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Posted on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Vote on downtown Ann Arbor high-rise postponed amid controversy

By Ryan J. Stanton


A north perspective for the 14-story high-rise proposed at 413 E. Huron St. in downtown Ann Arbor.

Humphreys & Partners Architects

Neighbors opposed to a 271,855-square-foot development at the northeast corner of Huron and Division in downtown Ann Arbor came out in full force Tuesday night.

During an hour-long public hearing before the city's Planning Commission, residents offered a list of complaints about the proposed 14-story student high-rise at 413 E. Huron St.

Doug Kelbaugh, who lives nearby on Ann Street and is a professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan, said it would be a mistake to approve the project.

"This is, of course, permissible. As a matter of right, it can be built, and you can approve it," he told commissioners. "But I do believe we will come to regret this as a sore thumb — a very large, a very tall, a very long, a very wide sore thumb that will be with us forever."

After the public hearing was finished, commissioners unanimously decided to postpone consideration of the project until a future meeting.

The city's planning staff had recommended the postponement until comments related to traffic are received from the Michigan Department of Transportation. But commissioners also said they wanted to give the developer time to consider the many concerns voiced by residents.

City Planner Alexis DiLeo noted in a report the city's planning staff and residents provided suggestions to the developer about alternative configurations for the project. She said the design team considered them and determined the changes "would not fit their development program."

After acquiring several properties on Huron Street near Division, the development team — a mix of out-of-state companies — submitted preliminary design plans to the city in late September.

The project's estimated construction cost is $45 million.

The plans call for 216 apartment units with 533 bedrooms, 132 underground parking spaces for automobiles and 144 parking spaces for bicycles. The new high-rise would replace a vacant 10,300-square-foot building, a former Papa John's pizza store and a house.

Conor McNally, chief development officer with Georgia-based Carter, appeared on behalf of the development team Tuesday night.

"We're excited about this project," he said. "We do think it will add to downtown Ann Arbor. It's consistent with the downtown plan, and we've been careful to design it to be entirely consistent with both the intent and the letter of the D1 zoning for this property. That zoning allows for, and in fact encourages, higher-density uses in the core — particularly residential uses."

McNally said the development is "not quite maximizing the density" allowed under the city's D1 zoning for the property.

He said the development team made sure to acquire the corner property where Papa John's stood so the proposed building could be brought to the corner, which he said allows for a 25-foot east setback where the project faces Sloan Plaza and a greater rear setback.

McNally said the design team had a "very productive meeting" with the city's Design Review Board and considered its suggestions.


A southwest perspective of the proposed high-rise.

Humphreys & Partners Architects

"We subsequently had a public participation meeting and a series of other private meetings with other neighbors and representatives of neighborhood organizations," he said. "As a culmination of those meetings, we have made a substantial amount of changes to the design of the building."

McNally said those changes included creating a "signature architectural element" at the corner of Huron and Division by adding a lot of glass to the building, creating a two-story retail space with an outdoor area, pulling the retail facade back from Huron Street so there's a full 20 feet between the curb line and the retail glass, and moving the service area of the building from Division Street back into the rear of the property to create a more appealing retail street frontage.

He said the design team also worked on the massing and appearance of the building by breaking it up with facade changes and material changes, as was encouraged by the Design Review Board, so the building does not appear as one large mass, but instead broken up into smaller masses.

Many of the residents who spoke out Tuesday live nearby on Ann, Division and Huron streets, including some in Sloan Plaza, a condominium complex to the east of the proposed high-rise.

Hugh Sonk, who spoke on behalf of the Sloan Plaza Condominium Association, said he's still hoping the developer will modify the project so it'll have less impact on neighbors.

Norm Tyler, who lives north of the project site on Division Street, appeared as a representative of the city's downtown design guidelines citizens review committee.

Tyler said he can count seven student high-rises either built or proposed downtown in the last few years, but the 413 E. Huron project is simply "a massive student warehouse."

"If you look at the Varsity (student high-rise) that is being built across the street, this is another 100,000 square feet larger than the Varsity, which is about the size of a Walmart," he said. "And so we're looking at a massive building that is adjacent to a historic district."

Tyler said the city's downtown design guidelines, which are not mandatory, suggest developers should design buildings to minimize the impact on adjacent lower-scale areas.

He said his analysis shows the 150-foot-tall building would leave houses to the north in the shade a good portion of the year.

"I was walking down Ann Street today, and if we look at Campus Inn, which is about the same height, the shade goes to the other side of Ann Street," he said. "We're going to be in complete shade throughout the block of Ann Street for the length of this building throughout most of the day."

The site abuts the Old Fourth Ward Historic District to the north, which was a major point of contention at Tuesday's meeting.

"It's very clear that the design doesn't respect anything about this character area. It lumbers and looms over some very important historic districts that this city has chosen to protect by law," said Chris Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association.


The Old Fourth Ward Historic District

City of Ann Arbor

Ellen Ramsburgh, a member of the city's Historic District Commission, noted the HDC passed a resolution opposing the project because it could negatively impact the adjacent Old Fourth Ward Historic District, which includes the Division Street and the Ann Street historic areas.

She said those are Ann Arbor's earliest and most important districts and they represent the finest examples of Greek revival and colonial revival architecture in the city.

