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Posted on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Pizza House gets new topping: 14-story high-rise wins approval from Ann Arbor City Council

By Ryan J. Stanton


Pizza House restaurant owner Dennis Tice and the Minnesota-based Opus Group are teaming up to bring forward the 83,807-square foot development at 624 Church St.

Ryan J. Stanton |

A proposal for a new 14-story apartment high-rise above Pizza House in the South University area received unanimous approval from the Ann Arbor City Council Monday night.

Pizza House restaurant owner Dennis Tice and the Minnesota-based Opus Group are teaming up to bring forward the 83,807-square foot development at 624 Church St.

The $17 million project geared toward University of Michigan students is expected to contain roughly 76 apartments with at least 175 bedrooms.


Rendering by J Bradley Moore & Associates

Council members praised the development team for working closely with the community on the project, responding to input from residents and the city's Design Review Board.

"We all talk about — and have talked for a number of years — wanting there to be more one- and two-bedroom apartments in the downtown, and I'm glad to see this is an important step toward realizing that," said Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward.

In response to the comments provided by the Design Review Board, as well as citizen input, the development team modified the design of the project to predominantly include one- and two-bedroom units in order to hopefully attract a broad demographic of tenants.

"We worked closely with the Tice family to design a project the city of Ann Arbor and the citizens will be proud of," said Mark Bell, a real estate manager for the Opus Group.

Bell said roughly 74 percent of the units will be one and two bedrooms, with the rest being three and four bedrooms.

Not everybody was singing praises about the project Monday night, though. An attorney representing a competitor in the student housing market — the Zaragon Place high-rise, which backs up to Pizza House from East University Avenue — appeared before council members to reiterate previously stated concerns about the development having zero front and rear setbacks.

Chicago-based Galileo Associates, which owns Zaragon Place, has argued no crane system exists that can install heavy pre-cast concrete panels on a zero setback property line without swinging the panels over neighboring property, which Galileo considers a trespassing issue.

"We're concerned about the health, safety and welfare of our student residents," said attorney Sandra Sorini Elser. "In particular because the developer is proposing to locate that western wall right at the developer's property line, and they're going to be using essentially the backyard of Zaragon Place, where we have open patios, barbecues, students out there all the time, even in the winter."


Zaragon Place peaks from behind Pizza House on Monday afternoon.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Despite contrary statements by the developer, she said, there is no easement available to the developer, so it would be a trespass issue.

Jim Caesar, vice president at Opus Design Build LLC, said safety is his company's first priority. He referenced two recent projects where Opus operated with a near-zero setback.

"We've designed crane systems and we've met with experts for the past seven months to develop systems and we would not attempt something we didn't think we could do," he said, adding Opus won't be trespassing on the Zaragon property in any way during the project.

"We've taken great strides to eliminate the need to swing anything, bring any equipment, or have any air-right encroachment," he told council members. "It's not the way we want to do it, but it's the way we will do it to avoid any complications with our neighbor."

There will be no vehicle parking spaces on site at 624 Church St., but the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has agreed to make roughly 40 spaces available to the developer in the nearby Forest Avenue parking garage.

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 email newsletters.



Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 10:52 a.m.

(In Comic Book Guy's voice): Cleverest headline ever.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 1:25 a.m.

Its amazing the uneducated comments!!! pizza house took morelis, and turned it into a beautiful restaurant where families, students, faculty, and out-of-towners can get together and enjoy food drink and nice times!!! it took a ton of hard work late into each night, and many tough decisions pertaining to expansion, menu, and overall business!! now they seem to be welcoming students who have a flavor for living in high end apartments an opportunity to do so!!! theres a market for it, and these kids normally park their cars for weeks at a time, and walk where they need to go!!! this type of project shows ann arbors strength, in a time when our economy just down the street from us is struggling mightilly!!! i take my hat off to the tices, sounds like the american dream coming true!!!! we all want that!!!

Ben K.

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

Will there still be enough room for all those delivery drivers to park their cars along the side? I always see them flying up and down the streets. I guess that might take a hit while they are building this.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 6:18 p.m.

Regardless of your thoughts on the issue, I think we can all agree that Mr. Stanton nailed the headline on this one.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

I'm starting to become very concerned with the over crowding of downtown and the fact that there is even more unaffordable housing in Ann Arbor that could potentially rise rent around town (right?). I can hardly afford rent as it is with my full time job. Can anyone direct me to where I can write letters/talk to some officials of the city or even elaborate on this some for me?

