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Posted on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 9:45 a.m.

City Place site plan gets unanimous approval of Ann Arbor City Council

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council voted 11-0 Monday night to approve a site plan for City Place that calls for two three-story apartment buildings along South Fifth Avenue where seven century-old homes currently stand.


Dozens of residents showed up at Monday night's Ann Arbor City Council meeting to voice opposition to the City Place project. Ryan J. Stanton |

But city officials say a six-month moratorium on development and demolition will keep the project from moving forward until a historic district study committee can determine whether it's worth granting historic district status to the neighborhood.

Mayor John Hieftje announced his intentions at the meeting to support a historic district designation. He said city officials had little choice but to approve the by-right site plan for City Place because it conforms with city zoning ordinances. He also noted the city's legal staff advised it could pose a legal risk if the council voted against it.

City officials sounded convinced Monday night that Alex de Parry - who they believe has no intention of actually building the by-right project and will continue to craft a planned unit development - is merely making threats.

"My only conclusion is that clearly this an attempt to set us up for a lawsuit. I'm not inclined to take the bait," Council member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, said of his reasons for supporting site plan.

Even though he doesn't think it's a good project, Hohnke said he felt bound by law to "hold my nose" and approve it.

The by-right site plan allows Fifth Avenue Limited Partnership to build 24 units with 144 bedrooms and 36 surface parking spaces on 1.23 acres at 407-437 S. Fifth Ave.

City officials admitted they were confused to see the developer asking for approval of a site plan that city officials and neighborhood residents strongly oppose. The city and developer reached an agreement in July to table the by-right site plan and come back in January with a revised planned unit development or PUD.

De Parry told city officials he felt the City Council acted in bad faith when, after convincing him to table his site plan, the council quickly passed a moratorium and historic district study resolution on Aug. 6. De Parry said he felt backed into a corner with no choice but to push forward the by-right site plan for City Place.

David Birchler, a planner who was hired by de Parry, told city officials he has thoroughly reviewed the site plan. He said it meets all requirements of the city's zoning ordinance, including those for height, density, open space and setbacks.

Dozens of citizens packed city hall for Monday's meeting, with the overwhelming majority against the City Place project and in support of preserving the neighborhood.

Members of the Germantown Neighborhood Association said they still believe the City Place site plan violates the city's zoning ordinances and is incompatible with the city's Central Area Plan. They say it will result in a loss of the historic integrity of the neighborhood and will be a detriment to the neighborhood's health, safety and welfare.

After the City Council last tabled the City Place site plan on July 20, the developer was expected to move forward with a public participation process to get input from residents. A meeting was held on Aug. 12, but city records show residents weren't impressed.

Tom Whitaker, president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association, e-mailed city officials

a lengthy letter
after that meeting, saying his group still opposed the project. But he said the association would not object to a project that respectfully restored the houses and added some units in a way that was in keeping with federal guidelines for historic rehabilitations.

De Parry told this week he is modifying a PUD plan for City Place based on recent neighborhood input and is awaiting revised color renderings from his architect. He would not comment further.

City officials said they hope de Parry will continue to work with residents on a compromise and scrap the by-right site plan.

Ryan Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 6:06 p.m.

Sad, but true. The real problem lies in the high rents being charged on Main St. This has driven out retail and encourages restaurant mediocrity; the main source of their income is now alcohol and very little attention is being paid to making good food. This will eventually lower the number of people from the suburbs who come here and spend money, as the level of restaurants in many surrounding areas is so much higher.


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 12:44 p.m.

Yeah, more core density downtown so those people can commute to the townships to work. That's a really great idea! No transit system, no grocery stores, little of what people need to live, much less work. Yeah, smart people will do that. That's like reverse sprawl. Live downtown and work in the suburbs. Same problems with infrastructure, energy usage and people's time, associated with urban sprawl There are few jobs in downtown if the kind that people talk about. And so far, those jobs are greatly exaggerated. There is little space for those businesses in the downtown. Downtown is an entertainment district not an IT or R&D district. New R&D businesses will locate in the townships because there is room to build. Developers will build more residential there when the demand increases... If it ever does. Face it, Ann Arbor is a mid sized college town with all the baggage that comes with that. Trying to make it into something it is not is an exercise in futility and unsustainability. Let's be the best mid sized college town we can be and not something fake or forced that will ruin what character is left. Let's make use of our best assets, which are the neighborhoods, the downtown, the people and the UM. The "I got mine" comment doesn't deserve a reply because it is bitter, negative and has no basis in fact.


