There are 28 lots in the block between Packard Street, South Fourth Avenue, South Fifth Avenue and Madison Street, which is located across the street from the current construction of the new Elbel Field. Most of the block is made up of older houses, nestled among maple trees and rented to University of Michigan students. However, that could soon change. Subtext, a St. Louis-based real estate development company specializing in apartments for college students and young adults, has proposed to build a 1,500-bed luxury apartment building that would replace most of the block.
Architect J Bradley Moore presented the plans for the new building to Ann Arbor’s Planning Commission on Sept. 12. The plans include a 12-story rectangular complex with an interior courtyard, a seven-story “hockey stick-shaped” addition to the main building, an attached parking structure and a rooftop pool. The proposed building would include approximately 450 apartments of different sizes — from one to five bedrooms — and 450 parking spots for tenants.
At the September meeting Moore said the building, which would be located near two new dorms the University plans to construct in the coming years, would complement the University’s goal to expand student housing.
“We’re grateful for (the University) in their attempt to add more student housing, but we know that with their growth in enrollment, what they’re adding still won’t meet all of the needs,” Moore said. “So we’re glad to make this proposal to do that.”
The proposed building would be the fourth Subtext property in Ann Arbor. The company already owns The Yard and Six11, both built in 2018, and received approval from City Council in June to build an additional property at 721 S. Forest Ave.
Engineering senior Raymond Zhou has lived in The Yard for the past two years and said although the location is a bit far from campus, he’s been pleased with his living experience and the amenities and services the apartment complex offers.
“The maintenance has been pretty responsive,” Zhou said. “I remember when I had an issue with my sink, they basically came that same afternoon and they fixed it within 10-15 minutes. So that definitely was pretty good. On top of that, I think overall amenities are pretty good … My overall impressions are pretty positive.”
The September meeting was one of five necessary steps that must be taken to reclassify the land as a ‘planned unit development,’ a designation reserved for developments that don’t fit into any of the city’s other zoning categories. In a Sept. 12 memorandum to the Planning Commission, city planner Alexis DiLeo said Subtext is requesting a PUD designation for the block because the proposed building’s height and density would exceed the capacity limits required in other zones.
Under the Ann Arbor Unified Development Code, any developer who wants their land to be classified as a PUD must either include units of affordable housing within the property or donate money to the city’s affordable housing fund. The number of units or the required donation amount depends on the scale of the project. Affordable housing is defined in Ann Arbor as housing where people who make less than 60% of the area’s median income will not have to spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Subtext has chosen to contribute to the fund — rather than including affordable housing units — though they have not yet disclosed the amount they will be contributing.
Ellie Abrons, Taubman professor and LSA director of the Digital Studies Institute, is a member of the city’s Planning Commission but spoke with The Michigan Daily as a private citizen. They said the city’s Affordable Housing Fund is an important component of creating affordable housing in Ann Arbor where market-rate housing — or housing priced based on supply and demand in the area — is not affordable for many people.
“The complexity and challenge of building affordable housing, of course, is that the market will not support it,” Abrons said. “A private developer is going to really struggle, particularly in a downtown area or close to campus in Ann Arbor based on the cost of land and the cost of development … for that to make sense for them financially.”
Nevertheless, Abrons said, any new housing can drive the market price downwards and help alleviate an affordability crisis.
“Research does show that increasing (housing) supply at any level will overall make the cost of housing, if not lower, at least stabilized,” Abrons said. “Imagine you built a building and you built 100 new units, and they were market-rate units, which I think are unaffordable to many people in our community. … Some people will move into those units and that will relieve pressure on more affordable housing.”
The new high rise would also include rooftop solar panels, Moore said during his presentation to the Planning Commission in September, though he noted that he could not yet determine how much of the building’s energy would be generated by the panels. The company plans to explore geothermal energy options as well, but Moore said he could not guarantee that geothermal energy would be feasible for the building. Subtext has not yet responded to a Daily request for comment about the solar and geothermal energy amounts they expect to generate.
Additionally, several Planning Commission members expressed concerns at the meeting that the number of parking spaces proposed was not in line with the city’s carbon neutrality goals, which emphasize reducing car use and carbon emissions.
Abrons acknowledged ongoing debates in the Ann Arbor community regarding the amount of parking in relation to the amount of housing that should be built. They said that parking structures can lead to higher rent for tenants since they are expensive to build and the developer needs to recoup construction costs. However, she also pointed out that for many developers, parking is necessary in order for their housing plans to be feasible.
“There’s probably a tension there for some people in the community who would prefer there to be more housing (and) less parking, and maybe what developers feel the market would want,” Abrons said. “In other words, how easily will they be able to rent their apartments without offering available parking to the residents of their building? … From the financing side, I have heard from developers who say that there are challenges in getting their projects financed through lenders without providing a certain amount of parking.”
There are trade-offs to high rises in general, Abrons said, since larger buildings can change the feel of a community, especially for those living right next door. However, Abrons said any new housing will help make Ann Arbor a more livable and affordable community for everyone.
“I personally am pro-housing, and therefore I’m pro-density,” Abrons said. “For me, when I weigh the trade-offs, I think about finding places for people to live in our community so that they can afford to live here (and) don’t have to commute from somewhere else. … The more of those people that we can get to live in our community … makes our community more inclusive.”
Daily Staff Reporter Abigail VanderMolen can be reached at email@example.com.