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Posted on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor eyes zoning changes to stop 'mega projects' in near-downtown neighborhoods

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council is contemplating a series of zoning changes that could stop future out-of-character developments in near-downtown neighborhoods.

The council took up the issue Monday night for the first time since a long-awaited advisory committee report came out in early May.

"I think it's important that we get moving on this before we have more mega projects tearing down homes in near-downtown neighborhoods," said Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, expressing support for imposing strict limits on lot combinations.


Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, is in favor of imposing a strict limit on lot combinations in the R4C zoning district surrounding downtown.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Last month's report from the city's R4C/R2A Zoning District Study Advisory Committee was three years in the making and recommends a series of zoning changes.

Most notably, it recommends a limit on lot combinations within the city's R4C zoning district, a multiple-family dwelling district that surrounds downtown.

The report contemplates restricting the maximum size of a combined lot in the R4C district to 6,525 square feet, which is the area needed to permit three housing units.

In the future, that would stop projects similar to the controversial City Place apartments, 24-unit 144-bedroom student complex taking shape on Fifth Avenue.

In order to pave the way for City Place, the developer combined several properties to achieve a 53,579-square-foot lot area and demolished seven century-old homes that stood in the way.

Council members didn't vote on anything at Monday's work session, but expressed interest in seeing the city's planning staff draft ordinance language to bring back for consideration.

Planning Manager Wendy Rampson said the Planning Commission's Ordinance Revision Committee will analyze and refine the advisory committee's recommendations by September and then report back to the Planning Commission in October. The Planning Commission plans to hold a public hearing on the recommended changes before anything is voted on.

Council Member Jane Lumm, an Independent who represents the 2nd Ward, applauded the work of the advisory committee that was appointed in 2009.

"I think that their bottom line goals are very worthy and I think a lot of people in the community would like to see these implemented in due course and as expeditiously as possible," she said.

Not everyone on council is in agreement, though.

Council Member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, pointed out that 50 feet by 130 feet would be about the maximum size of a combined lot allowed under the proposed R4C zoning changes, which she called a "severe" limitation that basically says "there will be no lot combinations."

"It is a pretty substantial limitation, yes, and the advisory committee wanted that message to be made," Rampson said.

Rampson said the standard lot size in Ann Arbor is 66 feet by 132 feet, which totals 8,712 square feet — 2,187 more than the maximum proposed for the R4C district.

"The Planning Commission will look at this and they'll look at what the impacts will be," she said. "The staff will work with them to try to numerically represent that, then it will be up to the Planning Commission to say whether they would recommend something different."

Fourteen representatives from eight near-downtown residential associations met recently to evaluate the R4C/R2A advisory committee report


Ray Detter

The members of the Near Downtown Neighborhood Group, led by Ray Detter, sent the City Council and Planning Commission a letter on June 3, asking them to move forward as quickly as possible to adopt ordinance changes to support the report's recommendations.

The group said in the letter that the committee's recommendations reduce nonconformities in area, height and placement and seek to develop standards that encourage creative design while maintaining sensitivity for existing neighborhood character.

Of particular importance, they said, was the recommendation for a limit on lot combinations within the R4C district in order to prevent the construction of large buildings that could disrupt the existing scale of the streetscapes in near-downtown neighborhoods.

"With the limit on lot combination, the entire community will be assured that a project like City Place will never come before you again for by right approval," they wrote.

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, Jun 13, 2012 : 10:31 a.m.

Yes, lets continue to stifle our economy while projects move to surrounding townships and all the tax money goes there. I have never lived in sch a backward town.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 3:02 a.m.

Actually I agree with halter. I'm from downtown Detroit and I live in Ann arbor for now and this is a backwards town and limiting development is prevent Ann Arbor from becoming the next big metropolis.

John Q

Fri, Jun 15, 2012 : 2:35 a.m.

Except nothing of the sort is happening.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

So council wants to forgo and restrict development that generates actual tax revenue and promote and encourage development that does not generate revenue but actually endangers the stability of tax revenues? That Kunselman is at the forefront of advocating restrictions is interesting since he is adamately opposed to a city income tax and favors property tax revenue as a primary scource of revenue. This city is strangling itself and placing a great burden on the majority of property owners by catoring to these special interest neighborhood groups of undeserved influence. And these people call themselves "democrats"?


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

Funny thing is that all of these jokers - esp. Hieftje - will be reelected again and again and again.....


