Multiple new housing development proposals in Ann Arbor

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 6:55pm

City Councilmember Zach Ackerman, D-Ward 3, has supported development efforts but praised the city for refusing to sell to student housing developer Trinitas.

City Councilmember Zach Ackerman, D-Ward 3, has supported development efforts but praised the city for refusing to sell to student housing developer Trinitas. Buy this photo
File Photo /Daily

As the University of Michigan continues to increase enrollment, multiple new student housing developments in Ann Arbor have been proposed for the coming year. Triad Real Estate Partners reported that off-campus housing occupancy for students last fall sat at 98.3 percent, compared to a national average of 95.2 percent. This demand for student housing continues to grow, according to the report from Triad Real Estate Partners.

According to Triad, rent for off-campus housing has also grown, having risen by 4.64 percent since last year. Recent luxury-based student housing developments contribute to this rise in cost. Limited affordable housing has sparked a conversation around campus, especially within Central Student Government.

New development approved by the city

Ann Arbor approved plans in November for a new 28-bed student apartment building on Hill Street, estimated to cost $1 million to build. Developer Bob Miller of Miller Building LLC says his aim is to create a housing model that is less focused on luxury and more toward cost efficiency.

“I’ve tried to create sort of a shared housing model that allows me to build something where I can put more people in it, but also offer it for less money than some of the larger developments around town that are more luxury-oriented,” Miller said.

The new building will be 11,653 square feet, consisting of four six-bedroom apartments and one four-bedroom apartment. Its shared housing model design will consist of a shared space by six people with two bedrooms per floor. Each floor will have its own bathroom and two separate sinks. The vision aims to enhance privacy while remaining at middle-ground prices. Miller says no estimates for rent have been developed at this point.

A proposal from Ann Arbor-based Maven Development for solar-powered apartments at 327 E. Hoover Ave. is also in the works. The newly proposed four-story building would be located across from the railroad tracks, close to where Michigan Marching Band practices are held.

The proposed 17,176 square foot building plans to feature balconies with a view of Elbel Field, a rooftop solar installation, a rooftop terrace and six vehicle parking spaces for tenants, along with 11 bicycle parking spaces. The current layout consists of six total rental apartments, each with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, with 18 beds overall.

Another proposal submitted by CA Ventures and Cerca Trova, LLC calls for a 19-story high-rise located at 600 E. Washington St., right behind the Michigan Theater.

Howard Frehsee, principal of Cerca Trova LLC, says the project will not be marketed strictly as only student housing and is designed to be attractive for both student and non-student tenants.

“We are proposing an inclusive housing project to serve the housing needs for the University of Michigan students, post-graduate candidates and alumni as well as Michigan Medicine employees and others working downtown,” Frehsee wrote in a press release.

The development will consist of two residential buildings: the first standing at 19 stories and consisting of 241 units, with the second being a six-story mid-rise featuring 20 units.

The proposed residential living units plan to feature a diverse array of housing structures. These include studio apartments, floor plans for one to five bedrooms, two-story duplex units, as well as additional workforce housing.  

Questions of affordability

Also included in the 600 E. Washington St residential housing will be 19 units set aside as affordable housing for qualifying low-income students.

Word of these new housing proposals has drawn comments from several students who are passionate about and involved with University policy and on-campus affordability.

CSG President Daniel Greene said CSG has implemented the Food Insecurity and Campus Affordability Task Force, which is working on a strategic three- to five-year plan that will address housing affordability, food insecurity and general accessibility on campus.

Greene said though the number of student-housing developments is growing, affordability is still a problem.

“The recent investments in housing in Ann Arbor don't appear to be addressing the housing affordability crisis,” Greene said. “I think it's disappointing to me to hear the narratives of students who travel miles to campus who live in Ypsilanti and even further just to be able to have a bed to go home to at the end of the night that they can afford.”

Greene also said though the new developments will provide new options, they fail to help unless they provide more spaces and options for students with financial limitations.

Public Policy senior Lauren Schandevel, chair of the CSG task force and co-founder of the advocacy student group Affordable Michigan, also addressed the need for affordable housing on campus.

“Any additional housing options at affordable prices make the housing search easier,” Schandevel said. “However, the issue of campus affordability is systemic and a few more units will not fully accommodate the needs of low-income students. As the University continues to build in the city, it should consider not only the impact on low-socioeconomic status students, but on the community as a whole.”

CSG currently has a housing management survey on their website that serves to address and mitigate the struggles that come with the search for off-campus housing.

LSA senior Griffin St. Onge, who co-founded Affordable Michigan with Schandevel, noted the affordable housing crisis is a difficult situation to fix.

“As long as the University is recruiting more out-of-state students who can foot the bill of these high rises, they’ll keep being built, and as long as housing for low- and middle-income students isn't being built, they will continue to struggle and find it difficult to access this education,” St. Onge said.

St. Onge also said because the University makes both affordable and quality housing difficult to obtain in Ann Arbor, it should consider a financial obligation to the protection of community tenant rights.

Some developments denied

Though City Council is continuing to approve numerous housing developments, there remain some the council denies. The city denied real-estate company Trinitas Ventures’ proposal of a student housing development last September due to its alleged violations of Ann Arbor zoning requirements as it pertains to the protection of natural features. The developer filed a claim of appeal and called for a reversal of City Council’s decision.

Travis J. Vencel, executive vice president of development at Trinitas, argued the project was, in fact, in compliance with Ann Arbor’s zoning regulations, and that a review of the appeal will prove that they meet the requirements of the city’s ordinance.

“The City Staff has indicated on several occasions that the project meets the requirements of the City as set forth in the Zoning Ordinance,” Vencel said.

Trinitas planned to pursue building the housing complex at 2601 Pontiac Trail, located more than two miles away from North and Central Campus. Ann Arbor was an ideal location to pursue the student-housing development, according to Vencel.

“We like the market, there is a great demand for additional housing in the community,” Vencel said. “We have looked long and hard at the market to find a project that we believe in and a site that is appropriately zoned for this type of development.”

City Councilmember Zach Ackerman, D-Ward 3, said the city has approved spending $150,000 to hire legal counsel in taking action to block the project.

“Unfortunately, the developer has decided to sue the city and in order to protect the best interests of the public safety, health and welfare of people, I think it’s absolutely critical that we get the best legal support that we can to win this court case,” Ackerman said. “It’s a small amount of money to take an important lawsuit very seriously.”