Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Final Calthorpe Public Hearing Monday

5. February 2006 • Juliew
Email this article

The third and final public hearing on the Calthorpe report will be held during the City Council Meeting this Monday (February 6), in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 100 North Fifth Avenue. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm.

The agenda for the meeting can be found here.



  1. The Calthorpe Cheerleaders made a weak start at tonight’s public hearing.

    According to our now-classic article “Petition to Support the Calthorpe Plan”, the Chamber of Commerce set a goal of 1,000 petition signatures by today.

    Sabrina Keeley, the head of the Chamber, submitted just 100 e-mails and 75 petition signatures.

    It’s always a mistake to publicize a goal and then not make it. 8-)
       —David Cahill    Feb. 6 '06 - 10:05PM    #
  2. On the other hand, of the first 20 speakers at the public hearing, only one stated an outright opposition to the plan. Another half a dozen spoke in favor with significant concerns, and the rest seemed pretty unabashedly happy with the report.

    I stopped counting at that point – there was a short string of detractors a little more recently – but “weak start”? Which hearing are you watching? I’ve been astonished at how favorable the hearing has been to the Calthorpe report – to hear you talk, David, I expected the hearing to be much more “balanced” between pro- and anti-report speakers.

    Maybe that’s what I get for listening to you.

    Shall we take bets on tomorrow’s News spin? Will Gantert base his story on the actual hearing, or is he going to continue getting his coverage from ex-planning commissioners at a diner?
       —Insider...?    Feb. 6 '06 - 10:18PM    #
  3. What I am hearing is that people are generally OK with the Calthorpe plan/framework, but want more artist space, design guidelines (aesthetic and environmental), and greenspace/public space. There has been general agreement that current zoning and current building process isn’t helping anyone.
       —Juliew    Feb. 6 '06 - 10:44PM    #
  4. David,

    The Chamber circulated an informal statement of support to Chamber members. The statement read:

    “Dear City Council:

    I urge you to adopt recommendations from the Calthorpe Plan to improve zoning, permitting and other business processes. I support increased density in downtown Ann Arbor. It is good for business.”

    Over 100 Chamber members signed this statement or emailed it to City Council. We did this to make a point—there is broad-based support throughout the business community for this—and we were successful.

    The petition that you are referring to was handled by Erica Briggs. Erica runs the getDowntown Program at the Chamber and currently chairs the Downtown Marketing Taskforce. In this capacity, she facilitated discussion on the report and circulated a separate informal petition. Initially, a goal of 1,000 signatures was set for this endeavor because 20 people were on the email list and that is 50 signatures apiece. That is the only reason 1,000 signatures was ever mentioned.

    The bigger objective was to demonstrate that there are people out there that support downtown development and increased density if it is done right, and to encourage more people to get involved. 75 signatures were collected in support and people got involved in the public hearing process. It was a success.
       —brandt coultas    Feb. 7 '06 - 10:36AM    #
  5. I was only able to watch the first 15 or 20 minutes of the hearing. One thing that struck me – in addition to the Chamber’s only getting 17.5% of the responses that Erica set as its goal – was the large number of artists that came out. They are joining the line of interest groups that want the benefit of the FAR bonuses.

    The other thing was the cautious note of a lot of the people, such as the Architects’ spokesperson. She mentioned that density was considered a negative, and was one of several folks who spoke in favor of the Calthorpe “framework” without endorsing the specific Calthorpe recommendations.

    So I agree with Juliew’s summary.
       —David Cahill    Feb. 7 '06 - 11:47AM    #
  6. Meanwhile, over in Ypsilanti, the City Council is voting tonight on downzoning Cross Street in order to “reduce residential density, prevent developers from building high rises, and address parking problems in the neighborhood bordering Eastern Michigan University.” Hmmm.

    Full article is here.
       —Juliew    Feb. 7 '06 - 12:53PM    #
  7. Cahill “They are joining the line of interest groups that want the benefit of the FAR bonuses.”

    Good for them. Let’s get them their dough. Stack the bonuses in a favorable way so that people who want more parks, or community centers, or whatever can get what they want. As long as it’s a reasonable program where we aren’t scaring off developers, and the developers are encouraged to build up and pay into these programs, terrific.

    Cahill “She mentioned that density was considered a negative, and was one of several folks who spoke in favor of the Calthorpe “framework” without endorsing the specific Calthorpe recommendations.”

    Works for me. I haven’t met anyone who wants to follow Calthorpe to the letter.

    But I think that you missed the whole point to the Calthorpe exercises, Dave. Steve Bean put it pretty well (thanks steve) when he said something “anything that gets the whole community thinking and talking about Urban Design is well worth the price tag of admission”, or something to that effect. Amen to that.