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 9:35 p.m.

Isn't that the truth. Rome wasn't built in a day and Ann Arbor will take a number of years more to destroy what it has worked so hard to achieve; a prosperous, growing, vital, city that people want to come to.............These developments increase the tax base and create vertical density, I would have assumed this is what any good progressive would aspire to have.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

Winners if this passes: 1) Student slum lords with ramshackle old houses 2) Climate change, since the people density of Ann Arbor will be limited in the walkable zone to downtown 3) People who own big lots now, since their lots will be much more valuable in the future Losers: 1) Students who can't afford the deluxe digs in the mega projects 2) Young workers who want to walk to work downtown - their choices - student slums or move further out 3) Anyone with an undersized lot - it will be stuck as a small parcel forever, limiting the sale value Overall I find it funny that the committee recommended exactly 6,525 square feet. I wonder how the city attorney will defend that specific lot size in a courtroom? I hope there is very strong rational for the 6,525 in report and in the new zoning rules. Fixing the zoning is important, but this one feels like the opposite of what the Mayor and council have been saying for years about high density downtown and medium density in close neighborhoods. I hope whatever they pass is consistant and has a strong rational, otherwise the court cases will eat a lot of city money.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

Enact this now!!!

Attempted Voice of Reason

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Maybe I'm the odd one out here, but I really don't see a problem with City Place. We're replacing decrepit not-code-compliant buildings with some newer, safer apartments that in my mind really don't look bad. This is going to be an up-and-coming problem near downtown as old, 150 year-old houses reach the end of their life spans. It seems like more people are annoyed that the houses were torn down, than actually by what replaced them--but old structures can be extremely expensive to keep up, are inherently not as safe or up to code, and eventually reach a point where they need to be torn down. (Before you call a completely pro-development shill, I'll say I actually wish there was an 8-story limit across the city--I'm not a fan of the new giant towers.) The 50x130 foot lot limit seems problematic--in that it only allows single-family homes, which should be included in the R1 district--however this zone is R4, which is multi-family residential. If they're really intent on keeping the area as single homes, I'd prefer the City be more forthright about it and rezone the area as R1. I'd even more prefer they continue to allow redevelopment of the City Place variety more most of the R4 zones.

say it plain

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

As much as I want to discourage more building in the current student-housing bubble market, this level of severe restrictions on lot size seems ridiculous. Can't we have sensible guidelines so the development of dense downtown and near-downtown housing--of *diverse* kinds--can proceed? I agree with those who point out that Ann Arbor has voted for a greenbelt to limit sprawl, so we need to respect that with willingness to have downtown be more than a strip of entertainment venues! We need to avoid overbuilding with the bubble market, just like we needed to do so with the overbuilding of high-end condos when we expected all the world's baby boomers to want to settle in downtown Ann Arbor for retirement. But we need to foster increased density as well!


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

We want to have a thriving city but we don't want high rise (i.e. higher density) buildings, we also want to buy up surrounding vacant land so that housing will not be built upon it creating a buffer zone, we also want affordable housing while artificially creating a land and housing shortage, we want to spend money in our city while choking off access via Stadium Blvd and soon we will choke off Huron/Jackson Rd and charging them to park in our downtown,we force traffic to stop thereby increasing pollution due to all of the stops and starts and we build bike paths for millions of dollars that are not used by most cyclists and cannot be used in the winter. The only thing missing from this fantasy land is unicorns; maybe we can raise them on the farmland we are stockpiling to thwart development..............


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 2:59 a.m.

I like high rises but I also wish Ann arbor would expand more if possible


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 3:27 p.m.

Why put limits on Developers? They want to make their project attractive so that they can charge high rents and make more money! By limiting Developers, you force them to put in something that meets the restrictive code but looks bad and therefore is an eyesore to the community! Free The Developers! Let Capitalism Rule this Democratic City! Freedom! Freedom!


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

Redhead74 is dead-on. The Council can blame developers all they like, but this one is at their own feet. The theory of the Greenbelt was that sprawl would be limited (which happens to increase values of existing, close-in property), and the Council now wants to limit higher-density, close-in development (which happens to increase values of existing, close-in property). Council may be dithering like foxes, while landlords with existing properties enjoy the benefits of limited supply and high demand.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

i wonder how many council people own rentals?


