Over 200 acres by Ann Arbor’s Briarwood Mall now zoned for high-density development
The biggest property rezoning in recent Ann Arbor history is now finalized.
City Council voted 8-3 Monday night, April 5, to OK reclassifying over 200 acres around Briarwood Mall under the city’s new TC1 transit-corridor zoning category to pave the way for downtown-style development on the city’s south side.
“I’m very excited about this step we’re taking today,” Mayor Christopher Taylor said. “Supply and demand is not a joke, it’s the law, and what we are doing is we are enabling the market to create substantially more — thousands perhaps more — units of housing in the city of Ann Arbor to house future neighbors.”
In all, 68 properties in the State Street and Eisenhower Parkway commercial area are now rezoned.
The properties total 222 acres, while the entire district, counting portions of public streets, measures 270 acres. The properties currently include office buildings, strip-mall-style stores, big parking lots, restaurants, hotels, banks and a gas station.
The city-initiated rezoning aims to encourage high-density, mixed-use development with building height limits ranging from 55-300 feet depending on how close sites are to residential zones. City officials in support of it hope it leads to more developments with a mix of housing and commercial spaces, and they see the State and Eisenhower area as the first of several areas where the new zoning could be applied.
Other corridors such as Washtenaw Avenue, Plymouth Road, West Stadium Boulevard and Maple Road could be next.
The three council members against the proposal were Kathy Griswold, Jeff Hayner and Ali Ramlawi, who view the rezoning as a giveaway to developers and land owners.
They’re disappointed a majority of council has been unwilling to put incentives in the zoning regulations to require developers to include affordable housing or environmental sustainability features in line with the city’s A2Zero carbon-neutrality goals, such as all-electric buildings with rooftop solar, in exchange for the denser zoning allowing bigger buildings.
Other city officials who support the TC1 zoning have defended their lack of inclusion of such measures by saying they think new housing along transit corridors will naturally be more affordable than housing in the center of the city and will give people options to live less carbon-intensive lifestyles by being able to get to stores and jobs without a car, including people who now commute by car from outside the city into work.
“The ways in which this proposal supports our climate-action goals have been articulated many times,” said Council Member Jen Eyer, D-4th Ward, reiterating those points.
Council’s decision came after a public hearing during which several residents argued for and against the proposal.
“This proposed rezoning is as exciting as many of the people who spoke at public hearing felt that it was,” said Council Member Lisa Disch, D-1st Ward. “It has the potential to transform State and Eisenhower into downtown on the periphery — that is a destination zone away from the core of the city that offers places to live, work and shop.”
Council has heard many people call for making developers propose fully electric buildings or include affordable housing in order to get approval for taller buildings, but requiring that could make projects more difficult and more expensive, Disch said, expressing concerns it could disincentive development.
To make her argument that housing in the State and Eisenhower area will be naturally more affordable than downtown, Disch cited monthly rents for The Standard, a new University of Michigan student high-rise nearing completion at Main and William streets. It advertises a monthly price of $2,920 for a 696-square-foot, double-occupancy, one-bedroom apartment with two beds in one room separated by a divider, and $2,650 for a 537-square-foot, single-occupancy, one-bedroom apartment.
“If you compare that to Hidden Valley Club Apartments or State Street Village Apartments at South State, you get privacy and more square footage for half the price,” Disch said.
“Hidden Valley, that place is like 50 years old — of course it’s cheap,” Hayner, D-1st Ward, responded.
Citing a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Hayner said cities can play a positive role in reducing carbon emissions through building codes and the choice of construction materials. If the city wants carbon-neutral buildings in the future, they must be built that way now, he argued.
“We can’t let them keep going on building non-carbon-neutral buildings,” he said.
“All we’re doing is rezoning a bunch of properties and putting our wishful-thinking hat on and saying, hey, if there’s more, maybe they’ll all cost less in 50 years like Hidden Valley Apartments,” Hayner added. “We’re choosing to do this in the face of a climate catastrophe? We’re choosing to let development go unabashed in these areas, unimpeded? It’s the wrong choice.”
Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, said city officials often tell residents there’s not much they can do about the lack of affordability and the gentrification in the community.
“But here we have an opportunity to make changes, to set policy, to not get in bed with corporate America, and to lead to get to the goals that we set, and here we’re saying that it’s not necessary, the market will wave its invisible hand and we’ll get there,” he said, expressing disappointment.
Council Member Erica Briggs, D-5th Ward, said she thinks council members all share the same values about affordable housing and sustainable development, but the question is what’s the best way to achieve that. The city could use zoning premiums to try to incentivize those things, but she expressed doubts that would be effective, citing advice from the city’s planning staff.
“If we do nothing here and don’t have TC1, we don’t get more affordable housing. What we get is something like the proposed Outback Steakhouse with 148 parking spaces,” said Council Member Julie Grand, D-3rd Ward. “That’s not necessarily what I want to see, and not just because I’m a vegetarian. It’s because that’s not the best use of that space.”
Posted By: mlive on April 5, 2022. For more information, please click here to read the source article.
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