The University of Michigan warns against recourse against the development of Ann Arbor

ANN ARBOR, MI – The University of Michigan has concerns about a 454-unit condominium proposed next to the UM golf course in Ann Arbor.

Michael Rein, UM’s Community Relations Director, addressed the university’s concerns about the proposed Valhalla development on South Main Street in a two-page letter to Mayor Christopher Taylor and the city council on April 16.

The university takes no position for or against the project, but has concerns about rainwater retention, the impact of new retaining walls and the lack of golf ball nets.

If these concerns are not addressed and there is a negative impact on the property of the university, UM will take action against the developer, Rein told the council.

That did not prevent the council from voting between 8 and 3 on Monday evening April 19 to give the first permit for the rededication of the 9.8 acre site for development on Valhalla Drive and South Main Street .

The reallocation is now moving to a second reading and public hearing on June 7th.

The three opponents were Kathy Griswold, Jeff Hayner and Elizabeth Nelson.

Councilors for and against the rededication said they were surprised by the letter from the university.

“It’s noteworthy that they stick their noses in,” said Nelson, D-4th Ward, who complains that the development is too dense.

Councilor Ali Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, initially urged a postponement to further review UM’s concerns, but the majority of councilors opposed a delay.

“You are a community partner,” Ramlawi said of UM. “I think we should be very sensitive to their problems whether we play golf or not. I think we have a great interest in maintaining this good relationship with our partner. “

Councilor Jen Eyer, D-4th Ward, said she was really disappointed to see the letter from UM. She had a conversation with a UM representative months ago and thought the concerns had been resolved, she said.

“I was really concerned about the developer putting up a fence,” she said. “Because honestly, if I want people to stay away from my property for any reason, it’s my responsibility to put up a fence. And I thought it was really out of the university’s boundaries to ask the developer to do it, but they did. And so it really seems like they did everything they could to address the university’s concerns. “

Eyer added, “We’re talking about a golf course versus housing to address the housing shortage in the city. So if I had my Druthers I could have a place to stay on the golf course, but I don’t have a say. “

It would be nice if UM helped create housing that is affordable for its employees, said Councilor Linh Song, D-2nd Ward.

PEFT Development LLC, the company proposing the development, sent a letter to UM in January stating that there is currently no rainwater management on the property and the development would add a system that could handle 120% of a 100 year storm event can hold back.

Proposed green roofs and bio-retention areas would provide additional rainwater retention, and a rainwater pumping station would have an emergency generator that works during power outages, the developer said.

A metal fence such as one along the front of the UM driving range would be added to the border of the development site. However, because buildings would be set back significantly from property lines, no golf ball net would be proposed, the letter said.

“Our project meets or exceeds any requirement a private development must meet,” said Brad Moore, a project architect, this week, adding that the project has been thoroughly reviewed by the city and county.

The property is currently “wildly unused” and can support more housing, but 454 homes are overcrowding and unreasonable, Nelson said.

“It’s bizarre that we have 9.8 acres with six houses near the city center … but without being able to align myself with a traffic light, I tend to pay attention to the initial recommendations of the planning staff, 84 units to be placed there, ”she said.

Urban planners first recommended rejecting the development last year as employees found it was inconsistent with the city master plan.

“The proposed project comprises 454 units, a significant increase compared to the recommendation of the master plan for the future land use of single-family homes,” says an employee report. “With an R1D zoning based only on the property area (excluding land for roads, driveways and utilities), a maximum of 84 units could be built.”

Urban planner Matt Kowalski noted that the developer had previously agreed to make additional commitments in the areas of affordability and solar power, and agreed to plug the development into entirely electric rather than gas services. The project recommended for approval by the planning committee would include 15 affordable housing units.

“I understand some changes have been made to the margins, but it doesn’t really seem like it really meets initial concerns,” Ramlawi said.

The reallocation is what drives the proposed size and density, which dictates concentrated use of the entire site, Rein told the council in UM’s letter.

“The overflow from the overflow basin in the northeast corner of the property is directed onto and towards the UM golf course,” he wrote. “Not only is this not considered a best practice. If the diverted water damages the university golf course, UM will take action against the developer. We therefore ask that it not be approved as currently planned. “

UM is also concerned about the impact that retaining walls may have on the natural features of the golf course and the golf driving range, particularly the existing slopes, drainage and mature vegetation, Rein said.

“The adjacent locations are specially contoured and carefully designed to look natural, but at the same time effectively keep rainwater away from greens, bunkers, fairways and trees,” he wrote. “If such impairment occurs due to the design of the developer, UM will seek recourse to the developer.”

While UM appreciate the developer agreeing to install a six foot fence around the property lines, UM would still like the developer to add a high protective net to prevent faulty golf balls from getting onto the property.

Councilor Lisa Disch, D-1st Ward, said she spoke to the developer.

“And the developer mentioned the problem with the nets and said we don’t think there is any angle where there could be a trajectory that would interfere with the golf course and this project,” she said, adding that the situation is the Rainwater drainage also appears to be improving with development.

The development meets all the standards that would apply to any project near a property, said Brett Lenart, urban planning manager.

As the city seeks to add more housing and meet its sustainability goals, the local council needs to exercise its due diligence and see if there are ways to address UM’s concerns, Ramlawi said.

“We can’t just rush like a cop in a china shop to achieve our goals,” he said.

Griswold, D-2nd Ward, said it was extremely important to work with UM.

“We know the University of Michigan has deep pockets,” she said. “They tend to buy up real estate and I would hate it to happen here instead of getting some housing.”

Griswold said she also wanted more information about traffic as there was “extremely irregular road geometry” and she was concerned about the risk of accidents.

Councilor Erica Briggs, D-5th Ward, said she did not see UM’s concerns about site design as a reason to halt the reconsideration process. Both the site map of the project and the final zoning approval are expected to be on the council’s agenda in June.

This is exactly the kind of place the city should want higher density, Briggs said.

“Very rarely – I don’t think anywhere in the city – have we seen an increased density that has so many support services nearby that people can lead a car-free or car-free lifestyle,” she said.

“People can literally go to a grocery store, they can take a bus route, they are near downtown. For those who have a car, they are relatively close to the freeway, they are close to shopping. There’s a high school there. “

The development will do a lot of good for the community and tick many boxes related to city goals, Eyer said, mentioning the city’s carbon neutrality and residential goals, A2Zero.

The $ 100 million project involves the demolition of seven apartment buildings and the construction of a number of medium-sized residential buildings with studio, one and two bedroom units, some townhouse style.

Most homes would be off-market and cater to people who now work in the city but are forced to commute due to the limited supply of modern, energy-efficient rental homes, Moore said. The 15 affordable housing units would be for people with an income of up to 60% of the median area income.

The townhouse buildings would contain 19 units and the remaining apartments would be built in one large building centered around a courtyard and three smaller buildings along the east side of the site, Kowalski said.

The project includes a solar system to generate at least 500,000 kilowatt hours per year as well as charging stations for electric vehicles.


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