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Posted on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

Washtenaw County clerk tells city: 'You are leaving a scar in the middle of Ann Arbor'

By Ryan J. Stanton

Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum has joined the ranks of those citizens lobbying the Ann Arbor City Council to save seven century-old homes from the wrecking ball.

Kestenbaum sent the mayor and council an open letter today, making a case for preserving the homes on the 400 block of South Fifth Avenue.

A majority of council members this week rejected a proposal to reexamine the historic significance of the Germantown neighborhood near downtown where the houses stand. Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, proposed a historic district study as a last-ditch effort to stop the controversial City Place apartments project, but it now looks likely the developer will tear down the homes to make way for student apartments and a parking lot.

A council-appointed committee that studied the significance of the Germantown neighborhood submitted a 28-page report to the city last year recommending historic district status. The council later decided against granting such status to the neighborhood.

The following is the full text of Kestenbaum's letter to council.

I write, not as County Clerk, but as a citizen of Ann Arbor.

My daughter is a student at Herbert M. Slauson Middle School.

Herbert M. Slauson (1853-1936), the namesake of that school, was Ann Arbor's superintendent of schools for many years. It was under his leadership that our schools moved into the 20th century, taking on an enormously larger and more discerning population along the way.


The house at 433 S. Fifth Ave. where Herbert M. Slauson (1853-1936), the namesake of Slauson Middle School and Ann Arbor's former superintendent of schools, lived for many years and died. County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum argues it was under Slauson's leadership that Ann Arbor's schools moved into the 20th century, taking on an enormously larger and more discerning population along the way.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Mr. Slauson lived for many years and died at 433 S. Fifth Avenue, one of the houses in the City Place/Heritage Row controversy. Samuel Beakes, the congressman for whom Beakes Street is named, also lived in one of those houses.

I spoke with some of the staff, students, and teachers at Slauson Middle School. They were shocked to hear that the City Council had passed up the opportunity to preserve the Slauson house for future generations.

What has happened, as I wrote in a previous email, is that the council has, by default, chosen the worst possible alternative for this site. By your action and inaction, you are leaving a scar in the middle of Ann Arbor.

I know that each of you want to take me aside to say, "Larry, I voted ..." or "I did my best to ..." But that is not enough.

A city council is not judged by the good intentions of its members. It is judged by what it accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, as a body.

Each one of you is well qualified to sit where you do, and most of you are my friends.

But your group process has completely failed. All I hear is mutual blame, and no investment in the group's endeavor. Your total is much less than the sum of the parts.

I have been a defender and apologist for this council since long before any of you were members of it. I spoke up for you when your deliberations looked messy, or your priorities seemed odd. I spoke up for you when you were embarrassed about emails you exchanged. I have supported most of you in your individual campaigns.

But even I can see that difficulty with group process has gotten this body into trouble again and again. If you are worried about the council's image, you should think back on all those events and hang your heads in shame.

Now, I understand that at a recent meeting, a proposal was made to revive the Germantown historic district, in a last-ditch effort to undo the damage you have done. I read with incredulity that some of you were angry that this was brought forward, and attempted to stop it from even being discussed.

Given that the current developer chose to enter into this project which already had a long and contentious history, I don't see that he is owed "finality" on previous bad decisions. This is not someone who has owned the property for years and finds unexpected hurdles to development. It is entirely predictable that the city council would be interested in other development options.

Let me remind you that the city has vast powers to control development, and all kinds of tools that you're not using here.


Larry Kestenbaum

Here's a very modest suggestion.

First, set out a territory that includes only the front portion of the seven properties, where the houses themselves stand. Reappoint your Germantown study committee and charge them with studying only that limited area. Since studies of the neighborhood have already been completed, it should not take long to create a recommendation. Give them a very short deadline, like 30 or 45 days, and limit the demolition moratorium to that time.

Second, while that is pending, rezone those properties to the higher density that is justified by close proximity to the transit center and the new underground parking facility.

You have ample legal justification to support both of those actions.

Under these different constraints, any reasonably creative developer ought to be able to come up with a profitable project, closely similar to the Heritage Row project, perhaps even without a PUD. And this combination of action would limit historic district protection and restriction to a specific ensemble of well-documented historic and architectural resources.

