Despite some city officials’ attempts to historicize the area, seven preserved homes on South Fifth Avenue will soon be torn down and replaced by two apartment buildings and a parking lot.
After almost four years of Ann Arbor City Council discussion on the development of City Place — a proposed housing complex to be built on the 400 block of South Fifth Ave. — City Planning Manager Wendy Rampson said the site’s construction preparation has begun. The seven houses that will be torn down have been at the forefront of debate among council members and the residents living in the neighborhood, many of whom are students.
After a 7-4 vote at last week’s City Council meeting that approved the project, tree removal is underway and utility installation will take place on William Street and Fifth Avenue this weekend. Rampson said the next steps are to demolish the seven houses and start excavation once construction permits have been processed.
The two flat, rectangular-shaped apartment buildings that will replace the houses will have 144 units divided into six-bedroom units. Rampson said the cost to rent the units is unknown at this time and will depend on costs the developer, Jeff Helminski, will incur during construction.
Among those against the construction of City Place is City Council member Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5), who tried to make the homes part of a historic district to halt the development of the complex.
Anglin said he pushed against the demolition because he feels the neighborhood already has adequate student housing — one of the goals is to increase student housing options — and constructing two large buildings would be detrimental to the surrounding area.
“I just feel that putting that many people in that small area is not going to help the community very much nor will the physical appearance of the buildings be very attractive,” Anglin said.
He added that City Place would take away from the current diversity the neighborhood fosters, since many older residents rent out the upper levels of their homes to University students.
Anglin had planned to call for an emergency moratorium that would temporarily stop all demolition and construction if the proposal passed. But as a result of last week’s vote, he withdrew the resolution.
Anglin, who represents the ward in which City Place will be built, said the majority of the neighborhood’s residents are against the construction, and many believe it is a historic district.
“When you walk through it, you see all these little homes and you kind of get the impression that, wow, someone took the effort to keep these around,” Anglin said. “And yet that wasn’t true.”
City Council member Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) said he is disappointed with the council and the neighborhood residents’ inability to reach a compromise on the issue of City Place. The Heritage Row project was proposed as an alternative to City Place and would have preserved the old homes by constructing a new building behind them. However, that project never came to fruition.
“I think when folks on council and in the neighborhood approach an issue with an all or nothing approach, sometimes you get nothing,” Taylor said.
He said the demolition of the houses and the construction of the apartment complex will be unfortunate and expressed a common concern about the aesthetics of the new development.
“I think that it’s a shame that the houses will be demolished,” Taylor said. “I think that the buildings are going to be unsightly and a detriment to the neighborhood.”