Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City of Ann Arbor Democratic Party Meeting (March 11)

8. March 2006 • Juliew
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Saturday March 11, 2006, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon
Michigan League (Vandenberg Room), 911 North University Ave.

Agenda highlights (For full details, see Tim Colenback’s comment):

I. Discussion and voting on the following resolutions:

Increased citizen input and participation in community development and housing policy development.

Support the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney.

Support the Minimum Wage State of Michigan Ballot Proposal.

Urge the postponement of implementation of the Calthorpe Report recommendations and scheduling party meetings on these matters

Support a moratorium on development downtown until 12/1/06, urging a timely process of amendment for laws guiding development, and scheduling party meetings on these matters.

II. Formation of a committee to study civic involvement and citizen access in the City of Ann Arbor governmental policymaking process and recommend strategies to enhance such access and involvement.

III. Formation of committee to organize field trip to Columbus, IN to investigate award winning city development.

  1. ” ... a field trip to Columbus, IN to investigate award winning city development”

    I grew up in Columbus, Indiana (pop. 39K) and have visited there at least annually in the 20 years since leaving. If there’s a ‘field trip’ I’d be willing to serve as an interpreter and guide in any interactions with the natives ;-)==

    I certainly have a general reaction to the relevance of Columbus, Indiana to Ann Arbor … a very naive, gut-level, crotchety-old-man kind of take … informed by little more than some hometown pride and 10 years of life in Ann Arbor. What I’d be curious to know is what folks who study planning would make of Columbus, Indiana as a model for Ann Arbor.

    By way of a jump start, this URL provides .pdf files containing:

    Zoning Ordinance
    Downtown Columbus Strategic Development Plan

    Frankly, I can’t tell which zoning district the downtown area belongs to (I don’t often read zoning ordinances so my patience for slogging through them is not great) so I can’t say for certain from the ZO what the maximum building height is for downtown (30 feet?).

    But here’s a snippet of how the SDP characterizes the current state of downtown affairs:
    Columbus’ downtown has experienced declines in population, income and educational attainment from 1990 through 2004
    Household size (family size) is continuing to drop, and households are much smaller (23%) downtown than in Columbus overall. This is the result of relative loss of married couples causing downtown to become proportionally higher in non-family households ( i.e., single parents, singles, etc.)
    Downtown residents are less educated and have lower median incomes
    Residents, and especially children, are living in increasingly poorer, more transient households often headed by younger, single parents
    The downtown housing market is not a vibrant market … ...

       —HD    Mar. 8 '06 - 05:21AM    #
  2. Columbus’ website ( touts it as a place known for great architecture. Most of it looks like awful modernist dreck to me. Is this what the Democrats want for Ann Arbor? The city only has 39,000 people as well… how about we look at how a CITY does it, instead. Portland, anyone?

       —Brandon    Mar. 8 '06 - 05:26AM    #
  3. By holding this meeting on campus, we are hoping to encourage more students and young people to turn out and become involved with the AADP.

    So on behalf of the College Dems, we hope to see you there!

       —Libby    Mar. 8 '06 - 08:15AM    #
  4. Isn’t Columbus the place where somebody left them a lot of money to hire major (i.e., Modernist) architects for every public or private building project?

       —Lawrence Kestenbaum    Mar. 8 '06 - 08:28AM    #
  5. brandon—eliel saarinen, eero saarinen, harry weese, richard meier, i.m. pei … buncha hacks, no?

    larry—cummins engine did create some sort of fund but i think much of the architecture preceded the grant.

       —peter honeyman    Mar. 8 '06 - 09:02AM    #
  6. “Isn’t Columbus the place where somebody left them a lot of money to hire major (i.e., Modernist) architects for every public or private building project?”

    That’s basically the right idea. J. Irwin Miller, Chairman of the Board of Cummins Engine Company, headquartered in Columbus, thought it would be a good idea if the company recognized that the community at large was a ‘stake-holder’ in the company and would do well to enhance the general quality of life in the community beyond merely employing workers and paying them wages. A commitment was made to well-designed buildings and he created a program to fund architectural design fees for various buildings in the community, provided the architects were top tier. This is where the modernist dreck, ... er, I mean the beautifully designed buildings came from. I believe the program evolved over the years to include private as well as public buildings. On a personal note, I delivered one of J. Irwin Miller’s morning newspapers (The Louisville Courier Journal) for six years.

    Opinions certainly diverge as to the success of many of the designs, but it’s a pretty interesting collection. For this thread, I think the key point is: the reason that Columbus, Indiana is architectually significant is mostly a function of the vision of a single individual from the private sector, not the result of smart zoning or city planning. I’m skeptical there’s a lesson for Ann Arbor there.

    And Brandon, I think, has identified the key issue: what, if anything, should Ann Arbor model on a small town? As for me, I’ve got enough hometown pride to say, “Don’t even try to become as architecturally significant as Columbus, Indiana! Columbus is unique and there’s nothing Ann Arbor can learn there.” And part of what has made me want to stay in Ann Arbor is that IT’S NOT Columbus, Indiana. On moving here, it felt more like a real city than a small town. I am perplexed by folks who talk about Ann Arbor’s small-town charm. To perversely paraphrase Mr. Mellencamp, “I was born in a small town, but I don’t wanna live in a small town, ‘cause I can’t breathe in a small town, where people don’t let you be just what you wanna be.”

       —HD    Mar. 8 '06 - 09:37AM    #
  7. “Whereas, planning and zoning policies have not sufficiently provided protection
    from poor architectural design nor guided the development of Ann Arbor as one of
    the premier architectural cities in the Midwest; and …” (from full text)

    Great, back to Zoning 101. How many times does it need to be pointed out to officials, NEITHER THE ZONING CODE NOR THE MASTER PLAN CAN PROTECT A CITY FROM POOR ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN! Hire good architects, make your goals clear, and then let them work. It is a completely wrongheaded, futile, waste of time to pursue code language that will protect the city from bad design.

    “Formation of committee to organize field trip to Columbus, IN to investigate award winning city development.”

    So let’s see, if each person on the trip is valued at $1000 per day and the trip is 3 days and 10 to 12 people go that’s a quick $30 to $40k; and just where are they going? They are off to a virtual museum of Modern Architecture that is known for the many notable individual buildings designed by famous architects, but is not known for its urban design. But that’s OK because it is very relevant to Ann Arbor as it too is a place that has a higher reputation for its city than it deserves… “Ann Arbor [as] one of the premier architectural cities in the Midwest” compared to what Gaylord?

    Try as I might to google great, premier, outstanding architectural towns, cities, and places in the Midwest I never saw Ann Arbor. I did however come up with this little quote from the USATODAY’s travel reviews for Columbus IN:

    “Find fabulous examples of modern architecture everywhere you turn in what otherwise would be an ordinary Midwest industrial town located in south-central Indiana,” Kaercher says. “Columbus is one grand, landscaped park with churches and public buildings designed by the likes of Eero and Eliel Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier.”

    We are organizing a field trip to take stock of the ordinary!

       —cb    Mar. 8 '06 - 07:15PM    #
  8. Isn’t Conan Smith the guy behind the Redevelopment Ready Communities program? And didn’t he serve on the Cool Cities Task Force? And ran for County Commission on a strong pro-smart growth platform? And now that the City’s spent $200k coming up with a plan for achieving these things that he’s otherwise supported, and even has a tentative plan for investigating, refining, and adopting some of the recommendations from that plan (that memo that David C. provided), he’s coming around and calling for moritoriums and task forces and discussion?

    Where’s he been for the last year’s worth of task forces and discussion? And the downtown residential thing before that? Why is he asking to add in another 10 months of meta-discussion of the plan before getting into the actual discussion of it? Disappointing. Maybe he didn’t catch the article about the tough times downtown businesses are having these days, and don’t really have years to wait for any action to be taken?

    (And, btw, why didn’t Arbor Update have a link to that retail article? Seems like jsut the things for this site. AA is Overrated has a good discussion of it, at least…)

       —TPM    Mar. 8 '06 - 09:06PM    #
  9. Arbor Update may have jumped the shark, TPM. Although I totally thought Dale was going to pick up the slack Murph left. Ah well.

    In any case, I usually agree with Conan Smith, but he’s been a bit iffy on issues of density/”the greenway” for the past year… He may be a part of the greenway group, even? Or he at least seems to generally be allied with them.

       —Brandon    Mar. 8 '06 - 10:43PM    #
  10. Hey, hey, hey—take it easy! I’m biding my time for some bang-up posting this weekend; just you wait…

       —Dale    Mar. 8 '06 - 11:00PM    #
  11. ” ... bang-up posting this weekend … ”

    Anyone who’s planning to attend the Dems meeting willing to report back in a flash to AU which, if any, of the resolutions pass? Libby? Dale? Bueller? I have a prior engagement from 10am-3pm, else I’d volunteer.

