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Posted on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 : 5:27 p.m.

A2D2 design guidelines for downtown Ann Arbor available for review now, let us know what you think

By Ryan J. Stanton

The updated A2D2 design guidelines for downtown Ann Arbor are now posted on the city's Web site for public review.

A2D2 small.jpg

Give it a read and let us know what you think by commenting. If you don't have time to read it all, here's a brief overview:

The latest 60-page document - being revealed at a community open house Wednesday night - spells out a broad vision for future development in downtown Ann Arbor and details building preferences for various "character districts," including South University, State Street, Liberty/Division, East Huron, Midtown, Main Street, Kerrytown and First Street.

The design guidelines have been developed concurrently with new zoning districts in downtown Ann Arbor. The rezoning and design guidelines have been in the works since fall 2006, when the A2D2 initiative was launched by City Council to implement recommendations from the Calthorpe report, a study of downtown development by an independent consultant.

"This document is a tool for achieving a vision for downtown in which high-quality design is a cornerstone for other community planning objectives," it says. 

In many cases, the guidelines state that established development patterns in many districts already provide a context that should be reinforced by new development. 

But in some places, it says a stronger sense of continuity is needed. 

"Downtown Ann Arbor will remain the heart of the community, becoming even more vibrant as a mix of uses and activities energize the area year-round," the guidelines read. "As the center of cultural and civic functions, as well as commercial activity, downtown will continue to have streets that are active, inviting walking and providing places for community interaction." 

The guidelines emphasize that downtown will be a place for job creation, providing "major employment" for the city’s residents. Retail, dining and entertainment uses will continue to expand, as will professional services, according to the guidelines.

The guidelines also are intended to encourage high-quality designs that will enhance downtown livability. 

"Cultural and civic facilities are designed to create places that celebrate the sense of community," the guidelines state. "These include plazas, courtyards and streetscapes that are symbolic of the quality and role of downtown. Religious places and other community-based organizations thrive as well and contribute to the diversity of design expressions. Well-designed parks, trails and greenways further enhance livability and are linked in a network of recreation and alternative transportation systems." 

City officials say the Downtown Ann Arbor Design Guidelines are only one part of a system of tools - which also includes zoning and historic design guidelines - that help shape downtown development. The vision set forth in the design guidelines is based on much community input, as well as a variety of policy documents and planning efforts, including the 1988 Downtown Plan, the 2006 Recommended Vision and Policy Framework and the 1992 Central Area Plan for Ann Arbor. 

Design guidelines are listed in priority order within each section, with a large red star indicating the highest priorities.

Some starred priorities include: sidewalk-level pedestrian connections, links to open space, urban open spaces for pedestrians, pedestrian-friendly street edges and driveway locations, using landscaped areas to promote energy efficiency, configuring taller building elements to minimize impact on adjacent areas, dividing larger buildings into smaller modules, and designing buildings to maximize solar energy potential. 


Within the South University district, the guidelines list a preference for a diversity of building heights. Along State Street, outdoor spaces and walkway designs should encourage pedestrian activity, such as having wider sidewalks, and courtyards and plazas that can accommodate outdoor furniture.

In the Liberty/Division district, the guidelines encourage sloping roofs that relate to residential structures in the area. In Kerrytown, buildings should maintain the two-story street wall and step down in scale next to older historic structures. 

On First Street, developments along the railroad line should provide green edges, as well as green roofs and roof gardens.

The guidelines state that "excellence and creativity in design will be hallmarks" in the downtown. 

"This is reflected in a higher density of building in some areas; other places step down in scale and promote positive open space to respect transitional edges and lower-scaled settings," the document reads. "These improvements are designed to be compatible with the historic context and contribute to the high energy level in the downtown." 

The guidelines make it clear that Ann Arbor places high importance on having an active pedestrian-friendly environment with parks, plazas and open spaces.

"The urban design principles for downtown promote active, pedestrian-friendly streets and a sense of relatedness among properties," the document reads. "At the same time they also promote excellence in creative design, sustainable building strategies and economic development." 

A community open house event is planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Kerrytown Concert House to officially present the guidelines to the public. The Ann Arbor City Council has postponed the first reading of the A2D2 amendments until its meeting next Tuesday. 

Ryan Stanton covers government for He can be reached at or 734-623-2529.



Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 12:37 p.m.

From the 8/25 article "Ann Arbor residents invited to community open house for unveiling of updated downtown design guidelines": "Higgins said the guidelines are strictly voluntary at this point, though they will stress what kinds of designs the community values."

Chuck Warpehoski

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 11:18 a.m.

Do these guidelines have any force in the review process for proposals? Regarding your point, d, about bike-and-pedestrian friendly issues, that to me seems more an issue of street and sidewalk infrastructure (bike lanes, bike parking, shared use paths, sharrows, etc.) than of building design. Some building design does affect bike use (covered bike parking, shower facilities, etc.), but I'm not sure if those should be part of these guidelines. I actually had the opposite response to Andrew Selinger about making Main Street pedestrian-only. I initially supported it, but then the conversation at ArborUpdate changed my mind. I don't think we have enough density downtown to make that work. Furthermore, right now we have enough people on our sidewalks that they feel lively. If you were to spread the same number of people out across the whole street, the street would feel pretty empty and dead. Also regarding Andrew Selinger's comments, we are getting a State St. CVS store. I'd like to hear suggestions about what it would take to get a downtown grocery store given the cost per square foot and the parking issues.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 9:33 a.m.

Martin -- Page 56 of the 60-page A2D2 guidelines (See link to PDF in story) talks about the Allen Creek flooplain, which you may be interested in. Here's a snippet:.......... "A city goal is to promote development of green space along this cor- ridor. These green space and linkage goals are based on restoring the floodplain and are not always related to public open space. Some proposals call for extensive amounts of public green space; others are more restrained. In each case, there remains the potential for sub- stantial infill building, especially in higher elevations of the area. How- ever, the concept of establishing a sense of a green spine is a key concept, and that is reflected in the special guidelines for this area. Even though development may occur, it is important that a continuous greensward be established. For this reason, all redevelopment should be sited to provide substantial green space on site, and this should be located such that it will connect with green space of abutting prop- erties. This green space should include opportunities to establish a continuous trail through the area as well."


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 7:16 a.m.

The A2D2 guidelines are mostly about style, not substance. We need to look more closely at how things work, not just how they look, because in cities the two go together. For example, the guide mentions a First Street district and mentions the railroad but ignores the most important and potentially beneficial city planning possibility: the Allen Creek Greenway. This is incompetent.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 6:49 a.m.

Good! Downtown is where the large buildings, high-density housing, and condos belong (not in residential areas 5 miles away *cough-42-North-cough* I'm looking forward to a downtown that offers more retailers/unique shops...the last thing I'd want to see is the Briarwood shops moving downtown -- ugh! On a different note: I wish one of the brew-pubs would add "grill your own" grills somewhere...I went to a pub in Wisconsin that had these and it was great way to get conversation going with the other patrons + very tasty.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 5:48 a.m.

I have long felt (based simply on instincts, with no particular historical knowledge or expertise) that Ann Arbor would do well to see how New Haven Connecticut has developed. I'm sure that there are lessons good and bad to be learned from the history of another "one-industry", academicly-depleted taxbase town.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 2:41 a.m.

looks like mayor high rise and his developer buddies are getting ready to build more tall buildings where the people don't want them.

Andrew Selinger

Mon, Aug 31, 2009 : 11:56 p.m.

Here's my Downtown AA Wishlist. Hopefully its a little more thought-provoking than the vague and intuitive recommendations of the A2D2 Report. - Increase residential density - avoid cheap-looking and uninspired architecture like 411 Lofts and Zaragon Place. - Add a downtown grocery store and drug store. If the DDA is preaching density and urban walkability, they have to remove vehicle dependencies. - Bring some "real" retail downtown. Imagine your favorite Briarwood stores in a downtown context. - Convert Main Street to Pedestrian-Only (or at least one way). I was skeptical of this idea at first, but after visiting the 16th Street Mall in Denver I was immediately in support. Plus its hard to navigate Main Street anyway. - Continue to encourage the development of a downtown conference/convention center and hotel. - Build more underground parking and develop current surface lots. - Increase the fundamentals. We need many more trees/plants, much more public art, many more places where people can gather (i.e. more porches, patios, plazas, parks, courtyards, and balconies) - And finally, encourage uniqueness. That's what makes a city special.