“People are more tuned into how design fits into a car-centric society and how that evolves and changes,” LaBarre said at Bridge Michigan.
However, while many areas in the United States are changing the way cities operate with fewer automobiles, it remains a time of transition, he added.
Initially, at least, “my hunch is that any new development will have to bring increased traffic and it will have to be handled like every other part of the city,” LaBarre said.
Can it work?
Proponents of “dezoning” include many concerned landowners, including MAV Development, and people who say it will achieve the goal of adding transit options and housing.
Skeptics say the change will increase the value of affected property without providing city-specific benefits, namely additional affordable housing units.
Land costs are already a barrier to development in Ann Arbor, Bonner said. That probably won’t change around a mall like Briarwood.
“Zoning is obviously important, but so is the ability to negotiate and reasonably acquire land. And overall in Ann Arbor, properties are not reasonable (priced) anywhere in the city,” Bonner said.
That may not change in the Southern State if new zoning is approved. Allowing more density generally increases property value, Harshe said. By building more, a developer can sell or rent more. This has sparked a debate in the city council over whether the new rules enrich this group of landowners over others in the city.
Additionally, the lack of required parking could alter funding for a new development, Copp said. This, in turn, could affect the number of residential units – and their eventual price, for sale or for rent.
Navigating development options may leave little room for affordable housing, even as the city continues to recognize the need. It planned nearly 3,000 new housing units for low-income residents in 2015; in 2021, while the city approved one mile of affordable housing, it had yet to reach that rate of construction.
And the Ann Arbor’s housing market is becoming less affordable. Median sales prices for single-family homes have climbed three straight years, hitting $336,150 in January. The number of available homes fell by half at the start of this year, pointing to further increases as competition to buy intensifies.
Rental rates are also rising as new construction targets the student and luxury markets. The average apartment in the city now costs $1,749 per month, according to Rentcaféwhile only 7% of rentals are priced at $1,000 per month or less.
Shifting developers’ attention from sky-high land costs from downtown to the Briarwood area “doesn’t mean new affordable housing options are waiting in the wings,” Bonner said. “You always have to take into account that the cost of construction is so high, and to maintain that cost, you need higher rents.
“The only way affordable housing will truly become an option is if the city specifically mandates it and is also willing to support it financially,” Bonner said. “Otherwise, the 226 acres of rezoned properties around the mall will also become high-end luxury residential developments.”
The city council will discuss the proposal on March 7, with a vote likely before the end of the month. No time has yet been decided on when “dezoning” might be proposed for other areas of the city, including Washtenaw Avenue near US 23.
While this proposal may reshape part of Ann Arbor, there are implications for the rest of the state if there is a large increase in housing units, Greenwork’s Ulstad said. Other areas may be monitoring Ann Arbor to see if this happens.
Zoning laws, she said, can ensure that housing will remain unaffordable for a large portion of the population if they mandate single-family homes. It won’t work for communities that are attracting new businesses looking for workers.
Allowing taller buildings and mandating mixed uses could give growing areas like Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Ottawa County on the shore of Lake Michigan options for the future.
“It’s about keeping Michigan competitive,” Ulstad said. “If you want to grow and attract people, just allow new types of housing.”