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Posted on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

413 East Huron fails to get approval from Ann Arbor Planning Commission

By Brienne Prusak

Editor's note: The Planning Commission vote and the number of votes required for approval have been corrected in this article.

The Ann Arbor Planning Commission failed to recommend to City Council the demolition of two single-story commercial buildings and a residential building in order to make way for a new 14-story apartment and retail building at 413 East Huron Street.


Humphreys & Partners

Planning Commission members voted 5 to 3 Tuesday night in favor of the project, but that's short of the necessary six votes to recommend the construction of the 216-apartment complex called 413 East Huron. Commissioners Wendy Woods, Kenneth Clein and Sabra Briere voted against the proposal. Commissioner Eric Mahler was absent.

The project next moves to council without the planning commission's endorsement.

The council chambers were unusually crowded during Tuesday’s meeting, with at least 60 residents, students and business owners in attendance — more than 30 of whom made their arguments for and against the new building. The proposal has been the subject of opposition since it was brought to the commission on Jan. 15.

Members of the development team were also in attendance, including Connor McNally, Chief Development Officer for the Georgia-based company Carter. Other companies invested in this proposal include the Connecticut-based property owner Greenfield Partners, the Oregon-based design consultant Ace Hotel, and Texas-based architect Humphreys & Partners.

While the public and the commission had varying objections, much of the debate surrounded the zoning of the property as D-1 rather than D-2, a decision that was made by city council in 2009 and allows a large building to be built on this specific lot at the northeast corner of North Division as long as it does not negatively impact the surrounding area.

Commissioner Tony Derezinski voted in favor of the proposal because he said he believed the development team created a plan that aligned with the commission’s expectations and guidelines.

“In a project like this you basically see if they’ve complied with the local ordinance, and, in this case, they have. So this was a simple one. While a lot of the discussion dealt with whether or not the zoning was proper for the area, that decision had been made by city council, they approved that decision some time ago,” he said. “So basically, the dispute as to whether or not it is properly zoned — this is not the forum for that.”

Derezinski added that the development team may choose to make changes to their site plan and reapproach the city council in the future. However, he added that unless there are major changes to their plan, they would not return to the planning commission. The planning commission has only approved five or six site plans under the city's new zoning ordinance, Derezinski said.

City Councilmember and Commission Sabra Briere voted against the proposal because she was concerned that the development team hadn’t thoroughly completed all the requirements required of them before submitting a plan, like complying with the citizens participation ordinance and fulfilling the site plan guidelines.

“The city guidelines express community values,” she said. “This (building) is also art, and the inspiration is lacking.”

Connor McNally, Carter’s Chief Development Officer, opened the public hearings period by defending the complex as an addition that would bring “vibrancy to an underutilized quarter of Ann Arbor.”

The developer has been very thoughtful in its design of the building, McNally said. Representatives of the company met with the city’s design board in October, months after purchasing the properties on the site, and they were able to use the feedback they received to make significant changes. These changes actually increased the cost of the project that was previously expected to cost approximately $45 million, he added.

Ann Arbor residents and the city’s planning staff provided the developer with suggestions for alternate configurations to better appease all members involved. However, the developer said the suggestions “would not fit thier development model,” according to a Jan. 16 article.

Opponents of the building’s approval said that the building would be too tall to complement Ann Arbor’s architecture, especially in the historical district. Additionally, some argued that there are already enough apartments downtown to accommodate students and this building in particular could harm the natural environment.

Chris Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, said the building — that would be larger than The Varsity and Sterling 411 Lofts combined — would affect the historic district because would increase traffic in the area and detract from the historical beauty.

“The student warehouse … ghettoizes the neighborhood and will decrease property values,” she said.

Barbara Hall, treasurer of the Old West Side Association, echoed those sentiments and said that she believes the structure offers “bleakness instead of benefit.”

“The Planning Commission can and should deny approval of this site plan,” Hall said. “(The site plan) demonstrates little regard for existing high-quality environments.”

Adam Lowenstein, a local bar and restaurant owner, said that as a business owner he would welcome an establishment like the proposed complex because of the money it brings to his businesses and the tax dollars is brings to parks, historic areas and schools in Ann Arbor.