"We feel the development as it's proposed will do permanent damage to the integrity of the adjacent district," she said. "Its scale and mass overwhelm the district. It's visually incompatible."

There were groans and head shaking from residents in the audience during a slideshow where the building elevations were shown.

The ground floor of the proposed building would include a residential lobby at the southeast corner, building manager and utilities spaces, one studio apartment and about 4,000 square feet of retail space. Also provided on the ground floor is space for food kiosks and a coffee bar.

The second floor is an apartment level with 16 dwelling units. The proposed tenant amenity spaces, including a gym, yoga studio, business center and outdoor pool, would be located on the third floor, along with some apartments. Floors 4 through 14 would have 17 apartments each.

More than 40 percent of the proposed units would have two bedrooms. The remaining units are proposed to be four-bedroom apartments (28%), one-bedroom apartments (19%) and three-bedroom apartments (10%). Every bedroom has at least one window directly to the outdoors.

Phyllis Boniface, a psychiatrist whose office is inside Sloan Plaza, said her practice already has been disrupted by the Varsity high-rise being constructed across the street. If the 413 E. Huron high-rise goes forward, she said, she'll have little choice but to move her practice.

She said she and three other psychiatrists all have west-facing offices in Sloan Plaza directly facing the project site and they're thinking about moving.

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.


P. J. Murphy

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

From the descriptions and images posted here this really appears to be one of those projects where the only beneficiaries will be out of town investors. Aesthetics aside, 533 bedrooms and 132 parking places? Get real. The profits derived from this scheme will come at the expense of the local neighborhood and the rest of the city. It also appears, as has happened elsewhere in the downtown area, the city is more or less powerless to effectively block something that is manifestly a bad idea. This proposed development raises an important question. What more can city administrators and council do to prevent this type of blatantly inappropriate development? Certainly we need to increase the density of central areas of the city. However it's our local government's job to insure that the process does not foster the building of eyesores, the deterioration of adjacent neighborhoods, and a pervasive deterioration of the character and attractiveness of our community.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:01 a.m.

I don't understand the vitriol over the developer being from out of state. Only a Michigan Man can build terrible buildings! Wasn't that the quote? Don't zone it if you don't want it built. Ships sailed now.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

The reason that is bad is because they will not have to stick around and live with the results of what they've done so they have no incentive to build something of lasting value to the city. Design-wise, they can just build to the absolute minimum requirement of design and the absolute maximum of capacity. No need to integrate into what's surrounding it. Which is exactly what we're looking at here. Their only incentive is to exploit the regulations for profit which they will then take out of the state. They have exploited a poor choice of zoning (and hopefully the zoning board is taking note of these complaints, too) and now everyone will pay while the developers exit, stage left, after leaving everyone with this mountain of cheap glass, steel and carpet. A local developer (and bank) would more likely care about his reputation if he wanted to build again so he would be interested in people liking what he built. Since I won't be living in its shadow, for me, the demand-side of the equation is my biggest problem- the developer makes money whether any of the apartments are needed or rented or not. So he has no qualms about (cheaply) building an unneeded building. He will get paid, leave town and Ann Arbor will have to deal with this building until it gets torn down. For comparison, when the U decides to build a new building, they obviously use integrating it into its surroundings as one of the criteria- with the possible exception of the Ross biz school building (not a fan). They concern themselves with the long-term value of the building, not how cheaply they can meet the minimum. Banks and developers have been taken off the hook for what they do and because they are not from around here, they are insulated even from the scorn of the town.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:25 a.m.

Ann Arbor has the worlds worst peanut gallery


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:49 p.m.

a good self-description there, peanut.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:24 a.m.

Why does the city council insist on letting out of state companies come into A2 and make this town a mini-Chicago or Manhattan? This is ridiculous! These new highrises will have high rents and be catered towards tenants who will only be here 8 months out of the year. I really hate this idea of yet another tall residential palace in downtown A2!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:57 a.m.

NO NO NO!! Leave this city alone.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:55 p.m.

I like it. I like that Ann Arbor's downtown core is increasing in density. I like the architecture of this project. I like that students are living amongst the restaurants, offices and shops in our downtown. I like that students have options beyond the student ghettos. I like the direction Ann Arbor is evolving. Apparently, I am in the minority.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

hey Bear- I've lived in Ann Arbor since 1983 -- 30 years ..... you? I know a great deal about Ann Arbor architecture ...... actually, I've personally documented the work of Albert Kahn on the UM campus, and I've been invited to sit as a guest juror (on numerous occasions) on design-reviews at the UM College of Architecture ..... you? Having owned and successfully operated two Ann Arbor businesses -- one retail and one professional, I know quite a lot about what makes this town great ..... you? I know a bit about character. I've lived in Europe, SE Asia, rural Ohio, suburban Cincinnati, and 'Lincoln Park' Chicago ....and I've chosen Ann Arbor as my home You speculate that I know very little and that I am easily swayed by chintz and glitter? ....... I would argue that you are mistaken on that matter as well.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:48 p.m.

How long have either of you lived in this town, mczach and Ian? How much do you know of this town's architecture and history? How much do you know about what makes this town so great? How much do you really know about the character that makes this town one of the top places to live in Michigan and the U.S.? Apparently very little if you are so easily swayed by chintz & glitter.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:28 a.m.

NO we are the mostly silent minority. The vast majority of people that like the idea or are ambivalent are also going to be ambivalent about showing up to these meetings.