It's time for the Ann Arbor City Council to redeem itself, to work together instead of separately, to show some creativity and compromise. Please don't be so dug in to your past mistakes that you disdain positive outcomes in favor of scorched earth.

Larry Kestenbaum

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.



Sat, Oct 29, 2011 : 10:35 p.m.

Kestenbaum is leaving a scar on the clerks office when they paid out monies to county commissioners without even checking the validity of the claims. City Councilo has left a scar on the whole city of Ann Arbor with their incometence to manage city affairs appropriately according to law instead of personal agenda.


Sat, Oct 29, 2011 : 10:46 p.m.

That would be "incompetence" and drop the "o" off "Council"

wolfman jack

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 7:35 p.m.

Want to preserve a house downtown ? Buy it and live there. You pay for what you hold. Too expensive ? That's a reflection of your value of sentiment versus the economic potential the property holds. Revalue your sentiment and step up to the plate. The developer would not be "redeveloping" the property for rental income if the economic yield of some other use were greater. If pushing down houses to make green space was the highest ROI for a piece of urban property, you'd have a bunny and squirrel problem in Ann Arbor that would make a plague of frogs look like a paradise. That's not the reality. Students pay. They'll pay more per square foot than families will pay to raise their kids. Thus - single family dwellings keep moving out to the outskirts where property is cheap. Rentals fill the core where the urban lifestyle is more suited to the young, childless, and highly socially active.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 11:56 p.m.

"Rentals fill the core where the urban lifestyle is more suited to the young, childless, and highly socially active." I disagree. Plenty of active middle aged and older adults, singles and couples, would love to live in the "urban core" if it was affordable and not filled with student rentals! If you think only the "young" want to live in the middle of cities, you are dead wrong.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 6:21 p.m.

These old houses have long been poorly maintained and were last used as student rentals. Another house nearby was bought by someone who fixed it up and is now living in it. He hoped that his example would be followed, but it was not. Understandably, he is upset. I detect a lot of lassitude on the part of the current owners after the ordeal that City Council put them through, and I suspect that they would be happy to walk away if someone made them a fair offer. Nobody has come forward who is willing to buy any of the houses to fix up as single housing, however. Slapping a historic designation on them would raise the cost of rehabilitation and make it even less likely that anyone would want to do it. A developer proposed the compromise of Heritage Row: He would keep the houses and would fix them up, provided that he was allowed to tack on an apartment complex behind them. He was stonewalled by a Council minority, and he has bailed out. The current owner has proclaimed Heritage Row not viable and taken it off the table. That leaves no prospect of saving those houses. Even if the maneuvers suggested by Kestenbaum succeeded (which I doubt), the houses would just sit there empty and continue to crumble. We have lots of Comments here about what Ann Arbor should (or should not) look like in an ideal world, but none of them even consider how to get there. Wishing won't make it so.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

The glory of America is people who own proerty have rights. The city council got this one right. Under a free society the owners of property have some leway in deciding the fate of houses they own. Wasn't it just a few years ago a church was told they could not tear down a piece of property? And their solution was to just let it decay. There is nothing special about the house in question, it just happened to be lived in for a short period of time by an educator. Are his other residents being listed as historic sites? No. A few people do not want a new apartment building so this was their approach to stop the project. I'm glad they have failed. Long live free enterprise.

Randy Parrish

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 5:20 p.m.

Don't we have enough going on??? Slow down with the building!

Larry Kestenbaum

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 5:15 p.m.

I'm pretty busy today, but now it's lunchtime. Since a lot more folks have commented, I'll make a few points. (1) South Fifth Avenue was the neighborhood where Ann Arbor's leaders lived in the 19th century. No surprise that some of the best architectural examples were along this street. Most of them are gone now, of course, but this is a handful of those that survive. They are much more architecturally significant (and better maintained) than typical student rental houses. (2) I did not come up with the name Germantown. Indeed, I criticized it at the time, for the exact same reason: the core German neighborhood was the area now known as the Old West Side. However, for better or worse, Germantown has stuck as the name of this neighborhood; people know what area you mean when you say Germantown. And it's good for neighborhoods to have recognized names. (3) I wrote the letter because I felt strongly about how the council failed on this issue. I am surprised and flattered that my rant has generated so much interest. I certainly did not expect it to be published verbatim. I doubt this letter will affect my prospects for re-election either way, but perhaps a more prudent county clerk would not have sent out something so openly critical of his own political allies. (4) Because I wanted to end the letter on a positive note, I concluded with a suggestion as to how the council might undo this situation. I think some of y'all have misinterpreted the letter as a demand that those actions be taken -- it is not! Rather, I was expressing my unhappiness that refusal to compromise or work together led to the outcome that everybody agreed they didn't want.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

