ANN ARBOR, MI – Ann Arbor planners continue to explore areas of the city for downtown-style development outside of downtown.
The city planner Alexis DiLeo proposed in a report to the planning commission on Tuesday evening, March 9th, four areas that should be redistributed.
These include portions of Plymouth Road, Washtenaw Avenue, West Stadium Boulevard and Maple Road, as well as State Street and Eisenhower Parkway.
The goal is to get some downtown-like street landscapes outside of downtown, DiLeo said.
“I think there was some concern in the community that every corridor would be lined with high-rise buildings, but we are talking about some very discreet areas of the city,” she said.
The city has been exploring the idea of zoning with higher density for years in order to encourage more living space and mixed-use development along the major transit corridors. The initiative has taken up in recent months under the new city council.
DiLeo released an update on Tuesday, which explains how the proposed “TC1” zoning regulation is developing.
The Planning Commission’s Revision Committee reiterated the preference that buildings must be at least two stories tall, rather than requiring mixed uses, and that height restrictions apply everywhere in the proposed TC1 zones, DiLeo said. The idea of ”unlimited height” was there previously considered.
As now suggested, buildings can be up to 120 feet tall if they are more than 300 feet from a residential lot, up to 75 feet tall if they are more than 66 feet to 300 feet from a residential lot, and 55 feet high when they are within 66 feet of a home ownership.
“What we’ve done at altitude gives me a lot more comfort and I really like that,” said Sarah Mills, chair of the commission.
The first floor of a building in the proposed areas would have to be 15 stories high and 60% transparent for passers-by to look inside, whether through the windows of a retail store or office space or a gym or a common room for a residential building according to the design of the Suggestion.
Some commissioners pushed back and suggested allowing apartments or condominiums on the ground floor as long as there are verandas or front doors on the sidewalk. This could help create some accessible units, said Commissioner Sadira Clarke.
There is an emphasis on getting buildings in front of the public sidewalk, similar to downtown buildings, rather than having shopping malls with large parking lots in front of them.
Buildings would have to cover at least 70% of the width of the property under the proposed conditions, and no building could be longer or wider than 360 feet. The front requirement could drop to 50% if the street wall has at least three floors and there are squares or other well-designed spaces that support people in living, working, shopping and socializing.
“Just like downtown, the most convenient streets have downtown where it’s fully developed from corner to corner,” DiLeo said. “You go down it, it’s pretty comfortable, you have a sense of enclosure, you have the buildings there, there are things to do … it’s a comfortable environment.”
The boundaries of the proposed TC1 zones are Plymouth between Traverwood Drive and US 23, Washtenaw between US 23 and Platt Road, Stadium and Maple between Jackson Avenue and Pauline Boulevard, State between Oakbrook Drive and I-94, and Eisenhower between Main Street and railroad tracks .
The idea is to line these corridors with the kind of higher density development the city wants to see without “fingers” extending from the corridor, DiLeo said.
As suggested for these zones, the new TC1 zoning would replace existing zones for offices (O), research (R), office research for light industry (ORL), commercial peripheral areas (C3) and limited industrial areas (M1), but not residential areas. A 30 foot kickback from the rear or side would be required if it is adjacent to a residential property.
The new zoning would include other goals in the city’s master plan, including sustainability, land use, climate protection and non-motorized transport goals, DiLeo said.
“The district’s purpose is to get more density for better sustainability,” she said.
There would be no minimum parking requirements, but there would be parking restrictions and the proposed vehicle area would not exceed the size of the building’s footprint.
The commissioners gave a mixture of feedback on Tuesday evening, asking about a possible reallocation of additional areas.
Lisa Disch, representative of the city council on the commission, asked if the city might be leaving out other areas where the same development principles should apply. She mentioned corridors like Packard Road and the South Industrial Highway.
The TC1 zoning is not intended as a one-size-fits-all solution for every corridor, said DiLeo.
“I see this project as an intensification of our strong commercial and office corridors,” she said.
Other corridors like Packard and South Industrial work differently and are of different character, but they could still be zoned to allow for more density, she said.
Commissioner Alex Milshteyn inquired about the area of Briarwood Mall which city officials believe is ripe for redevelopment as shopping habits change.
Brett Lenart, the city’s planning manager, said there had been no recent conversations with the mall’s owners.
“I just think with what’s going on there it may be worth including them in the conversation,” said Milshteyn.
No action was taken at the working session on Tuesday evening. A public hearing on the TC1 zoning proposal is expected at the commission meeting on April 6, before commissioners vote on making recommendations to the city council.
Commissioners also got an initial glimpse Tuesday evening of staff proposed changes to development project approval requirements, exempting certain types of projects from the full city map approval process.
As suggested, projects that would be exempt from city council approval to approve the site plan could include housing developments of up to six units, legal developments that do not require reallocation, building expansions no greater than 300 square feet, and solar systems.
Planning officials are still working on the details and some commissioners suggested changes.
For example, some advocated that only housing developments with up to four residential units should be exempted from the requirements of the site plan and not up to six. Since there could be up to six bedrooms per unit, some disagreed that a building with 36 beds should be exempt.
The projects would still go through the usual assessments of the city’s staff. And in the case of legal developments that do not require reallocation, they would no longer go to the city council for final approval, but would still go through the planning commission, which has the final say, similar to what the commission is already doing with exemptions for marijuana- Pharmacies and the like according to the proposal.
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