Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

D'Anieri on DDA Debate

27. March 2005 • Brandon
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When the Ann Arbor City Council last week rejected the latest attempt to short-circuit development in the city’s urban core, it was hopefully taking one step in a sustained journey away from the anti-city, pro-sprawl politics that have lately, regretfully, been making our city look like just another exclusive suburb.

If we’re lucky (actually, if citizens work hard to lobby their elected officials), we might in a few years look back on last week’s vote as the point where Ann Arbor began to once again embrace its identity as a city, and rejected its brief dalliance with the depressing politics of suburban exclusion.


Opposition to development has been successful in recent years in large part because it has been wrapped in the imagery of parks, as if opposing in-town development is somehow “green” or “environmental” or in accord with the principles of “smart growth.” Parks have become to the anti-city lobby what tax cuts are for Republicans: the solution to every problem, the answer to every question. But this incessant drumbeat, no matter what the circumstances, has betrayed this strategy for what it is: the same kind of NIMBYism that is the lifeblood of sprawl.

-Former Park Advisory Commissioner Phil D’Anieri, in an “Other Voices” essay in today’s Ann Arbor News.



  1. Where was this guy when they built Briarwood Mall? Excuse me but the “anti-city” policies have been in effect for quite a while and most of the development in the 70s and 80s showed little difference from what was happening in most suburban communities. It’s only in the past 10 years or so that the City has been making an effort to move back towards more city-friendly development. It’s hard to take seriously these kinds of comments when they seem divorced from the reality of what’s gone on in town for the last 30 years.
       —John Q    Mar. 27 '05 - 06:04PM    #
  2. Don’t you mean your name is Jeff G? Attempts at reform in the present need not be dismissed because someone else made mistakes in the past.
       —Dale    Mar. 27 '05 - 07:15PM    #
  3. Philip D’Anieri really hit the nail on the head with his other voices in the Ann Arbor News today. He really summed what is going on behind the scene and I’m so glad that this letter made it in the paper. I think the time has come for the City of Ann Arbor to move forward because if they don’t we will continue to see decline in our downtown. We have lost so many locally owner businesses over the past 35 years that there are only a hand full of the older ones left. It will be very hard to get local business to start up as the commercial rents are very high. State Street is pushing the most with South University right behind. Main Street and Kerry Town are still in line that locals could start up something with out having deep pockets like the chains do.
    We really are at the turning point and if it does indeed turn then we’ll see thing inprove, if not, then the decline will continue. Thanks for posting this worthy news to this web site Brandon. Can’t wait to read other input on this issue. By the way, I’m on the board of Directors of the Living Economy Network. We are a network of independent locally owned business in the Ann Arbor Area. Our membership is growning slowly, but steadly. We will see good things happen in the next year because of this dedicated group.
       —Bob Dascola    Mar. 27 '05 - 09:47PM    #
  4. John Q, I think there’s two different phenomena here. What you’re talking about is the technocratic, traffic-engineering urge that (has) ruled development for decades in every municipality across the country. I think that what Phil is referring to is more of the exclusionary tactic than the simple ignorant destruction of place that you’re talking. And, as you point out, Ann Arbor has leaned more in the direction of city-friendly development more recently, which I think makes Phil’s point more credible, rather than less – it used to be we were destroying cities because we didn’t know any better. Now we’re working on destroying them despite at least some part of the population knowing better, because, well, property values, you know?

    I do think Phil is waxing pretty dramatic, but I think that the Friends of the Greenway are worthy of at least a little drama. (As anybody who was at the last two City Council meetings can say, the Friends certainly threw around plenty of drama of their own.) If the most recent resolution’s advocates had shown any sense of willingness to work on mutually agreeable solutions, any awareness that planning issues are not unidimensional, or any indication that they disapproved of their own rampant hypocrisy, then it wouldn’t be nearly so easy to side against them.

    Heck, I was somewhat unhappy with the DDA’s plan until the Friends started in on it. Once the Friends started attacking something that was obviously different from what the DDA had proposed and making questionable assertions about the DDA’s proposal, I got interested, and, with a little thought, it becomes clear that one of the current proposals on the table, if it came to a one-or-the-other choice, is clearly better for the City as a whole. (Hint: it’s the one that acknowledges that more study and work needs to be done before any final plan is presented, rather than the one which demands certain uses for sites “in their entirety”.)
       —Murph    Mar. 28 '05 - 01:33AM    #
  5. I know Phil from a couple of classes, and he’s a very sharp Urban Planner who likes parks…but who also likes vital cities. He is right; if Ann Arbor doesn’t embrace the idea of an urban center, with taller buildings, retail, residents and commercial, the city is doomed to end up looking like Canton.

    The Friends make me sad. They’ve completely lost sight of what makes Ann Arbor special. It seems as though they would be happiest sitting in their downtown park, with empty storefronts and no pedestrians, while most people have driven out to some Pittsfield strip mall to shop.
       —JennyD    Mar. 28 '05 - 10:35AM    #
  6. What if we don’t choose to see it as an either/or situation? How could we make the current proposal better in a way that also addresses the desires and concerns of the Friends? For example, Leah mentioned a number of ways the proposal would do more than just provide parking. Can we build on that list to address stormwater management, flooding, water quality, mass transit, etc.?

    Does it make sense to tie the other city parcels into this proposal to ensure that some parkland comes out of it? That may not be the Friends’ first choice, but it would lock in a compromise now, rather than prolong the battle. An all (parks and only parks) or nothing approach doesn’t do any of us any good if we’re honest about what’s best for the community as a whole.

    Try thinking about it this way: what’s on your sustainable community wish list for the city to commit to that would make sense for you to go to the Friends and say, “Hey, here’s something I think we can work for together that city council would go for.”
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 28 '05 - 11:32AM    #
  7. Steve,

    I agree this is not an either/or situation. That is why the Friends group should stop lying with the false charge that the parking lot will “kill” the greenway. Then we can have reasonable discussions about downtown redevelopment, on the one hand, and a linear greenway, on the other, which are not mutually exclusive.
       —Matt    Mar. 28 '05 - 11:50AM    #
  8. Matt,

    If the rest of us have “reasonable discussions” without waiting for the Friends to come around, maybe some of their less-NIMBYish supporters will abandon them. In any case, I think we have a choice about how to proceed without being held up by their tactics.