       —HD    Mar. 8 '06 - 11:35PM    #
  12. “Whereas, the Report recommends changes in zoning which might impair the
    creation of a full-scale Greenway, and”

    I’m curious about this from David Cahill’s proposal. What (recommended) changes are you referring to, David, and how might they “impair” the creation of a full-scale greenway?

    Beyond that, I don’t see a rationale in the proposal for the need for a development moratorium given that the Calthorpe report is still at the recommendation stage. If the current policies are believed to be inadequate, shouldn’t the resolution at least state that?

       —Steve Bean    Mar. 9 '06 - 01:15AM    #
  13. Sorry, that last comment applied to Conan’s resolution, not David’s.

       —Steve Bean    Mar. 9 '06 - 01:18AM    #
  14. Thanks to Tim and Julie for getting this info out to Arbor Update readers. I have received emails with the agenda and resolutions … but I noticed the AA Dems website doesn’t have the info posted. I’m wondering if the info has been sent to the snail mail list? Has the meeting been advertised in the News? I haven’t seen anything. I’m concerned that the AA Dems will be making some important statements on Saturday without the full input from many Dems in the city.

       —Jennifer Hall    Mar. 9 '06 - 01:20AM    #
  15. I think Conan Smith has determined that the Calthorpe recommendations are not “smart growth” and will not lead to a “cool city”.

    Gee – imagine Conan making me look like a moderate! 8-)

       —David Cahill    Mar. 9 '06 - 01:26AM    #
  16. Anyone want to move to a cool city with me?

       —Brandon    Mar. 9 '06 - 03:55AM    #
  17. Notice was sent to the Daily by the student Dems and Ann Arbor News by me. It was e-mailed to members twice and will be again on Thursday. It was also e-mailed to the county dems list. We encourage everyone who is a Democrat in town to attend (its free!) and voice their opinions and vote on these resolutions and other action items. We are in need of a new webmaster and anticipate someone will volunteer at the meeting Saturday. Jennifer are you interested? Hopefully this is the beginning of the reinvigoration of the city party. TLC

       —Tim Colenback    Mar. 9 '06 - 04:06AM    #
  18. Hey Gang,

    This is my first post to Arbor Update, so bear with me if I break any rules. A friend let me know that some folk here had some concerns/comments/interests in the resolution that I suggested for Saturday’s meeting, so I thought I’d pop on and try and give some insights in to what I was (and am) thinking. It’s a bit of a treatise, but it will probably trigger some good discussion.

    First, obviously, my proposal is built off of the one submitted by David Cahill—you’ll see that I stole some bits of language. Thanks, David, for prompting my thoughts on this, even if it resulted in some blatant plagiarism on my part.

    I want to be very clear on one point: I am not opposing the Calthorpe Report. There is a great deal of wonderful stuff in that document. The challenge is that it’s a report and not a plan or a set of ordinances. I am very pleased that Calthorpe outlined the steps they felt needed to be taken to implement their recommendation—those are good guidelines. We should be moving forward with planning, zoning and process reforms that will ease the downtown development process. I am grateful to the City for providing the opportunity to debate these issues over the past 2+ years and am very excited by the opportunity to reshape downtown.

    Someone, (TPM?), noted that I run the Redevelopment Ready Communities program (, helped guide our Cool Cities process and have advocated a strong Smart Growth policy for the city and county. All true. I’ll add to that that I come from the Michigan Environmental Council, where respectful integration of the built and natural environments is a central value. It’s a value that I feel is strongly held by the citizens of Ann Arbor as well. I was an early supporter of the Greenway concept, and as a guy who owns a home on Allen Creek, have high hopes that I’ll see more green amongst the gray in our downtown core.

    I do recognize the trouble that downtown is facing economically. I’ll point out, however, that the same series of articles mentioned above noted significant vacancies in our current downtown and serious skepticism from the development and planning communities that additional units would radically alter that pattern. That’s probably due more to Michigan’s overall economic situation than to a particular distaste for what’s available downtown today. That said, Brandon, I’m not backing away from a commitment to density downtown. I want it; I think we need it. I also think we have time to plan for it in a visionary and sensitive way.

    You’re right, TPM, I have been only occasionally vocal on downtown issues over the last few years. For that, I apologize. Two new jobs (the County and the Suburbs Alliance) impeded my ability to engage as fully as I would have liked. I’m passionate about Ann Arbor and not shy. I did comment at the downtown residential task force and participate in the Calthorpe discussions, but I was certainly more in the background, as you rightly note. I will say, though, that I spent those two years creating what is now a nationally recognized strategy to foster urban redevelopment. While subtly absent from the Ann Arbor debates, I was fully and energetically engaged in policy efforts across the region, state and nation. I’m, hopefully, making up for that absence by contributing to this debate now.

    So, about the resolution itself.

    I asked for four things: 1) a temporary development moratorium; 2) a strategy for improving architectural design; 3) a timeline for reforms; and 4) a couple meeting with the Ann Arbor Democratic Party.

    Clearly the most controversial of these is the moratorium. I fully and heartily agree with TPM that meta-discussions of the plan are not worthwhile at this point. The Calthorpe process was that meta-discussion. Like Brandon, I think it’s time for us to stop stalling and equivocating and get the rules of the game down on paper. I am specifically asking for time to develop and implement actual plans (master, area, etc.) and ordinances.

    In public policy, as I can tell you after a decade as a Lansing lobbyist, the only thing that matters is the language in the law at the end of the day. Calthorpe is not the law – we need to get down to the nitty-gritty of community debate on specific proposals. Will the buildings be 20 stories or 10? Will we compromise our renowned Natural Features Ordinance for increased development? Will we demand real pedestrian amenities or continue to prioritize auto-dependency? These are questions that are only really answered by the policies that guide development. Calthorpe has interesting and clear answers to them, but our city planning and zoning may not. Let’s make sure everything is in place.

    Why do I think that we need a moratorium to accomplish this? Some argue very plainly that we can make these reforms while continuing to process development proposals in front of us. So, what if those proposals ultimately fly in the face of the community-adopted development strategy? What if we permanently preserve 415 W. Washington, and later decide against a Greenway? What if we permit a 22-story building on Fourth Street and later decide to limit heights to 10-stories? What we get then is exactly what Calthorpe rebels against: a “schizophrenic” set of buildings with no clear vision or development priorities. If that’s our goal, why even go through this planning process?

    A short-term, focused moratorium on development would allow us to adopt a set of specific policies to guide investment downtown. There are two major benefits to this (lessons learned the hard way through the RRC process). First, citizens have a clear understanding and expectation for what types of development will occur in their neighborhoods. Only when citizens share in the vision for development, can the process be streamlined successfully – otherwise developments get caught up in neighborhood-based controversy that can delay them months, or years. Second, developers get consistent application of the law – something every private sector leader I have talked to, from the Michigan Association of Home Builders to the Stepping Stone Properties, values highly. We can, and should, deliver these things. A development moratorium might give us the time to make these decisions with full and effective public engagement.

    I readily admit it is an imperfect solution. My friend Rene Greff from Arbor Brewing Company questioned me about local developers investing significantly in buildings and how a moratorium might jeopardize their solvency. That’s a very real concern. There is an inherent tension between the development of a long-range vision and needs of property owners today, tomorrow and next week. A question of community rights versus individual rights.

    I have proposed about nine months for the reforms to our plans and ordinance. It’s an aggressive timeline, actually. It will be hard work for Council to really debate and adopt these policies. However, I’ve seen through the RRC process that significant work can be done in that time. We could start 2007 with a visionary plan and clearly defined ordinance to recreate our downtown.

    With regards to architectural design guidelines, I really do believe that our city can develop a process for encouraging, if not ensuring, high-quality design. My hope is that it will be a combination of design ordinances and peer review. Take a look at Burlington, VT’s design review criteria. They range from protecting the city’s heritage to relating development to its environment. Charlottesville, VA has a board of architectural review charged with ensuring development reflects the city’s cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history. It operates much like a historic district commission, of which we have plenty of good examples in Washtenaw.

    I believe that our community is in conflict right now. I do not feel that there is consensus or unity when it comes to the development of our downtown. In my mind there are two overwhelming issues that deserve both time and attention. The first of those is building heights. Certainly there is no universal standard to apply to every block of the downtown. So, we need to outline what applies where in a general context (e.g. does Huron Street get relatively taller buildings than Fourth Ave) and what specifically those height limitations are, if they exist at all. The second major issue is the Greenway. Do we do it? Where would it go? How do we zone for it? These critical questions should be answered as a part of the downtown planning process. The timeline that I proposed in the resolution reflects that need. I believe we can answer the question of heights over the summer. I have faith in the Greenway Task Force’s process and look forward to their October report.

    Finally, I firmly believe that our party members have a vested interest in the opinions and positions of the party’s elected representatives – and vice versa. The dialogue between members and representatives helps characterize our party. As development of our downtown is a fundamental and defining issue, I believe we need to have these discussions. I wish we could have far more than two.

    I hope this clarifies the intent behind my resolution a bit. I’m looking forward to the debate on Saturday and any conversation online in the interim. And, thanks for your patience in reading a really long tome!