    I may disagree with most (ok, maybe all) of the people here about where we are heading, and what we need to do, that fact that we are actually talking about this stuff is terrific.
       —todd    Feb. 7 '06 - 01:08PM    #
  8. According to the AA News, the mayor’s count of speakers at yesterday’s public hearing was 29 in favor, 16 against, and 17 neutral, for a total of 62. So there was no majority in favor or against. I don’t know how the mayor counted the “framework” people.

    But the focus of the article was not the hearing. Instead, it was a memo from Jayne Miller, the city’s Community Services Administrator, saying that the cost of implementing the Calthorpe recommendations would be over $2 million! It was a preliminary memo, dated for release at the February 21 Council meeting, which was “obtained” by the News.

    Major cost items in Miller’s memo:

    * $800,000.00 for streamlining the development process.

    * $75,000.00 to $150.000 for the overlay zoning and related issues.

    * $100,000.00 for an affordable housing policy.

    I’ve been in and around AA politics for over 30 years, and I’m not easily shocked. But I am absolutely stunned by the idea that it will take over $2 million to implement Calthorpe! I thought implementation would be free. After all, it should just involve paper shuffling by our existing city staff, shouldn’t it?

    What is Miller recommending, hiring more consultants?
       —David Cahill    Feb. 7 '06 - 02:09PM    #
  9. Cahill “But I am absolutely stunned by the idea that it will take over $2 million to implement Calthorpe! I thought implementation would be free. After all, it should just involve paper shuffling by our existing city staff, shouldn’t it?”

    Of course you think that this would be free. You are the only person in this town who has less financial acumen that I do, and that’s really saying something.

    They will make this money back in a few short years, Dave.

    But, as usual, you miss the point that even if citizens decide to cap building heights at 4 stories throughout downtown, we still need to update zoning, design criteria, handle parking studies, park studies, greenway design plans, or anything else that you and any other anti-development folks want for this town.

    This cost is independant of building heights, Dave. Stop being so damn paranoid.
       —todd    Feb. 7 '06 - 02:37PM    #
  10. If this were an election, and those 17 people who were neutral stayed at home, there would certainly be a majority of speakers last night in favor of the Calthorpe report. Heck, at almost 2/3, it would be considered a ‘landslide’ around here!

    Also, the costs estimated by Miller could very well be the amount of time & effort put in by existing staff to implement it (what you call “shuffling paper”). Moreover, good implementation of a plan isn’t just shuffling paper; it involves, among other things, running public workshops that help guide the actual policies that become our ordinances. That isn’t an invisible cost and shouldn’t be regarded as such. She may also be looking at consultants. Either way, it isn’t worth speculating about it until the actual memo is discussed at the February 21st meeting.
       —KGS    Feb. 7 '06 - 02:39PM    #
  11. I didn’t mention building heights, Todd.

    $2.1 million is more than ten times the cost of the Calthorpe Report. Assuming that the average City staff person makes $75,000 per year, that is the equivalent of 28 staff-years. Not the likely source of the figure.

    Others I have talked to today say the scenario is probably to pay consultants.
       —David Cahill    Feb. 7 '06 - 04:06PM    #
  12. Let me repeat what Brandt wrote earlier. The goal of 1,000 signatures was not a Chamber goal, it was my personal goal. A group comprised partially of members of the Downtown Marketing Task Force gathered in December to discuss our support for Calthorpe Report. I created a petition & put it in the hands of number of individuals concerned with rallying support for the Plan. We also encouraged individuals to write letters of support for implementing the plan and to attend the public hearings. It wasn’t clear prior to the public hearings how much opposition there might be to the Calthorpe Report.

    It became clear at the first public hearing that there wasn’t significant opposition to the Report. Rather many people just had concerns about specific recommendations or the lack of recommendations in particular areas (i.e. the arts). In my opinion, we’re in a great place to move forward. The public hearings did what they were supposed to do. They demonstrated there was support for the principles guiding the Report (increasing residential density downtown, overhauling our zoning codes, etc) & they also highlighted which recommendations weren’t good for our community and what had been overlooked in the Report. Hopefully, City Council and staff, the DDA, and the Planning Commission will take this feedback and incorporate it as they move forward with implementing changes downtown.

    If we do not consciously plan for our downtown, we can not expect to have a healthy, vibrant downtown in the future. Healthy downtowns do not just happen, people make them happen. It requires the City, the business community, nonprofits, and citizens all working together. Currently, there’s 350,000 square feet of downtown office vacancies and 7 retail stores will be closing in the Main Street area this month. In my opinion, downtown needs some “cheerleaders.”
       —Erica Briggs    Feb. 7 '06 - 04:19PM    #
  13. Dave C. “I didn’t mention building heights, Todd.”