    My current suggestion is to brainstorm a bit to see what we can come up with. In the end, we may be thanking the Friends for shining the light on the DDA proposal and causing us to examine it more closely in a way that results in it being better than it might otherwise have been. That’s how the democratic process should work, I think.

    That’s not to say, however, that I appreciate the negative rhetoric of the Friends’ leadership. I don’t. I’ve known Doug Cowherd a long time and have quite a bit of respect for his efforts, but I don’t understand his tactics on this one – or I should say I don’t agree with them. I do have some idea of what his strategy might be, but it’s just a guess. My preference is for open, honest cooperation. By the way, if anyone believes that the DDA is not operating in that fashion, I’d appreciate it being pointed out – not as an excuse for attacking them, but as a reason to approach them respectfully and discuss it.
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 28 '05 - 12:06PM    #
  9. ” My preference is for open, honest cooperation.”

    So is mine. Take a look at annarborisoverrated.com to see what I have proposed.

    The Friends of the Greenway declined my offer to present their proposal and answer questions.

    The DDA happily accepted.

    Joe O’Neal has tentatively accepted, but he will tell me for sure this week.

    The Sierra Club did not respond to my invitation at all.

    I think that we could all put together something that everyone will be proud of…but not participating in this event will make that difficult to say the least.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 28 '05 - 02:42PM    #
  10. Well, Scott, I braved the white-on-black crime that is AAIO to check out your proposal. That’s the last time I subject my eyes to that kind of strain. I’m still blinking.

    Sorry to hear that Margaret turned you down. She gave a very nice presentation to the Environmental Commission last Thursday. (The chair even allowed her to go beyond the usual time limit allowed for public speaking. We don’t get many takers on that slot.) She does come across as very reasonable and would likely be good to work with.

    I just had a thought. Has anyone put out the idea of a rail car service that might travel between athletic campus and, say, Lower Town, with a stop downtown? Maybe just for weekends. It would require the cooperation of the rail company, the U, and possibly other property owners, due to the need for sidetracks, as well as input from AATA on potential ridership. Think of it as a more-fun version of park-and-ride.

    I’ve heard that Joe O. has said that the railroad has to go. Whether he did or not, I think that would be unwise. We’ll need that line in the future. But maybe we can start to make it a more visible piece of our overall transportation system (moving toward a single, integrated one after so long a time of several separate ones.)
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 28 '05 - 03:17PM    #
  11. I don’t think that it is wise to put a park/greenway right next to a railroad track.

    1. Arsenic and creosote is usually in railroad ties. This creeps into nearby vegetation, and animals will eat it. Purposely bringing new vegetation and animals near tracks is unwise

    2. Putting joggers, kids, and dogs right next to a railroad isn’t wise for what I would think are obvious reasons.

    Maybe I don’t understand where the greenway is to run, but either the tracks, their current use, or both have to go if this is to work.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 28 '05 - 03:40PM    #
  12. Oh, and I’m Todd Leopold, not Scott Leopold.

    Not trying to be nitpicky, but he’s not involved with this.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 28 '05 - 03:40PM    #
  13. Todd, I think the railroad has expressed support for the general concept of a greenway, in hopes that it’ll pull the people already walking on the tracks off of them. (I don’t think they’ve yet made any official offer to help with the greenway, and most of the detailed implementation plans I’ve seen so far involve either removing the rails (which I totally object to) or else using at least parts of the RR’s right-of-way.)

    Personally, I don’t object to putting joggers, kids, and dogs near a railway. If they can’t keep themselves off of it, they either need a shorter leash or more adult supervision. Maybe a fence separating the greenway and the RR anywhere where they’re within a few feet. I mean, we’re talking about putting a pedestrian path in a floodway that experiences foot-deep waters at much shorter intervals than 100 years. If you want to talk about dangers to kids, I think most kids will probably understand the reasons for not playing on the tracks more readily than the reasons for not playing in the greenway when it’s raining.
       —Murph    Mar. 28 '05 - 04:32PM    #
  14. Oops! That was an odd slip. Nothing nitpicky about it, Todd.

    As for the rails to trails question, I’ve wondered what the thinking has been. I agree that it doesn’t make much sense to squeeze a trail alongside the tracks. And, like I mentioned, I think we need that rail line for the future.

    I’m also still wondering who’d use a trail to get to the athletic campus. I could see some people using it to get from that area to downtown or the river, maybe, and then back, but not the other way around. So I see that half of the proposed greenway as perhaps less important than the half that connects downtown to the river park system.

    I like the greenway concept; I just don’t know if it’s practical in the rail corridor. Maybe Joe’s vision involves more properties that would make it wide enough to get around that conflict.

    Any thoughts on the rail shuttle idea, separate from the greenway proposal for purposes of discussion?
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 28 '05 - 05:09PM    #
  15. Steve, I think I mentioned running commuter rail on the AARR tracks at some point in a previous thread, just because I mention it whenever possible. I don’t know about doing it just within the city; that doesn’t seem large enough to justify the cost. However, if we were to run a Milan/A2/Brighton system, I think it would be compete well with peak hour US-23 traffic. Put a stop at the north side of town with shuttle service to Pfizer and North Campus, a stop at Lower Town, a stop downtown, a stop on the south side with service to Wolverine Tower and Briarwood.
       —Murph    Mar. 28 '05 - 07:48PM    #
  16. Steve,

    I’m curious that you see Doug Cowherd and the pseudo-environmentalists at the local Sierra Club as doing something different now than they have in the past. I see a continuum between the current pretense (that opposition to the parking lot is simply about open space instead of NIMBYism masquerading as environmentalism) with previous farcical episodes such as the public policy disasters known as Dickens Woods and the Bluffs, the Sierra Club’s repeated efforts to sabotage the Northeast Area Plan, and in general this odd victimization rhetoric of how Big Developers are running the city and poor (affluent) homeowners are completely powerless (despite city council’s constant caving in to them) that swirled around the greenbelt debate and other such issues.
       —Matt    Mar. 28 '05 - 08:50PM    #
  17. Murph,

    I wasn’t thinking (workday) commuter, more like a local trolley/people mover sort of thing, for football Saturdays maybe. Now that I describe it that way, it seems kind of silly. (Fortunately, I’m not afraid to share silly ideas. That’s where good ones eventually arise from.) I was thinking about how to get all those people who parked in the stadium area to go downtown without moving their cars. It would be a gimmick, but maybe a good one, moreso if there were destination businesses in Lower Town as well as downtown.

    Or maybe the reverse would make sense to get people to park on the north side (or take Amtrak into town) and take the train (a car or two) to the stadium for the game. Play around with it a bit, who knows. Make it a ‘tailgate’ train, even. No designated driver needed.

    Why not take fuller advantage of that resource?
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 29 '05 - 12:42AM    #
  18. Matt,

    As I put it earlier, I respect Doug’s efforts. (I wondered when I wrote that upthread if it would give the wrong impression.) He puts in a lot of time. Get some real environmentalists (whatever that means to you) to make that kind of effort over a dozen years or so and where might we be?

    As for his/their/our results (I’ve been involved in a couple – only the Bluffs of the ones you mentioned), I think they’re a mixed bag and debatable in a number of ways.

    I think the rhetoric has evolved or at least changed over time from back when the Home Builders Association was greenwashing their impact on county land. Then I think there was reason to highlight bad practices because they existed (to put it simplistically.) Now I think it’s overblown.
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 29 '05 - 01:11AM    #
  19. Murph, Steve,

    Well, I certainly agree that some sort of light rail would be really, really cool. No question there.

    But have you seen how close the rails are to the greenway on the maps that have been put out? I’m not talking “hey look, there’s the train 20 feet away”. In places they are right on top of each other. I don’t see how even fencing will do the trick.

    As to the Sierra Club, I’m really bummed out that they would purposely ignore this. I think that enough people have seen this invitation that the odds of them simply not receiving the invite are shrinking.

    Why would they avoid public discussion of these issues?

    Anyone?
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 29 '05 - 09:30AM    #
  20. Todd: maybe if we put the greenway in a gerbil tube . . . ?

    I think Steve and I have gotten off into transportation geeking entirely separate from the discussion of the greenway.

    To return to that, well, I don’t know why the Sierra Club and Friends wouldn’t bother to come out and offer their views up. They’ve been calling for public discussion so loudly, it’s odd that they won’t take the opportunity. But it’s also their choice. And if we have to go ahead with the O’Neal proposal and the DDA proposal as the only ones with “official” representation, shrug. Actually, there’s a project team in Peter’s class working on “the greenway”; I believe their aim is to provide a vision for the greenway and how it might interact with the areas around it, and they might provide a middle ground between O’Neal and DDA (I actually expect them to probably provide something much closer to the DDA, but with more detailed consideration of the greenway system beyond the borders of individual sites, but I don’t know offhand their scope of work) – I’ll talk to them tomorrow in class and see if they’re interested in presenting. They’ll be presenting their project to the class on April 15, I think, so they should either be available for a rehearsal presentation at your place slightly before that, or else a second-try at your place after that.

    (Actually, since there are project groups working on 415 W. Washington, and since Peter has talked up greenways so much during the semester, maybe I’ll just invite the whole class…)
       —Murph    Mar. 29 '05 - 10:04AM    #
  21. If the local Sierra Club and Friends are purposefully ignorning your invitation, Todd, I think this is further evidence of their REAL views on “public discussion.” Very disappointing.
       —Brandon    Mar. 29 '05 - 11:18AM    #
  22. Well, Ms. Wong told me that she was too busy to give a presentation. I can understand that to an extent. She only has so much time to give.

    I most certainly couldn’t understand why an entire organization like the Sierra Club can’t find anyone to attend…particularly since they have been demanding public hearings.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 29 '05 - 11:54AM    #
  23. I was also surprised that the Friends of the Greenway did not accept Todd’s invitation so I contacted them yesterday with a somewhat chastising e-mail. Margaret Wong called me at home last night and we had a long chat. She was surprised that Todd had gotten the message that they did not want to participate at all. What she intended to convey was that, due to intense professional, family, and personal demands on her time, she has to put the Greenway work on hold for a few months and can not commit to anything until the beginning of June. The other main person who could represent the Friends has been on personal leave since February and it is unsure when she will be able to return. Todd, Margaret is going to contact you personally sometime this week to talk more about this and see if they can be involved in some way.

    I can’t speak for anyone at the Sierra Club, but my guess is that they may not feel this would be an honest, open discussion. Most of these organizations have limited resources (the Huron Valley Chapter is 100% volunteer) and they need to use their time and money where it will do the most good. The perception may be that they are being invited to an openly hostile meeting where they will be insulted by a hand-picked group of participants and they don’t feel this would be to their advantage.
       —Julie    Mar. 29 '05 - 12:01PM    #
  24. Brandon,

    Do you know what the local Sierra Club’s “REAL views on ‘public discussion’” are? I don’t think that’s the case, and you may not have intended to imply that. However, your words did imply that.

    I don’t know the proper term for the way you phrased your statement, but that kind of speculation and misrepresentation is no better than the antagonistic rhetoric that I’ve seen used by Doug Cowherd. It’s divisive and it’s unnecessary (i.e., it has no value.) I encourage you to find a more constructive way of expressing your thoughts.

    Keep in mind that the SC local has hundreds (thousands?) of members and an executive committee, among others. If Doug has been operating on his own up to now (not as a representative of the group), and Mike Sklar was sent an invitation for the group to participate, they may need to make some internal decisions first.

    We don’t know yet why no one has responded. Until they do we won’t know if it’s “very disappointing” or just a reasonable delay. In the meantime, if you’re a member (or even if not) you might contact someone to politely encourage them to participate (and back up their statements on public process.)
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 29 '05 - 12:16PM    #
  25. Phil’s argument was eloquent. While I support every effort to discuss and make compromises, you can’t get around the fact that the essence of the dominant “environmentalism” in Ann Arbor is elitist, NIMBYist, and suburban in nature. Because it all boils down to this: those who can afford to live here get to have nice parks (and “greenbelt” views of farmland), and the other 58,000 who work here are condemned to commute and pollute.

