A portion of the Lower Burns Park neighborhood may have just become less appealing to student renters.
The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously last night to change the zoning of Golden Avenue – about two blocks of the Lower Burns Park neighborhood about a mile south of campus – from multiple-family to single-family housing.
Single-family housing allows a maximum of four unrelated people per residence, while multiple-family housing – typically ideal for students – allows up to six unrelated people per home.
All preexisting rental units on Golden Avenue – 38 percent of the lots – will be grandfathered in and will remain unchanged by the rezoning. The plan will also affect nearby properties on Granger Avenue, Broadway and Rose streets.
Opponents of the rezoning suggested that the plans were designed to keep out students, because they were proposed before any major changes, like the destruction of homes to make room for an apartment building, occurred.
The biggest advocate of the rezoning, the Lower Burns Park Neighborhood Association, wanted to eliminate this possibility and argued that more multi-family dwellings would threaten the character of the neighborhood.
Prior to the vote, council member Margie Teall (D-Ward 4), who lives near Golden Avenue, said she hoped to preserve the family dynamic of her ward.
Nancy Leff, whose Granger Avenue residence will be included in the rezoning, said her decision to begin pushing for the rezoning was a result of the house next to hers was converted into student units. She said she wants to eliminate the possibility of existing homes being torn down for larger commercial-style developments, which the current zoning allows.
“We have dental offices, daycare services, and have lived very happily with that,” said Leff, who chairs the Lower Burns Park Neighborhood Association. “We just don’t want any more of that in our neighborhood.”
Ann Arbor landlord B.J. Alpern of the Washtenaw Apartments Association spoke against the rezoning during last night’s meeting, saying the fear of large-scale commercial developments was unwarranted.
These types of types of changes are “just about impossible, if not fiscally bankrupt,” he said.
Alpern referenced a Dec. 2007 public hearing at which Leff said “the encroachment of student housing is spreading” and that she wished to “preserve the single-family neighborhood.”
Alice Ehn, executive officer of the Washtenaw Apartments Association, agreed, saying Leff’s quote was “a direct indication that students don’t fit in with that feel.”
Speaking on behalf of the neighborhood association, Leff said that characterization was unfair.
“This does not mean that students cannot rent, they can and they will. We’ve always had a real mix, and we all like it,” Leff said.
Ann Arbor resident Bruce Worden, who lives on Packard Street, said he wasn’t convinced by Leff’s statement.
“They say they’re not trying to exclude anyone, but that’s exactly what they’re trying to do,” he said. “I hear what the people in the neighborhoods are saying.”
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, who voted for the rezoning, said that because of the grandfathering, rezoning won’t impose immediate change upon anyone.
“I suspect that students want to move anyway,” he said prior to the meeting. “A whole lot of new student housing developments are being built right now.”
Todd Wyett, manager of Ann Arbor Rental homes, said all houses on Golden Avenue will be harder to sell after the rezoning, because areas with rental homes are worth more money.
Alpern agreed, saying in a written statement to the council that the value of every home on Golden Avenue will fall by about 33 percent.
“By voting yes tonight you hurt our community and our children,” he said. “You also lower density and decrease affordable housing,” he said.
– Suzy Vuljevic contributed to this report.