut hut

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

Within 10 years, they'll be student rentals and because of the architects and contractors choice of cheap building materials and reckless student abuse, they'll look worse than the houses that have been there for close to 100 years. What they intend to build will never last as long or fit in with the streetscape as what currently exists. Shame on the landlord for not maintaining or improving the current housing.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:35 p.m.

I am reminded of something that happened when they built those commercial buildings across from Briarwood. They had the frames in and when one day a big windstorm came and knocked all the frames down. Took a while to get them back up but still, I agree, the houses built 100 years ago where designed to last a thousand years. The houses of today will be junk in 100 because of the way they are built. If Ann Arbor lets this happen then Ann Arbor looses its charm and style. I love coming into Ann Arbor and seeing all the old homes. Ann Arbor is only attracting students. Not long term residents.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

Why didn't you offer to buy the houses?


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

Promise some below market apartments and fix a couple neighbor's sidewalks and this project will get approved.

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

Ironically, the only sidewalks on this block that are in disrepair are the ones in front of some the houses controlled by this developer.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

"I believe there are several council members who might be interested in reconsidering their vote on Heritage Row, because the community sentiment was definitely for preservation of the buildings," Ya think? And by compromise I hope Anglin means going foward with the last proposal. Council has wasted enough time, resources and money. Here we all thought Washington was more prone to shooting itself in the foot.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

I don't think city council members would do very well at a poker tournament. It's simple - he's calling your bluff. If city council wants a "do over" they better hurry and hopefully apologize to the developer for the excessive grief the have given him.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

"Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, said his position on Heritage Row is no different than it's been in the past. He stressed council could have stopped City Place by approving the historic district." Seems to me that Kunselman is the only council member that understands the hypocrisy of the situation council created.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

Oh, now that we know you're serious and weren't just doing this to drive page hits on our local news website ...

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 11:33 a.m.

Any possibility of buying one of these homes and moving them? I'd be interested in purchasing one and having it moved.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

They were selling them for a dollar but that was a couple of years ago.

Susie Q

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 11:06 a.m.

Yes, don't try to build anything that is close to downtown in A2.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:57 a.m.

don't they need permits to demolish buildings?Deny Them!!!!!


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

That would be illegal

Chip Reed

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 10:47 a.m.

I'm wondering if there is a lesson in this somewhere...