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

Yep, the AA City Council has created an economic gated society. The Greenbelt has stopped expansion at the edge of AA and the council is limiting expansion downtown. Good thing the AATA will expand to bring in the service workers to AA. They certainly won't be able to afford housing here and the increase in parking fees would make it cost prohibitive to park their cars downtown. My property values haven't dropped much, for which I am happy but I can't stand the hypocrisy of the AA city leaders.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

The city wants to deconstruct R4c. . . to prevent future "City Places". . . when the problem with "City Place". . . had nothing to do with R4C. . . and everything to do with inept city council. Deconstruction of R4c is an answer to a problem that does not exist. Surgery on the wrong body part is rarely successful. City council is what needs surgery. Remove the tumors to help the patient. Leave the healthy body parts alone. Leave R4c alone!


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Have the Mayor and Council forgotten the Greenbelt initiative that we all voted for? The whole point was to stop sprawl and allow development downtown. And that would mean building up and combining lots. I believe it is a bad idea to severely restrict future growth. I am sorry that the Fifth Avenue neighborhood was the latest victim of an indecisive Council. There was a perfectly good proposal to keep the houses and renovate them, but as usual, the Council dithered until it was no longer an option. Change is good. Change keeps this city vibrant. I have lived here for 60 years and the changes I have witnessed are amazing!!

rusty shackelford

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

This is perhaps the most reasonable comment I've ever read on this site. Thanks!


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

City Place, demolished seven century-old homes, so the developer will just go smaller and combined 3 properties and demolished three century-old homes. Why is this happening because property taxes are out of control and the people selling these century-old homes can not afford to live in Ann Arbor. This is not just true in Ann Arbor but all over Michigan. Why because Michigan is "Over" governed with the people governing "us" the tax payers making more money and getting better benifits then the average working person in Michigan. If you want more information go to local area and look up what employees are making and then look at the benifits including how many paid holidays they get.

peg dash fab

Thu, Jun 14, 2012 : 10:46 a.m.

Judy can be bothered with the truth, it gets in the way of her slogan-based political views.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

those were rundown slum houses. they were not single family homes with starving children in them whose parents couldn't afford the property taxes here.

Ron Granger

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

"Why is this happening because property taxes are out of control and the people selling these century-old homes can not afford to live in Ann Arbor." The sellers cashed in. They didn't live in those homes.

rusty shackelford

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:25 p.m.

I might support this if it were combined with much more stringent guidelines on rental unit quality and pricing. Of course that will never happen, since many of these "near downtown" homeowners also own additional single family homes that they rent out as multiunits at exorbitant prices and laughable conditions. They get away with it because there are so few other options available for decent renting--and one of the motives behind this is to make sure that remains the case. Buildings that were actually meant as multiunits can charge a premium for what should be a "normal" apartment since there's an artificial limit on supply (these people, and the restrictive zoning they push) and the alternative is to live in what amounts to a garret for $800+ a month plus heat (oh, and probably no insulation--sorry!). Keep charging East coast rents for shoddy conditions in a place with small-town economic, social, and cultural opportunities. Sure, there will be a few younger people who like small towns and can manage to buy homes at 26 and stick around. Most will realize it isn't worth it and move elsewhere. Ann Arbor will become (more than it is already) an extended retirement community for "liberal" boomers--which I think is precisely what a lot of people here want.

say it plain

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

that is the problem, really, isn't it!? We have to both stop the slumlords and student-ramshakle-emperors around here, *and* the developers who can get easy loans to build 1200/bed student towers! Why can't we get a council who can do both?!

Irwin Daniels

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:23 p.m.

From the above article "In order to pave the way for City Place, the developer combined several properties to achieve a 53,579-square-foot lot area and demolished seven century-old homes that stood in the way." The houses were old, and the one I lived in was a dump. A house can be old and historical , or a house can also be old and sliced up on the inside with bad plumbing no original fixtures - this house (like the one I lived in) has no historical value. I have nothing against student housing - at that time in my life that was where I wanted to live and I enjoyed it fully. However, it was not "historical" except in age.

Ron Granger

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

None of what you say justifies allowing large lot and building projects in residential neighborhoods. Especially large projects with insufficient parking for residents.

