Oh please. (Or, South U gets a little over-excited.)

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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.

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I'm all fer it. Let 'em

I'm all fer it. Let 'em build. Rental conversions can go back on the market as single (or two) family homes, to which they are better suited. They'll be tough to sell in the terrible housing market, but I believe that centrally located older homes will still do better than crap built out in the burbs over the long run, and better to suck people into the center than let them think they can all settle in outer burbs. I say if they think they can make a the investment work, and they have the means to finish it, let 'em do it. Yeah, it might hurt small time landlords, but that's a risk you take when investment property is your business. Of course, my support is contingent on the design fitting in to the urban design and infrastructure.

I don't disagree

Certainly, making conversion of single-family homes to student-oriented rentals unprofitable is the best way to achieve the maintenance of owner-occupancy, and the conversion back of multiple-unit properties, if that's your goal. And, if your goal is to get fewer rental conversions and more owner-occupied homes, and you plan to do that by cutting into profitability, I think that adding high-quality supply to the market is a better method than bluntly downzoning, as is being considered in my old 'hood over in "Lower Burns Park". (After all, if it remains profitable but is simply made illegal, all you've done is create an enforcement problem and reward the landlords who are willing to break the law.) Not that I, personally, place a high value on protecting the imaginary sanctity of single-family, owner-occupied neighborhoods - responsibly-managed rental properties make fine neighbors, as I, the only owner-occupant on my street, can testify - but many in Ann Arbor (and Ypsi) certainly do.

I'll be interested in seeing the plans. I'm not opposed to this project (nor for it - need more information); my shock is with the developers' estimation that there's a market for this particular project, and my dismay with the type of public discourse that I expect to result.

This is my first time getting really furious about a development

They're going to demolish Village Corner?! One of the few honest, genuinely useful businesses in the campus area? I'm sure their idea of a quality-of-life enhancing, economically sustainable replacement for it will be another goddamn urban boutique or a faux-midscale fast food chain.

(strangely, the article does specify that Champion's party store will be returning)

VC is one of the few places I can go near campus that doesn't make me feel like I'm supposed to be a hipster-poseur 18 year-old trailing my parents' money out of my back pockets. And, Elizabeth points out, it's one of the key businesses that make it possible for students who live on central campus to survive without cars. But I guess that will be solved, with the three levels of underground parking that these green buildings will have.

Pretty inevitable

I'm not too broken up about VC. As far as I can tell, it's always been a matter of time before they just got sick of running that dinky grocery store tacked on to the front of their wine business, which has been their focus for as long as I've been around.

Yes, losing VC will be bad for the usability / livability of South U - as demonstrated by the focus on VC in the ArborUpdate thread on this development, and the wishful thinking that they'll be incorporated into the project. I think Juliew's got the most realistic take, though, complete with bitterness: There's no way VC will reopen in the new development. Open a wine store in a dorm? At 2-4 times the previous rent? After closing and sitting idle for 2 years of demo and construction? Sounds like the worst business plan ever.

But I've been getting whiffs for years that VC might pack up and focus on the wine. I'm not going to chalk their departure from South U up to corporate greed forcing them out.

There is a way that the new development might host groceries, though. I'm guessing that this project is a PUD - even with the zoning loosening, it seems like an awfully big project to be straight zoning - which means that it's a negotiation process between the city and the developer to get approval. If it's a PUD, the developer has to provide some sort of "public good" to justify the flexibility they're getting, and "providing a grocery store close to campus" could be defined as a public good, if the staff / planning commission / city council demand it. (Note that the last time a PUD tried to specify particular categories of business in a development was the new DTE building on Main, which has had vacancies and a string of failing businesses in the first floor because it just didn't work out, despite the lowest rents on Main Street. That's largely a function of location and visibility, though, in my opinion, which the VC location avoids.) And 16,000 square feet of retail space is plenty for a small grocery store - PFC is only about 4,500.

sorry about the ranting

I know, I should take it to AAIO...