AAPS school buildings

This presentation is useful for understanding some of their building plans.

My main concern: The A2Zero plan says we should cut vehicle miles traveled in half. It's a difficult goal, unfortunately, but I don't think it's weird or arbitrary: every serious climate plan assumes similar changes.

From what I've heard of preliminary plans for new schools (for example, Thurston Elementary), we're going in the opposite direction: adding more space for parking and for dropping off and picking up kids in cars.

We're going to be living with these plans for decades. We should do better.

housing permits per capita

housingdata.app is a convenient source for housing permits. Total annual units permitted each year, for Ann Arbor and for the county:

One "unit" of housing is a house, or an apartment, or a condo, etc., and the census gets these numbers by asking local governments each year about permits issued to build new housing units. Occasionally a permit is issued without the housing actually getting built, so this is a bit of an overestimate, but if it gives some idea of housing growth.

You'll note that there's more building each year in the county than in the city itself--for the obvious reason that it's bigger. If you want to make more of an apples-to-apples comparison, you can look at per capita numbers:

So, even on a per-capita basis, the county has generally gotten more housing development than Ann Arbor. A unit or two per 1000 residents per year just isn't very much.

(Note those zeroes for years before 1992. For some reason the census data set used by housingdata.app doesn't include population for the city until 1992. It might be interesting to get estimates from some other source, though the shape of the 1980-1991 graph wouldn't fundamentally be much different from that of the previous graph, since the population didn't change much through the eighties. Ann Arbor's biggest population increases happened before 1970.)

Anyway, the more interesting is how housing has (more likely, hasn't) kept up with demand. For that it'd be more helpful to compare with new jobs and students.

Ann Arbor August 2022 primary

The August primary effectively determines the direction of our Ann Arbor's government. It's very quick to look up your ballot at https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/Voter/Index.

I recommend Christopher Taylor for mayor, and, for council:

ward 1: Cynthia Harrison
Ward 4: Dharma Akmon
Ward 5: Jenn Cornell

In wards 2 and 3, Chris Watson and Ayesha Ghazi Edwin are both uncontested. (But also, fortunately, both look great.)

All of them are sensible and dedicated to the kinds of changes we need.

Any plan dealing with climate change features transportation and land use prominently. See, for example, "Strategy 4" of Ann Arbor's A2Zero plan. We need to allow people to live in denser, more transit-friendly cities. At the local level we have a powerful lever in the form of zoning. Zoning for more housing supply also allows us to moderate housing prices, and to provide more services for the dollar: new housing brings in more tax dollars for transit, water, sewer, and roads, while the new expenses they bring are proportionately less, because it's more efficient to provide those services to a more compact population. All these candidates are people that understand that.

Also, the largest single component of Ann Arbor's city budget is for police, so I'm also happy to see Cynthia Harrison running, as she's been working locally on criminal justice reform for years.

proposed bank at 2929 Plymouth Road


From https://www.a2gov.org/departments/planning/Pages/default.aspx

"A public meeting will be held on May 26, 2022 at 7:00 PM for a project at 2929 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor.

The proposed development includes demolition of an existing building and construction of a new building for use as a financial institution. The proposed single story building is approximately 4,750 square feet."


UDC 5.29.5D gives criteria for approval of special use. Eh.... I don't think that really gives so much wiggle room.

Letter to planning commission:

I just saw the proposal for a new bank at 2929 Plymouth Road with a 3-lane drive through. That's a few minutes walk from where I live, so it really brings home the fact that we're still getting a lot of car-dependent development.

I hope you'll set a high bar for new drive-through: perhaps there's some real use for them, but yet another drive-through bank doesn't sound like one.

But more importantly, I wish I understood better what the bottlenecks are preventing us from updating our zoning more quickly. For example, currently it's going to take a couple more years to rezone Plymouth road to TC1. Why can't we rezone larger areas at once, and on a faster schedule?

Planning Commission, Wednesday, May 4, 2002

Video, Legistar meeting details

Revisited the postponed 212 Miller site plan. I've decided I'm confused by the requirement that wheelchair access not be shared with cars. Lots of houses (including mine) are accessible only by the driveway. Also, anyone using a sidewalk crosses driveways constantly. I probably just don't understand. Anyway, they came up with a new solution with a lift.

Staff presentation on comprehensive (aka "master") plan review. There was an RFP issued for a consultant to run a comprehensive plan update process a few years ago, and I seem to remember they even chose someone, and then it was postponed due to COVID (I'm unclear exactly why).

Planning Commission work plan: what are the planning comission's priority for the next year and beyond? The discussion wandered a bit but seemed motivated mainly by impatience resulting from the mismatch between the number of ordinance changes commissioners would like to make and the number of changes staff thinks they can handle in a year.

Some brief mention of neighborhood pedestrian connections. It's a pet peeve of mine that unnecessary barriers often turn what should be a short pleasant walk into a long unpleasant one, so I'm glad to see this raised. I'm not sure what levers planning commission has to improve things, though, and the conversation didn't address that.

