Trinitas Ventures is taking legal action against Ann Arbor after City Council denied a proposal for a student housing complex north of campus. The Indiana-based developer filed a claim of appeal, arguing the project complies with relevant zoning regulations and calling for a reversal of the city’s decision on the development.

In September, City Council rejected the proposal  in which Trinitas planned to construct the complex at 2601 Pontiac Trl., more than two miles away from both North and Central Campus — in a unanimous vote. Then, in November, it voted unanimously in favor of a $150,000 contract to retain outside legal counsel to fight the developer’s claim against the city.

City Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, said despite the fact legal precedents in the state tend to favor developers, he was pleased the council was taking action to block the Trinitas plan.

“Precedent is set by our court system and generally not by legislative branches, and the precedent that’s been set in the state of Michigan protects developers who believe they have the right to build a certain way on a property,” Ackerman said. “I was encouraged and enthused to find, (and) to hear all 11 members of this body vote against the Trinitas development on Pontiac Trail because it did not meet our zoning requirements as it pertains to the protection of our natural features.”

 Residents complained about the project, which was called the Cottages at Barton Green, saying it was too much like dorm-style living and would have been too far from campus for easy commuting to class.

Trinitas’ Executive Vice President of Development did not provide a comment in time for publication.

In response to the rejection of the plan for additional student housing, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said this was a matter best left to city government to decide.

“(T)he university believes decisions about zoning and development on private property within the city are, appropriately, handled by city government,” Fitzgerald said in an email.

This is not the first time Trinitas has taken legal action against a city for blocking controversial development plans. In Ohio, Trinitas settled a lawsuit against the city of Oxford City in 2015 to allow for the construction of a 192-unit development for students at Miami University of Ohio. The agreement there was based on a number of conditions, including promises to provide year-round public transit and reduce the number of parking spaces. At one point, Oxford’s vice mayor, Kate Rousmaniere, said Trinitas’ efforts to ensure the project’s approval sounded like “a threat.”

The commuter-style complex was first proposed in August 2017, with a plan to build 225 fully furnished apartments with 716 bedrooms across 92 buildings on 32 acres of vacant land next to highway M-14. In response to community grievances, City Council ordered Trinitas to work with the residents near the proposed site and modify its plan.

Deborah Katz lives on Skydale Drive. The Trinitas development would have been constructed behind her house. She spoke at the City Council meeting in September and said the developer did not engage in a meaningful dialogue with the community.

“The neighbors have waited and waited and waited for Trinitas to meet with us to discuss the significant modifications to this development,” she said, adding that the meeting took place on the first day of school, making it difficult for some of the neighbors to attend. “…Many are teachers, we’re parents, we’re workers, and this scheduled meeting was during the school day. It wasn’t a problem-solving session, it was a presentation of a plan. This meeting offered no discussion, but rather a baked proposal.”

Two months later, Ken Garber, another local resident opposed to the project, thanked City Council for denying the proposal. He said the complex would have been disconnected from the community and unwalkable.

“Telling you about the terrible Trinitas plan would be preaching to the converted,” Garber said. He continued to criticize “the dorm-like floor plan suitable only to undergraduates, the lack of any family housing or affordable housing, the high rents, the cavalier disregard on the part of the developer for concerns of the community.”

Trinitas’ complaint is currently pending in Washtenaw County Circuit Court. The city has not yet responded to requests for comment.

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