Arbor Update

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2nd Calthorpe (Scanga) public workshop talk thread

23. September 2005 • Murph
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Tonight was the second workshop in the Downtown Development Strategies Workshop, at which I saw all sorts of you and, additionally, passed out our url to 120 people, so no doubt there are some people who want to talk Calthorpe. Rather than posting my own thoughts at length first this time, I’ll just provide a starting point.

And, go.

(The thread on the first Calthorpe workshop may also be useful reading for newcomers.)

Edit: Activity Description

For those who weren’t there, the workshop began with a welcome from Mayor Hieftje, including mention of the previous day’s Ann Arbor-Detroit transit meetings and the fact that 56,000(?) people commute into Ann Arbor every day. Planner Joey Scanga talking about some of the things that came out of the first workshop, and introduced local landscape architect Peter Pollack to mention the new Greenway Task Force and the Berkeley consultant chosen to do a market analysis of Ann Arbor as a “reality check” on this process’ assumptions.

Most of the workshop (almost 2 hours) was a table exercise, with each table given one of six regions of downtown that the planners had identified to work on. These regions were the Liberty corridor/”core downtown”, Huron corridor, North Main/Kerrytown, South Main/William, South University, and western edge/railway/greenway. Tables focused on more detailed examination of their assigned areas, with presentations to the group at the end (stretching on for 45 minutes past the scheduled end of the workshop).

  1. I thought this was a much more useful workshop than the first session. People were not forced to assume a huge amount of growth; instead, each group focused on a small sector of downtown and was asked to produce a map of what it wanted.

    The results were realistic, and took into account the limits to a lot of growth in downtown.

    My big concern now is that the Economics Task force, which is to provide a “reality check” on the demand for housing in downtown, turns out to consist almost completely of developers and their allies! Since their livelihood depends on pushing projects, these people will conclude that there is a large demand for housing downtown. Such a result will not be the “reality check” which is intended. Instead, it will be yet another exercise in developer fantasy.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 23 '05 - 12:44PM    #
  2. Could someone please post a brief summary on the exercise last night? I wasn’t able to go because of a client meeting at the same time.
       —KGS    Sep. 23 '05 - 01:14PM    #
  3. David – on the one hand, you’re quick to point out how many projects in downtown have gone belly-up, and how considering a large amount of growth is unrealistic because it’s not economically feasible, and the market won’t build it even if we decide to zone for it. On the other, you’re decrying the economic analysis advisory group for being full of developers, saying that they’ll claim there to be an unlimited market.

    How do you reconcile this – no market, and the developers won’t build it, so we shouldn’t zone for it, vs developers pushing for unlimited zoning because there’s an unlimited market that they’re waiting to cash in on? Developers will abide by the market, even if we give them free rein, but developers will wax fantastic and so we shouldn’t trust them?
       —Murph.    Sep. 23 '05 - 02:06PM    #
  4. (Dave and I were in the same group…)

    The results were realistic, and took into account the limits to a lot of growth in downtown.

    I felt very strongly that our group was considering limits to growth that don’t actually exist, or, at least, over-considering the limits that do exist.

    From recent discussions here, it’s predictable that Dave and I disagreed on how static a historic district is – some members of the group were interested in looking for redevelopment possibilities within historic design standards; others struck the historic districts from consideration entirely.

    A similar disagreement was on turf issues, with some feeling that school property, county property, and city property were untouchable because those entities would never give up the land. A major sticking point was the surface parking lots at Fourth and Catherine – one city, one county. The group’s final map included mid-rise (4-5 story) development on each of these, including replacement parking (with at least one of the two preserving high-bay ground-level parking for farmers’ market vendor parking); the dissenters felt no development should be considered on those sites due to the political unlikelihood that those surface lots would be given up.

    I think our product was overly pessimistic, and focused more on barriers to any sort of change than on what we thought would be good. (Unless “barriers to change” were what we thought would be good…)
       —Murph.    Sep. 23 '05 - 02:24PM    #
  5. To echo what Murph said earlier, you seem, Dave, to insist that all developers are greedy despoilers of the earth, masters of wringing every nickel of profit out of every project, damn the good people of Ann Arbor, and yet you think these same developers so incompetent as to build large buildings no one will live in. How do you get to have it both ways? Is it possible, perhaps, that you fear they’re right, and that you’re petrified of giving them the chance to prove it? What sort of undesirables do you think will move in? Who are you scared of?
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 23 '05 - 02:32PM    #
  6. I think that’s my question too – for those who don’t want x, y, or z to happen, what exactly is the reason why not? Once we have the reasons for objecting on the table, we can start to work on addressing them, and work on making something good happen.

    For any given idea, rather than throwing up reasons why it “won’t” or “can’t” happen, let’s work on elaborating the reasons why is should or should not happen – and if it should, then we can work on how.
       —Murph    Sep. 23 '05 - 03:36PM    #
  7. Well, darn. Here are the lead paragraphs from the AA News’ article in today’s (Friday’s) paper:

    “Whether it wants them or not, the city of Ann Arbor should prepare for more high-rises of up to 15 stories jutting from the downtown skyline as a future fact of life, says a consultant hired by the city to review its plan.

    “Joey Scanga, a consultant with Calthorpe Associates, made his comments after a four-hour workshop Thursday at the Courthouse Square Senior Apartments where many residents of the city, architects and planners plotted the type of downtown they want.

    “Many of the plans presented by the 18 or so separate work groups discussed buildings of sizes between 5 to 10 stories. But few dotted the city map with the 9- to 15-level buildings that have become the hot topic of development in the city the past several years.”

    End of text. So Calthorpe has already decided that we “need” huge buildings, even though there was no support for them at the meeting, in comments made after the meeting.

    Tom Gantert smoked Calthorpe out!

    This information, coupled with the stacked Economics task force, is pretty good evidence that we were participating in a sham.

    As to why developers would want to build projects that will go belly-up, let’s remember who benefits from a dubious project and who does not. The urban planners, developers, architects, construction managers, and contractors do really well. The investors in the project, down the line, take the bath.
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 23 '05 - 03:56PM    #
  8. “Developers will abide by the market, even if we give them free rein,”

    Sorry Murph but there are plenty of empty new buildings and developments in many American cities that prove that developers make decisions on reasons that have nothing to do with “the market”. That’s not an endorsement of the opposing position but just to remind you that no matter how rationale a market process might be, many of the people making decisions are not.
       —John Q    Sep. 23 '05 - 04:36PM    #
  9. The urban planners, developers, architects, construction managers, and contractors do really well. The investors in the project, down the line, take the bath.

    What a bunch of bull! First of all, most of the urban planners in this town gain nothing by development; they are hired by the city and do their jobs. Whether a job goes forward or not, is built or not, relates NOT AT ALL to their jobs. Get it straight.

    Also, if a development company consistently screws over their investors, guess what? they go under. No one does business with them any more. That’s a patently stupid business model to follow. Banks are not stupid.

    Here’s a real life example: the Collegian was supposed to have 2 more stories on it, for residential. They weren’t built. Why? Because the bank wouldn’t lend the developer money for them. Even with a far-sighted developer who can see the demand coming, the financial institutions are more than cautious about who they lend their money to and for what purpose.

    And guess what? if a project doesn’t get built, NO ONE profits. The architects lose money because the fees are dependant, a lot of the time, on % of building costs. CMs don’t get paid because they don’t do any work.

    Moreover, everyone involved with a project – developers, architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, etc – can end up taking a bath when it comes to downtown projects in this town because the process is so damn long and complicated.

    So don’t give me that line that people in the development industry get all this money from projects that fail or don’t get built. That’s just not true.
       —KGS    Sep. 23 '05 - 04:41PM    #
  10. Er, KGS, I was talking about projects that do get built and then fail.

    I got my info on failed downtown projects from Del Dunbar, who is a leading player in McKinley Associates. I thought it was pretty bizarre myself, but Del is an ultra-reliable source.

    Don’t blame the messenger. 8-)
       —David Cahill    Sep. 23 '05 - 04:57PM    #
  11. Doesn’t matter – my point is that you are putting blame where it does not belong, and overblowing a potential scenario. I think that it is a VERY small percentage of projects that are built & fail, and where the developers still manage to make money out of the failure. Usually if a project fails, the developer is out a certain amount of money too. As for everyone else you blamed – architects, planners, contractors – they were just doing the job they were hired to do, and if a project fails sometimes they don’t get paid, either. So why the rhetoric?
       —KGS    Sep. 23 '05 - 06:01PM    #
  12. The various developers (and builders) who paraded through Peter Allen’s class last year as guest speakers all seemed pretty conservative to me – none of them seemed interested in risky projects. All of them talked about ways to get more certainty about costs, more certainty about the market, and more chance to bail (not build) early on if the project wasn’t going to work.

    While, yes, developers do sometimes make bad decisions and misguess the market, and banks do sometimes make bad decisions along with them (and perhaps both are prone to more irrational exuberance in Ann Arbor than they would be in, say, Jackson), I don’t think Ann Arbor is in any danger of being filled up with big, empty buildings.

    Dave, look to your neighborhood for the example – is Lower Town full of big, new empty buildings? Nope, it’s still got the same ol’ empty Kroger/CVS that’s been there forever. Broadway Village hasn’t been built yet because the lenders (some of whom are public entities) won’t release funding until the developer demonstrates the market demand to make the project successful through preleasing.
       —Murph.    Sep. 23 '05 - 06:37PM    #
  13. Lumping urban planners into the bunch of people “in it for profit” is unfair. I am an undergrad sociology major and want to go into planning because I’m interested in making cities physically pleasant to be in while also addressing social inequalities. These two elements don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and it’s disappointing that there hasn’t been more discussion about ways that New Urbanist-inspired new buildings can be visually attractive and better serve residents’ needs.

    Instead, there is plenty of argument against “density” or against “tall buildings,” without explaining either (1) what people mean by the terms, or (2) why people don’t favor them. I think that when some people hear “15 story building” they automatically think of the projects (which is understandable, since there are so few examples of visually attractive taller buildings in Ann Arbor).

    But while I understand the backlash, I think that focusing on “greedy developers/urban planners/architects” diverts the conversation from what would ultimately be more productive: How can we build taller buildings that are not intrusive, that are pedestrian friendly, that aren’t wind tunnels or create tall shadows, etc., etc.? When people say, “people are forcing tall buildings down our throats,” then we should be discussing issues like affordable housing/housing for artists/younger people/older people downtown and ways to accommodate it rather than saying everything is purely done out of greed. I don’t plan on earning much as an urban planner, and profit is the last reason I want to go into the profession.
       —Audreyv    Sep. 23 '05 - 06:59PM    #
  14. You still haven’t told us what you’re scared of, Dave. Empty buildings are only scary to little kids. You afraid of ghosts?

    You just keep smugly insinuating that the well-intentioned pro-urban vibrancy people who post here are somehow in bed with the developers, or too stupid to see that they’re being used by the big development “man”, or just plain silly. Can you turn down the condescension a notch or two—at least when dealing with the folks here who are trying to take you seriously and not be snotty with you? So what’s so scary? What’s going to happen if a few buildings go up?

    On another note (and this question is for the whole group), I’m wondering if it’s good or bad that Freed seems to be acquiring so much land. On the one hand, I’m suspicious of a single outfit controlling too much land, but on the other hand, if they screw up the first project they build, and the “People of Ann Arbor” choose to express their displeasure, Freed’ll never again pull a permit to build a kitchen addition in Ann Arbor. So maybe they’ll go above and beyond to deliver a first rate product?
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 23 '05 - 07:27PM    #
  15. I’m wondering if it’s good or bad that Freed seems to be acquiring so much land.

    While I don’t find their designs exciting, I appreciate the scale and mixed use aspects of their plans. Though, I think ultimate judgement should be reserved until they actually do something with the land they’ve bought.

    I’m suspicious of a single outfit controlling too much land…

    I trust, then, that you’ve been keeping a close eye on McKinley and the like who have their hands on much more than Freed.
       —FAA    Sep. 23 '05 - 08:52PM    #
  16. Heck, I’m just pointing out the obvious: people act according to their perceived interests. Lots of folks in AA think it is in the public interest not to have a bunch of big buildings in downtown. Relax to the logic of this situation.

    As to Broadway Village, the city is requiring 75% pre-leasing. If the industry standard were this high, maybe we would have fewer built-and-failed projects.

    Back to the topic of this article. A whole roomful of people at the Calthorpe event decided that they did not want huge buildings. Will their view ultimately prevail, or not? Should it, or not?
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 23 '05 - 08:59PM    #
  17. Dave, you’re not just pointing out the obvious. You’re taunting.

    Now I ask, for the THIRD time, what are YOU afraid of? What are your “interests”? Do I need to give you a list of options?

    a. I’m afraid of buildings because I worry about increased tradffic.

    b. I’m afraid of buildings because I like open space.

    c. I’m afraid of builsings because I think they creat wind tunnels.

    d. I’m afraid of buildings because I don’t know what sort of “element” will inhabit them.

    e. I’m afraid of buildings because I don’t want the sun blocked out.

    f. I’m afraid of buildings because I don’t want my view blocked.

    g. I’m afraid of buildings because I don’t want any old things torn down.

    h. I’m afraid of buildings because they may sit empty and turn into crack houses.

    i. I’m afraid of buildings because because I don’t like the dust and noise of construction.

    j. I’m afraid of buildings because I think downtown Ann Arbor should be one big, giant, open park.

    k. I’m afraid of buildings because modern architecture is icky.

    l. I’m afraid of buildings because any change could have a negative effect on my property value.

    m. I’m afraid of buildings because increased runoff of storm water will polute the river.

    n. I’m afraid of buildings because birds might crash into them.

    o. I’m afraid of buildings because I want Ann Arbor to be a charming small town.

    p. I’m afraid of buildings because graves and pottery and shit might get dug up by the construction.

    q. I’m afraid of buildings because I’m a cranky old lawer and I like to taunt little whipersnappers who want to muck with the status quo.

    r. I’m afraid of buildings because I dread that eventually they’ll encroach into my neighborhood and the house and garden I spent so many years making beautiful will be bulldozed by a bunch of bastards who don’t give a fuck how many hours I spent watering, trimming, painting, and just generally nurturing the place I love and look after(this is, in fact, my own secret fear).

    s. I’m afraid of buildings because I hate the idea of anyone making a profit off of them.

    t. I’m afraid of buildings because I can’t know ahead of time what sort of businesses will locate in them.

    u. I’m afraid of buildings because they’ll impact parking.

    v. I’m afraid of buildings because I can’t know ahead of time if they’ll be pretty.

    w. I’m afraid of buildings because I like to play soccer in that vacant lot.

    x. I’m afraid of buildings because I have a dream of building my own building, but it will be a few years before I have the money lined up and I don’t want all the land used up by then.

    y. I’m afraid of buildings because I used to want to be a builder and my father beat the notion out of me.

    z. I’m afraid of buildings because my father was a builder.

    Feel free to pick anything from the above list, or add our own, but until you enlighten us as to your real interest, I’m going to “perceive” your interest to be ugly, base, and selfish.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 23 '05 - 09:20PM    #
  18. Not to sound too much like my buddy Blaine, but still waiting, Dave.

