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Posted on Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Council member calls for 6-month moratorium on new development in downtown Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton

Now that Ann Arbor has had a chance to see a number of developments come forward under the city's newer downtown zoning, Sabra Briere says it's time for a review.

The 1st Ward City Council member is sponsoring a resolution on tonight's agenda to direct the city's Planning Commission to review the D1 and D2 zoning regulations for downtown.

If passed as proposed, the resolution would establish a six-month moratorium on new developments in the downtown to give city officials time to consider whether the zoning truly reflects the goals the community has identified for downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.


The Varsity high-rise taking shape along Huron Street in December.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"Some days I think I could write a book about zoning and new construction in Ann Arbor," Briere wrote in an email to residents this weekend. "I'll spare you that. But many of us spent several years working to fix downtown zoning — and I don't think it's been fixed yet."

Briere said a handful of projects that have come up in the last few years — including new student high-rises — provide sufficient opportunities to review the downtown zoning.

The D1 zoning limits building height on new developments along South University and the 400 block of East Huron to 150 feet, while the rest of East Huron, East Washington, East Liberty and the north side of East William is capped at 180 feet. D2 zoning, intended to provide a transition between the downtown core and adjacent neighborhoods, caps building height at 60 feet.

Despite attempts to improve the zoning for downtown, Briere said, developers still can present a project that fits the zoning, but doesn't fit any of the community values the council and the Planning Commission attempted to build into the process

"I sit on the Planning Commission and hear members of council, the Planning Commission and the community voice their concerns about whether the process is working as we wanted," she said.

Briere said it's time to evaluate the impact of D1 and D2 zoning on adjacent neighborhoods, especially where there is no interface zone between D1 and residential properties.

Her resolution stipulates that the Planning Commission will make recommendations to the City Council by June 30 and that the council will take action on those recommendations by Aug. 31.

The resolution spells out that any petitions for site plan approval would be deferred for six months, but that would not affect projects that do not require an approved site plan or applications and permits that involve routine repair and maintenance for an existing permitted use.

"I'm going to be listening closely and I'm going to be speaking with the city's attorneys, as I think other council members will be," Mayor John Hieftje said of where he stands on Briere's resolution. "I want to get the full picture. I'll certainly give it some thought and I look forward to the discussion."

Hieftje said it's fair to point out a review of the new downtown zoning should have taken place before now and it didn't, so he thinks it's timely — with or without an accompanying moratorium.

Asked whether the moratorium could hold up the controversial 413 E. Huron high-rise, which is working its way through the city's approval process, Hieftje said that's possible.

Some have argued the 400 block of Huron should be zoned D2 instead of D1 to provide additional protections for the historic neighborhood to the north. Hieftje said he sees the concerns of residents, and that was a tough issue when the zoning was decided, but he supports D1 zoning there.

"Council had a considerable debate about it," he recalled, pointing out Huron Street is one of the widest streets downtown and is a US-23 business route.


Sabra Briere

Ryan J. Stanton |

For more than a decade, Briere said, the City Council, the Planning Commission and the community have been discussing zoning changes for downtown to provide more guidance to developers. A study was commissioned in 2003 and a Downtown Residential Task Force was appointed as well.

In 2004, after the city received the results of the study and the task force recommendations, the city held meetings to help determine how the community wanted to see the downtown change, and what elements of downtown the community wanted to protect and enhance.

The resulting report, often referred to as the Calthorpe plan, formed the base of the A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) task force, Briere said. Those efforts eventually resulted in the final rezoning of downtown in 2009 and the adoption of downtown design guidelines in 2011.

Built into the resolution approving the rezoning of downtown was an expectation that the Planning Commission would review the zoning after a year, Briere recalled, but the commission delayed the review until there were several examples to consider.

Before 2009, Briere said, downtown Ann Arbor had a patchwork of use-defined zoning. The increased demand to have mixed uses in new construction, she said, meant each new building proposed didn't fit the zoning and needed to come in as a Planned Unit Development.

"PUD projects tended to be controversial in the downtown, and were likely to be contentious," she wrote in her email to residents. "As a result of a lot of community discussion, the council amended the zoning in downtown to be a hybrid of use-defined and form-based zoning."

