Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Candidate questionnaire, August 09: Grow, shrink, develop?

30. July 2009 • Murph
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Continuing our candidate questionnaire results…

#3 – How do you see Ann Arbor growing, shrinking, and developing over the next 15 years? Where should growth be encouraged or discouraged, and how should the City manage the impacts of these decisions?

Kunselman: I see Ann Arbor being fairly stagnant over the next decade and then possibly picking up. When we review the real estate development cycles in Ann Arbor, it’s pretty clear that every 10 years we peak and crash. My observation is this: during the 60’s, at least 2 very large apartment buildings were built downtown (Tower Plaza and U-Tower). Then the economy tanked in the 70’s and nothing was built. In the 80’s, 3 large buildings were built: One North Main, 301 E. Liberty, and Sloan Plaza. Then the Savings and Loan crash happened and nothing was built during the 90’s (except for the DTE building on Main which was heavily subsidized by DTE). And during the last decade (2000’s) we had Zaragon Place, 411 Lofts, and Ashley Terrace – and subsequently the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression leaving no doubt in my mind that there will not be any buildings of significant size being built in Ann Arbor for another 10 years. As for encouraging growth, let’s be real, the only policies Council has promoted to actually encourage building is to subsidize private development with tax abatements, tax credits, partnerships with developers, and direct payments to developers. All of these “tools” have been tried by Council, and none of them have led to any substantial economic growth (i.e. building construction) – in fact, every partnership the City has engaged in with a private developer has failed so far, but those developers that avoided council partnerships have all built their buildings – so, maybe we should take a hint and try something else rather than assigning staff to be “speculative developers.”

Greden: Ann Arbor – along with Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo – is one of three urban centers that will drive Michigan’s economic growth in the coming decade. If Ann Arbor does not prosper and enjoy economic growth, our region and State face serious problems that will have a devastating impact on every aspect of our life, including schools, parks, and human rights. I support the A2D2 plan, which will encourage downtown growth while protecting nearby neighborhoods. I will continue to support initiatives to draw new jobs to Ann Arbor, which – despite the false claims of one of my opponents – cost the City nothing.

(Candidates Bullington, Anglin, and Rosencrans did not provide responses.)



  1. Both candidates make points I agree with – Kunselman: growth will be stagnant, tools to aid developers don’t seem to work; Greden: Ann Arbor is one of the bellwethers (but not ‘drivers’) of Michigan growth.

    Detroit must be one of the communities to “drive Michigan’s economic growth” – it is absurd to talk about a Michigan recovery without its largest city rebounding, or at least stopping its decades long slide. Also, Greden maintained that no development tool has or will cost the city anything. Beg to differ – Lower Town would have/will cost the city a lot (that discussion has been flogged elsewhere).

    I also don’t necessarily want Council to take a hands-off approach to development, which Kunselman seems to imply. Obviously the Planning Commission has a lot to do with what gets built, and Council sets parameters through ordinances. It certainly is problematic when Council overturns decisions of the Planning Commission – especially for suspect/bogus reasons. I think that’s the point at which I started to think some ‘fix’ was in in the development game, when the Mayor and others got their signals crossed (the McKinley project at Washinton and Division). Council needs to stay actively engaged in major developments, but only become activist (either for or against) when a duly informed and educated public weighs in – and the latter is their job.


       —Peter Schermerhorn    Jul. 31 '09 - 12:49PM    #
  2. i am a bit more optimistic about ann arbor as a “driver”, largely because of the UM, which is bucking the trend of stagnation/retrenchment in research/innovation that’s befallen other even major campuses, including Harvard to some extent.

    there are some incredibly bright people on campus, and so far with the resources and administrative support to allow them to flourish,possibly with spillover effect beyond the U.

    ( for myself the idea of ann arbor cornering the market on cloned mammoths has considerable appeal, and id happily volunteer myself and my property for both wrangling and herding!better than SUV’s and other now obselete Detroit products for all terrain transport, once the taming issue is sorted out).


