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Posted on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor planning officials delay consideration of proposed Arbor Hills Crossing shopping center

By Ryan J. Stanton


A map of the proposed Arbor Hills Crossing shopping center on Ann Arbor's east side, across the street from Whole Foods, at the corner of Platt and Washtenaw.

Column/poll: Should new Ann Arbor retail development be 7 times proposed size?

Ann Arbor planning commissioners followed city staff's recommendation Tuesday night and delayed consideration of a new shopping center project known as Arbor Hills Crossing.

The developer's petition is being postponed to allow additional opportunity to address issues regarding access, stormwater and the Platt and Washtenaw intersection.

But other issues were raised, too.

Commissioner Bonnie Bona expressed disappointment the developer isn't using the site — located at the southeast corner of Washtenaw and Platt across from Whole Foods — to its fullest potential. She noted city regulations would allow the developer to build up to a 649,066-square-foot project, but only 90,700 square feet is being proposed.

"What did we not do to encourage you to increase the density of this site?" Bona asked the developer, suggesting she would have liked to have seen the addition of residential units and underground parking — and a project that takes better advantage of nearby transit.


A conceptual rendering of one of the buildings included in Arbor Hills Crossing as viewed from a rain garden.

Image courtesy of developer

As it stands, the developer proposes to construct four retail buildings with some potential office space totaling 90,700 square feet. Six vacant buildings would be demolished.

The tallest building would measure 42 feet in height.

The property has been vacant since a former car dealership was demolished to make way for a previously planned project: Huron Village South, which was not developed.

After buying the property from the lender in 2010, Ann Arbor real estate owner and developer Campus Realty is taking a new version of the plans before city officials. Campus Realty is partnering with Chicago-based North Shore Properties Group.

Tom Stegeman of Campus Realty, development manager for the project, said feasibility and viability were paramount in deciding uses for the site, and related to that is parking.

"We thought 90,000 square feet, which is less than what was submitted previously, is appropriate given some of the geometric constraints of the site," he said.

Bona said it's unfortunate what's proposed is going to stand for the next 50 years. She relayed facts to the developer from the latest census.

"The 2010 census for the city of Ann Arbor said that we went from having 45,000 per-day commuters to having 60,000 per day so there's an additional 15,000 people coming into the city and we're not providing any more housing," she said.

The shopping center project proposes 310 parking spaces and 30 covered bicycle parking spaces, which would be located near the entrances of each building.

City Planner Alexis DiLeo said primary vehicle access would be from Washtenaw, in addition to an entrance on Platt. New public sidewalks are included in the project.

DiLeo noted the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has two routes that serve the site and a bus pullout on Washtenaw is proposed as part of the project.

In 2006, the City Council approved a site plan and development agreement for a retail center at the site. Car dealership buildings were subsequently demolished, but the project was never built. The site has been vacant for about three years now.

Known soil contamination exists near the center of the site as the result of the former auto dealership. The developer is proposing a brownfield plan that consists of removal of the contaminated soils through use of tax-increment financing.

A traffic impact study showed the project is likely to generate 306 trips during the weekday morning peak hour and 692 trips during the weekday evening peak hour. A new traffic signal is proposed to mitigate the impact of the proposed development.

Part of the reason for Tuesday's postponement is that the city is waiting for the Michigan Department of Transportation's review of the intersection.

In addition to two landmark trees proposed to be removed from the site, 36 non-landmark trees — including 23 invasive species — would be removed. Taking their place would be a total of 106 trees to be planted on the site, along with 63 shrubs.

The developer proposes a 26-foot-wide landscaped buffer along the east property line near the southeast corner of the site that abuts a residential area. The developer also has agreed to disconnect footing drains from the sanitary system prior to occupancy.

Commissioner Jean Carlberg raised concerns about pedestrian elements.

"In looking at the Washtenaw portion of this, I'm very concerned about how close the sidewalk is to the street," she said, adding traffic on Washtenaw moves at about 45 mph and the plans call for putting pedestrians right up next to the traffic "and that concerns me a lot."

Commissioner Erica Briggs said what's being proposed is definitely an improvement from what's already there, but she shared some of Carlberg's concerns. She said she was worried the configuration of buildings on the site might prevent future improvements.