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.


Joe Hood

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 6:50 a.m.

Seems like the moratorium is aimed at one project. Seems like the city could lose a bunch of money in court. Ten years of discussing this exact issue and never tackling the issue. Does every legislative body do nothing but kick the can down the road?

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:03 a.m.

A few folks have posted comments like:"If we stick together, we can save our town..." or "Let's work together..." This will never happen based on the division of these comments on this board. We have two distinct groups: The sightless folks who want to "overbuild" A2 and turn it into Flint or Royal Oak and those that wish to preserve a bit of the town we love. Either way, we'll never have a united A2 and that is sad. I expected more than just greed to rule this town.

vicki honeyman

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

yeah sabra!


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

Thank you, Sabra!!


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

The implication of this proposal is that Council cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. It makes sense for Council to fine-tune zoning from time to time. It makes no sense to abruptly order the world to stop for half a year or more while this goes on. It is certainly unreasonable to pull the plug on anything already in process (and leads to law suits). The net effect of unpredictable stop-and-start policy-making is to disrupt planning and discourage the more thoughtful developers.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

Density can be achieved with mid-rise buildings that conform to D2 zoning. Most cities that we like and enjoy visiting are filled with neighborhoods that achieve great density by filling lots border to border, but by maintaining a height that allows sunlight to reach courtyards and sidewalks and thriving old trees. Think Upper East and West Side of Manhattan; think South-of-Broad in Charleston; think North Side west of Lincoln Park in Chicago; and think of the dense downtown neighborhoods of Vancouver. We can achieve density, vibrancy, and diversity without ruining what we already have and value in our near-downtown neighborhoods. By getting developers and City staff to recognize these values work on behalf of all Ann Arbor's citizens, Ann Ann Arbor will remain a great place to live and to visit, and not be sacrificed to ill-conceived zoning that does not match our approved, adopted, and appropriate master plans and civic goals. A temporary moratorium will provide this breathing space to ask and to answer the many difficult questions surround these issues. Please support the moratorium!


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

I agree, Ionic!! Density does not need to be tall ugly buildings blocking sunlight. I have lived in Ann Arbor for 60 years and I resent people who tell me to move if I don't like what developers are doing to our city. People are attracted to Ann Arbor because of our beautiful historic buildings. Let's keep it that way. New development should fit in with our history and be created to complement it, not overpower it.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:06 p.m.

Keep the zoning as is but demand that developers work with the planning commission and address all of their concerns IF they want their approval to be fast tracked.

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

The problem is that incumbent landlords can hijack this process. If a person already owns property in a neighboring area, he or she will have an economic incentive to sabotage the development proposals of their competitors. This seems to be happening in the 413 E. Huron project discussions.

Eco Bruce

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:01 p.m.

You have got to be kidding me! I hope someone runs against Sabra (and Kunselman!) so that the majority of Ann Arbor citizens can really have their voice heard.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:38 p.m.

Eco Bruce -- .... and you know exactly what the other 100,000 Ann Arbor residents would say, eh? If you understood how the actual impact of 15-story buildings scattered throughout downtown Ann Arbor and how little money Ann Arbor can expect to realize from these developments, you would likely change your opinion.

Cendra Lynn

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

Thank you, Sabra!


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 6:15 p.m.

Let's tear down downtown and replace it with one big park! Or... Let's figure out how we can integrate developement, green space, loding, parking, and transit into a coherent plan that provides a long term framework to stimulate the investments that will drive our economy and manage demand for downtown space.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:57 p.m.

Also, to everyone against high-rise building for environmental reasons: greater density = less environmental impact. The more dense a population, the more transportation, infrastructure, and energy use that is shared.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

I hate running spell check...


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

You hit the nail on the head Ian. Too often, NIMBYism attempts to greenwash itself in environmental rhetoric. It is absurd to suggest that more density in the city is a greater environemental detriment than tearing up countryside and forests, and building more roads with longer commutes. Some people simply want Ann Arbor to remain a small, primarily suburban community. While they are certainly entitled to their oppinion, they are not being honest if they attempt to pass that environementally destructive vision off as green.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

Many of the comments here are refreshingly pro-development. We all should start showing up at city council meetings more often.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:44 p.m.

