Near North deal doesn't resolve wider development issues
It looks less like a win-win than an acceptable compromise, but the apparent deal that will allow development of the Near North affordable housing project is headed toward approval by Ann Arbor City Council.
Council delayed action on the project last week after developers said they were willing to make changes based on discussions with residents of the North Central area.
The result will be a development that is smaller in square footage, and no two-bedroom units.
The project promises to be LEED certified - meaning it would meet guidelines for “environmentally sustainable’’ construction - and will add 39 units of affordable housing in Ann Arbor. Avalon Housing, which is working with developer Three Oaks Group on Near North, says the project offers public benefits that are “some of the highest level you could achieve.’’
Even in its compromise form, Near North will change the character of the North Central neighborhood, though less dramatically now, allowing the neighborhood association there to accept it, if unenthusiastically.
When the public is listened to, and a project is meaningfully reshaped based on community input, that is worth noting. We congratulate all parties on their willingness to work toward a solution.
At the same time, we see underlying issues here that this debate did more to expose than to resolve, and Ann Arbor will continue to wrestle with them.
Building heights. Density of residential projects. Development versus preservation - which some see more as a question of development versus stagnation.
Issues like these strike at the heart of Ann Arbor’s character.
If something was going to be built in the North Central neighborhood, an affordable housing project reined in through negotiations is a far better outcome than the City Hall-sized colossus of a condo project first proposed for the site on North Main Street five years ago and successfully beaten back by neighbors.
Members of the North Central Property Owners Association are keenly sensitive to the development pressures being felt in their neighborhood and others that border downtown.
They argue that for some three decades, good planning helped preserve the character of these near-downtown neighborhoods, and they fear the future holds something different.
The Near North project is not the first time that the opportunity for a significant new development on the periphery of downtown has bumped up against neighborhood concerns.
This one ended in a draw that will allow the project to proceed.
But more such collisions will come, and the future character of downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods will be shaped by their outcome.