"I know that it is not necessarily appropriate at this time to provide bike lanes on Washtenaw, but certainly in the future I think that would be our hope," she said. "And so considering this building's going to be there for some time to come, are we providing enough of an easement that ample sidewalk and bike lanes could be provided in the future?"

Stegeman said the project could break ground either later this year or next spring. After that, it'll take about a year to complete, he said.

"We're trying to make it feel like anything but your typical, suburban, linear, drive-by shopping center," he said. "It's something where you'll show up and there'll be a real sense of place — some really nice landscaping, not just a sea of parking."

Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager, said the project could come back for approval as soon as two weeks from now. July also is a possibility.

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.



Wed, Jun 15, 2011 : 9:30 p.m.

I've lived right behind the existing shopping center containing Whole Foods for 5 years, and welcome the idea of developing another one across the street. A few points to make though: - The parking is fairly terrible in the existing center (both find a spot and navigating), and would need to be larger to facilitate the anticipated patrons in the new center. - Additional car traffic should be routed from eastbound Washtenaw Ave (towards US23) onto another road, i.e. one running between Platt and Washtenaw that circumvents the Washtenaw/Huron Pwy intersection. Some might be surprised a developer would be willing to invest in the property given the economic circumstances, but I applaud them for having the guts to take a stab at this prime (and relatively undeveloped) retail property. I hope more investors like this come along to spur local business and drag us out of this rut of a recession.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 11:14 p.m.

I understand 90<600 in terms of square feet. I think Washtenaw is the corridor that should get improved density and also be subject to a mass transit future. I think pushing density is good, and I also thing that all new development should be given an incentive if they put some kind of mass transit development in place. For example - if they offer a section of land set aside for a train, tram, bus, or other mass transit system on their plot - either for future or current use. Or if they offer a park and ride for bikes. This will do two things. 1 - promote a transit system in the future (think 10 years folks) as well as grow the corridor into a place to be versus spreading it all over on every corner and making gridlock (think Canton, Sterling Heights, etc)


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 5:58 p.m.

Would love to see some condos go on top of the retail building in the back of the property, maybe 4-5 floors, with a roof top garden. Geared more towards empty nesters, 1800 - 2000 sq ft, all one floor living. They would be able to walk to food shopping, drug store, book store, post office, etc. Great location!


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 5:28 p.m.

I look forward to seeing SOMETHING built on this site, whether it's 90K square feet or 600K sq feet. I do think that traffic congestion is already a huge issue in that area, and this development will no doubt add to those problems. The long term solution to the traffic problems on Washtenaw lies to the north in either a widening of Geddes Rd. or else extending Clark Rd. through to Huron Pkwy. It's not very proactive to ignore the traffic problems and the potential solutions. I also agree that a bike path/lane is essential along the length of Washtenaw Ave. Community leaders have ignored this issue for decades, frankly because the Ann Arbor city leaders have a "Downtown/Westside" mentality that always ignored the east side of town. As long as the problems of the east side don't affect the DDA, Planning Commission, Mayors, or council members' homes in Burns Park or the Old West Side, then they apparently aren't problems at all. To allow this development without demanding space for a future bike path is beyond ridiculous. A bike path exists on the south side of Washtenaw west of Platt. It only makes sense to extend that bike path.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 4:35 p.m.

Yeah, wouldn't you love to be a developer dealing with all the "Einsteins" in city government. Come to them with a high density use and its too much strain on infrastructure so go back to the drawing board. Come to them with a low density use, and the site is not fully utilized so go back to the drawing board. Which way do you want it? Maybe they just like to lord their power over people and hear themselves talk. Yeeessshhh!!!!!


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 3:43 p.m.