The AA news mislead its readers by implying that your letter was sent as part of your affiliation with the county. That appears not to be the case and should not have been part of the story.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

Just because a person of merit lived in a particular home, that does not make it historic. If so, then all the house where Arthur Miller, Gerald Ford, Fielding Yost, James Earl Jones, Clarence Darrow, Raoul Wallenberg, etc., etc., could be designated as "historic." When this circus began and someone created the term "Germantown" to describe this area I looked into it. I have a book by Grace Shackman, "Ann Arbor In The 19th Century" and on pg 22 it states the majority of German immigrants lived in the old west side. If there is any documentation these homes are in some "Germantown" lets hear it. If most German immigrants lived in the old west side, isn't that area "Germantown?" No one has produced any facts that these homes are historic rather than just old. Whatever they looked like when they were built is long gone. Also they are fire traps. I suspect the main opposition here began with other landlords in this area who fear losing tenants to a higher quality property which the original design certainly was. That is not my idea, I was told that by a high ranking Ann Arbor official.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

Why is everybody talking about these houses like they are lovingly maintained, beautiful old homes? They are not. They are chopped up *formerly* beautiful old homes with muddy gravel "back yards" serving as parking lots and completely neglected landscaping. These are nothing more than income rental property for somebody who probably doesn't even live in Ann Arbor. In fact one has to wonder if the people trumpeting the call for setting up a historic district are simply trying to keep their chopped old houses as the apartment status quo in the area. It's the time honored tradition of blocking new things by any means necessary so you don't need to improve your old crappy thing. Were they lovely, lovingly maintained, beautiful old homes, this project would never be taking place. Also, I'm not opposed to diversity on council, they could use some, but to imply that these things wouldn't be happening if Republicans were on council is laughable on the one hand and completely and totally disingenuous on the other.

Widow Wadman

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

I was wondering the same things -- if some of the commenters had not seen the homes recently or if they were landlords fearing more competition in the neighborhood. At least some of those seven homes are poorly maintained rental properties. If I were a student, I'd certainly look at something that was new and clean before I resigned myself to living in an old home where the plumbing failed regularly and paint was peeling. These homes have been kept in a minimally functional state. There are lots of other rental properties in town that are kept in the same state of repair. The appearance of little new competition in the neighborhood will not be a bad thing. It may encourage other landlords to improve their properties.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

Woohoo! Finally someone with some real clout has called the council out! This is Ann Arbor, not NYC, lets have some pride in our heritage, we don't need another apartment complex! I hope as a council they will read and reread that letter and it will sink in!


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:40 p.m.

The only people benefitting from this project of City Place Apartments are the developers. They only have one goal: make high profits at the expense of the neighborhood. Why aren't the names of these developers named in the article, the specific names, not the company names. Do they live in Ann Arbor? I doubt it. There are plenty of run down houses with no historical significance in Ann Arbor that are not located in historic neighborhoods that are family oriented. Why don't they buy 7 run-down student rental houses near central campus over near Thompson or Maynard put up an apartment block? That would be an improvement. No, instead they choose to ruin a historic family neighborhood in the old west side with their student apartment block and parking lot. This will bring in noise, partying and traffic to a quiet family neighborhood and should be blocked. the neighborhood needs to come together and stage a major protest, including the staff at Slauson School.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

I disagree Sally. The developers may benefit, but so will the tenants who live there. The environment will too. As is cars parked on dirt or unpaved lots drip oil and radiator fluid into the ground ending up in the water table.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

@Sallyxyz "There are plenty of run down houses with no historical significance in Ann Arbor that are not located in historic neighborhoods that are family oriented." Are you implying that this is a historic, family oriented neighborhood???? You have no idea what you are talking about. Have you ever walked through there? Those houses may be old, but that doesn't make them historic and there are *very* few homes in this neighborhood which are not rental property.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

It's probably a developer out of Chicago....maybe they will pull another Woodland Mews! Yippee!


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

Kestenbaum for city council!


