Ann Arbor must aim higher than "barely acceptable'' for City Place project
The Ann Arbor City Council’s unanimous vote to approve a site plan for City Place may represent a victory for the developer of this vapid project, but here’s hoping it proves to be an empty one.
Neither city officials nor neighbors - nor we - can summon any enthusiasm for this 144-bedroom apartment house project on South Fifth Avenue, where seven historic homes now stand.
Granted, the project does meet the bare minimum requirements for approval, which is why City Council felt legally bound to accept the site plan, even as one remarked he had to “hold my nose’’ in order to vote for it.
There does not, however, appear to be any great likelihood that the project will be built in the form that City Council reluctantly accepted last Monday.
Market forces may be enough to prevent it. City Place is geared toward a student audience and demand for that type of housing appears soft at the moment, thanks to newly built student apartment buildings and college dormitory renovations. Financing such a project in the current economic climate may not be possible, either.
More importantly, the city has instituted a six-month moratorium on new development or the demolition of existing buildings in that area while a committee studies whether a historic district should be created to preserve the Germantown neighborhood.
That moratorium should keep City Place on hold for now, and hopefully create a window of opportunity for developer Alex de Parry to work with neighbors to craft a more acceptable project.
Last July, the developer reached an agreement with the city under which the site plan would be tabled and he’d come back in January with a revised planned unit development, or PUD.
That’s why city officials were surprised when de Parry came back this month and compelled a vote on the site plan that had been tabled. But he said city officials forced his hand, claiming it was an act of bad faith for the city to approve the moratorium after he’d already agreed to revise his project.
If this were not such an uninspired, set-the-bar-as-low-as-possible design, we could muster more sympathy for de Parry. Ann Arbor is notoriously slow, difficult and inconsistent in the way in the way it receives development projects, and he is by no means the first developer to feel frustrated by the process.
But as we look to the future of Ann Arbor, we don’t think “barely acceptable’’ is the standard we should be shooting for, and we find it particularly unpalatable to sacrifice seven century-old homes for the City Place plan currently on the table.
Even though de Parry forced the City Council to vote on the site plan that won approval last week, we remain hopeful that was more an act of brinksmanship than a signal of his intention to impose this project on the city without significantly reworking it.
He told AnnArbor.com last week that he is modifying a plan for City Place based on neighborhood input, and is awaiting revised renderings from his architect.
The Germantown Neighborhood Association remains adamantly opposed to the current version of the plan, although it has said it would accept a project that included some mix of new units and renovation of existing homes that respects the character of the area.
That would be a welcome outcome and we encourage the city, the developer and the neighbors to continue to work toward it.
(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the AnnArbor.com editorial board.)