A bird’s-eye view of Ann Arbor’s north side housing boom

ANN ARBOR, MI — Just across the Huron River from downtown Ann Arbor and a short ride up Pontiac Trail, a big transformation of the landscape is underway.

Hundreds upon hundreds of new homes and apartments have been steadily rising on the city’s north side over the last five years, in some cases replacing old farm fields and vacant lands, and the north side housing boom is still going strong.

Over 1,200 new residences are included in projects in various stages of construction or completion on the north side, and several hundred more are in the pipeline.

Along the west side of Pontiac Trail, south of Dhu Varren Road, the new North Sky subdivision by Pulte Homes is still taking shape. Plans were approved five years ago for 139 single-family homes, plus a 56-unit condo or apartment building.

Many new homes now line new streets around a new playground, and more homes in North Sky are now under construction next to ones completed and occupied.

Directly to the south, Trinitas Ventures is making fast progress on a new 682-bed apartment complex called The One, which is designed to cater to University of Michigan students and expected to welcome its first tenants in late August.

Across the street on the east side of Pontiac Trail, another large site has been cleared to make way for a 69-unit townhouse project called Bristol Ridge. The development by Norfolk Homes includes 11 three-story buildings on seven acres.

The site has been prepped and construction is expected to start once the city approves building permits.

Next to the Bristol Ridge site, Robertson Brothers Homes is proposing 320 rental apartments and 241 for-sale homes in a development called The Village of Ann Arbor, with access off both Pontiac Trail and Dhu Varren Road.

A short drive east on Dhu Varren leads to North Oaks, another 472-unit condo development still taking shape along the west side of Nixon Road, both north and south of Dhu Varren.

Then across the street on Nixon Road is Owl Creek Apartments, a new 264-unit complex built by the Bleznak Real Estate Investment Group. The complex began welcoming tenants in June 2019 and is now 95% occupied, said Danielle Nelson, regional manager for Woodbury Management Inc.

On a recent evening, several tenants were lounging outside and enjoying the pool and sundeck.

“We have received much positive response from the first residents to call Owl Creek home,” Nelson said, adding some of the favorite amenities include a movie theater, golf simulator and a brand-new community dog park.

“We believe that being conveniently located near the north entry point of the city, while still being close to all the heart of the city has to offer, makes our community a true gem on the north side of Ann Arbor,” she said.

If condo sales at North Oaks are any indication, demand for housing on Ann Arbor’s north side is still strong, said Brooks Belhart, a sales manager for the Toll Brothers development.

Out of 472 condos in the development — not all of which are built yet — close to 300 were sold as of July 1, he said.

“Our townhome collection has been on fire as of late,” he said. “We are getting toward the last, I think, 60 sites on that side of the development. And on the north side of Dhu Varren, our villa collection, we are getting ready to open our final phase, phase three, around July 18 or 19.”

North Oaks markets itself as Ann Arbor’s most desirable new community, featuring luxury, low-maintenance residences with resort-style amenities.

Responding to customer demand, Toll Brothers has done more quick-delivery homes than normal because of the amount of people moving into the Ann Arbor area, Belhart said.

“Somebody will move into the area and say, ‘Hey, I need a house in three or four months,’ and we have it,” he said.

The North Oaks development is probably about 65-70% complete now and there’s “absolutely” enough demand to get it to full buildout, Belhart said.

Toll Brothers is now proposing another 56-home subdivision off Earhart Road in Ann Arbor.

The North Oaks community is primarily driven by University of Michigan employees, including doctors, professors and others who work at the hospital and on North Campus, Belhart said.

“We get a lot of people who are just relocating from bigger cities to come and work at the hospital,” he said, adding North Oaks sees a lot of interest from medical students who are matched for residencies at Michigan Medicine. “And they’re either purchasing for themselves or they’re having a family member who’s purchasing for them.”

Some of the final North Oaks villas being completed will have very private settings, surrounded by woods with a small pond, Belhart said, describing it as an Up North-like setting.

“This is a maintenance-free community, so you don’t cut your grass, you don’t take care of your roof, you don’t take care of your siding, you don’t have to take care of any landscaping,” he noted, adding all that is included in the $365 monthly homeowner association dues, along with access to a clubhouse with two pools, fitness center, yoga studio, bar and kitchen.

The townhomes start in the high $400,000s and the villas start in the high $500,000s, with some going for north of $1 million.

The Owl Creek Apartments website lists studios starting at $1,543 per month, one-bedroom units starting at $1,763, two-bedroom units starting at $2,149 and three-bedroom units starting at $2,526 per month.

Homes in the new North Sky subdivision start at about $420,000. Pulte markets them as low-maintenance living minutes from the heart of downtown Ann Arbor and near recreational activities.

“Your children will attend highly desired Ann Arbor schools, and you will live just minutes from major expressways, providing easy access to the metro Detroit area,” the website states.

The listed price range for the yet-to-be-built Bristol Ridge townhomes is low $400,000s to mid $400,000s.

The One apartment complex geared toward UM students has monthly per-bed rents ranging from $945 to $1,795 for its 211 apartments, which include a mix of one- to five-bedroom units. They’re expected to be ready for occupancy starting Aug. 24, said Damian VanMatre, Trinitas vice president of development.

Leasing was off to a slow start, but once the university released its plan for in-person fall classes, there was a significant increase in demand for housing, VanMatre said.

“We are currently 75% pre-leased with a steady rate of new leases signed each week,” he said.

There’s limited availability for three- and four-bedroom units, the website states.

The majority of tenants at The One likely will be UM students and, despite contrary arguments from some city officials and residents, Trinitas remains confident the city’s north side is a good location for student housing, VanMatre said, calling it a great opportunity for access to UM and nature areas.

It makes sense there’s a lot of new housing development on the city’s north side because that’s where some of the last open lots for developers to build in Ann Arbor could be found, said City Council Member Lisa Disch, D-1st Ward.

“This is a response to the fact that Ann Arbor is pretty oversaturated and we have the last available areas,” she said of her district, which includes Pontiac Trail.

Providing more housing in the city for people who might otherwise commute here for work can help take cars off the road, Disch said.

“A lot of the issues with traffic in Ann Arbor are actually the result of people who work in Ann Arbor and can’t find housing here, and so I welcome that,” she said.

“But my particular concern for Ward 1 specifically is that we’re seeing a lot of growth that puts greater density on Pontiac Trail and we do not have frequent bus service on that route.”

Disch said she’s also concerned about a lack of dining and shopping opportunities within close walking distance for north side residents and wishes there was more commercial or mixed-use development so there could be a neighborhood grocery store, restaurants or at least a convenience store to go along with all of the housing that’s being added.

“This development right now is not fully contributing to our sustainability goals,” she said.

As for whether Pontiac Trail could be rezoned to encourage other uses, Disch said, “It’s kind of too late.”

But there is mixed-use development planned in Lower Town just to the south, including a $100-million transformation of a riverfront site off Broadway Street, including 96 condos, a hotel and commercial spaces. That’s just down the street from the new Beekman on Broadway Apartments, which is expected to include a small amount of retail space in its next phase.


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