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Posted on Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Packard Square project criticized by Ann Arbor planning commissioners for 'lack of imagination'

By Ryan J. Stanton

Thumbnail image for georgetown_concept.jpg

Ann Arbor planning commissioners expressed concerns Tuesday night with this design for Packard Square, a mixed-use project that includes 230 apartments and retail space.

Ann Arbor planning commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of a proposed redevelopment of the blighted Georgetown Mall property along Packard Road, but not without first offering several criticisms of the project dubbed "Packard Square."

Commissioners agreed the project site plan conforms with all applicable city ordinances, so it earned their recommendation to go on to City Council for approval. But they had concerns about aspects of the project that aren't under the commission's purview.

They voiced those concerns anyway to Bloomfield Hills-based developer Craig Schubiner of Harbor Georgetown LLC.

Schubiner proposes constructing a mixed-use building at 2502-2568 Packard Road containing 230 apartment units and 23,790 square feet of retail space.

Planning Commission Chairman Eric Mahler criticized the developer for a "lack of imagination with the design," which he said he "didn't find particularly striking at all."

Commissioner Bonnie Bona agreed, saying the fact that Packard Square conforms with the city's ordinances only confirms that the city has more work to do on crafting new ones.

"If we look at the massing of the building, it's basically a very simple box, which makes it very efficient to build, but in elevation it's all basically the same height," she said. "Because it's large, it would be nice if the retail had a character to it."


Another look at the proposal for Packard Square.

From The Harbor Companies LLC

Bona concluded that the design "could be a lot more interesting" and "a lot more architecturally supportive of the neighborhood."

"I'm disappointed in its appearance and its massing," she added, though she gave the developer some credit. "I will say it's a huge improvement over the old facility that's there now."

Commissioner Erica Briggs told Schubiner his attempts to create a public plaza on the 6.5-acre site fell short of anything that would be of interest to many people. Commissioner Kirk Westphal agreed the plaza could be improved.

"It would be useful to see a true pedestrian plaza there, one that is greater in size, offers greater benefit to the neighborhood, and would be a true draw," Briggs said. "Currently it's more of a suburban-style Starbucks plaza that has parking surrounding it."

Schubiner acknowledged the size of the plaza was a compromise based on the need to include adequate parking spaces for the retail aspects of the project.

The project includes a 144-space parking garage underneath the apartment building, as well as 310 surface parking spaces. Schubiner characterized the layout as welcoming and pedestrian-oriented, with wide sidewalks, benches and landscaping.

"This is, I think, going to be a pretty good space," he said. "What we did in the design of this site was try to create what we're talking about: a public square. That's why we called it Packard Square. We wanted to create a place for people to come and have a community gathering place. But we also needed to balance the needs of the retailers."

Briggs said she had a lot of other concerns with the project, but not any that the Planning Commission has any ability to influence.

Mahler accused the developer of underselling the scope of the project. He referenced a report showing that the developer told residents who live next to the site — and who have concerns about being in the shadow of a four-story building — that the new apartment complex "will not be very noticeable" due to a row of buffer trees being planted.

"I mean, let's not kid ourselves here," Mahler said, pointing out it's a 230-unit apartment complex. "That's a lot of apartments. That's going to be a massive project, especially in the scope of that area. So let's not undersell what this is."

Mahler warned Schubiner not to try to undersell the scope to the City Council, either.

"That's not going to work at all," he said.

Bona asked Schubiner why he didn't take full advantage of the fact that the zoning allows more density than he's proposing. Schubiner said it came down to feasibility.

He said a market study showed demand for 230 apartments and retail somewhere in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 square feet. He said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reviewed the study and issued an invitation to apply for financing based on the project falling within those parameters.

"From our standpoint, we're spending a fortune going through this process and we want it financed and we want to build it," Schubiner said.

Schubiner gave an update on the financing for the project. Despite potentially losing out on state brownfield credits, he said there's other money he's going after.

