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Posted on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:50 a.m.

East Huron high-rise design is too imposing for historic Ann Arbor neighborhood

By Guest Column

In regards to the informative article written by Ryan Stanton “Historic District Commission takes stand against student high-rise proposed on East Huron” and posted on December 17th, 2012; my comments are as follows:

I understand the need for more student housing and the building of such facilities to house new students and entices new business. I agree that a project related to adjacent businesses and housing needs is a positive step to keep the city walkable.

This project should be integrated within the existing city and I would agree that the North Division neighborhood is a decent location; however, the design is oppressive to say the least.

This is not Huston, Texas; A place without zoning. A place where a 30-story skyscraper are built next to gated two-story luxury condo complex which is next to a fast food place neighboring single family residential houses and a church.

This is not Manhattan; a place where land is so expensive, you must build up. The average rent in Ann Arbor is roughly $800 a month as compared to Manhattan, where it is around $3,000. Land is more valuable there and thus a denser population.

Thumbnail image for east_huron_development_context_right.jpg

I think the design needs to be scrapped and re-proposed so it is not so imposing on the mostly residential historical district. The city officials and members of the “development team” should take a page out of New York City (circa 1916) where zoning regulations were passed to make large building have setbacks as they were built-up from street level. This allowed for light to get to the pedestrian traffic and made the building less imposing for the surrounding, low level neighborhoods.

This is why a building like the Empire State Building (to pick a very overbearing building) raises 6 stories and then cuts back on the site/building. If this East Huron Street Development goes through, the folks that live due north of this development will be denied sunlight from mid-morning to late evening due to the dense mass it creates on that site.

The design is absurd and offers no correlation with its neighboring historical district or the city as a whole. Have we become a society where giant blocks with punched windows get by just because they are mixed use and are using a modern brick color?

This project has a stark resemblance to that of the many failed “housing projects” we find in our cities today that have come from the Le Corbusier school of thought. When we put low-income people in 10 to 20 story buildings because it looks nice, we ruin any effort for community (both inside the building and with the surrounding area). This can also allow crimes to spread within the development because of this disconnect or alienation the building has created.

I think Humphreys & Partners have failed the City of Ann Arbor by submitting a design that is mostly stagnate to its surroundings and lacking a relationship in scale to harmonize with the existing historical district.

In turn, the City of Ann Arbor has failed the citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods by allowing something this poorly designed to be allowed to neighbor such a prevalent historical residential district.

This is Tree Town not Tower Town. Please, let’s keep it that way.

(Scott E. Kree is an urban planner and graduated from Eastern Michigan University. He was raised in Brighton and currently lives in Holly.)



Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 12:28 a.m.

"Every time I drive past the Campus Inn, I say to myself - what an outrage, it's totally out of scale with Harris Hall" said no one, ever.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

Ann Arbor's downtown foot print is still a small town. Now we will become over populated in our small urban core.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:22 p.m.

I never thought about large buildings blocking sunlight for pedestrians and nearby buildings. I agree with Scott - this large building doesn't have the residential feel of Ann Arbor. I recently listened to a great podcast named "Why Cities Rock." Scott you should check it out.

Joan Secrest

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:12 p.m.

Thank you for stepping up with your thoughtful comments. Yes, we are not New York City although it seems that city administration and the Downtown Development folks believe to the contrary. Who will stand up for the uniqueness of the traditional Ann Arbor-scape if not its citizens. Can it survive the imperative of gain from short term money over the long term benefits of its specialness?


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

North of Huron & division is mostly homes with student housing on the east side of division all the way to catherine, so who is this small little whinning group that thinks the dark starship is going to hover over them, should we demolish sloan plaza & the campus inn heard no complaints about those buildings when they went up. Im for this development maybe the developer should buy the homes on division to ann st plus a few on ann st an make a larger plaza or green space. lets build up and not out urban sprawl is horrid look at detroit area.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

North of Huron and Division are some beautiful properties that are essential to Ann Arbor's character and appeal. The problem with the proposed high-rise is that it is at least 5 stories too tall and not very attractive. Nothing that a good design team can't fix. I think you have short memory in regards to Campus Inn, there was plenty of concern at the time. Sloan Plaza fits in well.

