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Posted on Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 9:56 a.m.

Near North affordable housing project in Ann Arbor moving forward with brownfield plan

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously Monday night in support of a brownfield plan for the Near North affordable housing project at 626-724 N. Main Street.


The latest Near North designs.

Approval of the plan allows Avalon Housing to seek Michigan Business Tax Brownfield Redevelopment Credits from the state, said Michael Appel, executive director of Avalon Housing.

City officials said the brownfield plan doesn't include any tax-increment financing and would not reduce the amount of taxes received by any local taxing jurisdictions or public schools.

The City Council approved the 39-unit Near North Apartments Planned Unit Development last September and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for the project in October.

With approval of the brownfield plan from the City Council, the Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority now will consider the plan on June 10, and the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners review will begin July 7.

Approval is required by the county and the state.

Avalon, a nonprofit housing corporation, is developing Near North with its for-profit partner, Three Oaks, as a mixed-use development. It will provide 25 affordable apartments to households with low incomes and 14 supportive housing apartments with project-based Section 8 rent subsidies.

The project consists of a 65,144-square-foot, mixed-use building with 39 residential units, 2,714 square feet of retail, and 1,553 square feet of office use.

The project was identified as potentially eligible for brownfield financial incentives after a finding that the property contained benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, lead, barium, chromium, copper, mercury, selenium, silver and zinc in the soil exceeding the generic residential cleanup criteria under state regulations known as Part 201.

In a separate unanimous vote on Monday, the City Council amended the development agreement for the Near North PUD to make sure the developer follows through on cleaning up the soils.

Appel said Avalon Housing is hoping to break ground in early fall.

"We are waiting to hear from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority about tax credits, which are the key financing proposal for us," he said. "And they said they were going to announce in mid-May and here we are in early June, but we're optimistic. We think we score pretty well. We have investors lined up, and we're hopeful that we'll be able to have some good news real soon."

Local funding approved so far includes $500,000 in Washtenaw County HOME Funds and $500,000 from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

"We're excited that despite what's pretty rocky time in Michigan for doing low-income housing development, it looks like Near North is going to move forward," Appel said. "But we still need to hear about the funding."

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



Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 7:49 p.m.

JackieL, In our unstable national economy, the only way to guarantee a supply of affordable housing during both good and bad economic times to to consciously plan, develop, and manage it. Having a range of available residential options will bring greater long-term stability for those getting by on workforce or limited incomes. This is where organizations such as Avalon come in, especially to provide for those whose lives are economically marginal. My frustration is that there aren't more groups doing residential development along these lines. For one, I'd like to see a more affordable version of the cohousing communities. As for today's higher vacancy rate, just several years ago property owners and landlords were asking for as much money as they could get away with while the housing boom raged on. Many buyers and renters found themselves increasingly priced out, making it a lot more difficult to find a place to live. And just like those price boom years, today's softer housing market will not last, either.


Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 7:27 p.m.

Veracity, I don't understand why you're heavily invested in painting Near North in cynical, sinister terms. Avalon Housing has a good track record at creating and maintaining livable, affordable housing situations around town. They manage individual homes and small complexes at various locations in town. It's fine to to question Avalon to better understand how well they're juggling the variables on this ambitious project. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, I'd trust them as managers to keep the rents within the desired target ranges (calculated by percent of median income?) for the two categories of units. It sounds like a scare tactic to suggest or imply that costs or Three Oaks will drive them toward rent gouging. Upon successful completion of Near North's cleaner, more affordable units, the only potential losers I see in the housing market are local slumlords.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 10:02 p.m.

There is plenty of affordable housing in Ann Arbor already. In Stoney Brook (Arbor Oaks subdivision) there are foreclosed houses going for 40 or 50 thousand. There are vacant houses and apartments all over town. If you haven't noticed that, you have had your head in the sand. Ask any property manager.....rents are down and vacancies are up. There have been hundreds of houses foreclosed in the last few years in Washtenaw county. Let's occupy the ones we already have here! Duh.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 2:45 p.m.

Speechless: I am not sure how great the news is so hold your celebration. The project is joint between a non-profit organization and a for-profit company. With a profit motive involved I am skeptical about the rental rates being "affordable." Construction costs are still high and the rents have to pay off loans and taxes as well as provide a reasonable income for the developer and the property managing company. The final product may not meet our expectations. Let us not be naive.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 1:07 p.m.

Great news to hear that this very worthwhile project continues to move forward, despite the bleak economic times. Wish them good luck on their upcoming Mich. HDA tax credits decision.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 10:01 a.m.

Mr. Stanton: Can you find out where the $500,000 that is provided by the Washtenaw County HOME Funds and another $500,000 from Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority comes from? Are these monies obtained from local tax payers or from state tax revenue? Are these funds grants or are they loans to be repaid? Lastly, is the money earmarked for specific use or with "no strings attached"?


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 : 9:54 a.m.

"Mugwump" must be confusing Ann Arbor with another city. My wife and I visit the Main Street downtown area frequently each week and have found it busy and vibrant. The claim that restaurants are not diverse is specious. Along Main Street from Williams to Huron you find restaurants offering French, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Greek and American-style brew pubs. Other restaurants nearby offer Japanese, Indian and German cuisine. And their offerings are fine quality at moderate or reasonable pricing. Mugwump is correct that many retail stores have left Main Street years ago and most went to the Briarwood Mall which has more available and cheaper parking. In regards to downtown parking, it is free after 8 pm on weekdays and all day on Sundays.


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 8:38 p.m.

I forgot to mention what messes Miller Manor and the Ann Arbor Inn have become. Downtown Ann Arbor already has driven just about all interesting businesses out of the area. There is practically no retail, just about no diversity of restaurants, and all of its retail character. Parking over enforcement and unfavorable conditions brought on by the city, including the scuzzy parking structures, homeless/ne'er do wells in abundance has driven out much of the middle class from downtown. More low income housing projects will just help seal the deal making Ann Arbor look more like Detroit. Guess the Ann Arborite's goal is to bring social engineering to their own front porches. I'm a refugee from this type of stuff that happened in Ypsilanti years ago. Now it looks like Ann Arbor is going the same route of Ypsi. Too bad.


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 7:43 p.m.

I agree with xmo. We have PLENTY of affordable housing in Ann Arbor and near Ann Arbor. NO more low cost housing. All you get with the lost cost housing is a bunch of crime. Just look at Arrowwood and the projects on Maple Rd.


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 12:54 p.m.

Why does Ann Arbor want affordable housing? If you build enough condo's, houses and apartments, housing becomes affordable because of the business law of supply and demand. This socialist affordable housing is for EUROPE!


Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 12:50 p.m.

Wait - so the solution in helping out a few low income families is to build an apartment complex on top of soil contaminated with benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, lead, barium, chromium, copper, mercury, selenium, silver and zinc? I must be missing something...

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

@Phil Dokas There's a link to a pretty useful information sheet on brownfield tax credits in the story. A so-called "brownfield" property is one in which there's an obstacle to redevelopment caused by the threat of liability from existing contamination in this case, all that nasty stuff in the soil that's mentioned in the story. The state offers business tax incentives in order to promote the redevelopment of contaminated brownfield sites, but first an eligible property must be designated in a locally approved brownfield plan created under the Brownfield Redevelopment Financing Act of 1996. That's what the city has done in approving the brownfield plan, and it still needs county and state approval.

Phil Dokas

Tue, Jun 8, 2010 : 9:11 a.m.

What exactly is a brownfield plan?