DDA ordinance changes, high-rise project return to Ann Arbor City Council Monday
Humphreys & Partners Architects
Monday night, those hearings will pick up where they left off and are the first order of business.
The general consensus among most of those who spoke at the April 15 hearings was against both proposals, though most speakers were interested in the 413 E. Huron project. Those who spoke at the public hearings April 15 will not be able to speak Monday.
Following the hearings, council members will vote on both issues.
The vote on the 413 E. Huron site plan would end months of debate and attempts to stymie the project by a council-proposed moratorium on downtown development that was later halted.
“People will be rallying friends and neighbors to come out (Monday),” Mayor John Hieftje said.
Residents in the neighborhood next to the proposed 14-story high-rise building at 413 E. Huron St. have been vehemently opposed to the project since it was first introduced.
“It’s perfectly appropriate that folks from all over the city engage in the question of whether a project like this is good for Ann Arbor,” said Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward. “ It shows that people really care about their community and that they feel a broad responsibility for a neighborhood even if they themselves don’t live there.”
Monday night, council members will have to weigh approving a project they don’t like against the possibility of the developers bringing a lawsuit against the city should they vote it down.
“I think unfortunately site plan review is an administrative process rather than a deliberative process,” Taylor said. “Council does not have the flexibility to make judgment calls on site plan review. Our legal obligations prevent us from taking into account whether this project is good for the neighborhood; good for Ann Arbor.”
Taylor said he takes his obligation to comply with the law “very seriously,” and will be using that as his primary driver as he considers his vote on the site plan.
“I don’t get the sense that anyone particularly likes the project,” Council Member Chuck Warpehoski, D-5th Ward, said. “The developers have been clear that they hope that it gets approved, and if it doesn’t they’ll go to court.”
The city’s attorney, as well as an independent legal consultant, have advised the City Council that the developer has legal justification to bring a suit should the council vote the project down, Hieftje said.
Hieftje said he could not discuss the legal risks further, per the advice of the city lawyer.
“We are weighing all sides of the issues,” Council Member Sumi Kailasapathy, D-1st Ward, said. “Is it really fair to just go ahead and destroy an existing neighborhood? That’s definitely one of the facts that’s weighing heavily on me.”
Warpehoski has similar concerns.
“The scale is too large for the neighborhood to the north, and it doesn’t have an adequate transition,” Warpehoski said. “I’m personally weighing this question: What are the risks if we turn it down?”
The other hot-button item up for consideration Monday is major changes to the DDA, introduced previously by council members Kailasapathy and Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward.
The changes would slow the DDA’s revenue growth and implement term limits on board members.
The DDA is partially funded through tax-increment financing, which captures the increase in tax revenue from construction and development downtown Ann Arbor. Recently, its revenues have been higher than expected due to growth downtown.
City Council gave its initial approval to the changes in a 7-3 vote April 1.
However, during the April 15 meeting, Hieftje attempted to strike the term-limit language from the ordinance changes late in the eight-hour meeting. He failed to gain the votes he needed because some council members had left.
The Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber, which has previously urged the council to vote down the changes, encouraged its members in its weekly newsletter to contact their council members in advance of the Monday meeting and to not attend the hearings.
“I think, first of all, a lot of the council members might make their decision in advance of the meeting, said chamber President Diane Keller. “The last several meetings have gone to 1:30 or 2 in the morning, and at some point there’s complete saturation. There’s only so much information you can take after 5 hours.”
The ordinance changes will be given a second reading Monday night.