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 5:57 p.m.

That is nonsense. Why would he do that when he has an elected position that comes with a better salary?


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:16 p.m.

Great letter and poignant comments on City Council that, hopefully, they will take to heart..."Your total is much less than the sum of parts." Hear, Hear and Amen!! HOWEVER, these are NOT historical homes by any measure. Old isn't the same as historical. No one is coming to Ann Arbor to visit Mr. Slauson's house...heck I am Slauson Middle School grad and wouldn't stroll over after dinner on Main St. to do so! The city council blew this one, Heritage Row was clearly and obviously better than City Place yet they voted it down anyway, and maybe they can still redeem themselves from this hubris. But as a lifelong and third generation Ann Arbor-ite my observation is that development is progress and generally good. If every old house or building was still around this would be a much worse place to live. Mistakes define us just as do triumphs.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:04 p.m.

City Council, save the homes NOW! And shame on the 4 game players who have brought us City Place, as FDR said, you shall live in infamy if this wrong is not righted.

Christy Summerfield

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 11:40 a.m.

I have watched council fumble with this issue for what seems like years. It positively breaks my heart that the city would allow these historical homes to be destroyed for what looks like an incredibly ugly complex that will house who knows. One of the things that has made Ann Arbor an attractive and unique small city for so long is the delightful historical architecture. I remember coming to Ann Arbor as a little kid and thinking the big fraternity houses on Washtenaw were castles and knowing this was where I wanted to live. My uncle's sister and her husband owed Armen Cleaners and they lived in a house on S. Ashley--same block as Washtenaw Dairy. As I visited Ann Arbor over the years with my aunt and uncle, I was enchanted by the beautiful old homes in that part of town. I've lived in Ann Arbor for close to 45 years now and I've seen so many lovely old buildings destroyed. The incredible apartment complex on Forest where one of my daughters lived when she was a U of M student comes to mind as an example of this wanton destruction. One reason people travel the world is history. We are in awe of the magnificent cathedrals, castles, cemeteries, towns large and small, that house the history of the world. Here in this country we maintain historic places like Civil War battlefields and historic Williamsburg, create outdoor museums like Greenfield Village and Old Sturbridge Village and we visit such places because they represent our history. In so much of Europe, people don't visit their history so much as live in it. For a long time, we in Ann Arbor lived in and with our history. Now we're systematically tearing it down. It breaks my heart. There's no reason for those wonderful old homes on S. Fifth to be demolished. Please stop, think and stop it.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 10:52 a.m.

Please leave the homes as is. We do not need any more apartments downtown. Stop destroying our marvelous historic city.

Larry Kestenbaum

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 10:26 a.m.

It wasn't my intent to get into the pros and cons of historic preservation. But if Ann Arbor business people and policymakers were as determined to get rid of old buildings as some of y'all (including the author of the response that was deleted), then downtown Ann Arbor would be as bleak and empty today as downtown Lansing has been for the last 30 years. Ann Arbor has reaped economic rewards for maintaining its historic streetscape, while at the same time encouraging development. As a result, our downtown area is a lively mix of old and new. Preserving and rehabbing all seven houses was a key element of the previous development proposal for this site. That plan should have been approved.

Stan Hyne

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

But that plan was delayed and delayed and that developer and those possibilities are no longer there. The city council decided what they wanted by continually refusing previous options. They get what they paid for.

Steve Hendel

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 11:06 a.m.

True, but the previous plan also called for the "quid pro quo" of much larger and heavier development, i.e. ad the 'price' for preserving and rehabbing the old structures; is that what we want?

Steve Hendel

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 9:04 a.m.

Mr Kestenbaum: I agree with the thrust of your letter, but I am troubled by your apparent wish to make a virtual museum of "olde Ann Arbor" out of these seven houses. It's all very well to tell us that Mr Beakes lived here and Mr Slauson lived there, but the reality is that these structures are already dilapidated and getting more so; if the City ordains that they not be demolished, who will restore them? How will they afford the considerable amount of money necessary to do so?

Christy Summerfield

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 11:44 a.m.

The developer had agreed to renovate the houses as part of his project. It wouldn't cost the city anything. They would contain updated apartments and be part of the project as a whole.

Jake C

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 4:45 a.m.

