Zoning changes aim to create a more walkable, livable community near Ann Arbor's Briarwood Mall

Here's what could be next for an area that currently exists as a hub for downtown commuter traffic, national hotel and restaurant chains, and office buildings.
Zoning changes are aiming to create a more walkable, livable, and sustainable neighborhood near Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor – although change in the area is expected to move slowly.

Ann Arbor City Council voted in March to approve the rezoning of an area around the intersection of State Street and Eisenhower Parkway. The new transit corridor, or "TC1," zoning designation, proposed by the city's planning commission, is designed to increase density in the area. The main changes to the 69-parcel zone will include new "mixed-use" building requirements, changes to parking capacity rules, extended building height limits, and a streamlined approval process.

In a 2019 Concentrate story, we examined the possibility of a "second downtown" as the planning commission was beginning to discuss introducing residential buildings and increased walkability in the area. While planning commission member Lisa Sauvé expects the area to change considerably in the long term, she's hesitant to describe it as a second downtown.

"I would say it's another kind of neighborhood-commercial district," Sauvé says. "I think there's a certain love for things like Jefferson Market in the [Old West Side] neighborhood, and our zoning isn't currently set up for a lot of connection between those residential areas and those commercial areas. What this really does is allow a lot of commercial work to happen within residential areas."

Sauvé says the TC1 designation itself was introduced by the commission in 2021 as a response to the city's continued housing shortage. 
Ann Arbor planning commission member Lisa Sauvé at U of M's Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning.
"We have an absolute housing crisis right now, and this development is very much intended to lean into different ways to structure more housing developments," she says. 

Sauvé says the rezoning is also designed to promote sustainability, moving away from "car-centric development." So, for example, new sidewalk distance requirements will help bring buildings closer to the sidewalk and pedestrians walking there.

The TC1 zoning also does away with former parking lot minimum requirements in favor of a parking maximum, meaning new developments' parking spaces will be limited compared to the area's current sprawling lots.

Currently, the area just off of I-94's State Street exit exists primarily as a hub for downtown commuter traffic, national hotel and restaurant chains, and office buildings. Jeff Hauptman, founder and CEO of local real estate agency Oxford Companies, agrees that the rezoning could considerably change the current landscape of the area – where his company's offices are located at 777 E. Eisenhower.

"I think the vision the city planners have for the TC1 is to see a lot of these single-story buildings taken down and replaced with taller, more dense structures, which would add housing, but also add more of a pedestrian-friendly environment," Hauptman says.
777 E. Eisenhower Parkway.
Oxford Investment Director Andrew Selinger says the changes could create a 24-hour or 18-hour neighborhood in the area, meaning an area that supports active use for 18 or 24 hours a day.

"Right now the south side is an eight-hour, nine-to-five neighborhood," he says.

Since moving into the 777 building, Oxford has proposed many of its own plans for revitalizing the area and making use of its ample space. Those proposals included a "business improvement zone" tax override for commercial property owners in the area, which would direct funding toward cleaning up some of the more neglected roadside and median spots right off the highway.

"For years and years, this [area] has really been a bunch of separate owners that never talked to each other, and so we've been involved more and more lately in talking to people," Hauptman says. "We want to bring people together and have conversations about how to make this area more of a neighborhood. It's the largest commercial, largest office, largest retail market in the county, and it has no voice. So we believe that this, coupled with TC1, coupled with a really substantial infrastructure plan, will really help to invigorate the whole area."

Radwan Dabaja, co-owner of the Shell station and convenience store at State and Eisenhower, says he also believes the TC1 rezoning will be a positive for Ann Arbor's south side and for his business. 
Oxford Companies founder and CEO Jeff Hauptman.
"Overall I think it's somewhat exciting," Dabaja says. "Apartment buildings will create customers that are a short distance from our location, which will bring in more business." 

Hauptman and Sauvé agree that an increase in residents, alongside an increase in walkability, will be a boon for most of the local businesses — particularly restaurants. 

"Mediterrano, one of my favorite restaurants in the area, is right here [across State Street from Oxford's offices]," Hauptman says. "It's a really easy walk to get from here to there, but once you've got to cross five lanes of State Street? I joke it's 'human Frogger.'"

Sauvé notes that good urban planning often means thinking about the far future. She estimates that it will be years, or even decades, before the Briarwood area shows major signs of change.

"One of your responsibilities as a planning commissioner is you have to imagine that a lot of your decisions stick for 50 years when approving a project," Sauvé says. "Buildings take a long time to start to happen, and they stick around for a long time."

Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can be reached at sabinebickfordbrown@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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