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Posted on Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

DDA ordinance changes, high-rise project return to Ann Arbor City Council Monday

By Amy Biolchini

Public hearings on two controversial issues will continue Monday night after being paused at the Ann Arbor City Council’s last meeting April 15.

Proposed changes to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, as well as a site plan for a high-rise building at 413 E. Huron St., are back on the council’s heavy Monday agenda.


A look at the design for 413 E. Huron unveiled at the Ann Arbor City Council's March 18 meeting. This shows the signature corner at Division and Huron.

Humphreys & Partners Architects

Two lengthy back-to-back public hearings at the April 15 meeting on both proposals pushed the council meeting past the eight-hour mark — at which point council members adjourned the meeting before being able to discuss the items.

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.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:57 p.m.

Bring the high rise to Ypsilanti. We have a great piece of property (the Water Street property) along the Huron River just aching for a project like this. Close to both Depot Town and Downtown and easy access to I-94 and right on US-12. Why build it in Ann Arbor and congest it even more? The residents will end up loving this location!!!!!

Tom Joad

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

It would be helpful if a occupancy rate were printed so as to see the demand for these gargantuan projects that have already been completed. My inclination is to believe that many of these units remain vacant in order to keep prices at unaffordable levels for most people to live there.

Stephen Landes

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:16 p.m.

I continue to hear that Ann Arbor has a) improved, b) changed, or c) re-written our zoning, project review, architecture advisory, and other processes, yet those processes are still producing project alternatives that few people like and that put the City in the position of approving these projects or being sued. Whatever the processes are they are BROKEN. Stop tinkering with our local procedures. Find cities that have development results we admire. Model their local procedures. What we are currently doing is a species of insanity.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

Will this meeting be televised live on any community access channel? (I wish I could attend, but have a baby)

David Cahill

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:25 p.m.

Yes. For those having Comcast cable, it is on Channel 16.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

Did some research after posting this question. It looks like it will be.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

The City has a population of 115,00 and I see only about 10 people here complaining about high rises. Get involved in the next code change while it is being designed and adopted, not afterwords - unless, of course, you simply like to complain.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

The only people who are allowed to be involved, outside of the minimal citizen input process, are those appointed by the mayor. A quick look at the city website listing all members of planning, zoning and any other related boards and committees shows all have been appointed by the current mayor, so in this case, it is impossible to become more involved, unless one has some extra cash to throw the mayors way in seeking an appointment. Pull the records of those asking for appointments and see how many are passed over in favor of those close to the mayor. I dont like to complain, but every other course of action is limited.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

The Council needs to pass laws and make zoning code changes that allow them the flexibility to shutdown or limit development projects that threaten the character of the town and residential neighborhoods. Like absurdly tall buildings that border resdiential neighborhoods. We wouldn't be in this current mess if they had done their jobs after the City Place fiasco. What have they been doing since then? Why didn't they act sooner? Maybe because of the DDA and their ilk?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:08 p.m.

The Council needs to do exactly the opposite of what you describe. They need to pass laws and making zoning code changes that they want to live with and enforce. The more flexibility in the codes, the more they can fundamentally do whatever they want. Developers are incredibly frustrated trying to get projects through in Ann Arbor. I don't love this project. While I think it should be built, I personally think it is too large for its location. But that should be decided prior to the developer spending the money on a project. Set the codes the way you want them to be enforced and then get out of the way.

