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N. Main condo backer pulls out

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N. Main condo backer pulls out

Developer cites 'uncertainties' about downtown density

Saturday, October 16, 2004

BY CATHERINE O'DONNELL

News Staff Reporters

Toll Brothers, co-developer of the proposed North Main Condominiums, has pulled out of the project, saying it can't wait for Ann Arbor to make up its mind about greater density.

"There were too many uncertainties, too many hurdles," said Bloomfield Township developer Mel VanderBrug, who with fellow developer Don Colone, had co-partnered with Toll Brothers on the project. A spokesman for the Toll Brothers, which builds housing around the country and has a divisional office in Farmington, could not be reached for comment.

A written statement from VanderBrug says he recently asked the city Planning Commission to table the proposal so they could redesign the project and that he and Colone are talking with other possible partners. In a telephone interview, VanderBrug said they might also downsize the project.

Last year, Ann Arbor residents voted overwhelmingly to approve a tax for a greenbelt around the city. However, they continue voicing concern over the density of development such a greenbelt would necessitate.

Planning Commission Member Jean Carlberg said it is very clear the community doesn't have consensus on whether it wants more residents downtown and needs to have a community discussion.

Local developer Ed Shaffran said losing Toll Brothers was disappointing.

"Toll Brothers is a New York Stock Exchange company," Shaffran said. "They have how many billions in assets? I can't imagine Toll Brothers come in as a minority player."

Shaffran said the company probably figured it needed a specific number of stories to make a profit and didn't think it could with a reduced plan.

"It is all about the numbers," he said. "Does it make economic sense? They obviously needed a specified number of units to pay for it and make a profit. If those numbers don't make sense, you go to the next deal."

VanderBrug has an agreement to buy the former St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church from McKinley, the real estate firm south of the church. He and Colone would also purchase two houses north of the church from other sellers.

At a Sept. 21 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 8-0 to table the condominiums, agreeing with neighbors and business owners who said the combination of a 14-story tower and a nine-story tower is too massive for the site.

"I'm going to assume that another developer will come forward and show interest in that site and will develop a project that the whole community can support," said Carlberg.

VanderBrug says he recently met with the Kerrytown District Association and Kerrytown merchants regarding the project and intends to meet with other neighborhood groups.

Meanwhile the public debate on the density issue and affordable housing in downtown Ann Arbor is likely to continue.

In meetings with the city, developers repeatedly cite high land prices and city requests for such things as affordable housing as reasons for relatively high prices - $400,000 and more - for downtown condominiums.

At the same time, home buyers have been slow to pay such prices because in many cases, they can buy a similar-size house on a parcel of land for the same price or less - and still have easy access to downtown Ann Arbor.

Catherine O'Donnell can be reached at [email protected] or (734) 994-6831.

Tom Gantert can be reached at [email protected] or (734) 994-6701

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