So 433 S. Fifth Ave is considered a Historic Property according to some people? Is it open to tours by the public? Has it been significantly modified since the turn of the (20th, not the 21st) century? If things inside the property look much as they might have in 1853 then I might be willing to support the Historic Preservation, but if this is just some political stunt --- no thanks.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 3:27 a.m.

When I visited the UK and taxi driver said, upon finding out my origins, that we don't have any historical buildings anymore. We just tear them down and put up new ones. Now I know our history isn't as long as those in the UK, but his comment was true as it was sad. We need to preserve our past to keep our future. For we cannot learn anything from our past if we do not keep it. There is no need to tear down these houses. There is that high rise down town with lots of empty spaces.

Seasoned Cit

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 3:17 a.m.

Why not move the Occupy Ann Arbor campers to the area in question? It will clean up the Liberty Park so our homeless folks can sit quietly there during the day and not have all the commotion and with the Occupy folks now on 5th they will be able to get all the Hysterical Preservation townies to join them and the delay may cause the developer to forget the whole idea.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:12 a.m.

Where were the Kestenbaums when the old county courthouse was destroyed. Thanks for speaking out.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:14 a.m.

I meant scar if they take the houses out.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:08 a.m.

Scar that is the best thing to call it. If they put that thing built there it will still be a scar.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

Larry Kestenbaum, do you live in the city? Run for mayor, please!!!


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11:06 p.m.

The city needs to stop preserving structures based on age. These houses are a bit ordinary, aren't they?


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

I'm glad other cities haven't adopted your view.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 10:40 p.m.

The question I have for Larry is simple - Will he pay for the city's defense in court out of his own pocket? For Kade again a simple question, you say you are willing to "support" - enough that you would buy the 7 houses from the developer? This one is done people, get over it! Fix the zoning so it can't happen again. All of these ideas will result in one thing a big fat loss in court.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 9:57 p.m.

Kade - Unless you or someone else steps in to buy the property in the next week or so, it is a done deal or a major lawsuit that the city will lose. Your support was needed over two years ago when the city agreed to City Place the first time. Once that was done, the shoot was lowered and the race to the bottom was on. If you want to avoid this happening again, get the city council to change the zoning, something they have been sitting on for several years now. OBTW - the trees are gone now, the houses will follow within days.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 5:15 p.m.

hey Don, why don't we let ppl decide what form their support takes? I'm happy to attend council meetings as a citizen to voice my concern for the issue and to support those on council that feel similarly. You may have heard of this--it's called democracy. Your suggestion that I support the issue by throwing money at it is bellicose and absurd. The issue that I have is that there is too much sub-par unsustainable development in Ann Arbor and the development should never have been approved in the first place. Please spare me the free market tirade. Bottom line, it isn't sustainable, it's unnecessary and it's just greedy. Buying out a developer is not a tenable long-term solution. Tigher control on development ventures and permits is.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

Larry - The zoning was approved, all you have to do is look west from Ann Arbor to see a court case that is costing a township big money. There are others in other townships where site approval was given and then withdrawn. This is not a pure "taking" case at this point, it is a contract issue, where Ann Arbor would be backing out of a contract based on approval of City Place. I can point to hundreds of cases where towns and cities have lost after approving something and then reversing themselves. You are smart enough to know this, but I guess you don't want to look at the facts. Your grandstanding really bothers me, this is not the Larry Kestenbaum who used to hang out with me. He was thoughtful, considerate, and examined issues from all sides. I guess you need to raise your profile so you can get reelected next year - or are you planning on trying to move up the political food chain.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

Mr. Kestenbaum, Don't you feel that this would have a chilling effect on potential developers? I completely agree that this whole process has been a sordid mess, including missed opportunities on reasonable alternatives. But we are well beyond the 11th hour here and, as an outsider, it appears the developers made good faith proposals. Maybe instead of pulling the rug out from under the developers, the Council should work to create a better option.

Larry Kestenbaum

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 11 p.m.

Can you cite any case where a Michigan court found a regulatory taking by a local government? And how is this case any stronger than thousands of others? I know property rights advocates want to extend the reasoning from Pennsylvania Coal (1922 U.S. Supreme Court case which upheld the power of coal companies to undermine homes), but courts have been generally unwilling to do so.

Cendra Lynn

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 10:37 p.m.

Wow, Larry! Well said. Total agreement and many thanks.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 10:33 p.m.