Jon Wax

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

How come all these high rises can't be built down into the ground instead? With all the high tech stuff these days, would it really matter if that window looking out on the city was really a tv screen and the image was just a video? Why ruin the surface when you guys have that real estate below ground that you could be ruining? I k now it's a lil outside the box but if we are facing global warming the surface is gonna be dust at some point anyway, so that high rise view is only temperary. Peace Wax


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:44 p.m.

it costs quite a bit more, takes longer and there is a little thing called 'water table' that makes it harder to realize when building in a valley, right next to a flood plain. Not a reasonable alternative, building 14 stories down.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 10:20 p.m.

It seems that the original sin here was the planning authority's high-density zoning proposals.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 9:48 p.m.

Nice to see good public outcry against more Soviet-Bloc student mass housing downtown. It might be too little too late but these projects need to stop.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 9:08 p.m.

Does the city have any actual data on the number of cars per student in the target demographic? That should guide the parking requirement.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

This or any other project is not so much about need-based as its about putting cash into city coffers. They're desperate and will attempt to push anything through, no matter how unreasonable just the contribute the city's economy and put money into back into the city. It is a sad situation and I for one have NO problem with high density buildings in A2, but we have to make sure we don't OVERBUILD and risk losing the elements of A2 we all love. This is a very live-able city, let's not ruin that! Otherwise, we'll be another Royal Oak, Pontiac, or Dearborn. Just keep that in mind.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:41 p.m.

good comment and that is the very concern that many of our civic minded citizens have with this project. It doesn't do a damn thing for this town's character or future. It is an unneeded monstrosity. We have enough highrises for now, it's time to scale back. Develop the property, yes, high rise, no.

Ben Freed

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

I'd be interested to hear constructive comments from the community members. I get that people don't necessarily want a big new high-rise next to them, but at the same time can't fight market demands. Is there a way to meet in the middle?

Steve Bean

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 6:45 p.m.

The demand isn't for housing, it's for investments that offer higher returns in a declining market. In other words, follow the money. My guess is that there's an upstream REIT (real estate investment trust) that will be promoting the supposed profitability of this development.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:07 p.m.

Demand? What demand? Of the announced 216 apartments how many tenants have indicated their intentions to sign leases? Building downtown is expensive so expect that the cost of leasing an apartment in this building will be high, and possibly not competitive. Do you remember the Ashley-Terrace bankruptcy? The developers are building on speculation because they are taking no risk. They will obtain their 2% fee as soon as financing is obtained and will retain it even if the building enters bankruptcy before completion or the business model fails after construction. Developers have no long term investment in their projects, or stated differently, they have "no skin in the game."


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:58 p.m.

From earlier in the thread: "If you look at the best parts of Ann Arbor (Main Street) or Washington, DC (Adams-Morgan, Dupont Circle, U Street) or Boston (North end) or Chicago (Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park, Andersonville), they are basically individual buildings attached to each other in rows and blocks with businesses on the ground floor and apartments above. Locals are more than capable of building that."

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

As I note a couple comments up, the neighbors include nationally-recognized experts in urban planning and architecture who have expressed a willingness to help the developer mitigate the problems. It's in the developer's court whether they want to continue to force this project on the community, as is, or make some changes to improve the project for the neighbors and themselves.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:24 p.m.

I think it looks good, build it. Stop crying old fourth ward people. you want to live in town you gotta put up with this.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

your name is a misnomer. In no way do you speak for this town.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:24 p.m.

The good people who would be forced to live in the shadow of this giant are some of the most civic-minded, actively involved citizens in the city. Experts in architecture and urban planning, they participated heavily, pro bono, in the planning and rezoning of downtown, from the Calthorpe study, to the creation and of the design guidelines. They volunteered many hours of personal time serving on committees to make our city a better place to live, including the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, the Design Guidelines Committee, the R4C/R2A study committee, and others. They have also invested heavily in the purchase and maintenance of their historic homes--homes recognized as among the most significant properties in town. Finally, they're dedicated to the idea that living in or near downtown should be an option available to people of all ages and occupations, not only students. They understand this means we need a variety of dwelling units, from historical single-family houses and neighborhoods, to high rises in the core, artfully designed and respectful of their context. These good people made several attempts to convince this owner (Greenfield Partners of Connecticut), developer (Carter of Georgia) and architect (Humpreys and Partners of Texas), to work with them on improving the project. They have NEVER taken the position that NOTHING should be built on this site---only that whatever is built be respectful to neighboring properties and the Ann Arbor design guidelines. The project team is missing out on a tremendous opportunity to tap (for free) the knowledge of several people who are nationally recognized experts in architecture, planning, and historic preservation. I believe working cooperatively with these folks would not only resolve most of the problems, but in fact, would likely result in a design the project team could be proud of, instead of something they feel the need to quickly and sheepishly ram down the community's throat.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:13 p.m.

You are not that naive, Tom. Why would a developer want to do anything other than present a proposal that gets approved by City Council so that he can get financing from which he will take his 2% fee? Developers rarely invest for the long term in their projects and therefore have "no skin in the game." Most developers do not live in Ann Arbor. Why should they have any concerns?

