Historic District Commission takes stand against student high-rise proposed on East Huron
Humphreys & Partners Architects
The seven-member commission passed a resolution at its meeting last week objecting to the proposed student high-rise development at 413 E. Huron St., calling it "incompatible in scale and massing" with the adjacent Old Fourth Ward Historic District.
The HDC believes the project would "severely and adversely impact" the district, and it's asking city leaders to keep historic preservation in mind when the project comes up for consideration.
"The viability of our historic districts is affected by changes on the edges of a district as well as within the district," the HDC's resolution states.
"We thereby remind the Planning Commission and City Council of our joint obligation to preserve and protect historic districts and recommend that they take all reasonable measures to ensure that this new development will enhance and improve the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, rather than diminish or weaken the viability of this important district."
Humphreys & Partners Architects
The HDC's resolution is the latest development in the controversy over the proposed 14-story student high-rise on East Huron Street. The developers behind the project have been taking heat from neighboring residents and community leaders for several weeks.
After acquiring several properties on Huron Street near Division, the development team — a mix of out-of-state companies — submitted preliminary design plans to the city in late September.
The 213-unit, 14-story high-rise would replace a vacant 10,300-square-foot building, a former Papa John's pizza store and a house.
Representatives with the team, who did not respond to requests for comment, told the city's Design Review Board in October they're excited about the project.
The goal, which they called philosophic in nature, is to integrate the project into the thread of the community by taking a holistic approach to development. They called the design “brave” and “different,” and said the building will hopefully act as a draw to help liven up East Huron Street.
The building materials, black-glazed brick and wood, were chosen because the team tries to use sustainable and organic building materials.
Members of the development team include the property owner, Connecticut-based Greenfield Partners; the developer, Georgia-based Carter; Oregon-based Ace Hotel acting as a design consultant; and Texas-based architect Humphreys & Partners.
Humphreys & Associates Architects
Crockett said context is of paramount importance when designing and constructing a building, and the proposed building at 413 E. Huron jeopardizes the well-being and property values of residents on Ann Street and threatens to diminish their quality of life with a 140-foot, 14-story wall facing north that will create, in her words, "almost permanent shade for much of the year."
"Its sheer scale and massiveness, along with the underground parking going clear to the lot line, also endanger landmark trees on Ann Street and Division by crowding their roots and cutting off sunlight," Crockett said, adding she is concerned the building's size would create such dense shade and occupy so much soil that it would make it nearly impossible for new trees to root and grow where a landscape buffer is required between the building and the Ann Street historic block.
The site is adjacent to Sloan Plaza Condominiums, abuts historic residential homes to the north and is located in the city's East Huron Street character district.
City of Ann Arbor
"The character area includes Harris Hall, the Silas Douglass house, the two Victorian houses on Huron, and the church on the corner of Huron and State," she said, pointing out all of those properties are in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District.
Crockett is referring to the First United Methodist Church at 120 South State St., which dates back to the 1930s. Harris Hall, at 617 E. Huron St., was constructed in 1886 for St Andrew's Episcopal Church to serve as a parish house and student center and remodeled in 1980 for office space.
The Silas Douglass house Crockett referenced was the home of the dean of the University of Michigan's medical school in the 1850s and 1860s. Douglass served as mayor from 1871-1873. He lived in the home at 502 East Huron St. from 1848 until 1902.
Ray Detter, chairman of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, called the HDC's resolution a "very important and courageous statement."
"On behalf of the Downtown Area CAC, I would simply say that we are very pleased to see the Historic District Commission give support to the stated positions of the DDA's Connecting William Street initiative as well as the Downtown Design Guidelines Review Board," Detter said.
"Consideration of context and impact upon downtown character areas and nearby historical and residential neighborhoods should be an important part of the Historic District Commission, Planning Commission and City Council public approval process."
Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager, said the project is tentatively scheduled to go before the city's Planning Commission for review on Jan. 15.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.