Arbor Update

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Development in Ann Arbor: Finding Common Ground

20. July 2009 • Nancy Shore
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Recent discussions of proposed developments, such as New North, City Place and the Moravian highlight a real division in our town.

On the one had there are those who say they are supportive of development and density, but argue that all of the proposed developments are “bad”. These folks seem to suggest that if the right type of development came along, they would certainly support it. But that hasn’t happened yet.

On the other hand are those who want density and development no matter the scale in order to attract the people who will keep Ann Arbor vital. These folks argue that all density is good density, regardless of some of the consequences.

So where’s the middle ground? If Ann Arbor is going to grow (which some would argue is inevitable while others would argue isn’t going to happen) how should it grow? What does good development look like?

  1. As someone who is supportive of walkable communities, I would like to see more density downtown and am somewhat frustrated that all of the developments that have been proposed have been rejected by residents. However, I understand that there are people who live downtown that enjoy where they live and worry what a development would do to their community.

    What good development would look like to me would be to develop some of the surface parking lots we have downtown. When the new underground parking structure is built, I am hoping that will allow us to put mixed use buildings on top of some of those lots. I would love to see more buildings with retail and residential.

    However, I am also not convinced that all of this has to happen downtown. I’ve checked out the proposed amendments to the Area Height and Placement standards and I think there is a lot of potential with these amendments to create more walkable urban spaces in existing commercial and employment areas (like State Street and Eisenhower or over by Westgate). The idea would be to make these areas more dense, add some mixed uses (like apartments, etc) to liven up the areas and allow people to live close to where they work. If you want to learn more about these standards, you can attend a public meeting or click on a link in the meeting notice to read the plan.

       —Nancy    Jul. 20 '09 - 11:06PM    #
  2. Great topic Nancy. Personally I’m an advocate of letting much of our city go back to green space or community farming for a few decades until we figure out our long term transportation situation (I’m looking at you empty lot across from Whole Foods) so I’m not a true believer that increased density outside of the city core is the lowest hanging fruit these days.

    I am in agreement that the surface lots downtown are the scares that make me wince each morning as I bike to work. Yet for better or worse, of the 9 lots in question, only 6 are big enough, not in an historic district, or not in a flood plane, and of those 6, 2 are privatly owned and leased by the city (for parking), 1 is owned by the county and used for court house parking, and the other 3, which are city owned, have a ton of cash and/or profit expectation already dumped into the dirt. Unless the city (i.e. us citizens) is willing to let those parcels go cheap/free and can come to agreement on what we want there, it may be a while.

       —Newcombe Clark    Jul. 21 '09 - 12:17AM    #
  3. Nancy writes:

    On the one had there are those who say they are supportive of development and density, but argue that all of the proposed developments are “bad”. These folks seem to suggest that if the right type of development came along, they would certainly support it. But that hasn’t happened yet.

    I really don’t like that characterization. There are people out there who don’t even share the premise about density.

    Those of us who DO advocate density, yet oppose City Place, have supported many other past projects. When I ran for city council, supporting Ashley Mews and other developments, the Ann Arbor News portrayed me as a raving pro-density lunatic.

    In this space several years ago, I argued that Germantown (before it had that name) was important and merited designation as a historic district. The fact that I’m strongly opposed to destroying this architecturally significant neighborhood is consistency, not inconsistency.

    I want density AND historic preservation. We have plenty of room for both!

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 21 '09 - 03:52AM    #
  4. I support increased density, especially downtown but the call for more density shouldn’t be used to give bad projects a pass. Was the destruction of the Anberay Apartments a good outcome because the Zaragon Place provided more density in the South U area?

       —John Q.    Jul. 21 '09 - 07:48AM    #
  5. John Q. writes:

    I support increased density, especially downtown but the call for more density shouldn’t be used to give bad projects a pass.

    I’m agreed here, but the idea of this thread, was hopefully to collect some ideas of what a good project is. Idealist as it is, what I’d like to see come out of this discussion would be the frameworks of set of ideas about density, scale, character, form, placement, and location that hopefully can educate future plans and create situations that aren’t so adversarial.

    Short comments, even one-line suggestions of what we want to see if someone’s interested in changing something.

    There are so many interests involved here – should Ann Arbor grow? If so, where should it? Outside the Greenbelt only? In one certain neighborhood? On one certain block? Would we trade a development we’re not happy with, but can live with for guaranteed parkland nearby? Would we consider another parking structure with retail spaces lining the outside, and a facade in exchange for another parking lot being turned into parkland?

       —Jeremy Peters    Jul. 21 '09 - 09:09AM    #
  6. Jeremy,

    Fair enough. But a lot of those questions are context-specific. A building that fits in nicely downtown can look totally inappropriate elsewhere in the city. The challenge to the city planners and the Council is to find that balance where you can increase density in a way that adds to the quality of the area, not detracts.

    I have more thoughts that I’ll share later today.

       —John Q.    Jul. 21 '09 - 04:40PM    #
  7. In this case, let’s get into the nitty gritty of context then. I agree that what’s right for downtown is not what’s right for my Bryant-Pattengill East Neighborhood. The same makes sense for Barton Hills makes no sense for Kerrytown. I guess my suggestion to the crowd that hopefully comes is to perhaps head each part of your comment with the name of each neighborhood and what you think makes sense for that area. If it’s just to keep it the way it is, that’s fine too. Maybe this can turn into a planning/development crowd source wiki for the city (given I have no clue how to start such a thing <grin>).

       —Jeremy Peters    Jul. 21 '09 - 06:33PM    #
  8. Larry,
    Thanks for your comment regarding my post. I did my best to try to capture what I have heard at some of the main arguments on both sides of the development debate. I know it’s not perfect, so I appreciate your clarification and addition of some historical info.

    So, the issues with my post aside, I’m with Jeremy, I’d like to hear from folks what they would like to see.

       —Nancy Shore    Jul. 21 '09 - 09:35PM    #
  9. I live in the Old West Side, protected as a historic district. I would like the Old West Side to remain largely unchanged as a residential, near-downtown district.

    I would like to see growth of downtown in the area between Main Street and First Street. Increased density in this area will impact my neighborhood in both positive and negative ways, but not so much of the latter that it’s not worth doing.

    Specific things I’d like to see over time …

    1) Put in a food market of some sort in Liberty Lofts, even if it means knocking down or moving the two houses next to the closed gas station.

    2) Replace the car wash on Liberty and 415 W. Washington with an apartment complex, including a path between Washington and Liberty.

    3) Build the stalled Ann Arbor City Apartments over a parking garage.

    4) Replace the two city lots between Ashley/First and Huron/Washington with underground parking, storefronts, and multi-story condos/apartments.

    5) I’d like to be able to take a commuter rail from Washington Street to Toledo or Howell, with 5-7 stops (e.g. Georgetown, Produce Station, Michigan Stadium, Madison/Main, Washington, North Main, Plymouth Road) through town.

    I’m only focusing on the west side of downtown here, because that’s “in my backyard” and I know the issues fairly well. I think a similar balance of density / preservation could be found for the other near-downtown areas of town.

    I don’t think my position is strongly pro-growth or anti-growth, but I do think it leads my neighborhood towards a more sustainable future.

       —Eric    Jul. 22 '09 - 12:13AM    #
  10. I’d share Larry’s note, that while there are some people who would like good development, if only they were presented with it, there are some around town (not necessarily many) who don’t make any claim that desirable development could theoretically exist.

    On the other side, I think there might be a few folks who think any and all development/density is good, regardless of anything else – but I don’t recall talking to them.

    I’ll admit some bias, though – I’m admittedly on the development-accepting side of the scale, so my wingnuts look a lot closer to “reasonable” than the folks waaaay on the other end.

    Sorry for nitpicking premises…

       —Murph    Jul. 22 '09 - 02:14AM    #
  11. My number one – not because it would be high impact, but because it should be quick/easy – would be accessory dwelling units. (Remember those?) Allow owners of single-family detached homes to have an extra small unit, under some reasonable constraints to limit impacts. (Say, no more than 400 sq. ft., no more than 2-person occupancy, etc.)

    ADUs provide “invisible density” by adding individual small units here and there, rather than large new construction that doesn’t mesh with the surrounding neighborhood fabric. Their effect on overall density would be pretty small – I’d expect an adoption rate similar to chickens, maybe 10-20 of these created a year – and some neighborhoods just wouldn’t be physically suited to them at all. (The mid-century sub-1000sf ranch neighborhoods.)

    For a lot of the historic* neighborhoods close to downtown, though, where there are larger houses, it would be an option that could provide homeowners with a little extra income to rehab the house, facilitate “aging in place”, allow fresh young professionals to afford a house, etc.

    *historically speaking, of course, this would actually be a more faithful “restoration” of their homes than their complete conversion to a “single-family” status. I’ve met a number of people living on their lonesome, 1-2 in a house that was built for 6-10. We just don’t have the children, boarders, extra generations, etc, that we used to have living in these houses.

       —Murph    Jul. 22 '09 - 02:43AM    #
  12. I’m softening on the ADU idea, though I opposed it when it came out some years ago. I was influenced at the time by an unpleasant experience with some renters my next-door neighbor had (illegally) installed in a studio on their property. Those renters were noisy and unpleasant. Neighborhood dynamics can be complex and adding more people to the mix make things even tougher when things go wrong. Still, on reflection, most circumstances would be benign probably, and the ordinance could even soften such effects to some extent. Right now I’m sitting helplessly listening to my neighbor’s dog howl. No renters involved.