Yes, do come to City Council meetings and pay attention. You will learn how your opinions are wrong.

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

Yes! Please come. We need more people who actually want to see vibrant development, and fewer cranky landlords who just want to keep out competition.

Linda Peck

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

Thank you, Sabra! You are looking out for us here in Ann Arbor, and I appreciate your opinions and motions very much. I hope you prevail and get this 6-month moratorium passed.

Ellis Sams

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:24 p.m.

Heritage Place on East Huron


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

Please Ms Briere, historial commission, greenies and all of the others who stand in the way of progress, move. Please all of you find some little plot of land and establish the village of Green Arbor. Ann Arbor is and is becoming a City. If anything is happening in Michigan it is starting in Ann Arbor. High Tech, new construction bring all of it on. These businesses pay taxes and bring new customers and new business to our CITY. The village is gone, face it


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:48 p.m.

Bill and Scott Reed -- Both of you do not grasp the issues at hand or understand the processes involved. Please come to City Council and listen to what is said. Read the detailed and articles that provide details and insights into the development issues facing this city. Once you understand I am sure that your comments will change.

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:42 p.m.

Agreed. Progress is not in opposition to being green or preserving some historically valuable things, but we cannot be held back by every single rent-extracting incumbent landlord who claims that their dilapidated property deserves city protection.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

Delay is the deadliest form of denial. -- C. Northcote Parkinson

Barbara Clarke

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

I respect and admire Council member Briere's work and dedication. I believe she is a voice of reason and consideration. I hope that the Briere resolution is passed by City Council tonight.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

I think the book Briere could write, if she is indeed literate, is more a how-to about obstructing an economy that needs to grow after a long recession.

Steve Bean

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

From the draft resolution: "RESOLVED, That any aggrieved petitioner or applicant shall be entitled to receive a hearing by the City Council to show that the temporary moratorium imposed in this resolution will result in the preclusion of all viable economic use of their property, or will otherwise violate applicable provisions of State or Federal law, and if the City Council finds that an aggrieved petitioner or applicant makes such a showing, the City Council may grant relief from the moratorium to the degree necessary to cure the violation. "

Captain Splat

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:18 p.m.

I am interested that no one has commented on the timing of this proposed moratorium, which I think is what is really controversial. It is taking place after a hotly contested Planning Commission vote on the 413 E. Huron project, and just before the same project was to go in front of the City Council. It seems that this moratorium should have occurred prior to the start of either the 624 Church St. or 413 E. Huron projects, or at least made these current projects exempt from the moratorium.

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

Exactly! This is not a general discussion about D1/D2, this is a blatant, last-ditch attempt to sabotage the 413 E. Huron project. I hope that city council can see through this.

Huron 74

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

I applaud Councilwoman Briere's efforts. Developers will swoop in and build wherever they can to make a buck. Let's stick together and make sure Ann Arbor is what we, the citizens want it to be.

Basic Bob

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

The citizens have a right to set rules for development. Developers will always attempt to make a buck. However, this looks like six months spent with our heads in the sand.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

re: DDA's "sphere of influence." It's more than influence. And, it's not just downtown anymore. They directly spend their funds citywide. They indirectly spend their funds citywide via repeated direct cash payments to city council. Their new slogan could be, "DDA: We do not just govern a little section of downtown anymore. We govern citywide."

Jack Eaton

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

As I recall, the A2D2 zoning changes were meant to permit mixed use development downtown in hopes of getting new workforce housing, office space, retail opportunities, and affordable housing. We were trying to provide the vibrant downtown that would attract the exalted young professionals of urban planning myth. And of course, it was meant to draw populations from the sprawl into downtown residences. The A2D2 plan has been a failure. It mostly has led to highrise student dwellings. Seasonal occupancy by students who would have lived within the near campus area doesn't really accomplish the urban planning promises of dense downtown residency. We are seeing increased downtown land values expressed as high rents that push out local merchants in favor of national franchises. We are not seeing the development of housing for the least fortunate, downtown workers, or even young professionals. Let's hope that upon review of the A2D2 zoning regulations, we are able to find a way to mitigate the extreme impact of student highrise development on near-downtown neighborhoods. Let's hope the review will include better effort to coordinate the City's master plan with the downtown zoning ordinance.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

No No No, let the market decide what works downtown. We need more density, people living downtown. I love the building. Ms. Briere should go and live on all that farmland she no doubt has been protecting.