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

"…and the fact that there is even more unaffordable housing in Ann Arbor that could potentially rise rent around town (right?)." The alternatives to increasing supply are to leave it the same or decrease it, both of which are more likely to increase price or keep it higher that it otherwise would be, other things being equal.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

There is a limited number of students in town.As these students leave the student ghetto for the new spangle and glitter highrises their former houses will be on the market.Ramp up the police and fire departments as the new ghetto will soon demand more services.However ,rent in these former student abodes should drop.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

Unaffordable taxes are also the goal of Ann Arbor, and one reason rents are so high. :(

Sam S Smith

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

Dear aPhoenixHour, unaffordable housing is the goal of Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor will become Michigan's Manhattan. Ann Arbor mayor and cronies do not care about the middle class. Ann Arbor will only be for the rich and elite.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 6:19 p.m.

Especially as there are a limited number of sites for residential buildings on an economic scale.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 6:18 p.m.

Finally. What about this? Affordable housing for year-round residents?

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

It is a very ugly design, but I understand the need for more 1-2 bedroom units in the area of town. I'm just reliefed I don't have to look at it on a daily basis and live on the opposite side of town. Best wishes.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

Since this project can't build on-site parking, they are buying spots from the DDA. The DDA does not give away parking, and the residents will be paying more for those spots than the regular permits cost. If developers don't build parking, they have to buy it at a premium. That's a plus for the city, btw, because the city gets 17% of all parking money.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

My question there enough excess parking to give away in those structures without hurting parking availability for retail customers? Maybe there is...


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

I thought the DDA gets parking revenues.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

So when this gargantuan fails as a student dorm full of pizza eaters, it can become a senior highrise complete with pepperoni oatmeal kitchen below. The Seniors next strore at Zaragon will be watching jealously. A high-price telescope shop on S. University could really clean up. Good Luck in your new Caribbean careers City Council slash DDA members!


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 10:54 p.m.

I actually laughed out loud at this. Nice visuals.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

Pizza House will be the best looking glorified dorm cafeteria ever. Enjoy feeding the students as the rest of us go elsewhere or learn to make our own fried ravioli.

Robert Honeyman

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 3 p.m.

hah! what a concept. build a highrise apartment complex to increase restaurant traffic. :7)


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Looking like a true big city...Yes with all of the big city problems: crime, congestion, lack of parking, no support services(e.g. grocery stores). All we'll have are blocks and blocks 14 story monstrosities.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 5:36 p.m.

What do you want a Kroger downtown?


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

The problem is the parking variance. The appointed DDA is giving up parking spaces in city structures. Would the developer still be building if they had to provide parking for their building?

Thomas Jones

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Love it!!!! the city is growing and looking like a true little big city!!!


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

I am very confused how "smart" business people are shoving buildings into downtown at lightening pace. Supply must be increasing at a far greater rate then demand. I think we are going to end up with a ton of partially occupied large buildings, houses, apartments, etc in the future once this unjustified (in terms of demand) housing boom has ended. This seems like a really silly investment to me, especially with the parking restrictions. I see U towers suffering the most from this. Guess it is time for them to invest in their building! There are a respectable number of students who live without a car, but for most, parking and having a car is important. I would venture a guess that for most of the ones that can afford a luxury apartment, having parking is even more important. This will be fun to watch! I really don't care if big buildings are downtown or not. It isn't my money that I am gambling on this risky investment, so I will just sit back and learn from the mess!


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

What the city council has not thought about is : the so called "Student Ghetto " will soon become a real ghetto. Once the student housing demand has moved to the new high rises the former housing units will soon become low cost substandard houses.The owners of these units will not let them go empty.Watch and see what happens to the area next to Burns Park and the Packard State street area.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

Big city life............just as we all had hoped for. No more urban sprawl, pack them into the city.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

I'm wondering what impact all these student housing highrises will have on the older, student rental homes in the Hill Street area...conversion back to single family, or will the rental market be able to support all?


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

I have seen a few homes completely renovated in that immediate area in the last few years. They are now single family and beautiful homes! Sure would be nice if the "student ghetto" problem there migrated away to the high-rises. There are some truly neat homes that are diamonds in the rough being slowly destroyed. I renovated one there that is on the historic register...tough to see the alcohol fueled destruction waged by student renters after all that work and money. Kid's (or should I say U of M students) these days have no regard, respect for the house, property, or homeowner whatsoever. The stories I can tell!!! Looking up and down Hill St, I see that's the norm.

Local Yocal

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

As more people are coming here from Wayne County to use the Delonias Center services, they are being qualified for section 8 / disability housing and are now settling here. This dilapidated housing stock will be used to house these people. No need to make any improvements as long as they are up to code and you have a guaranteed rent voucher paid for by the government. And probably few complaints from tenants. Just calling it how I see it.