    Enforcement would be important. At the time of the ADU proposal, a person in the northeast quadrant of the city had about 8 people living in her house, which she kept expanding. She was in essence running an illegal boarding house. This raised the blood pressure for a lot of people considering the measure as an intrusion into a decent existence within a quiet neighborhood.

    Exceptions sometimes do test the rule, but shouldn’t determine it. Murph’s arguments make a lot of sense.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 22 '09 - 08:51PM    #
  13. Vivienne –

    I think it’s important in any such discussion to separate out the real concerns from the red herrings, and I’m glad you brought up the flashpoint complaint in the previous ADU discussion.

    As you say, that concern was about an illegal roominghouse, not an illegal ADU – that case would not have been remotely legalized by any ADU ruleset under discussion at the time. It was illegal with no ADU allowance, and would still be illegal with – it’s just a matter of enforcement either way. It’s unfortunate that the question got conflated at the time with an unrelated issue and dragged down.

    The next-door example you mention sounds much more applicable, and it’s examples like that that would need to be looked at for appropriate boundary conditions. (And, of course, some things just can’t be controlled for – plenty of owner-occupants can be terrible neighbors, and there’s no way the City can ensure a given house will be owned rather than rented, even if it’s a standalone single-unit home.)

    …And, of course, this is why policy issues like this face so much inertia. If we can identify myriad concerns and issues with a proposal so small it’ll only yield a dozen units a years, and have entire neighborhoods up in arms, it’s tempting to just say, “Nah – let’s not worry about trying that now.”

       —Murph    Jul. 22 '09 - 09:17PM    #
  14. Some population facts:

    SEMCOG reports that Ann Arbor has currently lost a few hundred population since the 2000 census. These might reflect summer figures (since the end of the UM spring term sees a number of residents departing, and the fall will see some new arrivals), though it could also reflect the departure of the final Pfizer employees and their families.

    The 2010 census will be carried out on April 1, which falls within the spring UM term.

    At any rate, Ann Arbor population growth over the last decade is stagnant.

    However, the metro area (the MSA, i.e. Washtenaw County) has grown by 25,000.

    There are lots of previous discussions on AU about For example, UM enrollment has grown by several thousand over the last decade or so. But UM has built no new dorms in that period (and none since 1967, until construction began on North Quad last year). So where did the students go? Many of them must have replaced city residents.

    Is any of this a good thing? Personally I think not, and I think more density is needed in-city. However, the number one thing the city could use right now are new zoning laws. But A2D2 continues to slowly grind its way through the system. I don’t think that the development anyone wants to see will really happen until the new zoning is passed. What can you do?

    For the record, I—

    —support Near North, with some regrets.
    —support City Place in principle, though have yet to see an acceptable proposal (in general I favor at least partial preservation of some of the current structures, even as only facades, but if they have to be torn down at least the original PUD was better than the current by-right proposal. For that matter I have written my city representatives about this several times, in addition to other efforts towards finding a compromise solution.)
    —do NOT support the 11-story Moravian proposal (totally inappropriate for its area, though it could be perfectly appropriate in a central business district) but am willing in theory to support a smaller 4-story proposal that I have heard about but have not seen any images for.

    I have opinions about various other proposals which I won’t bother repeating here, ranging from 601 Forest (generally for) to The Gallery (generally against).

    So, I think that there is good (and bad) development out there already—the best of it is development where all relevant parties have contributed, respected each other, and made compromises.

    IMO right now the lack of forward-thinking zoning is an obstacle in the way of that process.

    Anyway, I also have a snoppy manifesto about what makes a good development that maybe I’ll share in a later post.

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jul. 22 '09 - 09:56PM    #
  15. Whoops, “There are lots of previous discussions on AU about” should read “There are lots of previous discussions on AU about development.”

    Also a clarification: I think the county population growth is by and large a good thing. What’s not-so-good is the lack of corresponding growth in-city, and the possible decrease in non-student in-city population. I think this needs to be changed, and smart planning and smart density is the way to do it.

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jul. 22 '09 - 10:00PM    #
  16. Ah, one last thing I notice—I can confirm that SEMCOG figures show the population decrease in Ann Arbor city is in fact due to household decrease, rather than group quarter decrease (“group quarters” typically include things like dormitories, at least for those inhabitants who have been declared residents for census purposes). Household population in fact decreased by nearly 1000. This is probably not something to be encouraged.

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jul. 22 '09 - 10:07PM    #
  17. To add to the complexity, you cannot abstract this discussion from the issue of what downtown should be. Do you want to turn Main Street into a pedestrian mall (which requires greater density) or strand it by exhuming Allen’s Creek? Some on the Old West Side would like downtown to be turned into a rural environment for them, others (see #7 above) want to see it as a vibrant neighbor. Without more development and more parking, Main Street will be a row of restaurant franchises. The arguments about zoning have become lawyers’ duels, with both sides spinning lofty platitudes in their guerilla warfare. As a native Parisian, I wince at the pretension that late 19th century cottages are historical.

