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Posted on Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 11:43 p.m.

Ann Arbor Planning Commission sends Moravian developer back to the drawing board

By Ryan J. Stanton

A profusion of yard signs sprouted in lawns along South Fourth and South Fifth avenues in Ann Arbor in the last week, reading: "No Moravian PUD."

The voices of opposition behind those signs were heard at a public hearing tonight.


"No Moravian PUD" signs have sprouted along South Fourth and South Fifth avenues in opposition to the proposed apartment complex. The Germantown Neighborhood Association is leading the opposition to The Moravian project.

Ryan J. Stanton | Ann

"If this is such a nifty project, every reason why the planning staff has recommended that it be approved should have led to the approval of the City Place PUD," said Fifth Avenue resident Tom Luczak. "What's the difference? It's out of scale with the neighborhood."

A majority of residents who addressed the Planning Commission tonight were against the five-story apartment complex slated for construction on East Madison Avenue between Fourth and Fifth. They claim the project will open the flood gates for huge apartment buildings in near downtown neighborhoods.

As expected, the Planning Commission postponed approval of the Planned Unit Development rezoning and site plan for The Moravian at the request of city staff. Prior to tonight's meeting, city planner Alexis DiLeo issued a report recommending the delay to allow the petitioner time to incorporate input.

The Moravian is proposed for construction on a 0.85-acre lot at 201 E. Madison St. The Planning Commission is being asked to rezone the site - two blocks south of downtown Ann Arbor - from R4C (a multiple-family dwelling district) and M1 (a limited industrial district) to a PUD district.

During the course of a four-hour discussion, planning commissioners laid out concerns with the project, including the number of bedrooms, the height of the building and a lack of open space - as well as general concerns about density and whether the project fits the neighborhood. Some said they'd prefer to see the developer scale back the project.

"It's a neighborhood and it's really hard for me to see this scale of building next to the homes that are currently there," said Commissioner Erica Briggs.

Chairwoman Bonnie Bona said she struggled with many aspects of the project.

"I want your team to come up with a great project that you can really sell us on, and right now it's just not there," she told the developer.

Some commissioners pointed out The Moravian would provide a transition between the homes to the north and the industrial area to the south.

"There's an old saying about not letting your desire for the perfect obstruct the good," said Commissioner Tony Derezinski. "I see a lot of good in this project."


Developer Jeff Helminski of the Moravian Co. addresses the Ann Arbor Planning Commission at tonight's meeting.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The developer pointed out tonight that current zoning would allow a gas station to be built on the site, which he called a bigger threat than housing.

Jeff Helminski of the Moravian Co. said he plans to market his building to young professionals. He proposes constructing a 63-unit, four-story, multiple-family residential building with 164 bedrooms, 90 parking spaces underground, and three work units at the ground level.

"It's been alleged that this is a student housing dorm in disguise," he said. "We've maintained throughout that we believe this will be very appealing to a broad array of people."

Helmenski was joined tonight by Scott Betzoldt of Midwestern Consulting, Dick Carlisle of Carlisle/Wortman Associates Inc., and Newcombe Clark of Bluestone Realty Advisors. Helmenski said after leaving the meeting that he's taking the concerns and recommendations of commissioners to heart.

"I'm certainly pleased with staff's analysis, stating the consistency with the Master Plan, the appropriateness of this within the neighborhood, and the community benefits that will be realized as a result of this, and we're hopeful that we can come up with some form of compromise to, as they said, tip the scales in favor of the project and maintain the economic viability," he said. "They've asked us to consider (scaling back the project) and it's something we'll take a look at."

The Germantown Neighborhood Association argued the development is too big for the area.

Beverly Strassmann, the association's president, launched a Web site calling the project a "gigantic apartment building" and a "monstrosity" that represents the latest attempt by a developer to circumvent the city's zoning ordinances.


The Germantown Neighborhood Association is distributing this drawing showing the roofline of The Moravian project in relation to existing houses along Madison Street.

Courtesy of Germantown Neighborhood Association

"The location is wrong. We don't need to say any more. The location is simply wrong," she said tonight.

A small number of residents voiced support for The Moravian during the hearing.

"This is a very important project for the future of Ann Arbor," said Jesse Bernstein, former president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. "This is the type of project that the type of people we want to attract and retain want to live in."

South Main Street resident Kiff Hamp characterized himself as a 23-year-old working professional and part of the demographic The Moravian aims to attract.

"We have this great university here, but everyone graduates and goes to Chicago or goes to New York. One of the big reasons is because, in Ann Arbor, it's hard to get that sort of urban, young, exciting experience," he said. "This is exactly the type of building that we need to retain that kind of young talent and keep young people here after they graduate."

When discussing the positives of the project, commissioners said they were happy to see The Moravian plan features an eco-friendly building, dedication of a public sidewalk park, affordable housing and cleanup of some environmental contamination on the site. But some agreed with neighbors' concerns and said they'd prefer to see a project on a much smaller scale.

The Moravian is taking shape after Helminski’s partnership was unsuccessful in getting approval to build a 14-story tower called The Madison on the same site last year. He came back to the city with new plans in December, and has been fine-tuning the proposal with planning staff since.


The developer brought this drawing of The Moravian with him to tonight's meeting. It shows a five-story building with one level of parking.

Ryan J. Stanton |

City staff said improvements made to the site plan are enough to justify granting a PUD zoning. Limits placed on the site include a maximum height of 70 feet and say the building must be eco-friendly and include 15 percent affordable housing units.

Strassmann and other residents who oppose the project argued properly zoned land is available elsewhere in the city where the project could go, including the old Y site two blocks away.

Commissioners said they hope to see additional public benefits outlined when The Moravian comes back to the Planning Commission at a future date.

Only commissioner Kirk Westphal opposed the postponement tonight. Commissioner Wendy Woods was absent.

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



Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 8:34 a.m.

I seem to recall that the Fingerle site is slated to be rezoned D2, which would allow 60' in height. This could suppport up to six stories on a site that is perhaps 5 times the area of the Moravian. If the Moravian is only four stories, with a (mostly) underground parking level, would this not be a good (all residentail) buffer between the 2.5 story Germantown neighborhood to the north and the much higher density and scale of the D2 area envisioned south of Madison? Projects can be engineered and built in floodplains and floodways by building them on stilts just like our new Y. It seems to me that a nice linear district between Packard and Main Street could develop along Madison, with a few live-work units, a small neighborhood market and perhaps a few neighborhood bistros. The planner stated that the site slopes up 16' from the southwest to the northeast, which I believe will mask much of the percieved bulk of the building from the neighborhood. Yes the project is not a row of small 2.5 story single family houses, but it is across the street from a freakin' lumberyard! If the project is revised to meet the R4C regulations, a much smaller development would be likely be built, and we would lose the benefits of LEED, a new public park on Fourth, the mandated and permanent affordable housing, the underground parking and the geothermal heating and cooling system. It is my understanding that the idea behind LEED is to produce sustainable design solutions that benefit not only building owners, but the public in general. Better water management, building materials, higher density, improved indoor air quality, REDUCED parking facilities (to induce the use of mass transit) and most importantly higher energy efficiency. These are all important benefits that we all should strive to achieve. I think the developer has come a long way to re-size his plans to meet the concerns of the neighborhood and the city planners. He should be applauded for trying to improve the neighborhood by this investment. Of course he needs enough density to offset his additional cost to create the benefits, but in my view, the project is now properly balanced.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 7:20 a.m.