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:37 p.m.

@Townspeak: Agreed. The rent-extracting incumbents in this town will use any means possible to drive out competition, even exploiting historical district regulations to ensure their income stream. They know very well that residents will abandon their dilapidated properties if modern apartments are built in the area.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

Please read my reply to JimmyD above.

Steve Bean

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

We are part of the market. That's not to say that "the market" exists in the free market sense I suspect you mean. It's quite restricted.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

One confusion that I have is with the DDA's "sphere of influence." I had believed that the downtown area for which the DDA can make property decisions is rectangular with its perimeter defined by Huron Street on the North, Ashley Street on the West, Williams Street on the South and State Street on the East. However, in several previous articles, maps have shown the DDA's "sphere of influence" extending a number of blocks north of Huron Street, a number of blocks south of Williams Street (especially along Main Street) and southeast of State Street including the U of M diag and associated buildings. I have no idea why these two different geographical areas exist. I know that the broader area allowed for the DDA to grant money to Zingerman's Delicatessen and to return TIF money to the developer of 618 South Main project for "street improvements." Personally, I favor the smaller DDA borders which prevents the DDA for making decisions primarily in established residential neighborhoods south of Williams Street and north of Huron Street. Also the DDA's downtown limits should end with the southern side of Huron Street and the northern side of Williams Street. With this restriction the 413 East Huron project would never have been presented or approved.

Barbara Clarke

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

I found your remarks very interesting and pertinent. I surely hope some responsible "authority figure" will respond with facts and an explanation.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

For now, it appears, the City of Ann Arbor allows developers to consider surrounding neighborhoods as they please, as long as they comply with zoning. Anything the city calls a "guideline" is merely voluntary advice for a developer, and is not a legal requirement for development. "In the final analysis, the degree of success which is achieved in creating a coherent and satisfying set of visual relationships will depend on the sensitivity, skill, and creativity of individual developers and their design teams. These qualities cannot be legislated into existence; nor is it possible to define a strict set of requirements that can be universally applied to prevent "mistakes" from happening." Source: City of Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Downtown Plan 2009 Development Character Sensitivity to Context Page 33

Irena Nagler

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

Thank you to Sabra. I think that this could be a good idea if that time were used to get people together to clarify thinking, and desires and purposes, and information about what can be done. In a transparent, open-minded manner. I think that there needs to be some soul searching about what people really want, and then, instead of just dismissing it as impossible, look at what *is* being done elsewhere in the nation and world, that is working. Call in some involved people from those other places to give presentations, maybe? As for what I want to see ... Last night I was quite startled by the lights and tall dark bulk of some of the new skyline during a ride home. It did not arise organically in the way a community should grow. I think that the people who live here need to find ways to take the development of the city into their own hands and take some risks for it. I don't get the impression that most people truly want a cold, knife-edged place all high rises and wind tunnels that crowd out the soul of what once rose at a more organic pace. Nor is it as realistic or practical as it presents itself to be. It's time to slow down, BREATHE, inform ourselves, and be willing to think creatively and question the core principles of the banking/debt/interest/exponential growth entanglement that is threatening individuals, communities and ecology and confusing hearts and minds.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Good article. And for once I think this "study" is worth spending some money on.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

Let us keep in mind the "vested parties" in this discussion - the ones who stand to benefit with less downtown competition for student high-rises: The slum-lord owners of the vast student ghettos in this city. For years (decades) these hundred year-old houses of rotting wood and buckled porches were the "$1,000/bed luxury digs" of the city. You could fit 8 of such renters into a single house, provide minimal maintenance and support and - voila - a cash cow. I see many people lament the skyline, because that's their only interaction with the city: What they see when they drive in for their Friday dinner or their Saturday stroll down Main Street. However, for many of us who actually live in the center of the city, the daily walks through the student ghetto are a stark reminder of the sclerotic attitude that consumes landowners when you lack real competition. Like it or not, most of these high rises are here to stay. In making lemonade out of lemons, the possibility that student ghetto housing can finally be razed and returned to a state of owner-occupied dwellings gains appeal in my opinion.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 9:05 p.m.

