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Posted on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Legal threats arise as Ann Arbor City Council delays moratorium on new downtown development

By Ryan J. Stanton


City Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, believes it's time to evaluate the impact of D1 zoning on adjacent neighborhoods.

Ryan J. Stanton |

After an hour-long closed session with the city attorney, the Ann Arbor City Council voted 9-0 Tuesday night to delay consideration of a moratorium on new downtown development.

The only reason given for the postponement was that Council Member Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, was absent from the meeting. Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, was absent, too.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward and the primary sponsor of the resolution, said Higgins wanted to be part of the deliberations.

Aside from that brief statement, council members didn't publicly discuss the proposed six-month moratorium, which was the subject of legal threats Tuesday night.


Pat Lennon, a Kalamazoo-based attorney representing the developer of a proposed 14-story high-rise at 413 E. Huron St., appears before the Ann Arbor City Council Tuesday night in opposition to a moratorium on downtown developments.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Attorneys representing the property owner and the developer behind a 14-story student high-rise proposed at 413 E. Huron St. called the moratorium a thinly veiled attempt to put a roadblock in the way of their clients' project just as it was to come before council for approval.

"Our client was stunned to learn about this proposed moratorium virtually on the eve of their opportunity to be considered by City Council," said Pat Lennon, an attorney representing the developer, Georgia-based Carter.

"I'm here tonight because we think this is a pretty extreme situation," he said.

Lennon said if the moratorium gets approved, his client will be reviewing its legal rights. He said the moratorium raises a number of legal questions.

"First, based on all the circumstances in this case, it appears to be directed at one applicant and one project. That's our client," he said.

"We heard no mention of a moratorium prior to our client's progress through the application process," he added. "This has been going on for months. We heard no mention of a review of the D1 (core downtown zoning district) or any other issue for that matter, so we are understandably frustrated by this turn of events."

The council will take up the issue of the moratorium, which Briere proposed to give the city's Planning Commission time to re-evaluate the city's downtown zoning, at its March 4 meeting.

Also postponed Tuesday night was a resolution sponsored by Briere and Higgins to reconvene the city's Design Guidelines Task Force to review and make recommendations to the City Council regarding improvements to the city's design guidelines and design review process.

A revised version of Briere's moratorium resolution was circulated on Tuesday with Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, joining as a co-sponsor. It would give the Planning Commission until June 4 to evaluate the impact of D1 zoning on adjacent neighborhoods.

All petitions for site plan approval in the D1 core downtown zoning district would be deferred for up to six months with only a few exceptions. One exception would be petitions recommended for approval by the Planning Commission but not considered by the City Council prior to Feb. 19.

Because the 413 E. Huron project wasn't recommended for approval by the Planning Commission, it would be put on hold under the moratorium.

Susan Friedlaender, an attorney representing the property owner, Connecticut-based Greenfield Partners, called the moratorium ill-advised. She suggested the council might be reacting to the concerns of a "vocal minority" that has spoken out against the 413 E. Huron project.

Friedlaender said when the city adopted the new A2D2 zoning for downtown in 2009 it gave others the reasonable expectation the new zoning laws would have some measure of stability.


A north perspective for the 14-story high-rise proposed at 413 E. Huron St. in downtown Ann Arbor

Humphreys & Partners Architects

"You knew or should have known that those laws would encourage significant investment in this city," she told council members, adding her client had a reasonable expectation that if it invested in the city, the rug would not be pulled out from under it.

After acquiring the properties along Huron Street near Division, the development team submitted preliminary design plans to the city in late September.

The plans call for 216 apartment units with 533 bedrooms, 132 underground parking spaces for automobiles and 144 parking spaces for bicycles. The new high-rise would replace a vacant 10,300-square-foot building, a former Papa John's pizza store and a house.

The project has been hugely controversial and is being opposed by the city's Historic District Commission and many residents who live in the adjacent historic neighborhoods. They packed the council chambers Tuesday night to watch the council's deliberations.

Attorney Susan Morrison is representing Ilene and Norman Tyler, who are residents in the Division Street Historic District. Their house sits in the would-be shadow of the proposed high-rise.

Morrison sent a two-page letter to Mayor John Hieftje and council members on Tuesday urging adoption of the moratorium resolution.

"As noted in the resolution's preamble, the city has compelling reasons to adopt this moratorium resolution," it reads. "Among other valid reasons, it should be noted that conforming the zoning ordinance to the adopted master plan is indisputably a valid basis for a temporary moratorium."

Morrison noted the council's revised resolution gives any aggrieved petitioner the right to a hearing in front of the City Council for potential relief from the moratorium.

Lennon maintains the timing is dubious.