    All Ann Arborites should read the article awhile back in the New Yorker that argued that New York City is the “greenest” city in the country. Provocative and perspective-changing.

    I grew up in a Detroit suburb. I moved to Ann Arbor because it wasn’t a suburb. And every year it gets more and more like one.
       —Michael Betzold    Mar. 29 '05 - 12:56PM    #
  26. www.greenbelt.org/downloads/ resources/newswire_11_04GreenManhattan.pdf

    That’s the article I referred to.
       —Michael Betzold    Mar. 29 '05 - 12:58PM    #
  27. Julie,

    To be perfectly clear, I said above that it was understandable as to why she declined to participate. She’s only one person. I don’t blame her, although I asked her to send someone in her stead. She hasn’t gotten back about that. I, for one, think that having Ms. Wong there to simply to ask questions of the DDA without giving her own presentation would have tremendous value. I want her here to specifically ensure that all possible sides are represented.

    I am with Steve, I am still hoping that the Sierra club is simply dealing with internal bureaucracy, and that is why they haven’t responded as yet. You do have to admit, though, that it’s a little weird that I haven’t been contacted at all….even to say that they need to think about it. Here’s hoping.

    “The perception may be that they are being invited to an openly hostile meeting where they will be insulted by a hand-picked group of participants and they don’t feel this would be to their advantage.”

    This is what I am most afraid of. I will say that I am not interested in “advantage”, I’m interested in CONSENSUS….in what is best for Ann Arbor as a whole. Let’s get all of these ideas out there and see what sticks to the wall. It is quite possible that we can have a greenway AND parking AND more density.

    If I wanted to play sides, I would simply invite the DDA and call it a day. I want everyone involved down here to give perspective….you would have to have your cynicism knob set on “10” if you didn’t see this for what it is….an opportunity to work together.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 29 '05 - 01:23PM    #
  28. Here’s a click friendly link to the article Mike refers to above (re: New York = green city)
       —Scott    Mar. 29 '05 - 01:40PM    #
  29. Does anyone know who might be a good person to invite to speak to the current and future value of the rail line? The potential for removing the rail seems to be a major assumption at this point that we would all benefit from understanding better. I know that it’s physically possible, what I’m interested in is what we would lose by doing so.

    We might also try to look at this issue in terms of the problems we’re trying (collectively) to solve. In particular, what problem(s) is the proposed greenway directed at? When I was involved with the Allens Creek Watershed Group, we focused largely on the problems of flooding and water quality, with only curiosity and interest toward daylighting the creek and the concept of a greenway. Now it seems that the greenway is the focus and the (actual, real-life) problems are of secondary concern.
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 29 '05 - 02:02PM    #
  30. Steve, I think that “There need to be more parks close to downtown,” is a strongly stated need/problem in the greenway concept (and the quality-of-life issue is definitely presented before the environmental problems these days). I think a big part of the disagreement is around the question of how severe the problems that the Friends’ greenway would address are relative to the problems that other people think are important, and how the greenway would advance, neglect, or exacerbate those other problems. I think a big part of the process of figuring out a generally agreeable plan of action for the west side of downtown involves figuring out what the various problems are, and how they interact.
       —Murph    Mar. 29 '05 - 02:46PM    #
  31. Julie,

    I forgot to thank you for getting in touch with Ms. Wong, and for your evenhandedness in discussing these issues.

    I do have another question, though.

    Do you feel that my offer is for an openly hostile meeting…that the meeting that I propose is somehow unfair for one side or another?
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 29 '05 - 03:17PM    #
  32. Todd,

    No, I don’t feel that you are setting up a hostile meeting and specifically told the Friends that in my e-mail to them.

    I do think that there has been a lot of mud-slinging on all sides of this issue (with Renee Greff and Margaret Wong getting the brunt of it from either side) and people are kind of touchy and getting burned out about it. Well, except for Easthope, who just wants to be Mayor and is thrilled for any publicity he can get.
       —Julie    Mar. 29 '05 - 05:02PM    #
  33. Anyone who doesn’t like AAIO’s color scheme can simply change the colors in their browser options.

    I don’t find it necessary there, but I do exercise that option when a site I want to read is using a color scheme reminiscent of early Wired Magazine, like pink on orange.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Mar. 29 '05 - 05:02PM    #
  34. Todd, I just ran into Doug at the library. I told him you were wondering why you hadn’t receieved a response yet. He suggested that you just call him. I could relay more of what we discussed regarding public input, but I’ll let him share his thoughts directly. Maybe I’ll share my own later.
       —Steve Bean    Mar. 29 '05 - 06:08PM    #
  35. “Do you know what the local Sierra Club’s “REAL views on ‘public discussion’â€? are? I don’t think that’s the case, and you may not have intended to imply that. However, your words did imply that.”

    Steve, fair enough, I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, yet. I, too, just find it odd that absolutely nobody has gotten back to Todd yet, especially in light of their insistence on further public discussion of these topics and cries that the DDA proposal was launched upon the community too soon without enough citizen input and discussion. You’d think they’d jump on this opportunity…. here’s hoping they still do.

    And yes, I’m getting a bit testy about these issues, as many of us are. I’m just glad we have such calm and reasonable folks like Murph and Todd around.
       —Brandon    Mar. 29 '05 - 09:38PM    #
  36. I would be glad to take back my skepticism if the local Sierra Club starts putting the pro-sustainable development position of the national organization into action. I should make it clear that I believe we need to have a debate about the DDA plan and the greenway, both of which I think I could support in modified form and neither of which I would endorse without qualification. They are certainly not mutually exclusive despite a lot of public discourse and local news coverage that has indicated that they are. But a couple of points stand out to me:

    **The assaults on the DDA for not taking public opinion into consideration are a clear misrepresentation of the larger process of which its recent proposal was just one part

    **The rhetoric that the parking lost proposed for 1st and William would “kill the greenway” was simply not true—what we are talking about is tradeoffs and details and this type of shrill and false charge is exactly why the planner types start throwing around the term NIMBY (which might not always be completely fair either)

    **The city does deserve skepticism because many of its redevelopment proposals have seemed to pay lip service to principles of affordability and mixed-use but mainly encouraged chain stores and overpriced restaurants and higher-end housing units

    **The Easthope/Johnson resolution was outrageous in its attempt to stifle public debate prematurely (just as city council did with the accessory dwelling unit proposal), and I agree with Julie that personal political motives were central in its timing and content, but to me that makes it even worse

    **Efforts such as Todd’s proposal strike me as exactly what we need and everyone involved should be eager for the opportunity to exchange views in a courteous atmosphere (which is exactly what blogs are not, since on blogs people often blurt out the first thing that comes to mind)
       —Matt    Mar. 30 '05 - 02:11AM    #
  37. So, Matt, I’m curious as to what you’re referring to in saying that the city’s redevelopment proposals have “mainly encouraged chain stores and overpriced restaurants and higher-end housing units”.

