Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Summaries of Candidates' Planning Forums

30. October 2004 • Murph
Email this article

As announced in previous posts, the Urban Planning Students Association put on two events this week at the Planning school for candidates to talk about planning issues. On Thursday night, Michigan Representative Chris Kolb, County Commissioner Conan Smith (not elected until Tuesday, but running unopposed), and City Councilmember Jean Carlberg and challengers Marc Reichardt (Green) and Rick Birkett (Libertarian) spoke to a group of about 15. On Friday night, Mayor John Hieftje and challenger Jane Lumm spoke before about 50 in their last joint appearance before the election. Expect the Michigan Daily to have an article on the events on Monday.

I took (excessive) notes at both events, which have been posted to the site library, with links at the bottom of this post—keep in mind that basically nothing in the notes is a direct quote, and there are places where I wasn’t sure what the candidates meant, so some things might not make sense and be my fault. (Unless it’s Birkett talking about “eminent domain”.)

    Summary of Thursday’s event:
  • Kolb noted that the Michigan House is interested in working towards regional public transit (commuter rail, bus-rapid-transit, etc), but that their transportation budgets don’t make it through the Senate. A Senator Johnson out of Oakland County is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and won’t support any kind of transit—in two years, she’s up for re-election, and hopefully the budget can be wrested out of her hands.
  • Carlberg said that it’s possible to increase housing density without it showing; Burns Park has a number of duplexes and multi-unit homes, and the neighbors don’t have any problems with them.
  • Reichardt feels developers who claim they can’t provide affordable housing are being disingenuous. Speaking from experience working for property management companies, he thinks they just need to be convinced to accept a slightly lower margin.
  • Smith and Reichardt are in favor of the Allen Creek Greenway; Carlberg expressed concerns about increased flooding and about providing industrial contaminants on some of the sites with an easy way to make it into the Huron River.
  • Smith and the three Council candidates all felt the Governor’s Cool Cities Initiative to be somewhat overhyped. (Kolb had to leave early and didn’t get a chance at this question.) They all thought the principle was good, but that, for example, the $100k grants recently handed out weren’t enough for anything meaningful to be done.
  • When asked about NIMBYism, all candidates said some stands on principles need to be made by politicians. Reichardt said that, as a Green, he’s dedicated to participatory process, but also would rather stand up for core values than keep an elected office by caving to pressure. Carlberg noted that she has dropped issues when pressured by neighborhood associations if she thought the issue to be doomed and have no chance of passing through the Council. Smith praised Carlberg for standing up for issues that the public has been “really freaked out about”.
  • Birkett suggested it might be a good idea to work with Ypsilanti to provide affordable housing there at lower cost than in Ann Arbor, rather than trying to provide it in Ann Arbor.
  • All of the candidates said they were in favor of instant-runoff voting and against the bad on porch couches.
    Summary of Friday’s event:
  • Both candidates thought the city had done well at providing affordable housing for families making 30-50% of the area’s median income, but needed to do more for families in the 50-80% range.
  • Hieftje said that allowing developers to pay into a city fund for housing, rather than forcing them to provide it in developments (a recent change the Council made) will allow the city to provide more units by building them in cheaper areas of town.
  • Lumm criticized the recent reorganization of the city’s planning staff, and said that removing the Planning Director and making the staff answerable to the City Administrator made the planners to vulnerable to politics. Hieftje denied that this made the planners any closer to the politics, and stressed that the change was made to streamline the development process.
  • Both stressed the need to listen to neighborhood input on proposed developments, but not to the point where the neighborhood effectively has veto power.
  • Both felt the Broadway Village project would be a good way to encourage a satellite downtown in Lower Town and rejuvenate that area. Lumm also suggested that North Main (I think she meant the area around/past Depot Street) could be an appropriate area to look at expanding downtown-style development.
  • Lumm accused the Mayor and current Council of showing “no courage whatsoever” when accessory-dwelling units were proposed; even though the planning staff and Commission and the Chamber of Commerce supported the idea, the Council let it evaporate under neighborhood pressure. Hieftje says they let the issue go because it wouldn’t have provided enough affordable housing units to make it worth fighting for.
  • Lumm said that ADUs were important enough that more effort should have been put into educating and advocating for them. Hieftje said that the neighborhoods were just too spooked, and the benefit not high enough, saying, “we can’t shove things down people’s throats without an overwhelming public good”.
  • Both support the proposed commuter rail link to Detroit. Hieftje likes the idea of having more development around the train station to take advantage of the rail. Lumm predicted intense neighborhood resistance to any such development. Both also like the idea of having commuter service on the north-south Ann Arbor Railroad line.
  • When asked about the idea that students are temporary residents and shouldn’t be allowed to drive local issues, both responded very negatively; Hieftje said that students are permanent residents as a group, “the face may change, but the slot stays the same”. Lumm said that students tended not to get very involved in larger planning issues, and were mostly concerned with individual quality-of-life issues like the Police Department’s “party patrol” and the porch couch ordinance. She said that some neighborhoods’ students are working with the homeowners and co-existing well, and that she’d like to expand this to other neighborhoods.

