Update on The Glen Project

The most common questions I get generally run along the lines of “What’s going on with that construction site or vacant lot or empty storefront or project I read about a while back?”.  The desolate swath of land on Glen between Catherine and Ann across from Angelo’s slated for a mixed-use project called The Glen certainly fits the bill.

The Glen 1

The Glen as rendered in May, 2017

First announced in mid-2015, I’m happy to report that The Glen is still moving forward, albeit glacially.  The site plan is in its 4th review with planning, engineering in its 6th review and the traffic impact study (which appears to be the particularly sticky wicket here) is sitting in an impressive 8th review.

To provide a little background, the site was once home to the Glen Ann Service Station, two older homes and a small commercial building that formerly housed Da Vinci’s Pizza. The buildings were demolished in stages through the mid to late 2000’s.  Although technically in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, you might not know it other than glorious Angelo’s across the street and a couple of remaining single family homes.  The area is dominated by two large UM garages, a couple of 1960’s low to mid-rise apartment properties and several other large campus or medical buildings of varying age and quality.  Suffice to say, this weedy patch of dirt represents an opportunity for a breath of fresh air in this corridor.

Back in 2005, Chicago-based developer Joseph Freed & Associates received approval for a PUD to build a 9-story mixed-use building including ground floor retail, 1-2 floors of office and apartments above.  The state’s Historic Preservation Review Board actually rejected the proposal to demolish the historic homes still remaining on the site.  Freed filed suit and the final settlement allowed the development to move forward with some modifications in 2017.  Locals will know Freed as the group behind the fairly mediocre (although I think solid in concept) Ashley Terrace condominium project at Ashley and Huron and the redevelopment of Arborland Mall in the late 1990’s.  The Great Recession killed their plans on Glen (and caused a complete implosion of the company culminating in developer Larry Freed being found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 230 years in prison in 2016).  Ultimately the lots were sold to new owners for $2.5 million in 2014.

Glen Ann Place

Glen Ann Place as proposed in 2007 by the now defunct Joseph Freed & Associates

Fast forward to the present day and the current developers, a group led by Craig Singer and Fred Goldberg, are slogging through a plan to build a 9-story mixed-use building anchored by a 162-room boutique hotel.  The building will also feature 24 apartments on the top two floors, just over 5,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor and 252 underground parking spaces.  While around the same height, the project is 33% smaller than the old Freed project due to several setbacks which include 5 large outdoor terraces.

The Glen 2

The big question marks here appear to be vehicular access to the site and traffic concerns.  As the always well informed and level headed MLive commenters are all too happy to bring up, traffic tends to snarl on Glen at rush hour and a roundabout at Fuller and Maiden Lane has been in planning since 2011 to help alleviate some of those concerns.  If this project and the proposed development at 1140 Broadway (subject of a future post) were to move forward, it seems the construction of the roundabout would be a necessity.  Traffic is complex and tends to be overblown by us average citizens because it impacts us in an out-sized way depending on our particular schedule.  In reference to this project there is a 234-page traffic impact study prepared by one Tapan Datta of Wayne State University, a man with a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering with a focus on Transportation.  Between that and the now 8 reviews by our industrious planning staff, I feel confident they’ll get this right.  My two cents: make the developers for The Glen and 1140 Broadway chip in for the street improvements to smooth this out.

The Glen is really just the type of project we’re looking for in Ann Arbor.  Perhaps a few stories too tall for the old guard but really not out of line for the area and a welcome dense mix of uses including a new hotel option in the greater downtown area, neighborhood retail and a few apartment units.  Plus, lots of parking, but mostly underground!  I’ll be honest, I’ve never liked the architecture, kind of a Frankenstein trying to blend the historic elements of the Old Fourth Ward with the modern design of the Medical Campus and a lot of different uses to accommodate in one building.  Neumann Smith had a tall order to fill here and I think they’ve done their best but it’s unlikely to win a Pritzker.

The Glen 3

That said, architecture is highly subjective, the plan is strong, the location is ideal, the materials are of good quality and I see no reason this project shouldn’t move forward once all the boxes are checked with city staff.  Let’s get this in front of council so we can see some hammers swinging, I say best of luck, tired of looking at that overgrown dirt patch.

12 thoughts on “Update on The Glen Project

  1. What about affordable housing? Have we totally thrown in the towel on requiring these rich developers to make sure that lower-income people can also afford to live in Ann Arbor?