Bill Sikkenga

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

This is a top-level comment. We who care should oppose this dormitory in its present form. Harmony with Sloan and North Quad should be considered. The very plain design reflects many ultra-plain buildings of the nineteen-fifties built to minimize the amount of construcition materials in post-war shortages. Now these buildings are shabby and wrecking-ball bait.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:55 p.m.

That would set a dangerous precedent in their eyes. They make their money ramming things down throats.

L. C. Burgundy

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

This building looks like it was designed in Minecraft. Ugggggly! I feel for the historic district residents who pay exorbitant property taxes only to have their shutter colors dictated to them only to have this monstrosity to come and blot out the sun.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:32 p.m.

Ann Arbor's historic district ordinance does not dictate colors (like Ypsilanti's does), nor do property owners in historic districts pay higher property tax rates. In fact, property owners in historic districts may be eligible for State and Federal tax credits for eligible restoration work done to their properties.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:38 p.m.

The building fits the zoning. I could see whining if it was the first large building built in the area, but it's not even close.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

Can someone please explain to me how student housing "adds" anything to downtown Ann Arbor? These new buildings are basically dorms. They are not set up in a way to appeal to anyone else. There are plenty of new businesses coming to to the area and their workers may like to live in the downtown area.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

More traffic for Ahmos, Tios, etc.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

City administration {democrats} having been pushing this since taking over the city 10 years ago, they have been cultivating and preaching this plan and it is now come to fruition and guess what - the very folks who were probably cheering the 1 party town are now crying that its not fair. People need to wake up and pay attention to what 1 party rule has done to the quality of life we used to enjoy. Wait until Jackson rd gets reduced to 2 lanes next year.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:16 p.m.

This is not a party issue, though the proposed building may become a "white elephant."


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:52 p.m.

Yes, I'm sure republicans would be much more skeptical of over-development. It doesn't matter who gets put in power when the money is being strewn around. People need to keep their leaders accountable and that is what people are trying to do. Would you rather only republicans complained about democrats?

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

There was mention last night that this will be bigger than a Walmart. Some quick googling tells me Walmart stores vary in size from 51,000 square feet to 224,000 square feet, with an average store covering about 102,000 square feet. One of our own stories from 2009 indicated a new Walmart Supercenter in Pittsfield Township was 177,000 square feet. By comparison, this is a 271,855-square-foot development we're talking about on Huron Street.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 9:20 p.m.

Yes, but what's the size of the 'footprint'? A Walmart is a single story, and a very tall-single story at that. Comparing the square feet to a very different type of structure is misleading. How does it compare to an existing Ann Arbor high-rise, like the new one at the corner of South U and Forest?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:02 p.m.

Also known as 6.25 acres. Yikes!


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

why you gotta poke holes in stuff? haha.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

The city continues to get blow back from the D(umb)-1 Zoning rights promoted by the developer oriented old guard who have promoted the ruin of town. Revise the zoning to Ann Arbor human scale. Tell these Georgia people to go home. Fight them in court. Pay them off when we loose. Consider it a cost of stupid government.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:32 p.m.

bunicula, Such a small minded comment about others with no real examination of one's self is a poor comment. But I guess your self-description was an apt one.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

You are willing to pay more taxes to "Pay Them Off"? I am not. The city just revised the zoning code - very few residents participated in the process.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

by "Ann Arbor human scale" - I guess you mean piddly, small minded, lilliputians !


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

Once again the vocal minority will try and stop development the city has deemed necessary since the green space initiative. Ask the folks of "Germantown" how well that went for them. Pretty sure they ended up getting what they didn't want with all there complaining when a more aesthetic option was proposed.

Gene Alloway

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

I understand arguments of "well, they can built it according to zoning laws" and of curbing urban sprawl, but I have two issues with that. Firstly, this is a HUGE building, large than any other of the high rises to date, and now where have a seen a needs assessment. Why do we need it at all? Would not two smaller structures work better? Will it fill, given the number of other towers? Are the other towers already full? Secondly, Ann Arbor has a number of others areas that could use great 3-4 story buildings, even on Main street, without the need for adding 10+ story tall massive structures. Such building could add more spaces for businesses, and just as many living spaces, as these towers. Theywould not make the builders as MUCH money, but they would make money. Thirdly, these towers do nothing to prevent sprawl. If you want to prevent sprawl, you also need to get businesses in the urban center that support living downtown. Adult clothing shops. Department stores/box stores, places where a family can buy what it needs at a reasonable (though prolly more expensive than the periphery) price, and within walking/biking distances of existing towers and downtown neighborhoods. 4 pizza places in 2 blocks (williams) don't help. Very expensive bodegas and CVS and Walgreens being a half block apart don't help much. Convenient stores don't help a lot either. Lastly, if these are the zoning rules then neighborhoods need to press the city or revisit them. It is ultimately up to the neighborhoods to police their areas, and it is a lot harder to stop them when you are reactive rather than proactive. .

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:01 p.m.

"Thirdly, these towers do nothing to prevent sprawl. " ---Correct! But mostly because they are entirely designed, built and programmed for college students. This does nothing to lure newcomers away from the townships and into the city--perhaps the opposite.

Gene Alloway

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

er... make that 4 issues :)

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:28 p.m.

