Oh please. (Or, South U gets a little over-excited.)
Submitted by murph on 4 January 2008 - 12:54pm. ann arbor | development | housing market
In 2006, Ann Arbor loosened the zoning on the South University area, in the name of promoting some good, solid, mixed-use development. I'm fully in favor of this - South U's existing form, of strip malls at the sidewalk, has always seemed to me an underwhelming use of land, though I wasn't too happy about the first project that took advantage - the Zaragon Place replacement of the Anberay Apartments - what had been one of the best existing examples of compact urban housing in that area.
But the proposal for "University Village" at the corner of Forest and South University is pretty over the top. This is a joke, right?
A pair of developers want to build connected 26-story and 19-story "green'' towers along South University Avenue to house 1,700 students and several street-level stores, a move that would dramatically alter the skyline of Ann Arbor.
The first phase of the "University Village'' project is projected to open by fall 2010.
For context, North Quad is under construction kitty-corner across campus. The other North Quad, whatever it's called now, is nearing completion at Murfin and Plymouth, on North Campus. Lower Town is getting underway just off the Medical Campus, and Zaragon Place is under construction just two blocks from this project. I'm excluding the projects underway downtown, which are not as explicitly campus-oriented as these, but, by my rough count, those four developments add up to about 1,800 residents worth of capacity coming on line in the next 1-2.5 years.
This new proposal would, all by itself, nearly double that total, in what would be the tallest and third tallest structures in the city of Ann Arbor. Even if UM enrollment continues to grow by 1,000 students a year, adding this University Village project to the new capacity already underway would soak up 4 years worth of enrollment increases in 2 years, all in the midst of a soft, soft, soft rental market. (Oh, and then there's the 640-resident student-oriented apartment complex proposed for Maple Road, of all the places.)
I'm expecting that we're just about over the edge of another boom/bust cycle for downtown Ann Arbor. Ever since I've been involved in this conversation, opponents of development have been pointing first to various bankruptcies and failed developments of the 1980s and then to the lack of construction in the 1990s as evidence that no market exists for downtown construction in Ann Arbor. As I and Goodspeed and others have maintained, those things are probably evidence that too much was built at once, followed by regulation and process impeding additional development, rather than things happening at a steady, gradual, and healthy pace. The result: pent-up demand that managed to find an opening in the anti-development dams in about 2004.
The "blind pipeline" of multiple developers all scrambling to take advantage of the same pent-up demand led to the explosion of projects around town in what has now, in my opinion, become a pretty clear over-compensation. I don't think we'll see the housing market "recover" to its previous, unrealistic fervor in the next 2 years (if ever), so I expect that a number of Ann Arbor's developments currently under construction - campus-oriented or otherwise - will fail. These failures will dampen the market, even while the anti-development backlash holds them up as examples of foolish development policy and agitate for more restrictive regulation.
Which, of course, is the truly foolish policy - preventing everything until enough pressure has built up that another boom comes through in around 2020, leading to another bust and more backlash.