       —Henry Brysk    Jul. 22 '09 - 10:10PM    #
  18. “As a native Parisian, I wince at the pretension that late 19th century cottages are historical.”

    Does that mean they are unworthy of preservation?

       —John Q.    Jul. 22 '09 - 11:29PM    #
  19. Most of Paris as we know it today dates from the 19th century. Medieval Paris was destroyed by Haussman running huge boulevards through it.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 23 '09 - 12:34AM    #
  20. Larry – go to the Fifth Arrondissement and you will see medieval Paris, along with a Roman road, the Rue de la Harpe, which is where we stay. And Haussmann came along a long time after those fabulous 17th century buildings on the left bank along the Seine and on the Ile St. Louis, the Marais, etc. People still live in them, behind those mysterious wooden doors. Just because it’s not medieval doesn’t mean it isn’t historical. Paris is the most walkable, enjoyable and wonderful city I have ever been in. I envy Henry having been born there.

       —Leah Gunn    Jul. 23 '09 - 01:25AM    #
  21. Us Americans are a few century behind but if we want to catch up, at least in A2, the 19th Century homes are a good starting point…Leah is right—just because it isn’t medieval doesn’t make it worth keeping.

    And this is from someone who was so pissed off and fed off with the anti-French hatred and backlash after the Iraq War that he spent his 50th birthday in Nice as a silent and enjoyable protest (in rainy and cold December at that).

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 23 '09 - 01:44AM    #
  22. Eh…centuries…not century!

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 23 '09 - 01:45AM    #
  23. Seems like ADUs have struck a somewhat willing chord here. I, personally, am a fan of them, as they can provide a nice middle ground to increase density in near-downtown residential neighborhoods. It is on the onus of the landlords or prospective landlords to keep up on the tenants in these places though, which I think could be realized thru a bit of code, a bit of zoning, and a bit of neighborhood watchdog-ism, which we seem to be good at. Do we think it makes sense to try and bring something like this to a table?

    The valve I see needing to be turned here is consideration of these additions in some of the HDC areas. Would public opinion support the addition of something like this? I think it could especially make sense for houses that used to have, or easily could have had carriage houses when they were originally constructed (whether or not they made it onto official plans or not. I would guess that the question is easier for 20th Century homeowners.

       —Jeremy Peters    Jul. 23 '09 - 02:08AM    #
  24. ADUs make sense both inside and outside historic districts.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 23 '09 - 03:00AM    #
  25. Yes, 21st century homeowners, especially those with large houses, may find this to be a useful concept.

    Actually, people already rent out rooms, but without the ADU ordinance they can’t have separate kitchens, entrances, etc. I don’t think that a freestanding separate building is necessary, depending on the layout of the house.

    I think the Germantown neighbors actually suggested addition of carriage house type buildings to those properties as a compromise.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 23 '09 - 03:13AM    #
  26. I’m sure I’m considered a member of the VADC (Vast Anti-Development Conspiracy), so let me just express my own personal views.

    When people move into an area, one essential part of their decision is the “look and feel”, or “character”, of that area. They choose that character. They don’t study the zoning. They have no way of what developers have in mind. They want to protect – conserve, if you will – that character.

    So when that neighborhood is the object of some developer’s plan, the citizens react to protect what they view as theirs. They react to an invasion of their “turf”. It is a reaction at a biological level. This reaction leads to people singing anti-development songs to City Council.

    One factor that aggravates this situation is that for economic reasons, developers always want to build big. As big as they possibly can. Plus, they tend to cut expenses on making their projects look nice.

    As a result, these projects tend to be Big Ugly Buildings. To call some of the recent projects “butt ugly” would be an offense to some very nice butts.

    As to the future growth of the city, SEMCOG projections show virtually no growth for the foreseeable future. To try to transform Ann Arbor from a mid-size college town into something like Chicago is, in my view, an exercise in futility.

       —David Cahill    Jul. 23 '09 - 03:38AM    #
  27. “As to the future growth of the city, SEMCOG projections show virtually no growth for the foreseeable future.”

    This is true but I don’t think the city wants to use SEMCOG’s projections as their target for future city growth. SEMCOG’s view of the future is pretty bleak and unless Ann Arbor wants to fulfill those projections, they need to take an approach of doing things differently than what SEMCOG anticipates over the next 20 years. I think the impact of more density is often oversold as the solution to the city’s long-term problems. It’s a policy that can help the city in the long-term. But in terms of the city’s long-term health, I think there are other issues that will have much more of an impact on the city’s growth than how much density is allowed downtown.

