Ann Arbor Area Community News
Before last night’s City Council meeting, Rene Greff, Susan Pollay, and Fred Beal presented the Downtown Development Authority’s recommendations for three city-owned lots currently used for parking to the Council and a standing-room only audience. Most of those in attendance were members of Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway, and wore green ribbons to show their support for an alternative plan. Though the DDA’s proposal was separate from the meeting agenda and did not include a public input section, the plan was the topic of almost all of the open public comment session of the regular Council meeting, with six members of the Friends speaking against the DDA’s proposal to cheering and applause by the audience.
The DDA’s proposal includes relatively uncontroversial plans for two lots, calling for the 1st and Washington parking structure to be torn down and the lot sold to be developed as mixed-use retail and affordable housing, and the Klines Lot (behind Gratzi) to be sold and developed as mixed-use retail and market-rate housing. Selling these two lots would bring around $6 million in revenue for the city, would return the lots to the tax rolls, and would strengthen the downtown area by adding residents and merchants. “While most cities have to offer incentives to downtown development,” Greff said, “we have plenty of developers who are interested in our downtown area – all we have to do is get out of the way.” Where the plan met a lot of resistance, though, is on the 1st and William parking lot.
The DDA proposes that much of the 1st and William site be developed as a parking structure, consolidating the public parking from the three sites, with the southern portion turned into a park and a strip along the rail right-of-way dedicated as part of a bike and pedestrian greenway. The proposal notes that the City’s 1988 Central Area Plan anticipates this mixture of park and parking, and also would include long-overdue safety improvements along the railway and cleanup of soil contamination. The consolidation of parking, they say, is necessary to free up the other sites for development.
The Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway, though, demand that the entire 1st and William site be devoted as a large park, claiming that the downtown area already has plenty of parking (and presenting a parking utilization study (pdf) to back that assertion), stating that a “full-scale” park would better serve residents than a smaller park and a parking structure, and accusing the DDA of developing the plan secretively and with no opportunity for public comment. The DDA is seeking a resolution by the Council backing their recommendations possibly as soon as the next Council meeting, and says that public comment on each of the sites will be appropriate as each of them is discussed in detail – the current proposal is merely conceptual, they note, and does not present detailed or final site plans for any of the sites.
The meeting was fairly heated, with green ribbon-wearers loudly scoffing, laughing, and sighing as the DDA made its presentation and answered questions from the Council; at one point, as Bob Dascola, of State Street’s Dascola Barbers, stated his support for the plan by saying that “the downtown area has been in decline for many years,” and that he supports the plan to bring in more residents, who would support downtown stores, he was interrupted by an audience member calling out, “Not!”, but continued to list off a few dozen locally owned stores that have left the downtown area or gone out of business in the last decade.
The discussion showed that the issues at hand are far from clear. Some speakers felt that the 6-8 story buildings suggested by the DDA for the two developed sites were too high; Councilmember Bob Johnson (1st Ward) asked about the possibility of including all of the relevant parking underground under the proposed buildings instead of building a parking structure; and one speaker, to much applause, criticized the idea of selling land at all, saying, “Downtown land is like beachfront property – they’re not making any more of it,” and that the City should hold onto its parcels. Many of these speakers, however, simultaneously called for more downtown affordable housing, ignoring the contradictions between their other suggestions and the logistics of constructing housing efficiently.
The proposal will be discussed further at a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the League of Women Voters tonight, 8 March, at the downtown branch of the public library from 7-8:30pm.
Greff said that the DDA’s proposal will be posted to their website soon.
UPDATE, 11:30am: The Ann Arbor News notes about tonight’s meeting at the library,
The panel experts include Fred Beal, chairman of the DDA’s capital improvements committee; Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner Janis Bobrin; Joe O’Neal, a greenway advocate, of O’Neal Construction; Barbara Murphy from the Old West Side Neighborhood Association Board; and Ed Shaffran, chairman of the Main Street Area Association.
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