City Council denies controversial Brightdawn Village rezoning, approves Broadway rezoning
On Monday evening, the Ann Arbor City Council discussed several rezoning requests, voting to deny rezoning for the Brightdawn Village development and to approve rezoning for the Broadway Park development.
Gil-Ad Schwartz, one of the developers behind the Brightdawn Village proposal, explained the land on Burton Road is private property. Thus, according to Schwartz, he is allowed to build a 120-unit apartment building.
Rezoning a land parcel would assign different permissible uses and restrictions on the property. The proposed conditional rezoning would allow the Schwartz family to build 160 units, under the stipulation that the additional 40 be affordable housing units. Twenty units would be restricted for people earning 60 percent of the area median income or below, and 20 units would be restricted for people earning 80 percent or below.
Tom Covert of Midwestern Consulting, the civil engineering firm behind the project, also emphasized the development will will be equipped for residents with disabilities and senior residents.
In its report to the council, the city’s Planning Commission recommended a denial of the rezoning request.
During the public comment sections, many residents at the meeting also spoke in opposition to the rezoning. Residents expressed concern over the density of the units and additional traffic the development could bring, which they said would be dangerous for children in the area. In particular, resident Brian Smith noted the land had been rezoned once before and had originally been set aside for single-family housing under the city’s Master Plan.
“Throughout the entire process, not one resident has spoken in favor of this project,” Smith said. “That speaks volumes to me.”
The city council debate on the project revolved around tradeoffs between the project’s density and affordability. Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, spoke in favor of the rezoning, emphasizing the public benefit of the affordable housing units.
“When I ran for council, I said I had a plan for affordable housing, and part of that plan was to encourage and approve when private money was going to give us affordable housing,” Hayner said. “Basically, what we’d be saying ‘no’ to is … the community value that’s on top of this project that’s already going to get built. I’m not sure I’m willing to say ‘no’ to that.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor, who was in favor of the rezoning as well, acknowledged the act might be “disruptive” for some residents.
“But the fact is, if we’re going to have the community that meets our aspirations in respects to affordability and economic diversity and demographic diversity and ability diversity, as expressed in this development proposal, we do need to make those hard choices that disrupt the way that things are today,” Taylor said. “I believe the difference between the existing zoning and the proposed zoning are relatively modest. The benefits are material.”
Also in support of rezoning, Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, said the Center for Independent Living advocated for the project because it would provide living spaces that are accessible, which she said the city lacks.
In opposition of the rezoning, Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, said the current zoning of the land parcel already deviates from the land’s intended use under the Master Plan, a set of guidelines and visions the city laid out in 2015 for physical development of Ann Arbor’s land.
“It is a rare occurrence when staff and the Planning Commission are unanimous in their rejection of a proposal, but in this case, there are very good reasons for recommending denial,” Lumm said. “For some, (affordability) is a need that trumps all the normal development considerations of neighborhood compatibility. … It does not for me.”
In particular, Lumm emphasized the importance of following the recommendations of the Master Plan.
“We’re going to have to start calling the Master Plan the ‘Conditional Master Plan,’” Lumm said. “We thumb our noses at Master Plan recommendations anyway. We have so many examples of this recently, and here’s another one.”
Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, said approving rezoning for the Brightdawn proposal could set a precedent for future developer requests.
“This rezoning request is just too extreme,” Eaton said. “You have to note that if we grant this rezoning and it doesn’t go forward, the next developer can come back and say, ‘Just remove those restrictions you placed on the previous R4D.’”
The rezoning request failed 7-4, with Hayner, Taylor and Grand and Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, voting in the affirmative.
The city council also considered a rezoning request for a hotel-restaurant development plan along Huron River in Broadway Park. During public comment, one resident spoke in opposition to the rezoning and expressed she did not want a section of the river limited for private use.
Councilmembers praised the project, especially for its efforts in community outreach and engagement. Lumm said the Broadway Park development will be a positive addition along the river.
“(The Broadway Park development) should be a template for other projects,” Lumm said. “You are bringing us an iconic development here along the river. … After all these years, it’s really encouraging to finally have what appears to be a viable and exciting plan to consider for the cleanup and development of this property.”
The council voted unanimously in favor of the Broadway Park rezoning request. Additionally, the council approved contracts for recycling and waste management, upgrades for water meters around the city and amended regulations for food truck operations on private property.
In addition, several awards were recognized at the meeting, such as the 2019 Sustaining Ann Arbor Together grant recipients. The Historic District Commission also read winners of their 35th Historic Preservation Awards, which includes University of Michigan’s West Hall.
At the end of the meeting, a member of the public spoke during time allotted for general public comment, raising the possibility of revising the Master Plan.
“As we discuss the Master Plan, we need to ask: Who is the Master Plan for? Who made it? What are we planning for ultimately?” he said. “When I look at the Master Plan now, I’m not entirely convinced that we’re planning for the Ann Arbor we want to see, which has affordable housing in it … It might be worthwhile to consider adding a section to the Master Plan specifically dedicated to these contemporary issues.”