       —John Q.    Jul. 23 '09 - 07:25AM    #
  28. “To try to transform Ann Arbor from a mid-size college town into something like Chicago is, in my view, an exercise in futility.”

    I have to say I have never understood this complaint. To think that haggling about the construction of a couple of four-story complexes amounts to transforming Ann Arbor into Chicago…is laughable. There might be other reasons to oppose development, but surely not even the most rabid tear-everything-down development advocate has any illusions about turning Ann Arbor into anything other than what it will always be: a mid-sized college down.

    Otherwise I basically agree with John Q.‘s post. Though I also agree the demographics demand attention.

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jul. 23 '09 - 07:37PM    #
  29. From #15: “I think the county population growth is by and large a good thing.”

    YUA, why do you think that?

       —Steve Bean    Jul. 24 '09 - 01:55AM    #
  30. Population growth isn’t necessarily a good thing, but population shrinking and/or homogenization, can be a very, very bad thing in terms of loss of services, institutions, labor pool, and tax base (e.g. most of Japan, most of Russia…Detroit).

    Simply put, there are not enough babies in the Washtenaw county pipeline to maintain, let alone justify, our current school system, our disporportionatly large stock of 3-4 bedroom single family homes, the library, the bus system, arts and culture institutions, the parks & rec, etc. We may be forced to grow in total population size if we don’t want to give these things up or we don’t want to replace the current, aging, increasingly homogenious population with a younger more economically and racially diverse and integrated population (which is one of the true economic health indicators, regardless of population size).

    Even if quality of life or an improvement in job prospects bring a younger demographic back to Washtenaw County. It will likely be a draw to Ann Arbor. Yet it is unlikely that the young could, on a median, mean, or average basis, afford to live in our urban core, where the vast majority of us desire to be according to every survey out there.

    We can afford downtown Ypsi, and in increasing numbers we are moving there, but our current bus service between the cities is deplorable (not AATA’s fault), The schools aren’t any comparison (not Ypsi’s fault), and the tax rate to service ratio is laughable (dunno who’s fault that is, but I’m guessing it has something to do with not enough tax base in general).

    In Ypsi, the urban housing stock is tight, and much of if is already full. Seems a good time to build there. Yet Ypsi construction unfortunatly is all but redlined by most financal institutions, regardless of a likely healthy financial return. There’s too much history of risk. Ann Arbor however, has a very unique Michigan problem that banks are still willing to finance projects here assuming the numbers work (Thank you U of M). But they have to be in radial proximity to the U (Damn you U of M)

    So the question remains, if there is agreement that some urban development is needed, what do we want it to be? And are our expectations realistic to the true cost of making it green and affordable, assuming that’s of import.

       —Newcombe Clark    Jul. 24 '09 - 07:52PM    #
  31. Newcombe makes some excellent points. I think slow, managed growth is good for cities, because it adds to their prosperity—it attracts the kinds of workers and residents that cities want to see: productive, stable individuals who will improve diversity, opportunity, and quality of life.

    Not all growth is good, of course—again, it depends on the demographic you’re attracting. US population is expected to grow for several decades to come. I think Ann Arbor (city and metro, and SE MI, and MI in general) should want to be a part of that. Otherwise we’re losing out on new workers, new ideas, political representation, economic weight, new tax revenues, and a whole host of other issues.

    As for making development affordable, I think there’s no other way to do it other than having more of it. With proper zoning and good behavior by both developers and neighborhods (and city government), we can create desirable developments that will slowly, over time, increase residents, draw students out of neighborhoods and into apartments, and make housing costs more affordable. I support some limited affordable housing measures, but it can’t be done by law alone. Supply and demand does have an effect.

    There will still be limits to this growth—hopefully clearly delineated in new zoning laws. Historical preservation will still be important.

    Finally, I think that willingness to compromise is one of the key features, on both sides, to good development.

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jul. 24 '09 - 08:19PM    #
  32. I agree enthusiastically with Mr. Cahill. I want Ann Arbor to look like Ann Arbor. I realize that is rather vague but I am sure many of you understand.

       —ziggy selbin    Jul. 24 '09 - 09:46PM    #
  33. In some ways I don’t think it matters if the population of the area is slated to grow or not. In a proactive sense, we could decide to plan for ways to increase the number of people attracted to this region by offering the types of things that people want. I think the vibrancy of Ann Arbor and Ypsi coupled with some of the great natural features and the great educational institutions make this a place that could continue to grow.

    I am reminded of a conversation that I was part of a couple of years ago about the City’s Transportation Plan Update. We were looking at all types of scenarios (from staying the same to some development to more progressive development) related to how to create land use patterns that encourage the type of transportation many of us want in this region. One of the things that came up was how Portland, OR progressed over the years to become what it is today. Some people in the group didn’t think it made sense to compare us to Portland. But the interesting part was that Portland used to be a lot smaller (around the size of Ann Arbor), and the land use patterns helped make it what it is today and allowed it to grow in a way that many people think is positive.