"At the end of the day, it appears to us that the proposed moratorium and potential changes to the ordinance can be seen as a last effort to avoid making a final decision on our client's by-right project," he said. "In our view, any such use of the moratorium process would be improper."

A memo accompanying the moratorium resolution notes the city's May 2009 Downtown Plan has stated goals to "protect the livability of residentially zoned neighborhoods adjacent to downtown" and to "encourage design approaches which minimize the extent to which high-rise buildings create negative impacts in terms of scale, shading and blocking views."

The city's November 2009 Master Plan also talks about instances in which houses are overshadowed by larger commercial, residential or institutional buildings that are out of scale.

"New downtown development will be encouraged," it states, "But at the same time, existing assets and valued downtown characteristics will be conserved and strengthened. This balance between conservation and change will be fostered by emphasizing the use of incentives and guidelines."

University of Michigan professor Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of architecture and urban planning, told council members a review of the downtown zoning makes sense.

"Ann Arbor has the opportunity to have a well-defined downtown core with crisp edges, rather than the usual loose checkerboard of most American downtowns," he said. "If we limited the D1 zone to the true inner core, it would lend a distinctive character to our city's center."

Kelbaugh added, "Right now with the existing code, you could build 180-foot buildings right across the street from Hill Auditorium, right across the street from the Hands On Museum, right next to Nickels Arcade, right next to some historic houses. It's a pretty abrupt transition."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Frustrated in A2

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 5:44 a.m.

I'm shocked Marcia Higgins wasn't at the meeting. I say that as sarcastically as I possibly can.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

Recently read the following excerpt from the Burlington Free Press about a new high rise apartment complex (Stratos project) in Burlington, VT. Different city, different state, but issues with how a proposed high rise apartment building relates to surrounding historical architecture and the city are the same. "The project's forward momentum and financing stalled...with municipal concerns that the building's height would pose too abrupt a transition between downtown and adjacent residential neighborhoods."

Widow Wadman

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9:07 p.m.

I agree with Mr. Lennon. "First, based on all the circumstances in this case, it appears to be directed at one applicant and one project. That's our client." I hope that someone runs against Ms. Briere in the future. I don't think that proposing a moratorium on construction downtown is in the best interest of tax payers. She is putting the City up for a legal fight and unnecessary court costs. I think this is a project that a vocal minority of Ann Arbor residents opposes. I support approval of this construction project.

P Beal

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9 p.m.

How can we prevent people who don't have to live with the decisions they force from having a voice in their determination? It's desirable but how can it be made equitable?


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 7:57 p.m.

Yay! A review does make sense, an illegal moratorium for no reason does not.

Linda Peck

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 7:08 p.m.

I am surprised that the whole, minus the absentees, city council caved when one attorney shows up. WOW!


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 7 p.m.

If the kids are moving to these luxury digs, that means they are moving out of the dumps that used to be single family homes. Maybe these formerly "nice" homes will revert to single family homes once again.

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:44 a.m.

D2 zoning will move kids out of old homes, and not trash historic disctricts.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9:34 p.m.

I seriously doubt many of these single family homes that were divided up into apartments will revert to single family homes. These houses have been butchered, cut into apartments with added baths and kitchens (done on the cheap), added fire escapes from all levels, paved over lawns for parking, etc. It's not likely the owners will spend the $$ to take these structures back to their former use as single family homes. It's just too costly and many of these neighborhoods have been taken over by students living in these divided houses and are not desirable for families. Even if a handful of them went back to single family houses, many others as student apartments would remain. Most likely they will sell them if they can't rent them to students, and out of town "developers" will buy them up and tear them down for more student warehouses.

say it plain

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

They haven't been "nice", many of them, for a looooong time. And why would they revert to single family homes so quickly? Some of the owners will be able to afford to sell at reasonable prices, if they've sat on these a long time, but given the housing bubble I'd bet some of them were bought fairly recently, at over-inflated prices, and those prices tend to be 'sticky'. It would take a special desire to own one to justify buying still-too-high, and then spending the money to refurbish in a big way. I think some of them will just be bought by investors who will fix them up and re-rent them to the UM students who prefer getting a bunch of friends together and renting a house, and they will still gouge these kids on price, for what they're getting.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 6:54 p.m.

Does the A2 City Council make decisions about what is built downtown, or do the attorneys for developers? Looking at our growing downtown skyline with its dominance of skyrise bloc housing, I'd say so far, the attorneys for the developers make the decisions. a pity...

say it plain

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 7:19 p.m.

But the developers have an easy time getting their way when the Council set up regulations allowing it. Honestly...*waiting until there was a good number of projects to evaluate*?! What kind of poor excuse for city governance is that? They got themselves busy about whirligigs and art funding and little backyard disputes over towing ugly cars, but they waited until the *totally predictable* flood of college-bubble development projects came in and had to by their new laws be approved to decide they needed to evaluate their zoning plans!? Bike paths and crosswalks and allll that, while highrise canyons of boarding houses go up, and suddenly now they're starting to sweat it a little? I guess only when one of the Council members is feeling a little impinged on maybe?!

average joe

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 6:50 p.m.