@ Veracity: Based on your comments, it's clear that you are misstating your knowledge of the area. You are simply incorrect; there's no way around it. a2chrisp caught on immediately regarding some of the areas to which I was referring. What is it that we see that you do not?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

Veracity - It may have been too long since you were in college. There are numerous streets that I could name to you where these conditions exist, if not on the outside, then on the inside. Many students are the cause of these conditions, but the fact is most people treat nice things nicely and poor things poorly. If you really want to see what I am talking about, there are many student houses between East U., Packard and Hill. Another area with a high student concentration would be between East Huron, Kingsley, and Division. There are many very nice houses in both these areas, but both have houses that I have personally been inside in the last 10 years that made think twice about the owner.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

GoNavy and Scott Reed -- Are you describing Ann Arbor? Where are all these "slums" with rotting wood and buckled porches. I have lived in Ann Arbor for 35 years and have driven down almost every street at one time or another and the dilapidated conditions that you describe just do not exist. I will not argue that students may choose to stay in cramped quarters at times but they do that to save money. When I was a college student I shared a 12 foot by 10 foot dorm room with another student. We had a desk, a bed and a closet on each half of the room. We found this arrangement satisfactory since we mostly used the room for sleep and were away from it during waking hours. After all, we were primarily students who either were studying elsewhere or active in sports and social venues on campus. By the way, some of the new highrise student residence halls cram six students into a "suite" with a large common area used as a living room, dining room and kitchen while each student may have a 8 foot by 6 foot sleeping "room." For this tight arrangement students pay upwards of $1000 per month and likely can not pick their roommates!

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

Agreed. It seems clear that the opposition to new development comes mostly from the established incumbents who own dilapidated, so-called "historical" shacks, who know quite well that given a chance, residents would rather live in a modern apartment. They claim to care about the skyline or about historical preservation, but in reality they seem to care more about driving out competition through bureaucratic means.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

But how can you build a proper Metropolis without constant building? Or is the City trying to build on all of the property before the U of M gets it and they lose revenue?

Jay Thomas

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:30 p.m.

Hahahaha.... Yes, the battle continues. Will U of M gobble them up before the city can build them UP. :)


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

Wonderful idea. It may seem drastic. but the way that the revision of all zoning regulations has been postponed, stopped and delayed by special interests makes this imperative. Good development needs clear and useful guidelines and regulations that benefit everyone, including developers, but have to protect certain areas and aspects of the city. Good regulations would have possibly protected us from ugly, unimaginative architectural garbage like the building illustrated above or, even worse, the motel-like buildings that are City Place. This is not to say that someone should not have built anything there, only to suggest that it did not have to be so terrible.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

Calthorpe study on historic districts and structures: "A balanced development approach needs to consider the impacts to these historic structures and districts as well as developing a transparent strategy to assess those impacts. A balanced approach to new development should also include the creation of an adaptive reuse ordinance. By allowing historic structures to change use and function, some development pressure could be alleviated. Some of the buildings within historic districts are of ordinary quality. The City and the Historic Commission could allow the removal of these historic structures to provide for new development. New development should reflect the existing historic neighborhood through its architectural vocabulary as well as the goals of the community as a whole." Source: Recommended Vision & Policy Framework for Downtown Ann Arbor Downtown Development Strategies Project Prepared for the City of Ann Arbor By Calthorpe Associates and Strategic Economics December 5, 2005 final revision - February 17, 2006

Tom Whitaker

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

A PDR (purchase of development rights) program is one option for the sad scenario you depict. This would allow owners of property in restricted areas to sell rights to an owner in an unrestricted area so they could build bigger than otherwise allowed. This little strip of Huron should have been zoned D2 as the advisory committee recommended in 2007. Ideologues preaching density hijacked the process and changed it to D1, even though this was counter to the master plan and the advisory committee recommendations. It is pretty much the only downtown edge, not abutting UM, where this is is the case and there is no support for D1 on this strip in the master plan. We shouldn't have to implement new programs like PDR to protect what we value, if only our officials would put their personal beliefs and ambitions aside and listen to the people and the experts.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

I agree with you Mr. Whitaker. I support preservation of historic districts. I have been in the Greek Revival you mention, as well as many others. Historic districts can be destroyed internally. The city protects against internal destruction through their historic district laws and enforcement. However, historic district quality (and eventual physicality) can also be destroyed externally, as is possible in the pending development of the NEC of N Div and Huron. If the latter proves to be true, what relief do you suggest for the owners of historic properties destroyed/harmed irreparably by external factors?