       —goilem    Jul. 31 '09 - 08:33PM    #
  3. I think the neighborhoods and jobs creations problems, after the struggles with union, for both the city and with teachers, will be the next big shoe to fall. Right now, all up and down the commercial streets, there are for rent and for sale signs. The students are not renting in the neighborhood, and eventually, those units will go bust, or have families living in it. Part of the reason the students are not renting is because U of M has built so much more housing.
    You are very pro-development, but we in the city and throughout the area, are well overcapacity when it comes to housing and to commercial real estate. If development is your true blue base, then what will you do, Mr. Greden?
    We are as an area,are not an engine, but an oasis. The autos are what kept the area prosperous..It seems doubtful, that US auto production will hit 10 million this year..
    We run the risk of being the haves amongst the have nots, and believe the city income tax will exacerbate that sentiment. I believe you will risks a future that will even include rioting. GM is still laying off, and many people will soon run out of unemployment. There’s no need for further development, if you build it it will stand empty right now.


       —emilia    Aug. 3 '09 - 03:41PM    #
  4. Re. student housing in comment 3. All of the housing that has opened in recent years has been built by private developers, mostly for affluent students. U-M is building a new dorm, the first in three decades, but it won’t open until 2010.

    If the council has encouraged the development of student housing, that would be a good thing.

    Getting students out of neighborhoods is what many residents wanted.

    Older, shabbier rentals won’t be as appealing to students if they have other options. To fill them, owners might renovate them for older professionals or families.

    Perhaps, should the economy turn around, this supply of newly renovated housing would keep a damper on housing costs, which would be a good thing for anybody concerned that Ann Arbor is becoming a sort of yuppie, rich-kid mall.


       —bhall    Aug. 3 '09 - 03:58PM    #
  5. Okay, bhall, there’s some assumptions you are making that are not correct. Sure, if the economy heats up those apartments will become hot items again. Think about what those apartments would be like filled with families, unrenovated. That’s a much more likely scenario. They are smaller, the prices for the rentals are dropping right now, families in town could get by with maybe one car, etc. It could be very draining on the city to do that, but that’s what the market is poised to have happen. Many of these apartments include heat, that might really bring people in.


       —emilia    Aug. 5 '09 - 03:49PM    #
  6. Emilia: It sounds like you’re worried about poorer people being able to live in Ann Arbor?

    And you’re worried about people being able to live in downtown Ann Arbor with fewer cars?


       —Bruce Fields    Aug. 5 '09 - 04:33PM    #
  7. I’d be happy if those apartments were rented by families. At one time, before they were chopped up for student rentals, those homes were owned/rented by families.

    Why would it be draining on the city to have families living in them? I understand the cost to educate children, but, despite the push to expand the school system and add skyline high school, there isn’t a space crunch in the schools…

    And families make a place vital, anyway.


       —bhall    Aug. 5 '09 - 07:57PM    #
  8. No, I don’t mind at all. I personally like kids playing outside where I can hear them. I miss that from my own childhood.
    Many of those apartments aren’t really set up for families, and it will be crowded, and the parking lots are problems. Most people didn’t want the students, it seems in the neighborhood, and have visions of some kind of nice quiet neighborhood thing happening as the students don’t use them. Move four families in next door,say to a current 4 apartment house,instead of 4 sets of what maybe 8 total adult students, with not enough yard or playground place, and that’ll be tough. The likelihood those places will be renovated appropriately are low,now that real estate is already under a lot of downward pressure. Many of these apartment buildings are on busy streets, not the most kid friendliest of places.
    BTW,people who live in apartments are not automatically poor. That’s kind of prejudiced to even say that. In this day in age, families renting in these lowered apartment prices with the heating bills paid would be the smart ones right now.
    But understand that this is not the density people in town were planning for. And that will matter. A nice place that is kid friendly that comes to mind are those condos (now) by the Georgetown Mall, with that adjacent large park and playground.Contrast that, for example, with an apartment building on Packard, now with multiple vacancies.
    The school will like the increased revenue to a point. But they try hard to keep their services to a minimum as they collect the money.


       —emilia    Aug. 5 '09 - 11:23PM    #