Everything kaw-goosh-kaw-nick says has already been refuted above. 90 parking spaces for 164 occupants (or more) is not a benefit, it is a detriment because it will only make parking issues worse in the neighborhood. This is the bare minimum number of spaces required by code, let alone a benefit (which implies going above and beyond the minimum) 19 affordable units will be lost and only 9 gained, and those 9 (again meeting the bare minimum requirement, not exceeding it) will cost a lot more than the 19 that are there already. LEED and geo-thermal are not PUBLIC benefits. They are as much about marketing than anything and will have virtually no impact on the City or the immediate neighbors. The houses described as "seedy" just need a non-speculator owner who cares about them to give them some TLC (and pay his/her taxes). The contamination, if it exists, ought to be cleaned up now, not used as some trump card to try and force the City into awarding a windfall profit to speculators. The Perry building is up the hill and separated from the site by Fifth Ave. and several houses. Fingerle is 1 story and being that it is in the floodway, will never have anything taller, regardless of zoning. Our neighborhood should not be gutted to "tie" other buildings together. It should be preserved for its affordable housing, its historic buildings, and its friendly neighborhood mix of residents who have been attracted to living here for 150 years.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 6:18 a.m.

I'm sorry, I meant to say Packard to the east.


Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 9:48 p.m.

So much mud throwing. Can't we all just get a long? I thought they said the project would not be built until the floodway and floodplain maps are revised. If FEMA revises the map, then the developer should have the right to take his PUD and get a building permit. No revised map, no permit. End of floodway/floodplain discussion. I also heard them say the the Fingerle site across East Madison may be rezoned to D2 under the new A2D2 rezoning and allow up to 60' in building height. Sounds like a six story building to me. If the developer wants to build only four stories of housing and one level of below grade parking at only 52' high, would not this building essentially become a buffer for the Germantown neighborhood, and provide a transitional level of development from the 2.5 story houses on the hill from the redevelopment south of Madison? It sounds to me the the developer is offering many benefits to the city in exchange for their requested density. LEED Certification, geothermal, public parkland, Brownfield remediation of underground VOC's, underground parking, 9 permanent affordable units, and the redevelopment of a rather seedy row of houses and a converted industrial building into what I believe to be a project that would really improve the neighborhood. This project would tie the other two larger building on Madison together. The former Perry School building to the east and the three story U of M office building on the west would be linked by the Moravian, with some modest live-work units to add to the street life. These linked buildings, together with a redeveloped Fingerle's site could form a nice linear district with Main Street on the West and Washtenaw on the east. Perhaps a market and a few bistros could join the mix to create a nice little district. These seem like they could combine to form a nice walkable neighborhood along East Madison. Yes, its not single family residential, but is is across the street from a feakin' lumberyard. Now that the much larger plans for a 12 story building have been reworked to this more modest plan, I think the developer should be applauded for stepping up to the plate and working with the city to create a project we can all live with.


Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 12:44 p.m.

Thanks for the advice to relax. I can surely use it.... Now I will follow your noble advice.... I am sitting in Lotus position on the patio.... Do you hear the birds? Tweet, Tweet.... Deep cleansing breath.... Om..... Thank you for your thoughtful concern for my well being. I feel better!. Now that I am more relaxed, I can continue writing.... You are concerned about back taxes to be paid with interest, as a special act of benevolence? Nah, the interest is a penalty imposed by taxing authorities. Also, following your deep concern for municipal reimbursement, there is a governmental protocol that you could follow to pay the outstanding taxes yourselves, and in doing so acquire a potential true guiding interest in the Moravian!. Clarification: Other than allegations of outstanding taxes in this opinion blog, I have no knowledge of title issues regarding the properties subject to development as the Moravian. I don't know who owns the properties, who owes the taxes, how long taxes have been outstanding, when current owners/parties acquired title interest, purchase prices, sellers, terms of past or pending sale or option agreements, other encumbering contracts of future title, extent of monetary encumbrances, liens, etc. It's not my concern. However, this could be a fun opportunity for someone... performing title and corporate-ownership searches, so that they will be able to accurately target their next boue de jet.. Regardless, all will be well, I am sure.... Because we are all relaxed : ). Om!


Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 10:32 a.m.

Except for other speculators who have gifted the City with empty fenced lots, the owners of other properties owing taxes are not asking the City for special zoning that will provide them with a huge windfall profit. Further, the City Charter forbids entering into contracts with people who are in default with the City. A PUD agreement is a contract. The speculators should pay the $91,309.97 NOW instead of waiting for their windfall profits to come in. $91,309.97 would pay for a lot of human services at the county and municipal level.


Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 9:18 a.m.

For someone who supposedly doesn't know the parties involved with the Moravian a2grating sure knows a lot of intimate details about them. They won't discriminate, they'll pay back taxes with interest. hhmmmmmm. And, if I may say so, for someone not involved in this issue you seem really stressed out. Maybe it's time for a few sun salutes. Deep cleansing breaths and say "Om."


Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 7:15 a.m.

Trivia question 9: What is your definition of a "developer"?


Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 5:24 a.m.

Outstanding taxes will be paid with interest, a commodity in short supply for municipalities. As a sidebar, there may be "one or two" more properties in the City of a2 owing unpaid taxes.. Trivia question 8: How many properties in Ann Arbor currently owe unpaid taxes?


Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 5:17 p.m.

I'll bet the owner of that beautiful house pays their property taxes, unlike the speculators who owe $91,309.97 in back taxes on the properties that make up The Moravian site.


Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 12:28 p.m.

Revision to density example in my trivia answer 5 above: The beautiful house mentioned is along S Fifth Ave, not S 4th Ave, as stated.


Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 11:09 a.m.

South Fourth Ave: the slums? more care and accuracy with our labels is called for:S.Main Market, Fingerle, Washtenaw dairy, Affordable Vet, gas station at corner are places I frequent there:never felt unsafe. Randomly assigning labels is poor for arguments sake. Let's know more about the actual demographics there and recent history before assuming the neighborhood is disintegrating or whatever is being implied. Are people saying the houses are run down/never looked bad around there to me.


Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 9:50 a.m.

Sounds like Townie may own older income property(s) and is afraid of competition from new rentals


Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 8:34 a.m.

Disclosure: I have no ownership, leasehold, or development interest in the neighborhood. I do not know the parties involved with the Moravian or City Place.. I am a concerned Ann Arbor citizen that values vertical urban growth v sprawl; welcoming, fair, kind, and serving treatment of renters; and true affordable housing initiatives.. It would be interesting for those protesting new development to fully state their interests/biases, as well.


Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 8:20 a.m.