Is there any reason why a moratorium needs to be implemented just to 'review' the A2D2 Zoning ordinance?

say it plain

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

Looks like *once again* the City "leaders" messed up. They predictably open themselves up to law suits if they do their zoning and planning regulations poorly and only once the developers have lined up their profit-ducks do they claim they need to reconsider. Developers would win any legal battle. The city took too seriously all the bunk about how it needs to get more 'development-friendly' and now we have to live with the consequences. Ann Arbor missed the cranes other cities saw during the silly bubbly condo-building craze in the naughties, for the most part anyhow. Now, with the UM being *the* driver of the economy here, we will not miss the overbuilding of the college-costs bubble. Sure the slumlord-millionaires of the old run-down converted single-families and small multi-families near campus will rightfully get screwed by these developments, but the consumer will continue to get treated similarly for the foreseeable future--again, because of the UM and their perpetual lack of concern for their students and their students' budgets (of course they're hardly alone in this, but their kids are left with *a lot* of debt compared to comparable schools). And the citizens of Ann Arbor will also either love (?! really?! I have a hard time with this opinion but clearly it exists!) or hate the new landscape. I think in the end it will actually make the sprawl *worse* too...because families will live farther out and drive to strip malls for their entertainment, their shopping, and their 'hanging out', given the increasingly unappealing downtown. Downtown will be a little disneyland of consumption filled with posers and passers-through and visitors. This is all fine with the DDA, who have been allowed to run our city for waaaay too long. Even the people who like to pretend AA is NYC-lite have to admit the housing we're getting isn't more than (often ugly) supplemental dorms!


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5:56 p.m.

And it does seem worthwhile to do at least a little inquiring into whether the recent spate of "landlord-tenant" disputes that have resulted in many long-time small businesses leaving the "central core" of Ann Arbor may be at all related to the new zoning laws. And if there is found to be any relationship, it might be at least worth asking ourselves whether such perhaps unintended consequence are desirable, and whether there might be any way to not continue down such a road, before it is too late to stop it........


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

And perhaps we need to think a lot more deeply about what it means to use our tax dollars to support a university so that university can use those tax dollars to purchase property that then reduces our tax base........... There's a circularity there that seems a bit troublesome.........


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

Maybe the city should stop buying devolpment rights and vacant land in neighboring townships and begin purchasing land inside the cities borders -

C. Robert Snyder

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:57 p.m.

Oakland ... "there is no there there!" Back to the future! Gertrude Stein's famous 1935 exclamation about Oakland, CA ( "...there is no there there!") upon returning some 35 years later to the town of her birth and early childhood was written to convey the painful nostalgia about her home being gone and the land around it being completely changed. The same "painful nostalgia" can also be said about today's and tomorrow's Ann Arbor residents as they hunker down for the painful transformation from mixed-use residential college town to six-bedrooms-per-rental-unit 14-story monolithic boarding houses. Ann Arbor "...there is no there there!" (or "here") is rapidly becoming the reaction when townies and returning grads look in dismay at what our elected officials, planners, and developers have inflicted on "our Ann Arbor, Mich-ee-gan!" All this, these politicos, bureaucrats, and money speculators assert, for the sake of making "Tree Town" more fetching to students and "young urban professionals" who hitch-hike through town and gown to get their degrees, passports to large urban 500,000-plus populated cities on coasts east and west! After all, they scoff, why stay, work and raise a family in a once-attractive tree-town when ".. there is no there there!" Ann Arbor, once the City of Trees, was named for the two Anns, wives of two early settlers. But the fate of landmark trees standing in the path of "development" is another story! It takes a bit longer for these trees to give up and die than it does to build a 14-story boarding house. But die they will! Ann Arbor"... there is (or shall soon be) no here here!"

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:42 a.m.

Rob, Hope you are doing well. Arboriginal, A few high-rise dorms on North Campus will deal with the slum lords. We do not have to trash historic neighborhoods to save Burns Park.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 6:56 p.m.

As the kids vacate the student ghettos in favor of the high rises, let's hope that the slums of single family homes divided into multiple apartments revert to single family homes once again.

say it plain

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 6:20 p.m.

It's actually starting to feel like swampland again in a way a big tall swamp of nasty-looking tall buildings built for an invasive species passing through. High-rise after high-rise of boarding houses are *not* human-scale or desirable, and feel like a bog-landscape outside the control of people interested in the 'place' that Ann Arbor is. I totally agree with @C. Robert Snyder!