I'm shocked, shocked to find that controversy surrounds a building project.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

One of this size and dimension, situated where it is? Yeah, right. your facetious statement is duly noted. With that being said, They shouldn't have zoned D1 on the North side of Huron in tat location. It was stupid and nothing more than caving in to the landowners who were salivating over the profit to be garnered by selling their land to developers who are counting their profits as we speak and care not a whit for what the locals think about the building beyond making token concessions to make an appearance of giving a flying %!@#. this is ridiculous!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:05 a.m.

Ha Ha Ha!


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

If the NEW design incorporates MORE glass, does that mean MORE of what goes on inside the units, especially in very late evening hours when younger people are most active, will be more viewable? More lighting and reflections at all hours of the evening? The views shown are so deceiving and unrealistic. It is from a distance and not the actual perspective of the neighborhoods affected. It is offensive and destructive to a community. Out-of-state investers/devleopers should remain out-of-state. Stating that Michigan wants to attract more business to the state, does not mean build an unwanted structure and leave. It means stay and employ people LONG-TERM. Not short-term construction where they do not have to employ locals. High-priced apartments for wealthy students does not mean employment for the area. It means 533 rent checks to the landlord.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

Someday Ann Arbor can put a roof over all of the high rises and no one will get wet walking around under them. Bring on the Jetsons.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

First City Place, now this. I wonder how many more time bombs are lurking in ill-advised zoning. Perhaps it's time to go through the zoning maps with a fine-toothed comb and look at every potential development site, imagine a worst-case build-by-right scenario, and re-zone if we don't like it?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

Most definitely.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Gee, I wonder how the council will vote this time? Pro-development or against? hahaha!!!


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

Like I have said before NYC designers and engineers in an area that should not have hi rise buildings. Ann Arbor needs to keep these things out of the city. But it sounds like Ann Arbor will become another NYC. Too busy.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:33 a.m.

Joe: Can you say "Sandy"? Deb: Agreed. A2 doesn't smell. Maybe we could compare to Boulder? Fort Collins? Austin (nah, it's a Capital). Others worth being compared to? For good or bad?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:47 p.m.

Columbus is not a reasonable comparison

Joe Hood

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

A NYC that is not in a flood plain.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Yeah, good comparison. We should compare directly to NY city instead of reasonable comparisons like Madison, Columbus or Des Moines. All of which have very robust communities and low level urban sky lines. And those cities consistently attract families to live there.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

The city needs to change the zoning laws to provide more flexibility.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:44 p.m.

There does NOT have to be continuous construction. That there IS continuous construction is only because there are (mostly out-of-town) developers looking to make easy money and out-of-town banks willing to lend money- sight unseen- because, as we have seen since 2008, there is apparently NO RISK to any large bank in this society. Only taxpayers are at risk when banks (and developers) vastly overextend themselves.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:35 p.m.

Useless: please explain to me how downtown student housing decreases the potential for sprawl, especially when the University student body increases in size every year?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

The city very recently changed the zoning laws to increase density downtown and stop the sprawl.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

"216 apartment units with 533 bedrooms, 132 underground parking spaces for automobiles and 144 parking spaces for bicycles." There needs to be at least one parking space per bedroom. Even that is not enough, as friends visit students for sleep-overs. And there should be at least one bike spot for each bedroom. If you can invest $45 million to turn a profit, you can provide adquate parking as part of your project. Anything less is yet another unreasonable burden on the neighborhood, who will be forced to live in the shadow of that monstrosity every day.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 9:07 p.m.

They can *want.* They don't *get.* They're not in the zone. I'm not sure what the "temp" parking is, but it seems like bringing it into the neighborhood zonal parking system is a better solution than forcing the developer to add more structured parking.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

People can and will park there. There is still temp parking there. And won't some want to get permits?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 7:09 p.m.

...surrounding neighborhoods are all covered by the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) program. Store your car there if you don't have a permit and you'll be facing a heap of tickets.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 7:04 p.m.

This one, Nicholas: and this: etc.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

@Gownie, I don't know what city you are talking about. There is free street parking all over that residential area - I have lived and worked there. The current residents depend on that parking and many residences lack off-street parking. Competition for parking in that neighborhood is fierce. This development would only intensify that competition and further undermine the livability of the existing housing.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 6:34 p.m.

Let's say I'm a student or other prospective resident with a car, and there's no spot for me in that building. What are my options? 1. Seek free on-street parking elsewhere. HIGHLY UNLIKELY: the nearest free and unregulated on-street parking is too far away to be convenient. 2. Seek paid on-street-parking elsewhere. HIGHLY UNLIKELY: this would involve continuous, illegal, expensive, and inconvenient meter feeding. 3. Seek paid off-street parking elsewhere. A FINE OUTCOME: I can have a place they like and still find room for my car. I merely paid for those two items separately, rather than buying them bundled. Maybe someone with an extra off-street space picks up some cash in the deal. 4. Don't store my car locally. A FINE OUTCOME. 5. Get rid of my car (maybe subscribe to a car-sharing service). A FINE OUTCOME. 6. Live elsewhere. A FINE OUTCOME. So all the outcomes are either unlikely, or perfectly fine. The only risk is that the lack of parking depresses the rental price of the units, so that the landlord needs to offer them at a deep discount in order for them to fill up. This amounts to offering close-in, car-free living at low cost. Sounds like a pretty good incentive for environmentally responsible behavior to me. The developers bear the risk that the value of their investment as a whole is lowered because of underprovision of parking. But of course, they're free to add spots in order to reduce this risk (at a cost). Apparently they feel that the additional cost of the spots is more than the additional rent collected. Given the enormous cost of structured parking they're probably right. Do we really want to use governmental regulation to tell them what they need to do in this case?