Answers to trivia questions:. 1) The language of the Moravian being outside the floodway is from the City of a2s Planning and Development Services Staff report.. 2) Nearby zoning districts (within 2 blocks) comprising the proposed Moravian's neighborhood: C2B, C2B/R, C3, R4C, PL (with several high-density buildings), and M1.. 3 & 4) Issues, suggested remedies, and strategies affecting "downtown a2", as identified by Calthorpe Associates and Strategic Economics, can easily be applied to nearby and similar neighborhoods. These standard strategies can be applied to nearby areas, as they are standard and common strategies for urban area redevelopment.. 5) Likely none of the multiple-family uses existing in the referenced surrounding R4C district comply with current Chapter 55 zoning, area, height and placement regulations.. Of interest, there are current early 1900s vintage structures that equal or exceed the Moravians proposed density. Need an example? Look for a beautiful old house along South Fourth Ave, between City Place and the Moravian. Out of respect to the owner, you will have to determine the exact address.. This house has an equivalent legal occupied density of 57 units per acre, on 4 levels of legally habitable floor area. The house towers over the neighborhood to the south, and its roof peak elevation is likely above that of the Moravian. The vintage building offers.6 parking space per bedroom.. Need more evidence? Walk to Hamilton Place or East Jefferson and perform a similar analysis of numerous existing improved parcels. You find densities that meet and exceed those of the Moravian.. Conclusion: An interesting catch 22 scenario: Existing property owners say they wish to protect the neighborhood from new buildings of similar density to the existing buildings they wish to protect. This is circular logic. In essence they wish to protect high-density rental properties from other high-density rental properties. Consider that 75% of the existing buildings are tenant occupied, then what is actually being protected? Is it neighborhood character, or neighborhood investment, clothed in a different package?. 6) Likely none of the multiple-family uses existing in the referenced surrounding R4C district comply with current building code.. 7) Likely none of the owners of the multiple-family uses existing in the referenced surrounding R4C district formally participate with the City in their affordable housing initiatives.. Affordable housing extends beyond lease rates. Affordable housing units are deed-restricted units that will keep such status preserved in the future. Rents or sale prices are fixed according to affordable definition at time of agreement. Additionally, affordable units must meet higher standards of quality than non-affordable units.. Although rents between market and affordable units may seem similar, consider that a) We are in a depressed market that will rebound, allowing upward movement of market rent; and b) Affordable units are better quality than comparables cited in this blog.. Conclusion: Yes, pure economics are often about greed, pure and simple. The Moravian offers density similar to the surrounding neighborhood. Its structure and use are similar to the character of neighborhood. It offers modern amenities, new improvements, building and fire code compliance, and affordable housing components. The PUD has public benefit.. The existing neighborhood rental buildings offer similar density, few modern amenities, old improvements, energy inefficiency, and antiquated building and fire code compliance. They offer no public benefit.. If I were an investor/owner in the neighborhood, I would do everything possible to block new development. It appears that the economic concept of pure and simple greed, applied to the Moravian, possibly extends, in long-term practice, to the protesting owners surrounding the Moravian.


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 4:34 p.m.

Since when has the South Fifth Avenue area become an established residential neighborhood? About 1850. This neighborhood has historically had small rooming houses, owner-occupied houses, and owner-occupied houses that accepted boarders. Not much different than today and almost every building has been here for at least 100 years. Trivia 1: Nice try. The draft floodway maps, are just that, drafts. They are not expected to be adopted until July 2010,at the earliest. That is, if that date holds. It's already been pushed back by FEMA three times. The City's Flood mitigation plan and City staff also do not support construction of buildings in the Allen Creek floodway/floodplain. Trivia 2: Only R4C and M1, since the other zoning classifications you mention (like Fingerle across the street which has peacefully coexisted with the residents for decades) are outside the registered neighborhood boundary. R4C is 20 units per acre, which means the Moravian site, as currently zoned, allows for 8 units of new residential construction. Trivia 3 and 4: The APA award for Main Street, as well as Main Street's success, are testimony to the attractiveness of historic preservation. Main Street works because it's what people expect from Ann Arbor--an historic small town with interesting and creative shops and restaurants. If people want to see a bunch of 5-10 story neo-industrial apartment buildings with an Applebees on the first floor, they can go to suburban Detroit. The only strategy that matters for Ann Arbor's near downtown neighborhoods is in the legally adopted Central Area Plan and the Downtown Plan. Both support preservation of existing housing and historical features. They also call for infill (definition: filling in spaces where there is nothing now) development that is compatible in scale and character to neighboring properties. Trivia 5 and 6: Any Urban Planning 101 student can tell you that existing buildings are always grandfathered into new zoning districts. They may be technically non-conforming, but it is a long standing principal of zoning law that the new zoning does not come into play on an existing structure until changes are proposed for it. Then, variances may be required. I'm glad you raised this point however, because this highlights the City's failure to fully incorporate the Central Area Plan into the zoning ordinance as required by the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act. Like all Ann Arbor housing, apartments in this neighborhood are subject to Ann Arbor housing code and regular inspection. I can't vouch for the properties currently being allowed to rot on the Moravian site, but the other houses are well-kept and cared for by attentive owners. Trivia 7: Whether formally participating in an official program or not, the surrounding property owners provide far more affordable housing than that proposed by the Moravian, even those units that are claimed to be "affordable" by the speculators. Here are some examples (some of these are on Craigslist right now): 3 bedroom house, $1000 per month; 2 bedroom apt., $800 per month; 2 bedroom apt., $795 per month (about what one of the "affordable" Moravian 1 bedrooms will rent for); 6 bedroom house, $3000 per month (about what the Moravian will charge for a 3 bedroom); 3 bedroom apt., $1950 per month (about what the Moravian will charge for a 2 bedroom); 2 bedroom furnished apt. $1035 per month. These are less than the Moravian, less than NeNo and most are available to rent RIGHT NOW without destroying the rest of the neighborhood. And it should pointed out AGAIN, that the only reason the Moravian is including 9, 1-bedroom units of "affordable" housing is because the speculators are forced to do this by the City's PUD ordinance. The calculations actually call for 9.6 units, but God-forbid they provide 10 units and lose 0.4 units of higher profit--they've chosen to buy themselves out of that.6 of a unit instead. The Moravian is about greed, pure and simple.


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 3:27 p.m.

Jfil, No one is arguing against anyone's property rights. The only property rights in jeopardy here are those of the neighbors to the Moravian. They purchased their property with the expectation that the zoning laws would apply. To radically alter zoning for one property owner, is to deny the rights of the other property owners. If a current homeowner wanted to add 2 stories to his/her home and make 8 apartments, when only 4 are allowed, he/she would be flatly denied because of the zoning. If they argued they need to do this to make a better profit, they would be denied, etc. So why should the Moravian be treated differently?


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 2:22 p.m.

Since when has the South Fifth Avenue area become an established residential neighborhood. And a Germantown neighborhood.....? This area has been multi family since the early 1900's when additional housing was needed to accommodate Ann Arbor's growth.


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 1:36 p.m.

Many younger people prefer renting to buying and they chose to live close to downtown. It is ridiculous to think that everyone wants to buy an old house to renovate and those that do, usually buy in single family neighborhoods. And you can invest a small fortune renovating these old houses. And if you buy a house in a multiple family zoning district, then do so knowing that it is multiple family and not complain when property owners want to exercise their property rights. Since when has this become a crime...or perhaps only in Ann Arbor is it a crime to exercise on'e property rights. And the city certainly loves the taxes generated by these income properties.


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 9:18 a.m.

Trivia question 7: Of the multiple-family uses existing in the referenced surrounding R4C district, how many owners formally participate with the City in their affordable housing initiatives?


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 9:16 a.m.

Trivia question 6: Of the multiple-family uses existing in the referenced surrounding R4C district, how many structures comply with current building code?


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 9:04 a.m.

Trivia question 5: Of the multiple-family uses existing in the referenced surrounding R4C district, how many structures comply with current Chapter 55 zoning, area, height and placement regulations?


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 8:29 a.m.

Or perhaps the high density folks are in the wrong town. Ann Arbor is a small mid-western college town. With no industry to support it being anything but. There is more than one "vision" for Ann Arbor and particularly the near downtown neighborhoods. Certain people looking to pad their bank accounts may see high density - low quality - overpriced - 3 bedroom units with separate leases for each bedroom - anonymous boxes as the "future." Instead, many of of us envision the recent glut of new apartment buildings (with rampant vacancies and more already approved to be built) as the turning point in a historic time for our city. A time when slumlords who have maxed out their profits and tax right-offs can sell their neglected cashboxes to people who will restore them to the homes they used to be. People young and old could buy and fix up these houses and have wonderful homes. With yards. And equity instead of a lease with shared use of a laughable "pocket park." You can have your "vision" of destroyed historic neighborhoods for the benefit of a few cash-hungry speculators. The houses that are already here provide more than twice the low income housing that the new project would so enough with that tired argument, please. And young professionals are leaving because there aren't any apartments to move into? Come on. There are "move in today" signs all over downtown. If ever there was a time for the restoration of Ann Arbor's near downtown neighborhoods, now is it. Tell the developers to let people who will care for our neighborhoods have these homes back. p.s. You can be sure that a2grating will comment since s/he seems to need the last word.


