Ann Arbor City Council should not be stampeded on 14-story high-rise decision
The proposed development at 413 E. Huron, if it goes forward, will be a blight on the city that will last for 80 to 100 years. The outpouring of testimony from neighbors, citizen advisory groups, historic preservation groups, and urban planners has catalogued the debasement of our fair city’s character that would be caused by this oversized monstrosity. Despite the flood of negative testimony and a decided lack of enthusiasm for the project from anyone but the out of town developers, the city council may be on the brink of approving the project. Why? Fear of lawsuit.
Our current downtown zoning regulations contain a mistake - they fail to adequate provide for the interface of huge developments with our neighborhoods, especially our historic neighborhoods like the Historic Fourth Ward. Mistakes happen; the city leadership, as good as they are, are not perfect or clairvoyant. But why compound the mistake?
First, once denied the developers may realize that the student residential market is indeed saturated and new downtown residential construction should target young professionals and baby boomers who want to live downtown. The developers may well start over with a more modest proposal for a different market, on the same site.
Second, if they file a lawsuit, they will lose. Many lawyers have told City Council that the developers have no vested legal interest in the project until there is “shovel in the ground”. The city is on solid legal ground to reject the project. The developers must do more than comply with zoning laws. They must also follow the other city guidelines and rules that are meant to safeguard the integrity and character of our fine city.
Third, losing a lawsuit would not be the worst outcome. The worst outcome would be 100 years of a building 165% the size of the new Varsity going up on the same Huron Street block. If the council approves the building, the chances are 100% that that bad outcome will be realized.
But if the council stands up for the city, the negative consequences to the city are speculative and may be zero. Even if there were a lawsuit and even if a court awarded damages (both of which are far from certain), the damages, if any, would be an acceptable cost for correcting the zoning mistake and safeguarding the character of our beloved community. Spread the dollar cost of any damage award over a hundred years of the blight of the new building, and it is a fair trade-off, a fair price to pay to correct a city planning mistake. Even if damages were as large as $100,000, risking $1000 per year as compared with the certainty of the defilement of this ugliness, is the reasonable choice. I urge City Council to have the courage to protect our city and vote NO
Don Duquette is an attorney and a nearly 40 year resident of Ann Arbor. He and his wife Kathy recently moved to a condo downtown -- and love it.