       —Conan Smith    Mar. 9 '06 - 07:24AM    #
  19. the party’s elected representatives

    I think that’s the major problem I have with this set of resolutions right there. This group, which I’ve never heard of before, pops up and claims to speak for all Ann Arbor Dems, and writes a set of resolutions that read as though the Council members, who all have (D) after their names, represent this group, rather than the City as a whole – resolutions that a lot of Democratically-voting Ann Arborites might not agree with. And, Conan, your language reinforces this feeling. The Council does not represent the “Ann Arbor Democratic Party”, they represent the people of Ann Arbor.

    I hope you can understand that there’s a whole level of objection just in the way these things are being presented, even before getting to content.

    And, to respond to your arguments for a moratorium, you talk as though some genie has suddenly been let out of the bottle – that, without this moratorium, we’re going to have 22-story buildings popping up left and right between now and when we’ve figured out what exactly we want out of the plan we commissioned from Calthorpe. As I understand it, the issue the City was trying to address is that it was too hard for people to build the kind of good downtown development that we as a City want. I see no reason to engage in hysteria that we’re somehow going to get dozens of gargantuan hulks screaming through the pipeline in the next nine months, if the problem we want to address is that it takes too long for projects to make their way through the process.

       —TPM    Mar. 9 '06 - 08:09AM    #
  20. Thanks to Tim for assuring me that efforts have been made to notify dems in A2 about these important issues to be discussed on Saturday. If I knew anything at all about website management, I’d volunteer to help out. But sadly that is not a skill I possess.

    I’d also like to respond to Conan’s post. I have to admit that I was perplexed when I saw the resolution that Conan submitted. It did seem a bit contradictory to the excellent work that Conan has done on behalf of environmental issues, Cool Cities, Smart Growth. In talking with Conan directly and reading his post here … I do understand and sympathize with the central argument he’s making … we’re embarking on an ambitious vision for our downtown and what can we do to ensure that the city doesn’t do anything that will jeapordize that vision.

    I’m a conservation planner by training and experience. I spent 7 years working for The Nature Conservancy writing conservation plans for the great plains states. This question raised by Conan is not a new one for me. The process/planning part of my brain has always hoped that action could be delayed until we figured out all the details, got the best data, did more studies, talked to more people …

    But, the realistic part of my brain jumps in and says that’s just not reality. As soon as a plan is written, it’s too old. New information and opinions will always be available. A city (or The Nature Conservancy) would be paralyzed if we waited until we had a perfect plan or perfect information until we acted.

    And I personally don’t want to see us write a master plan and zoning ordinance in the next 9 months (the time period proposed by Conan’s resolution). I don’t think that’s a realistic amount of time to get the proper public input and to carefully consider these serious issues.

    So, what do we do instead? That’s a very tough question. I think one thing to do is to continue the dialogue. Planning, in my mind, is inherently iterative and flexible. The process and plans themselves need to be written to account for changing times and be responsive for new information. This was a lot easier for me to do for a conservation organization that was really only accountable to itself and it’s mission, and not to the public. But, I hope it can be done here.

    I also think it is important that the public process is open and fair. I feel that the Calthorpe process was open and inclusive. The New Greenway Task Force is open and inclusive. Planning Commission has conducted all of our discussions about the Calthorpe report openly, with many opportunities for public comment. I don’t think that it’s right for the AA Democratic Party to demand special meetings with Council on these topics. As TPM pointed out, Council represents the citizens of Ann Arbor. If the AA Dems get special meetings, shouldn’t everyone else too?

       —Jennifer Hall    Mar. 9 '06 - 07:45PM    #
  21. I have several reactions to TPM’s post:

    1) The proposals were submitted by five people who have been active members of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party for a long time. Dana Barton and I were the campaign managers for the Mayor’s run for council and first campaign for Mayor and were delegates to the 1992 Democratic National Convention. We also worked closely with Kim Groome who was a First Ward Rep. in her campaigns as well as others over many years. I was named Vice Chair for Organization at the last city party meeting. Dave DeVarti is a former city council representative who has been involved in local Democratic politics since the late sixties. David Cahill is well known to this list and has been involved in local Democratic politics for several decades. He also is on the Library Board as an elected official. Conan Smith is County Commissioner who has been involved in Democratic politics his whole life. His father was the first African American Mayor in A2. I’m sure all of us would like to get to know you. Additionally, these resolutions were not the work of one “group”. I seriously doubt that all five folks who submitted resolutions will support all five resolutions in their current form.

    2) None of us portend to speak for the Democratic Party to my knowledge. The simple act of putting forward a resolution does not mean you think you speak for the party. The resolutions will be discussed and voted on at a party meeting. This is accordance with the By Laws of the city party.

    3) If you have a resolution you’d like to be considered, by all means send it to me or bring it to a meeting. The resolutions sent within a week of a meeting or at a meeting require 3/4 (75%) vote to pass. Those communicated at least a week in advance can pass with 50% +1.

    4) Elected officials do represent all of their constituents including members of their party and others. I suggest however, they have a special responsibility to communicate with members of their own party and a special responsibility to listen to the concerns of their party members. This in essence is the reason to have a party.

    5) Having said all this, I hope, TPM, if you are Democrat, that you come to the meeting and express your views.

       —Tim Colenback    Mar. 9 '06 - 08:04PM    #
  22. Mr Smith,

    Thank you for the clarifications. I have a few questions:

    C. Smith: “That said, Brandon, I’m not backing away from a commitment to density downtown. I want it; I think we need it. I also think we have time to plan for it in a visionary and sensitive way.”

    1. Define density, expressed as “full-time residents per square mile in the DDA area by the year 2020”. Ann Arborites like to throw the word density around in the same manner that Bush uses the word “freedom”. The word has no meaning.

    2. There is no way that you can get the data needed to write a Master Plan in 9 months. No chance. In fact, most proposed new single buildings cannot be approved in this town in under 9 months. You can’t even put out an RFP for a parking study in that amount of time….so I guess my question is: where did you come up with 9 months?

    3. How much $$$ do you think the city would lose in taxes/fees, business in 9 months of doing nothing?

       —todd    Mar. 9 '06 - 09:23PM    #
  23. TPM—
    The city’s already moving forward on some 16 buildings for downtown, Calthorpe be damned.

    How do you propose we move forward with a reasonable plan for downtown without a moratorium?

       —Young OWSider    Mar. 9 '06 - 11:12PM    #
  24. YOWSer, I’d be interested to know what your count includes. Does it include Kingsley Lane, which has been in the works for years? Does it include LoFT322, which was also approved several years ago and is just now being built? Does it include the old Y site, another process that’s been underway for years? I feel like I’ve been paying attention, but I’m having trouble coming to 16 projects that the city is “moving forward on”, even if we include the ones which were moved on years ago.

    As Jennifer and others have pointed out, 10 months isn’t nearly enough time for a comprehensive plan and zoning overhaul (even if we already knew what we wanted). And, really, no amount of time is “enough” – what’s desireable is a moving target, and we’re never going to have the “perfect” plan or the “perfect” zoning code.

    So what would I propose? I’d propose that we continue moving forward as we have been, making incremental changes to continue approximating what we want. In some cases, this will effect a voluntary moratorium – if the City and DDA decide to review the requirement that residential uses have on-site parking, for example, then developers will wait to see what happens, in case the requirement goes down. If the City decides that the affordable units-or-payment requirement on PUDs is a bad way to go (or starts moving in the direction of allowing a project to be built within zoning instead of as a PUD), many developers will wait – even some who have already been approved, in hopes that they might be able to get a better project under the new rules.

    Fortunately, during the Calthorpe process, we identified a rough vision and did a lot of brainstorming about how to get there, so we’ve got a lot of incremental changes in the hopper to work on right now.

       —TPM    Mar. 9 '06 - 11:49PM    #
  25. It was Conan’s grandfather, not father, who was the first African-American Mayor of Ann Arbor. His name was Albert Wheeler. That was in 1975, and I was a ward chair at that time, and was part of the group that asked him to run. He was re-elected in 1977 by one vote. There was a law suit, and Al, rather than extend the angst, consented to a new election in 1978. He lost to Lou Belcher. Al was a terrific Mayor and we were all proud to work with him. I think Conan was either an infant or not born yet.

       —Leah    Mar. 10 '06 - 12:30AM    #
  26. Yes, Albert Wheeler was Conan’s *grand*father. I knew that – my bad. I should never post before my second cup of coffee in the morning ;-)

       —Tim Colenback    Mar. 10 '06 - 12:47AM    #
  27. Hey Tim – that was a LONG time ago! :-)

       —Leah    Mar. 10 '06 - 01:11AM    #
  28. A nine month moratorium is essentially useless, if the reasoning is that we will be able to revise ordinances or create a visionary downtown plan in that time. First, our current ordinance process of using the Planning Commission would have to be completely abandoned; it can take months for a single ordinance revision to make it through that committee, let alone the dozen or so that should be changed according to Calthorpe. Second, have you heard of this thing called the North East Area Plan? the NEAP was started in 1999 and is just now going through the approval process. If that took 7 years, how in the world do you think we could do a halfway decent downtown plan in just 9 months?!