    As I stated before, I think there is potential in Ann Arbor for a large amount of infill development along corridors that would allow for better transportation. And a lot of this added development would make some parts of Ann Arbor much more pedestrian friendly. Think of Westgate with added residential and retail, not just a sea of parking. Think of a Washtenaw Ave that is actually pedestrian and bike friendly. All of this can happen and can play on some of the strengths Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and other parts of the region already have. And all of this can be done without having to building 20 story buildings and knocking down historical landmarks.

    I am sure that there are many ways people can poke holes in my post, and I do invite folks to let me know where I am out of line.

    But I think one of the challenges I see is who is leading the charge for good development in Ann Arbor? How can we be proactive about the type of development we want to see that builds on the vitality and walk ability that Ann Arbor and the area already has?

       —Nancy Shore    Jul. 25 '09 - 12:35AM    #
  34. Re: keeping Ann Arbor looking like Ann Arbor. Agreed. But keep in mind that “Ann Arbor” changes. Until the 1960s it was a kind of sleepy Republican town with a strong German heritage.

    For example, I mourn the loss of eateries like the Del, the Drake, the Old German, and so on. But mention the Pretzel Bell to anyone in Ann Arbor under the age of 30, and you will get blank stares.

    I miss Dascola on Liberty, but I’m at least glad it’s been replaced by something interesting (American Apparel) rather than an empty storefront. Same goes for Harry’s and Aveda. If I could bring back Harry’s, I would, but no amount of good wishes and zoning will do that. Times change. It’s a fact.

    And of course, Harry’s didn’t used to be there.

    Where is the old County Courthouse? Torn down when the new one was built. Where is the original University Hall? Burned down in the 50’s. Hey, remember the Econ building? Oh well. Where is Thomas Dewey’s old house? It used to be behind the Village Corner; basically it got torn down when they made the VC into the VC everyone knows and loves. I miss the old Borders. But of course, Borders didn’t even exist until the 70s. I miss Jacobson’s—out of business. What can you do? At least we filled the space.

    U Towers: didn’t used to be there. Tower Plaza: didn’t used to be there. Anberay? I miss it, but it was falling apart. Old architecture is expensive to save. We tried; the courts told us we couldn’t. What more can you do?

    My point is that change happens, every tradition was an innovation at one time, and Ann Arbor needs to be poised to take advantage of all this.

    I agree Ann Arbor has a unique character that needs to be preserved. But I would hate, for example, to see it turned into a kind of retirement village for Boomers :) (Not that I don’t like retired Boomers. I’ll be related to several of them in a decade or two.)

    Yes, let’s preserve historical landmarks when we can. But let’s also make sure we don’t freeze-dry our cities (Ann Arbor and Ypsi both), especially downtown. IMO a 20-story building in just the right place would be fine. Germantown? No, absolutely not. The Brown Block? South U.? Well, maybe…

       —Young Urban Amateur    Jul. 25 '09 - 03:56AM    #
  35. “But let’s also make sure we don’t freeze-dry our cities (Ann Arbor and Ypsi both), especially downtown.”

    The reality is thatt 80% of the city’s landscape isn’t going to change in any significant way. Set aside parks, schools, most U properties, Briarwood and the suburban-style neighborhoods that dominate the northeast, southeast and southwest side of town and you’re really only looking at the downtown, South U, the near west side and a handful of scattered commercial areas that are going to see any kind of significant redevelopment.

       —John Q.    Jul. 25 '09 - 08:16AM    #
  36. Commercial areas outside of downtown are seeing constant redevelopment. The West Stadium commercial corridor looked very different just ten years ago, and will look different again ten years from now. The zoning in those areas needs to change to encourage the inclusion of high-density residential along with retail and restaurants.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 25 '09 - 08:54PM    #
  37. I am growing intrigued with the West Stadium/North Maple area as a “satellite downtown”. Recently there has been significant redevelopment of commercial areas, with assembly of small parcels to create a more integrated site, for example the Aldi center now being constructed at the corner of Dexter and North Maple, and the recently approved Rite Aid project at the corner of Jackson and North Maple (currently a muffler shop and the closed Schotzki’s). It has been made somewhat more pedestrian-friendly with recent installation of more crosswalks and improved sidewalks. There are many more real services there now than in our historic downtown.

