What's up with South U?

Monday, September 18, 2017 - 1:00pm

South University is currently plagued by construction to the chagrin of students.

South University is currently plagued by construction to the chagrin of students. Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

This summer, South University Avenue was characterized as a frenzy of construction. Several different projects, including the building of new sidewalks and new apartment buildings, have still been in the works since classes let out last April.

LSA sophomore Josie Junkin, a University Towers resident, was especially bothered by the construction while moving in this August.

“Moving in, it was pretty hard to find parking spots,” Junkin said. “And walking to class, we’ve had to walk in the street which is pretty inconvenient.”

The sidewalk restructuring project, which is a collaboration between the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, was the first of the projects to start, and will be the first to wrap up. Because of the construction, South University Avenue was closed to two-way traffic from East University Avenue to Washtenaw Avenue.

The roads were slated to reopen last Friday, but at the time of publication South University Avenue is still blocked off from East University Avenue to Church Street, in part due to private development. 

According to Amber Miller, a planner from the Ann Arbor DDA, the sidewalk repairs were much needed. The last time they had been updated was in the 1980s, and Miller said it was starting to show.

“The sidewalk was in really bad shape, the trees were dying, so that was our first priority,” Miller said. “But we’ve also been able to put in a rain garden to deal with some standing water issues, we’re able to expand the sidewalk to reduce the crossing distance. There’s more space on the sidewalk for cafes and seating, and just overall a more pleasant experience.”

Although the project was finished this weekend, DDA project manager Liz Rolla said there are a few final additions that still need to happen. Maintenance will also occur regularly to keep the area looking nice.

“We’re still going to come back sometime this fall and update the lighting, so put basically new lamps in the existing ground holes,” Rolla said. “And there’s some upkeep with the landscaping, so every now and then you’ll see people watering, weeding, stuff like that.”

Rolla said there should be no need to close the roads again while this upkeep is going on, though street parking may be blocked off for short periods of time.

New high-rise apartments are also slated to be built in the South University Avenue area. The lot at 1107 South University Ave. will house the Collegian North building when completed. Brett Lenart, Ann Arbor’s planning manager, wrote in an email interview that proposals for 1209 and 1215 South University Ave. were submitted last year, but neither has received approval from the city yet.

“For 1107 (South) University, I would anticipate about 2 years of construction once it starts,” Lenart wrote. “The others will depend on the owners time to submit and revise plans, receive necessary approvals, and commence construction.” 

Lenart is optimistic about the impact these new buildings could have on the University of Michigan community. He thinks these new buildings will draw new commerce to the area.

“I think that adding student-oriented residential is a great opportunity for this area, allowing students to live practically on campus, potentially without need for a vehicle,” he wrote. “I think it will be interesting to see how the retail in the area evolves with the addition of more residential units in that area.  Adding units, or “rooftops” in market analysis speak, typically increases the viability of commercial uses.”

According to the building plan for the Collegian North, the ground floor of the building will be dedicated to retail space.

Councilwoman Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, has heard some concern from her residents about the way the new projects are changing the character of the district. She said her residents are nevertheless mostly unaffected by the construction and new development.

“There are certainly some residents who don’t like them from an aesthetic point of view, but because of how they impact their daily life because they are so close to campus, it’s not much of a concern,” Grand said. “If there’s any concern, it’s over the character of the district ... not over the quality of life.”

Still, the opinions of Grand’s residents will be something the city must deal with in the coming years as more development occurs.

Students, on the other hand, are divided as to whether they think the changes on South University Avenue are beneficial. Many were outraged when they first heard of plans to build more high-rise apartments in the area. Public Policy senior, CSG Vice President, Nadine Jawad has spent her years in student government advocating for affordable student housing. In an interview with the Daily last spring Jawad said it comes down to an issue of equity and that she plans to use her position in student government to ensure Ann Arbor is accessible and affordable for all. Others, like Junkin, are ambivalent to the change.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Junkin said. “I don’t know if I would notice a difference, but it would be interesting. It would be nice, I guess, to have more places to eat and stuff.”