Tom Whitaker

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

The citation is referring to historic districts and buildings within the downtown proper (DDA boundary), NOT adjacent neighborhood historic districts. The houses on North Division are certainly NOT of ordinary quality, but represent the very best architecture of their era. In fact, the monumental Greek Revival house at North Division and Ann is on the National Register of Historic Places. All studies, plans and surveys done since 1991 call for the protection of our historic neighborhoods surrounding downtown, including Calthorpe. For some reason, the planning commission council in 2009 chose to ignore all the study recommendations and the master plan and impose D1 zoning along the north side of East Huron despite the obvious negative consequences. Now that we have a more balanced city council, it is time to go back and correct this and any other problems created by officials thinking they knew better than staff, consultants, and the people of this city.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

The quoted material is from page 28 of the cited source.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

The sky is not falling. Proper zoning laws are critical to smart development of any city. Developers will still be clamoring to make a buck building and flipping high rises for the slumlords. Ann Arbor does not need development "at any cost". The city can, and should, be picky. We've seen some lousy high rise projects pushed up against residential neighborhoods, and we've seen dumpy condos in residential neighborhoods. The city needs to take this time to re-evaluate the development allowed in the city.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.

So, we want greenbelts to keep people from spreading out, but we don't want people to live in a densely populated skyrise? I'm about ready to swap out our city council foe Detroit's. It may actually be an improvement.

above average

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

I support Sabra. I have watched the sky line darken in the ensuing months of construction of the Varsity. OK, nothing I can do about that... but it is the thought of an even larger development going in across Huron that causes grave concern. As it is, the young resident base of the 411 Lofts (next to the Varsity), provide traffic challenges as it is not uncommon for a group, deep in talk, laughter or hair flipping to "forget" they are walking aimlessly on a road for vehicular transportation. I can't imagine the increased dangers when the Varsity comes online -- it's like a spiraling deer population. If something is built across the street - residents are going to lose their lives... A few construction jobs, or the precarious situation caused by an overly large housing project for the next 50+ years - that's how I see it... short term gains, long term risk. And who really thinks any new venture in Ann Arbor adds to the tax base? Do you not know what Ann Arbor Spark does?

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

@rsa: Perhaps you are right that it would be difficult to narrow Huron due to state law. However, I still think it is a good thing to do. Having a highway through downtown areas is just a bad, outmoded idea that kills the vibrancy of cities. It creates a dangerous, pedestrian-hostile zone and prevents density. By narrowing or closing Huron, traffic would simply re-route itself in a more dispersed pattern. Lots of European cities have studied and enacted this type of road reduction, to great effect.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

@Scott Reed, being that E Huron is a highway/I-94 related, I think it can only be altered by the state. Washtenaw Ave, which E Huron turns into, conversely needs a bit of lane widening somewhere between Hill & E Stadium where the lanes themselves are very narrow.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Huron "road diet" here we come!

Scott Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

More people living downtown means fewer people driving; that is, fewer people actively making the world a worse place. They already LIVE where they want to be, near their place of work, and within walking distance to amenities. If increased pedestrian traffic is a problem on Huron, then we should narrow Huron, and put in several stop signs to ensure safe crossing, and do everything necessary to accommodate pedestrian safety. What is good for pedestrians is good for downtown.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

Here we go again, lets over think everything to its wits end, while good opportunities go elsewhere......can't they be aggressive for once to expand the tax base.....


