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Posted on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials: 8 blighted houses on North Main will be demolished within 60 days

By Ryan J. Stanton


One of the eight boarded-up houses in a row on North Main Street, just north of downtown Ann Arbor, that city officials are planning to demolish quickly.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Ann Arbor officials pledged Thursday night to have eight boarded-up houses on North Main Street demolished within the next two months.

"I can tell you within 45 to 60 days we'll have the buildings down," said Sumedh Bahl, the city's community services area administrator.

Bahl said he's been in talks with Avalon Housing, which is partnering with the Three Oaks Group to build a 39-unit apartment complex where the blighted houses stand.

"If they don't move to demolish these buildings, we will," he said. "So we'll continue dialogue with them and maybe as soon as tomorrow or Monday we may start the process."


Sumedh Bahl

Ryan J. Stanton |

Bahl's comments came as the Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously to approve contracts with four separate demolition contractors that the city plans to have on standby to tackle the larger problem of dangerous buildings throughout the city — not just the houses on North Main.

The city solicited bids in May and 11 companies responded. The city is hiring four companies — Bierlein, DMC Consultants, Beal and Van Assche — for demolition work on an as-needed basis. Per the council's resolution, total expenditures per contractor will not exceed $150,000 per year.

The City Council voted in February to establish a $250,000 blight fund to secure and demolish buildings the city deems unsafe under Chapter 101 of the city code.

Ralph Welton, the city's chief development officer, said the demolition work will be paid for by that fund, which is expected to be replenished as owners will be invoiced for the city's costs associated with demolition.

City Administrator Steve Powers said the mere existence of the city's new blight fund has been a good incentive for property owners to remove dangerous structures.

"I think we have a couple examples of where that got the property owners' attention," he said.

Welton agreed so far owners have demolished buildings within the timelines stipulated by the city. But anticipating there will be situations where they may not be as responsive, the city wants to be ready with pre-approved demolition contractors on standby.

"This represents a lot of really good change for North Main. It's really going to clean up things a lot," said Mayor John Hieftje.

"I think this is great," added Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward. "We've been talking about blight and taking down dangerous buildings for some time."

In the case of the former Greek church that's crumbling at 414 N. Main St., just a few blocks from the eight blighted houses, Powers said the county is chipping in, too.

"In the case of the Greek church, the county treasurer is well aware of the blight that the structure is and the dangerous condition that it's creating," Powers said. "She's indicating proceeding with demolishing the structure on the county dime and then putting the cost against the property."

Michael Appel, senior developer for Avalon Housing, told in June the long-awaited Near North affordable housing project still was moving forward. He acknowledged Thursday night before council members that some difficult hurdles stand in the project's way, though.

"We appreciate the city's patience and the whole community's patience over what's now been too many months, and especially the neighbors of the project," he said. "We've been working very hard for a long time to move the project forward.

"Our work's always been challenging. This site's been particularly challenging."

Appel said the development team thought it could demolish the houses sooner, but at this point it looks like having the city do it is going to be quicker.

"And that's unfortunate," he said.

Appel said the most recent event that slowed the project — and the reason for his team's inability to move forward with demolition — was the release of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new floodway and floodplain maps in April.

"The floodway, in particular, expanded a good deal south and, in fact, while our building is not in it, some of our project activities are in it — parking and other things," he said.

"The state would allow us to build there, environmental laws would allow us to build there, but federal funds appear to be prohibited from paying for any of that activity," he said. "And so we are now quickly trying to find out if there's a way to substitute non-federal funds for federal funds."

Appel said his agency relies "quite a bit" on federal funds, so that's a challenge.

"So that's what's slowed us down right now," he said. "We would rather be taking them down ourselves, but we will continue to cooperate with staff."

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said in the past year or so she's heard council members in different wards voice concerns about derelict houses, but they've found it's hard to move quickly.

"Approving this contract that isn't specific to any given building allows us to not jump through an extra hoop," she said. "We've done it ahead of time, and then we can just move forward quickly when the time comes that we decide as a city that a building can and should legally be demolished."

Bahl said the city code defines the due process.

"We need to give the property owner every opportunity so that they can take care of it," he said. "We step in only when they don't do it."

View North Main Blighted Homes in a larger map

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.



Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

High density low income housing only leads to dependence on public funds along with higher rates of criminal activity, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, pregnancy for income, child abuse, prostitution etc. Those living in public housing have little stake in their community and generally show little regard for what has been handed to them. The costs associated with low income housing in an overly taxed community like Ann Arbor, only serve to bolster resentment and encourage an impoverished life style. By integrating those who are economically challenged into our community on a smaller and more diverse scale. We should see greater economic opportunity, positive cultural change and less resentment by those on both sides of social economic scale. Sometimes good intentions can have negative out comes!


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.

This belongs in the Blight Beat! Or, is that title reserved for Ypsilanti?