    As far as I can tell, having pored over the zoning code and spreadsheets of construction costs, it’d be more accurate to say that it’s the general regulatory environment, and not any particular set of proposals, that have caused what you’re seeing. For example, on South U., the zoning prohibits residential space above commercial space, and, until just recently, severely limited commercial space. This is why South U. is so terribly flat. Imagine if the entire strip had three stories of apartments on top of the commercial space – you could get another hundred+ units of student-oriented housing, and the streetscape would look better for it.

    The Planning Commission is, I believe, going to be hiring a consultant soon to oversee a total zoning overhaul of the downtown area, to fix things like requiring 1-story buildings on South U. and requiring setbacks from the streetline in Kerrytown. Of course, with the rental market as soft as it is, I don’t know how much immediate impact there’ll be, but I think it’ll make a huge difference in the long run.
       —Murph    Mar. 30 '05 - 10:06AM    #
  38. “The city does deserve skepticism because many of its redevelopment proposals have seemed to pay lip service to principles of affordability and mixed-use but mainly encouraged chain stores and overpriced restaurants and higher-end housing units”

    Matt, it is too late for the city to put in affordable housing dowtown. It is also too late for them to encourage local businesses to open downtown. It is not the current administration’s that we are in this situation.

    To restate something that I have said 1,000 times (sorry for the broken record), for decades the city council has allowed downtown citizens to shout down any project that may provide substantial housing and retail space. This has happened for 30 years. They got what they wanted, and the developers took their money elsewhere.

    Now after years of getting exactly what they wanted….no development, commercial prices have skyrocketed since we moved here in 1999 from $15-$20 a square foot to a reported $35 a square foot in the new proposed projects. No local business can afford this price. This is why the local businesses are dissapearing, and this is why wealthy people are moving in while working class people are moving out.

    It is as simple as that. Asking either the city council or the developers to fix this problem now is, well, silly. What can they do?

    So I believe that your assertion that the City should be providing housing or space for local businesses ignores the context of the situation that we are in. This is what the citizens wanted, and this is what they are going to get. The blame goes no further than their doorstep. I believe that Bob Kuehne posted that “it’s a question of life quality”.

    Now while agree that there needs to be a nice quality of life in Ann Arbor, I put it to Bob and others that precious few people can afford to enjoy the quality of life that Bob and others (including myself) who live in Downtown Ann Arbor get to enjoy. What are these lucky few giving in order to get this quality of life? That’s my question.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 30 '05 - 11:53AM    #
  39. Please excuse the various cut and paste errors in the above post. I’m short on time.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 30 '05 - 12:13PM    #
  40. Murph,
    Just FYI: That code may not be omnipresent in the South U area. I know for certain that there are several residential units on the east end of South U above the commercial spaces, managed by Campus Rentals.
       —Marc R.    Mar. 30 '05 - 01:28PM    #
  41. Todd,

    Thank you for confirming what I stated in the initial post. Unfortunately, there seeems to be a lot of “if I was God” statements by planners and would-be planners who think they can undo 30 years of decisions if we just did it “my way”. I’m all for having quality and affordable housing, local businesses, etc. But that’s not going to change the current market conditions. Plus, there seems to be this belief that if there was “more” housing units downtown, we would get affordable housing. But is that ever going to happen even if developers were allowed to build as much as they wanted?
       —John Q    Mar. 30 '05 - 03:15PM    #
  42. Marc, yeah, I’m making generalizations based on not having a zoning map handy. In my opinion, those buildings you’re talking about are some of the only ones on the street worth keeping.
       —Murph    Mar. 30 '05 - 03:54PM    #
  43. “But is that ever going to happen even if developers were allowed to build as much as they wanted?”

    Not anymore. I will say that I firmly believe that if the developers were allowed to build as demand warranted over the past 30 years that the cost of living in Ann Arbor would be significantly lower than it is now, and there would have been far fewer conversions of homes into student housing. Students would actually have been able to find affordable apartments, and downtown would be much more walkable than it is now.

    It is criminal that we missed these opportunities.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 30 '05 - 04:14PM    #
  44. John Q, none of those planners are saying this is something that would take effect six months from now. You seem to be saying, “This is the result of 30 years of bad decisions – nothing we can do about it now.” I think the flipside, which Todd, Phil, and I (among others) are advocating, is, “It’s taken 30 years to get where we are, and it’s probably going to take that long to get back, and then only if we start working now and don’t let it get any worse.”

    To your other question,

    * More development downtown would mean that developers would either have to provide 15% of their units as affordable units or else pay into the City’s housing fund, so that the City can subsidize affordable housing.

    * More development in the desirable parts of town would pull some people out of other, second-choice parts of town, providing cheaper rents elsewhere.

    * Development is only one of a number of tools that needs to be used. Allowing accessory dwelling units is another action that needs to be taken. (And another example of the City – in this case, yes, this particular administration – letting a very small number of citizens shoot down a very good plan.)
       —Murph    Mar. 30 '05 - 04:27PM    #
  45. Murph, I defer to you as usual on the technical aspects. Sure, I will replace proposals with code in my comment, but I was also thinking of new developments such as the wings bar on State near campus. I understand that there are limits to how much city council can steer particular types of businesses or control rents.