“A project like this that brings this number of people downtown is welcomed,” he said. “Small businesses need this type of density.”

While the proposal was brought to the commission on Jan. 15, the planning commission postponed the vote until Tuesday because they were awaiting a complete traffic study from the Michigan Department of Transportation to ensure that building like this would increase traffic in the area.

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Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:16 p.m.

Did anyone else notice that the planning commissioners who voted for this project displayed the same insensitivity to public comments and the Design Guidelines that the project's developers did?


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

Remember that wonderful term, "irrational exuberance?"


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 8:48 p.m.

So as long as a proposal meets minimal zoning requirements, there are no architectural standards to be met? And if there is no demand for the units in this monstrosity, who picks up the pieces when the developer goes bankrupt? How will we like it when these big places are abandoned? How will we like our downtown then? Who will pay to demolish?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:45 a.m.

We could house the homeless in these monstrosities!!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

complement, not compliment

Julie Baker

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 8:46 p.m.

Thanks, that's fixed.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

The main thing wrong with this proposed structure is the size. Fourteen stories and almost a city block wide, it looks like "The Hulk". It will also do its part to create a wind tunnel down Huron St.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 7 p.m.

Please, Brienne Prusak, learn the difference between to words "compliment" and "complement." They sound the same but have very different meanings. In the paragraph beginning with the word "Opposition" the correct word here is complement--with an e.

Scott Reed

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 6:19 p.m.

How sad. A tiny minority of historical enthusiasts and property owners in that area obstruct a development that would be a huge benefit to the downtown and the city as a whole. That corner is blighted and pedestrian-hostile; a large mixed-use development is exactly what we need there. Perhaps what they are truly worried about is that the rental income from their "historical" dilapidated houses will decrease when a more attractive competitor comes along. These are the exactly the type of "Not in my backyard" people that are destroying America.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:42 a.m.

Scott- You have it backwards!!! These are exactly the type of "Not in my backyard" people who ARE SAVING America!!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 7:04 p.m.

Perhaps they are the ones protecting America from being destroyed

Duc d'Escargot

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

One of these days it will dawn on the illustrious writers and editors of that there is a difference between the verbs "to compliment" and "to complement."


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

zoning of this property has been visited and revisited by appointed and elected officials in the last few years. the current zoning has been up for public debate many times. the project meets zoning rules and regulations. if some don't like what has evolved via this due process, gather together and purchase the property outright ..... and preserve it as may be desired.

Robbi Duda

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

"Five years from now on the web for free you'll be able to find the best lectures in the world," he said. "It will be better than any single university.",news-7727.html . So in many towns their universities will have an excess in buildings that will need to be repurposed. I suggest they be used for senior housing and intergenerational housing. And for some students who may come here to do internships. The internet and the aging population effects should be dictating the future the cities' planning departments....


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

That building would be hideous anywhere. Humphreys & Partners should be embarrassed. If you can't even make it look good in the promo...


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

Not mentioned in the AA dot com article is the fact that a "shadow study" was omitted from previous meeting packets........ There is much more detail about the traffic issues in the AA Chronicle article, and these will be considerable. There is NO mention of parking for this monster building in either article. All that is mentioned is space for bicycle parking. Maybe the developers don't realize that rich UM students all drive cars and need parking.....those streets around the area in the adjacent historic district will be overwhelmed with cars if this goes through. And it will. A few protesters from the 'hood won't make any difference. This building will have a major negative impact on Sloan Square residents, noise, construction, shadows throughout the day and a view that is totally blocked on the west side of the Sloan Square condos. Good luck!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 6:40 p.m.

Yeah, save the views for that GORGEOUS Sloan Plaza.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Please, no more Soviet era architecture. Enough!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

I'm not sure why doesn't include in these articles the fact that the property was always zoned D1 and in 2009 the decision was to keep it D1 not change it from D2 to D1. It's been D1 for 80 years. Actually, in 2009 the decision to keep it D1 included new height restrictions. Before 2009 the building could have been much taller and bigger. I'm sure the majority of people following this have no idea what really happened regarding zoning of this property in 2009. It would be nice to see an article that clarifies this.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

Good question. Or statement, I guess.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