    There is already high-density residential in the Pauline/Stadium area. I think discussions of where additional high-density residential might go would be valuable, though I would not want to see existing single-family neighborhoods threatened. If you look at the area being considered by the Area, Height, and Placement zoning revisions, you’ll see that much of that corridor is under discussion.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 25 '09 - 09:26PM    #
  38. Vivienne comment about making the area more pedestrian friendly highlights one topic that often doesn’t get the recognition that it should in discussion of status quo versus redevelopment. The area of Stadium/Jackson/Maple already has a lot of fairly dense residential development in the immediate area. But the area is so pedestrian unfriendly that businesses that could survive in a more pedestrian-friendly environment won’t think of locating in that area. There are clear obstables to pedestrian movement that will be challenging to overcome, like I-94. But the city has to take responsibility for the design of Stadium and Jackson and how those roads are hostile to pedestrians using them. New zoning standards which would allow more mixed-use development can help, especially if it transforms the giant parking wastelands into more pedestrian-friendly areas. But if Stadium, Maple and Jackson retain their current form, the will inhibit any efforts to make that area into a more downtown like environment.

       —John Q.    Jul. 26 '09 - 01:16AM    #
  39. The recent rework of the area put in more crosswalks and at least one pedestrian refuge. Someone wrote in to an email listserv I belong to who said that she could navigate the entire area in her electric chair.

    I don’t disagree with John Q’s basic point, though. A lot of evolution from a car-based strip development is still needed.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 26 '09 - 01:57AM    #
  40. In re the proposed PUD NeNo: I am a homeowner on Summit. I do not support this project. It does not meet any need for workforce housing. The units proposed are more expensive than existing rentals, even closer to the Kerrytown complex. There are no special needs units planned. This is a sham. Avalon needs to get truthful about just how many local needy people would actually live here – almost none. If Zingerman’s is so concerned about their empoyees living near the deli – then they should inform them about nearby affordable housing. Or even better – buy property for a Z(ombie) Dorm. I don’t see why A2 tax payers should pay for Three Oaks bad speculation decision or for more Avalon housing or for Zingerman’s employees to live above their means. Oh, lest I forget moving the Summit Party Store into the ground floor – great -.

       —pam behjatnia    Jul. 27 '09 - 07:00AM    #
  41. @Pam

    This isn’t about NeNo or City Place or any one specific development.

    @Vivienne @JohnQ

    I would have to say I’m in agreement here too, but without significant work, I think things will stall. There’s much room for improvement, and even room for infill development in some of those huge (unneeded) swaths of parking lot. Corridor or not, the lots for KMart/Dunhams/Plum Market, and the Westgate Shopping center are never full, and it seems to me that with some work, and elbow grease that exact plot of land could be a great mixed use site (parking/park/market/living/office).

    Perhaps then, it would make sense to invest further in the public transportation system to support the increased # of people coming into the city center – though still leaves those of us who work night jobs with the conundrum of the bus service ending before our shifts are done.

    Guess I’m getting a bit off topic here.

    Personally, and I know there are issues with revenue and ownership, but I see absolutely no point for flat parking lots within the city center — these, in my perfect world would either be a 4-6 story deck, with retail and offices ringing the outside of it (and this is a bad picture, but the idea is the same — the facing on State St. in Downtown Traverse City is hardly recognizable from the rest of the street) and one of the other ones (since we’d relieve some of the pressures of parking downtown) be collectively reclaimed as parkland in downtown. My personal preference, based on the rolling hill already in the lot would be the one across from Miki and Live (bordered by S. 1st, W. Washington, W. Huron, and S. Ashley St.).

    Maybe I’m crazy, and it would take getting more than a few partners together at the table – but between funding from increased #of cars from the one deck, tenancy from cornerstone office/retailers — think perhaps an grocery on the main floor taking 1/2 of the site plan, and office/retail using the other part, and the cars start on floor 2? — could help fund the change over to a park at the other space and make up for the lost profit at the same time.

    Then again, I don’t claim to be too much of a numbers guy, but on the general plane, these make sense to me off the top of my head.

       —Jeremy Peters    Jul. 27 '09 - 08:12AM    #
  42. The problem with the First & Huron parking lot is that it is owned by a private developer, not the City. The DDA leases it for the amount of taxes paid on it, and it does not turn very much of a profit. Your idea (which I think is excellent) has been explored in the past, but since it is private property, not much can be done without purchase of the land or cooperation of the owner.

       —Leah Gunn    Jul. 27 '09 - 02:55PM    #
  43. Westgate is often fairly full now, especially the south end. The Maple Village center is still a lot of “potential”. The area has good bus service.

    The problem with getting a full-service grocery downtown in new construction is that the margins of the grocery business rarely support the cost of new building in that area. I believe that the People’s Coop and at least one other food vendor checked out the space at Liberty Lofts and couldn’t make the lease payments.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 27 '09 - 03:20PM    #
  44. One possible thought to consider. The DDA has the ability to purchase, own, and develop property. If/when A2D2 passes there will be overlay zoning in place for what the community has collectively decided should go on those downtown surface lots, at least in terms of massing.

    What does everyone think about the DDA developing these surface lots (those that the city already owns or those that they could aquire) with all of the aspects of “good developement” that have been brought up above (e.g. truely green, truely affordable, subsidized service retail, open space, etc)? I’d love to hear thoughts on the general idea regardless of concerns about the details.

