City Place site plan gets unanimous approval of Ann Arbor City Council
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.
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 officialsafter 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 AnnArbor.com 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 AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.