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

Wait...didn't this group win the "Deal of the Year" award wayyyy back in 2009? Talk about jumping the gun. Maybe they should wait until a deal is actually consummated before handing out awards.


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 12:45 p.m.

Please include 800 N Main (the old gas station) in the demo.


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

this is a bit off topic but the people of Avalon Housing do a wonderful job of providing housing for people who might otherwise be homeless and living on the street


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

Avalon is an important organization doing good things. However, the plan for this project appears to have been poorly researched and apparently is being executed with even less competence. Furthermore, Avalon doesn't explain why FEMA's recent release of floodplain maps prevents them from demolishing. It is only said that this affects federal funding for construction costs - for a parking lot. That doesn't sound like they are prevented from demolishing the blighted properties, which they should have done years ago in the interest of being courteous neighbors and in the interest of the city - so that one of the main entry points into Ann Arbor doesn't have a giant, oozing eyesore.


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 1:05 a.m.

The blighted properties in question are all owned by an entity called Near North Limited Dividend Housing. Near North is the name of the project, so for those asking ... it sounds like Three Oaks Group and Avalon Housing are the owners. I live near these houses and pass them on a daily basis. I'm tired of looking at them and I'm tired of the excuses coming from Avalon. Here is an alternative that will likely come to a much faster end: Avalon and Three Oaks take all of the money budgeted for Near North and buy up the foreclosed properties in reasonable condition around Ann Arbor and Ypsi (which would cost less than $300,000 per unit they were planning on spending on NN any way and result in more property) and move folks into those. Ann Arbor demolishes the property and sends Three Oaks and Avalon the bill. Then they round up all of the Slauson dog people and get them to turn the property into the dog park they all want.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

with ALL the condos and highrise's going up in Ann Arbor and us trying to be the next manhattan Lets just build a huge housing housing project highrise on old golfcorse and its all low icome queen brige.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

"Is there some reason why usually does not include addresses? I see 414 N Main for the Greek church but not for the eight houses. Doesn't Journalism 101 teach the importance of what, WHERE, when, why, who?" I wondered the same thing, but sadly don't expect much of I know where the houses are because I drive by them, but most people probably don't. To assist, the houses are on the east side of Main Street in the long block south of Summit. This is a bit north of (not adjacent to) the long-vacated Greek Orthodox church.

Ann English

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Thanks for confirming the map's location of the houses. Looking at the map, I realize that all this time I thought that houses on the west side of North Main, north of Summit, were the ones condemned. I guess people still live in those, below Wildt Street and facing the Huron River. When I drive down Main Street towards town, it's usually dark, so I don't get a good look at these blighted houses. Sounds like they've deteriorated noticeably in the past year and a half.

Kyle Mattson

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

Hi rm1- We've added a map at the end of the article showing the location of the homes.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

Why are we building housing in this area when business would be more appropriate? North Main St. is a busy, noisy, dangerous place for residential living. What would be more appropriate; a gas station, visitor's bureau, office buildings, realtors, insurance agencies, etc...


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

I like the vintage newsboy look but the day's of qualty reporting are gone with the 19th century..


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:42 p.m.

Is there some reason why usually does not include addresses? I see 414 N Main for the Greek church but not for the eight houses. Doesn't Journalism 101 teach the importance of what, WHERE, when, why, who? It did when I took it. At least the block number. Also isn't this part of the Frenchtown neighborhood? Or was it the Italiantown neighborhood? Where is the Historic Society on this one? Isn't someone going to make up a historic neighborhood to prevent this? I am glad to see the city requires owners to pay back demo costs. That may light a fire under them to get a demo company who will undoubtedly be less expensive than what the city will arrange.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

Let's replace them with luxury condos and a Tim Hortons


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

I have got to try their chili. What kind of mushrooms do they use?

Madeleine Borthwick

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 9:03 p.m.

@ Billy Bob Schwartz, I happen to know that TH's puts mushrooms in their chili, and I like it that way, but what does that have to do with the subject being discussed....?


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 8:12 p.m.

ylol who can afford luxury condos besides the dest...

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

Did you know Tim Hortons puts mushrooms in their chili? Outrageous.

Jack Campbell

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

Section 8 housing for addicts doesn't belong on main street. I would rather see blighted houses.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

if you'd ever been inside one of those houses, you'd see the need for them to be demolished. the lack of running water did not discourage the squatters from defecating copiously anywhere.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

you'd rather have unsupervised junkies and dirty punk kids breaking in and sleeping there, or setting them on fire?


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

There goes the "Affordable Housing" in Ann Arbor! Will Camp Take Notice move in so that they can get more Respect and Notice? Will one of those "Greedy Capitalist" Developers build more Luxury apartments there? Or will AA City Council hold a series of town hall meetings for ideas?

Ricardo Queso

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

1% for art but a measly $250,000 for removing blight.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:27 p.m.

