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Posted on Sun, Sep 27, 2009 : 5:43 a.m.

Ann Arbor must aim higher than "barely acceptable'' for City Place project

By Tony Dearing

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 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 editorial board.)



Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 10:24 a.m.

If you think age should be an automatic qualifier then everything would be historic eventually. Once evrything is historic then nothing is historic - I wonder when the Ann Arbor preservationist community is going to be saved from itself. Everyhting has history, few things are historical.


Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 10:19 a.m.

Baseless? Yet I am correct? Thank you for saying they might "possibly" be historical, That is the correct way of stating the contributing factors of those homes. Mr Dearing stating they were Historic made an assumptive statement, that is untrue. Furthermore this was at the beginning of a public opinion peice, by the editor of our only significant news source in town, you would assume that he is correct and the study committe is just a foregone conclusion of the righteous. An opinion is one thing, misleading the public with a false or un-substantiated claims is how we got the Iraq war. I dont think that it is baseless to question something when it is obviously wrong? - unless it is a crime to question the motive of preservationism in Ann Arbor and ask the press to correctly present the facts even if they dont like the way it sounds.


Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 8:53 a.m.

I think age alone could be a "historic" qualification.


Sun, Sep 27, 2009 : 9:39 p.m.

Again they are not historic until proven so and I doubt any of these homes qualify under that part of the guidelines. Mainly because there are few examples of such Architecture in Ann Arbor and most of those have been preserved. The preservation community is far too liberal in the definition of what is "historic" in Ann Arbor. The Beakes house has a slim chance due to the fact that it was a mayors home and apparently one of distinction. Just like innocent until proven guilty, sites are not historic until it is properly studied a looked at with a great degree of skepticism. It was sloppy for A2com to make that statement.


Sun, Sep 27, 2009 : 1:13 p.m.

These home are not historic until the study committee proves them to be so. 1: Second Paragraph last part where seven historic homes now stand. Until the study committee is done; there not historic or historical, they are just old! and its staff seem to have no factual knowledge of Preservation act 169 and just like city council, they are swayed by the emotional, not factual and legal aspects of a Historic District, rules that prevent property owners from being steamrolled into a historic district by a few citizens self interests. 2: The legitimacy of City Councils vote for the moratorium is questionable, since they rejected a historic study committee in Dec 2008. Unless I have missed this reporting, this is a fact that does not know, or does not want public? 3: The neighbors of this newly formed Germantown Association? is reporting a vocal few who rushed an organization together to protect their own self-interests and guarantee a seat on the study committee. Has anyone asked if the president of the Germantown Association is concerned about renting his own units with a 144 new ones across the street? The opinion piece as well as all the reporting about City Place from a2com shows no opposing view from neighbors who might not want the HDC in their backyard but by the tone of your article they would assume they had no choice because they are historic Tony Dearing said so. I do not write in support of City Place or against City Place. I write with a deep concern for a failure of and its reporting and opinion board to report this matter fairly, accurately and with integrity that is required of our major source of civic news. I am more concerned about City Council using the Historic District Commission as a political vehicle to manage city development. Their actions and those of the preservation community is shameful. Mr Dearing owes us a retraction and some deeper research before he spouts off his emotions without the facts.