    As to Todd’s comment, I think one problem is that the discussions on affordable housing mainly focus on downtown but in my view downtown cannot and should not be responsible for most affordable housing. The best plans are scattered-site and spread throughout the city and these of course also get neighborhood opposition. There are a lot of places around Ann Arbor that could get some mixed-income housing. Downtown development should be mixed-use as a rule and mixed-income when possible but developments in surrounding areas should always be mixed-income. My street (developed in the mid-1980s, 1 mile from Main) is evenly split 1/3 duplexes, 1/3 apartments, 1/3 houses. And it is not even a great model—could have been much better.
       —Matt    Mar. 30 '05 - 09:24PM    #
  46. Sorry but I’m not convinced that the economics of “affordable” housing will ever work. Yes, as long as the City has a subsidized housing program, there will be some number of affordable housing units. But as long as Ann Arbor is a desirable place to live, I seriously doubt that you’ll ever be able to build the number of units that would be necessary to undercut the market and lead to lower rents and prices. As long as A2 is perceived as a place to live, the market is going to keep housing prices inflated beyond what is considered affordable.

    The problem I see is that some planning types are so intent in trying to reach that point that they ignore the impacts of additional development until they reach a point where Ann Arbor is no longer a desirable place to live. Then you’ll achieve your goal of affordable housing but people won’t want to live there.
       —John Q.    Mar. 31 '05 - 01:43AM    #
  47. “But as long as Ann Arbor is a desirable place to live, I seriously doubt that you’ll ever be able to build the number of units that would be necessary to undercut the market and lead to lower rents and prices.”

    John Q, while I don’t think that I can put up a good argument to counter this statement, I firmly believe that more density can hold the housing costs at where they are. More importantly, it could help to hold the rising cost of living down a bit.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 31 '05 - 10:56AM    #
  48. John, I’m pretty strongly against the fatalist picture that you’re painting. “The only way to create affordable housing in Ann Arbor is to ruin it.”

    Obviously, you partially correct, in that you’re never going to be able to supply a free-standing, single-family home in Ann Arbor for the same price as one of the new manufactured homes out in the townships. However, you don’t have to.

    Affordability isn’t just purchase price. Access to amenities (jobs, social services, schools) is important as well. Why was the shelter on Huron kept downtown? Why did the City shell of $3.5m to keep the Y from tearing down their SROs? Because the accessibility provided by those locations is worth a lot to the residents.

    In the extreme case, consider the difference between living in the townships and driving everywhere, and living in A2 and driving nowhere. You’re saving something like $5000/year that way in transportation costs. (And, probably, saving on travel time, getting more exercise, and cutting down on commute-related stress, all of which also has value.) How much more can you afford to pay for a housing unit if you can cut your transportation costs by $5k/year? Well, in the strictest and most simplified version of central place theory, you can afford to spend $5k more per year. Cut that in half, conservatively, and it still comes out to $200/month more that you can spend on rent, or on a mortgage. A housing unit doesn’t have to be $50k in Ann Arbor to compete with a $50k unit in the townships.

    Also, providing affordable housing, as I tried to mention earlier, doesn’t just mean building it downtown. Allow ADUs, bringing down the cost of a housing unit for the primary owner (empty nesters, about to retire onto a fixed income, perhaps) and providing an affordable unit for the ADU renter. Change the zoning to allow duplexes and to bring down the minimum lot size/unit in other parts of down. Create denser activity centers around the fringe of Ann Arbor, increasing accessibility at those locations.

    The goal is not to “undercut the market” and provide artificially affordable housing. The goal is diversify and deepen the market, creating market beyond just free-standing-single-family-house and tenement-style, room-by-room student housing. (Oh, and now luxury lofts.)

    Will any of this “ruin neighborhoods”? No. That’s an attitude straight out of the 1880s (unsurprisingly: since that’s where half of planning practice is stuck (the other half stuck in the 1950s), it’s no wonder that’s where public attitudes are stuck).
       —Murph    Mar. 31 '05 - 12:19PM    #
  49. I don’t think this is a fatalistic vision at all. It’s just being realistic about the market and how it impacts housing costs in Ann Arbor. Additional housing options will broaden the market. But how will that impact overall costs? As I said before, as long as Ann Arbor is perceived as a place people want to live, they are going to pay a premium to live here and prices will go up accordingly across all housing levels. Ypsilanti provides the reverse example – it’s perceived as a “not nice” place to live. I think those perceptions are misguided but they exist and they are reflected in the relatively affordable cost of housing (compared to A2) and the relative lack of demand for new housing units (as comparted to A2).
       —John Q    Mar. 31 '05 - 06:11PM    #
  50. It’s a continuum, John. There’s paying a premium and then there’s PAYING A PREMIUM. We’re doing the latter now but it doesn’t have to be that way.
       —Dale    Mar. 31 '05 - 06:42PM    #
  51. John, I think there’s a strong limiting factor, though. Consider the County’s population predictions for the next 15 years: Washtenaw is expected to increase in population by 27%, while Ann Arbor, due to the strict limits on development, is expected to grow in population by 3%. With such a harshly limited supply of housing in the most desireable part of the county, then, yes, prices will do what you suggest. If Ann Arbor’s housing supply were to increase at something reasonable approximating demand, then (in addition to preventing a large quantity of sprawl in the Townships) the cost of housing in Ann Arbor won’t be quite so deplorable.

    (Note that the County’s estimates were made before the U announced North Quad or the developer of the private dorm-thing off North Campus came out with that project; 1500 more students’ worth of housing is 1% of A2’s population all of a sudden, which means it probably wasn’t considered in a 15 year total of 3%.
       —Murph    Apr. 1 '05 - 12:24AM    #
  52. Murph,

    A question about these stats – You said that the County’s population is going to grow by 27% but the City’s is only going to grow by 3%. Is the City’s 3% in relation to the City’s current population or the City’s percentage of the County’s population or what? What you left out was “what percentage of the County’s total population growth will occur in the City?” One could surmise that it’s the 3%. But it’s not clear from your post if that’s the case.

    Also, you stated that if the City would accomodate a significant portion of that 27% population growth, it would help control housing prices. OK, how many residential units would that be? 100? 1000? 10,000?

    I also have a problem with the statement that Ann Arbor has “strict limits on development”.

