History‎ > ‎

1. First Plan (2007)

Original Development Plan

When we first became aware of the site plan for 1430 South Maple, it was a "Planned Project" for high density student housing. Planned Projects allow a developer to build something that does not comply with the zoning limitations applicable to the property, provided the plan provides sufficient public benefit to warrant that disregard of zoning regulations.

It is our understanding that the developer had worked with the City for nearly a year before seeking approval of its project for the property at 1430 South Maple Road. We have been told that when the developer originally submitted its plan to the planning department, the staff found that it did not comply with the R4D zoning applicable to the property. We have been told that instead of helping the developer comply with the zoning, the staff recommended that the developer make changes to the plan and submit the changed plan as a "planned project". (note that we report what we have heard not as fact but only to put matters into the context of our understanding.)

The proposed planned project would house 640 students in five buildings with an accompanying club house. That project would require removal of almost every tree from the property and displacement of 11 of 12 existing natural wetlands. The plan called for 640 parking spaces - one for each tenant, but no extra parking. In addition to the environmental concerns, neighbors were alarmed with the project’s plan to include four story buildings that exceeded the zoning limits by about 60%. Although the project included 640 parking spaces, that amount was merely enough for the tenants without providing for guests and visitors. On the other hand, the 640 parking spaces was an extreme amount of parking for one development. The project plan situated the parking around the perimeter of the property, which we believed would exacerbate the storm water drainage problems. An additional 640 vehicles would also overburden the neighborhood traffic flow.

The City's procedure for development includes giving notice to neighbors of the property where the development will be located and giving notice to registered neighborhood groups for the area surrounding the development. For some reason, the Planning Department did not give notice to the Friends of Dicken Woods neighborhood group or the Mushroom Park Neighborhood group. Oddly, a neighborhood group located miles from the property received notice of the planned project.

While the developer was working with the Planning Department staff, the developer made contact with one of our Council Members. She asked the developer whether they had contacted the Dicken Woods neighborhood group. When the developer admitted that they had not contacted the neighborhood group, she told them that they should. 

In June 2007, the developer had a meeting with neighbors who had responded to the notice sent to property owners within 300 feet of the planned project. The meeting was attended by six people. Only a few of the attendees lived nearby. No neighborhood group from the area was invited and none attended.

Neighborhood Opposition

In October 2007, the Friends of Dicken Woods learned that the Planning Commission had scheduled a public hearing on the developer's planned project. The public hearing was scheduled for October 16, 2007. The FoDW Steering Committee decided to oppose the planned project. The FoDW contacted other groups and individuals they have worked with in the past to organize our opposition.

The coalition of groups opposed the planned project because it was too extreme for the 15 acre site. The project would have had a significant impact on the watersheds and all storm water drainage downhill from the site. The site is the highest elevation in the City of Ann Arbor, so every property around the project is downhill from the development. Importantly, the Dicken Woods natural area is downhill, directly east of the project and contains significant Allen’s Creek watershed wet lands.

The October 16 public hearing was well attended by people opposed to the development. The Planning Commission listened to our concerns and expressed similar concerns of their own. They tabled the proposal and asked the developer to respond to the Commission's concerns. They also recommended that the developer meet with the neighbors.

On October 30, 2007, the developer met with the neighborhood at the Dicken Elementary School all purpose room. More than 100 neighbors attended the meeting. The neighbors universally opposed the project as being too extreme for the property. Our Council Member Marcia Higgins attended the meeting and took questions. 

On November 20, 2007, the Planning Commission continued the public hearing. Although individual Commission members expressed concerns about the extreme amount of parking, the height of the buildings and the impact the development would have on the fragile watersheds, only one Commissioner voted against the project.

The coalition of neighborhood groups and individuals continued their opposition. We wrote an "Other Voices" piece for the Ann Arbor News. We collected names for a petition. Individuals wrote emails and letters to the City Council and to the newspaper. Coalition organizers prepared an extensive point-by-point response to the developer's project proposal and provided the Mayor and each member of the Council with a spiral bound copy. We called and met with individual Council members. Finally, we attended the January 22, 2008 City Council public hearing on the planned project.

City Council Rejected the Planned Project

After a Public Hearing for the 42 North student housing project on Tuesday January 22, 2008, the City Council voted 10 to 1 to reject the 42 North planned project. Council Members expressed concerns about the population density, the extensive parking, the height of the buildings and other concerns raised by neighbors. Council Member Joan Lowenstein cast the lone vote in favor of the development. We appreciate that the other Council members listened to our concerns and acted to protect the neighborhood from the dramatic impact this development would have had.
 
In a generous gesture, the Mayor asked the Council to amend its agenda so the vote could be taken shortly after the public hearing, rather than as scheduled, later in the agenda. The Council agreed. Because of this action we were able to conclude our business with the Council at a reasonable hour.

Many neighbors spoke eloquently on the concerns we had about the impact this project would have had on the area. (edit: The City does not produce meeting minutes that include the statements of individual speakers). Unfortunately, the Ann Arbor News coverage of the hearing focused on one speaker who threatened to obstruct the construction if the project was approved. As you know, that is not what we as a group stand for.

The Ann Arbor News article about the hearing can be found at the following web site:


Jack Eaton wrote a letter to the editor expressing our disappointment over the news reporting of the public hearing. (edit: Apparently the News does not publish letters if the author has recently had a letter or Other Voices piece printed.)

Thank you for all of your help throughout this long process.