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 6:56 a.m.

Trivia questions 3 & 4:. Do the issues, suggested remedies, and strategies affecting "downtown a2", as identified by Calthorpe Associates and Strategic Economics, apply to nearby and similar neighborhoods?. Are these standard strategies that can be applied to other areas, or must entire new strategies be developed?


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 6:46 a.m.

Trivia question 2 (come on, it's game day): Which nearby zoning districts comprise the proposed Moravian's neighborhood?. a) Low-density residential. b) C2B, C2B/R, C3, R4C, PL (with historic 4-story building + penthouse at top of E Madison), and M1


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 6:37 a.m.

Trivia question to those with noble floodplain concerns: Where did the following language appear?. "Currently, about half of the site, the lower western half, is within the 100-year floodplain of Allen Creek and about a quarter of the site, the lowest western corner, is within the floodway. Draft flood insurance rate maps issued for review by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in July 2007 revised the current floodway limits so that the entire subject site is outside of the floodway."


Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 5:53 a.m.

Simply put another way: The low-density advocates and defenders are in the wrong City.

Beverly Strassmann

Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 6:26 p.m.

Greenbelt and Floodway: State law prohibits the Moravian from going forward because it is in the currently defined floodway and floodplain of the Allen Creek. Simply put: This building is in the wrong location.

Beverly Strassmann

Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 6:14 p.m.

Affordable Housing: There are presently 19 units of affordable housing at the site that will be demolished, and only 9 new units of affordable housing will be created for a net loss of 10 units of affordable housing. The other apartments in the Moravian are going to be very expensivefor example, the developer mentioned $2,000 for a 2 bedroom unit and $2,400 - $2,700 for 3 bedroom units (which constitute the majority of apartments). These were so pricey it was hard to believe the students would not be doubling up in the bedrooms. At these rates it would be far cheaper to purchase a home and pay a mortgagethats what young professionals would do.

Beverly Strassmann

Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 6:13 p.m.

At least one commissioner envisioned gutting the current 4RC zoning for the entire area of South Fourth and South Fifth Avenues between E. William Street (the southern boundary of the downtown) and Madison Street. This radical change would be accomplished by approving future large apartment complexes so as to create a transitional zone between the traditional downtown area and surrounding residential neighborhoods of predominantly two-story structures. This proposal has dangerous implications for at least three reasons: (a)The Germantown neighborhood already is an existing residential neighborhood. In essence, this practice would have the effect of changing Germantown from a residential neighborhood to quasi-downtown area; (b)No near downtown neighborhood is safe from this potential practice; (c)This technique constitutes a blatant end-run around current zoning practices. It is essentially a de-facto change in this areas zoning. The public will not have the procedural safeguards which normally apply in a proposed zoning change.

Beverly Strassmann

Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 6:10 p.m.

Analysis of the Parking Situation: The Moravian will provide 90 off street parking spaces for 164 bedrooms, which comes to 0.55 spaces per bedroom. If there is only one student per bedroom and 80% of students own cars (a realistic percentage), then the deficit in parking spaces is 41 spaces. However, if there are two students per bedroom, and 80% of students own cars, then the deficit will be 170 spaces. Given the high rents, and by analogy to other student apartment buildings in the City, it is realistic to expect that many students will be sharing bedrooms. In some ways the Moravian is a bit like a rooming house because each person signs their own lease. Residents of the Moravian and their guests will circulate in search of parking, dramatically increasing traffic flow beyond the levels envisioned by the City. On street parking spaces will be fully occupied. The increase in traffic flow and the parking crunch is one of the obvious ways in which the imposition of a downtown-sized building on our established residential neighborhood will adversely affect the health, safety, and welfare of Germantown residents.

Beverly Strassmann

Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 6:08 p.m.

The mass (scale, density) of the Moravian exceeds not only what is permissible under R4C zoning, but also exceeds what the City has adopted for the DDA (downtown). For example, the diagonal is 270 feet whereas the city recommends only 200 feet in the downtown. (The diagonal is measured from one corner of the building to the other across the footprint.). Other huge PUDs are closer to 100 feet on the diagonal, so this thing is GIGANTIC. The average building height of the structures to the North, South, East, and West is 2 stories, but the Moravian is 5 stories (including parking). The allowable building height in R4C zoning is 30 feet and in M1 zoning is 35 feet. The Moravian is 50 feet high at the eavesbut there are an additional 20 feet to the top of the roof. This building is simply in the wrong location and should be moved to within the DDA. The cynical plan to put this outsized building in the middle of an established residential neighborhood violates the underlying zoning and the Central Area Plan.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 3:31 p.m.

Re Townie's comments, a PUD approval is for a specific project on a specific site. If it does not get built, a new plan submittal has to be made and approved by the city.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 3:20 p.m.

I hope the planning commission doesn't force too many changes on this project. Removing the upper story could take the profit out of the entire project effectively killing it. It seems to me that most of the homes in that area are rental properties anyway. Replacing them with a higher density development project is only natural as a city grows and ages. When the value of real estate goes up, the buildings get taller. The Fingerle property to the south isn't exactly the Ritz Carlton, so I don't think the planned development would "harm the character" of the area in any way. Let's face the facts: That entire area is growing up. Witness the Main St. developments that finally came to fruition south of William St. Downtown Ann Arbor is a desirable place to live and the demand for downtown/near downtown housing will only grow in the future.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 3:14 p.m.

If the Moravian gets approved, then the original brownstone City Place should have been approved. The design of the building was well thought out. And that was right next to downtown ann arbor.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 2:16 p.m.

Townie, Aside from the reasons you have given as to why you disagree with the project going forward, could you please state the actual underlying reason for such adamant defense?


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 2:11 p.m.

If anyone is interested in the master plan currently in place for the general referenced area, they may view, or purchase it from a2 City Planning. Of interest is commentary regarding quality of housing and its evolution, percentage of renters v owner occupants, and trends for number of housing units.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 12:03 p.m.

R4C zoning allows 20 units per acre which means on this site, about 8 units with a maximum of 48 bedrooms would be allowed under current zoning (half the site is zoned M1 and in a floodway, which does not allow new residential construction). The Moravian is proposed to be 63 units and 165 bedrooms. This is an enormous windfall gift to this developer from the City and it ought to come with substantial benefits, as required by law. Claiming affordable housing when we are losing 10 units is false. Claiming we need more density and more apartments is false when we have projects that are not being built because there is no market and no financing, and others that are built have high vacancy rates. Claiming LEED and geothermal as benefits is also false. It may be a grain of sand on the beach in terms of impact on the global environment, but the tax-paying property owners of this city will see no benefit from it. Certainly nothing that would compensate for this huge donation to the speculator's bottom line. The only "benefits" this developer is proposing are ones that are bare minimum requirements to even be considered for a PUD. PUD zoning "runs with the land" which means this site will be rezoned whether the project is financed and built or not. As has been the case across the city, numerous projects, including PUDs have been approved, sites rezoned, and nothing happened. If some idiot wants to build a project under existing zoning when there is no market for it, sure, he is welcome to be an idiot. But when the project involves a PUD windfall gift from the City, taxpayers and neighbors have every right to question the validity of this business decision. We don't need more fenced up vacant lots in this city, where viable businesses and housing have been demolished for no reason. Lastly, the greenbelt program was followed by the Calthorpe and A2D2 efforts, as well as a redo of the Downtown Plan. All of these efforts re-supported the "Downtown" as being within the DDA boundary, two blocks north of this site, and there is almost universal agreement that this is where density belongs. I'm sorry Tony Derezinski and Jean Carlberg don't like it, but that is the boundary supported by the community and experts alike. It's not the neighbor's fault that the economy is what it is, but if all the approved projects had been built, we would now have thousands of empty bedrooms in Downtown Ann Arbor. Perhaps then these activist commissioners, along with the Chamber of Commerce would declare a truce and stop trying to destroy our neighborhoods.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 10:58 a.m.

As with any private property the owner chooses the design, use, and aesthetics of the building, within legal use. This concept seems foreign to many posters in this blog, as they review and judge the property and use of others.. It is normal for an owner to choose or propose number of units, rooms, layout, mechanicals, and architectural style. Most posters in this blog likely practice this concept, even though they seem to want to restrict that practice by others.. Private investors choose to invest in market segments to meet perceived market need. Their investment and feasibility models include highest and best use studies, demographics, absorption, investment returns, future sale values, occupancy, vacancy, income, expenses, anticipated market trends, etc. Their livelihood, now and in the future, is at great risk.. Because their investment is at risk, they care about it far more than you. No need to worry about them, or their competitors, unless YOU are a competitor.. R4C neighborhoods are for multiple families. R4C zoning has been in place for many years. Additionally, there are master plans that outline possibilities for beneficial future development. Redevelopment of R4C parcels has been occurring for many years, always with an anti-development fight by neighbors.. The City of Ann Arbor wishes to increase density on a fixed amount of land within the City. The space available is upward (or City-owned parkland). There is no other choice within the City limit. The citizens of the City voiced its approval for the concept of increased density when they approved the green-space initiative outside the City. They voted that green-space preservation outside the City would increase quality of life in the City, as well as environs.. Increased density is desirable for the Citys future in that tax rolls can be bolstered by many additional people, decreasing its burden on existing citizens. A broader base can assume infrastructure and service expenses. This is important at a time with decreasing property value and tax revenue, decreased state reimbursement, and increased municipal costs of doing business.. Due to the expense of developing in the City, including cumbersome development process, need for submission of multiple site plans over many years, and land expense, development economy of scale is such that profit is only achieved with density.. These are complex issues. Solution to the issues, by those directly affected, often manifest as opposition to development. The opposition is usually voiced with phrase "not in my back yard.". If one chooses to live in a single-family zoning area of Ann Arbor, Saline, Dexter, Milan, etc they would not face the issues of multi-family redevelopment. However, in Ann Arbor R4C, it is a fact of life now, and even more so in the future.. Some people adapt to change better than others. Change occurs when we fight it, or not. The expense of the fight to halt change is usually far more detrimental than the change itself. Accepting change usually presents positive benefits that many don't have the foresight to imagine.. There will be many more redevelopment plans in the City in the future. The City is refining zoning language to make development easier. Developers are assembling parcels as we speak. However, the latter practice has been practiced here for decades.. Finally, PUDs allow and encourage public commentary. As multiple people voice their opinion of, "not in my back yard," it is acceptable for someone else to state a supportive voice, even if it is perceived as repetitive.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 10:13 a.m.

Wow, such a long internet debate. I have actually read the entire thing, and I'd like to offer my comments. My family owned a rental property on 4th Ave for more than 30 years, less than one block away from the Morovian project. I grew up in Ann Arbor having to come to this property to do the yard work with my brother and parents. I remember 20 years ago and further back the run down state of these properties. I then lived in the same property on 4th Ave while I was in college at Michigan. I still saw the run down nature of these properties. In fact, neighbors (who were not college students) and I joked about it being the "slums" of 4th Ave. After graduating from Michigan, as a young professional in Ann Arbor, I actually moved in with a roommate. We would have loved to live in a developement such as this. Instead we were relegated to living in a new devlopement just outside of Ann Arbor for its amenities and cost. When I first saw the Morovian project, I thought "Wow someone is finally going to clean up the bottom of 4th Ave". My opinion is that this is a beautiful project with lots of possibilities. It seems to me that much of the opposition's opinion is that you can't grant PUD here because there are other areas in the city where the project could be built. That seems like a pretty weak argument to me. Although admittedly, I'm no expert on developement or implementation of PUD. If the main concern is the height of the building, maybe suggest to lower it by one story, then it's only one story taller than the UM building across the street. If the main concern is the project being too dense, maybe suggest removing much of the 3-4 bedroom apartments and changing them to 2-3 bedroom apartments. Whatever the solution is, I believe to just say no is a mistake. This project will bring jobs, business, and I believe young professionals to Ann Arbor and the neighborhood. In addition, this project, in my humble opinion, will also beautify the neighborhood. Replacing what has always in my lifetime been known as the "slums" of 4th Ave with a brand new, vibrant, multi-use building.


Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 7:59 a.m.

This is a fascinating discussion. Unfortunately, it seems that like so much internet debate, it seems that people just state their opinions without paying any attention to what others say. Since we do not know each other it is difficult to know why this is the case, but it seems to me that A2Grateful just keeps repeating a mantra about the need for housing for young professionals, without any acknowledgment of the facts cited by others, facts that demonstrate to many of us that this is not really the target group of this particular development. Please look at the layout of the building and explain how young college graduates, or retirees for that matter, would want to move to a bedroom in a three-bedroom unit. I have nothing against students, but there is a time and place for everything, and most people who have to get up in the morning for work must leave the wild life behind and need sleep. Once a building is dominated by kids who have a specific lifestyle, it is usually avoided by adults. One also has to answer the argument, also made here, that there are at least ten approved construction projects downtown awaiting groundbreaking, and vacancies in recently built places. Just repeating the same talking points without engaging other views takes us nowhere.


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 5:19 p.m.

The penalty for not complying with LEEDS certification as stated in the Near North development supplemental regulations approved last month by city council is approximately $48,0000. The expected cost of this building is $10.5 million. Perhaps someone made an error? It is most definitely not 20% of the building cost.


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 10:47 a.m.

The Moravian property owners have every right to design amenities that attract young professionals.. It is astute marketing, targeted for a group that is neglected here, and has great value to the City and its future.. No age discrimination in that.. So, detractors, after the Moravian is built... you may find Moravian amenities appealing... you could lease and enjoy a unit at the Moravian. The owner's will follow state real estate law, and will not discriminate against you because of your age, regardless of actual years.


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 10:31 a.m.

Margaret5 is exactly right. This neighborhood is already home to a great mix of undergrad and grad students, as well as workers, retirees, professionals and families. No one is chanting "no students." The speculators are claiming they are designing this project exclusively for young professionals. Now THAT is age discrimination. And if it really is for the YPs, why not have all efficiencies and one bedroom units, maybe a few twos? Mostly ones. That's what young professionals want. At thousands of dollars per month and mostly three and four bedroom units, this building will be rented by wealthy students who want to be close to the stadium. The only age discrimination going on in this City is that perpetrated by these speculators and their supporters who are trying to push out longtime residents (translation: over 30) and replace their neighborhoods with warehouses full of "young professionals" (aka known as undergraduate students). It is absolutely laughable to assert that these 9 "affordable" units renting for $774 per month are in any way a replacement for the very low income housing lost at the YMCA. This project is resulting in a net loss of 10 existing units that really are affordable. If the developers fixed these houses up instead of continuing to let them rot around the tenants, they would be high quality, too. And yes, maybe the rents would need to rise, but given the market rate in this neighborhood, they would still be less than $774 per bedroom. "Needed residential density..." Where is this coming from? Needed by whom? There are 10 residential projects approved in the downtown proper that are not being built because there is no money and no market. The ones that are already built are full of vacancies. (Note the "Move in TODAY!" sign at 411 Lofts.) And North Quad adds 600 more beds to this glut next year. In their enthusiasm for the sustainability of dense urban living, people are losing sight of the market reality. And don't get me started on LEED. How much energy must be saved and green features employed to break even on the loss of embodied energy in these existing houses? How much landfill space must be saved during construction to make up for that filled by these neglected, but easily salvageable homes? And what level of LEED is being required? Simply being certified is not meaningful without a silver, gold or platinum level attached to it.


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 10:25 a.m.

The penalty for not achieving LEED cert is 20% of the building value (I forget the exact legal phrase in the supplemental regulations to determine the building value).


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 10:20 a.m.

The Moravian's target is for young professionals. Young professionals have stated interest in residing at the Moravian, as have retirees. Sounds like a fine mix to me. If student age renters wish to rent, they may as well. To deny occupancy according to age is illegal according to state law.. One that predicts specific and certain future occupancy characteristics for the Moravian does so from great emotion, and proficient crystal-ball clairvoyance. The bottom line is that the renters will determine the occupancy characteristic, as provided by law.. The Moravian will be providing affordable housing according to the definitions administered and provided by the City. If one does not agree with such definitions, disagreement is not with the Moravian.


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 9:47 a.m.

a2grateful: you misunderstand the issue re: student housing. The developers are selling this project to the planning commission as housing for "young professionals". They are using this label, because it is a buzz phrase that has weight with the current planning commission. A PUD is an exception to zoning and "we want to build great student housing" is not enough grounds (public benefit) for the planning commission to grant an exception to build something 5 times as dense as allowed. The neighbors are not anti-student housing. They are just pointing out the fact that the Moravian will not serve this "young professional" market as claimed, therefore the alleged public benefit of retaining young talent will not be achieved. Alot of the opposition to projects like these is really misunderstood. Opponents are trying to help our city grow right, not simply react whenever an opportunistic development proposal comes along. Neighbors might support 3 stories with 40 units. It is not increased density, or students, or growth that concerns them. These PUDs are not just a little out of scale, they are WAY out of scale. They RADICALLY alter the landscape and the future of the area. Many of the points you provide, a2grateful, are a mashup of buzzwords and misrepresentations. For example, you have the affordable housing issue wrong (as does Jean Carlberg). It is not too expensive for developers to provide units in the true downtown that meet the affordable housing criteria. It may CHEAPER for them not to. Just as it is cheaper to CLAIM that your project will be LEEDS certified (Geothermal heating, and more!) knowing full well that the "penalty" for not following through is a fine that amounts to only a fraction of the cost of implementing LEEDS. The answer is to increase the fees for opting out - not leave downtown undeveloped, while over-building in near downtown neighborhoods. Finally, before I spend all day here - the affordable units proposed for the Moravian will rent for $774 for a 1 bedroom. To qualify for this "reduced" rent (which is actually fair market value) the tenant can make no more that about $29K per year. That rent is just barely affordable to someone with that income. There are NO vouchers available to subsidize this rent for those making less than $29K. The mention of partial vouchers by Jean Carlberg was inaccurate. This is too complex to explain here, but the bottom line is - the Moravian will provide no affordable housing benefits to the community. Affordable housing, downtown density, LEEDS, etc. - all buzzwords that developers use to push forward projects. And sadly, our planning commissioners and council seem happy to accept these buzzwords for political gain.


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 7:58 a.m.

I find it interesting that there is such great outcry of the possibility that a Moravian unit would be rented to a college student. This has been chanted as if it would be a crime. However, the true crime is in discriminating against renting to college students, or those of their age.. Michigans Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act 453 of 1976, Article 5, 37.2502: Persons engaging in real estate transactions, real estate brokers, or real estate salesmen; prohibited practices; section subject to MCL 37.2503. Sec. 502. (1) A person engaging in a real estate transaction, or a real estate broker or salesman, shall not on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, AGE, sex, familial status, or marital status of a person or a person residing with that person: (a) Refuse to engage in a real estate transaction with a person.. Last time I checked real estate leasing activity is classified as a real estate transaction.. So those chanting, No students, are chanting illegal discriminatory remarks against a protected group. I find this as repulsive as if chanting against any of the other protected groups.. And to the college students, college graduates, working people, retirees, etc that might choose to live in the Moravian: I fully support and understand your desire for quality housing at a fair price.. It makes sense that people dont want to live in rundown 1920s houses that only receive minimal certificate of occupancy renewal repairs.. Finally, it appears that college students in Ann Arbor have a true choice of housing supply. Those property owners that offer quality housing, excellent tenant service, and fair prices, will find ample rental opportunity regardless of housing stock age.


Thu, Oct 8, 2009 : 5:46 a.m.

The Moravian PUD works for me. Heres why. Numerous public benefits afforded by Moravian:. 1) Needed residential density in urban block revitalizes a dilapidated industrial neighborhood. This means increased tax revenue for City, and increased traffic for nearby businesses. Hopefully, there will be similar development on the Fingerle site once it sells.. 2) Removal of buildings of low-construction quality and fair- to poor-condition.. 3) Site cleanup of a contaminated industrial site abutting residences.. 4) 9 affordable housing units of good quality. Think this trivial? How many affordable housing units has the City built after demolishing the former Y, displacing its residents? None.. Of recent developments (post Ashley Mews), how many have constructed affordable housing units? None. Typically, developers buy their way out of the affordable housing requirement. Ever wonder where that money goes?. 5) LEED certification. Positive environmental impact for the neighborhood and beyond.. 6) Commercial and office space. Mixed unit development is a component of many new buildings, serving onsite residents and neighbors.. 7) Onsite parking in a neighborhood that is lacking same. Keeping parked cars off the street makes it safer for neighborhood pedestrians crossing outside of crosswalks.. 8) The Moravians interior parcel redevelopment supports the City of Ann Arbors taxpayer funded initiative to thwart urban sprawl, making green space initiatives outside City limits a wise use of taxpayer money.. Finally, the downsized Moravian is a far better fit for the area than the Madison plan that it replaces. The Moravians scale dovetails nicely with the neighborhood roofline pitch, beginning with the historical Perry Building, sloping down to the 3-story historical building at 109 E Madison.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 10:04 p.m.

Absolute drivel. Since when is it liberal to hand speculators the privilege of raping our community for their own profit? Those of you cheering on the destruction of this neighborhood would be well served by a nice slow walk up and down these streets. With the exception of some of the properties these developers have allowed to deteriorate, this neighborhood is charming and the houses, owner-occupied and rental alike, are well-tended. The rents are far cheaper than those that would be charged by these speculators, even those nine units to be provided under the City's lame formula for affordable housing. There are currently two-bedroom apartments in this neighborhood that are renting for $800 and $1000 a month. A three-bedroom house is renting for $1000. The speculators plan to rent their units at $700+ for an efficiency, $2000 for a two bedroom and so on. The main thing everyone needs to understand is that this is not just some good-intentioned citizens who bought some property and decided to build something within the zoning. They are asking the City to give them a PUD, which is intended to be for unusual circumstances and in trade for a substantial benefit to the City and specifically, the surrounding neighborhood (read the ordinance). Our City should not give away these very special privileges to anyone who asks for it. Those who live and own property in this neighborhood have a right to expect that the City's zoning and planning, developed with tremendous community input, will be enforced and not tossed out at the drop of a hat. This is a student dorm project with mostly 3 and 4 bedroom units and the developers know this. Shame on Jessie Bernstein and his Chamber pals for dismissing the current population of this neighborhood. They are tremendous customers for downtown businesses and it is disgusting how the Chamber board has declared open war on the near-downtown neighborhoods. I've talked with many of Chamber members who had no idea what these leaders were up to, and they were appalled by it. Shame on Jean Carlberg for gushing all over this project even though it would destroy 19 affordable housing units, tossing out the occupants and replacing their homes, two years later, with expensive student party apartments. Shame on Tony Derezinski and Dianna Giannola for their juvenile analysis of the topography of this site. I don't think either of them have ever gotten out of their cars and really looked at this neighborhood. Shame on all of them for claiming that LEED certification or a geo-thermal system is a benefit to the community. It may be an admirable and "green" thing to do, but it will make no difference to anyone else in the City how this building is heated and cooled. The only real benefit will be to the speculators, who will save money on utility bills and use the "green" angle as a marketing tool. When graduates have jobs offered to them in Ann Arbor, then they will stay in Ann Arbor. They won't stay for the privilege of sharing a 4 bedroom apartment on Madison. It's a college town folks, and it's been one from the earliest days. People go to college, they find a job, and they move to where that job is. All the apartments in the world aren't going to change that.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 2:54 p.m.