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    • That’s probably the subject of another post entirely. With just 24 residential units, the city could request they reserve a portion of the units as affordable but even, say 20% would only equate to 4-5 units. Something of a drop in the bucket.

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      • That’s a valid point — but given all the luxury units going up, including for students for God’s sake, I’d rather start seeing us require every residential development to include below-market housing from here on out.

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  2. Ryan, thank you for your detailed evaluation. First, you have only lived in Ann Arbor for a couple of years now. Second, you do not live in the Old Fourth Ward. Third you are a real estate broker. OF COURSE you would love this project. Those of us who live in the OFW, have lived here for years, and are continuing to work hard to create a meaningful and quality residential experience for our neighborhood are strongly opposed to this project. It is too intense a use of too small a lot in an historic residential neighborhood.

    I understand the City’s desire for development and density and all the reasons for those qualities. Carrying out these desires in this location may be the manifestation of a long, complicated history of this parcel but in no way supports the desire of the neighborhood.

    How about building a 9 story hotel in Burns Park? Like on the corner of Lincoln and Wells?

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    • First off, I don’t think living in a place for just a few years versus some longer extent should necessarily reduce the validity of one’s opinion on what happens there. That usually implies a lack of understanding and context with a place that I think can be overcome with education, research and simply talking to people, residents, city staff, etc. And yes, I am involved in real estate in my day job (although not in Ann Arbor) and I do not live in the Old Fourth Ward.

      Perhaps the history of this site has led us here, I have never and would never advocate demolishing buildings in a historic district as they have here. That said, this is where we’re at, a vacant parcel across from the medical campus owned by a developer looking to put a lot of money into a project they’ve conceived.

      And to your final point, if the neighboring buildings at Lincoln and Wells included mid-rise apartment buildings, 4-5 story parking garages and three medical buildings ranging from 8-11 stories, I would say the context there would be fine. Packard would probably be a better example, it edges the neighborhood like Glen does and is relatively high traffic, I would be in favor of increased density there.

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  3. Well, actually, its a vacant lot NOW, but they tore a bunch of buildings down to make it vacant. And the traffic flow is a serious problem around this building, which is totally out of character for the neighborhood (not counting UM, which of course does whatever it wants, which should be the subject of yet another post. Personally, I think it is too big and too tall for the area, yet another monstrosity to fit with the terrible towers that now loom along Huron.

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  4. Thank you for the coherent background. I’ve been here for “only” 20 years so maybe my opinion doesn’t count either, but I’ll make my comment anyway: the rhetoric about new buildings not “fitting in” really grinds my gears. Where do these folks think more people should live or work or stay in hotels? Tear down a crappy two story and put up a new two story? You’d think that preventing changes in single family neighborhoods would be enough (and I tend to agree with this goal), but they just don’t seem to want anything new anywhere, or new people coming here, period. Of course the first major new developments in 40 years aren’t going to “fit in”… so they shouldn’t happen? That’s what people said about 411 Lofts, now we have Varsity and Foundry and the one next to Sloan Plaza (and Ahmos in the future). Its what they said about Zaragon, now we have others on South U. It’s what they’re saying about the Library Lot (until the Y Lot, AADL, and Post Office redevelop). It’s what they’re saying about Lowertown, until UM puts up another huge building across from it. It’s what the farmers said when these commenters’ houses were built, and it’s what the Native Americans said about the farmers. I’m sorry but it smacks of exclusion and privilege. The claim of, “We don’t mind development… just not *that* one,” when repeated 100 times, demonstrates why people are being priced out of Ann Arbor.

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    • So…. you like the urban “grand canyon” along Huron? and how the Foundry has taken over the neighborhood along Division? I see the problem as no “teeth” in zoning at the city level, since the city has been unable to enforce any zoning regulations since the squabble over the height of the apartments in the Corner Lofts on Washington. If you want an excellent example of what happens to these buildings when the boom bursts, take a look at the wonderful “Courthouse Square” apartments on Huron. That was a high-rise hotel that went bust, was converted to apartments, and has sunk into squalor and crime over the years. The boom in student housing is not going to last forever…. but we will be stuck with these ugly, nasty buildings for a long time. Isn’t it worthwhile to try to get some semblance of continuity rather than letting developers do whatever they want? And while we are at it, when will we charge developers for water, sewer and street repair for the monstrosities they throw up?

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