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

I'm not an expert on any of this, but I do wish there was some control over the types of buildings going up. Some are horrendously ugly and certainly won't look any better in ten years time. I'm especially sad about what is happening along Plymouth Road on the Northeast side. Seriously who gives a thumbs up to these plans?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

So YOU get to decide what is "seriously ugly" on another persons property. So if I think your house or car are ugly, I can tell you as a PROPERTY OWNER, I do not like the look, change it. As long as the developers followed the rule book given to them, they can do whatever the hell they want with THEIR property.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Too bad city council is trying to shut the barn door AFTER the horse is out. Not holding out much hope, especially considering how the 5th ave. project was handled (or not...)


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

Please fix so we don't end up with more neighborhood destruction like with City Place!


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

Does this stop the Blimpie closing?

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

Sabra Briere has our backs. Let's make sure we have hers!


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

A few weeks ago while driving into Ann Arbor there were 4 high rise cranes in the skyline. Four. That seems like a lot for the downtown area. Call me crazy, but isn't a 6 month moratorium a better decision then to build a bunch of high rises buildings during a frantic construction phase in the hopes it brings tax revenue? It's not like we can build it and then say "oops our bad, let's take it down!"

Steve Bean

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

Bob W, the real estate bubble is reinflating. Property values will again drop drastically in the next few years. Whether that results in a glut of empty buildings as young and old move in with empty-nesters remains to be seen.

Bob W

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

Are we seeing a "bubble" in the making


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

I thought there was a shortage of housing downtown. What better way of getting tax dollars than to have housing for all of the U of M students


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

I don't think anything would be better after 6 months. I do think its better to wait six months then to build a building (especially a high rise) nobody may want based on the premise it's a good way to increase tax revenue. Maybe if tax revenue is an issue the city could encourage The U to stop buying property and eliminating the tax dollars.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:34 p.m.

What makes you think that things would be better after a six month moratorium? This is the A2 City Council we are talking about, remember? They are not as dysfunctional as their counterparts in Detroit, but it is pretty far fetched to expect them to produce anything of value in six months.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

I'm curious about the negative comments - it seems reasonable to me to take time to evaluate the overall goals and do a better job. Once the buildings are constructed, it won't be easily changeable. If we want a great downtown, LOTS of advance planning makes sense. And I'm just a normal resident, I don't have any 'special' interests in posting this, lol.

Steve Bean

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:14 p.m.

A moratorium is more a matter of legal protection than anything.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

So let's put this in a way you might understand why it would be a problem. Your boss decides to put a moratorium on your paycheck until he reviews for SIX months whether the company wants to continue in a business unit. I am fine with the council looking over the zoning and see if it is the way the area should continue, but life does not stop for 6 months to "analyze" things. They are basically saying to developers, here is the rule book we gave you in the past. They go about trying to play by that rule book, then they decide to change the rules or postpone the playing of the game for 6 months. Financing, interest rates, potential tenants, construction timelines, expenses will ALL change in that time frame.

Basic Bob

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

They can evaluate without stopping progress. Goodness knows they aren't likely to approve anything controversial in only six months. Perhaps we can just file the existing plan in the trash and elect an urban planner to hand pick all the projects herself.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

Why does the world have to stop while the Council "re-evaluates?"


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

So let me understand this correctly. Buy up all of the surrounding developable land for a green belt with taxpayer dollars then shut down development in the city also? Is this what sustainable development is? Can someone please explain the reasoning to me?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 6:01 p.m.

Mike - I definitely see what you're saying. Regarding the 413 E. Huron project, however, I think deep down people's dislike for the project comes more from the very uninspiring building design (i.e., its a huge dark faceless box), than the scale/density of the development. If the developer would spend a little time making it look more well-thought out and carefully detailed, I believe residents would be more receptive towards it. As of now, it looks like one big blob designed by an out-of-town developer in an effort to maximize profit.

Steve Bean

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

Mike, not all developable land in the county will be bought for the greenbelt. Beyond that, I think CM Briere explained the reasoning adequately.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

I'm not going to comment on this proposed course of action - but I will say that it is a great problem to have to address: A vibrant, growing downtown. Construction jobs today and lots of customers for downtown tomorrow. Plus property taxes for the City. Does anyone remember the empty streets and storefronts from a few decades ago?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 10:14 p.m.

Darn, I miss spell-check. Make that "examine".


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 10:13 p.m.