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 10:37 a.m.

Mr. Bernard-that is a rather harsh and unpleasant statement. We have a city plan, and the areas that are now threatened are not in the downtown core, but in residential areas on the borders of downtown. The plan calls for density downtown, and yet most projects there are on hold. Why should be destroy the character of near downtown areas that contribute to the unique character of the city and are not yet blighted in the manner you describe? Have you looked at the City Place proposal? It is so horrid it does not belong anywhere, and it adds nothing to the city; there is really no more need for student housing in the area, and this proposal would add to parking problems for other residents, businesses, and workers in the area. Please think about this again.

Alan Benard

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 11:12 p.m.

Ann Arbor is a town that has spent decades bulldozing every scrap of historical architecture it could. Unique church structures on North Main are left to rot. The city center is a collection of surface parking lots, government buildings and two strips of 1890s facades. The barn door is already wide open on this one.From the ardent opposition to affordable housing near north, to this group of concerned citizens on the near south, to the Old West Siders who keep wanting a park on top of someone else's railroad right-of-way, all I can hear is people saying: I got mine, Jack. If you want to live downtown, you rent my dilapidated student housing. If you want to live downtown, buy my single-family home. More city core density now. More units in the center, less sprawl.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 10:05 p.m.

May I point out that no one can outbid anyone, as the developer owns all but one of the houses. There is reasonable development and unreasonable development, and this barbaric piece of junk belongs to the latter. We have not seen the end of this, but hopefully the historic district proposal will protect these houses.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 8:39 p.m.

Ann Arbor does not have heavy traffic nor does it charge a fee to use the public parks. Taxes are higher in many part of the country (like NYC, Chicago, LA, SF etc) and far more people live in those places with higher taxes than live here in Ann Arbor NEXT!

Steve Feinman

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 6:42 p.m.

It would seem that council is only interested in increasing the property tax base to make up for a variety of loses. However, incomplte and bankrupt condo's will not help improve the tax base. but thier desires seems to point to making A2 downtown a high density bedroom community since few new business are willing to move into the city. And, if the jobs are in the outlying areas why move to the city with the burdensome taxes, outragoeus park fees, and heavy traffic.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 6:35 p.m.

What a shame. And sadly, the affordable housing project just written about here ( has a tighter budget due to their clientele considerations and looks 100x nicer than these double monstrosities for City Place.

Andrew Selinger

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 6:32 p.m.

Couple things: These houses were all but forgotten until Ann Arborites learned they were going to be torn down. Also, I believe that the fact that a former mayor lived there decades ago does not necessarily add any historical significance. While I will refrain from commenting on the merits of this particular project, I think we need to be careful of strangling off all development and scaring away people who want to improve Ann Arbor. And to the older generally older demographic that supports the preservation of Ann Arbor: please be aware that Ann Arbor will exist long after you do. The life cycle of cities necessitates a positive flow of young people. Ann Arbor needs to remain competitive in the state and nation, which I believe, involves offering modern housing and amenities. Finally, any development will take compromise. The city has designated several historic districts (they make up about 40% of downtown parcels), and they have implicitly kept the rest open to development. Keep in mind that this one development does not define Ann Arbor, nor completely destroy its history. In fact, it doesn't even come close.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 4:16 p.m.

Voiceofreason has a good point, above... If someone were to outbid de Parry for the site, then there would be no question as to the commitment to preserve historic areas. Generally speaking, I hate seeing historic buildings torn down for new development. Ann Arbor's character comes from its history. That's why people like visiting, and consider living there, in the first place. Ann Arbor's current rental housing is far from full. In fact, I've casually observed many apartments downtown, usually snatched up by U of M students, still up for lease well into the fall semester. Why does A2 need new trendy lofts when its current apartments are not being rented?


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 4:15 p.m.