Robert Honeyman

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

@aslick: more to the point, it is unlikely that many families wish to live in the core of the student ghetto. a friend owned a house near packard and wells (on the west side of packard) and raised his family there. by the time he sold, there was but one other owner-occupied house on the street. he and his wife hated the transformation and were relieved to move.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

Too expensive to convert back to single family unless they are foreclosed (aka cheap!).... The houses are too far removed from single family to make sense as single family, and entire neighborhoods would have to change for that to work. The student ghetto rentals would literally need complete gut rehabs to work as single family. The investment would not support the end product unless the initial purchase price was very low.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

Hope there is a good ventilation system. Personally, I would get sick of restaurant smell after a while. Anyone ever work in food service and smelled your clothes when you got home ? Also, sounds like there are a few safety disagreements, I hope none of them come back to bite anyone in the....

Silly Sally

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

175 bedrooms and only 40 available parking spaces taken from an existing public structure? No setback from the property line? Follow the money, dose some of it go to the city council? SOmething seems very wrong here.

John Floyd

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 12:05 a.m.

Did the Tice family make campaign contributrions to Chris Easthope right after the area was zoned D1?


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

Asteroid belt wasteland? Scio, Dexter Whitmore Lake are wastelands? Huh! Anyway...the parking issue with a number of these buildings is an interesting point though.

Scott Reed

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 3 p.m.

Parking isn't needed because people there already live where they want to BE; they can simply walk or bike. Unlike most people in Ann Arbor, they do not need to commute in from the sprawling asteroid belt wasteland.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

Good argument until you just had to go to the 'council must be corrupt' argument. There is no evidence, whatsoever, that any money went to the city council. Reckless charges only destroy credibility.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

Mercutio - These housing units will work like the rest of capitalism, we over-shoot the mark. The first ones built are really fancy compared to dorms or converted home/apartments. They're bringing in $1000/bedroom/month. Developers will jump on it and build too many units. When the music stops rents will drop and the weakest facility will have trouble.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 9:43 p.m.

More like $1000 per bed...and resident so if you have a 2 bedroom that holds 2 beds each bedroom, that is a whole lotta money to go after.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

Maybe Mr Tice will be able to afford to lower the menu prices. Nice resteraunt , well trained staff. But overpriced


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

Considering how many times I've had to wait for seating, the prices appear just fine.

Robert Honeyman

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

um, don't hold yer breath there, dog. :)


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

Free market rules dictate that if the price is too high for you, shop elsewhere. Apparently a lot of people don't mind the pricing. Pizza house makes great food, and they will get my pizza delivery business over most others 9 times out of 10.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

Because of the overpriced menu....he's made an additional 20% profit over the past few decades. A slow night for JUST delivery (not carry out or dine in) would pull in around $15-20k. So imagine how much extra he's made by having inflated prices? I never said it was ethical.....


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

So, shock of shocks - this building is going to be approved, the one on Huron won't be. This building has local monied interests behind it. The one on Huron St. does not. Since it appears that the AA City Council is like a Game of Thrones episode, you have to ask whose interests lie in delaying the Huron project. Could it be the Pizza House building? Why, if they were to complete construction before the Huron project, they could potentially get all of those tenants that the 415 room building across the street was going to go after. It's the same thing with liquor licensing (or any licensing for that matter) in any city - the vested interests tend to aggressively engage in rent-seeking, lobbying for barriers to entry into their financial ecosystem to better protect profits. The City Council may be listening to concerns regarding the Huron Street project, but I would't be surprised if those concerns aren't those of the small-time Ann Arbor resident.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

I was just about to post the same theory. The one project moratorium seems clearly designed to ruin the viability of that development.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:14 p.m.

I have to wonder, just how many "student housing" highrises can the area support? They're sprouting up all over, and the student body isn't growing quite that fast. The feasability of 413 Huron Street as a student housing apartment building is being called into question as one of the complaints against it, why aren't the same questions being asked of this highrise?


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 7:34 p.m.

One thing this building has going for it are the three most important factors in real estate: 1. Location 2. Location 3. Location. It's MUCH closer to campus than 412 Huron.

Jason Colman

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 6 p.m.

If they're priced properly, they will draw students back out of the sprawl to the south of campus and help increase density closer in. Should be good for prospective homeowners and students alike.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

My thinking too. Seems like a lot of student housing, both private and a new UM dorm


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

Congratulations. The Tice family has created a well managed restaurant with well trained staff in a neighborhood often avoided for opposite expectations. They started with a plywood shack there, and developed a comfortable and gracious replacement with the foresight to accommodate this high density downtown housing. I look forward to an attractive and beneficial addition to the neighborhood.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 6:47 p.m.

Morelli's had better food


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 4:11 p.m.

For those of us not aware of the business in Whitmore Lake, the plywood shack on the U of M campus is our starting point. I don't think he was trying to mislead anyone.


Tue, Mar 5, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

"They started with a plywood shack there," Actually they bought the already established business out in Whitmore Lake from relatives of mine decades ago.....if we're going to be truthful and honest here...