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

It was swampland 200 years ago.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:57 p.m.

I have wondered for many years why so many universities are surrounded by a very run-down neighborhood--it never made sense that a vibrant intellectual community with a large student population as consumers of local services would be surrounded by a non-vibrant neighborhood. Perhaps Ann Arbor is in the process of living that transition, unless we are wise enough to understand the forces at work and do things differently. I am not an urban planner, but there seems to be one city that seems to stand out as an example of vibrancy and sustainable development--Chicago. One of the hallmarks of Chicago's neighborhoods is the abundance of 2- and 3- and 4-story residential housing--both condos and apartments--often one building owned by a family renting out one or two units and living in one themselves. It seemed that Ann Arbor was choosing also to go down that road, and with good results.....until this latest excursion into highrise developments. As we think about fire safety and rescue, effects of power outages, costs of heating and air-conditioning, and other very important issues of sustainability, perhaps we need to think more deeply about what sustainable living really looks like.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

There are several reasons to put the brakes on at this time; any time is going to disrupt someone's plans. As far as vested rights, citizens as well as developers can rely on a body of law which clearly defines the point at which a developer is at risk. First, there is a conflict between chapters of the City Code regarding certain aspects of any development at the northern border of the DDA District. Whether City Council supports review by any one agency with a moratorium, this must be resolved either at the Zoning Board of Appeals or elsewhere. Second, the current provisions were actually written to be reviewed after one year. This was delayed to get a representative number of projects. All parties were on notice as to this required re-evaluation. Asking for a six-month stay is not at all unusual and should not be determinative of the viability of any single development or group of developments. They merely pause. Third, Planning Commission and other agencies are already set to revisist the viability of a mandatory process with voluntary compliance. In other words, staff need guidance as to what constitutes a meaningful process or the process needs to be free from procedures that are meaningless. Fourth, there is some pressure to explain why a special D1 zone exists in light of other authority such as the Michigan enabling statute, land use/zoning caselaw and City documents such as the Master Plan and A2D2 recommendations. A lawsuit could include that aspect regardless of what developers choose to do. In other words, if D2 zoning fits the bill, why wasn't it used only along one facet of downtown? Finally, from an urban planning perspective, it is perfectly correct to question the concentration of a particular type of development in a choice location. This is not asking if the student housing market is saturated but rather if another student housing high rise is the best use for limited downtown space. A2 is very buildable marketwise.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

Our City's attorney Steve Postema will tell Council it must cave in to these out of town developers. He loves to boast that he's never lost a case (see the recent article in the Observer). No attorney who is worth his salt and has practiced that many years can say that -- that's because they fight on close question and understand that 99 times out of 100 in civil cases a compromise is reached. The last thing this developer wants to do is get involved in litigation -- the longer it goes, the more they have to wait to build with very, very uncertain results in a piece of litigation. The law is actually quite good for the City here, just not 100% clear because it never is. Still, absent some change in practice, the advice will be to cave. Shameful.

say it plain

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

And your law degree is from...? Wait, if 99/100 civil cases entail a 'compromise', then wouldn't an attorney worth his salt only take to trial those cases he's confident of winning? So, a smart lawyer would discourage posturing that might result in the need for 'compromise' (e.g., making concessions to a developer who thinks he has a chance of winning damages at trial)? It's not my goal to advocate for Postema, just wondering about that "shameful" conclusion you draw.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

The big developers are making money hand over fist--and threatening to sue when they don't get everything they want. Imagine what happens to these highrises in 20 years, when they are no longer "state of the art" and certainly were *never* beautiful. Who will choose to live there then? Will they *still* be contributing so much to the Ann Arbor tax base? Or, like the public library built 25 years ago, will we be asked to foot the bill for demolition even while (it is my understanding) the bond that paid for its construction is still being paid off.......? It would seem there is very little that is sustainable about such development carried out in the name of short-term expediency and profit. And the special small businesses that used to be the backbone of Ann Arbor--like Blimpy Burger, and the wonderful Eastern Accents bakery that makes the most delicious red bean buns and raisin bread in the world--are either going out of business, or being forced to move from their long-time droves. What is wrong with this picture? And what can we all do to help fix it, before Ann Arbor becomes the latest university town to lose its financial stability, along with the character and diversity that gave it that stability?


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

City council buffoons get caught with hand in cookie jar.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

Pat Lennon, boo-huh.

Go Blue

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Last I checked, this was O U R town, not the developers. We pay the taxes and we vote for those we want to represent us. If you don't like the way they are handling things, then get to to voting booth and make the changes you will be happy with. That's the only way things happen. Write and complain all day long gets nothing done. If you're sick of the ongoing highrise construction or love it, don't lose site of the fact that its our votes that decide the actions our representatives take (or so one hopes). Whether or not you like all the tall buildings going up, it is getting old to learn that developers coming to down expect to get what they want, when they want and if they do not, they get on the "I'll sue you" bandwagon. Sounds like a spoiled child having a temper tantrum. Their lack of respect to us, the taxpayers and property owners and to our town is annoying. Maybe we should head to wherever the developers live and start throwing our weight around in their hometowns. A little respect goes a long way.

John of Saline

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 6:43 p.m.

If they follow the rules as written, then you play games with them and change the law afterwards, they have the right to sue. Remember the fight over Wal-Mart? Pittsfield Township had zoned that open field as retail for decades. There was nothing to be done when Wal-Mart bought it, because it was retail. Don't want that there? Rezone before someone buys it.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

These legal threats, and the entitlement attitudes of developers looking to get richer, are a perfect example of why the a2 laws need to be changed to give the council more flexibility to respond and deny bully developers.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:34 p.m.

So, your plan is to give hizzoner and his minions more power to be arbitrary and capricious? Is that it? What could possibly go wrong?


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:23 p.m.

Uh our city council designed and approved the zoning change a few years ago. The developers are operating within the guidelines set forth by the Mayor and council. the council seems to be playing games that wanted to change down town; they don't like it now they want to change it again.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

Too often, NIMBYism attempts to greenwash itself in environmental rhetoric. It is absurd to suggest that more density in the city is a greater environmental detriment than tearing up countryside and forests, and building more roads with longer commutes. Some people simply want Ann Arbor to remain a small, primarily suburban community. While they are certainly entitled to their opinion, they are not being honest if they attempt to pass that environmentally destructive vision off as green.

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:39 a.m.

In SE Michigan, "green" development can ONLY happen in Detroit: all else is SPRAWL, no matter how many LEED certifications it has. Trashing Ann Arbor's historic districts to cater to undergraduates who are ALREADY HERE will not make high rises "green". Ann Arbor is a college town, a community in its own right. It is neither a suburb, nor the new central city of SE Michigan. Accommodating the further abandonment of Detroit and Wayne County will not make Ann Arbor green.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

"The only reason given for the postponement was that Council Member Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, was absent from the meeting." Can we get a nice table or other visual that clearly shows the date of each meeting, and the members present vs. absent? If a member is frequently unable to attend meetings, they should take a hiatus. Or resign.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:24 p.m.

Woot. Ryan J. Stanton - investigative journalist on the prowl! :-) Maybe my impressions of chronic absenteeism are overblown. I hope so.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 4:11 p.m.

I'm actually planning on compiling a report on attendance at council meetings that I hope to turn into a story in the near future. Stay tuned.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

Agreed. These council members truly do not take their job seriously.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

Though not the main issue here, IMHO, the number of parking places should be at least double the number proposed. This isn't being proposed as a dorm. Even though some expected residents are students without cars, most people who choose to live downtown own cars or SUV's.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9:05 p.m.

My response exactly when I first saw the proposal. Only about 1/4 of the "bedrooms" have parking spaces. Where do the other 75% of residents park? On surrounding city streets?

Jim Mulchay

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:57 p.m.

I've no legal or property development background but - (1) I do not think the proposed development fits in the neighborhood; (2) It appears to me that the actions being proposed (moratorium, review of zoning) are a result of the discussion of this project; (3) It appears to me that the developers of the project have made an effort to make some adjustments on their proposal based on feedback from the city and neighborhoods; What if - just speculating - a similar structure was proposed by the U-M on the site of old St Joes?


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Ms. Brier needs to look at pictures of Ann Arbor at the turn of the century, in 1900. Huron was a vibrant street with business and walking traffic. Today it is cold. I say build up in the city limits to bring that vibrancy back to Ann Arbor. Don't let one or two whiny homeowners and their out of touch elected rep dictate what everyone should be supporting. Ann Arbor missed the building boom and all those tax revenues. We are trying to catch up, belatedly. Come into the future, get out of your bubble Sabre.

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:32 a.m.

Townspeak, It is many, many more people than just those directly affected by the threat of constant shadow who oppose this project. Most folks understand that if one neighborhood is allowed to be trashed, then ALL neighborhoods are potential targets of this government. It is a misconception that development will increase city revenues. It ONLY increases revenues for the Downtown Development Authority. Not one cent will go to the city's general fund (or to the library, the County, WCC, or the AATA), and only 1/2 of the school revenue will go to the School Aid Fund (the other 1/2 funds SPARK). Downtown was the center of retail life before the auto, before big box stores, before the internet. Downtown now is mainly an entertainment district. Entertainment districts are generally full only at night and on weekends. Trashing our historic districts will not change that.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

Townspeak, I don't think you know what you are talking about. I've seen pictures of this town from the early 1900's and that part of Huron was nothing like what you describe. And these "whiny" folks you are talking about are concerned citizens who are VERY involved in what goes on in this town and the directions this town has been moving for the past few decades, so your comment is both uninformed and rude. I would say get out of YOUR bubble. You don't even know WHO you are talking about, much less WHAT.

say it plain

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9:44 p.m.