Patricia Lesko

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

The 413 E. Huron project is the result of seriously flawed zoning and design guidelines brought to us by Ward 4 Council Council member Marcia Higgins (running for re-election and challenged by Jack Eaton) and Kirk Westphal (running against Independent incumbent Jane Lumm) through their work on the A2D2 Task Force/Committee. 413 E. Huron is brought to us by the Council members who voted in 2009 NOT to downzone that parcel, including Marcia Higgins. 413 East Huron is the little picture. The big picture is that Marcia Higgins (who takes the lead on all zoning issues brought to Council) has created blight all over town. Ms. Higgins pushed to zone the Georgetown Mall a TIF parcel to subsidize a private developer (Harbor, Co.) who's track record of leaving his own messes all over the state was overlooked when this deal was cut. The result? Acres of blight and a destroyed shopping area. Eighteen months BEFORE the Georgetown fiasco, Marcia Higgins pushed for a TIF subsidy for a private developer who had grand plans for Lower Town. The result? A destroyed shopping area, wasted tax dollars, and acres of blight for Ward 1 residents. In January 2013, Council approved $9M in bonds so the DDA can subsidize a private developer who wants to build a new parking garage. Taxpayers will pay 60 percent of the cost to build the garage, and get 45 parking spaces in return (at a cost of $37K per space). For the past decade, Council itself, and working through the DDA, has thrown millions of dollars at private developers (including Avalon Housing/Three Oaks for its failed housing project on North Main—blight which Avalon/Three Oaks refused to remediate). The return on these investments has been abysmal. I would urge voters to go to the polls and hold accountable those who've made these messes all over the city—starting with Marcia Higgins in August and Kirk Westphal in November.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:48 p.m.

Thank you for putting all this info. together!


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

Council members take note: your vote and actions tonight will be remembered. You can be a hero for sparing our city treasury further debasement by the DDA, and sparing our skyline and streets further pollution by yet another unwanted, unattractive and oversized structure. Or, you can fall in line with the mayor and continue to run Ann Arbor into the ground.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

Slow the DDA's growth? Perfect! Because the DDA does not need to grow.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 12:34 p.m.

"I like 413 E. Huron just fine. Especially when compared to more sprawl. . ." Some view 413 E. Huron as vertical sprawl. Vertical sprawl is most difficult to remedy once it occurs.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

Why is the city afraid of a lawsuit? Is it money? We have a city attorney, does he not get paid to represent the city? Why would this lawsuit cost more money? Seriously, these are real questions. When I have a big project due at work I don't say "Well, it's going to cost more then what you are currently paying me." Bring on the lawsuit, let Mr. Postema do his job. From The City Attorney's Office performs all legal services for the City, including legal advice to City Officials, preparation and review of contracts and other legal documents, prosecution of persons accused of violating City ordinances, and representation of the City and City officials in lawsuits. The City Attorney's Office does not provide legal advice to members of the public.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

You do realize that they would NEVER allow this building be built in Boulder. WAY too tall.

Chip Reed

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

@Mr. Warpehowski- I am a resident of your ward and I like 413 E. Huron just fine. Especially when compared to more sprawl. I find the negative comparisons to Southfield quite amusing. Southfield has no real downtown. It came about from the creation of the Northland shopping center (which helped a little in speeding up the decay of downtown Detroit).


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 9:04 p.m.

Brad, if you want to see an example of sprawl, look east along the washtenaw and packard and ellsworth corridors between ann arbor and ypsilanti. I remember when most of that area was undeveloped. Now, it's neighborhoods, gas stations, strip malls and big box stores along with a few hotels. I remember when Huron Parkway was nothing but woodlands. Without the greenbelt proposals, you would see the same thing that's begun to happen along jackson rd begin elsewhere on the west side. But also, the greenbelt proposal had a hidden agenda built into it. The idea of rampant urban density downtown, destroying the little town flavor that ann arbor has held onto for so long is, I feel, a major force behind the idea of a 'green belt'. Last time we had this much building of highrises was in the 80's and it wasn't so out of control. I'm feeling that some people are just in it for the money and the increase in tax base for city government. To hell with what is actually good for our present citizenry, much less for the future. It's a 'get it now' mentality and it bodes ill for future generations.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

That's "Chainsaw Reed" to you partner!

David Cahill

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:23 p.m.

Always fun to hear from "Bulldozer Reed".