I'm in the mood for carrying a sign out on the sidewalk saying save our history. Please. Thank goodness someone is saying something. Because no one is listening. Bravo for this article.!!!

Terri Walrod

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 10:13 p.m.

Well said, Mr. Kestenbaum! Always a voice of reason, Mr. Kestenbaum has presented the problem and proposed a viable solution. It remains to be seen whether our city council members have the wherewithal to ignore the developer's ill-conceived hopes for more student slum housing in Ann Arbor. At some point I sincerely hope other Michigan politicians will join Mr. Kestenbaum in realizing that the fact a business entity wants to do something with a piece of property does not make it the right thing to do.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 10:06 p.m.

Thank You Ann Arbor Voters for voting for this wonderful city council. You voters are always so smart that us fools who voted for the "Other Party" are sorry we doubted you wisdom!


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:20 a.m.

Democracy sucks, XMO!

paul wiener

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:54 p.m.

I never would have dreamed the City could do this to itself. I'm disgusted, and can predict with confidence only that the sort of ugliness that has taken over a wide area of downtown will diminish property values there, increase crime, attract ne'er do wells, decrease business and cut down on the number and quality of applicants to UM. It's a complete mystery to me how and why the city officials here are in the position they're in. I don't think they'll be here much longer.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:39 p.m.

The Kestenbaum proposal amounts to a gross abuse of power that can only end in disaster in court. He first proposes a minute historical district consisting of seven deteriorated houses without even their backyards. This is not a viable historical district, and I strongly suspect that it violates the legal description of one. Since the designation would make repairs impossibly expensive, it amounts to condemnation. Clearly, it is effectively the taking of property, which the city could not avoid paying for. Kestenbaum then proceeds to admit that the locality is inadmissible as a historic district by calling for Council to "rezone those properties to the higher density that is justified by close proximity to the transit center and the new underground parking facility." The end does not justify the means. We live in a nation of laws, and Ann Arbor cannot opt out.

Larry Kestenbaum

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:58 p.m.

A few points in response: (1) A historic district can be as small as a statue or a fountain, and not uncommonly excludes portions of a given property. The original proposal for the historic district at Gordon Hall, which I supported, excluded most of its acreage. (2) Rehabilitation of these houses was part of the previous development proposal. (3) Historic designation, even for "deteriorated" buildings, is not a taking. Had the city designated the entire Germantown neighborhood, it would have been every bit as legally justified as any other Ann Arbor historic district. (4) To focus the designation on the most significant and visible properties is an appropriate exercise of the city's powers. (5) I strongly believe that the city should strike a balance between development and preservation. Higher density is justified here because of the location, in my opinion. However, even though it's a good idea, the city is in no way obligated to allow any change in the density, historic designation or no.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:36 p.m.

Thanks for the rational leadership of the city, Larry K.! Why don't we have such representation on council?! Outside developers can call the shots even though city residents oppose ravaging of the area? What's wrong with this picture? And then there is no correction strategy for a project that has gone awry?! I would like to hear some responsible intervention to this fiasco!


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:31 p.m.

Well said but you should have written as county clerk because city council dosn't listen to citzens. This city council in case you havnt noticed is only interested in creating a shiny new city look at the city hall dosn't quite fit with the old fire station next door or kerry town down the street

Rod Johnson

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

Srsly? Because everyone receiving that letter knows him and knows that he's county clerk, so it's important to make it clear that he's not writing in that capacity.

Steve Hendel

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

If he wrote the letter as County Clerk, it would be a major mistake. That office has zero responsibilities regarding development and zoning; as a matter of fact, I don't even see why he made sure in his letter that you knew he was County Clerk before telling you he was writing as a private citizen.

Linda Spector

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:14 p.m.

I support whatever efforts are underway to save these houses. They are what keep Ann Arbor so livable. I have nothing against high rise apt. dwellings, I'm from NYC; but I have a great deal to say about keeping the scale of Ann Arbor what it is now without razing these homes that represent what makes this such a livable city.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Sorry about the typo; of course, I meant "saga." There is nothing "sage" about anything in this sorry mess, except, perhaps, for. Mr. Kestenbaum.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:54 p.m.