    Strict limits compared to what? Most of the residential development being built in the city these days would never be allowed in the surrounding townships or most suburban communities.
       —John Q    Apr. 1 '05 - 11:11AM    #
  53. John Q,

    Here’s what I think you are saying:

    1. Housing prices and the cost of living has gone up in Ann Arbor as a natural result of the “fact” that Ann Arbor is a desireable place to live.

    2. There aren’t any “unusual” restrictions on building in Ann Arbor.

    Am I understanding your last post correctly?
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 1 '05 - 11:25AM    #
  54. Todd,

    Pretty much. I’m not going to claim that the City ordinances don’t have any impact on housing prices. But I think even if you stripped out most of the zoning restrictions, you would still see housing prices escalate in the short-term. At some point, the negative impacts of unregulated development would cause housing prices to fall. But Ann Arbor is always going to suffer from inflated housing prices as long as it is perceived as a place people want to live.
       —John Q    Apr. 1 '05 - 12:57PM    #
  55. John, the County is predicting Countywide growth of 27% from current County population, and City of A2 growth of 3% from current City population. The City currently contains a little less than 1/3 of the County’s whole population. My position is that A2, Ypsi, Dexter, Chelsea, Saline, Milan, Whitmore Lake ought to plan to absorb at least their “fair share” of Countywide growth – plan to grow at the same rate as overall County growth. As it is, many of the Townships around Ann Arbor are forecast to grow by around 50% of their current populations, and many of the smaller Townships are expected to double in population in the next fifteen years.

    You sound like you’re very concerned about the quality of life; I am too, and belief that it can be best preserved by keeping the County-wide built form more similar to what it is now than to Canton Township (which is what the no-change-from-present-course looks like for many of the Townships in the 15-year forecast).

    How many housing units? Well, if Ann Arbor were to grow by 27% of population, that’d be about 30-35k new residents. I don’t remember offhand what the current reisdents-per-household ratio is, but call it a little over two, and we’re looking at 12-15 thousand new housing units in Ann Arbor in 15 years in order to absorb our share of regional growth. (More, if we want to actually preserve some of the areas outside of the city, rather than settling for “consuming them more slowly.”)
       —Murph    Apr. 1 '05 - 01:38PM    #
  56. In answer to your other question,

    Strict limits compared to what? Most of the residential development being built in the city these days would never be allowed in the surrounding townships or most suburban communities.

    Which developments are you talking about? Eaton/Liberty Lofts? Loft 322? Kingsley Lane? The condo developments on Stone School and far-West Liberty? Sure, you get your exceptional developments, like the private dorm proposal off North Campus, but, for the most part, these are 10-50 unit developments. Drops in the bucket? What’s happening out in the townships? Toll Bros. and Pulte proposing 3000 to 5000-unit subdivisions, and suing every township that dares to say no.

    Yes, you’re correct: the development that’s happening in the city is qualitatively different from what’s happening in the suburbs, and will always be. However, just because the Townships wouldn’t allow Loft 322 anywhere doesn’t mean that Ann Arbor has remarkably open and laissez-faire development rules. Ann Arbor is one of the hardest communities in southeast Michigan to develop anything in – don’t believe me, ask a developer. Ask Peter Allen or Ed Schaffran or David Kwan; they’re among the canny few who can manage to routinely navigate the approval process. I’m betting any of them would tell you just how good Ann Arbor’s restrictive regulatory environment is for them – it keeps out competition.

    Like I said before, increasing the number of housing units DOES NOT in any way necessitate putting a Tower Plaza equivalent on every block. There are plenty of parts of town (including downtown) where I personally believe that quality of life would be improved by greater density, not degraded.

    For example, want a downtown that doesn’t need parking structures? You need a city that’s dense enough to support transit and dense enough to be walkable. Transportation planner’s rule of thumb: it takes 7-10 housing units/acre average in an area to make transit viable. Ann Arbor average: 3-4 units/acre. It’s absolutely incredible that we have the transit system we do, and I credit it largely to the presence of the University as a dense destination. A walkable downtown is made, in part, by adding density, in downtown and elsewhere, not by subtracting parking.
       —Murph    Apr. 1 '05 - 01:56PM    #
  57. Murph-

    So based on the numbers you outlined above, the City will need to add around 1000 new housing units per year for the next 15 years just to capture its “fair share” of the population growth. I guess I just don’t see that as a realistic target. Where would you accomodate that many new dwelling units around the City?
       —John Q    Apr. 1 '05 - 02:30PM    #
  58. Murph said “Transportation planner’s rule of thumb: it takes 7-10 housing units/acre average in an area to make transit viable. Ann Arbor average: 3-4 units/acre.”

    But isn’t that a city-wide average? What is the density downtown? I imagine it’s closer to the former, not the latter.
       —John Q    Apr. 1 '05 - 02:33PM    #
  59. John, the density downtown is really fairly low. Within the DDA area (271 acres, from their webpage), there were only 1599 housing units as of the 2000 census (from the Downtown Residential Task Force’s report). That works out to about 5.9 units/acre. A few of the neighborhoods around downtown have higher residential densities – I once calculated it for the Old Fourth Ward, and came up with about 14 units/acre (I think) – but downtown not so much. It would be another 300 units up to 7/acre, and another 1100 up to 10/acre.

    And, honestly, if the city-wide average density were 3-4 units/acre and the downtown were 20 or 30, it wouldn’t matter. I mean, it would be great if we only wanted transit to serve downtown (half a dozen Links?), but that minimum density is generally required as an average over the whole service area at least (and, optimally, a minimum throughout the service area).
       —Murph    Apr. 1 '05 - 03:58PM    #
  60. And where would I put another 1000 housing units a year?

    * There’s about another 500 unit equivalents planned for north campus and 300 for central in dorms (taking the numbers of students and counting 2 students/unit?) in the next few years.

    * Allow ADUs throughout the city, and under less restrictive terms than the original proposal was for. I don’t know exactly how many that would create.

    * The Downtown Residential Task Force has called for at least 2000 new housing units downtown. I’d say there’s space for many more than that. The old Y, the Kline’s Lot, 1st/Washington, the Brown Block (the parking lot bounded by Washington/Huron/1st/Ashley), the Library Lot – there’s plenty of space available just by consolidating existing parking and freeing up land for development. (Why do I support the DDA’s plan? There’s a start.) Upzone areas like South U to encourage mixed-use.

