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
« Previous Article The First Underground Ann Arbor Film Festival Presents:
Next Article Under the Veil, Who's for Kerry? »