The Ann Arbor City Council revealed plans to move forward with the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown development plan at an open house Thursday. The five-part project, called A2D2, includes changes to zoning codes, expanded parking options, and a new design requirements for future downtown development.
City Planner Wendy Rampson, who presented the plan on Thursday, said the project’s steering committee hopes A2D2 will attract new businesses while preventing urban sprawl, which she said has characterized of southeast Michigan. In cities like Detroit, she said, suburban areas have prospered at the economic expense of the traditional downtown.
The 30 people who came to the open house were vocal throughout Rampson’s presentations. While some raised concerns about where the new district borders would be drawn, no one expressed outright disapproval.
But some do oppose the plan, Rampson said in an interview. People sometimes associate towering buildings and high population density with many of the “urban ills” found in inner-city neighborhoods, she said.
When the report for the development project recommended the city not limit the height of buildings downtown, it sparked a minor controversy.
Under the plan laid out Thursday, the city would limit building height in some parts of downtown, but not in others. The downtown would be divided into two zoning districts, the Downtown Core and the Downtown Interface.
Buildings in the Downtown Core would not be limited in height, but new constructions in the Downtown Interface area would be limited to 60 feet, creating a buffer between the city’s commercial and residential neighborhoods. Downtown height limitations are currently inconsistent throughout the city.
The commercial area around South University Avenue, from East University Avenue and Willard Street to Washtenaw Court, would be included in the Downtown Core. This would remove the height limits some have suggested might prevent the construction of the planned University Village apartment complex on East University Avenue.
Rampson also said that by streamlining the city’s zoning codes, which she described as an unorganized “mishmash” of building requirements, A2D2 would make it easier for businesses to build in the city.
Large incentives will also be offered to businesses that provide affordable residential units, public parking structures or eco-friendly buildings.
Mayor John Heifjte said the incentives were critical to encourage businesses to be more environmentally conscious. He said the city can’t require stringent environmental standards because of state laws limiting city codes.
The proposal would also divide downtown into eight “character districts,” each with its own set of building criteria that new structures would be required to follow. Rampson said that existing buildings won’t be affected by the new zoning codes unless they choose to undertake a renovation or construction project after the proposal is passed.
The Planning Commission Public Hearing will take place on May 20 at Council Chambers.