    And if nine months is not a good moratorium length, how long would you proprose? Five years? Ten? if our downtown is in trouble now, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be in more trouble if we enact such a short-sighted proposal.

    Conan, Burlington VT’s design review criteria are nothing short of a nightmare for architects and homeowners. EVERYTHING is restricted, from what you can use as siding to what size windows are allowed, and every single-family home is reviewed! Personally I think that such a system is draconian and encourages cheap kitsch at the expense of good design. That’s a far cry from what I would hope we could do in Ann Arbor. Frankly, good design can not be legislated. There are certain things we can, and should, encourage as good urban design principles, but again that is a far cry from the design standards you’re talking about.

    I absolutely agree that the zoning ordinace of the City needs a drastic and complete overhaul. It needs to be done comprehensively, to close all the zoning holes we know of, and to encourage the kind of downtown we want to see. It cannot be done piecemeal by planning commissioners; it should be done by our professional planners, or if their time is too restricted, by professional planning consultants.

    What do we do in the meantime? honestly, we’ll hobble along as best we can. Developers are using Calthorpe already as a measure of what is and is not acceptable by our community, even if the force of law isn’t there yet. Frankly, if a building comes forward that fulfills Calthorpe’s plan, we ought to welcome it with open arms, not spit in their face for doing a building that is (gasp) more than 8 stories tall. Will we get a bunch of Tower Plazas? heck no. Our zoning code wouldn’t allow for that now anyway. So please, lose the moratorium and the hysteria over 22-story buildings. It undermines us as Democrats to employ such tactics.

       —KGS    Mar. 10 '06 - 02:20AM    #
  29. First, it’s not really productive to characterize those of us who are concerned about very tall buildings as hysterical any more than it would be for someone to characterize density advocates in the same way. Community character is a critically important factor for economic sustainability. So is appropriate density. I acknowledge that a 22-story building is unlikely; also our demand for density is not really pressing, no matter how much I want it.

    The urgency that I sense is coming both from developers and citizens for the same reason: we need to have a consistent set of policies guiding downtown development to provider greater certainty for everyone involved. Citizens want to have some general sense of what their town will look like five or ten years from now; developers want the rules outlined so that they can invest with greater certainty. It seems like a fair deal, so let’s make it happen.

    Is nine months too long or too short? I don’t know for sure. Calthorpe took six months to do their process, with outcomes that many seem to like. If their report is an acceptable guide, why couldn’t we get into implementation of the core guidelines within nine months? The challenge is determining what decisions should be prioritized that will give our community confidence in the development process – both private sector leaders and citizens. I suggested the two most important things to me (height guidances and environmental/natural feature plans) but there are probably a number of other central issues that need to be addressed.

    I agree with Jennifer that planning is an iterative and flexible process, but it needs to be rooted in solid shared values – the plan can be a moving target but only to a limited extent. If it is too malleable, we won’t be able to apply development rules consistently. This is a little bit what we have today, and the primary reason there is so much public angst about reforms to the downtown strategy. Some people really are opposed to change, but what I hear most is dissatisfaction with the process, which is perceived as lacking cohesive vision. Sometimes our strategy appears to be more opportunistic than intuitive.

    I’m not suggesting that we don’t share core values. Many of them were articulated in Calthorpe. However, I am not convinced that they are public policy at this point or that they guide the development process. I proposed the moratorium because we lack this shared vision for downtown, and rather than sacrifice the future to the present, I felt we should take some time to plan.

    I’m interested in your response to a possible alternative to the moratorium proposal. If those of us who thought it up are to abandon the moratorium concept as some have asked, we need to take some step toward ensuring that the development process used during the implementation phase doesn’t compromise our future. Something like this:

    1) City Council should adopt a values statement regarding development during the implementation phase of downtown planning and zoning reforms. This statement could be an articulation of the core findings of Calthorpe (e.g. walkability, greenway, housing diversity/affordability, historic preservation, etc.). It should also identify the “red flags” that signal a project is liable to generate unease in the community without more clear plans or ordinances (e.g. unusually high buildings, construction in the Allen Creekshed, etc.). Such a statement would give developers some basic understanding about what will move smoothly through the process and what will raise community ire. It would also provide some guidance for our planning commission.

    2) Council should also reassert the primacy of the Planning Commission in development decision-making, particularly over the reform time period. While the DDA is a great source of information and inspiration, it should not usurp the Planning Commission’s role. Nor should Council itself. Development done in this interim period is very sensitive, and Council should make the most of its citizen advisory boards.

    3) The planning and zoning reforms that have resulted from Calthorpe and other processes should be debated individually, but adopted as a package. This will help ensure that the interim development process is consistent and that the ultimate process is clearly articulated. Community members will have an opportunity to measure elements of the reforms against each other weigh their relative benefits. For example, I would probably be more supportive of very tall buildings if the allowance were accompanied by a requirement for affordable housing (FAR bonus for example).

    4) The Planning Commission needs to adopt a stronger communications strategy that would enable interested or concerned citizens to keep on top of development proposals more easily during the reform process. For example, Council’s 1989 resolution regarding notification of neighborhood associations could easily be revamped to incorporate individual citizens.

    The implementation plan for Calthorpe has a five year timeline. If we are to drop the idea of a moratorium, we need to protect the integrity of the concepts that are driving the revision. In the plan, creating overlay zoning for downtown, determining design guidelines and establishing incentives for community amenities is scoped out at one to two years. It anticipates a comprehensive master plan update for the downtown that would take two to five years. Like Jennifer, I would love to have that much time to do great planning. I am worried, however, about what happens in the interim. Five years is a long time. We’ve got nine major projects underway right now that will begin to reshape our skyline – what will the next five years bring as we assemble the visionary strategy? Let’s make sure whatever is proposed and approved is rooted in our core values.

    KGS, you noted that good design cannot be legislated. True enough. However, we can legislate effectively against bad design. What you see as a burdensome process in Burlington has had strong support from political leaders and citizens – and it has resulted in a vibrant downtown that has a certain character. I’m not saying that their process is appropriately ours. I don’t think it should be, actually. I raise it as an example to point out that many communities do guide design. I’m not a developer or architect, and don’t really know what the elements of good design are. I do believe, however, that we can and should develop a process for at least encouraging good design and outlawing those things that compromise our long-range vision. You’re probably right that Burlington’s approach is more than what we want here. I bet there’s easy-to-find middle ground.

    Todd, you had a couple other questions. (btw, please call me Conan; it makes me feel better!) In terms of the money, I can only say the city can’t lose what it doesn’t have. We might miss an opportunity, but we won’t go under because of it – there are far more pressing financial issues for the city to deal with than a few months of deferred development. Those, I can go into detail on if you’d like.

    The density I am seeking is that which will foster improved quality of life in the downtown as evidenced by a handful of viable amenities, including mass transit, an urban grocery and a pharmacy. In numbers, I’m looking for a minimum of 10,750 per square mile. Currently, about 2,800 people live in the downtown area’s 0.42 square mile, which roughly equates to 6,666/sq mile.

    Reid Ewing posits that a density of seven units per acre is needed to support transit, perhaps 17 residents, roughly equating to that population density of 10,750 per square mile. A study at OSU suggests that that level of density would support a small corner store. You’d need to get to 18 units per acre (27,650/sq mile) to support a small supermarket.

    So, I’m hoping for at least a 61 percent increase in downtown’s population. The city’s average household density is 2.4 residents per unit. To get to the minimum density goal I’ve laid out, we would need an increase of 715 units downtown. The nine projects in the pipeline that I mentioned above (including Liberty Lofts, Ashley Terrace, 1st and Washington, et al) represent around 530 of those units. That leaves a mere 185 units to go to get to my personal goal – the equivalent of three Liberty Lofts.

    Getting to the point where we could have a small supermarket downtown is much more significant. We would have to quadruple the current population and add about 3500 units. Over 15 years, given a strong, community-supported plan, I think this is totally do-able without jeopardizing the historic character of our city.

    Thanks for engaging in this discussion! I really would like to hear your thoughts about alternatives to the moratorium proposal.

       —Conan Smith    Mar. 10 '06 - 11:26AM    #
  30. Conan, I have two comments.

    First, on the topic of a community vision – as you note, there were some strong elements of a community vision in the Calthorpe plan. But I’ve heard frustration from many who were involved in the process that there were a number of foot-draggers taking part in the various workshops and hearings who contributed negative vision – attacking others’ attempts to create a vision in the name of “it’s working fine now”. Maybe that’s a poor characterization, but it’s a real concern. As KGS notes, the planning process is slow. Calthorpe can go quickly, set their own timeline, as consultants, but the Planning Commission is prone to being dragged out forever and never making any progress in any direction. At a time when small business owners and others who make our city what it is are feeling such a pinch, doing nothing until we can come up with a consensus vision seems like a poor gamble to me, if there are going to be participants ignoring the need for a vision and sabotaging any attempt to form one. Can I propose a more effective alternative to a moratorium? No, I can’t. I just see a moratorium as playing to those who want to block a vision, not a tool for allowing us to create one.