Veracity - Didn't your Parents teach you to not twist words around? I used the term "problem" in my post. I even stated that I wasn't commenting on a proposed course of action. Please go back to exam your ethics.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:23 p.m.

JimmyD -- No, I don not recall empty streets and storefronts during the 35 years that I have lived in Ann Arbor. But even if there were improvements since then they are not the result of highrise construction. Your "Field of Dreams" vision for Ann Arbor is wishful. Unlike the baseball allegory building a large highrise apartment building does not guarantee full occupancy and financial success. As a matter of fact the Ashley-Terrace bankruptcy disproved that expectation. If the enterprise operating new construction is not financially successful then the city will realize no financial benefits since the enterprise will be unable to make TIF payments. Ann Arbor is a highly esteemed and award-winning city which will not be enhanced by any of the planned highrise construction downtown. However, failure of new construction can tarnish Ann Arbor's image.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

Council Member Stephen Kunselman tells me he's planning to join as a co-sponsor of Briere's resolution. FYI.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:21 a.m.

Yes, they both aspire to be the next mayor, god help us all.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:14 p.m.

OK, that's two. Are you polling?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 7:48 p.m.

Thank you, Steve!!


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

Absolutely. Let's place a moratorium on any development that could replace all that tax revenue lost when pfizer left and tax free U of M moved in. In fact let's just get rid of ALL the revenue generating business in the city and just give all the land to the U. Why delay the inevitable mayoral master plan?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:14 p.m.

Skyjockey43 -- Relax! The DDA and City Council have no intention of selling public land to the University of Michigan. However, the University of Michigan can buy any private land that is available. Hopefully, what the University of Michigan builds on the land that they purchase will be consistent with the City's guidelines, codes and ordinances.

mike gatti

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

Council considering a 6 month moratorium on the earth moving around the sun to consider impact on City's mission.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:09 p.m.

mike gatti -- Apparently your effort to create a joke indicates that you do not understand the issues effecting Ann Arbor's downtown development and the impact that such development will have on appearance, finances and land usage.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:43 a.m.

How a permanent moratorium on the mayor & the DDA.

Chip Reed

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.

How about a six month moratorium on city council?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:34 a.m.

Points to consider in the D1 and D2 review: Does D1 / D2 zoning affect contiguous historic districts and/or other residential properties in a highly negative manner? If so, a graduated building-height buffer zone should be instituted in the implementation of D1 / D2. Otherwise, the City should declassify the surrounding historic district and/or residential district, as the new non-buffered high density has destroyed neighborhood quality and character. Then, it should revise the master plan and zoning to allow greater, medium density on the declassified historic sites and/or residential districts, allowing graduated heights from the neighboring D1 / D2 properties. The declassification and rezoning of historic districts and residential zoning would offer a market-based mechanism for affected owners to recoup their losses. They would be able to sell their "former" historic and low-density residential properties at rates afforded by higher, medium density zoning classifications, acting as buffers to the surrounding low-density neighborhoods. The city's "library lot" also falls into the category of D1 / D2 location directly contiguous to one- and two story historic district and residential properties. Applying the examples above, the historic districts would be declassified if/when the contiguous high-density development destroys existing historic district character. The damaging non-buffered high-density to low-density domino affect should also in the OWS historic district, where higher density threatens historic character near Washtenaw Dairy.

Steve Bean

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 5:34 p.m.

"What makes anyone think this is anything more than simple hatred of development?" The multiple cranes downtown, for one.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:40 p.m.

It seems all they do is obstruct. The last time they went about organized obstruction, they came up with about eight districts where they basically wanted complete control over the entire architectural process, but with a different cookie-cutter for each district. Then they were surprised when nobody wanted to build within those cookie-cutters. What makes anyone think this is anything more than simple hatred of development?


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

Agreed, well said. Though I have to nit-pick just a bit, it's a domino effect, not affect.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

The damaging non-buffered high-density to low-density domino affect should also "be considered" in the OWS historic district, where higher density threatens historic character near Washtenaw Dairy.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.

Last sentence of original comment should read: The damaging non-buffered high-density to low-density domino affect should also in the OWS historic district, where higher density threatens historic character near Washtenaw Dairy.


Tue, Feb 19, 2013 : 11:59 a.m.

Nicely stated.