E Claire

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:50 p.m.

You are so correct NU. The kids who can afford to live in such housing will all have cars. There is no real grocery store downtown so that alone requires a car (AATA buses, going in a loop to Blake rather than going both ways, turn a grocery run into a 2 hour, 3 bus nightmare). One parking spot per bed should be a requirement for approval.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Steve, it does not matter. Those students need to drive to shop for groceries, cleaning supplies, clothes, shoes, etc. Many of them also need a car to drive home to visit family. Further, most people who do walk or bike as much as possible still own a car for those very same reasons. They just try hard not to drive it.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

We are trying to get away from people having additional cars all over downtown. The reason for creating additional housing downtown is to allow pedestrian traffic to thrive.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

CITY COUNCIL NEEDS TO ACT by going into special emergency session to change the zoning so that the city will not be sued for refusing to allow defacement.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.



Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

They would be sued trying to change the zoning.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

It's probably tough for them when the city itself build a far uglier building just a block away.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

So do those psychiatrists specialize in constructon phobias or something?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:38 p.m.

Community input apparently means nothing; the development company threw together a cookie cutter design, made it fit the lot, and is now "exited." Remember when the developer of City Place told us all how "exited" he was about that piece of junk? The developers will not make it fit the location and acknowledge the historic setting because that "would not fit their development program" (i.e. the bottom line). Well, our leaders need to rise to the occasion and answer them that their ugly building does not fit our vision of the city, does not fit OUR development program. We already have one high rise being proposed for South U that will probably be approve and that is fine, but this one should be sent packing. But we all know what our leaders are like ...

Chester Drawers

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Is "signature architectural element" designspeak for ugly? This building is actually more horrible than that monstrosity that was proposed for the library lot.

Bill Sikkenga

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 9:04 p.m.

This building should harmonize with North Quad and Sloan Plaza.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Several truly wonderful, historic homes, will now be in the shade all winter long. That really sucks for them. At least abolish this historic district now that you've ruined it, planning commission. Charging these folks ridiculous taxes and regulating their maintenance and development seems cruel now that you have authorized the complete devaluation of their homes. On the flip side, I think this building looks pretty good, and if they have "by-right" zoning in place, there's no stopping this. Who the heck allowed D1 zoning immediately to the south of these beautiful, residential, historic homes? They blew it.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Well, this is the consequence. Too bad.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

It's been D1 for 80 years. The city tried to take it away a couple years ago but decided to keep it the way it always has been.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

This is a buy rights property. Council HAS to approve it or they will absolutely get sued, period.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

...and the building will be built.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

robertafriend - it they sue the city, the developer will most likely win AND the city (and your Taxes) will have to pay.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

Let them sue and pay them off. Protect the future from this error.

Jay Thomas

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

The people already there will enjoy looking at a brick wall, I'm sure. :P


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

It is unfortunate that city planners and leaders may have missed the spatial implications of mass disparity between D1 and low-density Old Fourth Ward historic residential district. They have some understanding of spatial orientation effect, as evidenced by density step-downs of D1 to D2 to residential on South University Avenue. Single-family zoning and use to D2 zoning and use is still shocking in massing difference. Maybe it is time to rethink D1 in the instances where massing implementation is shocking to nearby residential neighborhoods, possibly threatening their future viability. Maybe massing step-ups to the core are warranted: two stories to four; four stories to six; six stories to eight, etc. There are many parcels lacking site plans that could be reconsidered. Otherwise, the city is basically stating, "The old must make way for the new. Get over it." Condolences to those in the Old Fourth Ward historic district.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 7:18 p.m.

I recall substantial opposition to D1 from some of the same folks now opposing this D1 project. The minimal compromises reached to slightly modify D1 for this location clearly did not provide enough protection for our most significant historic districts. It should have been zoned D2, like virtually every other downtown perimeter spot that abuts a residential neighborhood, but the owners of the property were very vocal about maintaining maximum development potential. Didn't they even imply they would view D2 zoning as a "taking" of their property? No, Don Bee, this did not go unnoticed or unopposed.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:26 p.m.

a2grateful - There were a number of physical models and 3-D drawings at the zoning discussions. No one had an issue with the D-1 zoning in this area, but then most people did not bother to attend. I suspect they assumed that no one would try to build to the maximum allowed density on any site. This building does not yet meet the maximum density level. The next D-1 may.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

the city is basically stating, "The old must make way for the new. Get over it." That is exactly what the city administration {democrats} having been saying since taking over the city 10 years ago, they have been cultivating and preaching this plan and it is now come to fruition and guess what - the very folks who were cheering the 1 party town are now crying that its not fair. This is the mandate the democratic majority has been pushing along with other quality of life changing programs. Wait until Jackson rd gets reduced to 2 lanes next year.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

Shut it down. They don't all have to be built.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:24 p.m.

