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Posted on Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

Downtown Ann Arbor apartment project Zaragon Place 2 wins approval at Planning Commission

By Ryan J. Stanton

Chicago-based developer Richard Perlman left Ann Arbor's city hall Tuesday night without the same frustration other developers have experienced recently.

In only an hour's time, Perlman's 14-story apartment project received unanimous approval from the Ann Arbor Planning Commission during a praise-filled meeting.

The project, known as Zaragon Place 2, now awaits final approval by the Ann Arbor City Council. And it appears to have strong support from a number of council members.


An artist's rendition of Zaragon Place 2 shows what the proposed 14-story apartment building at William and Thompson would look like by night.

Image courtesy of Neumann/Smith Architecture

Perlman, whose company is called the Zaragon Co., proposes constructing a 96,685-square-foot, mixed-use building at the southeast corner of East William and Thompson streets in Ann Arbor's newly zoned downtown core.

The project includes 99 dwelling units, ground-floor retail space and 40 off-street parking spaces. It aims to repeat the success of Zaragon Place 1, a 10-story student housing structure Perlman built at 619 E. University Ave. in 2008.

Perlman, a Detroit native who graduated from the University of Michigan in 1971 with a degree in psychology before going on to law school in Cleveland, said he's excited about potentially starting his second project near his alma mater later this fall.

"My wife is also a Michigan graduate. In fact, we met in Ann Arbor," said Perlman, who also has a son who graduated from U-M two years ago. "We love Ann Arbor. We think this is the right type of student housing, and we couldn't be more excited to be doing another project in Ann Arbor."

Unlike other multi-story apartment developments that have been mired in controversy and have moved slowly through the city's approval process, Zaragon Place 2 appears to have enough support to pass. In fact, it even has received praises from some of the same residents who have fought tirelessly to oppose nearby projects like the Moravian and Heritage Row.

Support for this particular project is mostly due to its location: in Ann Arbor's downtown core, where most agree dense development belongs. And unlike projects such as the Moravian and Heritage Row, Zaragon Place 2 doesn't ask for a deviation from existing zoning regulations, nor does it encroach on a near-downtown neighborhood.

"The neighborhood is perfect for this project with high-rise Tower Plaza and Maynard House nearby," said Ray Detter, chairman of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council.

Detter said his group has been actively involved for more than five years in efforts to increase downtown residential density, and Zaragon Place 2 fits that vision.

"It meets the community expectations for higher density in that area," he said, noting that — at 173 feet tall — it's still 7 feet short of the 180 feet allowed.

Sketches provided by Neumann/Smith Architecture show the new building rising high above the existing adjacent Cottage Inn Pizza restaurant at 512 E. William St.

About 2,000 square feet of the first floor has been designated for commercial space — potentially a cafe with outdoor seating. The remainder of the first floor would include a lobby, mail room, exercise room and manager’s office.

The second and third floors are proposed to contain 40 off-street parking spaces and 40 bicycle parking spaces. Floors four through 14 would contain nine apartments each — one 4-bedroom unit, six 2-bedroom units, and two 1-bedroom units.


An artist's rendition of the 14-story Zaragon Place 2 building by day.

Image courtesy of Neumann/Smith Architecture

The proposed materials and architectural design are similar to that of Zaragon Place 1, except the shape of the building is somewhat different, and clear glass with integrated awnings are proposed for the windows of the first-floor retail space.

Perlman said the market will drive the rental rates at Zaragon Place 2 when it opens, likely in 2012, but he expects it will be north of $900 a month per bed.

Even with monthly rental rates of more than $1,000 per bed, Zaragon Place 1 — targeted to U-M students — has proven successful at attracting occupants.

Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Area Association, said his association's board has unanimously endorsed Zaragon Place 2.

"The vast majority of our neighborhood is overjoyed, to say the least, that this property is going to be developed in the way that this developer has proposed," he said. "It is a beautiful building. It will be a beautiful addition to the neighborhood, and the 200-plus residents will be an incredible economic boost to the neighborhood."

Roger Hewitt, a Downtown Development Authority board member who has operated businesses in the State Street area for more than two decades, also voiced support for the project. He said it's what he and others have been working toward for years.

"When I first started working in that area, there was a wonderful mix of various retail and food service operations," he said. "And then as strip malls proliferated around the outskirts of Ann Arbor, we lost a lot of our retail mix. About 10 years or so ago, we felt it was clear that the only way we were going to continue to be a strong, viable downtown attraction was to get dense housing, to have our customers living right among us, and we have been pushing that."

The city's planning staff notes Zaragon Place 2 is the first development proposed in the downtown core since the new A2D2 zoning changes took effect in December.

As part of the A2D2 Zoning Initiative, the property at 500 E. William St. is now zoned D1, which is the Downtown Core District. It also is in the new State Street Character Overlay District.

Project designer Scott Bonney of Southfield-based Neumann/Smith Architecture said Zaragon Place 2 will meet all of the A2D2 zoning requirements and draft design guidelines.