Planning Commission, Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Video, Legistar details.

I mostly just skimmed through the discussion of the plan for an 8-unit residential building at 212 Miller (D2 zone). See also an mlive article on 212 Miller. Discussion is mainly about accessibility, since the only wheelchair access is through garage space. Postponed to next meeting (in two weeks) to consider alternatives.

A second petition is to annex 5.71 acres at 2600 Pontiac Trail. It will then eventually be zoned R4A and site plans (this is planned to be part of The Village of Ann Arbor project), passed without much discussion.

Next, a presentation on the Ann Arbor Sustainable Energy Utility. I don't know much of this, so I'm not entirely confident of my summary, but I'll try: They say that building entirely new replacement for DTE, or buying out DTE's infrastructure, would be a huge, expensive project. So they're talking instead about a utility that would be some sort of parallel supplement--microgrids of solar panels and batteries may just cover a few neighboring households, if I understand correctly. If I understand right, it would help owners finance panels and batteries by paying the upfront expenses and then collecting utility fees. Also, currently DTE caps solar production to what was historically consumed at that site, this would allow someone to produce more and share with a neighbor (say a neighbor on a shadier lot). More at www.a2gov.org/a2seu. Commissioner Lee has some questions about initial capital and responsibility for maintenance.

Finally there's the commission's work program (discussion starts here). Maybe it's the way it has to be, but it all feels a bit slow, and modest. I wonder what else should be there, or what should be reprioritized? Commissioners asked about TC1 rezoning schedule and it sounds like staff time and public engagement are bottlenecks.

Items that seem like they could add significant housing supply: TC1 Rezoning (Stadium 2022, Washtenaw 2023, Plymouth 2024). Parking minimums (2022). R4C (Someone asked a question about this but I'm still a little vague on what it would mean. Are there any other plans to liberalize existing zones? I guess that waits on the "single family zoning" subcommittee?

I noticed "Pedestrian connectivity between/among private developments", just listed vaguely as "future". I'd be curious to hear what might be feasible there, as it's long been a pet peeve of mine; there are lots of places in Ann Arbor where it looks like there should be a simple, direct, route pedestrian between points A and B, but in fact you have to make a long detour around a fence that has no real reason to be there.

Commissioner Wyche reminds the commission of the racist origins and effects of zoning and makes a plea for prioritizing equity and housing supply, mentioning "missing middle" housing in particular.

Planning Commission, Tuesday, April 5, 2022

video, Legistar meeting details.

Disch notes that council passed TC1 (I think she's referring to the rezoning of the are near Briarwood to TC1). Yay! Increasing housing density along transit corridors is a win for so many reasons. I only wish the process was going faster.

Maple Cove II is a proposed 70 unit apartment complex at Miller and Maple. Some discussion about why all the curb cuts were required. The answer seemed to have to do with fire truck access. The discussion seemed to imply that, other things equal, it's better to have fewer curb cuts. I wonder why. (Honest question, I haven't thought about it much.) Comissioner Gibb-Randall is unhappy that it required taking out a big tree. Gas/electric choice was brought up again. Petitioner says they just haven't looked into it very closely yet? Lots of comments in favor of electrification, but doesn't sound like planning commission has much leverage there. Commissioner Mills asks about height. They're limited by FAR (floor-area ratio), but why not fewer taller buildings? DIdn't hear a clear answer. Commissioner Lee finds the construction cost estimates optimistic. Wysche asks whether they can get some sort of sustainability scoring to simplify some recurring discussion. Lennart says some projects get sustainability office review, which would be included in the staff report, but this one didn't get that, I'm a little unclear why.

Off-street parking requirements: this is the bit I'm most enthusiastic about. (See e.g. the high cost of free parking for an introduction to the problem.) The introduction to the staff report is good: "Staff recommends that the amendments to the Unified Development Code (UDC) be approved because the proposed amendments will reduce the amount of under-utilized impervious surfaces, encourage land to be used more efficiently, incentivize the construction of new residential dwelling units by reducing construction and land acquisition costs which may result in more affordable housing units being constructed, and by using land more efficiently, will support transit service.") It's not going to result in immediate dramatic change, for a lot of reasons, but it's a really important step.

Some details: they're only eliminating car parking requirements, not bike parking requirements (which don't take up much space anyway). Also, if I understand correctly: *if* you still choose to build parking, you're still required to include some EV spaces (spaces with chargers for electric vehicles), as a percentage of the total parking. (The details are complicated.) But you're not subject to any EV space requirements if you don't build any parking.

It imposes parking *maximums* in the TC1 district. It makes sense to minimize parking in districts where we expect lots of trips to be by bus--first, there should be less need for it, and second, big parking lots make walking less safe and convenient.

There are also a few maximums for specific cases, e.g., "broadcasting facility". I'm not clear why some get maximums and some don't.

Minor thing, but I like that this is a net decrease in the size of Ann Arbor's zoning code.