Another monster student warehouse that overwhelms the neighborhood. Keep turning AA into Disneyland for rich students and drive out the long term residents and the businesses that cater to them. Central AA will end up with a larger student ghetto, overpriced restaurants and bars, and not much else. Increased crime and trash, not enough parking on site, and increased noise will all follow from this monstrosity if it is built. Oh, but wait, the city will get all kinds of new tax revenue and the out of state developers will get fatter wallets, all at the expense of the long term residents of AA and the neighborhood.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

I think that was the economic plan. Vibrant student party town inside, peaceful professorial suburbia outside (complete with serene parks, white rapids, and Whole Foods), and poor worker schleps being bused, railed, or biked in from somewhere beyond the green belt. All paid for by professors and successful alumni parents who enjoyed their most memorable moments at the U. Brilliant! Now all we have to do is ensure a successful alumni reproduction rate maintained at 2.0 or better and the City will practically run itself...


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

"This (building) is also art, and the inspiration is lacking" Really? You voted against a project because it is lacking inspiration? The lawyers will have a field day with comments like this.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:39 p.m.

We get the government we deserve. We keep re-electing them, and then we are surprised at what comes out of their mouths. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

I think the council has already established their "art credentials" with that blinky blue light thing in front of City Hall. You can't be serious!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

It's time to turn that frown upside down!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

Buildings like this help preserve "Historic" districts in that they are a much better place to live than the crappy student rentals that used to be single family homes. Hopefully, as the students move to the new luxury digs, some of the dilapidated rentals will revert to single family homes once again.

Linda Peck

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

This is great news! It was certainly not the right building for that corner. I'll bet the residents of the Sloan building are relieved with this news, as well as all of the residents of the beautiful homes on Division adjacent to this property.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

Ummm.. the Sloan building is just as ugly as this thing. Maybe worse.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

This decision is only a reccomendation.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:54 p.m.

Voila, a petition is a fantastic idea! Thanks LCIX, okay residents of the historic area get busy. Put the heft of signatures behind your objections and present it to council ASAP!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:35 p.m.

I could do a slide show of 100+ apartment buildings that would: 1. fit the neighborhood design zeitgeist and win neighbor's approval 2. be profitable to build 3. be considered an asset to the city. But these people would not consider building any of those buildings because they do not MAXIMIZE profits. They would make a profit but would not maximize their profits. You can only maximize profits by building the largest allowable structure at the cheapest possible quality to meet the minimum guidelines and that's what this building is.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:28 p.m.

The key to gaining approval for these sorts of endeavors is to design them to look like dilapidated Victorian houses. That way, the people of Ann Arbor (at least, the sort who show up at planning commission meetings) will support you in droves.

John of Saline

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

Turrets are cool.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Maybe my reading comprehension skills are truly lacking, but doesn't this article says the opposite of this one: Was the vote 4-3 (as this article says) or 5-3 (as the other article says)?

Cindy Heflin

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

The vote was 5-3. This has been corrected in the article. Also, 6 votes are required to send the project to council with an approval recommendation. That has been corrected, also.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

I think the answer is 5-3, but still a technical denial.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

Wow, totally opposite reporting. We'll see which one is right!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

It ain't over 'till the fat building sings... Rejected because - A. VIP neighbors worried about their view of the bubblestick. B. VIP competition worried about a decrease in wealthy students. C. Slight of political hand. Will still be approved as a "redesigned" monolith - part deux. Did you know that the people of Pittsfield Township could petition government to halt the A2 Airport expansion? (If you read yesterday's A2com news you probably know that) Did you also know that area zoning could be changed through public petition? Some say the city would be sued if they unilaterally re-zoned the area at this time. But what about if all those irate citizens "forced" them to with a petition?


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

Interesting suggestion. Area residents could bring legal action to halt further action until a city-wide vote on a petition to re-zone the property. A legal opinion is required.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

Thank you to the planning commissioners and the citizens of Ann Arbor who opposed this development. As it is proposed, it is simply not an appropriate development for this location. The development team has not sincerely responded to input provided by the community and the design review board.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

But, like the Keystone XL pipeline, there will be no stopping it. This is just a few human speed-bumps. Maybe there's an empty lot on Lakeshore Drive or Sheridan in Chicago where they can build this beast?