    I really want to “relax to the logic”. Christ I do. Fuck knows I could use some relaxing. But I suggested twenty-six (26) possible reasons why it might not, as you so selflessly said, be in the “public interest not to have a bunch of big buildings in downtown”. And I didn’t even ask about the “public interest”. All I wanted to know, as you may recall, is why you, Dave Cahill atty, believe that “more BIG (emphasis mine) buildings downtown” might not be in your personal interest. Obviously you have a stake in this. Tell me, man, what’s up?

    And by the way, if “more” (meaning any?) “big buildings” (big like five, six, ten stories? Or big like, bigger than a breadbox?) don’t go downtown, then where, please, would you have them go?Scio? Pittsfield? Pinckney? Stockbridge? Ohio? Boston? Please, Dave, I want to know. ‘Cause me, and this is purely a personal thing I freely confess, I’d like to live in a city that isn’t just an architectural museum filled with fucking ticky-tacky, bullshit, fudgie-enabling, pet-pampering, soccer mom coddling, EXPENSIVE shit in it. I don’t own an SUV and a triple stroller and I don’t feel that the desires of my constituency are being properly represented.

    Now, please, I have a legal question. You’re obviously an excellent attorney, and you clearly are willing to stick your neck out. What you did for Jake Baker, well, that was a masterpiece of putting the law above your conscience. Kudos. So what I’m wondering is, how much would we, the ArborUpdate community, have to raise to hire you to represent us? Would you be willing to be our legal representative as we petition the city of Ann Arbor for a more Urban Union? Think about it. We could use the help. And with the proceeds you could maybe buy a house in Saline.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 24 '05 - 03:03AM    #
  19. Forgive me for being such a pest, but shortly after I logged off I had a naughty thought. You’re not already representing someone, are you Dave? I mean, representing in the legal sense? Because if that were the case, you couldn’t represent us, right? Of course, I know it’s wicked of me to even suspect that you’re posing here as a concerned citizen when in fact you’re a mercenary motherfucker, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess that the thought did cross my mind.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 24 '05 - 03:28AM    #
  20. hold on there PS dude. i believe doug mulkhoff is due the jake baker props.
       —peter honeyman    Sep. 24 '05 - 03:52AM    #
  21. Actually the County owns two surface parking lots in the downtown. One is at Catherine and Fourth (referred to in the comments), which is used by county employees during the day and open to the public for free at night and on week-ends. The other, which most people don’t realize, is the one at Ann and Main (site of the old county jail). It is leased to the city and DDA manages the parking (metered) as part of the Ann/Ashley complex. There is no reason to believe that the county would not be open to the sale of one or both, or a cooperative venture for public use of some sort. There has been talk in the past of a parking structure for Kerrytown using the two lots on Catherine.
       —Leah    Sep. 24 '05 - 11:30AM    #
  22. Hahaha!! Great stuff, dude who likes parking structures. And I’m not afraid of using my real name here. No, I don’t have a client. And no, I’m not interested in representing the Arborupdate community.

    Thanx for the kudos on Jake Baker. Doug Mullkoff and I shared the heavy lifting. It’s always good to be able to win a big victory for free speech.

    Hm. Well, it’s been a day since I said we were participating in a sham on Thursday evening. It’s good to see that nobody disagrees with me.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 24 '05 - 02:22PM    #
  23. I think it’s more that nobody sees the use of explicitly disagreeing with you. It might be less of a sham if people came in order to participate honestly rather than to entertain themselves by thwarting anybody else’s attempts to improve the town…
       —Murph    Sep. 24 '05 - 04:13PM    #
  24. OK, I’ll bite Dave.

    Wanna hear what the sham is? The fools who say that they are against tall buildings without a. defining what tall buildings mean, or b. coming up with an non-selfish reason for not wanting tall buildings even though they haven’t defined what tall means.

    How’s that?

    I’ve sat through the tv broadcasts of all of the downtown development series so far, and each and every consultant has told us that same damn thing.

    If Ann Arbor values (as it claims to, repeatedly):

    -affordable housing
    -true diversity, economic or otherwise
    -preserve/grow the character of the town
    -support of local businesses
    -preserve greenspace/farmland that surrounds the city
    -discourage use of cars
    -encourage alternative transportation
    -provide ‘workforce’ housing
    -discourage the construction of strip malls outside of town
    -discourage urban sprawl

    Then building up is the way to go.

    Now Dave, since you obviously see through the “sham” that is the Calthorpe exercise, can you kindly point to a single Ann Arbor value that will be “ruined” by tall buildings? Or better yet, please tell me how a bunch of crappy 4 story buildings are going to promote any of the values listed above?

    The sham, Dave, is that self-centered citizens are running out of bullshit reasons for not allowing serious infill in the center of the city. Ann Arbor is supposed to be different from rich-o Republican cities with no soul. Ann Arborite, hopefully, will be able to point to a new 18 building and say “See that? That one less goddamn stip mall on the edge of town. That’s three fewer blocks filled with McMansions in Saline. And that $300,000 towards the installation and maintenance of the greenway that’s north of town.”

    The entire purpose of the Calthorpe exercise, Dave, is to get uniformed citzens to see that density is in Ann Arbor’s best interest if, and only if they value the items in the above list. They are giving you the understanding and the tools to reinforce the above list of values.

    To reiterate: You cannot preserve the ‘character’ of Ann Arbor by doing nothing. And I define nothing as the current tact.

    And if you don’t believe my explanation of the purpose of the Calthorpe exercise, then how’s this: do you really think that we would spend tens of thousands of dollars so that we can simply continue the same course that we are on?
       —todd    Sep. 24 '05 - 05:18PM    #
  25. Todd, you seem to be saying that the Calthorpe program was set up as an exercise in persuasion to an already-determined point of view, rather than an exercise in information gathering to find out what people want.].

    You seem to be supporting my view that the Calthorpe program is indeed a sham.

    I don’t know who you are, since you are not using all of your name here. But by saying “do you really think that we would spend tens of thousands of dollars so that we can simply continue the same course that we are on?” you seem to say that you have personal knowledge of what Calthorpe is trying to accomplish.

    If so, this is an astounding admission of perfidy.

    Who are you, really? And what, if any, is your connection to Calthorpe? Or to any of the groups that are funding Calthorpe’s study?
       —David Cahill    Sep. 24 '05 - 09:10PM    #
  26. Todd,

    “Because the pro-development regime that controls this town wants to pull a veil of legitimacy over its corruption, and so is bringing in ‘experts’ to try to sell their big-business agenda to the citizens of Ann Arbor.”

    (Just to get it out of the way…)
       —Murph    Sep. 24 '05 - 09:19PM    #
  27. Oops…Dave slipped a comment in before I could posted mine…and I can’t tell which one is supposed to be satirical…

    As far as I know, Todd has no connection to Calthorpe or to the groups funding the study (i.e. “the city”) – I think he just feels a little betrayed every time Ann Arborites claim to support small local business and then string small local business owners like him out to dry.
       —Murph    Sep. 24 '05 - 09:23PM    #
  28. Speaking as a student who is proudly registered in A2,
    and further speaking as a refugee from the sprawling abomination that is Oakland county (Novi to be specific):

    Density is the way to go.

    when I think of the character of downtown ann arbor, i don’t think of the size of its buildings, i think of the it economic aspects we hold dear: small, locally owned businesses; walkability.

    There’s land where we can put stuff! As far as I’m concerned, there are very few reasons to have a flat parking lot in Ann Arbor. The lots on Liberty, across from Liberty video, on Ann, and Catherine, could be turned into mixed used buildings: double or trible level basement parking, commerical on the ground floor that opens opportunties for local business, office space in the middle floors, and then residential lofts at the top.
    Hell, these buildings don’t even have to be that tall. they could even be less than 10 stories and still have a lot of positive economic and cultural impact. More parking. Lower rents for businesses. Better housing, lowering rents. Hell, the city could even put conditions on the sale of some of the property that some of the housing has to be rent-controlled and thus within the price-range of the working class. Imagine that! Working class people, right here, in Ann Arbor.

    Density. We don’t even have to knock down things we love like the Fleetwood. We can start with empty lots.
       —Ryan Bates    Sep. 25 '05 - 07:46AM    #
  29. Sure, the exercises are a “sham” in the sense that the council is going to do what it wants to do anyway. That’s just how these things go. But it’s still important because, first of all, if the council didn’t hold the exercises, everyone would get up in arms about how there was no public input, and secondly, because people do need to learn what options the council is facing. I see them basically as exercises in public understanding, and as an outlet for those who feel they need to stand up and say what they want and how they feel about things. This will be useful to the council as they continue to consider what the best interests of the city are, but the influence is more indirect than direct. This might be more of a sham if you believe in direct participatory democracy, but most cities (including Ann Arbor) are goverened by a kind of indirect representative democracy, which means that public input is only direct on election day (and probably not even then, unless you have a 100% turnout rate.)

    Anyway, getting back to the exercises, my point is that yes, it would be nice if we could find some sort of public consensus on the direction of city development—but exercises like these are necessary if we’re even going to get everyone on the same page in terms of understanding many of the issues. I’d wager the council understands the issues better than most citizens (though maybe not all…), and so these exercises are a good way to raise public understanding of the issues, hopefully improving the admittedly kind of messy process of governing the city.

    As for the question of density and tall buildings, I tend to agree that they’re necessarily if the city wants to achieve other goals, including more open space in the county, more affordable housing, fewer large-lot subdivisions, and the like. So, tall buildings are a way to achieve these goals using the market. The only alternative, it seems to me, would be to try and declare independence from the market somehow, by using draconian methods to limit and control development, but I think this is the wrong way to go, because it will lead to higher costs of living—and that is because Ann Arbor is currently in demand as a nice place to live, so if you try and cut off the supply, the demand will send the prices higher. And it seems to me that the only alternative to that would be to drive demand down by making Ann Arbor a not-so-nice place to live, which nobody wants. This ties in to my overall view of the development of SE Michigan, but I’ll stop there for now.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 25 '05 - 05:50PM    #
  30. Poor Novi, it never gets any respect.

    It should be noted that not all of Oakland County is sprawl. Many of the neighborhoods in places like Royal Oak, Ferndale and Hazel Park have density and walkability that you won’t find in some of Ann Arbor’s neighborhoods (that’s right, areas of A2 are very sprawly, esp. in NE A2 and the Briarwood area). Also, the County (despite L. Brooks Patterson’s comments to the contrary) has been pretty active with their Main Street program to help support traditional downtowns and also their efforts to assist in the development of rails-to-trails. That’s not to say that sprawl isn’t spilling across the O.C. – it is. But it’s not a completely unmitigated disaster.
       —John Q.    Sep. 25 '05 - 07:24PM    #
  31. I do think that the workshop exercise was slanted – but I think it slanted in the direction of inertia and the status quo.


    Historic districts were marked on the map, allowing them to be treated as “fixed” – look! The map says so! Rents? Not marked on the map. Absentee ownership? Not marked on the map. These things could be conveniently ignored, or at least treated as lower-ranking concerns, because of their absence in the representation.

    We’re given chits to put down for greenways, pocket parks, community gardens, and so on (all nice and desirable things!) – but no chits for “mixed-income housing”, “walkable neighborhoods”, or “unique local businesses”. Anything placed on the map represented form, and not function, encouraging discussion and decision-making to prioritize concerns over form over the functionality that the form enabled or denied.

    I would have liked to see a set of scales printed on the map that the group had to decide on. “On each 1-10 scale, mark how important you think that community value is: affordable housing, non-car transportation, unique local businesses, prevention of sprawl, historic preservation, parkland, watershed quality, ...” The group would then have to explicitly acknowledge the prioritizations that people were bringing – it could be noted that someone like Dave places a much higher value on historic preservation than on affordable housing, or that someone like Doug Cowherd places a much higher value on parkland than on the health of Ann Arbor’s small local businesses.

    If we wanted to go a step further, this could be presented as tradeoffs, with community goals places in pairs at opposite ends of a slider, so that groups would have to acknowledge and discuss conflicts and tradeoffs between goals. Yes, downtown parkland would be nice, and, yes, prevention of sprawl would be nice, but if there came a point when we had to pick what kind of a balance between those two things we wanted, what would we pick? Do we preserve every building in town as a vital piece of history that contributes to the city’s character? Or do we accept that some amount of change is necessary, and that not every old building can remain forever if we’re ever going to get affordable housing?

    If this were paired with the chit-placing exercise, it would allow Scanga to say, “Well, you say you value parkland downtown, affordable housing, local businesses, and historic preservation – but that you also don’t want any tall buildings. Something’s got to give here.” In fact, that sounds a lot like what he did say to the Ann Arbor News, as quoted above, but (conveniently for the folks who want to attack the process), the only part of it that the workshop’s product represents is not wanting any tall buildings.
       —Murph.    Sep. 25 '05 - 09:32PM    #
  32. In my group (we had the William and South Main section), we put the buildings we thought appropriate in the appropriate spots. So we had at least two buildings of 10+ stories (one at the gas station next to Ashley Mews in hopes of making Ashley Mews a little more coherent in that space) and one on the old Y space (along with many other amenities). We also added things like a convention center and at least one large hotel. We added several 6-8 story residential buildings along Ashley, William, and Main (including several without parking since we had included a grocery store/gym/daycare/drugstore/civic centers/library all within a few blocks). Had we had more time, we would have added more tall residential. For instance, the Chamber building at the corner of Main and William had escaped our attention until the end, but I think there was agreement that it could be replaced with something in the ten-story range.

    As usual, the Ann Arbor News read a lot into a few people’s statements. I’m not sure the general consensus was to prevent tall buildings. Instead, it was to put tall buildings where they made sense but have a varied streetscape—keeping the historic and useful buildings, but building up and changing the uses of other buildings and empty lots. For example, while we built residential up on the West side of Ashley, we felt you could move the existing local retail stores like Red Shoes into the older houses on William since their historic value is probably greater than the little houses on Ashley. This would help link Main St. with State St. corridors while maintaining low-end retail opportunities and historic buildings.

    My husband (who has done economic analysis for a living) went to talk to the woman doing the economic analysis after the meeting and asked her about the wisdom of speaking only to developers. His impression was that she thought this was not a static group and this was only one cohort and that they would be talking to many groups of people. So while it certainly is important to talk to developers, they (hopefully) understand that you can not get the whole picture by including only developers in an economic analysis.

    I think this process is not only interesting, but fairly useful to get people thinking about what they do value in Ann Arbor and what decisions they would make. While there are some people who think that every building should be a 20+ story building downtown, and also those who would never build another building ever, I think most people are actually very much in the middle. The News loves to portray “sides” as do the people on each end, but I think most of residents actually believe in similar growth objectives.
       —Juliew    Sep. 25 '05 - 10:35PM    #
  33. Juliew wrote:
    In my group (we had the William and South Main section), we put the buildings we thought appropriate in the appropriate spots. So we had at least two buildings of 10+ stories (one at the gas station next to Ashley Mews in hopes of making Ashley Mews a little more coherent in that space)

    The developer on the Ashley Mews project tried very hard to acquire the corner Amoco when Ashley Mews was being designed. They were aware of connection to the rest of South Main and wanted to create a more coherent project.

