Monday, November 18, 2019

Let's talk about the Weber Property

The Weber Property from a 1947 aerial photograph.

tl;dr: There is a great need for housing in Ann Arbor. This PUD provides housing. It also preserves the important ecological features on the property. It should be approved.

At the October 21 city council meeting the Ann Arbor City Council voted 6 to 11 to approve a PUD at the Weber Property, 2857 Packard. This did not meet the 8 votes needed to approve the rezoning. At the November 4 #a2council meeting, council failed to pass a resolution to make an offer on the 7.66 acre property for $4.76 million, then again for $3 million. At the same meeting council was able to add 114 acres in Ann Arbor Township to the Greenbelt at a cost to the city of $186,500. The city also bought 5 acres within the city as a natural area for $153K. At $30,000 per acre, this is less than one tenth the cost that was proposed to buy the Weber property.

The owner and the developer of the Weber property have sued the city and tonight DC-3 is a settlement of that lawsuit. This is very similar to the PUD that was voted down on at the October 21 council meeting. I think the current proposal is a responsible use for this site that preserves the important environmental features and address the urgent need for housing in the city. The proposed PUD would create 51 homes: 25 detached and 26 in multi-family buildings. The homes are a maximum of 2000 sq ft and targeted to cost about $400k. This is less than the median home sale price for Ann Arbor in September was $436k. So these houses would be around market rate. At approximately $200 per square foot, these homes are also within the estimated cost per square foot of neighboring properties. Here is a haphazard sampling of adjacent parcels and their costs per square foot. Prices are from Zillow except for 2889 Easy Street, where I could only find the Redfin estimate (I looked up the Zillow prices on November 2nd and am too lazy to see if they changed.)

2765 Carmel St: $240,000/1,388 sqft = $172.9 /sqft
2989 Easy St: $240,054/1,220 sqft = $192.8 /sqft
2889 Easy St: $222,658/816 sqft = $237 / sqft
2869 Easy St: $212,597/986 sqft = $219 / sqft (sold for $210k in 2018)
2929 Easy St: $196,691/1,127 sqft = $174.5 / sqft
2829 Easy St: $245,556/900 sqft = $272.84 / sqft
The charge that this proposed PUD represents luxury townhouses is hyperbolic, unless we are to consider all of Easy Street to be luxury ranch houses. These new homes are 1) less than the median home sale price in September and 2) within the range of costs per square foot found in existing housing on adjacent parcels.

Opponents of this development also site concern over the trees on this property. In particular there are two very large bur oaks on the property. Some have even gone as far as to suggest there are trees on the property that predate widespread European settlement of the area. I find this claim to stretch credulity. First the property in question because a farm in 1840. In the 1947 aerial photograph, we can see the site had no forest. There is a windrow of trees running north-south as well as a smaller one running east-west. There are some landscaping trees along the driveway and what appears to be a plantation of trees in a grid north of the house. There are two large bur oaks on the property now. One is 60" in diameter, the other 48". They are part of the windrow. Given that these trees in question are part of the windrow, it is very unlikely that they were there before the farm. Finally, it is important to note that the PUD preserves these two spectacular trees and the other areas of high quality woodland on the property.

Trees will be lost if the PUD is built. Of the 184 trees on the property that will be cut down, 160 will be black walnuts, 4 bur oak, and the raminder are a mix of other species. Some opponents of this project have said that preserving the site is climate action. Trees do sequester hundreds of kg of CO2 per year. When thinking about climate change, we must also consider tradeoffs. The tradeoff here is losing trees a few trees in Ann Arbor for a moderately dense development that will allow people to commute shorter distances versus losing lots of trees in the area for low density development that forces people to commute to Ann Arbor from outside of the city. Right now 80,000 people commute into Ann Arbor every day, I am sure at least 51 of them would love to cut their commutes down and live in this proposed PUD. Driving on average releases 404 grams of CO2 per mile, there are 230 work days per year. Assuming everyone here would drive a 3.3 mile commute to downtown versus a commute from just outside the city on Packard (5.3 miles), there would be a ~18,000 kg per year savings in CO2 emissions for the development. This far outweighs the annual sequestration of the trees that will be lost and does not even take into account the use of public transit or cycling. Denying this PUD is not climate action.

There is a great need for housing in Ann Arbor. This PUD provides housing. It also preserves the important ecological features on the property. It should be approved.


  1. To hell with this opinion piece. Who paid this writer?

    1. Lots of 'odd' activity around this particular piece of property; the current owner is (or was) the trustee - who then sold the land to *himself* for $1. (One dollar) in documents filed February 9, 2001.
      ...This seems like a clear violation of self-dealing laws.

  2. The property at 2857 Packard Road was "purchased" from the trust on February 9, 2001 for a total cost of one dollar ($1.00) - via a quitclaim deed.

  3. Web page outlining possible illegal issues surrounding site: