By Emma Kerr, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 16, 2014
If elected this November, Democratic mayoral candidate Christopher Taylor has said he plans to initiate changes in zoning and to further regulate the kinds of buildings constructed in Ann Arbor’s downtown area if he is elected mayor in the general election this November.
Development has been a heavily discussed topic in the mayoral race thus far and a key issue among the four candidates in the Democratic mayoral nomination during the August primary.
Following the crowded primary in which Taylor garnered a near majority of the vote as the Democratic candidate, his name will appear next to Bryan Kelly’s on the general election ballot. Kelly, an independent candidate, entered the race with an emphasis on downtown development as well, suggesting Ann Arbor maintain its green, small-town feel.
The recent increase in the rate of downtown development in Ann Arbor has increased tensions between developers and residents, and has raised the question of what type of city its leaders hope it will become. Specifically, the development issue regards high-rise apartments that predominantly house University students.
One development decision made in January — the approval of the construction of a building located at 413 E. Huron St. — was heavily debated preceding its approval, and continues to be a pivotal issue in this mayoral race.
On his campaign website, Taylor, who gave the deciding vote in approving the site plan, calls the 413 E. Huron St. decision “a stark reminder we need to do better.” The case was characterized as a lose-lose situation. Councilmembers were caught between facing a possible lawsuit if they were to reject the construction of the 413 E. Huron St. building, which was zoned for such a building and therefore legal, yet some councilmembers and residents felt the construction would be unattractive and obtrusive.
“I think that the 413 E. Huron building showed we did not get the zoning right in that location,” Taylor said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “We’ve seen a lot of blocky buildings lately, and I think people want density downtown and people want commercial activity downtown, but they don’t like the way a lot of our new buildings look.”
Taylor said, as mayor, he would take several actions in response to residents’ disapproval of recent downtown development. These actions include seeking to reevaluate zoning throughout the downtown area, determining the potential for certain kinds of buildings and improvements — as well as the possible consequences of every building design and construction opportunity — and making zoning changes preemptively when necessary.
He said the general zoning has served the city well, but only needs minor adjustments to avoid incidents like the 413 E. Huron St. decision and to better meet the needs of citizens.
“We need to make sure the zoning downtown is proper,” Taylor said. “I don’t, however, think our zoning needs wholesale overhaul.”
The process of development approval includes the approval and consideration of the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission, the members of which are both chosen by the mayor before being presented to City Council. Taylor said another small alteration he would make as mayor would be to ask that the Design Review Board have an opportunity to weigh in and consider development opportunities earlier in the process of site plan approval.
In addition, he said he plans on having a more balanced plan for the kinds of buildings constructed downtown.
This kind of variety in development, Taylor said, will include employment centers downtown and possibilities other than residential buildings, which the city’s zoning currently tends to favor.
This variety could, as public speakers at City Council meetings in the past have consistently advocated for, include more affordable housing. Affordable housing has been another major concern throughout the election, though the construction of affordable housing facilities does not rest directly on City Council.
While they cannot directly create or negotiate the terms of affordable housing or low-income facilities, councilmembers voted this year to place significant amounts of money, particularly proceeds from the sale of city property including the Library Lot and YMCA Lot, in a fund designated for the support of affordable housing endeavors.
“We cannot dictate terms of these affordable housing buildings, but we can encourage the development of affordable housing and participate in the market through supporting the commission of these facilities and supporting the county as it seeks to build affordable housing,” Taylor said.