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

Uhmm, "sprawl" includes the phrase 'low density' in its definition, so residential highrises don't really fit that description...


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

So called sprawl was halted by a combination of events, the greenbelt purchasing, Prop B which helped acquire parkland, and the downturn in the economy which took the profit motive out of the picture. Now the best profit motive left is the exploitation of vertical development as a result of poor zoning decisions, and the city's refusal or (intentional) lack of oversight in reviewing the code as was promised. Of course developers are rushing in to take advantage of this, they don't have to live with the results of their actions. But we do. And where is the sprawl? Look up!


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

Seriously, can anyone provide an example of this "sprawl" around Ann Arbor? Or are you just talking about everything outside of downtown (i.e., 95% of the city)?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:56 a.m.

So exactly how are downtown student apartments going to reduce sprawl? I don't see the connection whatsoever. Nor do I see much actual sprawl here.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

This building will not destroy a neighborhood. No historic houses are being demolished. Plain and simple.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

Business 94.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

Of course you meant to say many slummy student rentals will get more shade which will save energy, yes?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 6:06 p.m.

True, Arboriginal, no historic buildings will be demolished. However, many historic homes will exist in the perpetual shadow cast by the massive structure. With so many students living there (if enough can afford to live there and so far from campus) the quiet neat neighborhood may become loud, raucous and littered. The massive building is an unattractive entrance to a main route leading to Northeast Ann Arbor. The contrast of a massive building followed by many homes will be a stark reminder of urban planning gone wild.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:20 a.m.

I have to say that Ann Arbor has been embracing expansion of the downtown area and it really is starting to feel like a big city. I couldn't believe how much traffic and how long it took to go a mile at rush hour. Can't wait until Huron is reduced to one lane at Maple road so I can enjoy that same stretch for two hours. But there will be more bike paths some day which is fun in bad weather and winter, which we don't have much of in Michigan. Keep buying up all of the land for a "green belt" and enjoy the grid lock. For such a s"smart" town their planning is not so smart.................Projects like these will need to be built or this town and it's economic development will have to slow down out of necessity.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

Traveling westerly, "Huron" mysteriously morphs into "Jackson" which intersects "Maple." Traveling easterly, "Huron" mysteriously morphs into "Washtenaw" which intersects "Stadium" which morphs into "Maple." Same roadways, different names.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:57 a.m.

In the windmills of my mind Chipster!

Chip Reed

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

Where does Huron intersect Maple?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:18 a.m.

What's the common thread between these two issues? High-rise Hieftje.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:07 a.m.

Mr. Taylor's comment "Our legal obligations prevent us from taking into account whether this project is good for the neighborhood; good for Ann Arbor." is not correct. There is a misunderstanding by some council members that a developer can do whatever it wants if it meets zoning. There are many aspects of the city code that a developer must comply with, and it must comply with ALL of the requirements of the city code in order to legally be entitled to approval. The current site plan for this particular development does not meet ALL of the requirements it MUST meet. Thus, council not only may deny it but MUST deny it. That is a legally defensible position. To do otherwise and to approve the development as proposed would NOT be meeting the legal standards set out in the city code. Feel free to come to the public hearing and speak your mind. You get three minutes and do not have to sign up ahead of time.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

I vote for Chapter 113 of the City Code, "Regulation of use of model glue".


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

What requirements does the plan not meet?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 10:51 a.m.

With respect to the proposed ordnance "slow the DDA's revenue growth and implement term limits on board members", here is a link to my Common Cents column on this issue published yesterday which advocates FOR this proposed ordnance:


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 10:15 a.m.

DDA: Detrimental Diversion Agency. DDA is a group with personal, not civic agenda, diverting dedicated millage tax dollars from intended purposes, without citizenry accountability. "City Council gave its initial approval to the changes in a 7-3 vote April 1." Council had it right then. Keep it right, and reel in the DDA. Please save our city from the runaway train "DDA."