City Place site plan coming back before Ann Arbor City Council for approval on Monday
Ann Arbor officials say they're not sure why, but the developer behind the City Place project is bringing back a site plan for City Council approval on Monday.
That action comes despite an earlier agreement to revise the plans and come back in January with a new planned unit development proposal.
Fifth Avenue Limited Partnership is asking for approval of a development agreement to build an apartment complex on 1.23 acres of land at 407-437 S. Fifth Ave., where seven turn-of-the-century homes currently stand. Coming before City Council on Monday is a resolution requesting approval to construct two, three-story apartment buildings with a total of 24 units, 144 bedrooms, and 36 surface parking spaces.
"I'm a little confused and disappointed," said City Councilman Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward. "I was looking forward to the developer pursuing a more neighborhood-friendly community instead of this proposal. But I believe the moratorium still applies to any demolition they would request."
The City Council last month approved a six-month moratorium on construction and demolition in a two-block area that includes the City Place site while a new historic district study committee evaluates whether to grant historic district status to that portion of the Germantown neighborhood.
Timothy Stoepker, an attorney representing the City Place developer, wrote in an Aug. 20 letter to city officials that the moratorium resolution was "in bad faith" and "unlawful." Stoepker requested the City Place site plan be placed on the City Council agenda for a vote within 35 days from the date of his letter.
Developer Alex de Parry of Fifth Avenue Limited Partnership could not be reached by AnnArbor.com today for comment.
Stoepker's letter makes several legal claims against the city. He said when the Planning Commission recommended approval of the site plan on April 21, the City Council was required to vote on it by May 22. Since the City Council didn't act by then, the site plan "would be deemed to have been approved by operation of law," Stoepker wrote.
The attorney for the developer also claims the city's planning staff conducted a thorough review of the site plan between April and June and found it was consistent with city codes and ordinances. Yet, "for reasons unrelated to the actual materials contained within the site plan," the City Council sent the site plan back to the Planning Commission on June 15 without "any valid and lawful reason," Stoepker wrote.
The City Place site plan failed to get the endorsement of the Planning Commission on July 7 with a 5-1 vote in favor, falling short of the six votes required for a recommendation. On July 20, the City Council granted a postponement of the site plan until Jan. 19, 2010, at the developer's request.
The resolution approved by the City Council on July 20 included permission for the developer to submit an application for a planned unit development, or PUD, on the site during the postponement. The developer also was given the option to submit a written request and have the site plan scheduled for immediate public hearing and consideration by City Council instead of the PUD.
City officials said today the developer has requested to go that route, though it's a move that leaves them baffled.
"I don't understand the developer's motives," said Councilman Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward. "I don't know anybody that is happy with this site plan. The developer himself on many occasions has indicated a preference for the initial PUD. I certainly know of no one who thinks this is a good project for the neighborhood or community." It's the "by right" site plan for City Place - not the PUD plan - the developer is bringing back to the City Council on Monday. Critics have described the site plan as two ugly buildings separated by a surface parking lot.
"The community's been pretty clear about the fact that we don't want that site plan," said Councilman Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward. "The moratorium that's connected to the historic district study would prevent it from moving forward, so I don't understand the logic behind them bringing this back, but I suppose they have the technical right to do that."
Council members said they'll be relying on the city attorney's advice when it comes time to vote on Monday. They acknowledge they can't reject a site plan - if it conforms with city code - just because they don't like its look.
Ryan Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.