Maybe it’s the beer cans on their lawns. Or the loud noise late at night. Maybe it’s the lack of community that occurs when your neighbors leave every year or two.
Whatever the reason, student encroachment in the Lower Burns Park neighborhood of Ann Arbor has prompted residents to propose rezoning the area to block more students from moving in.
The neighborhood is currently zoned to allow multiple-family housing, meaning that homes could be converted into student rentals made up of multiple apartment units.
To avoid this, the Ann Arbor City Council originally proposed rezoning the entire Lower Burns Park region between State and Packard Streets below Dewey Street, but the city’s Planning Commission has since revised the plan to recommend rezoning only a small section of the neighborhood along Golden Avenue.
If passed, the proposal would prevent single-family homes from being converted into student rental apartments in the future. Housing already used for student rentals would be grandfathered into the rezoning plan.
The City Council will vote on the proposal Jan. 21.
Debate over the proposal has appeared on the blog annarborisoverrated.com, where some locals have raised concerns about the plan’s potential affect on landlords, renters and families.
Business graduate student Nate Troup, who lives in a converted home on Granger Avenue, said he has a good relationship with his Golden Avenue neighbors and wouldn’t be affected by the changes. He said he thinks people are concerned about property values, not the neighborhood itself.
“It’s really an issue for the investors,” he said.
If the proposal passes, landlords wouldn’t be able to make property alterations to accommodate more tenants, like converting a two-unit building into a four-unit one.
Area landlord Richard Fisher said he understands why residents want the area rezoned, but was opposed to the initial proposal, which included his properties on Dewey Avenue.
“I find it very unfair,” he said. “This is my investment for my retirement and immediately I would lose a large portion of my retirement income.”
Fisher said that while he sees “strong arguments for both sides,” the grandfathering plan is unstable to landlords renting to more than four tenants.
“If you rent a home to six unrelated people, and the next year have four unrelated people, the grandfathering is eliminated,” he said. “That’s a 33 percent loss of profits.”
City Council member Joan Lowenstein (D-Ward 2) said the rezoning proposal is a move by residents who fear the neighborhood will be overdeveloped.
“What some of the residents were really afraid of was that someone would buy two adjacent houses, tear it down and build a big apartment building,” Lowenstein said. “Many of the houses are quite old, nice, interesting older homes, and people just kind of look and think ‘Gosh, somebody could come in here and take a perfectly nice home and change it just to get the maximum profit out of the land.’ “
Mayor John Hieftje has also expressed concern that an influx of students will bring unwanted traffic to the neighborhood.
Lowenstein said Golden Avenue is a “historical anomaly” because streets of single-family homes surround it, and that it was probably meant to be a single-family housing zone.
“I don’t think there will be much or any opposition to it on council,” Lowenstein said of the proposal. “It is ideal to make it compatible with the surrounding areas and to make the existing homes conforming.”
Susan Johnson-Jaworski, who lives on Golden Avenue with her husband and their three children under the age of seven, said she doesn’t want the neighborhood to be overdeveloped. When asked if she supported the zoning changes, she asked, “What do you think?” and gestured to her children scampering behind her.
“It’s never been an issue,” she said. “We love the way it is. But if we multiplied the number of people in the neighborhood, it would change the atmosphere.”
Berggren said she likes the students who live on Golden Avenue, adding that the street has a cooperative list that shares tools and supplies like lawnmowers among the neighbors.
“But the area already has about as much density as it can stand,” she said.
– Daily News Editor Kelly Fraser contributed to this report.