    But the oil company recognized that it had an obvious cash cow there, and didn’t want to sell.
       —archipunk    Sep. 26 '05 - 01:27PM    #
  34. Here, here, Young Urban Amateur. Well said.

    The workshops are NOT a sham. The system of reviewing development and encouraging development we want in Ann Arbor is desperately broken – this is why Calthorpe was brought in. It is his company’s job to try to find out what we want, of course, but also to ask what can we achieve, given the challenges we face in the next 25 years? if everyone who attended the workshops also attended the lectures, you would know that we are facing at least a 5% increase in the population; the increasing disparity between rich & poor, and the lack of affordable housing in Ann Arbor; the possibility of 3 ‘slightly smaller than Briarwood’ malls outside our downtown as national chains move in to serve a drastically underserved but rich population; the high value of on-street parking; how national chains help local businesses, etc. How can we accomodate an influx of people and businesses, and keep them downtown? How can we continue to support local businesses and affordable housing? David Cahill, if you have the answers, I’m sure we’d like to hear them.

    Keeping the system as is does not work. Keep it as is, and you’ll continue to get buildings like the Corner Apartments, mostly single-use buildings that no one likes instead of mixed-use buildings at appropriate locations. Congrats.
       —KGS    Sep. 26 '05 - 02:09PM    #
  35. Archipunk,

    I know that the Ashley Mews developer tried to buy the gas station, but what I wonder is: once they knew they couldn’t, why didn’t they modify the design of the building? They designed a building that is obviously supposed to be on the corner so now it looks odd because it isn’t on the corner (and the retail space suffers because of it). I thought that was why you have architects—to design buildings that look right on their lots. Everyone derides Corner House Lofts, but at least it looks right on the lot and the retail and residential (KGS, why is this not mixed use?) have been rented from the beginning. The tall building at Ashley Mews has a lot of nice detail, but it doesn’t look (or function) like the correct building for that space.
       —Juliew    Sep. 26 '05 - 02:13PM    #
  36. Juliew – Corner House Lofts is technically mixed use by the fact of having commercial use on the ground floor and residential above. It could have been ‘more’ mixed use by including office. However the bigger gripe with that building is primarily the architecture of it; Planning Commission & Council were promised a building with arched windows, balconies at the corners, different colors of brick and more brick details, and none of those things made it into the final building. A better case of bait-and-switch cannot be found in A2 as far as I am concerned. Why the city doesn’t have a rule requiring buildings to be built as close to the planning documents as possible is beyond me.

    As for Ashley Mews, how would you design it differently – given that the client wanted an 7-story office building and as many 3-story condos as possible? from discussions with some planning staff, it sounds like they expect the gas station to go away at some point, and when that happens hopefully a similar corner building will be built.
       —KGS    Sep. 26 '05 - 02:27PM    #
  37. “like the correct building for that space”... “They designed a building that is obviously supposed to be on the corner”

    I beg to differ. There is no single right form for a lot or situation. There are multiple solutions to every architecture and planning “problem” and I’m sure you realize CONTEXTS CHANGE.
       —Dale    Sep. 26 '05 - 02:29PM    #
  38. “Planning Commission & Council were promised a building with arched windows, balconies at the corners, different colors of brick and more brick details, and none of those things made it into the final building.”

    Why isn’t that kind of detail required as part of the site plan approval? I know in many suburban communities, you couldn’t get away with a switch like that. I’m surprised that Ann Arbor’s ordinances allow such shenanigans.
       —John Q    Sep. 26 '05 - 03:36PM    #
  39. Regarding the Corner House Lofts, one of the recent articles in the News had the architect of the building, rather defensively, arguing that he thinks he did a really nice job on the building, considering the budget he had to work with. Is it possible that they may have intended, early in the process, to build a nicer building, but that various city-mandated delays whittled away their margin, forcing them to whittle away on the facade details? Maybe just wishful thinking, but I’d rather blame it on the city for pissing around so long approving things.

    I remember watching the building going up and noticing that they were using these big panels of fake brick facing material and thinking “uh-oh.” Are those brick panels any good? They look pretty flimsy, and would seem to limit the amount of detail you could include. Although I also watched them use them on the Collegian, where they switched to real brick and stone on the ground level around the entrance, to much better effect I think.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 26 '05 - 03:50PM    #
  40. Because nowhere in the ordinances, except in PUDs, are aesthetics allowed to be reviewed by Planning Commission. Or at least, they aren’t supposed to. They make aesthetic comments all the time anyway, often conflicting ones! which is about as helpful as not receiving any comments at all.

    Should this change? I’m not sure. On the one hand, it would be nice to have a set of minimum standards to apply to all buildings in the city. On the other, I would hate some extreme traditionalist tell me that I could only design in the Greek style. It would really depend on the standards, and if they could be applied across a variety of architectural styles.
       —KGS    Sep. 26 '05 - 03:50PM    #
  41. Why the city doesn’t have a rule requiring buildings to be built as close to the planning documents as possible is beyond me.

    I agree that this is a big problem. I know with the 828 Greene building, Jean Carlberg on City Council kept saying to the developer: “you promise that you are going to build the building you have pictured here today, with the bigger windows and the brick and the detail.” I thought it was odd at the time because I didn’t know there was no real follow-up on this, but seems like it is a pretty big problem. At the first Calthorpe meeting, I talked to the planner who had approved 828 Greene and off the top of his head he thought that the final approved building was all siding, no brick. So we will see what eventually goes up, but it does seem like these sorts of details need to be required and enforced.
       —Juliew    Sep. 26 '05 - 03:54PM    #
  42. PSD – the Collegian doesn’t have any fake brick except in one very small, mostly hidden location. The Corner House Lofts is entirely fake brick. I’m sure the budget dictated a lot of how the CH Lofts look, but what I don’t know is why the budget was so changed from the early design drawings to the construction. Was it the developer, looking at more than he could afford? was it city delays and nearly-mandatory payments to the park fund and affordable housing? who knows.
       —KGS    Sep. 26 '05 - 03:54PM    #
  43. Thanks, KGS. I must have walked by the Collegian on a day they were using the fake brick. I’d never seen it before, so I stopped and stared for a few minutes. I was really pleased with the final result of the building. Too bad the condos fell by the wayside.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 26 '05 - 04:00PM    #
  44. There are some form-based standards that can be applied fairly safely, I think, without getting to the point where everything is Greek. You can require, for example, that any new construction within the DDA district build to the sidewalk line (and, unless good reason is given, build to the side lotlines as well).

    Chelsea has a bit in its central business district zoning that says the ground-level facade of any building must be at least 50% (or 75%?) glass, which would have been a nice thing to have around Ann Arbor at the time certain banks, Ann Arbor News buildings, and Ameritech fortresses were built…

    Now, even these requirements might not be things that you want every single building ever to conform to, but make the standards the default, and give the CPC the ability to ease the requirements at their discretion, and you create a situation where the developer (and Planning Commission) have to justify a fortress, rather than CPC pleading for something different.

    The design switcharoo with Corner House (and LoFT322) has to do with, I believe, the fact that CPC approves a certain envelope, but features can be changed as long as they’re within that envelope. (When a DDA committee asked the LoFT322 developers why they picked the height they did – which wasn’t even the maximum height allowed on that site! – they said, “there was already approval for a building of that height”; the property had a building envelope approved under a prior owner, and LoFT322 was designed to fit inside that so that it wouldn’t need a new approval.)
       —Murph.    Sep. 26 '05 - 04:48PM    #
  45. Dave C,

    First, I’ve posted here for so long that I assumed that everyone knows who I am. My last name is Leopold. You can figure out the rest, I’m sure. I have zero interest, financial or otherwise in the Calthorpe programs.

    “the Calthorpe program was set up as an exercise in persuasion to an already-determined point of view, rather than an exercise in information gathering to find out what people want.”

    It isn’t an excercise in persuasion, Dave, it’s an excercise in getting full grown adults to see that we can’t pretend to care about the values I listed above, and then stick our head in the sand, hold our breath, and hope, hope, hope that market forces are magically suspended in Washtenaw County.

    Now that people like yourself have seen all of the lectures from retail, transportation, and other urban planning fields, you now know that, without question, building up and building dense leads to:

    -affordable housing
    -true diversity, economic or otherwise
    -preserve/grow the character of the town
    -support of local businesses
    -preserve greenspace/farmland that surrounds the city
    -discourage use of cars
    -encourage alternative transportation
    -provide ‘workforce’ housing
    -discourage the construction of strip malls outside of town
    -discourages urban sprawl

    So, Dave, school’s out. It’s time for everyone to stop asking for shiny new ponies and face the facts. You can no longer plead ignorance or cite some b.s. X-files conspiracy theory about how contractors are conspiring with local government.

    1. Ann Arborites believe in the above values, and will begin demanding more density…tall buildings etc. or, (We can certainly discuss how much density we can handle…I have no problem with that).

    2. They do not believe in those values, and want to cease all but minimal construction in the area… Boulder did (unknowingly, I think) back in the 80’s. What was the result of this genius move? The Median cost for a new housing unit in Boulder is now $500K. Sweet.

    Its either one or the other.

    You cannot, in my rather forceful opinion, pretend that tall buildings are so horrible, and so scary that we need to ignore all of those wonderful values I just mentioned that will be put into motion by moving a healthy (5%) chunk of Wash. County growth to the downtown area. The math simply doesn’t work.

    So, Dave. Let’s hear it. What is so bad about taller buildings that we should ignore each and every one of the values are listed?

    I’m waiting.

    KGS: “How can we accomodate an influx of people and businesses, and keep them downtown? How can we continue to support local businesses and affordable housing? David Cahill, if you have the answers, I’m sure we’d like to hear them.”

    Very well put, KGS.

    My sincere hope is that the Calthorpe exercises were an eye opener for downtown residents. My hope is that JulieW has been right all along….that downtown residents very much believe in the above values. I am hoping that they will come out of the workshops with notions like “hey, we can’t build a greenway though the center of downtown without also increasing our tax base, or only the very rich will be able to enjoy the greenway.” Or, “you know, the funny thing is, I have found that if we quash development inside the city, the demand for these developments doesn’t disappear. It merely moves to the adjacent areas. That’s the last thing I want.”

    ......dropping this discussion to the lowest common denominator, picture one of those old school balance scales. Put all of those above values on one side: walkability, increased tax base, support of local businesses, etc., and then put the complaints about tall buildings on the other: “they make me feel woozy”, or “rich condo owners might lose their view”, or “sometimes it gets windy”, and you’ll see why I’m such a hardliner for real density and tall buildings. These complaints are either unfounded or simply juvenile, and I can’t believe that anyone would give them credence.
       —todd    Sep. 26 '05 - 05:34PM    #
  46. I’ve seen many, many times on this site the statement “We need more development in downtown to provide affordable housing.”

    I hope that someone can give me some evidence (not theory) that this is true.

    I love tall buildings (my favorite city by far is NYC) and urban areas. What I see going up in A2, starting with Ashley Mews and seeming to accelerate, are $350k+ condos. Each one has a token “affordable” unit or two, but how are we approving the affordable housing situation?

    The response “we don’t help the situation by doing nothing” is true but doesn’t help the situation.

    So, is there any actual evidence that the current wave of development in downtown is actually helping affordable housing? Are we just hoping it will?

    I have no strong feelings either way and am just looking for the facts behind the theory.
       —RJY    Sep. 26 '05 - 09:05PM    #
  47. “What is so bad about taller buildings that we should ignore each and every one of the values are listed?”

    Well, I’ll take a shot at answering this one, even though it’s worded in the form, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

    First, I’ll step back and look over the list of values that todd states would be addressed by increasing downtown density:

    ”-affordable housing”
    Some, yes; some, no—in the short term. Most of it not in the long term, as natural gas production passes its peak in the next decade or two. Then, the vast majority of downtown buildings (housing and otherwise) will not be affordable unless and until they can be drastically retrofitted. (Hmm, maybe we should start now.)

    ”-true diversity, economic or otherwise”
    Economic, maybe; otherwise, not necessarily. Building size and density open up some possibilities but don’t ensure diversity. Other decisions have to be made and individuals still have to take initiative.

    Yes, for downtown residents and possibly for some who live close by, but it will depend on new businesses (like groceries) coming downtown. There’s probably an amount of new residents that would have to rely on cars and/or buses until a critical mass is reached and the new services appear.

    ”-preserve/grow the character of the town”
    I don’t see any connection with increased density. Too many other factors involved.

    ”-support of local businesses”
    Not necessarily. Individual choices will determine this, not numbers.

    ”-preserve greenspace/farmland that surrounds the city”
    Again, not necessarily.

    ”-discourage use of cars”
    See ”-walkability” above.

    ”-encourage alternative transportation”
    “Enable” might be more accurate than “encourage”. It’ll still be up to individual choice.

    ”-provide ‘workforce’ housing”

    ”-discourage the construction of strip malls outside of town”
    Minimally. The ex-downtown population will still exist.

    ”-discourages urban sprawl”
    Minimally. See above.

    To summarize: increased density is not a silver bullet.

    Furthermore, I submit that future (yes, beginning now) energy availability and costs will override most, if not all, considerations (including downtown density) relative to the above “values”.

    Now, “what’s so bad about tall buildings”?

    Nothing, if you can heat them, cool them, run the elevators and other machinery required, and if the residents can get food somewhere and park their bike on the first floor.

    In January I’ll be getting a video of how Cuba dealt with their peak oil crisis (when the FSU collapsed, on top of the US embargo) and will make it available for showing at your place, Todd. In the meantime, maybe we could all check out The End of Suburbia.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 26 '05 - 09:29PM    #
  48. PS: I put “values” in quotes because some of them aren’t worded as values, and I don’t necessarily value each of them as todd worded them, so the term is his.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 26 '05 - 09:35PM    #
  49. RJY,

    Depends on how high your standards are for “evidence” vs. “theory”. If you want scientific certainty, nobody can give it – we can’t take a random sample of 100 City of Ann Arbor’s, develop downtown in half, not develop downtown in the other half, and see which one ends up with more affordable housing with p < .05. This is why rabid “social science” types like Psych and Sociology PhDs disdain urban planning. I just want to say that so we make clear that there are certain levels of evidence you just won’t find in either direction.

    On the other hand, we can provide things like case studies – look at Boulder (where Todd grew up, and knows planners), where they put in a greenbelt and limited downtown development, and median housing cost is now half a million. Look at Princeton, where a greenbelt and very limited development have been in effect for quite some time – I knew assistant professors there living in 400sf apartments and paying $1200+/month; most grad students either live in University-owned barracks or commuted because housing was too expensive close in. And the effect on sprawl? It worked beautifully – for a mile or so in any direction outside of town, after which you hit strip malls and apartment complexes as far as the eye could see.

