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Thursday December 05, 2019
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Ken Garber

Losing Lawsuit

Even before it breaks ground, a 682-bedroom student housing complex has already broken new ground.

by James Leonard

From the August, 2019 issue

The 32-acre project--improbably named the Cottages at Barton Green--will be on Pontiac Tr. near M-14. Though similar far-off-campus student complexes exist in other college towns, past efforts to build them here have failed in the face of resident and City Council objections.

If anything, the objections were even stronger this time. Responding to well-organized neighborhood opposition centered on the project's density and traffic, the planning commission voted against it 7-2. City Council rejected it 10-0.

It's going ahead anyway because the developer, Indiana-based Trinitas Ventures, had the resources and determination to sue the city--and won.

Though the city retained an outside law firm to handle the defense, the case ended in a settlement that will allow the project to be built almost exactly as first proposed in 2017. Council approved the settlement in July on a 7-4 vote.

Trinitas is a lawyer-heavy company. Its cofounder and CEO is an attorney, and it has a sizeable legal team. Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University, also learned that the hard way after it turned down a Trinitas project. The company sued, and there, too, it got virtually everything it wanted. As an Oxford councilmember noted, "Trinitas did not play well with others."

After Ann Arbor's surrender, officials tried to minimize the defeat. The Ann Arbor News quoted assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald as saying that "the development can have a maximum of 690 occupants, reduced from the 1,002 that would be allowed under city ordinance."

That's technically correct, but deeply misleading. Any claim that the settlement reduced the number of residents "is totally false," emails Ken Garber, a longtime opponent of the project and an Observer contributor.

The 1,002 figure, he explains, is based on the assumption that many of those 682 bedrooms would be occupied by two people. But "Trinitas long ago agreed to prevent double bedroom occupancy," Garber writes. "It's in their standard lease! All the city did was to get Trinitas to put in writing what it was going to do anyway."

With an anti-development majority on council, expect more litigation ahead. Next up: Peters Building Co. is challenging council's unanimous rejection of a subdivision on Packard.     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2019.]

 



 
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