By zoning and the supporting state and federal laws, you cannot shut them down. Any denial will end up in court and the building will be built anyway. This is a direct result of the zoning that the city council approved. It is a locally created issue. If you want to avoid having it happen again - get the zoning changed.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

This article includes a map of the Old Fourth Ward Historic District boundaries. However, it does not show the Ann Street and Division Street Historic Districts, which are immediately adjacent to the site. These should be shown on all updates of the map.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

It would be good if you could fix the map posted in the story, because for those who study it, it appears as if the nearest historic district is a block away, instead of right next door to this thing. It may cause confusion about why people are so concerned.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:23 p.m.

Here's a shorter version of the last link:

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:22 p.m.

Here's a map of all the districts:


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

There is NO DEMAND for more student housing! The U recognized the demand that DID exist and built a new dorm. They know what needed to be done much more than out-of-town developers do and they did it. Developers must develop whether there is need or not. If they are not developing, they go out of business. As long as banks can be suckered into financing these projects, they will build them. What do they care? They get their money and leave town. They do not have to suffer the scorn of the townspeople as their giant projects degrade city life over the years.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:34 p.m.

Useless, The data I have is the lack of students living in hotels and tents. If there were a lack of housing for students, there would be students sleeping all over the sidewalks and the U would be arranging financing for the building of housing for them. They built a dorm. That seems to have been enough for them as far as we know.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

Yes! Developers take their fees off the top of financing before construction ever begins. Then, even if the projects goes bankrupt during building or afterwards, the developer keeps their money and loses nothing since they have no long term investment or so-called "skin in the game."


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

What data do you have that says there is no demand for more student housing. Do you have any survey or data from the big U?


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

They teach our young in schools that we need to build sustainably and that involves stopping urban sprawl. If you don't want to sprawl horizontally then you have to go vertical. Now that it's time to pay the piper for the years of preaching this method of development and purchasing up the farmland people are crying "it's too big and ugly"! This is the new direction for America where tall buildings blot out the sun and create large cities as we push people out of economic necessity into cities. Under current government mandates we have doubled the price of gasoline in 5 years and told people in order to be good stewards of the earth they need to build in urban areas. Quit your complaining Ann Arbor and accept the reality you have created for yourself. As you like to say to conservatives, "the old America is gone". Progressive ideas have real consequences, the big one that we will all face together will be when our country has spent itself into financial ruin. That will make this building problem look like nothing........................


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

Whataker - if more people move into the cities for family housing since they cannot sprawl into the surrounding areas then less available housing is accessible to students for their housing; therefore the need for taller buildings to warehouse all of these people is required...............kapeesh? The population continues to grow, land is or was available to build on, but is not longer so the only option is vertical..............I tried to write slowly so you could follow my reasoning.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:13 p.m.

downtown density is fine, as long as it's done in a balanced way. Your argument doesn't stand in the face of this rush to build a downtown that is nothing but high-rises built by companies whose only consideration is maximizing profit. Ann Arbor citizens aren't going to quit complaining when things are not being done right. We are thinking of future generations, just as citizens of the past thought about future generations, when considering what we will allow to exist in our city. If it werent' for the people who decided that Ann Arbor should have more trees, we wouldn't be known as treetown. Our view would be of concrete and few trees to cool things down and provide shade and beauty. Your suggestion that people 'quit complaining' is a lame one. Just because we approved the greenbelt and encouraged downtown density doesn't mean we have to turn our downtown, practically overnight, into a hive of highrises. That would be irresponsible. Is that what you are suggesting? That we be irresponsible and allow developers to come in and do as they please? If you want to live in an environment like that, it's as easy as moving to Novi. Now there is a place that lacked cohesive urban planning.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

I ask you, what is the direct correlation between a downtown high-rise building, with 4-bedroom apartments for college students, and suburban sprawl? What subdivision in the townships will have its market undermined by student housing downtown? The corollary to the Greenbelt is not student high rises downtown, but quality neighborhoods anywhere within the city limits that are seen as preferable alternatives to living in the townships. That means a great intra-city bus system, a sense of public safety, good roads, and excellent schools. Very few people considering purchasing a home in the rural townships are going to be lured to live in a high-rise---especially one that is built specifically for the student market. The DDA is constantly giving away tax revenues to developers to build more high rises. What is our City doing to make our neighborhoods stronger and more attractive to newcomers?

Alan Benard

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

Mike is 100 percent correct.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:09 p.m.

America's assets have been redistributed to the top ten percent of the population that controls over 70% of America's wealth. This money needs to be fairly redistributed to the remaining 90% and a good way is to take it and then spend it to raise the GDP and create jobs.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

There is nothing progressive about this monster building. Preserving space on the outside of a city mass does not automatically create the need for massive structures inside the city. This project is out of scale, and I am sorry to say once again that the zoning and planning has let us down. Why would this be D1 when it was supposed to be part of the scaling down as a neighborhood edge? Zoning blew it with this one.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

"As local business and local ownership became irrelevant, so did local banking and local lending for local ventures. The hyper-commoditization of lending disconnected bankers from knowledge of the ventures they lent money for- just so many strip malls or condominiums- which also tended to reinforce the generic predictability of suburban development all over the country. But this insidious surrender of human judgement would also work in the collective public consciousness to further abstract the nature of assets from the meaning of value or money as a general proposition. The entropy of this kind of building produced huge diminishing returns that eventually showed up as a landscape defaced by ugly, clownish buildings deployed in wastelands of parking, built by people who didn't care about the places they were exploiting." -James H. Kunstler, The Long Emergency Keep bringing in the out-of-towners to throw up perma-junk. What's great about Ann Arbor can be destroyed much faster than it was built.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 8:27 p.m.

The alternative is to build things that CAN be built by locals. They have a stake in the community. When they put something up, they have to listen to the criticism if it turns out to be detrimental. Local banks, local builders, local architects. It's the way Ann Arbor was built. Pick any three old buildings you like in any town. Chances are they were built with local funding and local contracting. What may have been imported were the craftsmen who did the stone and brickwork, the plastering, the ornamental metal work, etc. But even they were often local in bigger cities. Putting up buildings were celebrated events and those buildings filled a need. Now Ann Arbor has 5-6 major projects on the docks and no customers for them. ALL being built by out-of-town firms on spec. Who is clamoring for all this student housing? The U? I don't think so. Who is clamoring for the "Connecting William Street" project and the loss of parking space that entails? People actually ARE clamoring for some green/open space downtown and that is the ONE THING that is being rejected outright by the town boards. If you look at the best parts of Ann Arbor (Main Street) or Washington, DC (Adams-Morgan, Dupont Circle, U Street) or Boston (North end) or Chicago (Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park, Andersonville), they are basically individual buildings attached to each other in rows and blocks with businesses on the ground floor and apartments above. Locals are more than capable of building that. Out-of-towners would never consider that, though, because they cannot maximize their profit building like that.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

Please list a few local companies that can be considered "in-towners" for local development that is not a builder specializing in unattached housing.(neighborhoods) I often hear people putting down companies that are from outside Washtenaw county or Michigan, but we hear very few alternatives.

sandy schopbach

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

I am SO tired of out-of-town companies coming in and totally destroying the atmosphere of Ann Arbor. This isn't New York City! And this company isn't even in-state; it comes from Georgia. When you read the phrase about the design team considering alternative configurations for the project and determining the changes "would not fit their development program", that translates into "would not make enough profit." Pure and simple. In addition, there have been SO many student housing facilities built lately, not to mention a huge new dorm. How many students more are there to house, for Pete's sake? I didn't know enrollment was expanding that much! These companies transform the town then take their profits and go back to Georgia, not having to live with the consequences of their project. We, however, do. I say, tell them to eat cake.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:49 p.m.

Remember this next election when the mayor and council are up for election. This is the result of having 1 party in control for the past 10 years. If you don't like what they have done to the city you do have choices. just sayin


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

It's like the ice age. They will come....lot by lot, decision by decision and eventually Ann Arbor will achieve true Metropolis standing. They call that progress. I guess the native Americans felt like you do. I've given up. When they tore down those houses on Fifth Ave. I knew no one really cared about the true character of Ann Arbor. It has changed forever.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

The land is zoned for projects like this. If residents have issues with these projects, you should have spoken up during the rezoning process, of which very few residents participated in.

Boo Radley

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

I thought it was a major goal of the state, (perhaps not of Ann Arbor) to try and attract out of state companies to invest in Michigan.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 11:26 a.m.

Conor McNally, chief development officer with Georgia-based Carter, appeared on behalf of the development team Tuesday night."We're excited about this project," he said. "We do think it will add to downtown Ann Arbor. It's consistent with the downtown plan, and we've been careful to design it to be entirely consistent with both the intent and the letter of the D1 zoning for this property. That zoning allows for, and in fact encourages, higher-density uses in the core — particularly residential uses." Missing from this story is the fact under current zoning law, this project is in compliance and can be built, correct? So the options are either disapprove the project and face a lawsuit that the City would likely lose or approve it?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9 p.m.

So, what all of you are basically saying is "we give up, there is basically nothing we can do about it, let them do whatever they please to our town." Gosh, if the previous citizens of this town had adopted such an attitude, Ann Arbor might look a little more like Novi instead of the beautiful town it is today, thanks to the actions of previous generations. Funny someone should mention Novi, because that town is put together in such a scattered, haphazard and inconsistent way as to lose all cohesiveness. Do we really want that here? i applaud all the citizens who stand up and let developers know that they will not have an easy time coming into Ann Arbor and turning it into a land of concrete canyons and wind tunnels obliterating the sun and killing the neighborhoods that surround these giant buildings. Enough is enough, get these profiteers the hell out of town. We aren't their 'easy marks' to develop and ditch. This downtown density is getting out of hand. the character of Ann Arbor is being stripped and sold to the highest bidder. This is ridiculous. And this project, in particular, should be denied. we don't need another student warehouse. People forget how Division St. first got it's name. Not that it matters anymore, at least not to developers who come in, build, sell, make their profit and go on to their next target.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:19 a.m.

I just read my the newspaper from my Brother's town. The town is starting the year with a $1.2M deficit. I seem to remember that the council got into a snit with a developer. Seven years and $1.8M later they lost. Same thing would happen here.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

robertafriend - You miss one step in the settlement of the court case... ...and then they build it anyway. That will be the result of the settlement - not that they get some $$ but that it gets built.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

Your post is exactly the point. People complaining about "out of town" developers have to realize that responsibility for this situation is completely at the feet of "in-town" civil servants. Ask the city of Novi what happens when you arbitrarily deny a project that is 100 percent compliant with the applicable zoning.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

It is better to "just say no" and loose the lawsuit and pay them off, than to issue any permit for this wrong building. It will be a cost of protecting the future from the consequences of bad decisions in the past.