The $250,000 is a fund that regenerates as owners pay for the demolition or lose their property to the city. I think that must be different that flat-out spending for art.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:09 p.m.

Might want to look to Ypsilanti twp who is tearing stuff down left and right. But then again if the house is doable? Habitats for Humanity will take the house apart and rebuild it. Saves money and time and effort. Great idea I say.

Daniel Piedra

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

I'm confused as to why local authorities gave Zingerman's such a hard time for seeking to demolish a blighted house to build an addition, yet have no problem allowing the demolition of eight blighted houses to allow for the construction of a housing project in a historical neighborhood on Main St.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

I'm confused. Why would you tear down a historic building when you could pile a bunch of condos and apartments on top?

Tom Whitaker

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

And don't forget that the DDA gave Zingerman's over $400,000 to help pay for the demolition of that house, LEED certification, and other amenities. Sounds like more than fair compensation for the "hard time" they were given. LOL

Tom Whitaker

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:53 p.m.

The houses on North Main are not in a designated historic district and therefore do not come under the jurisdiction of the Historic District Commission. On the contrary, the house next to Zingerman's was in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, and the lot was also zoned for residential use only--not commercial restaurant use. The Zingerman's situation required both a rezoning and allowing a historic structure to be demolished. These kinds of actions are more or less permanent, and, in the interest of protecting the rights of surrounding property owners, as well as the interests of the community as a whole, should always be handled carefully and deliberately. For example, if Zingerman's were to ever close or relocate, could a McDonald's or Burger King have every lawful right to move in and start operating under the new zoning? Although you wouldn't know it from the exaggerated, overly-excited, and technically inaccurate comments from anti-historic district folks in online comments such as 81wolverine's above, the process for Zingerman's expansion approval actually went rather smoothly considering the complexity and sensitivity of the issues it presented. Further, Zingerman's may have over-complicated matters by originally seeking to demolish TWO houses in the historic district, but later reduced that to just the one.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

Excellent question. But I'd guess that the Historical Commission has given up on that area as "too far gone" to try and over-regulate like they do other areas.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

I've asked this question before but does anyone know if someone goes into these houses and remove things like wood work , fixtures ( the old cool stuff ) etc...?


Sat, Aug 11, 2012 : 2:55 a.m.

Habitat for Humanity crews salvaged what they could last summer.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

Usually anything worth anything has been removed either by companies like Materials Unlimited or by looters who get in and take what they can salvage.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

I am pretty sure that an earlier article on these houses stated that the place in Ypsilanti has already gone in and architecturally salvaged them. That's part of the reason they look like they do now.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

Mike....You made some good points but I was thinking more about places like Materials Unlimited in Ypsi whose business is selling that stuff ( yes,they are still in business ) or like those picker guys.I'm sure some sort of waiver would be required. looks like some thumbs down troll is out there this morning


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:26 p.m.

That would depend upon the value of the salvage TDW, the cost of salvaging things combined with regulations make it more and more cost prohibitive. Then there is the liability of allowing someone into these homes who might be interested; potential injury, lack of required safety equipment, etc.. There is also the environmental hazards of lead, asbestos, etc. There is most likely lead in all of the woodwork, the plumbing fixtures just to name a few. Those days rae gone where you could easily salavge material so it gets wrapped in plastic and sent to the landfill. Is plastic good for landfills?


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

why were these properties allowed to get this bad in the first place? aren't property owners supposed to maintain them?


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 6:06 p.m.

Nope. Most of the property owners are the banks on foreclosed property. Ypsi Twp is still haggling with a bank from Scotland. Yup, GB. Go figure. They had no clue they owned property in Michigan. They agreed to pay for the tear down but still. So I would think before asking who are these people? These people are the banks who have no clue as to what to do with these condemned properties. Detroits goal is 1500 by the end of September. Ypsi Twp goal is to get rid of Liberty by end of the year.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

I had the same question. Why were these properties allowed to deteriorate to this point and then left in that condition for so long?


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

I find it entertaining that one government entity (FEMA) gets in the way of another (Ann Arbor) and that is what is holding up this project. Just goes to show you we need more government and regulation..................

Albert Howard

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 11:48 a.m.

Community-based non-profits such as Avalon Housing should steer clear of FEMA.


Fri, Aug 10, 2012 : 11:05 a.m.

"Michael Appel, senior developer for Avalon Housing, told in June the long-awaited Near North affordable housing project still was moving forward." All they need is funding, and Ann Arbor taxpayers are more than happy to foot their bill. Demo away, City. . . (Sees continuous city funds rolling down Main Street to Near North) : ) Sidebar: Has anyone around here heard that subsidized housing "projects" have fallen out of favor with national housing advocates (a decade-long shift). Subsidized projects are being replaced by voucher systems. Vouchers allow recipients to choose the housing they prefer, as opposed to living in stigmatized settings. Wow. . . Who could imagine?