I'm sorry, @Townspeak, which building boom do you mean? Do you mean the bubble of cranes overbuilding in the 2000s?! Are you imagining we need to catch up *to that*?!


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 3:07 p.m.

Bad excuse, Brad. Everyone had horse and buggies anyway. Plus we had street cars! People didn't just walk on Huron st. because they lived right there. It was a center of commerce for people living many miles around, and you know it.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.



Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

The council has one chance to get this right. They should and must stand firm, reviewing the zoning now while there is still time. If they back down they may as well lay down and let the bulldozers roll over them.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:12 p.m.

Based on my reading of recent court cases in the state and discussions with a couple of people who deal in property law. I think Ann Arbor would end up losing this lawsuit and probably owing the developers money, probably a bunch of money. As I have said over and over, if people don't like the zoning, get the zoning reopened and fix it. Vote to reopen and also to stop the planning commission from accepting any new applications for a period of time. BUT - if the planning commission has accepted the application, that application has the right to be heard under current zoning rules. This should have been done right after City Place, but no, nothing changed. Now there is more drama in Tree(less) Town.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 10:34 p.m.

Bear - Even it was not approved - they have applied. To tell them that they have no right to move forward for 6 months - AND - the zoning may be different at the end of that time period is a problem that could give them strong grounds to win a lawsuit and $$$ from Ann Arbor. Once the process starts, it has to be seen through all the way. If they meet the zoning requirements - and this building looks like it meets the letter of the zoning requirements in almost everyday - and with some modification could meet all of them. Then the city needs to let them run the process to the end. IF the city can find real zoning reasons to reject the project and does so in accordance with the process laid out by city ordinances then they don't have the right to continue, but rather have to go back to square one. Until then the application is in process.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 10:23 p.m.

" the 413 E. Huron project wasn't recommended for approval by the Planning Commission, it would be put on hold under the moratorium." Perhaps a little more attention should be paid, DonBee when reading the article. The applications WASN'T approved by the planning commission. So, what were you saying again?

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

As others mentioned in other stories there is something ironic, or perhaps hypocritical about a Government that spends money to prevent "urban sprawl" on the one hand, then balks at urban density on the other. There is little doubt in my mind that a moratorium will give pause to future private investors. This in turn will have some negative effect on property values as demand is mitigated. That will have a negative impact on city revenue if property values are to some degree suppressed. I guess the big winner could be the University as potential purchases have less competition.

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:23 a.m.

Citizens voted for the Greenbelt tax. No one voted for A2D2 except council members who went out of their way to mislead the public. You want density? Go build in Michigan's central city: Detroit. Buiilding in Ann Arbor IS sprawl.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

Good point. Perhaps this idea was even spurred by the U. Lets them get their fat grubby hands on a few more choice parcels if the demand drops a bit.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

I think that it's a great idea to learn from the past and have the representatives update the zoning as required (and supported by the voters). If a mistake was made go ahead and fix it. But regarding the current project it sounds like "seller's remorse". I'm not a legal expert but if the current plan fits the zoning the best you may be able to do is negotiate with the builder to minimize the worst aspects. And you may have to bring money to the table to offset the bulder's expenses.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

This building will not destroy any neighborhoods. It will destroy a couple of boring buildings that also did not destroy a neighborhood.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5:46 p.m.

In a world of global warming (we believe that, right?) increased shadows should be considered a good thing.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

I seriously doubt that any building will be in "permanent shadow." Look at how far north the sun rises and sets during the summer.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

How does a shadow destroy a neighborhood? Uhh, by removing all the sunlight? You know, the all important life force that warms the ground, our homes and bodies, brightens mood and spirit, grows PLANTS, prevents mold and decay. All that good stuff. Living a permanent shadow SUCKS.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

How exactly do shadows destroy neighborhoods? I must have missed that discussion in my physics class.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:12 p.m.

Unless you have to live in the shadow of the latest mcskyscraper.

Jon Saalberg

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

So - if UM tears down houses with wild abandon, thus removing property from the city tax rolls - then boots a long-time Ann Arbor institution, Blimpy Burgers, out of its spot, it passes with fanfare, but no city intervention, since the UM pretty much does as it pleases - but a developer, who wants to add many dollars to the city's tax base, is thwarted by people who think Ann Arbor exists in an idyllic vacuum.

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:20 a.m.

