Ann Arbor City Council rejects Brightdawn Village rezoning

Developer Gil-Ad Schwartz talks about the Brightdawn Village development at 2805 Burton Road at the Ann Arbor City Council meeting on June 3, 2019. Correction: An earlier version of this caption misidentified the speaker.

Ryan Stanton | The Ann Arbor News

Developer Gil-Ad Schwartz talks about the Brightdawn Village development at 2805 Burton Road at the Ann Arbor City Council meeting on June 3, 2019. Correction: An earlier version of this caption misidentified the speaker.

ANN ARBOR, MI - A proposed rezoning measure for a controversial 160-unit apartment building has died on first vote in Ann Arbor City Council.

City Council members voted 7-4 against the ordinance for the proposed Brightdawn Village project at 2805 Burton Road on Monday, June 3.

The majority of council members expressed concerns with the development’s compatibility with the neighborhood, should the conditional rezoning be approved. Mayor Christopher Taylor and Council Members Julie Grand, Jeff Hayner and Chip Smith voted in favor of the project, citing Ann Arbor’s struggles to meet its affordable housing goals.

The family-owned Capital S Investment Co. had requested the eight-acre property, a wooded area and former homeless camp site on the city’s far east side, be rezoned to increase the total number of allowed units to 160 from 120.

The property was purchased in January 2018 by GloryCrest Burton Road Inc., associated with Capital S, for $865,000, and developers hoped to build four apartment buildings, each four stories tall, with a community clubhouse and 252 parking spaces. They agreed to make 40 of the units affordable and rent-restricted for 99 years, if the site were to be rezoned to allow 160 units.

In addition, during public comment Monday, GloryCrest Burton Rd. Inc. Director Gil-Ad Schwartz said the units would be suitable for seniors and accessible. He also pointed to city savings in road improvement projects the developers would take on.

“The 160-unit project we’re proposing is better for the community, we feel, than the 120-unit project we would otherwise build,” he said.

But the majority of city council members followed the recommendation of the city’s planning commission to reject the rezoning request. Neighbors, about 20 of whom signed a petition against the project, have expressed concerns about height of the buildings, traffic through the neighborhood and privacy for residential homes, according to city documents.

Jane Lumm, a 2nd Ward independent, argued the 120-units currently allowed for the site already go against the city’s master plan recommendation for single-family homes at the location.

The 120-unit limit was set through rezoning efforts in 2007 for a previous development proposal that never came to fruition.

The promise of additional affordable housing doesn’t outweigh every other concern, Lumm said.

"For some, like the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, apparently that’s a need that trumps all the normal development considerations of neighborhood compatibility, adjacent property use and zoning and the master plan recommendations," she said. "It does not for me."

Smith, D-5th Ward, said there are no sites left to easily develop in Ann Arbor.

“All the easy sites are gone - all we have left are really hard decisions,” he said. " … At some point in time, we have to make these decisions that are often not awesome. They don’t make anybody feel good."

Taylor said there’s an affordable housing crisis in the city and that disruptive choices will be necessary for Ann Arbor to meet its goals.

While proponents of the zoning change talked about the public benefits promised by a private company, Ali Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, argued there could also be public detriment. Ramlawi said wealth and income inequality are fueling the affordability crisis, not lack of housing supply.

He said the area doesn’t have the capacity to handle what he called housing density on steroids.

Jack Eaton, D-4th Ward, also called the rezoning request “extreme.” He argued the level of density proposed would create a significant burden on the neighborhood with cut-through traffic.

"I don’t think we should ask that neighborhood to accept this burden for that small benefit," he said.

Julie Grand, D-3rd Ward, expressed concern when developer Haim Schwartz couldn't guarantee the 120-unit apartment complex they would build instead would include accessible housing. The Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living says it's needed, Grand said.

Grand pushed for referring the matter back to the commission for another look, but didn’t get support.

MLive reporter Ryan Stanton contributed to this report.