"We're working on tax-increment financing, which is critical, and also a grant and a credit from the DEQ, which looks promising," he said. "So we're hoping that a combination of tax-increment financing and that grant and credit will get the numbers to be adequate to finance this project."

The Packard Square project was designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston and Built Form Architecture of Chicago.

Proposed retail uses primarily consist of smaller stores visible from Packard Road. The developer also anticipates a small neighborhood grocery with prepared foods, fruits and vegetables, and other common items, but it won't have a very large footprint.

Schubiner told commissioners Tuesday night he's going to try to achieve LEED Silver certification for green building design. That's not promised, though.

The apartment portion of the project would include 5,766 square feet of indoor recreational amenities and services, as well as an outdoor pool and courtyard.

The apartments are not necessarily targeted to students, but the developer has said he expects a mix of young professionals and empty-nesters. No low-income housing is anticipated.

A total of 54 bicycle parking spaces would be provided, including 46 spaces for residents and eight spaces for retail uses.

A traffic analysis provided by Metro Transportation Group Inc. determined the project is likely to generate 175 trips (60 inbound; 115 outbound) during the weekday morning peak hour and 294 trips (168 inbound; 126 outbound) during the weekday evening peak hour. The intersections at Packard and King George Boulevard and Packard and Pine Valley Boulevard are anticipated to experience slight increases in delay, but no mitigation efforts are proposed.

Since the site is on a slope, building height varies depending on the location, ranging from a low of 48 feet at the northwest corner to a high of 60 feet or five stories at the southwest corner.

The site currently is a vacant retail center that was constructed in the 1960s. In 2007, the City Council approved a site plan for a 103,200-square-foot retail center, but it was never built. The mall, formerly anchored by Kroger, has been vacant for nearly two years now.

Schubiner said Tuesday night he hopes to break ground on the project in August and have it completed by the end of 2012 or early 2013.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Fri, Mar 18, 2011 : 3:32 a.m.

At Belles Firm of Architecture we find this desire by public officials to influence the appearance of a project to be scary. Codes and zoning regulations are to establish the MINIMUM necessary for public health and safety. Government was never granted a license to direct the appearance, layout, height, materials, etc of the privately owned buildings in our cities. Economics will dictate what is done. Good designs DOES sell! But... the developer must know his market, and build for it. More importantly WHO decides what is good, what is bad, what is pretty, or what is ugly? These are subjective ideas. When government, or society, makes or guides, these decisions then we risk losing innovation and uniqueness. The United States will become one very bland homogeneous neighborhood. At Belles Architecture we often look at some of the published buildings and wonder, but we ALWAYS respect the owner, builder, and architect for what THEY created. In looking at the renderings of this project, we really do not see anything too bad or too ugly. It may be an average project-we'll wait for judgment on that until it is complete. But then perhaps it is in an average neighborhood, serving average people; and is there really anything wrong with that? <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Georgetown Dad

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

I was at the meeting and I would say that the commissioners treated the developers with respect. And it was approved, which I think most of us wanted to see. The only thing I can say about the design is that it is not very &quot;Georgetowny.&quot; Compare with the Ponds at Georgetown Apartments accross the street. [Lots of gables and a townhouse feel. Sort of reflecting the (some would say 'boring') box colonials and cape cods of the Georgetown neighborhood.] But I'm for it in any case. P.S.: The commissioners also criticized the lack of imagination of another project that night, which was a pretty imaginative (I thought) private residence right in downtown. I think they just tend to do that.


Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

Obviously the commission didn't have any say on the infamous &quot;Halo&quot;. Or maybe they did and that is the &quot;pleasing to the eye&quot; type of look they want.

Lets Get Real

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 10:34 a.m.

It's unimaginative? Imagine living with the deteriorating, boarded up building on a lot with cracked pavement, overgrown weeds, and barracaded entries. Imagine the impact that has on surrounding property values. Imagine being a developer who wants to build in Ann Arbor, meeting all the requirements, then getting slapped in the face by the elitist Ann Arbor Planning Commission for whom nothing is ever good enough. Imagine if they turn around and walk away - because they can - because of the commissions pompous actions. Were I the developer, I'd unimagine this project and let the city sit with another vacant, foreclosed, non-tax revenue producing eyesore.


Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 7:56 a.m.

RE: &quot;A total of 54 bicycle parking spaces would be provided, including 46 spaces for residents and eight spaces for retail uses.&quot; Don't get me wrong, I'm part of the 1% nationally who use bicycle travel for just about all purposes. But - my actual observation is: there'll be need for about 8-10 bike racks maximum. Just go around during business hours to all the retail stores which have bicycle parking: if you see three bikes parked at any given time at any given location, it's &quot;a miracle.&quot; (But - that doesn't include the bicycles abandoned or &quot;parked&quot; willy-nilly w/o regard to the bike racks in plain view.) That brings us to: people fail to think about the effect of their own preferences on such things as bike parking vs auto parking. The former retail complex at that site was a favorite of people in the immediate neighborhood- for the convenience, they said. Well, most of those people living within 1/4 mile DROVE their cars to that site. Think of this: just a few hundred yards, a fraction of a mile (which can be traversed on a bike in under 4 minutes) - but people still fired up those gas hogs to get there and back. Now think: 230 dwellings on that site with 46 bike racks: how many residents will START their daily journeys on bicycles? Maybe 1-2%. Even if this turns out to be 100% a &quot;colony&quot; of AABTS members living there: there would still be under 20% who actually leave their apartments on bikes. In recent years, AATA thought about eliminating the No.5 Packard bus route! Even with people needing to get from Ypsi to AA and back, the &quot;ridership&quot; was low. People WILL use cars whenever they can, necessarily or not.

John Q

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 2:03 a.m.

Get real people. Schubiner isn't putting up his own money. Go to Pontiac and see the mess he's left there before you fall over yourself to praise him. I wouldn't trust him for a second.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 11:59 p.m.

Dear Commissioners: not every new building needs to be on the 'cutting edge' of design. There is nothing wrong with the design of this building, and more importantly it is feasible. One could even say that a mixed-use development is 'imaginative' for Ann Arbor, since there are very few of them. Success of a project - as a place that attracts people and business - does not typically depend on aesthetics. Please read some Jane Jacobs in your spare time!

Marshall Applewhite

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 10:11 p.m.

I predict that the Ann Arbor Planning Commission will string this developer along for long enough that he'll decide to abandon the project. And we'll be stuck with the old dilapidated building currently present on the site.


Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 1:33 a.m.

Could be, but let's not forget this developer has &quot;strung along&quot; all of us for years now. He has been the owner of Georgetown for years and didn't fix it, he has proposed more than one re-development that has fallen through, he owes lots and lots of back taxes on the property.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 9:35 p.m.

I think that there is room for different approaches to design in this community. Both the proposed convention center and Packard Square seem reasonable to me: they are both essentially simple designs and there is a lot to be said for simplicity. Imagination, as other commenters have already said, is in the eye of the beholder. In fact, it is difficult to understand just what commissioners meant by the very vague phrase &quot;lack of imagination.&quot; The invocation of &quot;imagination&quot; as a criterion for design is particularly curious, as the new design guidelines, in effect, recommend against it.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.

It looks a bit busy to me......but I think it is great that someone wants to do something with that space. I do still miss Rite Aide and Krogers being right there.....hope they put in a grocery was a very convenient spot for Georgetown to have a drug store and grocery store in that location.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

Absolutely the worst city in the region to invest in. BEWARE.

Lynn Liston

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

Oh, please! What's wrong with it? It's a functional, attractive and efficient use of the space, it has a nice open courtyard area facing the street, it looks like there are some interesting ways for light to get into the building and it will fill a need for retail, housing and office space in the area. It's not ugly and it isn't over-designed. If I were going to make a suggestion, because I can't tell from the drawing, the rear side of the courtyard could have a wide walk-through similar to Nickels Arcade (smaller, of course), and the Engin Arch. Perhaps that would provide a shady walk-through, more retail window space, maybe a little sheltered dining space, and display space for some art, and would 'creatively' reference some other Ann Arbor architectural gems. But if that can't be done, there is still nothing wrong with the design- can the commission get past their pretensions for once and just get on with it?