    High demand, limited supply. But economic theory probably doesn’t satisfy you, even with the case studies I’ve provided above, since you seem to be asking for evidence about the effect of development in downtown Ann Arbor on housing costs in downtown Ann Arbor. And I don’t think we can offer evidence on something that hasn’t happened yet.

    More in a separate comment, just to break up styles of evidence.
       —Murph.    Sep. 26 '05 - 09:48PM    #
  50. (Steve snuck in two comments – my brief response to him, you’re right, of course tall buildings downtown are not the silver bullet for those issues. Hopefully once we hash all this out, the next discussion will be a little easier – we can reuse parts of this one.)

    RJY refers to the current wave of development downtown. The new developments I know of recently, in the housing realm, is Ashley Mews and Corner House Lofts – which doesn’t much a “wave” make in terms of stuff that’s already affected affordable housing. (Here’s the Phil D’Anieri statement: if we wanted these developments to have maximum impact on affordable housing, we should have allowed them to be built 20 years ago.) Let’s look at Corner House Lofts:

    AFAIK, Corner House is mostly student rentals. (When I GSI’d, I had several students who lived there or had friends there.) All corner-cutting aside (they said the maintenance was as bad as the facade), they adore the location, and the students living there mean _n_ fewer students renting places further out. The new rental housing created there has helped soften the rental market – rents are falling, there are more “first month free” deals, etc – which is creation of affordable housing. (Market softening also, as Marc R noted, has to do with the general economic condition of Michigan…) When the rental vacancies get too high, rental units start being sold, which helps soften the purchase market – which is creation of affordable housing. People are moving to more desirable housing, freeing up the more affordable housing.

    (A side note – as of the June or July Observer, median sale prices in Ann Arbor were even with a year ago, after rising steadily for many years, with median time on market doubling since a year ago – to 70 or 80 days. Median time on market in the downtown – delineated by the DDA boundary – was 6 days at that same time. Shows where the underserved demand is…)

    Sure, this is a “death of a thousand cuts” way to create affordable housing, but what else can you ask for? The only way to create affordable housing at any better rate is to pay for it.

    And the City paid $3.5m to keep the old Y from closing – preserving 100 units of very-low-income housing. That site is now being redeveloped, with the condition that the final product have 100 units of affordable housing – which wouldn’t have happened if the City hadn’t bought the building such that they could dictate terms, and couldn’t happen if the City hadn’t been willing to allow more height on that site, so that the developer could fit in enough profitable stuff to make the housing possible. (I believe they’re currently in talks about the possibility of raising the height in order to make the affordable housing part even more affordable – that seems to me like good backing for a causal link.)

    Look at Glen Ann Place. If it happens, the City cashes in with $1m to the affordable housing fund. Units in Glen Ann Place might not qualify as “affordable”, but they’ll help make other units “affordable”.

    Look at Liberty Lofts and LoFT322 – I think neither is PUD, so they don’t have to pay into the City’s affordable housing fund, but they’re in the DDA district, so the new development pays into the TIF capture, some of which goes into the DDA’s affordable housing fund. The DDA paid (or will pay? Leah, help me out?) for part of the City’s Y purchase. McKinley has approached the DDA to partner with them in developing a mixed-use retail and “workforce housing” (49 units, I think?) on the little parking lot on the SW corner of Washington and Division. That’s still very preliminary – the “hey, would you be interested in seeing a proposal about this?” from McKinley was just at this month’s DDA Board meeting – but, if it happens, it would be affordable housing that couldn’t happen without the DDA’s help, which couldn’t happen if it weren’t for downtown development to create the TIF.

    What I’m describing are more pipelines to affordability, I suppose, than evidence of affordability, but that’s because I don’t think we’re looking at a wave of development in the past tense, so the evidence that it has worked just isn’t there.

    (I need to catalog some of these monster comments so that I can quickly point to things I’ve said…)
       —Murph.    Sep. 26 '05 - 10:28PM    #
  51. Every time I think we’ve talked this topic out, it pops up on another thread. Maybe it just shows that all roads lead downtown. Anyways, there’s differences of opinion here on how new housing downtown affects housing/rental rates and the need for taller buildings downtown. I’m guessing there’s at least 5 different positions that have been staked out here. They include:

    1) “Pro-Growthers (PGs)”: This group believes that more housing downtown will directly lead to more affordable housing and lower rental rates by expanding the market (Todd, Murph, Dale and others)

    2) “Ambivalents (Ams)”: This group supports more housing downtown but is skeptical about its impact on the housing market. (John Q., Juliew, Steve Bean, etc.)

    3) “Big Buildings Bad (BBB)”: This group opposes larger buildings downtown (David C., ???)

    4) “Not in My Neighborhood (NIMNs)”: This group supports larger buildings downtown as long as it’s not in their neighborhood/historic district. (Fill in your favorite neighborhood)

    5) “I’ve Moved to Salem (IMTS)”: This group has already forsaken the city for the hinterlands. I haven’t seen this viewpoint argued here yet but we know they exist!

    Feel free to create your own labels, ditch the ones I’ve assigned to you or develop better acronyms.
       —John Q    Sep. 26 '05 - 11:24PM    #
  52. I would characterize my position within Pro-Growth as “more housing downtown is the most direct, reasonable, desirable path available to more affordable housing…” It’s a small distinction, but an important one.
       —Dale    Sep. 26 '05 - 11:48PM    #
  53. Todd, I appreciate your letting us know more about yourself.

    My big concern is that the Calthorpe study has been sold as a consensus-building effort, when it is not. On Thursday there was a real consensus not to build really tall buildings. However, right after that meeting, Joey Scanga, who is heading Ann Arbor’s study, said we were going to have them no matter what we wanted. So he had already decided what Calthorpe was going to recommend.

    As to the members of the Economic Task Force, when the list (of all developers) was read off, there was a collective gasp at one of the tables, according to someone who is “lurking” here.

    I loved what was done at my own table, which included architect Dave Osler, former County Commissioner and now AA Observer reporter Vivienne Armentrout, and Murph. I suggested that Murph be our spokesperson, and he did a fine job.

    Today I asked the City for a copy of its contract with Calthorpe Associates. We will soon know what they promised to do, and whether or not what they promised is consistent with what happened on Thursday.

    As to my own views, I offer the Broadway Village Haiku, which was composed a couple of years ago by a neighbor of mine on Harbal:

    Ann Arbor has trees.
    Buildings four stories or less.
    Let us see the sky.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 26 '05 - 11:56PM    #
  54. I offer another Broadway Village Haiku, in response to the village being brought up twice by David C. (with apologies since it’s been said in so many words in previous posts):

    Three quarters pre-leased
    Broadway Village says “shove off”
    To small businesses

    The Broadway Village project is quite anti the aforementioned values of economic diversity and support of local businesses. I only hope future ventures find the same faults…
       —FAA    Sep. 27 '05 - 01:04AM    #
  55. I took a break from my computer for a few days … you all have been very busy! It’s no secret that I am in the group that believes that Ann Arbor will benefit from allowing redevelopment and/or more development in downtown. I’m pretty tired of this debate boiling down to tall buildings: bad or good? There’s really more to it than that. We really need to change the rules for development to allow the city to move towards meeting those values and goals. There is a whole host of things that Calthorpe is helping our city to figure out … what kind of zoning (res, com, office, mixed use) should exist and where; how much parking to allow and where should it go; what kinds of public benefits should developers provide; green space, street scape, storm water management, etc; to what extent do these public benefits interfere with other goals (like affordable housing); should we have guidelines about form and design of buildings

    These questions apply to any development or redevelopment of downtown … regardless of how tall the building is. In my opinion, we’ve focused too much on height and are losing focus on some other really important things in the meantime.

    So, when David says:
    My big concern is that the Calthorpe study has been sold as a consensus-building effort, when it is not.
    ... I get pretty angry. It discounts the hard work that many in this community have put into making this a community consensus building effort (planning commission has spent hours on this alone) ... and it discounts the valuable time that everyone puts in attending the workshops and lectures. Consensus doesn’t mean that we have 100% agreement from every person in the room … that will likely never happen. There has been a tremendous amount of consensus over many things that have been discussed during this process … appropriate corridors for residential vs. commercial, the desire for a greenway, wanting to make Huron more pedestrian friendly ….

    At the end of the day, Council holds the power to make the final decisions. And, of course, they’ve had their opinions and those opinions have guided actions along the way. But also remember that Council cannot take any action on changing zoning or ordinances without a recommendation from the Planning Commission … which is extremely interested in what the community has to say. And the community has been saying a lot … we’ve been listening … and I’m hearing a lot of things that sound like consensus items … they just don’t happen to relate to the absolute height limit for buildings downtown.
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 27 '05 - 01:21AM    #
  56. Just a quick response to Steve Bean, who argued (if I read it right) that all of Todd’s “values” would only be realized if 1. there was a critical mass of residents downtown and 2. individuals must make the choice to walk, bike, buy things at local businesses, etc. Status quo zoning and development precludes the vast majority of people from even having those choices to make.
       —Joy    Sep. 27 '05 - 01:43AM    #
  57. Murph,

    Great responses, I’m almost convinced.

    You point out several examples of freezing development causing higher prices. What examples are there of development bringing affordable housing to a community?

    In particular, are there any precedents to a series of mixed-use buildings containing high-priced condos/rentals leading to a large mixed income downtown community (which is what I’d like to see in Ann Arbor).

    I referred to the development as a wave because after living here for 7 years, only in the last couple of years (to my outsiders eye, I realize planning has been going on for a long time), we’ve had or will soon have Ashley Mews, Corner House, LoFT322, Liberty Lofts and plans are being made for the old Y building and Glen Ann.

    Definitely not a huge wave, but more than I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

    Now, a large part of my concern is that I do not believe for a second that a Developer or a Developers Association is going to put the needs of the people ahead of possible profits.

    There are several bright young urban planners here who are going to have great influence in the future of Ann Arbor. In the six months or so I’ve been here I’ve not seen one single post by any of them that is critical or even remotely suspicious of any development project. (I fully suspect and hope to be shown I’m wrong here; no-one can read every post!)

    Now perhaps you feel you’re playing Devil’s Advocate at all times because of the strong resistance to any development in Ann Arbor from NIMBYers and others. My spider sense is just tingling because of the unquestioning support of every new project that’s proposed.

    My greatest fear:
    Downtown Ann Arbor is populated solely by the rich. The middle class live towards the interstate ring and the sprawl beyond, and the poor live… elsewhere.

    My hope:
    Anyone around the median income of the city can afford to live downtown if they choose. Subsidized housing allows a non-token number of poverty level working class to also live downtown.

    As I mentioned before, I believe strongly that freezing development will not achieve this. Perhaps building these high-end condos is a step in the right direction. I’m just hoping to see some evidence that this is the case. Are these really the only two choices?
       —RJY    Sep. 27 '05 - 03:09AM    #
  58. RJY: the way it works (well the way it’s supposed to work) is, you build what the market wants. If buyers will bid downtown condos up to $350K, then that’s what you build and sell—because otherwise they will bid up the price of a house in the OWS to $350K (oh, wait a minute…) The point is, the affordabilty of the condo itself might be minimal to non-existent, but the retained affordability of units increases as you move farther away from the new unit (in theory.)

    If new units keep pace with demand, (theoretically) prices will stabilize (all other things remaining equal.) Of course, one problem is the feedback effect—more supply might in some cases increase demand as a kind of psychological response to “buzz”, but this is hard to measure. Anyway, one upshot of this is that trying to keep prices low using price controls (city-mandated affordable housing, for example) tends to raise the cost of housing somewhere else, in two ways. Firstly, by restricting the purchase of affordable housing to certain incomes, this drives higher incomes outwards to pursue other units, thus tending to drive the price of those other units upwards. Secondly, deliberately building inexpensive housing (in an environment where most housing already meets and exceeds standards, that is) forces the demand for fancier housing outward, to other units, thus driving their price up.

    Now, the problem of affordable housing downtown is real, and basically as I see it, any “affordable” downtown housing will increase costs for somebody, somewhere. However, this might be a worthy goal, if we decide that the increased cost for many is worth paying the benefit for few. I tend to think it’s a worthy goal, as long as it isn’t pursued to an extreme.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:13AM    #
  59. Steve Bean—interesting points, I thought I’d respond to them a bit.

    “Then, the vast majority of downtown buildings (housing and otherwise) will not be affordable unless and until they can be drastically retrofitted. (Hmm, maybe we should start now.)”

    We should definitely not start now to counteract a phantom scenario that hasn’t yet happened. If and when it happens, we’ll do it then. In the meantime, I don’t see how keeping downtown A2 below 2-3 stories is going to help out with any energy conservation of any sort, unless you’re proposing we start building sod house subdivisions.

    “Building size and density open up some possibilities but don’t ensure diversity. Other decisions have to be made and individuals still have to take initiative.”

    Very true, which is the flip side of this whole debate. It’s going to take public participation for the forseeable future.

    “Yes, for downtown residents and possibly for some who live close by, but it will depend on new businesses (like groceries) coming downtown.”

    Also true! I agree with this. This can’t just be a plan to build more condos downtown. If that’s all this turns into, it will be a disaster.

    “I don’t see any connection with increased density. Too many other factors involved.”

    Yes; maintaining Ann Arbor’s “character” will always be difficult, and again will always need grassroots organization and public input.

    “Not necessarily. Individual choices will determine this, not numbers.”


    “Again, not necessarily.”

    Well, it will certainly help with the greenspace situation. But I agree that is a larger question.

    ”“Enable” might be more accurate than “encourage”. It’ll still be up to individual choice.”

    But see, it’s always up to the individual choice—but that’s no reason not to act to enable that choice.

    ””-discourage the construction of strip malls outside of town”
    Minimally. The ex-downtown population will still exist.”

    Of course, but how would prohibiting downtown growth be any better?

    Furthermore, I submit that future (yes, beginning now) energy availability and costs will override most, if not all, considerations (including downtown density) relative to the above “values”.”

    It’s possible, but it’s just not a problem yet. This is theoretical—we need to deal with real (not temporary) energy shortages when the time comes.

    “Nothing, if you can heat them, cool them, run the elevators and other machinery required, and if the residents can get food somewhere and park their bike on the first floor.”

    I don’t see how this is worse than trying to heat and cool a subdivision (not to mention getting a subdivision food.)
       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:22AM    #
  60. One last point:

    “My big concern is that the Calthorpe study has been sold as a consensus-building effort, when it is not. On Thursday there was a real consensus not to build really tall buildings. However, right after that meeting, Joey Scanga, who is heading Ann Arbor’s study, said we were going to have them no matter what we wanted. So he had already decided what Calthorpe was going to recommend.”

    Boy, I should have gone to the second sesstion! At the first session, I would say a majority of groups selected options two and three, both of which called for IIRC at least 6-12 new 8/10+ story buildings in downtown Ann Arbor (and I would say the most popular option was option “2.5”, where people picked option 2 but stole chits from option 3 just because they wanted to.) I’m getting the impression the second session was populated mostly by low-growth folks. Is this an accurate impression?
       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:29AM    #
  61. Joy, I think you read some things into my comment that weren’t there. I agree that zoning is a factor, though.

    I’d say that the vast majority can choose to walk or bike and shop at local businesses to the extent that they’re healthy enough to do so and to the extent that locally owned businesses exist. What has prevented people from doing these things up to this point (resulting in many locally owned businesses closing) is an addiction to driving and other choices within their control, perhaps a lack of certain values or ignorance of how to support them.

    More direct routes to supporting local businesses (than increasing downtown density) exist. Michael Shuman has just written a book called “Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age” that offers many options.

    Also, downtown is only one of many ‘neighborhoods’ in our city. I think we can take advantage of that with regard to population distribution, the provision of services (businesses), and overall land use.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 12:33PM    #
  62. “We should definitely not start now to counteract a phantom scenario that hasn’t yet happened. If and when it happens, we’ll do it then.”

    YUA, this statement demonstrates a dangerous naivete about the nature of energy resources and the current situation we’re in globally with respect to fossil fuel supplies. (When it happens—and it will— it will be too late to start reacting.) Either that, or a callous lack of concern for human life similar to that shown by federal officials toward the people who used to live in the low-lying areas of NOLA. Please do some minimal research on world peak oil. You might start with Richard Heinberg’s or James Howard Kunstler’s writings.

    “I don’t see how this is worse than trying to heat and cool a subdivision (not to mention getting a subdivision food.)”

    If we were discussing the construction of a large subdivision I’d be making similar points. (Of course, I’d be focusing on transportation via car rather than via elevator.) Aside from that, homes in a subdivision are actually more adaptable in that they include land which can be used to grow some food and/or raise some animals. The owners also have more (direct) control over the structure itself in terms of retrofitting, assuming that it wasn’t well designed for passive solar heating and cooling in the first place. (Please don’t read this as an argument for more 1990’s subdivisions.)

    My point in responding to todd’s list was not to argue the exact opposite. He had stated, “Its either one or the other,” with regard to support of that list. I think that’s a simplistic position that’s not useful (and, no doubt, a sign of todd’s entrepreneur/business-owner emotions coming into the discussion, rather than of his more-than-adequate knowledge and understanding of the big picture.)
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 12:49PM    #
  63. RJY – you ask some good questions about affordable housing & development. I spent some time on a city committee that studied affordable housing & development, so let me share some of what I learned.

    1 – the only way to get mixed income units in a single development, and have them remain mixed, is to structure them such that the value of the affordable units are frozen at the rate of inflation. Six units of the Ashley Mews condos are like this. When someone buys an affordable unit, they sign a contract that they will sell it back to the City of Ann Arbor at their cost plus inflation ONLY. Consequently no one who lives in one of those units will be able to make money on it. I’m not sure how the taxes work here though; maybe the assessor takes those frozen rates into account, or the city pays the difference?

    2 – the State assessor does not recognize that units in a single building are not all market rate. For example, if the Collegian had been built with the 7 condos they’d hoped for, one of those units would have been affordable. Problem is, the assessor would tax ALL of the units as if they were market-rate, meaning that the taxes on the affordable unit would be artificially high. This a huge challenge to trying to keep affordable units affordable.

    3 – of the projects you mentioned, only Ashley Mews, Corner House, and Liberty Lofts have been built or are under construction, and IIRC 2 of the 3 offered affordable housing or a donation to the AH fund. Every heard the addage, ‘never count your chickens before they hatch’? yeah. Three residential projects in the last 8 years hardly counts as a development wave IMO. Am I missing any other downtown residential projects, folks?

    4 – the single biggest challenge to creating affordable housing in Ann Arbor is lack of political will. Read over the meeting minutes from Planning Commission a several years ago, when they were contemplating an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance. City Council, in one of the most despicable examples of politicking I’ve ever seen, passed a motion before commission had even finished their public hearings that said even if an ADU ordinance passed through Planning Commission, Council would not approve it. The affordable housing committee volunteers had devoted years working on this problem only to have the rug yanked out from under them.

    I like to think that the values Todd stated earlier in the thread are ones we can all agree on, but unfortunately my experience has usually been that people will fight for what preserves their status quo or imaginary threats, rather than fighting for what is right or fair.
       —KGS    Sep. 27 '05 - 02:08PM    #
  64. YUA – I would also recommend reading Heinberg. However, I highly recommend NEVER reading Kunstler unless you enjoy opinionated pieces with no cited works containing the words “faggotry” and “fuck”.

    Steve Bean – I wholly agree that fossil fuel is a finite resource. Something should be done now. Perhaps on a national or global scale before implementing what would be an unattainably/astronomically expensive few buildings running off-grid on sustainable energy in a small midwestern town that can’t even agree on whether or not it wants a few buildings…
       —FAA    Sep. 27 '05 - 02:18PM    #
  65. Steve, if you are arguing for higher-efficienty buildings & developments, you’ll get no argument from me. But an energy-efficient building does not necessarily have to exist in sprawling single-family residences. Check out the work of Ken Yeang – he designs green skyscrapers in Malaysia with his firm Hamzah & Yeang Architects. Also see Four Times Square in NYC, as an example of how buildings can be green and still be tall.

    Again, the bigger question is, how can we encourage energy-efficient buildings? in Ann Arbor, most people are not willing to pay the extra money that some green techniques would require up front. Tax breaks? incentives? TIFs? this is another aspect for development downtown as well as throughout the city.
       —KGS    Sep. 27 '05 - 02:19PM    #
  66. “The Geography of Nowhere” was, I think, a great book, and was instrumental in the development of my architecture/planning ideology, but that was eleven years ago, and more and more I think Kunstler may be going nuts. He’s still dead-on in analyzing buildings and landscapes for his “Eyesore of the Month”, but his Clusterfuck Nation diatribes remind me of that wild-eyed guy who pushes his bike all over downtown Ann Arbor, muttering and talking to himself, having paranoid nightmares right out in public.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 27 '05 - 04:03PM    #
  67. “But an energy-efficient building does not necessarily have to exist in sprawling single-family residences.”

    Energy efficiency is definitely desireable, yet it’s relative. I checked out a few items on Four Times Square. “The central cooling plant runs on natural gas.” (The price of which will have at least quadrupled during this calendar year.) The fuel cells do as well. FTS is a major advance within the global industrial economy, no doubt. The problem is that the underlying energy sources on which the building and the industrial economy rely have a limited lifespan. It’s not a model for us to follow if our goal is affordable housing in the long term, let alone sustainable housing (or other structures.)

    “Again, the bigger question is, how can we encourage energy-efficient buildings?”

    Yes, and notice that that’s the first mention of it (let alone sustainable buildings) in this whole thread or any other on the topic of downtown development or affordable housing here at AU. (I know that Robert Black and perhaps a few others have attempted to introduce such concepts into the Calthorpe process, but they’re vastly outnumbered.)

    We know enough now to have reason to develop a sustainable society, not just an efficient one. Why would sustainability not be our underlying criterion for affordable housing and any other local development?

    Is what we’re after dependent on the fleeting oil economy? If so, we’ll lose it soon after we attain it (if at all.) If not, why develop it as if it is?
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 04:08PM    #
  68. Steve, you fail to mention that Four Times Square also uses solar energy through solar panels installed as part of its facade. Surely that qualifies as sustainable?

    How can we make completely oil-independant buildings in Ann Arbor? we can’t, at least not yet. Frankly, energy technologies need to improve and energy costs need to increase substantially for the costs to balance out. (1) Solar panels are, by some accountings, not sustainable because of the large amount of energy it takes to make them. Moreoever we have so many cloudy days that solar energy does not make financial sense, at least not yet. (2) We don’t get enough wind here, though they do on the coast of MI. (3) Other systems are expensive to install. For example, one project I worked on considered geothermal heat pumps, but they had to wait 40 years for the system to even break even with the cost. If it doesn’t work financially, people won’t do it – which is why I bring up the idea of gov’t support for these things.

    Why wouldn’t condos built downtown where people have a greater chance of operating without gasoline be more sustainable than a dozen houses in the suburbs?! because you really seem to be arguing against development downtown, and I just don’t understand why.
       —KGS    Sep. 27 '05 - 04:26PM    #
  69. Multi-unit buildings are almost as a rule more energy efficient than single unit, detached buildings; and they have a bunch of positive side effects like making mass transit more practical and making communities more walkable. Anything you can do to a single-unit detached dwelling to make it “more sustainable” you can do to a large multi-unit dwelling and the multi-unit dwelling will offer greater environmental benefits. If we want a sustainable future, we should build few buildings shorter than four stories.

    A few months ago someone posted a link to this 2004 New Yorker article: Green Manhattan: Why New York is the greenest city in the U.S.

    Read it. It makes a persuasive case.
       —Scott Trudeau    Sep. 27 '05 - 04:59PM    #
  70. “Solar panels are, by some accountings, not sustainable because of the large amount of energy it takes to make them.”

    Exactly. That’s, in part, why I “fail[ed]” to mention them.

    Development can be done in many ways. I’m arguing for creating sustainable systems—now, not later; downtown and everywhere else.

    Otherwise, think about availability of energy rather than cost of energy, keeping in mind that all technology relies on energy inputs. It’s largely a matter of doing the math.

    By the time we get the price signal to start heavily investing in PV, for example, it will be too late. There won’t be enough time or energy to get out in front of the dwindling fossil fuel supply.

    We’ve very possibly missed the technology-transition boat. We’ve squandered the thirty years that (perhaps) could have been used to develop a sustainable PV-based energy-capture system. Now, it too may just peak in the near future and then fade away as modules fail and the necessary industry for their maintenance or replacement has likewise faded.

    I write all of this as if I know it for certain. Obviously, I don’t have that level of knowledge. I just want people to be aware of this context and to research it for themselves—and then act on what they learn.

    Why? Because violence is the standard fallback behavior, and I don’t want anyone to have to live through it if it can be avoided. It can be. Also, this is a wonderful opportunity for us all to become members of ‘true’ communities.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 05:32PM    #
  71. “Ann Arbor has trees.
    Buildings four stories or less.
    Let us see the sky.”

    OK Dave. There’s no way that you’re this simple minded. I don’t believe that you agree with this.

    Here’s the tradeoff: Put a new 8 story building downtown. Or: put a four story building downtown, and two two story buildings in a greenfield development that just ripped up another acre of farmland. Let’s hear your haiku for the farmland that’s ripped up because we’re not smart enough to see the big picture.

    All of the arguments put forth by yourself, and apparently now, Steve Bean (et tu, Steve? :) ) wants to pretend that Ann Arbor exists in a vacuum. All that you are going to get, Dave, is a neat looking resort town with very, very expensive shops, high taxes, and Ann Arborites will be one of three things: very wealthy, a University employee, or both. Keep on this path, by all means, if you somehow think that you’re saving the environment…..

    Yes, Steve, my tall buildings is a reducto ad absurdum. Of course it’s more complicated than just tall buildings.

    I’ve already told ArborUpdate visitors what to do: put down a list of values for the town. Meet and discuss these values, relate it to the Urban Planning of the city, put together a Master Plan using consultants and (gasp) professionals who actually know how to do this, execute the Plan with citizen oversight.

    Sadly, no one want to do this. Why? We may actually get what we want or need?

    You’re all right. **ck that. We should just keep having a bunch of amateurs (City Council, Planning Commission) feel around in the dark for the next 20 years and hope, hope, hope that everything just magically works itself out. It’s worked for George Bush. Why should Ann Arbor be any different?

    So what are we left with if we turn our back on actual planning? I am now suggesting, given these shortsighted and crappy decisions, that we put as much infill in downtown as the critics will allow.

    If you don’t want to follow my logic, flip it around: the opposite of this is to have citizens artificially constrict the access to supply, and make horrible use of a footprint by building dinky buildings.

    Let me ask you this, Steve, at the very least, we can all agree that citizens have artificially restricted the demand for new buildings in Ann Arbor, be it for housing, retail, or whatever for going on twenty years now. Do you not see the effects? Do you see these effects as positive, or negative?
       —todd    Sep. 27 '05 - 05:42PM    #
  72. Scott, that’s another case of an improvement that falls short of sustainability (I believe). It assumes the worst-case (i.e., straw-man) alternative: sprawling suburbia with pesticide-laden lawns (and riding mowers), SUVs, swimming pools, and infrastructure like “highways and everything else.” The article makes no mention of food (or waste) except for walking to the store (as if that were where food were produced.)

    How will we make steel beams without fossil fuels? And how do you feed the millions of people living there?

    We can (and will have to) do better than both the urban and suburban extremes.

    (I also learned something about the efficiency of counter-weighted elevators, thanks.)

    The sustainability of mass transit is a big question mark. The sustainability of cities the size of Ann Arbor and larger is as well.

    We need to move from environmentalism and all its unintentional blind spots to (Green) values like nonviolence, decentralization, community-based economics, future focus, ecological wisdom, grassroots (informed!) democracy, and post-patriarchal values (like cooperation.)

    Sorry to hog the thread today. I just got back from a peak oil conference over the weekend and I’m just about overflowing.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:04PM    #
  73. “We should just keep having a bunch of amateurs (City Council, Planning Commission) feel around in the dark for the next 20 years and hope, hope, hope that everything just magically works itself out”.

    Oh, and in case this is isn’t obvious…..I respect these people just fine. They just aren’t planning professionals, or retail experts, or transportation experts, etc. That’s what I mean by amateurs.
       —todd    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:10PM    #
  74. ”“Solar panels are, by some accountings, not sustainable because of the large amount of energy it takes to make them.”

    Exactly. That’s, in part, why I “fail[ed]” to mention them.


    By the time we get the price signal to start heavily investing in PV, for example, it will be too late.”

    I had to look up “PV”. Apparently it stands for Photovoltaics, which I assume is roughly the same thing as solar panels. So you seem to be suggesting them as a sustainable technology immediately after agreeing that they aren’t one.

    I’m confused. What precisely are you suggesting that we do here in Ann Arbor?
       —J. Bruce Fields    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:14PM    #
  75. Thanks for the chuckle, Todd.

    I agree about the restrictions. I see them as a (relatively minor, in the big picture) negative in the short term (a missed opportunity), but as a potential positive in the long term, in that we might have even more to ‘undo’ at this point. (Replace ‘might’ with ‘probably’, if we’re honest about it—they wouldn’t have been very efficient-let-alone-sustainable buildings.)

    So here we are today. Do we do what we think would have made sense 20 years ago? Do we do more of what we’ve actually done in the past 20 years? Do we do what’s possible with the ‘best available technology’? Is NOTA on the ballot?

    I wouldn’t characterize the Calthorpe process as a scam, yet I don’t see it as completely open. Given that it’s well on its way, the best we may be able to make of it is to develop a larger context to place it within upon completion and maintain a list of its shortcomings to discuss at that point. For example, we’ll want to check with that “workforce” population to see what kind of housing they’re actually interested in and inform them of the larger context as well so that they can make better individual decisions. (Maybe they’ll choose to move south and leave us to get our own drinks and wash our own dishes.)
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:27PM    #
  76. “How will we make steel beams without fossil fuels? And how do you feed the millions of people living there?”

    I don’t know, you tell us.