Brett Lenart says they try to choose a single maximum for TC1 to make it easy to modify uses. But maximums may make it difficult to market non-residential housing: Commissioner Lee's comments here are informative. If we want other uses in TC1 (like retail or office), we may need to allow more parking for those uses for now.

DIscussion points out there's already another limit in TC1: area for use of vehicles is limited to size of the building footprint. (Apparently that's already part of the existing TC1 ordinance language, but I can't find it.)

Commissioner Sauve says TC1 isn't appropriate for large restaurants (which was one example given as a parking-heavy use), and smaller "neighborhood joints" (and maybe other more neighborhood-focused businesses) may have less parking demand?

Commissioner Mills says TC1 allows more sharing between parking users, which may help with adjustment.

Commissioner Disch is concerned about the footprint limitation because she sees council's main goal as higher residential density, and it may make limit the height of residential buildings too much.

Staff's proposed parking changes pass unanimously as is (with at least one "heck yes").

Next they discuss the policy agenda (the city's wishlist for the state legislature). Agreed to strike enabling inclusionary zoning as something to lobby for. (Inclusionary zoning may be good or bad for affordability depending on the details and your assumptions, given a not-particularly-friendly legislature and the uncertainty, there's skepticism about the value of pushing for it, if I understand right.)

Finally, they revisit discussion of apartment building electrification. They don't have much authority over that sort of thing, but there's an argument that they should talk about it anyway, as part of education petitions and the public. Brett Lenart suggest, if I understand correctly, that perhaps they could impose some sustainability requirements on new developments if they could come up with metrics that are clear enough.

There's also the consideration that imposing such requirements may have the unintended consequence of just moving developments a little further away to a different jurisdiction, for now gain in building sustainability and a loss in transportation efficiency.

Planning Commission, Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Video, Legistar meeting details.

Repeated presentation on UDC ordinance revisions from last time (allow churches in M1; adjust minimum lot area & dimensions in R2A to bring in line with R1D; Marijuana dispensaries, etc.).

Responded to question from last time to say that they've found they don't have sufficient data to summarize why remaining R2A parcels would remain nonconforming after revisions.

Disch asked why a couple setbacks are still larger in R2A than R1D, why? Staff says: they were focused on nonconforming lots for now, not nonconforming structures, which is a slightly different problem. Also: side setback at least is less interesting since building code issues also make the smaller setback impractical anyway. In the end, they did amend to decrease rear setbacks.

Someone asked about fourplexes. R2A doesn't allow them, but staff says there are (if I heard right) about 350 (out of total 1700-ish?) R2A parcels that might be large enough for two duplexes (or to split lots into two).

Skimmed over a bunch, including a drawn-out discussion of the marijuana licensing change. Which I didn't follow. But it kinda feels like something went wrong that people were at the meeting and still confused about how this works.

I mostly skipped a discussion of an expansion of the Chinese Christian Church on Dhu Varren.

Maple Cove 2: apartment complex at Maple & Miller: public comment disappointed in use of gas heating in new apartment construction.

Entirely too much time talking about council proposal to ask UM to build more housing on North Campus, something which council has no authority to do.

DIscussion of the city's policy agenda--this is what we think the state should do. Also something the city has no authority over, but we do have some influence--though not much given the current legislature's composition. One item of relevance to planning is: "support and advocate for the ability of cities to incorporate inclusionary zoning practices and affordability incentives into their land development codes." It's tempting to try to meet our affordability goals by imposing mandates on new development--that feels like something we can get "for free". The problem is it tends to discourage new private development, which is (by far) the main source of new housing supply, and therefore makes housing overall more expensive. Commissioner Clarke therefore expresses some skepticism, which I share. I'm a little unclear what the outcome was.

Planning commission, Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Video, meeting details from Legistar.

Sounds like the start was delayed by technical problems.

Various minor ordinance updates; most interesting to me is the R2A update. Actual vote is postponed till next meeting, in case the meeting start delay prevented any public feedback.

Commissioner Hammerschmidt asked what's left in R2A that's still noncompliant--would further small tweaks eliminate more? Staff wasn't sure, but could come back with an answer.

Longest discussion was probably on a tweak to Marijuana dispensary zoning which I didn't follow.

Commissioner Wyche asked how to get parking maximums on the agenda, and more generally about how Planning Commission gathers, prioritizes, and schedules work.

Planning Commission, Tuesday Feb. 15 2022

Video is here. Micing of in-person participants is inconsistent again, sometime they're barely audible. For some reason Legistar has no details on this meeting right now. (Update: they're there now.)

This was mostly a review of the 3874 Research Park Site Plan: a new office and R&D building. See also https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/07/ann-arbor-development-expands-plans-for-flex-tech-building.html.

Some of the details (on energy conservation, stormwater management, etc.), are actually pretty interesting, but I skipped most of it for reasons of time. There was a long discussion about the mismatch with A2Zero goals. It's a reminder for me that we just don't yet have the systems we need to solve our climate problems.

At the very end is some more discussion about Planning Comission's role in implementing A2Zero.


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