C Steve Kime

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

One should ask themselves is Ray Detter and the Near Downtown Neighborhood Group just a bunch of civic minded individuals who have come together to help the City reach a more reasonable zoning criteria or are they a bunch of people who are acting in their own self interest? I'm guessing the latter of course. I for one am glad to see the redevelopment of some of these eye sore buildings that are part of the "student housing" properties around Ann Arbor. To call some of these people "slum lords" would be kind. They're typical of the mind set that uses government to limit competition to their inferior product. The City should not be using the zoning ordinance as a club to limit competition from this self serving bunch of activists.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 11:53 a.m.

Wow. Development available and, of course, AA says 'no thanks....' Not every development needs to be approved, but the sentimental 'it's old therefore it's soooo nice' idea is silly. I would be thrilled to see rundown dirty houses - that were at best average in their time ( the real money was in Detroit and Ypsi) torn down and replaced with structures which are pleasing and utilitarian together and bring in a higher tax base.

John Q

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 5:26 p.m.

Wow. Development available and, of course, AA says 'no thanks....' - The same old tripe from those pushing development at all cost. Plenty of developments have been approved. The tired old lie that the city opposes all development is just that, a lie.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

@mixmaster: read correctly: Not every proposed project has to be given a green light. Get a life.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

There are laws, rules and policies governing development. I've never heard such nonsense as saying that not every proposal has to go thru the planning and development process. Do you get to pick and choose which proposed developments get to be built? Who gets to choose? These are not capricious decisions. They have short and long term effects. Even on those people who may decide to live and work here in the future. That's why there is community input and and process. Every development proposal must go through the process. If some didn't you'd end up living to someone who builds a three story garage with a repair business


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

I imagine there are hundreds of midwestern cities that would die to be in Ann Arbor position, of having interest in building 15+ story buildings downtown, and building new housing projects near downtown. We should be so fortunate to have this problem.

Ron Granger

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

Try reading the article and you'll find your assumption of what this is about is wrong.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

this is a student housing bubble in a University town with students in high economic brackets[many foreign] can't compare to the majority of midwestern cities and towns housing situation.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

This is why Ann Arbor has the ability to be a little choosy and have a higher standard for development. Other cities may be desperate for development, Ann Arbor does have to be desperate and settle for something less desirable.

Linda Peck

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

Just because we "can" do something does not mean we "should" do something. We could all decide to live in quonset huts downtown, but would that be a "good idea"? Yes, it is lovely to be a desirable town, but are we going to go with every idea out there or are we going to exercise some good common sense, and respect for the quality and character of what makes us desirable in the first place?


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

Really. That long for a committee to tell you what common sense (and the neighbourhood) already has?


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

Whenever I see Ann Arbor placing restrictions on near-downtown housing, I just imagine them saying, "Ew, I don't want low-income people to live by me, they're icky!" Stop being elitists, Ann Arbor.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 2:57 a.m.

I'm curious, so people in Ann Arbor don't want so much student oriented projects, but projects to make Ann Arbor stronger and bigger for everybody and not for college kids, right? I'm not trying to get smart I'm curious lol.

say it plain

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

Yeah, it's the endless student *all* directions from Campus...that Ann Arbor might want to try and avoid. Ann Arbor used to feel like a small city which was so lucky to have the UM in it that it became something a little more interesting and sophisticated than its size 'warranted'. Lately, Ann Arbor is starting to feel like a big ol' college town and *nothing but* that, one catering especially to a rather wealthy college population. Even though a lot of the houses in some near-downtown areas have been not much more than student ghetto housing, and terribly kept up, it would be nice to have a mix of housing types near downtown. Also, we need to be very careful about allowing the huge oversupplies of housing that can happen in a city! Ann Arbor avoided that during the residential-realestate bubble, but with the only bubble we have left credit-wise being college costs, there is very very real danger that over-loaning for student-oriented projects will happen and we will all be sorry to deal with the fallout when it's over!

Mike D.

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 11:37 a.m.

These new developments typically have higher rents than the houses they replace, so you're off base. What near-downtown residents want to avoid isn't the poor, it's large concentrations of students.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 11:18 a.m.

City Place is hardly low income housing! It is pretty low on every other scale ...


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 11 a.m.

Finally. A little too late for South Fifth Avenue. We can thank Commissioner Derezinski in dragging his feet for almost 2 1/2 years on getting this project done, and for not instituting an interim prohibition on lot combinations early on this process, which would have prevented the City Place debacle. Commissoner Derezinski was very supportive of development efforts in this area, as were Commissioners Smith, Rapundalo, Teall and ultimately Taylor.

Chip Reed

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

Would a convention center be considered "in character" for this area?