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Lowertown zoning

The development at the south end of Broadway is adding hundreds of housing units in walking distance of our largest employer. It also cleaned up a long-standing pollution problem. It's exactly the kind of thing Ann Arbor needs, in a lot of ways.

A determined group of Broadway-area neighbors, however, was never happy with it. One of them, Tom Stulberg, has claimed that the choice of zoning for the parcel lost $8,676,900 for affordable housing.

That claim is misleading.

There's a lot of zoning technicalities there, but basically it comes down to a claim that if the city could have driven a harder bargain, the developer would have built exactly the same building and given the city $8.7 million.

Which... who knows, maybe?! It's kind of hard to prove or disprove a hypothetical like that.

But it's a fairly big claim that there was an extra $8.7 million sitting around in their budget, or that they could have gone to their investors and said "hey, we're going with exactly the same plan as before, except you're going to advance us millions more, for no additional return!"

The more likely result is that they would have had to change the development somehow to make the numbers work out. Or that they would simply have given up and we'd still be arguing over an empty, polluted lot.

And, again, hundreds of housing units down the street from the UM medical campus is already a huge win, as far as I'm concerned.

It's also not clear that the group of neighbors Tom Stulberg represents would really have been appeased by an affordable housing contribution. There was plenty of public feedback during the planning process, and affordable housing was mentioned a few times, but their bigger focus was on making the buildings smaller, and on adding more retail, and more parking. None of which would be the kinds of changes required to make a big affordable housing contribution work out, quite the opposite.

Anyway, a little bit on the zoning details:

The request to city council was to rezone the parcel to C1A/R "Campus Area Business Residential District". It was originally zoned PUD.

The PUD zone includes some rules about housing density, which allow higher density than would otherwise be permitted if the project either includes a certain amount of affordable housing, or makes an equivalent contribution to the city's affordable housing fund.

Calculating that is complicated; from page 202 of the city's zoning code:

Proposed PUD projects exceeding the residential density
recommendation of the master plan, or the underlying zoning when the
master plan does not contain a residential density recommendation, by up
to 25% shall provide 10% of the total Dwelling Units as Affordable
Housing for Lower Income Households. Proposed PUD projects
exceeding the residential density recommendation of the master plan, or
the underlying zoning when the master plan does not contain a
residential density recommendation, by over 25% shall provide 15% of
the total Dwelling Units as Affordable Housing for Lower Income
Households.

b. Affordable Housing for Lower Income Households shall be provided by
the Development of units on-site, or payment of an affordable housing
contribution in lieu of units consistent with the formula adopted by
annual resolution of City Council, or by a combination of affordable
housing Development and contributions.

So, to work it out, you'd need to figure out that base level of density from the master plan or the previous zoning, figure out how much the project exceeded that density, and look up the annual city council resolution with the formula.

Tom Stulberg claims to have done this, and gotten the answer $8,676,900 (details of how he probably got that).

But, again, nobody actually brought a proposal to develop this project under PUD zoning, so nobody ever offered us that $8,676,900. The best you can say is that if we'd turned down the project that was proposed and suggested they try again as a PUD, maybe they would have proposed exactly the same plan. I'm not clear why anyone thinks that's the most likely result.

Some references: