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Posted on Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 8:33 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials debating whether A2D2 design guidelines should be made mandatory

By Ryan J. Stanton

Updated at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Tonight marked the first time Ann Arbor officials can recall the City Council, Planning Commission and Downtown Development Authority ever holding a joint working session of the three bodies.

The occasion: A review of the revised A2D2 guidelines for development in downtown Ann Arbor. The major question posed tonight was whether the guidelines should be mandatory or voluntary.

"How do you legislate design?" asked City Councilman Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward, suggesting that the beauty of a design is in the eye of the beholder.

No clear consensus was reached, but the City Council ultimately will decide before it adopts the guidelines, possibly as early as next month.

Abe Barge, a planner with Colorado-based consultant Winter & Co., told city officials tonight the guidelines that his firm helped develop will provide a vision to enhance downtown Ann Arbor and promote sustainability and excellence in design. The guidelines - the work of several years of discussion and community input - are complementary to zoning amendments that will come before the City Council on Oct. 19.

Barge said he's helped other communities across the country implement design guidelines and he's convinced the A2D2 guidelines, in their current form, could be made mandatory. Concerns that voluntary guidelines may lack teeth and may not end up shaping the development process are legitimate, he said.

"Clearly, when they're voluntary, development is much less likely to acknowledge the principles that are in the guidelines," Barge said.

Ideas discussed tonight included establishing a design review board that would act in an advisory capacity to help the city determine how well projects comply with the intent of the A2D2 guidelines. City staff said they've considered creating a checklist of the design guidelines that developers would have to fill out with site plans and submit to city staff for review and feedback.

Barge said other communities where design guidelines have helped shaped downtowns include Athens, Ga., Boulder, Colo., and Helotes, Texas.

On a separate note, city officials announced today they are inviting the public to two meetings to discuss proposed amendments to city zoning and off-street parking ordinances. The changes pertain primarily to standards that regulate commercial density, height and setbacks. 

Jayne Miller, the city's community services area administrator, said the two meetings are not part of the A2D2 process but instead are part of the Area, Height and Placement planning process, which is for areas across the city that are outside the downtown.

The first meeting will be held Tuesday Sept. 29 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Road. The format will be roundtable discussions with opportunity to discuss topics in small groups.

The second meeting, in the format large group discussion, will be held Wednesday, Oct. 7 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Road.

A video of the presentation and other project information can be viewed prior to the meetings on the city's Web site.

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



Wed, Sep 16, 2009 : 4:35 a.m.

"... How do you legislate design?...". How do you legislate creativity?. How do you legislate art?. How do you legislate freedom of speech and expression?. This is Ann Arbor c.2010?. Oh, yes. It seems that Ann Arbor has become the place where small-minded government wishes to micromanage, censor, or control anything it does not understand, such as change.. What about the concept of form in relation to function?. What about the concept of beauty being subjective?. What about the evolution of architectural style?. Who will these new architecture police be?. Who will pay for them?. How much will this all cost the City, not only in terms of budget, but also in missed opportunity related to increasing subjective and arbitrary rules of development?. Who will pay for it?. Architectural building aesthetics are the largest problems facing us now?. How about implementing the concept of averting one's glance if visual aesthetics are displeasing to a2 micro government? This is free!

Jennifer Santi Hall

Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 1:16 p.m.

Actually, last night's work session was not the first time all three bodies met together. A few years back, when the Calthorpe consultants were hired to begin discussing downtown issues, the three bodies met several times in working sessions.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 12:20 p.m.

KGS, you're right. Those two meetings are part of the Area, Height and Placement planning process, which is for areas across the city that are outside the downtown. I hope this clarifies that.

Chuck Warpehoski

Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 9:48 a.m.

Clan, many of the buildings that have gone up recently without design guidelines have been cookie-cutter. I don't think you can legislate creativity. You can legislate things like making the streetscape pedestrian friendly and ensuring that the mass of the building does not overwhelm feel from the sidewalks.


Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 9:21 a.m.

By making guidelines mandatory, particularly ones that are often written by people with little experience in writing mandatory regulations, will only make developers work the loopholes and ambiguity of the ordinance to the disadvantage of the public. There must be some leeway for knowledgeable and experienced people to interpret and apply the guidelines for proposed developments.


Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 1:17 a.m.

New York tried design standards many years ago. The result was numerous buildings that, from a distance, looked like a collection of stairways not quite up to heaven. New Yorkers tired of this and repealed the design rules. New York Times critic Ada Louise Huxtable said Alas, good zoning doth not great architecture make. As in New York, design standards here will probably result in cookie cutter buildings downtown. Few if any developers will sue. It costs too much and takes too long. Instead they will design to copy some other building recently approved. Is this what we really want? The promoters of these standards say they are flexible. Isnt flexible a euphemism for arbitrary, or subjective? Should planning commissioners and city council members determine the shape, color and texture of future buildings? Perhaps it would be better to leave this to trained professional architects. Are we so afraid of an occasional goof that we must stifle creativity?

Fred Posner

Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 9:56 p.m.

"Abe Barge, a planner with Colorado-based consultant Winter & Co..." It's great to see local money being spent out of state. I'm certain that there was someone qualified within the county, let alone the state, that could have consulted for the city. Shame on the city for neglecting to provide jobs like this to in-state companies / consultants.