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From the Daily: High-rises, high prices

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published November 14, 2010

Ann Arbor living appears to be one of the only things immune to the economic downfall. The number of high-rise apartments in Ann Arbor has been climbing in recent years. Luxury apartments 4 Eleven Lofts and Zaragon Place are already in use and the construction of Zaragon II is underway. Another high-rise is slated to take the place of Village Corner and neighboring vacant buildings by fall 2012. These buildings offer a central location and many amenities. But this convenience often comes at a steep price. Developers should cater to the desires and needs of students, all the while making sure to keep pricing relatively affordable.

After more than 40 years at the same South University location, Village Corner closed its doors on Nov. 6 to make room for a new tenant, according to a Nov. 8 Daily article. Owner Dick Sheer sold his lease to real estate developer Ron Hughs, who plans to transform the space into a new student luxury high-rise by the fall of 2012. The high-rise, called 601 Forest, will be 14 stories high and will feature an underground parking lot, a fitness center and landscaped terrace, according to a June 22 AnnArbor.com article. Construction on another high-rise apartment building, Zaragon II recently began on the corner of E. William Street and Thompson Street. Zaragon II will also reach 14 stories.

In theory, high-rises are the best way to build. As a city's population grows, officials have two options: They can build up or out. Because apartments expand vertically rather than horizontally, they take up less land and allow for more green space then expanding the area of the city. Additionally, because of high-rises’ central location, residents often don’t need a car to drive to class. If students are driving less often, they are helping to reduce the campus community’s carbon footprint.

But these high-rises, though more environmentally friendly than the alternative urban sprawl, aren’t giving students what they really need: affordability. In Ann Arbor’s housing market, many students struggle to pay rent. Students need reasonably-priced housing close to campus, not state-of-the-art electronics and appliances that these luxury apartments provide. Developers should focus on giving students housing that everyone can afford.

Some of these new buildings offer students progressive lease policies, which are a great convenience for students who don’t remain in Ann Arbor year-round. When dealing with off-campus housing, most students are faced with one only option — a 12-month lease. Inflexible terms force renters who can’t live in the space year-round to find a suitable sub-letter — which is often a difficult process — or to pay for space that they’re unable to use. In some luxury high-rises, renters can sign a lease that suits their specific needs. Traditional student housing should follow this model and offer students more reasonable leases.

The proliferation of high-rises in Ann Arbor is certainly welcome. But "high-rise" doesn’t have to be a synonym for "high price." There is a market for housing that falls in between overly luxurious and rundown, outdated homes. We need a middle ground.