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 7:09 p.m.

Given the current ghost-town nature of the Georgetown site and its poor general condition over the past decade (even when still commercially active) putting some degree of pressure on Schubiner to improve the proposal represents the very least that should be expected of the planning commissioners. By local comparison, remember that the university's original North Quad proposal was widely derided as bland, if not simply awful. Over time, as I recall, U-M's top bureaucrats responded to the criticism with revisions, and in the end the final result turned out much better.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

The U of M has deep pockets.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

I think we need to see how many different words we can come up with to describe this commission. Mick52 offered pompous I say - arrogant Next -

Moscow On The Huron

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

A waste of space (stolen from Basil Fawlty)


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 6:47 p.m.

Searching for a word here to describe how I feel about these &quot;commissioners&quot;..............pompous is the word that comes to mind. Sure criticized the project for being too functional and not aesthetic enough. Needs to be more expensive. Okay, Okay, let's put another million dollar fountain on this thing. Start a worldwide search for a famous artist.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 5:53 p.m.

Why is everyone so riled up? They did not turn it down--they approved it! Such judgments are always subjective, but I, for one, would agree that this is architectural boilerplate garbage. Surely we can ask developers to design things that are, after all, in the public eye, with some sense of originality and artistic flair. I am not asking that it not be built, but only that it not contribute to making Ann Arbor into an ugly, anonymous suburban heap. We can do better!


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

Then put up your cash and do better................


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

I have to reiterate! If only we could say what we really mean!


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 5:22 p.m.

After approving the apartment building on Washington and State that has the Buffalo Wild Wings in it, criticizing esthetics of this development is a real stretch.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

Typical Arbor, my Ann Arbor, planning commission reasoning. Anything new is our &quot;precious&quot; and &quot;pretentious&quot; town must be picked apart. Here's a guy wanting to invest money to get rid of a dangerous eyesore, and this is all our &quot;precious&quot; commissioners can come up with! Phooey on the commission.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

Dear Developers: Please consider building your next project in Ypsilanti. It's just 10 minutes from Ann Arbor, and no one will tsk tsk over your economical construction practices.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 6:42 p.m.

There is some of this over there too. Not long ago, they went ballistic over a developer who wanted to put a Burger King in near the supposed River St project and they are all over the developer trying to save a historic building in depot town. In Ypsi, I would think they would throw a parade for any developer with any proposal.

r treat

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 4:35 p.m.



Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

More accurate headline: &quot;Packard Square project approved; hot air emanating from council chambers&quot;


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

Yeah, because the Ponds at Georgetown is so radically different and invigorating. Or better yet, that hip and inviting office building right next door with its post World War II design and amenities. Lets not forget Pine Valley apartments, which has been featured annually in all of the well to do architecture rags. Now, petty criticisms aside, one concern I see is bringin the complex to street level from the properties current sunken state. What effect is that going to have with snow melt and rain run off for the surrounding properties. Those houses off of King George boulevard abutting the development might have some soggy back yards in years to come.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 1:10 p.m.

So who vote for the Ann Arbor planning commissioners? Not you or me! It was the Ann Arbor city council. By voting for your &quot;COOL&quot; city council members they in turn put these anti-business people in key positions so they do not have to take the heat. Before you vote, Think about it! Don't be a Mind Numb Robot!


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Get off your high ground A2. The Briarwood mall is an embracement to city. Let's get moving on establishing a place of commerce that can ignite passion and excitement. You should quickly move to implement this project as a phase 1 commerce improvement with a phase two plan to level the Briarwood mall and erect a proper shopping center at least on par with the Twelve Oaks mall or better.

Elaine F. Owsley

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

I'm in total agreement with the above comments. Packard Square looks like a nice place to call home. The proposed conference center looks like a Martian toaster has landed.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

&quot;The proposed conference center looks like a Martian toaster has landed.&quot; well played.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

Jeepers, commissioners, you're aesthetic consultants now, too? Must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 3:05 p.m.

LOL. That was very funny. So true.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:51 p.m.

UNBELIEVABLE!!! A project conforms to city ordinances but the Planning Commission still doesn't like it. Is there any wonder why people do not want to invest there money in Ann Arbor? Imagine what Ann Arbor COULD be if people were less hostile, not friendly but just less hostile, to development.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

I'm guessing that &quot;interesting&quot; = art urinal, so as a neighborhood resident I'll be OK without that. This isn't downtown, this is just where real taxpayers live, and it will no doubt be a welcome addition to the area.

Peter Baker

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 9:26 p.m.

&quot;Real taxpayers&quot;? Someone disagrees with you and that makes them unreal? I pay taxes, own property, and live near downtown. What makes you so special?

Bertha Venation

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:44 p.m.

I'm with the others. I'll take &quot;lack of imagination&quot; and dull and boring anyday over that ugly conference center they have planned!

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:13 p.m.

Planning Commission Chairman Eric Mahler and Commissioner Bonnie Bona are not architects as is darn clear on their generalized complaints regarding the newly proposed plans for the badly deteriorating George Town Mall complex. While, I'm certainly not a commissioner, I think the proposed plan is ideal; the form follows function without all of the gingerbread; no fake siding, no pretense, just a basic and very clean (and appealing) plan with a lot of curb appeal. As one of the greatest architect's of the 20th Century said: &quot;God is in the details.&quot;


Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Indeed, Ms. Bona is a licensed architect; and a particularly talented and thoughtful one at that.

Brian Kuehn

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 8:49 p.m.

Well then, welcome to Earth, Space Monkey Bill!

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

And I'm a space monkey!

Brian Kuehn

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

Actually, I believe Ms. Bona is a locally based architect.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : noon

I would like to know how much of their own money members of the planning commission have EVER invested in this town. Suffice to say if comments here were not censored they would be more harsh towards the the commission than what the commission felt they needed to say!

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

&quot;Commissioner Erica Briggs told Schubiner his attempts to create a public plaza on the 6.5-acre site fell short of anything that would be of interest to many people.&quot; Its also spot on for something &quot;that would be of interest to many people&quot;, including me. Aesthetics are subjective.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

add me to the first two posts. The problem with Government officials in general is their &quot;power trip&quot; mentality. &quot;But they had concerns about aspects of the project that aren't under the commission's purview....They voiced those concerns anyway to.... developer Craig Schubiner.&quot; If your concerns aren't under your purview don't force someone to listen to them in your official capacity. Give him a thumbs up or a thumbs down based on what you have power to control and leave the rest alone.

Urban Sombrero

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 11:32 a.m.

&quot;Planning Commission Chairman Eric Mahler criticized the developer for a &quot;lack of imagination with the design,&quot; which he said he &quot;didn't find particularly striking at all.&quot;&quot; So, this is unacceptable but that monstrosity they're planning downtown, as well as the new City Hall, are the pinnacles of architectural design? (Hyperbole, yes.) This is ridiculous. It's like they do, &quot;Rock, Paper, Scissors&quot; to determine their opinion of the day.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

so true. At least this design doesn't look like it will fall over at the first gust of wind.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 11:22 a.m.

I'm disgusted by the commission. Someone actually wants to invest serious money in Ann Arbor, and they're complaining about roof lines. If Ann Arbor ends up losing this development because of the snotty government, I hope the voters make better decisions next time around.


Wed, Mar 16, 2011 : 10:51 a.m.

I am sure it will look fabulous!!! Why so people alway have nic pick everything...RELAX people!!! It will a whole lot better than the eye sore that is there now.... RELAX..sssheesh