I have heard that this project will never be built, even though the by-right plan was "approved" last night. If the area is designated as a historic district, as is likely, they will not be able to proceed at all. There is already a moratorium on tearing anything down, so eventually, this plan will just go away, and the homes will be saved. Also, getting financing for this (or any other commercial development) given the state of the commercial real estate market, might prove difficult. The developer has to be incurring a lot of costs to push this forward, so he better have really deep pockets. I think the city is hoping he will run out of patience and money, and just go away. Approving this plan was just a legal maneuver.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 3:01 p.m.

I am also shocked that anyone would want to spend a single penny for a downtown Ann Arbor development project. I will admit that this project wouldn't be my first choice for the site. But, if the developer has a purchase agreement for the homes and has a plan within zoning restrictions, there isn't much that can be done about it. I would invite the people who strongly oppose this development to band together and outbid the developer for the seven properties. This would prove whether the opposition to this project actually cares about historic preservation.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 12:28 p.m.

What a NIMBY party!!! Downtown development would create an undue burden on the infrastructure? Really...That is a head scratcher. Sometimes I think the people of Ann Arbor would only be happy if they froze their littel quaint town in time warp and allowed nothing to change. To an earlier comment, they could certainly fight it in court and would most certainly lose...and lose badly, because they would be required to pay significant damanges as a regulatory taking..hence the 11 - 0. The Council may pander to the whims of the Ann Arbor "elites," but they aren't stupid. LOL...What amazes me is why any developer would want to invest a nickel in Ann Arbor with all the brain damage you need to go through for approval. Ann Arbor really loves itself.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 11:36 a.m.

While I agree you need to hold on to your history, this is not a historic district and as pointed out if you don't want urban sprawl (which you don't in case you had question - see Detroit for a good example of why you don't) then you need to allow for redevelopment downtown and height in buildings. If you want to control population growth, well, then you face the risk of not having employers coming to Ann Arbor because of a fixed ceiling in growth and potential. With that said - I feel the developer can take a few strides to make sure the elevations and facades of the buildings build to the existing character of the area. I am not a resident of the area though - so my views are from someone who visits the area.


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 11:21 a.m.

Outrageous. This is the culmination of the last 10 years of stacking the Planning Commission with political lackeys, changes in zoning and planning that favor developers, PADS reorganization (DISASTER!), the slow dismantling of historic districts and the marginalization of neighborhoods adjacent to downtown. This is all in the name of the almighty dollar. When will we realize that the character of Ann Arbor cannot be restored once it is lost. No amount of money can rebuild that character once it's sold to the highest bidder. No amount of money can recreate what will be lost much less create new history. The City Attorney's office doesn't work for the city. They work for a few political masters. They fight Anglin on how to construct a piece of legislation. With a smirk, they argue that leaving the door open to the council work room meets the requirement for an open meeting. Who do they actually represent?


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 10:48 a.m.

graze our history for bedrooms and parking spots? Really shocked.. doesn't even sound like a quality setting going up there.Rabbit hutch cubes for students or young adults-that stuff has its place- but these city blocks ought to be left their places in history.

Laura Bien

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 10:35 a.m.

Seven century-old homes? On the heels of the Frieze destruction? You can't replace historic homes, or reconstruct them for any amount of money. Once they're gone...they're gone.

Steve Hendel

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 9:43 a.m.

Are we trying to turn AA, and especially the downtown residential areas, into a museum? Look but don't touch (or develop)? I always thought that part of the extensive purchase of greenbelt property/development rights programs in which the City and some townships have participated was that more intensive development would be permitted in the more densely populated areas. I guess we can have our cake and eat it too (or at least try to).


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 9:28 a.m.

Apparently, appearing before council with some very legitimate objections is always trumped by the legal staff. What the hell is the problem fighting this in court? The city spends large sums on some very questionable projects, yet balks on going to court to save the city from certain blight and the destruction of its history. To borrow a comment used at the council meeting... for shame!


Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 9:17 a.m.

What a shame that this could actually happen!

Phil Dokas

Tue, Sep 22, 2009 : 9:10 a.m.

Awful. Alex de Parry should be run out of town on a board and take his tacky condos with him. What a disgrace that we're going to convert one of the oldest blocks in town, tree-lined and beautiful, the homes of early mayors and turn them into condos to turn a buck. Is nothing worth anything more than dollars and cents anymore?