    * Create dense pockets scattered throughout the rest of the City. I’d say Lower Town can support a good 1000 units, if we get rid of the parking lots. Upzone the areas around Plymouth/Murfin, Plymouth/Green, Plymouth/Nixon to encourage dense, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development in those areas.

    * Do the same with Washtenaw from Stadium to US-23. Eisenhower/Packard, Eisenhower/State, Eisenhower/Ann Arbor-Saline. Stadium/Packard, Stadium/Main, Stadium/Liberty to Jackson. Maple/Dexter, Maple/Miller. N. State in general. Turn these areas in foci for the surrounding neighborhoods, rather than dangerous, car-oriented intersections.

    (And that’s just the list of areas I’ll give when I’m trying to not upset anybody too much. . .)

    Think it can’t be done? Well, the alternative is to let the entire county look like Canton Township. It has to be done.

    And if we think it’s rough trying to find places to put people in the next 15 years? Where are we going to put the ones who show up in the 15 years after that? And the 15 years after that?

    We’re going to have to reach out to Ypsi, offer them a hand. Throw money at them to help fix up their infrastracture and schools. Make it a place that people will want to live. What in return? They find places to put another 6000-7000 residents. (Currently, I think they’re predicted to hit 2020 with about the same population as in 2000.) We’re going to have to work with the Townships, convince them to go with the County’s vision of concentrating development in new towns rather than spreading it as a thin smear across the landscape – create new Chelseas and Dexters at major intersections.

    We’re going to have to reach beyond that. Into Wayne County. We’re going to have to get involved in Canton, in Wayne, in Romulus, in Inkster, in Dearborn, in Taylor, in (gasp!) Detroit. We’re going to have to help out however we can, help those cities fix their problems, help Detroit stop shedding population. Detroit’s got the infrastructure to support 3 million people, and they’re at 900-some thousand and falling! They could take all kinds of population growth, if only they could get people to come back. If we, Ann Arbor, can help get people moving into Detroit, rather than out of it, we don’t have to worry about nearly as much population pressure in Washtenaw – the regional population isn’t growing, it’s just moving outwards.

    Do you understand now why planning students get a little cranky when people start demanding that these 4 acres, right here, must be parks, or else the City of Ann Arbor is doomed, quality of life will plummet, the world will collapse? There are somewhat larger issues to consider here, you see, than whether seven blocks to West Park, to the Diag, or to the parks along the river is too far for those poor, poor, super-pedestrians downtown to walk. (They can walk, bike, bus to and from work and to every amenity they want, and don’t need cars, ever, we’re told, but they can’t walk six or seven blocks to the existing parks.)

    So, getting back to your question, John, I don’t really know offhand where we’re going to put 1000 new housing units a year for the next year. But that’s not even a best case scenario – that’s the bare minimum we as a community have to do to keep our heads nominally above water as Michigan continues to crash out. If we actually are concerned with things like future quality of life, we need to find ways to accomodate another 1000 housing units a year without even thinking about it as it happens, because we’ve got far bigger things to worry about.

    (I really did mean to stick closely to the immediate question, at first. Oh well.)
       —Murph    Apr. 1 '05 - 04:43PM    #
  61. Murph,

    You’ll probably be surprised to hear that I agree with 90% of what you said. But I’m also a realist and realistically, I don’t see the City ever getting to a point where City-wide density is 7 – 10 units per acre, at least not in our lifetimes. One can say it won’t happen because of NIMBYism. But it also won’t happen because the existing built environment would need to be totally transformed to generate that kind of density. As for your other ideas, I don’t have any problems with them. Transportation nodes. Great! Pedestrian-oriented mixed use development? Bring it on! New towns in the rural areas of the County to capture growth in those areas? Sounds good to me. But you’re not going to make those ideas happen by belittling the people who are most likely to support them. It’s easy to tag most Ann Arbor-ites as closet NIMBY-ites. But if you think they’re bad, try tackling the residents of most suburban communities. You don’t start a movement by dumping on people who may be open to your ideas.
       —John Q    Apr. 1 '05 - 05:36PM    #
  62. John—whose posts are you reading? Murph doesn’t dump on people; he’s the most reasonable voice out there.
       —Dale    Apr. 1 '05 - 05:41PM    #
  63. Sadly most Ann Arborites are suburbanites, in mind and behavior. And there’s nothing in the closet about the NIMBY-ism we’ve all seen.

    My view is that if people don’t want to be considered to be NIMBY-ites then they need to quit booing at council meetings and make better arguments against the DDA plan than that the proposed parking structure would, “kill the greenway.” Statements like that are purposely dishonest.
       —Kurt    Apr. 1 '05 - 07:16PM    #
  64. John, good to hear we agree at least on What Is Good.

    As for intergroup relations, I suppose you weren’t one of the folks coming around two weeks ago calling me a corporate schill for supporting the DDA, and I’ll also extend the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re not one of the folks who, six months ago, were implying that students shouldn’t be allowed to influence local politics . I’d still like to note, though, for the record, that sneering “what do you know, student? You don’t live here!” is at least as good a way to turn people off as calling them NIMBYs is. You don’t start a movement by dumping on people who offer to do the footwork for free, either.

    Dale’s faith to the contrary, I do have a tendency to get annoyed, and, yes, even throw around the N-word occasionally. It’s hard to remain calm and reasonable and offer a nuanced assessment of situations when you only have three minutes to do so in, and you’re up against people saying things like, “Parks, not parking!” “The only thing worse than parking structures are war zones!” &c.; much easier to say, “ah, what a bunch of NIMBYs. Let’s just work around them.” I’m a grad student; I generally don’t feel like I have time to spend reaching out to people who have demonstrated their eagerness for open conversation and public process by booing people who dare to disagree with them.

    (Note that both Todd and I have been talking to Margaret Wong by e-mail (and Todd in person), and Todd’s additionally been talking to Doug Cowherd. So this is more an explanation of why I was so ready to write off the Friends a week ago than a description of my opinion of them now. Or, at least, my opinion of their spokespeople.)
       —Murph    Apr. 1 '05 - 08:56PM    #