    Meanwhile, you’re talking density with numbers I’m not really wrapping my head around. Can you provide examples of places at your target density so I understand what it is that you, personally, are envisioning?

       —TPM    Mar. 10 '06 - 07:15PM    #
  31. “I agree with Jennifer that planning is an iterative and flexible process, but it needs to be rooted in solid shared values”

    If this is the case, why are you taking language from Dave Cahill?

    Maybe you could spell out for me why REMOVING barriers to development is appropriate for Ypsilanti, Hazel Park, Eastpointe, Southfield, and River Rouge and not for Ann Arbor?

    In fact, I read through the “RRC Best Practices,” and didn’t find any recommendation for cities establishing a moratorium, even when developing a master plan and changing zoning.

    Again, why are you advocating something which is not a “best practice” for Ann Arbor when you advocate it for other cities?

       —Dale    Mar. 10 '06 - 08:44PM    #
  32. I’m impressed with Conan’s vision and his calculations. I didn’t realize how close we were to having the minimum density necessary to support mass transit.

       —David Cahill    Mar. 10 '06 - 09:14PM    #
  33. For purposes of comparison, American Fact Finder gives the following population densities for census tracts in central Ann Arbor as of Census 2000.

    Tract 4001, including the CBD: 7131 persons/sq. mi.

    Tract 4002, including the Old Fourth Ward, OxBridge neighborhood, Hill dorms, and Medical Center: 13,307 persons/sq. mi.

    Tract 4003, including the entire Packard corridor between Main and Stadium, along with all of Central Campus and the North Burns Park neighborhood: 15,077 persons/sq. mi.

    Reality bears out theory in that both areas over 10,000/sq. mi. do support corner store-type establishments (White Market, Village Corner, perhaps Sgt. Peppers on East U.) But a supermarket is still pretty far out of reach.

       —Jeff Dean    Mar. 10 '06 - 09:46PM    #
  34. I agree with the increase of density. My problem is the nubers being thrown around because they leave out the students. An increase of 50% density would be over 12,000 people. Lets do it.

       —Scott    Mar. 11 '06 - 12:02AM    #
  35. TPM, it was the folks from my precinct organization that originally proposed the development moratorium at the Council hearing on Calthorpe. One of my neighbors, Carla Aderente, was the one who spoke on our behalf. What she urged in her testimony was not a foot-dragging approach, but rather that we delay development specifically to ensure the implementation of a better development strategy. She used in her testimony one quote from the 2002 US Supreme Court ruling in Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that I think is really clarifying of our group’s intention: “moratoria, or ‘interim development controls’ as they are often called, are an essential tool of successful development.”

    I think the concept of “interim development controls” is what we’ve been talking most about over the last couple of days. How do we protect the future from the present, if that becomes necessary? I like the idea of putting some extra effort into making the process go more swiftly (such as hiring a private firm to bust out some ordinances). That certainly doesn’t need to conflict with a good public process – in fact it will probably enhance one significantly.

    You are right that there are certainly outright naysayers who oppose change. I don’t count myself or my neighbors among them. Also, there are builders who would very much like to see the general elimination of regulations restricting development. Extremists on either end usually out themselves in the public process. The most important thing that we can all do to minimize the impact of a rogue voice is to heavily invest personally in understanding what motivates the interests of someone who has a differing opinion. For example, I sat down with Brandt Coultas from the Chamber for lunch yesterday. He had some very interesting things to say that I found very helpful in crafting the proposal I put in front of you all yesterday. I also met with Carla last night to talk with her about alternatives to the moratorium and test her personal interest in the ultimate outcome. These kinds of conversations – rooted in a general trust of the kindness of our neighbors and a personal openness to new ideas or countering opinions – get us beyond “he said, she said” to real solutions that incorporate the values of our community. And it takes all of us doing that aggressively to make it work. That’s one of the reasons I’ve really valued this give and take on Arbor Update.

    It’s hard for me to suggest examples of the density that I’m envisioning because we can get to it in so many different ways. We can reach 7 to 20 units per acre with 8-10 story buildings like in Shaker Heights, single family detached housing like in Hamtramck, side-yard houses in Charleston, or any number of alternatives. The density range I’m talking about really allows for enormous creative flexibility in development. Of course, this begs the design guidelines question to ensure some measure of architectural integrity. Not having a strong background in design, I would certainly lean on others for guidance in that area. One of my favorite websites is the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. In addition to a ton of great policy research, they have a really neat density website: You can see a wide variety of density examples from across the country there.

    Dale, I don’t understand why you feel the need to be so vitriolic. I took language from Dave’s resolution because it was good wording that I felt captured the spirit of conversations I have had with a lot of residents. It’s a proposal that will be debated, not a final document. He and I definitely share values. Admittedly, we might be a minority, but that’s what this process of discussion is designed to test.

    I have certainly not said that removing barriers to development downtown is inappropriate. A moratorium is a short-term barrier, yes. But it is specifically designed to allow us to get beyond a major impediment to downtown development: a lack of community consensus on the long-range vision.

    The RRC program guide is silent on the question of moratoria. It is not silent on the question of aggressive and early public visioning and engagement. One of the ten tenets of Smart Growth is “encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.” The RRC program reflects that value by placing a heavy weight on the planning process. Community Visioning and Education is the first standard, and it makes up a quarter of the program. The goal is to “lead dialogue on the need for redevelopment with the community to reach consensus and commitment on a vision.” Moratoria can be an effective tool for ensuring that you have a visioning and planning process that is not complicated by controversial decisions that occur in the midst of public engagement. For example, if a project goes through the development process while the community is restructuring its entire set of land use goals, and that project raises unresolved issues, the community will tend to focus on the aberrant project rather than the long-range vision. There will be a sense of distrust of the process (that the concerns and opinions of the stakeholders are not being taken seriously) which will undermine the community’s ability to generate consensus on the plan. Yeah, it’s tough to make the decision to adopt a development moratorium. We’ve seen that through this debate online. It may or may not be right for a given community, but it is certainly a tool whose usefulness and effectiveness should be weighed out if there is a fundamental shift in development policy or when things get contentious – like they have here in Ann Arbor.

    That said, I’m still interested to hear people’s responses to the alternative to the moratorium that I suggested above. Does it feel burdensome or too light? Do you think it would help generate some public confidence in our current development process while we amend the master plan and zoning for downtown? What else might we do? I’m curious about both big and small ideas. One thing that a friend mentioned to me was having a scale model of the downtown in City Hall that showed current buildings and proposed or under-construction projects so that it was easy to visualize the changes taking place. I think that would be neat and helpful.

       —Conan Smith    Mar. 11 '06 - 01:10AM    #
  36. I agree with a lot of what Conan says … but I still don’t agree that a moratorium is an appropriate remedy to the problem at hand. I think I could support some of the alternative scenarios presented – maybe we should talk them over. However, there still seems to be an underlying feeling in Conan’s discussion that Calthorpe does not represent a community vision for downtown. There’s also an implicit feeling of mistrust. If I’m misreading Conan, then I apologize. But if I’m not misreading … then I really don’t know how we can move forward. Because no matter what happens in the next 9 months, if there is mistrust in the process and in the implementers (dda, council and/or planning commission) then we’re never going to succeed.

    Did people really feel that they were not listened to? Or do people just not like the resulting community view?

    I totally agree with Conan about the importance of Planning Commssion and ensuring that Planning Commission doesn’t get usurped in the process. I feel again that there is an underlying feeling in these statements that some ursurping has occurred. I totally disagree. As the Chair, you have my word that I take the role of the planning commission very seriously. But, for Calthorpe or any major planning or zoning exercise to be successful, I think that Planning Commission cannot do it alone. We have no money, control no staff resources, and most importantly, are not the ultimate decision makers. Nor are we ultimately accountable for the decisions that are made. We are a passionate bunch of citizen planners who love this city and that do all of this on our own time.

       —Jennifer Hall    Mar. 11 '06 - 01:33AM    #
  37. Whoa, so much to say, and such a small text box to do it in!

    I’m a friend and strong supporter of Conan’s, but I don’t see any reason for the development moratorium he has proposed. As a general principle, moratoria measures are appropriate to avert what might otherwise be imminent harm to important priorities. For example, a demolition moratorium to protect historic resources when a historic district is proposed, or a temporary excavation ban on a fragile seashore until appropriate regs are in place.

    But right now, I don’t see that ongoing development poses any serious threat to the goals we all share for the downtown. And I certainly agree that even a fairly brief moratorium could do economic harm to downtown.

    I will attend the meeting and vote against any proposal that includes a development moratorium, and I urge others to do the same.

    More on other issues in further comments.

       —Lawrence Kestenbaum    Mar. 11 '06 - 03:11AM    #
  38. Second point is about the Ann Arbor Democratic Party and its legitimacy.

    I think I have discussed the history of local party organizations in past Arbor Update postings. Suffice it to say that until the 1990s, the Ann Arbor Democratic Party was an organizational powerhouse involving hundreds of people, with well-attended monthly meetings usually about current local or state issues. These were the days of fierce partisan competition over Ann Arbor city council seats; Democratic council members and candidates naturally looked to the city party organization as a support group and sounding board. At the same time, the party’s priorities were shaped pretty directly by the needs and priorities of the elected city council members.

    With city elections changed from April to November, and events in Washington nationalizing party identification, the focus shifted strongly to the county party, which coordinates campaign efforts in even-year November elections. The city party mostly faded away.

    Just in the last few months, there has been new interest in reviving the city party. Indeed, it never really died; the party chair (Susan Greenberg) and other officers continud to serve.

    So there is nothing wrong with the city party being reinvigorated, resuming general membership meetings about current issues, and passing resolutions. I have no question that this meeting is entirely legitimate and worth participating in for people who consider themselves Democrats.

    Of course, any resolution or platform adopted by any political party meeting or convention is not necessarily going to be taken seriously by voters or policymakers. If this meeting’s resolutions are perceived as a primarily an attack on existing city policies and incumbent Democratic city council members, the whole concept of having a city party may be discredited.

       —Lawrence Kestenbaum    Mar. 11 '06 - 03:38AM    #
  39. Third set of points is about architects and architecture. I agree with those who say that “good design” can’t be legislated. (But the code can and should specify how buildings relate to the streetscape, e.g., street wall articulation, ground-floor retail, etc.)

    Stepping back from enacting code to actually building stuff (as the city will be doing on the YMCA site and elsewhere), cb wrote “Hire good architects, make your goals clear, and then let them work.” That line raises my hackles tremendously; it sounds like the elitist doctrine that The Architect Always Knows Best and the client’s role is just to pay the bill.

    First of all, the concept of what constitutes a “good” architect, or “good” architecture, is subjective and controversial. I’d guess that KGS and I, for example, have diametrically opposite views on this.

    Second, in my experience working with architectural firms on building projects, it NEVER makes sense to simply “let them work”. If you want a 30,000 square foot building, the architects will either come up with a xerox copy of the last 30,000 square foot building they did, or use it as a vehicle to make a “personal statement” that has nothing to do with your needs or the surroundings.

    To make an architect actually do good, creative work for you, there are two critical rules: (1) Impose significant constraints of site, budget, functional considerations, whatever, the more difficult the better, as long as it’s something you really want the building to do; (2) always reject the first proposal, and maybe even the second one.

    By the time you’re on the third proposal, you may have something that reflects serious thinking about YOUR project, and may even surprise you by finessing the various levels of constraints in a brilliantly simple way you’d never have thought of on your own. Architects are very smart folk, but you’ve got push them a bit to get their brains engaged.

       —Lawrence Kestenbaum    Mar. 11 '06 - 04:16AM    #
  40. Doug Kelbaugh has pointed out that Calthorpe recommends “urban design” guidelines, ie how the building relates to the street and city, not “architectural design” guidelines, ie forms, materials, ornament, etc.

       —Dale    Mar. 11 '06 - 04:47AM    #
  41. Conan “ In numbers, I’m looking for a minimum of 10,750 per square mile. Currently, about 2,800 people live in the downtown area’s 0.42 square mile, which roughly equates to 6,666/sq mile. Reid Ewing posits that a density of seven units per acre is needed to support transit, perhaps 17 residents, roughly equating to that population density of 10,750 per square mile. A study at OSU suggests that that level of density would support a small corner store. You’d need to get to 18 units per acre (27,650/sq mile) to support a small supermarket.

    Well, these numbers are misleading. You’re assuming that that 10,750 ppl per square mile extends throughout the city….which it doesn’t. Unless, of course, your idea of mass-transit is a light rail that encircles the DDA area.

    In fact, even after you add those additional 715 units, Ann Arbor is still less dense than Ypsilanti. What people like D. Cahill who oppose tall buildings seem to forget is that there are massive swaths of “not here’s” throughout Ann Arbor.

    By “not here’s”, I mean you can’t build there in any appreciable density. There’s all the University-owned land obviously, as well as the 13 (is it 13?) historic districts, and the soon to be redrawn Allen Creek floodway.

    And what about the interior of any of the downtown neighborhoods? Do you think citizens will want an 8 story builidng in the middle of the OWS? Then there’s those (including Calthorpe) who don’t think that you can put tall buildings directly adjacent (or a few buildings away, apparently) to any of the downtown wards.

    And remember the proposed Greenway? Do you honestly think that you’ll be able to install any tall buildings next to that thing? No chance. You’ll hear discussions about shadows and skyscrapers “lording over” the Greenway. They won’t want dense construction there, either.

    Now all of these “not here’s” may be perfectly reasonable, but they must be kept in mind when you are trying to realistically build densely in Ann Arbor. For every “not here”, you need to significantly add to the average height of buildings in the DDA area in order to reach your density goals. This was the idea that Calthorpe was trying to communicate when they gave out the fixed number of colored squares. Not much of a surprise that people had a hard time with that exercise. Drop the building heights down to 4 stories, as Mr. Cahill desires, and the exercise becomes impossible. Remove any height restrictions (as I would like), and the exercise becomes quite easy, and you can preserve the integrity of all the ‘not here’s’ while meeting our density goals…..remove the fixation on heights and focus on good overall Urban design for the entire Ann Arbor region.

    And for the record, what you are asking for is not only not “dense”, it will not even cover the projected increased enrollment at UMich over the next 15 years. In other words, the increase you are proposing won’t even be able to house the new professors and ancillary staff needed to support the new students.

    Essentially, you are asking for a moratorium to figure out what do with the new students arriving at UMich.

    So what is my suggestion on the moratorium? Kill it. You’ll gain nothing, and the city, despite what you suggest, will suffer greatly as a result.

    Don’t believe me? I’ll send Rene Greff a copy of the history of Urban Planning in Boulder, Colorado which, among other things, details what happened to the city when they installed a quota system for construction permits. All they did was resrict the literal number of permits that could be pulled per annum… had devastating regional effects. What you are asking is financial suicide for a number of private firms, as well as the city.

    When you say that “the city can afford it (the moratorium)”, you aren’t in very good touch with all of those (sometimes former) Ann Arbor citizens who can no longer afford to live/shop/work in Ann Arbor because of the economic environment. We are not working with monopoly money here.

       —todd    Mar. 11 '06 - 08:47AM    #
  42. Ditto what Larry said about the moratorium proposal. What’s going to happen in the next 9 months that’s of such immediate harm that everything has to go on hold? Historically, has the City ever resorted to a moratorium to give it time to amend its ordinances?

       —John Q.    Mar. 11 '06 - 08:56AM    #
  43. “Hire good architects, make your goals clear, and then let them work.” That line raises my hackles tremendously; it sounds like the elitist doctrine that The Architect Always Knows Best and the client’s role is just to pay the bill.

    Mr. K, If that’s your experience with architects you clearly did not hire a good one; good for you that is. If you need (or needed) to reject the first two offerings because they gave you their last design, or weren’t engaged, you should have fired them instead, and not simply sent them back to the drawing board so they could send you another bill. The architects I respect aren’t disengaged until the third iteration. About my advice, (and you seem to need it more than anyone) Hire a GOOD architect. Like any profession they range from poor to excellent but they won’t tell you that (nor will a lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant etc.); that is why the process ‘to hire’ is yours and it requires a lot of work. If you do the work right your architect will then know exactly what is best (for you) as it is YOUR job to tell him during the interview process. If you fail to do this and just get caught up in all the pretty pictures then the fault is yours. The second step, make your goals clear, is also a lot of work; if it comes too easily then you’re not doing your job. This corresponds to your ‘significant restraints’ item #1, which I agree with, but it isn’t worth a damn without a rigorous interview process because you are giving your list to someone who doesn’t know what is right for you. If you follow my advice you will have acted twice before the architect has yet to start. Lastly, let them work, this includes the idea of giving them enough time to do a good job. Maybe you pressured your architect to turn around your 30,000 square foot building in a weekend and, if so, you deserve getting a Xerox copy of something else. If your actions are clear and thoughtful you will get a good response from a good architect on the first go around.

    Your cynical view to the design process is being played out with the Calthorpe report. Did Calthorpe give us a Xerox of his last analysis? Maybe yes maybe no; I have never seen another report that his firm has prepared, but anyone who knows his work could have predicted this response; it wasn’t possible for him to respond that we should build single family developments on the outskirts of town. The firm is pro urban and they wear it on their sleeves, and if we did not want this kind of advice we should not have hired them. As I said, the hiring part is not a passive activity; if you hire Calatrava don’t expect a Hobbs and Black building.

    The proposed moratorium is just like your way of sending things back to the drawing board. If the city wanted a suburban solution they should have hired a company that believes in that. When I heard we had hired Calthorpe I wondered if the city had the balls to follow the advise that would inevitably follow; this is telling me that the answer may be no. I realize that you said you do not support a moratorium but calling into question the entire profession that will be integral to implementing the needed changes is stupid and unproductive. Imagine being a victim of some strange disease, in need of emergency treatment, and telling all of the hospital staff that you were going to reject the first and possibly the second diagnoses you are presented with. A smart doctor would let you die, because for him (or her) it is a lose, lose proposition. This cynicism will not serve the party or the city.

    My post, that you clipped from, was specifically directed against a position that said we should stop whatever miniscule momentum we have and stir the pot some more. I am against finding reasons to stop building when more density is needed. I am against more study when we have had years to do so. The time is now. I want engaged leaders who are willing to cut through the crap, pick a direction, and start working toward it. I do not support a development moratorium because our officials are overwhelmed. I do not support a field trip that is not timely or germane. I do not support a feeble argument to review the language of the code to make it just so. This is all masturbation on an urban scale, it has to stop. What will be your role?

       —cb    Mar. 11 '06 - 10:10AM    #
  44. cb, over many years as a public official in various capacities, I have dealt with widely respected architects and firms on multimillion dollar building projects.

    As it happens, I usually did not get to choose the architects who I had to deal with. Working in the public sector imposes a level of constraints you may not be familiar with. Nor did I ever give an architect an unreasonably fast timetable: the wheels of government turn slowly, and these kinds of projects took years.

    But on the whole, when I used the rules I mentioned above, I was pretty happy with the results.

    I stand by my deep cynicism toward the architectural profession, alongside my respect for the skills of individual architects. I’m sorry if you find it insulting. I hear even deeper cynicism about the legal profession all the time, and as a lawyer I can’t deny that a lot of it is surely justified.

    The Calthorpe report is a study, not a design for a newly created building, and I have been defending it, as you mention only in passing. My first and most emphatic posting of the three above was to oppose the moratorium.

    You ask me what role I will play. Obviously as a county official I have no authority over city policy except as an interested and involved citizen.

    You write: “When I heard we had hired Calthorpe I wondered if the city had the balls to follow the advise that would inevitably follow; this is telling me that the answer may be no.” You concluded this from a thread of blog comments? The decisionmakers are the mayor and city council, and they appear to be on task and moving in the right direction.

       —Lawrence Kestenbaum    Mar. 11 '06 - 11:12AM    #
  45. Just a reminder to anyone reading the blog this morning: if you’re a Democrat and interested in the downtown and the other issues on the table, please get yourself to the Michigan League for the meeting, 10am-noon.

    See you there!

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Mar. 11 '06 - 05:55PM    #
  46. Does anyone on Arbor Update feel that there is a measure of community angst about Calthorpe? If so, can you suggest a way to ameliorate it or can you comment on the alternative proposal?

       —Conan Smith    Mar. 11 '06 - 07:07PM    #
  47. I can see where Conan is trying to go here, and I applaud him for trying to get there, but I don’t think a moratorium is the way to go for many of the reasons that have already been elaborated above.

    I am glad to see that he is still on the right side of the fence—the side that says we need a clear vision and a clear process with clear zoning and get away from debating each aspect of every project. But I think you have to do this as you go forward.

       —Brandt Coultas    Mar. 11 '06 - 07:37PM    #
  48. There may be angst in the community but the reality is that a vast majority of residents won’t be directly impacted by whatever development occurs downtown. Most residents in Ann Arbor don’t live in the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown so whether a 5 or 10 or 15 story building is built, they’ll never come out to complain or praise such a project. Now that doesn’t mean people won’t be affected by what happens downtown development-wise. But most people are concerned with what happens in their immediate neighborhood, not what is happening across town.

    As we have often discussed, there’s real impacts from the form that development takes downtown both on the City and the region. But the vision of downtown can’t be frozen in amber. Those who are arguing that the downtown should look just a certain way are trying to make an argument that downtowns never change and evolve. Of anyone here, Conan should appreciate the evolutionary nature of communities, having lived in Ann Arbor long enough to have seen how the community has change. The question were facing today is whether the City, particularly downtown, can continue to grow in a form that is good for the long-term health of the community or whether it will be frozen in time.

       —John Q.    Mar. 11 '06 - 10:30PM    #
  49. I guess I should do a quick report of what happened. About 75 people attended.

    Resolutions in favor of the impeachment of the president and vice president, against the MCRI, and in favor of the proposal to increase the minimum wage were approved.

    Dave Cahill’s resolution calling for delay implementing Calthorpe was withdrawn.

    Conan Smith’s resolution (the one which included a development moratorium downtown) was changed, via a substitute offered by Jennifer Hall, to call for a values statement to red-flag potential areas of controversy instead of a moratorium. Other amendments were offered, and with limited time remaining, the whole issue was tabled to the next meeting.

    A number of Arbor Update readers and commenters were present, including Jennifer Hall, Conan Smith, David Cahill, Tim Colenback, Eric Lipson, myself, and probably a lot of others I didn’t recognize or am forgetting to mention. Many thanks to all of you!

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Mar. 11 '06 - 11:46PM    #
  50. Todd, just to clarify so that my numbers aren’t misleading, I’m talking about downtown density, not density across the city. You raise excellent points about the placement of buildings along the greenway and other places. Those debates are surely still to come. I would reassert, however, that the master plan and zoning ordinances ought to guide us if we truly want to streamline the development process. I believe our first goal—and the one we have focused on as a community for the last 2+ years—is to determine the destiny of downtown. Can you point me to the U-M study numbers? I’m really interested in that projection.

    I thought today’s meeting was really quite informative and that we were moving toward a resolution that would have broad support. I think we exhausted folk with discussion, though, and ran out of time. I was really proud of the people who worked to engage in constructive debate.

       —Conan Smith    Mar. 12 '06 - 02:03AM    #
  51. Also, the resolution demanding that Council not merge those two housing groups was passed.

    I thought it was a great meeting!

    One big surprise for me was that 10 out of 11 of our Democratic councilmembers were absent. Wendy Woods was there and participated.

    Nearly all the councilmembers were present at last month’s City Party meeting. Curious. Definitely curious.

       —David Cahill    Mar. 12 '06 - 02:24AM    #
  52. I think it’s clear that a FOIA request is in order.

       —Dale    Mar. 12 '06 - 07:01AM    #
  53. Yesterday’s meeting was the lead story in today’s AA News. And in a second article, the News even spelled my name right!

       —David Cahill    Mar. 12 '06 - 05:51PM    #
  54. With the moratorium issue behind us I think it is still important to assess the damage. Mr. K, My reaction to whether or not the city is prepared to accept the advice did not come solely from this thread; it began with the initial piece that has the resolutions to be discussed at the meeting. With those resolutions the Party was urged (not asked to consider, but urged by the people who supposedly did some work on this or are more knowledgeable than the average Dem) to vote for a moratorium and in support of this moratorium there is a list of ‘Chicken Little’ (change Little if you want) reasons, excuses, obfuscations, etc. trying to persuade the less informed (maybe) that the leadership of the Democratic Party, the Party of our Council, wants them to vote to halt development for the next nine months or so. The supporting whereases were painstakingly crafted to appeal to people who may not be very familiar with the issues or what is at stake and, you know, they sounded good. With language like:

    “…fundamentally shift the development strategy for downtown”

    “Community support for and faith in the development process will only be generated by open debate succeeded by clearly articulated reforms to the policies that guide downtown development”

    “…policies have not sufficiently provided protection from poor architectural design”

    These are authoritative, thoughtful, and most importantly persuasive (please all, read the entire text) and just because the moratorium has been sidestepped doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some damage. Just the attempt to implement a moratorium will be remembered and the language to justify it sowed the seeds of angst that was asked about previously. You may be right that the council is headed in the right direction; evidenced by the fact that they didn’t want anything to do with a meeting that seemed to be set to drive a stake into the heart of some hard fought gains. I would think that they will now try to distance themselves from the doubters because if the community has doubts, whether real or imagined, it is much more likely to find an excuse to squash change. Also by simply entertaining the prospect of a moratorium the Dems gets saddled, once again, with the rep that they stand in the way of progress more than they pave the way to it.

    [Ed: removed double-pasted text...]

    I also can’t let John Q’s comment go. John, you wrote “a vast majority of residents won’t be directly impacted by whatever development occurs downtown”. This is not true; they may THINK that they are unaffected. If there is no business, retail or housing downtown it will be somewhere else (begging the question, what will be downtown?), no need to look further than Zeeb and Jackson or South Main at Lohr to see what happens. Both places are abominations but as downtown activity shrinks these conditions grow, along with the residential sprawl, which will cause the supposed need to widen roads and highways, which will allow more retail and housing to be further away from the downtown, and on, and on. Then all of those residents who “were not impacted” will wonder what happened to their town and will move to Portland because it is nicer.