Stan Hyne

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

What does the zoning say they can build?

Linda Peck

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

Thank you for this article and I agree. The building is too big and way too ugly. I am not against all high rises, just the ones that don't fit and are really ugly. It is a matter of taste, not holding back time.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

Scott you made a great point. I hope the Major and the city planning committee reads this. Better yet I propose next time when a plan like this comes up lets have the people who are responsible making these decisions live right in front of the building until it is finished. I don't buy the reply life goes on get over with it. When I've arrived to AA there were only three tall building, Tower Plaza, Campus Inn Hotel and the former Miller ice cream building on Forrest and South U. Now we are bombarded with new one. The man build the new one on South U as soon as finished he sold it for huge profit. Maybe this kind of project should come up for a vote in the future.

Dave Koziol

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:17 p.m.

What defines "tall buildings"? The First National Building on Washington and Main is about 12 stories and well over 100 years old. 200 E Washington is 7 stories, and over 100 years old. The Courthouse Square Apartment building is around 50 years old and about 10 stories. The Old YMCA Building was about 7 or 8 stories and built in 1959. Ann Arbor has had tall buildings for over 100 years...


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

Change is very difficult for people. Unfortunately, life moves on whether we like it or not.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

The people who appear at council meetings and influence their elected government would disagree with you.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:23 p.m.

I agree downtown housing is important and desirable. But not at the expense of the existing residents. THINK before you build, use some common sense and consideration.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 12:35 a.m.

LA - that is just code speak for not in my backyard. This should be celebrated by all of those that have pushed so hard to stop urban sprawl and had the government buy up surrounding farm land with tax dollars. We're going to get a real city with high rise buildings, crime, and higher cost of iving like all of the other ciities. Be careful what you wish for and vote for, it has consequences that you may not have thought through during your quest to save the environment and humanity from itself.

just a voice

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

If we grow ann arbor up, we can become the main city in michigan and take over from detroit. Or we can keep protecting the status quo, as we have for the past 20 years. Most conservative 'liberal' town in the world is what we are.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

It isn't a contest of high rise development. It is our home town. We don't want to be like Grand Rapids, or Detroit (was that a joke you made?). Or Lansing.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

"Let's buy up all of the land to stop urban aprawl and then not allow vertical development" This seems to be the unintelligible thinking of the liberals.................


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

@Nicholas - this isn't all about profit, it is about the need for housing. The developers actually risk money to develop that property, a concept you obviously don't understand, and deserve to make a profit if they can. It serves the need for more housing, provides jobs to construction workers, adds to the tax base, and allows more residents to buy goods and services in town. This is your reality, created by your social policies, and now you whine that someone might make a living creating it. Why are liberals such bigoted haters? "defined by Merriam-Webster as "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance"."


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

Build up yes but do it intelligently

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

You want it that way? The unintelligible thinking of GOP members would have us believe that this is an issue of freedom and human rights, rather than property values and maintaining the chartacter of our town. Life isn't all about freedom to profit at the expense of others. Nor should it be. Anyone who has actually visited Ann Arbor recently has seen the vast number of high rises under construction, and those completed in the last 3 years. Ann Arbor is not Troy, nor does it wish to be.

Jamie Pitts

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

Well-put! There is a way to evolve and weave city life into Ann Arbor and you have clearly shown how this project is the wrong way to go about it. I am glad that you mentioned "housing projects". We all need to understand the history of bad urban planning - Le Corbusier, Robert Moses, etc. -- as well as what has worked in the past in order to articulate how to properly control development downtown.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

good points one of my gripes with this high building craze is the total lack of esthetics in city planning

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

I believe you addressed every point clearly. In recent months, I have noticed a common refrain from our city's leaders that change is inevitable and necessary to move our city forward it. If change means a high density, overbuilt, downtown then by all means commence, but please keep in mind that we still need to have an accessibile downtown and I have yet to see a strategy to address this. Note: People will not simply move into a downtown that is clogged and overpriced. After all, this is Ann Arbor.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

I think you nailed it on all points.