This proposal raises a number of troubling questions: The commercial space is being built on speculation since pre-leasing arrangements are not mentioned. The economic climate in Ann Arbor remains depressed. Large footage commercial space remains unoccupied where Circuit City and Borders once existed in Arborland. The shopping center on the Southeast corner of Huron Parkway and Washtenaw Avenue has unoccupied commercial space where a PNC Bank and Hollywood Video once operated. These vacancies will compete with the new commercial site which will likely have to ask for higher leasing rates due to the higher cost of construction (and associated financing). Very likely the new commercial space will remain unoccupied but at least will have a better exterior appearance than what exists on the site now. Without income the commercial property will produce no revenue for the city. But even if the project were financially successful the city will still not receive financial benefit until the TIF deferment (to be requested) for Brownfield remediation expires many years in the future. Wouldn't the citizens of Ann Arbor benefit more by converting the property into a park or other public facility?


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 5:37 p.m.

I had the same thought. What businesses will fill this development? And one "commissioner" wants a development 6x larger. I am thinking the planning commission does not want anything built here.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

With a new traffic light at Platt, why not place all the entrances and exits on Platt and avoid creating more havoc on Washtenaw? As far as adding bike lanes, why spend the money when you have a nice, much safer "non-motorized" pathway/bikepath?

Stephen Landes

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 3:05 p.m.

RE: comments from commissioners Carlberg and Briggs: You cannot expect a developer to work to your "hopes" and "fears"; real design constraints, city requirements, codes, and regulations are required. If our road/sidewalk/bike-lane requirements are met by placing the sidewalk next to Washtenaw then all your worrying is worthless. If you "hope" for a bike lane on Washtenaw in the future, but haven't put that into the plan how can you expect a developer to read your mind or divine the future? These comments from our commissioners make it sound like there is no plan; that they are making this up as they go along. That just isn't good enough.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

Definitely not enough parking, and I'm guessing they'll also be making the parking spaces too narrow. Those two attributes will lead to the same mistake made across the street at Whole Paycheck. Good Night and Good Grief.


Thu, Jun 9, 2011 : 12:42 a.m.

I agree. The planning commission totally blew it at Whole Paycheck. As I recall, the shortage of parking was to encourage people to take the bus. There's nothing I like better than boarding, riding, and exiting a bus with four or more bags of groceries. How brilliant! How forward-thinking! You have to have a graduate degree to think like that.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 12:29 p.m.

Maybe the City is hoping the new non-motorized pathway along that stretch of Washtenaw will help alleviate the traffic congestion.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 12:16 p.m.

"A new traffic signal is proposed to mitigate the impact of the proposed development." Is this traffic signal going to be on Washtenaw Avenue? It already takes a very long time to get to U.S. 23 down Washtenaw during rush hour and the back ups start almost a mile up the road from the Huron Parkway interchange some days. Often you have to wait 2 to 4 light cycles to get through the Huron Parkway light. Yikes!

Basic Bob

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

The traffic signal is proposed for Washtenaw @ Platt, where there are presently turn restrictions forcing traffic to use the busy Huron Parkway intersection or cut through a maze of residential streets.

Jimmy McNulty

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

I think that if commissioner Bonnie Bona wants the developer to build more than 6 times the square footage he is proposing that she finances the difference herself. Does that intersection really need more traffic?


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 10:59 a.m.

The developer proposes 90,000 square feet. The city wants 650,000 square feet? Add underground parking? Prohibitively expensive. Add residential units? In this market? Maybe the city should take on the risk of their desired added development? "No thank you," from this taxpayer. It's actually quite surprising that this development is even being proposed in the current economic environment. Planning commission needs to wake up!


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 4:29 p.m.

Yeah, wouldn't you love to be a developer dealing with all the "Einsteins" in city government. Come to them with a high density use and its too much strain on infrastructure so go back to the drawing board. Come to them with a low density use, and the site is not fully utilized so go back to the drawing board. Which way do you want it? Maybe they just like to lord their power over people and hear themselves talk. Yeeessshhh!!!!!


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

a2grateful, What surprises me is the "City" actually wanting the project to be larger than proposed! In the past, the planning commission has always balked at large scale proposals. Underground parking?! Obviously the city has learned nothing from the farce taking place on 5th Ave. at present!


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 10:20 a.m.

I certainly hope if this property is developed that they have a better parking than Whole Foods has! Parking spaces are too narrow and cramped. It is not "car" friendly at all. And the wait for the light at Washtenaw & Huron Pkwy is ridiculous long. AS for me I try to avoid Washtenaw period.