5 thoughts on “June 24th Zoning Walk

  1. Sabra Briere

    I’m curious about the list of permitted and not permitted uses. Perhaps it is just that the way you listed these uses confuses me. In particular, I’m confident that medical marijuana dispensaries are among the permitted use for D1, D2, and a variety of C-zoned districts (Commercial).

    I’d also like to understand whether the fact that an existing coop, fraternity or sorority might need a variance in order to add on to the structure is a significant deterrant to enlarging an existing building.

    And of course, I would be intrerested in understanding whether there is a significant demand for more so-called ‘group housing’ that requires encouraging it in all circumstances and parts of the City.

  2. mixeduseparty Post author

    Medical marijuana dispensaries and adult businesses are not in the “Allowed category” because they have special regulations limiting them. For example, “No medical marijuana dispensary or medical marijuana cultivation facility shall be located within 1,000 feet of a parcel on which a public or private elementary or secondary school is located. ” City Code 5:50:01

    Thank you for pointing out that dispensaries can still be in downtown areas. Another issue is that the permitted use table in the existing code is different than the table in the Unified Development Code, which may be adopted soon. Extra information has been added to the document to avoid confusion.

  3. mixeduseparty Post author

    Variances are only allowed when property owners face “substantially more than mere inconvenience, inability to attain a higher financial return, or both.” City Code 5:99 The rules for co-ops are inconvenient and expensive, but that alone is not reason enough for a variance.

    Creating new group housing is also difficult. Members of the Inter-Cooperative Council and the Inter-Fraternity Council have complained that it is hard to find new houses, because they are limited to very large buildings in zones higher than R2A.

    If there was no demand for group housing where it is prohibited, there would be no reason to forbid it. The value in a legal restriction is that it stops something that might otherwise occur.

    In fact, the city has excluded group housing precisely where there was sufficient demand. When a sorority moved into the burns park area, some residents were upset. The North Burns Park Neighborhood Association proudly states that due to its efforts “38 of 44 houses were rezoned from R2B to R2A, effectively preventing them from being converted to a fraternity or sorority house.”

    It is silly for City council to try and predict how much demand there is for a land use, and then forbid that land use in excess of demand. The only time their predictions will have any effect is when they miscalculate. If city council knows that there is a demand for 30 bakeries in Ann Arbor, then there would be no sense in prohibiting the 31st bakery with zoning controls.

    Zoning should protect residents from harms like noise, odor, and building shade. If instead city council tries to anticipate the intentions of thousands of people and then prohibit unexpected land uses, the result will be unnecessary restrictions and a complicated zoning code. The most influential residents will manipulate the code to exclude land uses they don’t like.

  4. Ian Cross

    Hi Sabra,

    Thank you so much for your interest in the issues facing coops and other types of group housing! As the current President of the Inter-Cooperative Council, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that runs most of the housing cooperatives in Ann Arbor, I’m familiar with many of the issues that surround group housing in our community and I may be able to answer some of your questions.

    Regarding variances, the ICC has gotten variances to keep aspects of our structures that do not conform to modern code, e.g. historic staircases that are too steep, and that hasn’t been much of a problem. The city is a lot more strict for new construction, so yes, it definitely is a deterrent to building additions. However there is tremendous demand for coop housing in Ann Arbor, and even if we didn’t have to get variances, we could not realistically meet the demand by enlarging our existing buildings.

    For the past several years, our vacancy rate from September to April has been essentially zero. Right now, we are 95.0% full for the Sept. 2013 to April 2014 contract period, vs. 76.6% full for the Sept. 2012 to April 2013 contract period at this time last year. Our houses are filling faster than they ever have before, and most houses near Central Campus already have long waiting lists of potential residents. Expansion of existing buildings is generally not a feasible option, for several reasons. First, many of our houses are in historic districts and we can’t change their external appearance. Second, almost all of our houses are more than 100 years old, and many of them sit on small lots. There are no ways to expand them other than to build up or to build over off-street parking. We’re required to have one off-street parking space for every five beds, so that option doesn’t really work. In fact, parking spaces are often the limiting factor in determining the capacity of a coop. Building vertically is expensive and it’s not always structurally feasible. In any case, I doubt we would be granted a variance to build a tower of bedrooms on top of a 100-year-old wood-frame house in a residential neighborhood.

    Student housing coops serve an important social purpose, namely, helping to make a college education more affordable. One reason we’re seeing increased demand for coop housing is that less affluent students are being priced out of downtown Ann Arbor. We don’t need the city government to “encourage” group housing in order to expand; we’re not asking for subsidies or tax incentives to start new coops. What we do need is for the city to refrain from actively obstructing our expansion. There are sections of the code which seem to serve no purpose other than to make it more difficult to start new group housing facilities. The 5,000 sq. ft. requirement in particular makes it very hard to find new properties that we can afford, and it even seems counterproductive for older residents concerned about quality-of-life issues. Our smaller coops tend to have smaller and less frequent parties and fewer noise complaints than our larger coops. The house I live in holds 12 people at full-capacity, and most of our neighbors don’t even know that they’re living next to group housing. A mandate that new fraternities, sororities, and coops be at least 5,000 sq. ft. seems to only increase the probability that new group housing facilities would be a nuisance to their neighbors.

    I should also note that if the ICC is able to expand in the near future, the next house we buy will most likely be substance-free. Our substance-free coop and it is always among the first houses to fill up and currently has the second-longest waiting list of the central-campus coops. There is especially strong demand for substance-free group housing and we have an outstanding offer of a $100,000 donation from an alumnus to help us establish another substance-free house.

    If you have any other questions or concerns about coops or group housing in general, feel free to reach out to us. I’d love to meet with you to discuss these issues, although I’m sure you’re quite busy. You can find more information about us and contact info at our website, http://www.icc.coop.


Leave a Reply to mixeduseparty Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>