Over the past several years, downtown Ann Arbor’s cityscape has been radically transformed by the arrival of several luxury high-rise apartments that cater to University students.

However, the change is not welcomed by all. Many local residents have expressed their dismay at these new buildings, which have changed the appearance of the downtown area.

Some of these residents had been meeting on an advisory committee since late 2009 until 2012 in an attempt to maintain the character of the city’s residential neighborhoods, specifically the areas close to the University. They had focused their attempts on reforming the high-density residential code, R4C, that governs what buildings can be built within the zone.

The existing code has been in place since 1963 but has slowly reformed based on a Central Area Plan developed in the early ’90s that rezoned Ann Arbor into five distinct zones. The plan includes the R4C zone around the University, which is primarily inhabited by students.

After extensive research, the advisory committee recommended to the planning commission that the zoning regulations be rewritten to limit lot combinations — the practice of combining adjacent lots to build a bigger unit — based on square footage in order to reduce changing neighborhood layouts. There are no current restrictions on this practice.

While the commission agreed with almost all of the committee’s recommendations, they rejected the call for lot limitations on the basis that it should be left to the purview of the planning commission case-by-case. It also suggested the creation of a new group-housing zone in order to concentrate rental housing in the R4C zone by allowing for more flexibility in the zoning code that would encourage landlords to build in those areas.

The recommendations of the planning commission were presented before the Ann Arbor City Council at a meeting in early April. These changes suggested by the commission, if approved by the council, would be written into zoning code and applied in the next year after additional commission meetings as well as a consideration of public opinion.

Ann Arbor resident Nancy Leff, who served on the advisory committee, is part of a group of residents who disagree with the commission’s proposals and have started to circulate a petition opposing the revisions. Leff and another residents met Sunday to discuss their opposition and sign petitions.

“One of the main goals of our committee was to try to preserve and protect and keep the existing character and nature of the neighborhoods,” Leff said. “The issue of lot combinations is key to retaining the housing stock that exists there.”

She added that a lack of specific zoning code on lot combinations could have a serious impact on the neighborhood.

“It opens the door (for houses) that would potentially eliminate the single family housing stock and replace it with larger group structures,” Leff said. “That is something our neighborhood doesn’t want to see happen.”

She said if regulations were left to the discretion of the commission and City Council, residents would lose input over what was built within their neighborhoods.

“We want the zoning code to clearly state what the regulations are,” Leff said. “Every time you let one of these issues go to the planning commission, there is no control anymore. They can choose to do whatever they want.”

Jane Klingston, another resident who opposes the planning commission’s amendments, wrote in an e-mail interview that the creation of a student housing zone — despite the fact that it is not intended to “designate any type of specific living arrangement within this area” — could be harmful to students.

“I find (it) discriminatory and (it) could be problematic for the quality of rental housing options for students,” Klingston wrote. “(The code) could potentially lead to unsafe substandard housing for students in a city where public safety response is already stretched.”

James Kosteva, director of community relations for the University, wrote in an e-mail interview that though the city and the University often do talk about land use and planning in order “to understand each others interests,” the University was hesitant to weigh in on these potential changes that could affect students who live off campus.

“The University rarely gets involved in local land development and zoning decisions unless the interests of the institution are directly or dramatically impacted,” Kosteva wrote.

City planner Matt Kowalski, who served as a project manager on the advisory committee, said the disagreement between members of the planning commission and advisory committee could be traced to a debate on how to preserve the nature and character of the R4C neighborhoods.

“We are just looking at it from two different ways,” he said.

Kowalski said not limiting lot combinations allowed for more creative developments in the R4C zone and would still be subject to approval from the commission based on their effects.

“We didn’t want to preclude potentially advantageous projects to the city and community by banning lot combinations,” he said.

In regards to the proposed group housing zonings, Kowalski said the new code would work to preserve the nature of neighborhoods. The changes would still require site planning and adherence to zoning code, similar to special exception zoning rules such as those required when building a fraternity residence.

“What we want to do is incentivize these people (through flexible zoning code) on the fringe to revert some of these houses to residential owner occupied and concentrate some rental units in this core area (around the University),” he said.

But Kowalski said he understands the hesitation of leaving many of the decisions on what fits within the nature and character of the neighborhood up to the purview of commission, especially following the construction of high-rise residential buildings in the downtown area.

“It leaves that discretion up to the planning commission or staff with some input (from City Council) and I think there is some distrust out there,” he said. “It is up to them to decide what is going to fit in there.”

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated the name the zoning code as 4RC rather than its correct designation as R4C

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