    The argument is that housing people more densely is more energy efficient. If energy is shortly about to become more scarce, this would seem to be a good thing.

    Your objection to tall buildings seems to the fact that they require any energy at all. But if building and maintaining lots of small buildings requires more energy, then I’m confused as to what you’re proposing as an alternative.

    So, how are you going to house and feed Ann Arborites “sustainably”? Do you even have an idea how we could figure out how to do that in any kind of reasonable timescale?

    There’s noone with the power to halt all development everywhere while you figure this out, so think fast…. In the meantime the rest of us will choose among actual available proposals based on measures like expense and energy efficiency.
       —J. Bruce Fields    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:34PM    #
  77. “So you seem to be suggesting them as a sustainable technology immediately after agreeing that they aren’t one.”

    I’m suggesting that they could have been. Thirty years ago we might have been able to put our fossil fuel energy to use to develop a global PV (yes, photovoltaic) industry over time that could have created enough panels with (eventually) high enough solar conversion efficiencies to then use solar power to maintain and continue producing them. If we want to still take a shot at that goal we’ll need to convince people to divert from using fossil fuels for transportation and other uses even faster than otherwise. And even then the attempt might fail. Wind and other lower-tech options may be better investments at this point. Will they be sustainable? Let’s hope so.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 06:43PM    #
  78. “So, how are you going to house and feed Ann Arborites ‘sustainably’? Do you even have an idea how we could figure out how to do that in any kind of reasonable timescale?”

    Yeah, that’s quite a conundrum, ain’t it?

    First, this isn’t about me having all the answers, so let’s not go there. How about we think about it together?

    We better start by insulating our homes and cutting down on our driving to put off the post-peak period (not to mention getting through this winter without going bankrupt from the heating bills.) We better start building soil to grow food in the city. Use your imagination.

    “Your objection to tall buildings seems to the fact that they require any energy at all.”

    Sounds good. Zero-energy buildings. (Google it.) We’re not quite there, but the concept is worth looking at—both for its potential and its shortcomings.

    “But if building and maintaining lots of small buildings requires more energy, then I’m confused as to what you’re proposing as an alternative.”

    How about we build as few new buildings as possible while we figure some things out and fix up the current stock? Rent out a room to a student or a downtown employee (or two) and put the income into a bike, or insulation or the next best thing for cutting your energy use. Shop at locally-owned businesses and buy locally-produced goods and foods. (I enjoy my OJ, but it’s not long for my shopping list.)

    If you’re one of the people who wants a more lively downtown, (turn off the tv and) spend more time there and ask your friends to join you. I’ll gladly meet any AUers for lunch downtown.

    Behavior just might trump building as the more powerful means of positive change if we really make an attempt.

    That’s all for me for a while. Gotta get some work done. Talk amongst yourselves. :-)
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 07:17PM    #
  79. Todd,

    You’ve given Cahill the benefit of the doubt for long enough. You keep discussing “values” as though he shares them, but I think you need to consider the possibility that median home values of $500,000 is the only value that means anything to him.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 27 '05 - 07:33PM    #
  80. “Zero-energy buildings. (Google it.) We’re not quite there, but the concept is worth looking at—both for its potential and its shortcomings.”

    You want the city to require all new development to use technology that doesn’t actually work yet?

    “How about we build as few new buildings as possible while we figure some things out and fix up the current stock?”

    To echo Todd: there are people out there looking for housing, and you can’t make them cease to exist by refusing to build housing for them in Ann Arbor. You just make them spend their housing money someplace else.

    OK, “fix up the current stock” and maybe you can add a little bit of extra capacity. How are you going to do that exactly?

    “We better start building soil to grow food in the city.”

    OK, I can buy that transportation is likely to become more expensive in the future, but I can’t take seriously the suggestion that we need farmland in downtown Ann Arbor. Transporting food a few miles just isn’t that hard.
       —J. Bruce Fields    Sep. 27 '05 - 07:38PM    #
  81. This discussion on energy efficient and sustainable buildings has been interesting … but it will either have to happen by:
    [a] mandate (do you think that as a community we can come to consensus on that?),
    [b] market demand (Steve seems to suggest that Ann Arborites often lack the desire to make good choices … I agree), or
    [c] risk taking innovation by developers (what are the chances given the cost of everything else that we desire?).

    So we can talk all we want about ideal buildings and how to solve our country’s addiction to fossil fuel … and I think we should definately be talking about that … but not as a substitute for the other conversation that we need to be having … which is, until a, b, or c choices from above happens … what should we be doing related to planning and zoning of our downtown to bring more affordable housing, support local retail and business, get more eyes on the street, stop sprawl, make downtown more pedestrian friendly, etc, etc,. It’s not an either/or debate …

    I wouldn’t characterize the Calthorpe process as a scam, yet I don’t see it as completely open.

    Steve, what specifically has been the problem? If you don’t want to comment here, I’d appreciate your honest comments to my inbox.

    we’ll want to check with that “workforce” population to see what kind of housing they’re actually interested in and inform them of the larger context as well so that they can make better individual decisions. (Maybe they’ll choose to move south and leave us to get our own drinks and wash our own dishes.)

    One of the biggest problems with any visioning or planning exercise is that you don’t hear from the people that are NOT here. And it’s important to know why people looked to A2 as a potential place to live, then decided not to come here … workforce, university, or otherwise. We also don’t really know what drove people out … it’s hard to tell in a college town because there is so much flux of population related to the university … but my guess is there are a number of people who leave town for another reason besides done with school/university job and time to move on.
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 27 '05 - 07:56PM    #
  82. re: New York as “greenest” US city

    “Scott, that’s another case of an improvement that falls short of sustainability (I believe).”

    I agree urban density doesn’t solve every potential problem, but I think on the balance it’s more sustainable (in terms of supporting all of humanity; not just the few privileged) than less dense options (which, if not rural, is by definition suburban; and even an energy efficient, pesiticide free suburbia is vastly less efficient than a dense urban space, IMO).

    “It assumes the worst-case (i.e., straw-man) alternative: sprawling suburbia with pesticide-laden lawns (and riding mowers), SUVs, swimming pools, and infrastructure like ‘highways and everything else.’”

    Not entirely—if you read the entire article, the argument is more nuanced. E.g., average urbanites use something like 4 times less energy heating/cooling their homes, even with the decrepit hvac systems many city buildings have. That’s huge by itself!

    “The article makes no mention of food (or waste) except for walking to the store (as if that were where food were produced.”

    True. However, it seems much more efficient to deliver food stuffs to a concentrated population rather than to a population spread out all over the goddam place. There isn’t nearly enough room on the planet to have everyone live in detached housing in the middle of a bunch of farms. If we all get on top of one another, that also happens to free up potentially arable land nearby which can be used to produce food.
       —Scott Trudeau    Sep. 27 '05 - 07:59PM    #
  83. “We also don’t really know what drove people out …”

    In my case, few interesting job opportunities; not a very solid community of anyone 22-32 who isn’t a grad student (they form their own cliques) or young parents (I don’t have kids or want any, yet); reliance on a car; no dog parks (makes the whole living downtown thing a lot harder); housing costs (wouldn’t be so bad if transportation wasn’t so expensive) ...
       —Scott Trudeau    Sep. 27 '05 - 08:04PM    #
  84. “How will we make steel beams without fossil fuels?”

    Surprisingly, I’ve noticed most of the 6-12 story buildings going up around my neighborhood in brooklyn are all concrete/cinder block or renovations of older structures. Not that that’s not energy intensive, but you don’t need steel to build up … Hell, Edinburgh in Scotland had 12 story buildings in Medieval times…

    “And how do you feed the millions of people living there?”

    That’s a tough call, though if we could plow down all the suburbs and concentrate people into cities, that frees up a hell of a lot of nearby land for farming… not that that’ll happen, but I don’t think it’s improbable. Simple technologies like treadle pumps and drip irrigation have gone a long way in developing countries to making agriculture much more productive and sustainable on land not suitable for Green Revolution-style farming. Smaller scale farming is more labor intensive, but can be much more productive per acre.
       —Scott Trudeau    Sep. 27 '05 - 08:09PM    #
  85. Jennifer, I’m glad you’re angry. Gantert’s coverage blew Calthorpe’s cover. I hope the city (including the project’s steering committee, which you are on) will be assertive about telling Calthorpe that people’s views are not to be discounted.

    I just got a copy of Calthorpe’s contract with the city. V-e-r-y i-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-i-n-g!
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 27 '05 - 08:40PM    #
  86. And yet, Dave, you not only discount, you pretend not to hear any view that opposes your own, you sanctimonious twit.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 27 '05 - 09:21PM    #
  87. Jennifer, or [d] we can become the developers. There may also be other options.

    As for the Calthorpe process, I see now that ‘not completely open’ wasn’t an accurate characterization either. Substitute “inclusive” for “open”. (By the way, as you probably are aware, a subset of the current “workforce” population can be found on break or taking out trash in any downtown alley or at the bus station or the parking structures at predictable times. The process could be taken to them.)

    However, what the process doesn’t appear to be open to considering is a future not in line with SEMCOG’s population estimates (a little under 100,000 increase for Washtenaw by 2030 and about 270,000 for the region, based on “current trends”.) Or am I mistaken on that? Assuming not, it’s up to us citizens to offer a more informed scenario that takes into account peak oil and all its implications. And what it doesn’t seem to encourage is looking at the downtown in the larger context of the rest of the city’s land area or of resource-availability projections. It’s up to us citizens to add the context as needed, even if it means doing it after they submit their report.

    Scott, that other category that you were looking for is small town. They do still exist. ;-) Existing suburbs and maybe even suburban cities (as someone suggested parts of Ann Arbor qualify as) might be able to be remade (decentralized) into small town or neighborhood-centric units, self-reliant for as much as possible. And just to be clear, I’m not arguing against attached housing of any kind (or in favor of detached housing), just against going ‘too far’ down the high-tech, high-rise road, as measured by our most informed considerations. (I was thinking of ‘tall’ as being 10+ stories, by the way.)
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 27 '05 - 11:52PM    #
  88. Jeez, 30 comments since I last checked. Steve, congratulations on carrying the day’s conversation…Even if I disagree with you. (Bruce and Scott represent my views pretty well, though, so I won’t repeat.

    RJY –
    I’ll support developments that I think advance goals of the community (or, at least, my goals for the community) along with having a solid bottom line – but I won’t rubber-stamp all developments just for developments’ sake.

    I disapprove of almost all developments happening at Ann Arbor’s periphery. If I were to spend time objecting to every condo development that has buildings with their backs to the street, and alienated from all surrounding uses, though, I wouldn’t have time to participate in threads like this one, which I care about more. (Incidentally, this is part of why I care so strongly about hashing out this downtown debate – once we do, we can finally move to the next part of town and start working there.)

    I went before Planning Commission in April(?) to speak against a 1-story, auto-oriented replacement to the junkyard at Plymouth and Murfin – arguing for a denser, pedestrian-friendly site plan.

    I wrote to CPC and went before Council in December with Juliew and neighbors to speak against 828 Greene. (Initially, I supported 828 Greene, but was convinced to change my mind.)

    I’ve stated my unimpressedness with LoFT322 before – I’d rather send that one back to the drawing board (just to name one feature – I don’t like the ground floor being all parking), but, sad irony, the development I don’t care for is the one that has pre-existing approval for its envelope, doesn’t need a rezoning, and isn’t a PUD, giving me, really, little chance to protest. I just have to shrug and be glad that the DDA’s Partnerships Committee was every bit as skeptical as I when LoFT 322 came asking for assistance.

    I think Corner House is a very good example of why we need some kind of design standards (at least, “does what gets build substantially resemble the architectural renderings given the CPC? (Yes/no)).

    So, no, I do not provide unquestioning support to developers or developments. I don’t even unquestioningly support the developments that I do support. (For example, why don’t we let Glen-Ann off with reduced parking requirements so that they can maybe lop a story off or make more affordable units because they aren’t building so much super-expensive underground parking? (Oh, wait, it’s because the OFW would scream bloody murder if we let Glen Ann build less parking…))
       —Murph    Sep. 27 '05 - 11:59PM    #
  89. Afterthought: it’s unfortunate that “not drinking the amber kool-aid” comes off as “unquestioning support for all developments”. I’ll try harder to make sure I state my objections in the future.

    Meanwhile, you refer to “a Developers Association” – can I ask what you’re referring to there?

    I ask because I worry that you’re talking about the Downtown Development Authority (full disclosure, again, my employers), which is in no way a developers’ group. I’d like to kick whatever policy wonk wrote a name so easy to attack into the State’s enabling legislation. “Their name has the word ‘development’ in it, so they must represent the interests of ‘developers’!” Confusing the DDA with a developers’ group probably leads you to be more likely to suspect them, and, if you think they don’t have the public’s interest in mind, I encourage you to attend a Board or Committee meeting, see what they talk about, and meet some of the people involved. (Board meetings 1st wednesdays, Committee meeting dates listed in the Board mtg agenda (pdf).)

    Countdown to my being attacked (again) for being a pawn of Big Development: 10…9…
       —Murph    Sep. 28 '05 - 12:11AM    #
  90. Steve –
    While it might be the case that “small town living” is, in the long run / in general, the most sustainable option, I’d argue that using that to attack discussion of pulling Washtenaw growth into Ann Arbor defeats your purpose.

    Ann Arbor cannot control Washtenaw’s growth! All we can do is pull it into town or push it out of town. If we pull it into town, we prevent it from being built on (read: destroying) valuable farmland. If you’re worried about food provision for any given population, consider the wider consequences of a local decision.

    I’m not saying I disagree with you. I’m saying that I think some of your statements in this discussion are working at cross-purposes to your ideal goals. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    (I’m also skeptical that 30 settlements the size of Chelsea are more sustainable than one the size of Ann Arbor…But I have no evidence to support my skepticism, so I’m not going to press the point.)
       —Murph    Sep. 28 '05 - 12:18AM    #
  91. Murph, I’ve in no way “attack”ed bringing Washtenaw’s growth into the city, much less discussion of it. (Note my liberal use of qualifiers like “perhaps”, “might”, “probably”, etc.) Maybe you disagree (which you did in #88 before you didn’t in #90) with others’ misrepresentations of my position rather than with my actual position. Or maybe I’m just not able to get it all across clearly in less than the thousands of words I’ve written already. To paraphrase you, I don’t unquestioningly support increased density even when I support increased density.

    I will amend my comment to Todd in #75, however. No doubt increased downtown residential development over the last twenty years would have impacted transportation and other energy use, and that would have been worthwhile (a positive thing) in both the short term and the long term, most likely outweighing any long-term downside.

    Overall, I hope that I’ve successfully conveyed a sense of urgency about rethinking our future and acting accordingly (and not a sense that I have the answers.)

    Many activities in life are forms of practice. Practice in the sense that someday we’ll come up against the real thing and need to perform at our best. Our discussions here (in addition to their very real purpose) are practice for a time when we won’t be able to afford petty defensiveness and snideness. If we practice well, things like compassion, cooperation, open-mindedness, honesty, respect for diversity, and the like might actually become habits and be able to serve us well.