"We need to comply with the State Street Overlay District, which talks about a mixture of entertainment and retail uses, with a strong connection to the campus, with traditional commercial storefronts," he said. "And I think you can really see we've really addressed that storefront idea that really ties this to the activity and the retail nature of State Street."

Perlman declined to reveal the worth of his investment in Zaragon Place 2 on Tuesday, saying only that it will be several million dollars. His project team members said they hope to begin a construction period lasting 18 to 24 months later this fall.

Scott Betzoldt, site civil engineer for the project from Midwestern Consulting, noted the project is within the Allen Creek watershed. He said the developer plans to install a stormwater management system that would incorporate underground storage. He also said extensive streetscaping features would be included in the project.

Planning Commissioner Jean Carlberg brought up the fact that several tenants had complaints about noisy neighbors after Zaragon Place 1 opened. The project's architect said retrofit measures were taken to alleviate those concerns, and those same state-of-the-art solutions will be deployed up front in Zaragon Place 2.

Planning Commissioner Wendy Woods relayed concerns raised by the fire department that having two high-rise structures with the same name could potentially lead to confusion about which Zaragon Place to respond to in case of an emergency.

Betzoldt agreed it could be confusing but said it wouldn't be any different than having a dozen McDonald's restaurants in the same city — 911 callers just have to give the right address.

"The brand identity in this particular case is very important to this project," he said. "It's designed to look consistent with the first building, it's a sister product of the first building, and so it's just an issue that's going to have to be carefully resolved if there's a call for help."

Until it was demolished in 2007, the site of the proposed Zaragon Place 2 project contained a one-story bank since the 1970s.

Heywood said when he first came here 15 years ago, there were three sites of concern where redevelopment was going to be vital to the future success of the State Street area.

"Olga's was abandoned on the corner of Washington and State, the old McDonald's was abandoned on Maynard, and the bank had just left the site that we're talking about tonight," he said. "In that 15 years, we've been able to develop two buildings. This would be the third."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.

View a map of recent downtown apartment projects and add your own details:
View Downtown Ann Arbor apartment projects in a larger map


adelaide d

Tue, May 17, 2011 : 4:49 p.m.

I was looking for Ann Arbor Apartments Downtown and came across your site. This is going to be very helpful in my search. Thank you!


Thu, Jun 17, 2010 : 12:01 p.m.

Isn't this in the middle of the proposed Irishtown Historic District? How can this be?

Chrysta Cherrie

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 9:34 p.m.

Glacial, I've added a map. It's open for collaboration if you or other users have additional details to share.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 5:59 p.m.

How about providing a map showing locations in these stories?

The Picker

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 5:28 p.m.

I'll bet that these high rent boxes will raise the rental rates on all student housing. By raising the bar, the comparables will start to look pretty good.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 2:54 p.m.

Regarding the parking issue: A lot of rental companies rent out parking spots and people also sell their allotted parking pass to students looking for parking. At my apartment complex we only have 1 spot but pay for an additional spot at a house 2 doors down through the leasing company. I have a friend who bought a parking permit from someone who didn't have a car but had a pass included in their lease. I'm nowhere near able to afford Zaragon rent & parking isn't an issue so I hardly doubt people who will be living at this complex will have a problem (with their parents) paying extra for a spot somewhere close to the building & not in residential Ann Arbor. Don't worry, your precious parking structures/curb space will most likely be safe & you'll have to find something else to whine about.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 1:06 p.m.

Better then what's there now, but not sure about the big Z on top. Reminds me of Zorro was here.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 1:06 p.m.

Spilling a little bit more of my notes here, I'll add that Ray Detter reminded planning commissioners last night that the development does not further the city's mission to increase the stock of affordable housing in Ann Arbor. "We recognize, however, that none of these units will be affordable in the normal sense in relationship to any standard of low income," he said. "But we'll have to fulfill our commitment to affordable housing on other downtown sites not this one."

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 1:04 p.m.

The city's planning staff said last night that issues with sanitary sewer requirements and a traffic impact study still need to be finalized before the City Council can approve the project. The staff report on Zaragon Place 2 suggests issues related to mitigation for the removal of trees on the property already are worked out. There is one landmark tree, an 18-inch elm tree, growing through asphalt on the west property line, which will be removed. The development will also cause the loss of existing street tree canopy and must provide mitigation for those as well. In all, eight new street trees will be provided three for landmark tree mitigation, four for canopy loss mitigation and one extra.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 12:24 p.m.