    I know you didn’t specifically mention building height’s this time, Dave. I’ve explained why we need reform in the city many, many times.

    Pretend that City Council is going to cap downtown building heights at 4 stories. The city is still going to need to spend money on shaping the city in the way that you want it to look….that’s my only point. This stuff isn’t free, no matter what you want the city to look like.

    Erica Briggs “If we do not consciously plan for our downtown, we can not expect to have a healthy, vibrant downtown in the future. Healthy downtowns do not just happen, people make them happen…... Currently, there’s 350,000 square feet of downtown office vacancies and 7 retail stores will be closing in the Main Street area this month.”

    Thank you, Erica. I was really happy to hear how many people support using the Calthorpe report as a framework for action.

    And action, Dave C., even means getting more input from people like you…..even though I’d rather just use eminent domain to turn your house into a 1/2 story tall building with fairy doors and a plaque reading “in memoriam of short buildings and Davey C.”.
       —todd    Feb. 7 '06 - 05:55PM    #
  14. I agree with KGS: good implementation of a plan isn’t just shuffling paper; it involves, among other things, running public workshops that help guide the actual policies that become our ordinances. If we want to be successful at implementation, then we must involve the public – through workshops and through our existing boards and commissions. Just that alone will take a considerable amount of time and effort (and that costs money). A major reason why Calthorpe was selected as the consultant for the downtown development strategy project was their experience at running community workshops. Those three workshops required a considerable amount of work to plan and organize. Countless staff and volunteer hours went into making those happen … and none of those costs were reflected in the Calthorpe pricetag that some have complained about. Perhaps the reason the estimates for implementation seem so high is that the city is actually estimating the TRUE cost of what it will take staff (and maybe consultants) to implement the plan. And that still doesn’t include the numerous volunteer hours from our boards and commissions.
       —Jennifer Hall    Feb. 7 '06 - 06:14PM    #
  15. Don’t forget legal fees. I’m sure that’s a big part of the cost.

    Juliew, as I understand it, the problem on that segment of Cross street is the number of student renters. Considering that it’s directly across the street from Eastern, that doesn’t suprise me—there’s really very little separating the campus from that neighborhood. I guess the OFW would be the comparable neighborhood in Ann Arbor, though maybe also the Oxford Street neighborhood (Hill & Washtenaw etc.) Those neighborhoods also lack high-rises, and I haven’t heard any calls to increase building heights in those areas (take the recent defeat of Glen/Ann Place as a parallel example) So this move by Ypsi makes sense to me. But it does illustrate the different needs and considerations that different areas merit.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Feb. 7 '06 - 11:09PM    #
  16. Erica, I think I should provide more complete information on your lobbying efforts.

    In an e-mail you sent to a large number of community leaders on December 13, you said in part: “City Council is currently being bombarded with messages from the anti-growth contingency in our community and is being pressured not to support the Calthorpe plan. It is up to us, downtown stakeholders and proponents of smart growth, to turn out supporters in favor of the Calthorpe Plan. If we do not, City Council is likely to hear only from those opposed to the plan.”

    Your e-mail went on to call a “Strategy Group Meeting” for December 20. That is the meeting to which you refer. According to people at the meeting, there were only about 15 people in attendance, and support for Calthorpe was just lukewarm.

    Your campaign for petition signatures then began.

    So you thought you were in serious trouble in mid-December. All was not sweetness and light.

    Considering (a) the denunciations of Calthorpe at the first public hearing by Steve Thorp, former Chair of the Planning Commission, and a bunch of others, plus (b) the divided results of Monday’s public hearing and© the revelation of the large cost for implementation, the fate of Calthorpe is still very much up in the air.

    Yes, Erica, downtown is in serious trouble, but that trouble is not due to lack of big buildings. People interested in downtown should focus on attracting tenants for the empty spaces.
       —David Cahill    Feb. 8 '06 - 11:23AM    #
  17. David said: Considering (a) the denunciations of Calthorpe at the first public hearing by Steve Thorp, former Chair of the Planning Commission, and a bunch of others, plus (b) the divided results of Monday’s public hearing and c) the revelation of the large cost for implementation, the fate of Calthorpe is still very much up in the air.

    Wow, you have very selective hearing! I know at least 2 former planning commission members (myself included) who spoke in favor of the Calthorpe report (though why you think former members of comission opinions matter more than others, I don’t know). The hearing I went to with the DDA was overwhelmingly positive, including support from Laura Rubin (Huron Watershed Council), Ben Stupka (Michigan Environmental Council), Patricia Denig (Wash. County Planning), and Barry Lonik (well-known environmentalist). At the hearing on Monday, as I pointed out before, almost half the speakers coming out for Calthorpe, with just 27% against it. There is far more support for this plan than you like to admit!

    As for the implementation cost, our city desperately needs to overhaul the zoning ordinance, which in many respects is still stuck in the 1950s suburban mindset. That will cost money to do, certainly, but we MUST do it. It is just too out of touch with reality not to, Calthorpe or not.
       —KGS    Feb. 8 '06 - 04:43PM    #
  18. I made a FOIA request for Jayne Miller’s preliminary memo, and my request was granted. The response also included the proposed Council resolution for February 21, plus an appendix of costs and timelines. This stuff is l-o-n-g: eight single spaced pages. I have it in .pdf format. How can it be made available in its entirety here? [Ed: Miller's implementation memo uploaded.]

    Pending that, here is my capsule summary.

    There are 4 priorities outlined in the proposed resolution:

    * Create special overlay zoning for the downtown that identifies areas of similar character

    * Streamline the development proposal process (process mapping and technology improvements)

    * Work with Historic District Commission to clarify criteria for development

    * Pursue a comprehensive parking strategy for Downtown

    City staff would be directed to provide six-month status reports.

    Big-ticket items –
    Overlay zoning, using a consultant: $75,000 – $150,000. Timing: 1 to 2 years

    Streamline development proposal process (process mapping and technology improvements), through ITSD: $800,000. Timing: 1 to 2 years

    Rewrite zoning ordinance to incorporate special overlay zone, incentives, design guidelines, fee schedule and development review process, using a consultant: $150,000. Timing: 2 to 5 years

    Update Downtown Master Plan, using a consultant: $250,000. Timing: 2 to 5 years

    Incorporate a set of essential design guidelines, using City staff: $75,000. Timing: 1 to 2 years

    Downtown streetscape improvement, using DDA: $75,000- $125,000. Timing: 1 to 2 years

    Encourage a diversity of new housing opportunities in downtown, using DDA: $100,000. Timing: 2 to 5 years

    Pursue an affordable housing policy, using DDA: $100,000. Timing: 2 -5 years

    Improve transit service within the downtown, using AATA & DDA: $250,000. Timing: 2 to 5 years

    Another scoop for ArborUpdate!


       —David Cahill    Feb. 14 '06 - 05:27PM    #
  19. Murph told me today that thanks to Scott’s upgrade, he would put a link to the full Miller memo, which I e-mailed him, into my comment above.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 15 '06 - 02:38AM    #
  20. Thanks for the link, Murph! It looks great.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 15 '06 - 10:44PM    #
  21. Council is, supposedly, scheduled to vote on Miller’s proposed resolution on the Calthorpe plan on Tuesday, February 21.

    I say “supposedly” because of a minor mystery. Council’s agenda has been posted on the City’s website since Thursday afternoon. The resolution is D-9. However, when you try to follow the link to D-9, you are told that the document does not exist.

    I called the Clerk’s office on Friday morning to report this dead link. However, the link is still dead.

    My best guess is that there is still a behind-the-scenes debate about exactly what should be in the resolution, and that the final version won’t be available until Monday.

    My second-best guess is that the dead link is purely a technical problem; however, it is rare for such a problem to last so long.

    Anyway, the version of Miller’s resolution which is posted here is still the only publicly available version.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 18 '06 - 07:19PM    #
  22. Maybe the city was telling the truth about budget difficulties and the clerk doesn’t have the staff to jump when a broken link is reported. The only way to be sure is with a FOIA request.


       —Dale    Feb. 18 '06 - 08:49PM    #
  23. Just for the record, I have found the clerk, Jacqueline Beaudry, to be extremely responsive and quick. I have emailed to her in the past about omissions or errors in the packet and they have been addressed within hours.

    I’m sure that Dale was being tongue-in-cheek, but I feel very fortunate for the excellent service I’ve received.

    P.S. The item for William Street Station was also not loaded as of midday Saturday.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Feb. 18 '06 - 10:13PM    #
  24. Oop! Sorry. City government is closed on Monday for Presidents Day. I meant to say that the final version won’t be available until Tuesday, when Council meets.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 19 '06 - 04:31PM    #
  25. Hmp. It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I’m still getting that “Page Not Found” error message on the Calthorpe resolution. I guess we’ll have to wait until this evening to see the final version.


       —David Cahill    Feb. 21 '06 - 07:58PM    #
  26. Council made a few minor amendments to the Calthorpe implementation resolution, made generally supportive comments – and then postponed action for 4 weeks!

    People said the resolution was “meaty,” although actually it was pretty bland and didn’t change any city policies. Also, Marcia Higgins said that Calthorpe was working on tweaking things based on the comments that had been submitted.

    So the wheels were not firmly fixed to the buggy.

    Truly amazing…


       —David Cahill    Feb. 22 '06 - 03:45AM    #