    If you or anyone else have specific feedback on how I’ve miscommunicated or otherwise not been clear, I’d like to hear from you.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 28 '05 - 12:56PM    #
  92. To answer a question about the purchase of the “Y”. It was a joint effort by the City and the DDA. The Bank of Ann Arbor offered an interest-only loan to the City, with a balloon payment in 2008. The DDA is financing half of the interest payments, while the City’s Housing Trust Fund is financing the other half. When the land is sold to the developer, both bodies will recover their costs.
       —Leah    Sep. 28 '05 - 01:29PM    #
  93. I wrote: “Our discussions here (in addition to their very real purpose) are practice for a time when we won’t be able to afford petty defensiveness and snideness.”

    Please scratch “petty”. Defensiveness in general is a problem, and I don’t mean to imply that anyone’s behavior here is petty in any way (with the possible, occasional exception of some who correspond anonymously.) And maybe something closer to “gruffness” applies better than “snideness”. Anyway, you get the idea.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 28 '05 - 01:45PM    #
  94. Speaking of petty people who post anonymously….

    I noticed from your e-mail address that you work for Berg & Assoc. Any news on the progress of the Kingsley Lane project? Although my neighbors are probably relieved that it seems indefinitely stalled, I thought it was a reasonably nice project, and preferable to the unkempt vacant lot.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 28 '05 - 01:53PM    #
  95. Food for thought: an interesting article on density and affordability: (Murph, I think you might have found this originally?). Also, an article in the new Observer discusses the rise in sale price of the rental houses near campus, even as rentals falter and apartment buildings come down in price.
       —Juliew    Sep. 28 '05 - 02:34PM    #
  96. I don’t think we can focus so narrowly on the downtown. In fact, I’m not sure downtown is even the place to start, given the relatively few currently available building sites. There are places around town (Briarwood Mall area, Stadium Blvd, north side near Pfizer) where we are building one-story housing or tall office buildings, but no “tall” (even 4-6 story) housing units. These areas of town are within walking distance of existing grocery stores, shopping, transportation, and lots of jobs, but have no residential over two stories. We can not put all new building in the downtown area. We can not house all new residents in the downtown area. If we are really going to do this, we need to build multiple-story housing all over the city, not just downtown. Downtown is but one neighborhood, it is expensive, and the infrastructure is less robust than in many other areas of town. By devoting all this time and energy to downtown, we lose bigger opportunities (envision Stadium Blvd lined with three to ten-story mixed-use buildings). How about the North Sky development: 32 acres of primarily single-family homes, 182 homes on 32 acres, far away from any amenities or employment. Fundamentally they are rebuilding the Old West Side, only not walkable to anywhere, which makes no sense to me. Why did this get approved? It is sprawl dressed up with pretty colors, but no one complains because it is sprawl with porches.

    It makes me sick when I walk by 828 Greene, in part because I liked the houses that were there, but mostly because it is a missed opportunity. It is the least common denominator: poorly built, unattractive, expensive to live in, detrimental to the neighborhood, and probably to the city. These are the sorts of buildings that get people to show up and decry the city and the work of developers. We need to find ways to put buildings in this city that we can be proud of, not that make residents want to stop all development.

    We need something new, something sustainable, something different than the current process and buildings. We need to find a way to get people excited about interesting design all over town. I see by the city’s web site that we are one of the cities to take place in the Great Lakes Climate Policy Coordination Project. Well, why not start by mandating green roofs on new development (or premiums for a specific list of environmental features)? But don’t just leave developers hanging with a random requirement, have guidelines and staff who will help work it into the plan, show them how much money they can save long-term, see if there are state or federal grants that could be used to promote this. Or have design competitions (similar to the RFP process) where University urban planners, architecture students, landscape students, and developers come together to build good new developments. We need to be creative about how to make this city better. Not by taking sides over something like how tall buildings are, but by working together (and yes, including residents) to create the best buildings possible. Money is always an issue, but there are creative ways of getting money, marketing, or creating incentives.
       —Juliew    Sep. 28 '05 - 02:41PM    #
  97. ....I have agreed before that we should also try and build up outside of the downtown.

    Setting aside issues of walkability and improved transit options, the biggest reason that I, and others, have focused on the downtown is:

    The University of Michigan is located there! They put job growth at the U at 4% per year for as far as they can forecast. Couple that with all ancillary jobs that are needed because of this growth as well as, obviously, ever expanding enrollment, and you see why it’s best to focus on putting housing and retail next door to this job/student demand if it is at all possible.

    That said, JulieW’s right. Get citizens involved in design, proactive, not reactive design. Amen to that. Reactive design give you middling projects or complete pieces of poo like 828 Greene.

    The sad thing is that I don’t blame the developer. We are in a state of crisis at the planning/building dept., and developers are left with the notion that getting any project through is an act of God. How in the heck are we going to get excellent design in this kind of atmosphere?

       —todd    Sep. 28 '05 - 02:55PM    #
  98. Wow – only two more comments after this one and we will reach 100!

    I thought folks might be interested in some statements people who are participating in the Calthorpe workshops made to me after the Friday 9/23 AA News article:

    It seems like a recommendation for really big buildings is a “done deal”.

    This is typical “big city politics.”

    “This process is intended to manipulate the public.”

    “The city does this all the time. It forms citizen committees and then ignores them.”
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 28 '05 - 03:37PM    #
  99. Murph,

    Great answers! As one of the most frequent posters here, you’ve gone a long way towards convincing me that there’s more to the people here than “must build downtown!” vs “never build downtown!”.

    We all have our pet issues, and mine is hoping to see something other than $400k+ condos going up downtown. I’m still not convinced that any amount of market-driven new construction will lead to that. The article Juliew posted about Seattle just makes me more worried that left alone to pure market forces, increased development in a popular area won’t lead to affordable housing.

    I like Juliew’s suggestion of focusing more outside of downtown. I’m in the Stadium/Liberty neighborhoor right now, and perhaps the renovation of Stadium will help, but that neighborhood should be much more of an urban center than it is currently.
       —RJY    Sep. 28 '05 - 04:57PM    #
  100. Well, Dave, I guess your reporting shows that the Calthorpe workshop HAS established a consensus: citizens want veto power over individual projects. Which we already knew. And want to change.
       —Dale    Sep. 28 '05 - 05:14PM    #
  101. That’s a possibility, Dale. And it’s also possible that each of those people Dave spoke to has their own unique ‘reason’ for their comments. I think it would be worth finding out, if possible. More importantly, and even if they do have similar reasons, we’d do well to find out why they hold them.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 28 '05 - 06:14PM    #
  102. Juliew, I think I did initially find that article, and I think I linked to it initially to disagree with the headline . The article says that, to promote affordability, make sure you build more affordable housing than you destroy, look for infill opportunities, and try to prevent speculative purchase of rental units. Added density that follows these guidelines can help affordability, added density that works against them will hurt. Again, it’s not a simple matter of “density good” or “density bad”, but a question of how.

    I think downtown is very important for a few reasons:
    * It’s where the greatest concentration of existing amenities/services is.
    * It’s where the transit system (access to citywide amenities) is focused.
    * It’s where the least work is required to create a viable downtowny built form, and the transit/pedestrian-supportiveness, energy and land efficiency that brings.
    * It’s where the least work is required to create decent ordinance/plan support.
    * There’re already several dedicated entities in the downtown to support/oversee/watchdog new work. (DDA, CAC, various merchants’ associations.)

    Should we work on Stadium, Eisenhower, South Main/State/Industrial, Plymouth, Jackson Road as well? Heck yes!

    But there’s a lot less to work with there. I’m an advocate of working on the downtown first because I see it as the easiest to set in action so that stuff can happen there while we move on to other areas.
       —Murph.    Sep. 28 '05 - 06:14PM    #
  103. “we’d do well to find out why they hold them.”

    Steve, I’m all for that….which is why I asked Dave C. several times why building up/true density is bad.

    And, as is often the case, I get no answer.

    This is why I don’t like asking someone who lives next door to a project what they think about the final plans. It’s like asking a 5 year old if they’d rather have a plate full of candy or a plate full of vegetables. Rene’s metaphor for this behavior is “it’s ponies for everyone”.

    You have to give an honest and valid reason for your opposition to something. JulieW’s question re:the three siteplan comes to mind. She asked “hey, is this the best place for a parking garage”. Good question.

    The opposite of this is “hey man, parks are better than parking lots”. This stuff needs to stay in 7th grade debate class where it belongs.

    So now that even Steve B. is asking for your opinion Dave, let’s hear it!
       —todd    Sep. 28 '05 - 06:33PM    #
  104. Actually, I would like Dave to share not only his own opinion, but his best guess as to those of the people he spoke with (or at least overheard) at the session. Best case, he’d be able to talk again with them first and then report to us.

    I’d also like him to know that I would appreciate his time in sharing and that his comments will be a positive contribution to our community’s efforts to improve, regardless of whether I or anyone else here agrees with him or the others—even if any of those ‘reasons’ are feelings rather than logical thoughts (“valid”, as Todd suggests), they’ll be valuable and respected, at least by me.

    PSD, no, nothing to report.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 28 '05 - 06:48PM    #
  105. As another thought on expressed opinions to date,

    I do not think that the 2nd workshop indicated a consensus against small buildings, as Dave thinks it did.

    I think the 2nd workshop indicated a lack of consensus (at least, it did at the table Dave and I were at) on most issues, and lack of consensus took the form of not laying things down on the map – the status quo. A holdout to a particular idea/proposal prevented it from going down.

    There were a few things that I thought there was consensus at our table on, and that’s what I reported when presenting our tables results; other things that no consensus was reached on I saved for my individual written comments.

    There was no consensus on the proper downtown form – there was a distinct lack of consensus that, based on the way the exercise was set up, could be (conveniently) misinterpreted as a consensus on maintaining the current form.
       —Murph.    Sep. 28 '05 - 06:59PM    #
  106. “regardless of whether I or anyone else here agrees with him or the others—even if any of those “reasons” are feelings rather than logical thoughts (“valid”, as Todd suggests), they’ll be valuable and respected, at least by me.”

    I’m not trying to sound like a bully here. I don’t think that it’s too much to ask someone to provide a reason for their feeling. You need more than “cause I said so”.

    Example: The rug shop a block from my business is leaving. The best thing for my business would be for a coffee shop, restaurant, sandwich shop or something.

    According to the current method of use/building approval, because I am a neighbor I can:

    1. Protest if the new tenant doesn’t conform to what I want
    2. Protest if they want to add structures to the site
    3. Protest if it’s an end use that I don’t like.
    4. Protest if the building is taller than I want

    And most importantly,
    5. Give no good reason as to why the project shouldn’t go ahead. Unless, of course, a commission accepts the reason “I like things just fine the way they are”.

    And this makes sense why? If I was a greedy s.o.b., I could easily delay the installation of a new tenant for months. Now why on earth would anyone want to know what I want for an individual project? You’re going to get a very, very selfish answer 9 times out of 10.

    Reasons are important, particularly if someone wants to participate in a dialog, or in a community whose members don’t agree with you.
       —todd    Sep. 28 '05 - 07:32PM    #
  107. “Now why on earth would anyone want to know what I want for an individual project?”

    Because you’re part of the community and we care how a change in the neighborhood affects you and your interests. (Don’t we?)

    “You’re going to get a very, very selfish answer 9 times out of 10.”

    Possibly, and it’s still worth knowing what’s behind it if possible. But getting an honest answer depends on them having a sufficient level of trust.

    Try to understand that some people don’t understand the reasons for their feelings. Their thoughts are usually a different matter. We all(?) generate thoughts based on information.
       —Steve Bean    Sep. 28 '05 - 07:47PM    #
  108. Well, Steve, I guess that I’m just different….or too much of a liberatarian…to think that I should impose my will on another neighbor/property owner.

    Now if they actually asked for my opinion, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

    The way things are set up now, the neighbors opinions are forced on another property owner. That’s great in a covenant run suburb, but not in a city….or at least not without a good reason.

    I think that, at the very least, if you ask a neighbor to change his/her building or behavior, and he/she asks “why?”, you damn well better have an answer at the ready. That’s frontier cowboy justice (maybe my problem is that I like spaghetti westerns too much).

    If you don’t have a rational reason, you are the one who is being a bad neighbor, not the other way around.
       —todd    Sep. 28 '05 - 07:57PM    #
  109. The way things are set up now, the neighbors opinions are forced on another property owner. That’s great in a covenant run suburb, but not in a city….or at least not without a good reason.

    Or, conversely, the property owner’s actions are forced on the neighbors. Frontier justice takes an even dimmer view of actions that affect someone’s home. I don’t think either way is the way to get something that works well.
       —Juliew    Sep. 28 '05 - 08:07PM    #
  110. Anyone else who missed the 2nd workshop can read the press release here: PR-A2D2Workshop922.pdf

    I found it useful to read what was covered in the workshop, since mostly people have only stated their own impressions in this thread.
       —KGS    Sep. 28 '05 - 09:33PM    #
  111. I’ll see what I can do about reading more Heinberg and Kunstler, but right now, imminent Peak Oil is just a hypothesis. I don’t doubt someday oil production will peak. It could even be a few years from now, who knows. But we need much more of a consensus by scientists and economists before we start basing all our policy decisions on a single hypothesis.

    Having said that, of course I agree that ultimately, the larger context (environmental, social, what have you) needs to be looked at. Especially once you actually start building buildings. But I don’t think these workshops are designed, or are even a good way, to educate people about the largest context possible. Instead, I see them as addressing a single problem; lots of people are going to be moving to Washtenaw County in the near future. Where and how will/should they live? (And for me there is a larger question that the workshops aren’t addressing; what about the rest of SE Michigan?)

    If Peak Oil happens tomorrow, then forget it; any plan is useless. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to start basing all urban planning issues on the possibility that the US is going to go Beyond Thunderdome by 2025. Could it happen? Sure. Is it likely to? I don’t see that it’s really any more likely than the maintenance status quo. Or, maybe a meteor will land and destroy everything. It could happen. Or maybe the economy will evaporate and the question of peak oil will become academic. It could happen. Or maybe fusion power will become a reality just as the wells begin to dry up, and we’ll have as much energy as we need forever. It could happen. But we can’t pick any one of these scenarios and assume it will happen.

    Now having said that, I think it’s a good idea to consider planning for multiple possibilities. One way to do that is indeed, to go green as much as possible (without unduly constraining development, I would say.) I would support such efforts.

    I also agree that behavior is an important tool that shouldn’t be overlooked. But I would add that behavior itself happens within a certain social context, and IMO good planning can influence and direct behavior (as can bad planning…) So I agree, people should turn off their TVs and start walking around. But how can we make sure newcomers will do the same thing? How can we encourage people to turn off their TVs? To me, that’s the question here.

    I do think that developing little pockets of centralization along the edges would be a good idea. (Jackson and Zeeb is maybe a good example of where this has not happened the way it could.) But again, that takes planning for density: making spaces walkable, clustered retail, clustered housing, public transportation, and so on. I mean, let’s say for some reason, we all needed to move back to the country—wouldn’t we want it to be clear of McMansions so we can till the soil?