@bonsai: "Also, the rental market that will suffer is the decrepit off-campus housing that has been falling into disrepair for years." c'mon. If you knew anything about student rentals you would know that this market rarely suffers. Students are always looking for cheap housing. Crappy landlords know this. Also even "decrepit" rentals are inspected every 2 years by the City Housing Inspection Dept. True, many landlords do the absolute minimum and the market price is reflected in what they can ask. But there is definitely a market for the high end. Remember, 60% of students are out of state and pay 3 times the instate tuition rate. So yeah, they are loaded. $1,000 a bed is nothing to them (read parents). The real effect is on the average to nice house rentals. To get top dollar these landlords will have to continue to upgrade their product to get that top dollar. That being said, many students enjoy living in a house with friends. It's part of the college experience. That's what makes owning real estate in college towns such a stable investment. Even in this market, rental rates rarely if ever go down. At worst they may stay flat for a couple of years. As for parking, you would be surprised at the number of students who do not have cars. Many 6 and 7 bedroom houses only have room for 1 or 2 cars. Take a drive down Greenwood and see what I mean. The developers of The Moravian and Heritage Row should look at Zaragon as an example of how to do it the right way.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

So is the library underground parking structure going to have reserved parking for residents at ZP2? Will parking permits be issued? And what at what cost to students? How many unreserved parking spaces will be available for library patrons? If the Valiant Partners Hotel/Conference Center is built next to the library, will additional parking spaces be reserved for those attending conferences and living in the hotel? How many unreserved parking spaces will remain for use by library patrons?


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 11:30 a.m.

A big off topic, but just curious - has there been discussion of its possible effect on property values in the condominiums across William Street? Looking at an aerial view of that intersection, it seems that this would obstruct most of that building's views to the south...

5c0++ H4d13y

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

I like the big "Z".


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 11 a.m.

Seems like a good fit with a broad enough scope to be viable and should help with the city tax coffers which is helpfull to all of us city single homeowners!

David Cahill

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 9:53 a.m.

This is the right project in the right place. I expect that with this kind of high-quality housing available, and steady student enrollment, we will see students move from the overcrowded old houses in residential neighborhoods into places like this. Then some of those old houses may be re-converted into single family housing. I understand this has happened in other college towns.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 9:49 a.m.

@Dan Rubenstein If I recall correctly, I thought I heard the developer say last night there are 40 parking spaces at Zaragon Place 1 and only 10 residents with cars currently on a waiting list to get a spot there. And those residents on the waiting list, in the meantime, are being channeled to city parking garages managed by Republic Parking, so it was deemed not to be a problem. Supporters of Zaragon Place 2 cited the fact that there will be close to 700 parking spaces nearby in the new underground parking structure being built by the DDA at the Library Lot, so the argument was that demand for parking will be handled. Roger Hewitt also pointed out that a 2007 study done by the Nelson/Nygaard consulting firm recommended that, in an ideal situation, all new parking downtown would be done by the public sector so it could be managed better and so that a system of alternative transportation could be better integrated. Hewitt said if every downtown building site has its own parking, there are going to be a lot of curb cuts, which is not pedestrian friendly. That said, I'll note that a driveway and ramp from Thompson Street are proposed to access the off-street parking at Zaragon Place 2.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

Veracity: Don't you think the developers have done a market study to gauge demand? You must think they're building a 14 story building in hopes that "they will come." Doesn't seem realistic to me. Also, the rental market that will suffer is the decrepit off-campus housing that has been falling into disrepair for years.

Dan Rubenstein

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 8:49 a.m. - It is curious that parking spaces are so fewer than units or beds. What was the logic accepted by the planning commission?

peg dash fab

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 8:36 a.m.

Students own cars, especially students paying large rent. Students can't park in faculty/staff lots, so where will the students' cars go? Your neighborhood, that's where. You know it's true. So give it up, home owners and property tax payers: city planners call dibs on your curb space.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 8:21 a.m.

Is there really demand for student residence that will lease for upwards of $12,000 a year? We read recently in about students finding that the increased UofM tuition creates more financial difficulties for their families. These cost-conscious students, as well as young professionals, may shun costly rentals. While student enrollment is not increasing at the UofM we have seen new rental units added recently through Zaragon Place 1, Courtyards of Ann Arbor, The 411 Lofts and soon UofM's 460 student North Quad residential building. At some point units for lease to students will become so saturated that the resulting vacancies will cause some leasing operations to become unprofitable. The occupancy rate at Zaragon Place 1 was reported as quite good in a recent article but no percentage of occupancy was provided (though requested by the reporter). By that omission less than full occupancy can be assumed. Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Area Association, is overly optimistic about the financial boom that residents of Zaragon Place 1 will bring to the State Street area. Most of the residents of the building are anticipated to be students and perhaps a few young professionals. This population is unlikely to have lots of disposable income to spend in the surrounding upscale stores. Furthermore, as students, these Zaragon Place 2 residents will have been spending the same time on campus near State Street anyway, even if they were living elsewhere in town. However successful Zaragon Place 2 will be, Ann Arbor will always have another high rise structure as part of DDA's effort to change Ann Arbor from a charming university city into a mini-Chicago or mini-New York City. As more and more of these towers dot the downtown landscape let us hope that they are financially successful enough to pay their city taxes. Otherwise how will Ann Arbor benefit? Certainly not by enhancement of Ann Arbor's skyline.


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

Yea! we are going to have jobs come to AA! also more taxes, more shoppers!


Wed, Jun 16, 2010 : 6:48 a.m.

40 parking spaces for 200 residents plus retail tenants? Once again the city of AA is in the business of providing parking for developers.