Beverly Strassmann, president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association, says it's ironic that the pedestrian accident occurred while planning commissioners were considering the association's concerns about traffic safety on South Fifth Avenue. Strassmann says the group is asking that the city fix the hazard for pedestrians at the intersection of South Fifth and Packard "by instituting a light that does not say 'Walk' just as the cars are whipping around the corner."Also, Strassman says, the telephone pole has an electrical box that obscures the view. Strassman told me today she has written to the Transportation Department about the problem in the past and the city should not delay in fixing it or take any action that will aggravate the situation.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 2:48 p.m.

Martha Luczak, a member of the Germantown Neighborhood Association, sent this letter to the Planning Commission today. I thought it was relevant to share here. Dear Planning Commission, My husband Tom and I departed last night's Planning Commission meeting around 10 pm in order to take out our 10-year-old dog (she doesn't have as much staying power as all of you do!). We were horrified to see the police and fire departments at the corner of 5th Avenue and Packard caring for a pedestrian who was struck by a vehicle. The victim was taken by ambulance to the hospital. This is not the first pedestrian struck at this juncture. This is real-time example of how dangerous the traffic is on 5th Avenue as it heads south toward Hill Street (and past the proposed Moravian project and driveway entrance). Cars gain significant speed on 5th Avenue as they near Packard and either zip to the left on Packard (often not yielding to pedestrian traffic) or continue straight down 5th Avenue and fly over the crest of the hill (think "Dukes of Hazard" tv show here). Adding a driveway for the proposed Moravian near the bottom of the hill near Madison Street will spell certain disaster. When turning into our own driveway (438 South 5th Avenue), we watch our rear-view mirror in horror as we are nearly rear-ended on a regular basis. Ann Arborites view 5th Avenue as their superhighway to cut through town. Please consider how the traffic flowing in and out of the Moravian will impact the safety of all drivers on 5th Avenue. Thank you for listening. Kindly, Martha Luczak


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 1:39 p.m.

This is not an argument about density, diversity, young professionals, downtown, grocery stores, developers, conservatives, liberals, or Santa Claus. This project is simply NOT ALLOWED BY LAW in the proposed location without getting "special permission," called a PUD. PUDs are supposed to be used in very special cases where a developer says, "Hey community, let me do a really cool building that isn't really possible anywhere else in town, and you'll get all kinds of goodies in return." Unfortunately, this is not the case with the Moravian. Yes, it's supposed to get LEED certification, which is great, and allow for a little cafe and office space. However, the petitioner merely wants to build 5x the number of units on this land than is allowed by law on this property. Stop and think: how would you feel if you and your family lived in the house next to it? The developer of 411 Lofts at Washington/Division, for example, didn't have to ask any special permission to build his building because IT WAS ALLOWED BY LAW. It was where the community said a big building SHOULD BE. No muss, no fuss -- it feels good to follow the law! So let's try to be constructive here -- if you want all the homes at the bottom of the hill to be wiped out and replaced by a bunch of Moravians, you're entitled to that opinion: talk to your city council person and ask when and where the special committee dealing with this is meeting. If you want more stores, cafes, and projects like the Moravian built around the city instead of all the empty strip center parking lots you see, there is no way around it -- you have GOT to get smart about what the core issues are and then S H O W U P A T M E E T I N G S where changing these laws is currently being discussed. Don't know what's going on? Here's a start: there's one tonight at Cobblestone Farm at 6:30pm (go to and click on "Area Height and Placement meeting" in the lower right. But before you do that, click on the red envelope in the upper right corner and sign up for planning updates and A2D2 updates). Changing the laws and plans for the community is the way to change development, not by moaning about how the city is making it hard on developers who want to do one-off oversized projects on cheap land. I promise you this: If just 10% of the people posting here would instead channel their energy into learning the issues (call the staff planning contact on a project, call your council person, call a planning commissioner) and speaking at a couple of meaningful meetings (like tonight), this community would take giant leaps forward. If not, cue the tape one more time: only NIMBYs show up at the meetings, and progress is killed.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 1:35 p.m.

a2: If an action doesn't affect me personally and immediately, then I shouldn't care? That seems very sad and empty...I mean no personal attack; this is simply a general comment on the human condition. Winter sun is a precious commodity that, I believe, is as valuable as clean water, and the government should protect it. Last, this was a PUD, so the public benefit should be proportional to the zoning variance. 9 affordable units and LEED certification, while beneficial, doesn't offset the 5x density variance. More open space and a less massive-looking design would help the balance.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 1:24 p.m.

Once again.. Ann Arbor had the chance to get a modern building that would help to create a vibrant urban downtown. Once again.. a view grumpy old folks cannot accept progress and ruin it for everyone else. This is why young people like myself are living the area. Good job everyone.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 11:31 a.m.

The developer pointed out tonight that current zoning would allow a gas station to be built on the site, which he called a bigger threat than housing.. Huh. He assumes that city council will actually allow construction of a project that conforms to current zoning. He should ask Alex DeParry about that.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 11:25 a.m.

AccruedInterest: "... the building is... 2 stories (not counting roofs and dormers) higher than its 4th street neighbor...... If that neighbor doesn't care, why would you?... If that neighbor supports the project, why wouldn't you?... Maybe that neighbor invites and relishes a possible domino effect... a great APPRECIATION in value for his neighboring property...... Finally (in jest... yea, right), living in SE MI, we know that winter clouds shade us for a drastic number of winter days.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 11:22 a.m.

Dear Rusty: 80% of the people who live or own homes on 4th and 5th Ave., that is the streets that this would be on signed heir name in opposition, according to what was stated at the meeting. This is not across Main. Please take a good look at the plans and not at the somewhat misleading presentation by the developer--it completely dwarfs the adjoining houses on 4th and 5th. but, most important, for those who claim that locals are trying to keep diverse populations out, this is simply a dorm. The way that the inside is planned out is not for "young professionals" at all: three bedroom units, each bedroom with a separate bathroom. This will be a part house for students; as for affordable housing, as was pointed out time and again at the meeting, the present plan actually results in a net loss of ten such units on the location. Please take a closer look. It is easy to criticize opposition to such building in general terms, but this is a bad plan for the wrong spot. A well-planned, aesthetically more pleasing and larger apartment building could be put up just a few blocks away, downtown and not in the near-downtown, on the old Y lot which is now a parking lot. If built right--not as a dorm but as an affordable modern place to live for young families and professionals, it would fulfill, in a true fashion, all the requirements for urban living that people ascribe to the Madison, which in no way does this at all.

Janelle Baranowski

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 11:13 a.m.

I attended UM and now live and work in Ann Arbor. I would LOVE to see more apartment buildings go up for students. Get the students out of the single-family homes. The use of single-family homes as student rentals is part of the reason homes are so expensive in Ann Arbor. --- If we could get the students into dorms and apartment complexes, (instead of the delapidated homes they currently rent,)it would do a lot more for the aesthetics of the downtown than worrying about whether a building is four stories or five. --- Just imagine it, think of all those run down rental homes. Now picture them cute-as-a-button like the Dolph Park area, filled with young professionals, families, seniors. People make a community, not the size of a building. --- One thing I think the protestors got right: as a young professional, I can tell you that those apartments are going to end up with mostly students. Young professionals tend to live alone, not in three bedroom apartments. They wouldn't like the location because there's no easy exit from downtown if you commute to work. And, invariably some students would live there, which the young professional wouldn't want to put up with. (No offense to students, it's just that Thursday night parties don't fly when you have work on Friday morning.) --- I'm really regretting not attending that meeting last night.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 11:11 a.m.