    In theory, there would potentially be no difference between the public process the DDA goes thru when they build a deck (which may be somewhat easier than when the city tries and sells/develop land themselves) and it could take some of the pressure off of the private sector (developers AND neighborhoods) in providing this kind of development.

       —Newcombe Clark    Jul. 27 '09 - 05:34PM    #
  45. I don’t like the idea of using public funds to subsidize development. Also, before you diminish surface parking any more in the downtown, you’d better consider what that will mean to the retail businesses there.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 27 '09 - 05:47PM    #
  46. Good points. To be fair, public funds, especially the DDA’s, are already used quite heavily to subsidize developement, especially for affordable housing. The difference here would be instead of giving money to a private or non-profit developer, the DDA would develop it themselves. One would think this would eliminate many of the common fears of undue enurement that comes with much of the current way we subsidize.

    As for the removing of surface parking. One of the stated goals of the new Library Deck is the replacement and eventual removal of the parking currently in those surface lots. I would suspect a primary precondition of even considering a process such as this would be that the new deck is online and it wasn’t an “all at once” approach.

       —Newcombe Clark    Jul. 27 '09 - 06:38PM    #
  47. As a newly appointed member of the DDA, you are doubtless aware that its future revenues are already heavily committed. Already we are hearing of increased parking rates.

    Having the DDA engage in direct development and ownership of properties is a reach for its charter, though it might be possible to justify it legally. But I would hope that such a policy change would not take place without a major public discussion. One aspect to consider is that the DDA’s source of income, other than parking fees, is TIF from new development. If it engaged in development on its own behalf, it would lose that, unless it developed, then sold the property (again, that would seem to use public resources for possible private gain). (Thanks to your vocabulary teaser, I now understand that “private inurement (is defined as)the illegal use of one’s influence over a non-profit organization for personal profit” [Wikipedia].)

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 27 '09 - 07:26PM    #
  48. @Vivienne

    Can you clarify further what you’re getting at by bringing up “possible private gain” and inurement? It is possible that the portion of the idea devoted to retail / offices could be owned outright & not publicly owned.

    I think most out there who would be possible partners in a public-private partnership (which would be necessary to implement my idea) are wise enough not to get themselves in these situations, and should be made very aware of these rules when entering a situation like this.

    The sole reason I brought up my idea, is that I think it is an example of good development. Yeah, it would be hard to do – but that’s no reason to not try, if there’s interest.


    Increase # of spots downtown, hopefully preventing, at least temporarily increases in parking rates (which could be made part of the agreement)

    Removal of 2 space inefficient flat parking lots.

    Addition of a large parkland space directly in the downtown core.

    Additional retail and office space availability (if deemed necessary).

    That’s all I was suggesting, and that there MUST be some way for a partnership to work.

       —Jeremy Peters    Jul. 28 '09 - 12:19AM    #
  49. Jeremy, I’m sure there are lots of good visions, including yours. I’ve seen too much and am too jaded to entertain any more right now, I guess. (translation: I don’t feel like going into it more right now) We’ve had a number of ringers and I fear more to come. Did you follow the story of Broadway Village? Not equivalent to what you are suggesting, but a long sad story.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 28 '09 - 01:38AM    #
  50. @Vivienne

    Your reasoning is totally fair. I only try to be so vocal about it (as do others in the community, on all sides of the issues), because I’ve not reached that point yet. Perhaps I will – but until then, I want to at least present possible solutions to what seem to be issues people are vocal about in our area.

    People will get burned, and that’s unfortunately part of playing the game, and living anywhere other than out in a very rural township (though they are plagued by other similar and dissimilar problems as well).

    I guess all I’m trying to say, is that the reason I’m starting to speak out so much about what I think might be good for our city is that I feel like we can’t move forward as a city and attempt to make things better without taking a look at the options we might have available, be they political, financial, developmental, preservational, or environmental.

    As disheartening as some of the stories may be, and I’m sure that other metropolitan areas have just as many, I’m of the mindset that we can’t turn our back on the possibility of achieving what I see as the (my) overarching goals of:

    1) increasing or retaining parkland, greenspace and trees in and as close to the downtown city core as possible.

    2) increasing the number of beds available in the downtown area, especially to mid-low income prospective tenants who work at the restaurants and shops in our current downtown.

    3) attracting and retaining a larger grocer, perhaps like an Aldi (just an example) within the downtown core.

    4) reduce the number and size of inefficient flat parking lots.

    I’m not accusing anyone of giving up at all, I’m just saying I’m still willing to put up a fight to try and see thru making the town I’ve lived in for the past 10 years, and that I call my home as great as it possibly can be.

       —Jeremy Peters    Jul. 28 '09 - 10:21AM    #