Thank you, Mr. Kestenbaum, for a reasoned and well-thought out letter. It is time for council to act; the fact that some members may be tired of this "sage" is irrelevant. This is what they signed up for--it is part of the gig. Only the result counts, and the city cannot have this monstrosity in its midst, and if it takes another round or two, that is what has to take place. As many have pointed out, there are good precedents for invoking a historic district study, even when a project is pending, and the city cannot be afraid of every action that could result in a legal battle. No one except the new developer wants this to go forward--he even claims to be "proud" to present it, as his letter to council stated it! One suspects that even the poor architect, Brad Moore, is less than proud, as he probably never expected this plan to be put into action; one can also wager that there are no plans to put a bronze plaque on City Place with his name on it. No matter how tired of the issue, members of council should act to stop this project, because this is what their job is--they are here not to promote the work of all developers, no matter how horrible, but to defend the integrity of the city. Please do your job or resign and let others do it.

B. Jean

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

Mr. Kestenbaum you rock! Talk about leaving a scar on Ann Arbor, drive down N. Main Street from Summit South to Felch and see the 8 blighted houses that were once viable housing courtesy of Three Oaks developers and our brilliant city council. This is what comes from city council accommodating developers over the objections of the neighborhood, their own staff and planning commission and countless others. Ask the A2PD about increased crime in this gateway to our city. I am sure you will find complaints from the neighbors have increased alarmingly. I am one neighbor than can confirm an increase in illegal activity. Some tools Mr. Kestenbaum sites were also available during this process and ignored. These homes are well over one hundred years old and no doubt have historical significance too. There was an outcry from the neighborhood regarding the demolition of these homes too. Maybe that would have made the news if the county clerk would have been the one to lead the charge. Three Oaks says they don't have the money to demolish the homes they promised would be gone in the fall of last year. News flash, not the city's responsibility. It is however their responsibility to see the developer lives up to his promises. I predict city council continues to look the other way. North Main street's blight could be spreading to Fifth street if city council continues to accommodate developers rather than listen to citizens and it's own staff. So will the grafitti police be summoned to Main Street? I doubt it. After all, it might inconvenience the developer.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

What about the owners of the property that sold their land to the developer? If the council decides to "preserve" this area then the "anti-business" mantra will start up again. Seems like a no-win situation for council.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:21 p.m.

Well said; especially the part about hanging their heads in shame. Unfortunately, all day today the chains saws have been busy cutting down trees on the property. Thanks for nothing Mayor Hieftja and city council.

Dog Guy

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:21 p.m.

Thank you for the two photos; they explain so very much.


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

I agree that the photo of the former Slauson house is a nice illustration of the historic value of these homes. Can you please clarify what the photo of Mr. Kestenbaum explains for you?

Anne R.

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:15 p.m.

Yes! Save those Historic houses. No to more "cash register" apartments. Right in the heart of the city. Please, Council, get creative and energetic.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

I have always respected Larry Kestenbaum's ability to be even-handed and non-confrontational yet still make a forceful and persuasive argument. As an example, was the lone dissenter on the county election board that rejected the recall petition submitted on behalf of a leader of the Willow Run Tea Party Caucus in their attempts to commence a recall drive against Democratic State Senator Rebekah Warren - a recall effort I heartily endorse. Larry placed integrity above politics (he is a liberal Democrat). I applaud his efforts to preserve the historic character of Germantown. His letter was eloquent and adequately laid out the concerns of many who wish to impress upon City Council that Germantown is worth preserving. The City Place Apartments project is a step in the wrong direction.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 7:50 p.m.

I support the preservation of these residences and am willing to provide further support to the dismissal of the heritage row/city place debacle. Ann Arbor has no need for additional sub-par multi-unit housing that will be occupied for only 9 months a year.

Widow Wadman

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

Some, if not all, of those seven homes are sub-par student rental properties. Have you seen their condition for yourself?


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

The City Council has nobody to blame except themselves. Vote No to incumbents! Be engaged for Ann Arbor. Vote for Jane, Eric, and the other Republicans running for seats to bring some diverse balance, sanity, and leadership back to a City Council desperately needing it. Vote No to City Council incumbents !


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

Thanks for remembering Eric Scheie, whose running against the incumbent Marcia Higgins in the Fourth Ward - its become the forgotten race despite the fact Marcia got barely over 50% of the vote last time she ran against a Republican in 2005.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 7:40 p.m.

Bravo, Mr. Kestenbaum!