Ann Arbor City Council met in person for its first meeting of the year on Monday night to discuss an ordinance aimed to change the vetting process for development projects.
The ordinance aims to amend the Unified Development Code, Chapter 55, and focuses on changing current requirements for development projects which require projects to adhere to the Unified Development Code Policy. The motion amends the current policy, stating that once developments have met state and local requirements, developers no longer must seek approval from City Council.
The proposed ordinance proposed will remove one step in the process for project approval and allow for more rapid progression of housing and development projects.
Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, said that needing council approval is unnecessary once developments have met other guidelines.
“It’s not appropriate for council to decide which projects it likes and which projects it doesn’t like if a project meets the zoning of the land,” Disch said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “In other words, it conforms to the prescribed land use and meets all of the technical specifications for the kind of project that it wants to be, then there is no more room for legislative district discretion.”
Disch additionally noted that requiring developments to present to the council does not adhere to the council’s main goals or the public interest.
“To bring an administrative decision before Council doesn’t serve democracy or the public’s interest well,” Disch said in the council meeting on Monday. “On the contrary, it misleads residents by creating the false impression that Council has the power deny a project that has met the terms of city and state law.”
The amendment was first brought to light by small business owners who wished to make small updates to their properties, Disch said.
“The impetus for (the ordinance) got started with smaller property owners… who wanted to make pretty minor changes to the properties, to upgrade, make more efficient, sometimes make more energy efficient, you know, just in generally just keep their properties in shape,” Disch said. “Doing that kind of work became prohibitively expensive, and we don’t want to make a disincentive to people keeping their property in shape.”
Requiring development plans to present to the council and planning commissions is expensive and also lengthens the process to approve development motions. Disch noted that reducing these costs can lead to eventual lower costs of housing in Ann Arbor.
“Developers can produce housing at a lower cost when construction costs are not inflated by superfluous reviews,” Disch said.
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said that while he will vote in support of the ordinance, he believes there are some benefits to the council approving development projects.
“When a Councilmember is elected, they don’t know all the facts. They don’t know everything. It’s a process be learned,” Ramlawi said. “I think developers listen, and they incorporate features that they hear from councilmembers during the discussions.”
Ramlawi added that while this ordinance will benefit developers by reducing time and stress spent on presenting to the council, he believes it will do little to impact the pricing of housing and property in Ann Arbor.
“I don’t think this is going to … lower the overall cost to a level where it’s going to be noticeable by anybody, but will in some cases make (the process) better for the builders and the residents in many cases and reducing time, stress,” Ramlawi said. “But in terms of delivering affordable housing. I think this is gonna make no difference.”
The ordinance passed 2-7 with councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 5, and Ramlawi voting against the proposal. Additionally, councilmembers Linh Song, D-Ward 2, and Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1 being absent from the vote.
Daily News Editor Shannon Stocking can be reached at email@example.com.