    Getting back to Peak Oil, I just don’t see how you can plan for a total social breakdown. Or else, I think that building good cities and communities is the best prevention for social breakdown, by increasing community spirit and civic virtues!

    And having said all that, I do think Peak Oil is a worthwhile question, and merits serious consideration.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 28 '05 - 10:08PM    #
  112. “And for me there is a larger question that the workshops aren’t addressing; what about the rest of SE Michigan?”

    The reality is that SE Michigan isn’t growing, it’s just spreading out. SEMCOG has documented this effect for years. The sprawl of the suburbs is simply people migrating further out from the urban areas. They aren’t being replaced by new residents or immigrants (generally speaking – there are areas in Detroit that are seeing immigrants moving in) which is why Detroit and the inner-ring suburbs continue to lose population while the areas overall population stays relatively stagnant.
       —John Q.    Sep. 29 '05 - 12:53AM    #
  113. The comments that I posted in #98 were all reactions to the Gantert coverage and/or the appointment of developers to that Economics Task Force. Each of these four people have their own views about development. But they were all united in thinking that the Calthorpe process is not intended to give citizens what they want. Instead, the goals (one of which is really big buildings) have apparently already been set.
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 29 '05 - 03:59PM    #
  114. I have so much to say about all this that y’all would probably wander off in disinterest long before I was finished. It’s also not really fair to raise new issues in the hundred and umpteenth response. So I’ll shut up, for now.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Sep. 29 '05 - 05:11PM    #
  115. With regard to Murph’s comments about what happened at our table, I have a different take on it. (Surprise, surprise.)

    The folks at our table also included Linda Berauer, who is on the Parks Advisory Commission as well as the new Greenway Task Force. Plus Terry Wilkinson, a realtor. Sorry to have omitted her name earlier.

    There were a several compromises around particular properties. Murph and Jan Allen (our facilitator, a city employee, who kept pushing development even though that was not her role) really wanted to build inside the Old Fourth Ward Historic District. I, Vivienne Armentrout, Dave Osler, and Linda Berauer did not. We compromised by allowing one residential building within the historic district on what is now a parking lot.

    Terry and some others wanted to totally redevelop the area on the west side of Main St. north of Ann. The rest of us thought that the existing businesses were valuable. We compromised on rebuilding and improving the Main Party Store and putting an extra level on the Ann-Ashley parking structure, with some housing on top of that.

    Probably our biggest struggle was over the county/DDA owned surface lots on the west side of Main. Murph and a couple of others wanted to build really big buildings there. Vivienne Armentrout and I said that was silly, since the County had fangs and would not agree. Murph went off the find County Commissioner Lee Gunn, but she had left. So we all agreed to the construction of not-so-big buildings. Yet another compromise.

    Politics, including development politics, is “the art of the possible.” I think our table did a good job of putting together something realistic and possible.
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 29 '05 - 05:48PM    #
  116. Dave’s really big buildings in #115 are on the order of 6 stories high, a mere block away from Ann-Ashley. Yep, simply enormous…

    And, Dave, sure, politics is the art of the possible. Let’s talk about why you think a six-story building is “really big” and why you think that’s bad. It may be “unrealistic” because people will disagree with it, but let’s talk about why people disagree with it. Starting with you.

    You make it sound as if people like me are trying to build a copy of Tower Plaza on every block, which is malicious disinformation – maybe if you stopped trying to misrepresent other peoples’ views and actually discussed your own, we might be able to get somewhere. Like (horror) agreement.
       —Murph.    Sep. 29 '05 - 08:20PM    #
  117. Oh, and remember when Terry and I were talking about doing facade renovations on buildings along Main St in order to preserve the “historic character”, but reengineering the structures and adding levels on top, perhaps with front setbacks in order to minimize the street-level visual impact? You at least seemed to think that was a patently ridiculous idea, but I went on a tour of downtown Flint on Thursday, and they’re doing exactly that.

    I’ll repeat for emphasis: We’re being out-innovated by Flint.

    Dave, you really need to stop talking about what’s possible or not possible, and start talking about what’s good and what’s bad – once we figure out what we all think is good, then we can worry about how to make it happen.
       —Murph.    Sep. 29 '05 - 08:34PM    #
  118. That was approved for the Wilkinson building by the HDC—bringing upper levels up to code and adding a fourth level. I was at the meeting and said we should be doing this on just about every downtown building.
       —Dale    Sep. 29 '05 - 09:23PM    #
  119. Tsk. Murph, please control your anguish at the fact that people don’t agree with you. 8-)
       —David Cahill    Sep. 29 '05 - 10:52PM    #
  120. Dave, my anguish is at the fact that people don’t agree with me and I don’t even know why. I’m fine with people thinking I’m totally offbase as long as I know where they’re coming from.

    It’s the ones who just continually tell me they don’t agree and won’t elaborate that I can’t agree to disagree with.
       —Murph.    Sep. 30 '05 - 03:23AM    #
  121. Murph, you’re making a mistake in treating him like a grown up. Forget for a moment the ugly, gray-haired, 60-odd year old jerk that he appears to be, and instead envision the spoiled, petulant, manipulative child that he actually is.

    He wants, as Todd would say, his pony. And he will do anything to have it.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 30 '05 - 01:51PM    #
  122. Oh – I forgot one more thing that happened at our table. I really wanted a Kroger’s-size grocery store somewhere in our area (North Main-Kerrytown). There was even a chip provided for this. Downtown has lacked a real grocery store for longer than I care to think about.

    I got no support from anyone else. People were afraid that such a grocery store would put the Farmer’s Market about of business.

    This is one more example of why redevelopment is so difficult. Something that seems at first blush to be a great idea clashes with already-established interests.
       —Dave Cahill    Sep. 30 '05 - 02:09PM    #
  123. (...I supported that. I even mentioned that PFC would like to expand into a full-scale grocery store, and that a “Krogers-size” grocery wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Krogers.)
       —Murph.    Sep. 30 '05 - 05:11PM    #
  124. Dave, re: grocery store.

    Read carefully.

    You need more people downtown to support a grocery store of that size.

    You see, Dave, all of this is connected. You need more density to support things like mass transit or large, reasonably priced grocery stores. Unless, of course, you want to pony up the dough for a grocery store.

    If you want to know why we don’t have a grocery store dowtown, find the nearest mirror.

    Of course, you won’t do this, and you’ll go right back to complaining about scary tall buildings. Nah….not having a grocery store downtown isn’t actually connected to a lack of people living downtown…together with insane rents and taxes. No, of course not!

    The real problem is that those stupid grocery store owners are just plain dumb. Yeah, that’s it.

    Sorry if I seem to be picking on you Dave, but come on already. You graduated from law school for crying out loud! I can’t believe that you don’t understand these connections. You are being deliberately obtuse, no question.
       —todd    Sep. 30 '05 - 05:44PM    #
  125. Oh, and Larry K,

    Let’s hear it. I want to read you opinion.
       —todd    Sep. 30 '05 - 05:54PM    #
  126. Yes, Larry K, let us hear from you.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 30 '05 - 11:54PM    #
  127. Hm. As far as I can see, nobody has entered an article about the third (and final) Calthorpe workshop, held November 3. Here are my comments:

    The Calthorpe folks had done case studies on several college towns (such as Berkeley and Madison) which were making real efforts to increase their housing (especially affordable housing) downtown. Nearly all of these towns were providing heavy public subsidies for this housing.

    Based on the case studies, and their conclusions from various population projections, the Calthorpe people said that in 2030 there could be anywhere from 500 (low) to 2800 (high) new housing units. They picked the high figure.

    At the second workshop, the maps we used showed “opportunity sites” outlined in yellow. We were told at that time to look especially at those sites for possible development. An opportunity site is one in which the buildings (if any) have relatively low value compared to the value of the land itself. Hence, such a site is considered “undervalued,” with high potential for development or redevelopment. So these sites were either parking lots, vacant lots, or sites with relatively small buildings.

    At the third workshop, the conceptual plan we were shown had new construction only on these opportunity sites. None were in historic districts, except for maybe one or two sites. The total area of the opportunity sites is 58 acres.

    Calthorpe then apportioned the 2800 new housing units among the opportunity sites, with heights varying depending on the individual locations. Only two locations were targeted for buildings over 10 stories: the Brown Block, and the block immediately to the north of it. There were many sites with buildings 5-10 stories, and about the same number with 3-5 stories. The Old Y was warded two buildings of 5-10 stories each, considerably lower that the developers are proposing.

    For the Library Lot, Calthorpe is proposing a “City Plaza.” We were given a quick once-over of this when they showed us an electronic version of their plan. There is a proposed small building next to the preset north end of the porch along Division. The bulk of the present lot would be a kind of semicircular amphitheater. The narrow part of the lot that runs into Fifth would be an arcade of some sort. There would be underground parking.

    This is still very much a work in progress. The final version of the plan will be presented to City Council on December 5.

    My comments on this: It was a real eye-opener to see that the only towns which have succeeded in creating more housing downtown have had to force-feed it with tax money. The free market won’t do it alone. I really doubt if AA taxpayers will underwrite the huge costs involved in the scale of redevelopment which is contemplated. Also, Calthorpe picked the high end of the number of new units (2800) for no apparent reason. This choice was perhaps to be expected, since Calthorpe’s mission is to foment development. However, since AA City has actually lost population in the past four years, I think it highly unlikely that there will be a demand for this number of units – even if the public were willing to subsidize them, which it won’t be.

    Also, Calthorpe’s plan would virtually eliminate all surface parking lots, since they were opportunity sites. Considering the huge cost of underground parking, and the continued failure of alternate modes of transportation, there will be no easy way to create the needed parking which this increased downtown residential population will require. Remember – “In Michigan there can be nothing wrong with the car.”

    So I don’t think this plan is economically viable, and even if Council approves it as a new master plan, I doubt if many of the new structures which would be permitted will actually be built.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 11 '05 - 06:23PM    #
  128. Dave, the demand/cost/building/planning issues are all related and I don’t get why you want to deny that. When we block developments like Glen Ann Place and limit the number of new units created, we certainly drive up rents/mortgages. Surely you recognize that people who WANT to live within the city are unable to AFFORD it. Do you think people are choosing to live in the townships because they don’t want to live in Ann Arbor, but just want to visit on Friday nights?

    None of your arguments make sense to me and I suspect you are trolling; you clearly think Ann Arbor is a great place to live—do you think you are the only one who likes Ann Arbor and would like to live here? Not every one in Washtenaw County is an attorney.

    I might also note that Calthorpe’s predictions are consistent with moderate population growth, since the city’s population is living in smaller households.
       —Dale    Nov. 11 '05 - 07:00PM    #
  129. He is trolling. I don’t believe for a second that Dave C. is this stupid.

    It kinda sucks that he is doing this, because genuine positions from him would be helpful. A lot of people read ArborUpdate…...
       —todd    Nov. 11 '05 - 07:04PM    #
  130. I don’t know what “trolling” means here. I had expected Murph or someone else to enter an article on the third workshop. Since nobody did, and since I have Veterans Day off, I thought I’d post my comments before they were no longer relevant.

    I was surprised to see that, across the country, lots of new housing downtown is not created by the market. That was the big news from the workshop, IMNSHO.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 11 '05 - 07:52PM    #
  131. Dave/David, (note that if you click the “Remember me” checkbox you won’t have to retype your name with each comment on AU) would you please make a clear distinction between new downtown housing and new downtown affordable housing when discussing subsidies? Thanks.
       —Steve Bean    Nov. 11 '05 - 08:45PM    #
  132. “Trolling” refers not to your posting, which is welcome (as long as it is not repetitive, like your Glen Ann Place one). Instead, it is how you take unreasonable and dumb positions on situations to try to get people mad and to debate you. Very common on the internet.

    I don’t recall that “lesson” from the workshop at all (which is on CTN Saturday at 1 and Monday at 2).
       —Dale    Nov. 12 '05 - 02:40AM    #
  133. I’d be interested to see what the regulatory situations were in those other cities before making any conclusions about “the market”. It ought to be brilliantly clear to anybody who pays attention in Ann Arbor that the market is a second-tier determinant of development which comes into play only after the regulatory environment has allowed the development.

    Come to think of it, Glen-Ann Place makes a good case study. After all, here we have a developer responding to market demand they see, but being stymied by regulations. The development doesn’t get built, but you can’t make conclusions about the market from that.
       —Murph.    Nov. 12 '05 - 02:56AM    #
  134. Steve, as I recall the Calthorpe presentation, it was any downtown housing. But I suppose we should wait until the complete Calthorpe report comes to Council on December 5. I’ll want a hard copy myself.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 12 '05 - 03:13AM    #
  135. Has UM land been on the table at all during this process? I personally think a plaza on the library lot is a decent idea, but I’ve always also thought that the corner of the Diag at State and N. University is begging for some more intentionally public use. It could be a square where campus actually engaged the rest of town. I think a big fountain would be cool, but at the least some benches.
       —Dave Dobbie    Nov. 12 '05 - 04:27PM    #
  136. Excellent idea, Dave. That area really isn’t well designed. IIRC, some of the benches that are (or were) there are oriented towards the streets, for some strange reason. For all I know, though, the U might have plans to put a building there in the future. I hope that’s not the case. I encourage you to write to the Daily or the Regents to share your thoughts.

    To answer your question, no, only the DDA area was included in the workshops.
       —Steve Bean    Nov. 12 '05 - 04:46PM    #
  137. Well, the DDA’s area does include the Diag and the buildings within the North U/Church/South U/State area, as well as some of the tentacles of U uses that protrude into the rest of downtown.

    During the exercise, though, basically only privately-owned and City-owned land was considered “in play”, since the question was, “What should the City of Ann Arbor do?” and there was the assumption that other governmental entities wouldn’t be interested.

    I think there’s some wisdom to “stick to what the City can directly affect”, but the County folks I know are reasonable people, as is Campus Planner Sue Gott – I think they’d at least play nice, even if they eventually said “no thanks” to whatever the City, through the Calthorpe process, suggested.

    Of course, note that UM has a much better record, over the past several years, of channelling growth into already developed areas rather than rampaging out over the rest of town. They’re filling in parking lots, replacing lousy 1-story buildings with big labs, etc. Not that I think their urban design is great, nor do I think they’re doing as much as they could to get away from auto-hegemony (Michigan may be a car-state, but an employer the size of UM has plenty of influence), nor have they totally stopped expanding in land area, but I think they’ve made changes for the better in their practice.

    And, if you wrote a letter to the Campus Planners’ office (or created a letter for folks to sign on to and sent it), making suggestions for better use of that corner, they’d at least accept it pleasantly…
       —Murph.    Nov. 12 '05 - 07:05PM    #
  138. Murph—I just read that Stanford has an agreement with their county that if the average number of morning and evening rush hour trips to campus over 40 days meets or exceeds the level from 2001, the university is subject to millions in penalties and road improvements. Since they are getting dangerously close, Stanford is giving their employees thousands in incentives for car pooling, mass transit, and alternative transportation.

    Know anything about this?
       —Dale    Nov. 12 '05 - 11:35PM    #