Several of the regular authors or commenters on this site were at the forum; I’m sure they’ll add anything important I’ve missed.


  • Edit: Michigan Daily, Nov 1: Housing, student issues top city political forum agenda

    1. My, that turned out longer than I meant it to…
         —Murph    Oct. 30 '04 - 10:12PM    #
    2. Thanks for taking such good notes. My boyfriend and I were going to attend the Friday thing but didn’t make it. I looked at the Ann Arbor News (through Mlive) today and saw nothing about it, heh. Thumbs up. =)
         —Lisa    Oct. 31 '04 - 12:51AM    #
    3. Yeah. One of the organizers called up the News, but they didn’t show. Score one for ArborUpdate and the Michigan Daily.
         —Murph    Oct. 31 '04 - 02:26PM    #
    4. I would add that on the ADU issue, two members of the audience specifically asked the mayor if he should have demonstrated moral leadership when the neighborhood opposition was factually wrong and, in the eyes of one of the questioners, also tinged with racism. The mayor then responded with the belief that the city shouldn’t “shove it down anyone’s throats.” I liked most of what the mayor said at the forum, and also liked most of what Jane Lumm said (indeed they didn’t disagree much), but I would like to make three points about the mayor’s response on the ADU question.

      1. It does suggest that neighborhoods have veto power if they get riled up enough about an issue, contrary to his previous assertion that they do not. The mayor co-sponsored a measure that preemptively stopped the planning department from working on the ADU issue after neighborhoods went beserk, even though I strongly suspect that he supports ADUs and indeed probably everyone on council does.

      2. There is a reality gap between the mayor’s insistence that only 6-8 accessory dwelling units would be created per year under the ordinance (I actually think this is a very lowball estimate), and his willingness to behave as though the neighborhood opposition was legitimate when it can be factually demonstrated that the opponents were misinformed, not to mention elitist. If only 6-8 units would be created per year, then true leadership would have informed the opponents that they were overreacting, to put it mildly.

      3. If the mayor wins with 70% of the vote and the Democrats have a super-majority on council, then this seems to be the type of issue that a little political courage would be worth spending a little political capital on. It is not the most important planning issue facing this community, but the events surrounding the ADU conflagration were deeply illiberal and made me, at least, a but ashamed to be a resident of this city that likes to think of itself as a progressive place to live.
         —Matt    Oct. 31 '04 - 05:12PM    #
    5. Matt, the ADU/leadership issue was really the only significant point on which the two differed. Easy for Lumm to say the council and mayor showed no spine, since she wasn’t the target of NIMBY outrage, but I agree with her on it. As I think you noted at AAiO, the mayor’s phrasing of “shoving things down people’s throats” is misleading—it suggests that any attempt on the mayor/council’s part to change citizens’ minds, even just through education on the issues, would be out of line. We elect people to become informed and make the right choices, not to listen to the loudest voices from the community.

      I’m still leaning towards Lumm; if this is the biggest distinction that I have to go on, that seems like the way to go. Lumm is definitely not as powerful a speaker as Hieftje—he seemed more confident and his responses to questions were more focused, but I feel as though a large part of that is because he’s been involved in everything people were asking about, while Lumm has only been involved in a (surprisingly large) portion of it.
         —Murph    Oct. 31 '04 - 06:15PM    #