Mr. Saalberg, Any/all potential increase in tax revenues from ALL downtown projects does not actually build the city's finances. Instead, it ALL goes to the Downtown Development Authority, which uses this revenue to 1) pay for staff and consultants; and 2) subsidize white elephants such as the underground parking garage. There will be no increase in general fund revenues from this or other downtown projects.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

>The city has no legal standing to get involved int he situation and FORCE the U to not buy a property or to force the landlord to not sell. Excepting when that property is going to be removed from the tax base the City, and ultimately taxpayers, SHOULD have a voice whether it goes or not.. Especially a historically significant one. Shame on UM & shame on the City for not standing up for the taxpayers.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

The city did not SELL the property. Blimpies had EVERY opportunity to buy the property but decided not to. The city has no legal standing to get involved int he situation and FORCE the U to not buy a property or to force the landlord to not sell.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

The city has no power to intervene in the Blimpy situation. They are totally impotent.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

WOW. That whole A2D2 process certainly did take an INCREDIBLE amount of time and resources. I mean that thing was going on forever, and if I recall had plenty of task forces, think tanks, workshops, consultants, studies, etc. So then as soon as a few buildings go up, they slam on the brakes and wave their hands in the air. It would probably be very difficult and tedious and time consuming, but I would think it would make a very interesting story to comb through all the council meetings minutes, reports, accounting items, etc. that went into the A2D2 project, and find out just how much time and money this city "leadership" WASTES. I mean, what are they doing over there? No one, during that entire time, with all those different people working on A2D2, imagined a maximum capacity scenario? What are they doing?

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:17 a.m.

For all the noise about public input that was made about the A2D2 process, what I saw of it from my participation seemed liked a rigged game, with pre-determined outcomes. It didn't look like a genuine attempt to engage the community and see what people wanted; rather, it seemed like merely a facade of process intended to cover pre-set agendas. The result is that this is blowing up in council's faces.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

If they start postponing things every time one of the 4th ward reps doesn't show up they are not going to get much done. Not that it would be a *bad* thing.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

There was disagreement on some of the areas, but there is a lot of good work and information in all the planning documents generated through that process. There was also an agreement to reexamine the downtown zoning after a year. We are overdue for that reexamination. And we need it. Hence a moratorium makes all the sense in the world to achieve the promised reexamination and to bring the zoning into compliance with the planning documents.

Barbara Clarke

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

Look Folks, our elected reps have taken a vote, made a decision. They represent us. If we don't approve of their decisions . . . then we need to make decisions when these folks are up for re-election. What is interesting is that lots of citizens take no interest in issues until their "ox" is gored . . . then "bingo", there is awareness and grinding of teeth.

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 6:13 a.m.

If you look at the election campaigns of the "Council Party"members who rammed this stuff through several years ago, you will see that none of them gave any specifics whatsoever about what their intentions were: to remove as much of historic Ann Arbor as they could get away with. Many of them spoke of "keeping Ann Arbor's character", "protecting neighborhoods", and other vague phrases that were used to hide their true intentions. Apparently thinking that Democrats would never lie to them, Ann Arbor voters took these vague assurances at face value. While it is always true that citizens have some duty to keep themselves reasonably informed about their government, that does not make it OK for elected officials to mislead them. Most people have enough to do, making a living, paying the bills, raising kids, living their lives. Assuming that their neighbors on council are not being straight with them may not be the first thing on their agendas. Ms. Clarke has accurately described our local political process. That is not a justification for elected officials playing voters for suckers.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

" . . . we need to make decisions when these folks are up for re-election." Indeed, but seemingly, then, the kneejerk syndrome sets in again, and "we" fill in the same old straight-ticket circle.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

actually they didn't really make a decision...other than to delay a decision. Its sort of a decision but not really.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

The downtown D1 zoning area is the most vital neighborhood in the city but it is carved up among representatives on council who only hear the tunes coming from their whining constituents outside this neighborhood. Change the districting and let's get some young professionals who represent the downtown on council. There are way too many backward gazing reps on council now.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

So why should a developer waste their time trying to build anything in Ann Arbor? Go elsewhere my friends.

John Floyd

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 : 5:56 a.m.

A non-rigged community involvement process (i.e., the "Anti-Calthorpe") would have avoided this current mess. Council had a pre-determined outcome, and ignored public sentiment. The result is that several council members have been booted, and the A2D2 process is blowing up in the faces of those not yet booted.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 8:58 p.m.

I totally agree with Hendrix. The out of town developers don't live here. They only care about fatter wallets and not the character of the community and how it will be degraded after their monster project.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Yes, please leave town. They're not adding anything to the community. Developers are only padding their pockets & increasing the cost of living while destroying the character of the community. Please leave.

Not a valid excuse for a newspaper

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 11:59 a.m.

