City Council discusses new development projects, environmental hazards

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor speaks at the City Council meeting in City Council chambers Thursday evening.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor speaks at the City Council meeting in City Council chambers Thursday evening. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

 

Thursday, November 9, 2017 - 11:31pm

After internet servers had been down in City Hall all day, the Ann Arbor City Council met for a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday evening.

Though the agenda stated the council would vote on a resolution to support the development project at 1140 Broadway St. in Ann Arbor’s Lower Town neighborhood, Mayor Christopher Taylor announced before the public hearing session for the resolution the possibility of the council postponing its vote. Because the servers were down, he said, residents could not get in touch with their council members to discuss their concerns with the resolution, which might persuade the council to wait to vote on the proposal.

The development plan on Broadway Street is being handled by Morningside Equity Group. Currently zoned as “PUD,” or Planned Unit Development, the group has proposed to change this classification to C1AR, which designates the area as campus/business/residential property. This zoning change allows for larger, taller residential buildings to be built on the lot — a concept many residents oppose and see as inappropriate for their community.

During the public hearing section of the meeting, many residents stood up to share their opinions on the issue. The community was divided. Some residents had issues with the environmental footprint the proposed buildings would have, and the lack of room for retail space.

Ann Arbor resident Andrew Pieknik spoke in each of the three public hearing sessions set aside for the issue. He said he welcomed Morningside to work on the lot under the current zoning restrictions, but did not think it was appropriate to change to a new zoning code. Pieknik is also the creator of an online petition that aims to influence city policy making through the making of maps that display community opposition to the proposed zoning change.  

“I wanted a large development,” Pieknik said. “I expected construction and traffic, but I also expected a reignition or the complete replacement of our neighborhood village. I was disappointed, but not alone. … The reason we’re here tonight (is because we) think this site needs more commercial. … We’ve learned PUD zoning is in fact viable.”

Others were fed up with looking at a vacant lot for so long, and were just excited to have some new movement in the neighborhood.

Ann Arbor resident Melissa Milton-Pung, a preservationist and lecturer at Eastern Michigan University, spoke in favor of the development plan, saying it was time to build on the lot. She saw promise in the current plan.

“Sometimes you keep what’s on the landscape,” Milton-Pung said. “Sometimes you wipe it away. … Sometimes you build something new. I’m speaking out in support of this project for several reasons. This project will help keep development where existing urban development should be — not out in the greenfields. It will utilize a vacant lot in a key location and help provide several public transportation options. It will also fundamentally change the micro-community in the Lower Town area — in a good way.”

Many other people stood up to support one side of the argument or the other. Lower Town residents who opposed the zoning change and Morningside’s plans even brought visual aids in the form of maps and Styrofoam models of the proposed buildings to show the council.

Morningside lawyer Jerry Lax also spoke, pressing the council to not wait any longer to vote on the proposal.

“We strongly urge you not to postpone your decision,” Lax said. “There has been enormous discussion, much of it has become repetitious, and the decision should be made.”

He described what Morningside sees as the advantages of using a conventional C1AR zoning instead of a PUD. According to Lax, C1AR is more flexible and commercially applicable.

The council entered into a separate public hearing session to discuss the brownfield plan on the lot. When a dry-cleaning business left the lot years ago, it left large amounts of solvents behind. These chemicals seeped into the ground, and the pollution is now creeping toward the Huron River, earning the area the designation of a “brownfield” lot. The city’s proposed plan to clean up the lot was largely supported, though some residents believe they could only back it if “they were given what they want.”

After hearing comments from the public, the council discussed whether to postpone the vote on the Broadway plan. Some council members, including Taylor and Councilwoman Jane Lumm, D-Ward 2, felt the vote should be postponed.

“We may receive the same documents we received in our packets today this time next week, or in anticipation of the meeting a week from Monday, but we will have had the opportunity for residents to communicate with us in a timely matter at the moment, and we all know that is something that residents … value,” Taylor said.

Others, such as Councilman Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, and Councilwoman Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, pushed for a vote immediately, as they believed any more time for residents to submit questions and comments to their councilmembers was unnecessary.

After a long discussion, the council voted to postpone voting on all Broadway-related resolutions on the agenda for the evening, deciding it would resume the conversations at its next meeting a week from Monday.

The council also passed a resolution to amend zoning related to medical marijuana facilities, and improvements of pedestrian safety outside Huron High School via new street lighting and the appointment of crossing guards.