I have no problem with downtown development, in fact I encourage it, but the entire premise for jobs and housing in downtown is based on pie in the sky fantasies promulgated by politicians seeking re-election and developers seeking a profit with help from the public sector. Neither of those parties are making decisions that serve the long term interests of the community. They're based on the tired premises of unsustainable boom and bust. Forecasts are weak for population and job growth in the region and the city, so let's build build build! "Density" has become a euphemism for overdevelopment. If you want people to live downtown, they need an affordable full service grocery store or two, a dry goods emporium or two, and especially the kinds and numbers of jobs that will attract and retain young urbanites. Ann Arbor also lacks an effective public transportation system so anyone living downtown will need a place to put their car, which we profess to want fewer of in downtown. Even the premise of attracting and retaining smart young people to a long term profession and live in one place for any length of time is outmoded. How long do young people stay employed or live in one place anymore? Ask them and you'll find out. Why would young professionals want to live in a city that not only doesn't offer an "exciting experience" (whatever that is) but is expensive and requires you to travel to the edge of town or to the suburbs to buy a chicken or a dish towel? Downtown Ann Arbor is an entertainment and boutique business district. It's not a place where large numbers of high tech R&D based jobs will locate. There's little space for those kinds of businesses to locate and produce the numbers of jobs that will require 2000 more downtown residents in the next decade. In fact, location means little to many new high tech r&d jobs. Most likely businesses employing large numbers or people will locate in the townships where there's room to build. Residential development in the townships will follow business growth there, not downtown. And once and for all time, Ann Arbor is not a Chicago or NYC or Portland, or... or anywhere else for that matter. And it never will be like those cities. It's a midwest college town, with all the problems and assets that come with it, fer cryin' out loud.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 10:46 a.m.

Why would a developer even waste their time trying to do anything in Ann Arbor, especially near downtown? I certainly never would. You can invest a boatload of $$ and get projects that typically take a few months turn into years. I wouldn't develop anything in Ann Arbor. For Ann Arbor being such a "progressive" town, they sure are stuck in the past when it comes to developing new neighborhoods.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 10:32 a.m.

except the building is 5 times the density of R4C zoning, and it is 2 stories (not counting roofs and dormers) higher than its 4th street neighbor. The distance between the proposed building and that house is about 20ft. If you read the PUD, you'd know the building will shade its neighbor for almost the entire day every winter. I'm not opposed to development, but let's get a better building

Ryan D

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 8:56 a.m.

Growth is inevitable, the only question is grow up or grow out. We've seen enough outward spawrl created in the last 10 years to drain the life out of downtown. Do the right thing and start growing up before it's too late.

Marvin Face

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 8:52 a.m.

I am in absolute agreement with a2grateful here. The building as shown in the "Germantown" rendering actually makes the developers case for them. This is actually very much in scale with the surroundings becuase of the slope and surrounding buildings. Stick a couple street trees in and the thing practically disappears.. I also love how PersonX seems to be grasping at the last straws by comparing the scale of the Fingerle industrial buildings across the street to make his/her argument! Yes, so out of scale with the surrounding industrial!. This is a good project. It is a good location. Can it be tweaked? Sure. Should it be stopped by the vocal minority? No.

Rob T

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 8:22 a.m.

Ann Arbor's downtown is one of the biggest reasons why I chose to live and work here, and the town needs urbanization to thrive. A functional downtown and public transit is what will make Ann Arbor grow and stay green over the next twenty years.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 8:13 a.m.

The building is completely out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood--even the industrial building across the street are no higher than two stories. There is no need for this place--three bedroom "units," with each bedroom having its own bathroom, will hardly stop anyone from leaving Ann Arbor; these are talking points without substance. There is only one reason for building this--to make money. This is not by itself bad thing, but the cost to the community is to high, and it offers nothing to the city, once you get past the slick PR. As many pointed out, a number of apartment buildings have been approved for downtown, where they belong, but have not yet been built, and the old Y lot awaits development, just where the various city plans, which citizens paid for dearly, indicates it should go. Why ruin the neighborhoods that give much of the city its character when density can be achieved downtown? Cheap land, that is all. But please keep in mind that if such large--and very ugly--buildings are allowed in old neighborhoods and start to drive out families, this will have an adverse effect on the community. Who will pay taxes and employ others when student apartment buildings--and that is what this is--push families out? There is no panic here; people have put much effort into maintaining a neighborhood and do not want to see it blighted by bad, inappropriate design. That is perfectly reasonable and should not be derided. We need citizens who care about their neighborhoods and the city. There are city plans that involved much research and citizen involvement that have produced perfectly reasonable guidelines for development and promote the judicious evolution of the city. Some developers want to go against this for simple profit reasons, but no amount of political gamesmanship and talk of "public benefit" can hide the fact that some development is good and some is not.

Alan Benard

Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 8:03 a.m.

This opposition to multi-storey development is one part NIMBY, two parts classism and three parts slumlords defending their right to overcharge students for unlivable rooms in their chopped-up single-family tenements.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 7:50 a.m.

I thought that Ann Arbor was open to diversity? Here we have a few CONSERVATIVE gate keepers wanting to keep people out of their neighborhood. This project would provide jobs,(not that we need them with 20% unemployment), bring in new taxes,(not that we need that since Pfizer left),and bring in new people who have different and maybe diverse ideas. It would also create more jobs, these people have to buy gas,eat,shop etc. And what do we do? Tell them we don't want them here!


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 7:13 a.m.

I recall there is a three or four story building right across the street. I'm sure the developer could come up with a plan for a two or three story curb side with a three or four story elevation away from the curb - similar to the guidelines that are proposed for parts of the downtown districts. While I believe in going up downtown (prevents urban sprawl which I've experienced and it's not pretty) but I'm not sure this site supports 14 stories well. Let's not let egos get in the way and compromise. It sounds like the developer is trying.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 7:08 a.m.

I find that "objective" Germantown Neighborhood Association juxtaposition photo to be quite fascinating. It makes me feel deeply sorry for the property owners whose houses will be dwarfed to the south, along this particularly scenic block of E Madison St...... Oh, wait...... Those houses are being removed, and the new building's street setbacks are increasing? There are no houses to the south on E Madison?... Oh, and...... The roofline of the new building is actually similar to the rooflines of the neighboring houses to the north, due to topographical and architectural features?... Hmm...... The proposed building actually has a roofline within the slope of historical multi-story E Madison buildings, as determined from east to west along East Madison, toward the residential area?... Now I see why this project is entirely unacceptable to Germantown Neighborhood Association, given their view of the neighborhood as provided in the juxtaposition photo. Rather nice spin, I'd say!... OK...... Roll on a2ites!


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 7 a.m.

Young urbanites move on,so these structures ought to fit in with the character of these blocks.Asking for harmonious design is something developers can do-why balk at asking for better quality? I really doubt the developers are having a pity party because they have to do what is their skill set. Ann Arbor ought not lower it's standards:there is ample creativity to obtain the right design.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 6:57 a.m.

While the developer and his investors are clearly insane for attempting to build a major project in Michigan's economy, even Ann Arbor's, I'm sure that there are more than a few unemployed area construction workers who wish that it'd been allowed.


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 4:46 a.m.

Of course, a2 Planning Commission sends the developer back to the drawing board. Of course, neighbors panicked and "developed" fear-based neighborhood destruction scenarios. That's how we roll in Ann Arbor!