"At the end of the day, it appears to us that the proposed moratorium and potential changes to the ordinance can be seen as a last effort to avoid making a final decision on our client's by-right project," he said. "In our view, any such use of the moratorium process would be improper." By-rights? Actually, plenty of people think it's a make-wrongs project.

Basic Bob

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

What plenty of people think has no standing in civil court.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.

Perhaps the specifics of the zoning should have been considered more carefully by the mayor and council when it was first adopted in 2009. Council needs to give careful consideration to what they may do in this situation to avoid what could be a very costly law suit.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

The out of town development group's attorneys can talk tough, but they are dead wrong. They do not have a vested interest yet and changes can be made to the zoning. THAT is the law. The city council members and the citizens should not be bullied by threats of a lawsuit. We have every right to do what is right for our city and not be bullied by an out of town development group with big bucks. They should have read ALL the planning documents and anticipated that maxing out the zoning without respecting the planning documents or neighboring properties would raise serious legitimate opposition. Some form of dense development will be built on this site but it needs to conform to good planning and not destroy the neighborhood like this proposes project does. We have every right to expect out council members to impose a moritorium to make sure that happens here an on othe similar sites. This developer is wrong in claiming it is being singled out. Multiple parcels with similar issues are going to be reviewed for change to a transitional zoning category, as was called for in the planning documents. This developer is plain old wrong in its claims and any lawsuit would be baseless and nothing more than bullying. They speculating by buying this site and trying to propose a development that is wrong for this site. The citizens of this city are to be commended for standing up for our rights. An we should expect our council and mayor to protect those rights.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

The ironic thing- we Told city council 4 years ago when they were gung ho to change the zoning that it was wrong and I recall Sabrie and the other council Dems telling me that I was against progress and an Anti. A2 council looks as inept as Detroits city council if you ask me. Common sense left the city 10 years ago.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

Kenny, thanks for asking. I am a real estate professional with development experience in several cities and townships in Michigan. I have personally been before planning commissions and city councils and township boards for years. So I do have a bit of experience and knowledge and also know the experts to consult. The development agreement you may be thinking about is between the developer and the city and is only proposed at this stage. Any contractual agreement between the land owner and the developer does not bind the municipality.

Ellis Sams

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

Quite right, My2, because if the developer had done his homework, he would have found buried inside one of the documents a post-it note written in the faintest gray six-point type the following: "Ann Arbor is a city of values and ideals. We favor inclusion, diversity, human rights, sustainability, preserving green space, higher density and, above all, fairness. So you can be fairly certain that you can propose a project that meets all zoning and building requirements, codes, rules, regulations and standards and it will be meaningless if enough of the neighbors complain to city council.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

My2bits, how many years of planning and zoning expertise do you have? How many cases have you been involved in? You are wrong, in Michigan the law is clear and is consistently upheld, "If they comply with written law at the time of application, you must approve!" I love he A2 intellectuals try to justify their irrational thoughts with experts but ignore the law. The developer does a an interest when they apply as they are tied in with the property owner through a development agreement. You stand corrected. I don't believe in living in a place where personal property rights are not respected and individual freedom is violated as it is in Ann Arbor. That's ok though A2 and its residents will learn as State Law and the Courts in Michigan have and will continue to rule on the side of the property owner when it comes to developement rights.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

Sorry Kenny but you are not correct. Multiple experts in the field, including attorneys and developers, agree that the developer does not yet have vested rights here. Also, I am curious about your saying : "you Ann Arbor folks". Sounds like you are not one? But you want to begrudge us our right to a well planned community?


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

My2bits.... You are way off base. 1st of all they are in compliance with existing zoning. They are also only subject to the zoning laws that are in place at the time of their application by state law, therefor any attempt by the city to go back on their existing ordinances or zoning violates the rights of the property owner and developer. If you as a resident didn't like the zoning laws the way they were written you should have done something about it in 2009. The old adage comes to mind, if you like the view out your window and don't want it to change, you better buy it as you have no more rights to stop someone from building on a piece of property than that person has to making you tear down your own home. I'd love to see Ann Arbor and their over reaching council get spanked hard on this one. Get ready to open your wallet to line the pockets of those high priced city attorneys and to pay damages. Then again you Ann Arbor folks just love paying higher taxes.


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

Can we vote to have a moratorium on this entire council membership before they destroy Ann Arbors tax base completely?


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 11:20 a.m.

A2D2: The Law of Unintended Consequences at work.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 11:17 a.m.

"Friedlaender said when the city adopted the new A2D2 zoning for downtown in 2009 it gave others the reasonable expectation the new zoning laws would have some measure of stability." So the obvious question is, who on City Council currently voted for the new A2D2 zoning changes in 2009?