       —cb    Mar. 12 '06 - 07:17PM    #
  55. Er, I think there was a copy – and – paste error in your comment, cb.

    I expect that Jennifer Hall and Conan Smith (plus others) will actively pursue the idea of a vision statement/red flag resolution for Council to pass along with other Calthorpe thingies.

       —David Cahill    Mar. 12 '06 - 08:09PM    #
  56. Yes, yes there was. My, my apologies. I, I am seeing doubles. But I am not in the positin to fix it

       —cb    Mar. 12 '06 - 08:14PM    #
  57. Clearly I cannot type either, maybe its the coffee. You know if this little box was big enough to work…

       —cb    Mar. 12 '06 - 08:17PM    #
  58. I heartily second cb’s call to increase the size of the itty-bitty text box.

    Party meetings and conventions at the local, state, and national level pass resolutions and platforms all the time, and usually they’re barely noticed, let alone read, by people who weren’t at the meeting. Mostly, it’s the headline that matters, not the stray semicolon in the third whereas, no matter how important such minutiae may seem to policy insiders like us.

    As an advocate of downtown density, I found the majority at that meeting much more receptive to that point of view than I expected.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Mar. 12 '06 - 09:36PM    #
  59. Common ground found at last. Impeach this text box.

       —cb    Mar. 12 '06 - 11:14PM    #
  60. I like the small text box and the implicit message it sends to commenters: choose your words carefully. Very carefully. This comment? One box.

       —HD    Mar. 13 '06 - 12:41AM    #
  61. At the same time, the implicit message sent by the small text box might be interpreted by some as: two-line, smart-alecky pot shots welcome. That’s bad.

       —HD    Mar. 13 '06 - 12:44AM    #
  62. In adition to a larger box, spell-check support would be welcome, but probably no blog software packages include that. Use MS Werd and paiste, I gess.

       —HD    Mar. 13 '06 - 12:57AM    #
  63. Wasn’t the size of the text box reduced when Scott “upgraded” the software after last month’s crash?

       —David Cahill    Mar. 13 '06 - 01:22AM    #
  64. A big thank you to all who attended the city party meeting. We’ve planned a meeting for the second Saturday of each month from 10am-12pm. The location of the next meeting on April 8 will be announced shortly. A big thank you also goes out the the college dems for securing space in the league. I, for one, learned a lot at the meeting and was impressed by the discussion as a whole.
    We look forward to even greater participation in the future.
    Tim Colenback
    Vice Chair for Organization, Ann Arbor City Democratic Party

       —Tim Colenback    Mar. 13 '06 - 04:12AM    #
  65. In response to Conan’s comment #29, I would like to point out a couple things regarding density and transit use.

    First, research has indicated that employment density is actually more important to transit use that residential density. 50-75 employees/acre seems to be the critical mass. Other services (shopping, entertainment, etc.) are more likely to be near work than home. Measuring residential density without considering employment density overlooks the importance of proximity of destinations for trips from the home. Anyone know the employment density of Ann Arbor (or the DDA)?

    Second, while urban density significantly reduces vehicle travel (and related emissions), density on its own has limited impact on travel. Studies suggest that it is actually other factors associated with density (regional accessibility, land-use mix, walkability, etc) that affect travel behavior more than density itself. This suggests that there may be lots of ways to encourage transit ridership and NMT without focusing on density.

    Third, I can’t find anything that makes the scope of the density requirements clear. However, it sounds like most studies that suggest minimum density for transit are averaging that number over the extent of the service area, not just the downtown. I think Todd’s concern on this issue is valid.

    Finally, I would question the logic that we need to increase density as a means to supporting mass transit. I don’t know that Conan intended to make that claim, but it sounds like he is advocating bringing more people into town to pay for a bus and a grocery store. The studies I saw do not recommend density minimums as a solution to transit problems. They only point out that transit is more effective in places that are already densely populated with residents and jobs. We should be careful not to confuse correlation and causation here.

    I think density is important because it represents proximity of resources. That improved accessibility is generally what makes mass transit more successful. But a bus wouldn’t be nearly as useful if everyone lives close to one another but far from necessary services (ie the suburbs).

    Much of this info is taken from Todd Litman’s Report at

       —Scott TenBrink    Mar. 13 '06 - 01:12PM    #
  66. In response to David Cahill’s post: I expect that Jennifer Hall and Conan Smith (plus others) will actively pursue the idea of a vision statement/red flag resolution for Council to pass along with other Calthorpe thingies.

    yes, yes, yes … even though the resolution was tabled, you have my promise that I have already started working on this. If anyone has some thoughts regarding what should be included, you can email planning commission at or attend any planning commission meeting – there is always time for public comment

       —Jennifer Hall    Mar. 13 '06 - 11:40PM    #
  67. “I also can’t let John Q’s comment go. John, you wrote “a vast majority of residents won’t be directly impacted by whatever development occurs downtown”. This is not true;”

    My point wasn’t to downplay the impact that development downtown can have on the community. I said as much in the rest of my comments. I was more focused on the idea that there’s “angst” about the proposals for development downtown. There may be “angst” in certain circles but as I said before and I’ll say it again, the majority of people aren’t going to be ‘directly’ impacted by development downtown. When they can’t ‘directly’ feel it or see it, the likelihood that they are going to get mobilized to oppose it is pretty small.

    That’s why I think the real battleground isn’t downtown. The real bloody battles will be fought in the areas of the City that are very suburban in character as proposals come forward seeking to increase density in those parts of town. What we’re seeing downtown is a battle of intellectuals and politicians. Wait until we get to the neighborhoods. That’s when we’ll see the street fights.

       —John Q.    Mar. 14 '06 - 12:54AM    #
  68. Q. We clearly have a different concept of ‘directly impacted’. I consider myself ‘directly impacted’ by the Iraq War, global warming, Carl Rove, the Saudi Royal family, Osama Bin Laden, water pollution, Pop music, commercials, and I can’t see most of them right now. Nevertheless, I see your point but I would have chosen my words differently; I never like to compartmentalize this conversation and give someone who lives in an isolated spot an out to say all is good because I am unaffected. I like to consider the city as a whole.

       —cb    Mar. 14 '06 - 01:27AM    #
  69. “Wait until we get to the neighborhoods. That’s when we’ll see the street fights.”

    Boy, do I agree with this statement.

    If I were more of a political type, I’d have framed this whole argument of Downtown density in the vein of “I don’t want to build hardly at all in your neighborhood. We want to put nearly all new construction downtown. Vote Quimby”.

       —todd    Mar. 14 '06 - 02:13AM    #
  70. cb – we’re probably on the same page but I’m coming at this from the practical political viewpoint as it applies to local politics.

    todd – Back in the day, just think of what you could have done politically with your access to the power of the brew. Make sure to use those powers for good, not evil.

       —John Q.    Mar. 14 '06 - 03:08AM    #
  71. Great, Jennifer! I’d appreciate seing a first draft whenever it’s convenient. It seems that the majority of folks at the meeting thought this was the way to go.

       —David Cahill    Mar. 14 '06 - 03:39AM    #
  72. Just like Columbus, Indiana, Ann Arbor has buildings by Gunnar Birkerts (Law School), Eero Saarinen (North Campus plan and School of Music), I.M. Pei’s design firm (the MCDB building on UM campus), and Roche, Dinkeloo & Associates (Power Center). In addition, there are buildings here built by Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Kahn, Robert Swanson (from the Saarinen family), William Muschenheim, Quinn Evans, Hobbs and Black (although I can’t forgive them for One North Main) the wave field by Maya Lin, and many other projects from noted architects. We just don’t have a tour. It is also important to note that just because you are a noted architect, it doesn’t mean you design good buildings.

    It is very important that the density discussions take place all over town. Why are we letting people build one-story buildings on Stadium with no mixed use (the services are there and they have those nifty new streetlights)? Why are we letting a developer remove the grocery store from a mixed-use proposal on Georgetown? Downtown is but a small part of the whole.

    Thank you to Scott TenBrink for bringing up the idea of employment density. It is a concept I have always wondered about.

    Boo to Conan Smith and the people who supported him for even suggesting a building moratorium downtown. We are finally getting proposals to build decent buildings in intelligent places downtown and suddenly you want to stop it. Yeah the ordinances in Ann Arbor are useless, but we have all known that for years. Stopping everything isn’t the answer, that just makes Ann Arbor look even less competent. There will be no resolution to the debates in nine months and the idea is that Planning Commission and City Council are working for us (whoever us may be). Frankly, I thought most of the Dems agenda for this meeting was pretty embarrassing. Especially since it is the Dems who ostensibly control City Council and who have access to all the behind-the-scenes Caucus meetings where deals are really made. I do think we have a multi-party system in Ann Arbor, it is just made up of These Democrats, Those Democrats, and Democrats who used to be Republicans.

       —Juliew    Mar. 15 '06 - 03:52AM    #
  73. Julie, you forgot The Other Democrats Over There. 8-)

       —David Cahill    Mar. 16 '06 - 02:47AM    #