Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Greenway / DDA public comment in the A2News

30. March 2005 • Murph
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The News may be a little slow getting to the public debate party, but what they lack in speed, they make up for in quantity. Today’s news includes three full pages of letters on last week’s greenway resolution and on the DDA’s Three Site Plan.

The anti-resolution and pro-DDA letters (as two overlapping categories) seem to outnumber the pro-resolution and anti-DDA letters (most of these are both), with a few interesting twists – one writer supports the DDA’s plan with the suggestion that the side of the structure facing the park be used as an artificial rock climbing wall, and another suggests that the top level of the structure be turned into a dog park.

On the front page, Greenway advocates to seek public support (not available online?) discusses the next steps planned by the Sierra Club’s Doug Cowherd, who wants the City Council to hold public hearings in April, and who states that the greenway’s supporters will also be holding their own public forums; the DDA’s Susan Pollay, who says their plan won’t be up for a decision by the Council for some time, and that the DDA is “still listening to community discussion around this issue;” and City Councilmembers Easthope and Johnson, who say the Council won’t be touching either proposal again until after the budget is passed, at the very earliest. Johnson is quoted as saying, “We do public hearings on ordinances. It would be unprecedented to do one on a resolution.” Somebody has to set precedents, right?

Meanwhile, the News notes that the local Sierra Club’s 17 May meeting will focus on the greenway and feature Margaret Wong as a speaker, 7:30pm at Matthei Botanical Gardens; and the Women Progressive Activists will host an 11 April discussion of the greenway, 7pm, Church of the Good Shepherd, 2145 Independence Blvd. If you’re reading AU, you know that a workshop at Leopold Bros. (not in the News, yet) is also planned, date TBD.

  1. Seems both Brandon and Murph had good letters published in the entertaining AA News forum today. But did one of you guys also ghost-write that rant about how Ann Arbor needs to attract rich old geezers to become more like Las Vegas, in order to make the anti-density folks look like lunatics?
       —Matt    Mar. 31 '05 - 03:08AM    #
  2. I wish, Matt, I wish.
       —Brandon    Mar. 31 '05 - 04:32AM    #
  3. Friends. If the 1st and Williams parking garage is built,DTE energy,which rents over 240 parking spaces in the 4th and Williams parking garage,would be moved. Many others in the same garage will also be moved. All the people that are renting in the 1st and Washington garage would be also moving,plus any of the surface lots. So that will free up the 4th and Williams parking garage so that any body wanting to shop on Main street will be able to park at 4th and Williams and not have to walk up the hill and several blocks to get any where. This will be a great plus for all the businesses in the area. I learned from the International Downtown Conference this past fall, is that one parking space in the down town will support one small business and most people will not walk more then 12oo feet from there car. Plus, nobody knows yet what will happen to the old Y building in the long run. It does have affordable places to live and the back part where the swimming pool is can be removed and more living spaces built. The public debate will come soon enough in council when the DDA send council the proposal for the plans. Then anyone and everyone will be able to add their two cents in. Much good will come from this, but people have to understand that there will have to be compromise from everyone concerned. No one group is going to win and everyone else loses. It doesn’t work that way. This will be a win-win thing. Political bulling and NIMBYism won’t work any longer either. There will be a fair decision made about the whole issue because what is at stake is the future of the Down Town and what is good for the whole community. After listening to what the different council members had to say when they voted down the Easthope/Johnson resolution, it sent a very clear message as to what is important for our community. This council is one of the best I’ve seen in many years. They have been making some very hard decisions concerning the whole community.They should be congratulated for the hard work they do. It’s so easy to criticize, but very few every say thank you. So, THANK YOU CITY COUNCIL! Your doing a great job!
    I have two thing I keep in my mind all the time concerning issues like this. One,” Its of the people, by the people and for the people”, and two, John Kennedy proclaimed in a speech once,”Ask not what your government can do for you, but what you can do for your government.” Ask yourselves, “What am I doing for the good of my community? Not, What’s in it for me.” The letter from Sundays Ann Arbor News well written by Philip D’Anieri told it like it is and he should be congratulated for doing an outstanding job of writing. It is one of the most level headed letters I’ve read in a very long time. So time will tell and thanks to all who support both sides because it’s very important to hear from everyone about good idea’s. Good Night.Bob Dascola(born and raised in Ann Arbor and am still here!)
       —Bob Dascola    Mar. 31 '05 - 05:17AM    #
  4. Bob, you’re saying that 1st & William would mostly be used for permit parking, shuffling the Kline’s metered parking into currently permitted spaces in 4th/William? This would make some sense, in the context of “visitors won’t know where to look for the 1st/William parking” (especially if we’re doing fun things like terracing it into the hill, putting parks on top, building climbing walls on the side, and otherwise making it not look like a parking garage from a mile away (and, I do agree with the Friends on that – parking garages are not normally the most aesthetically pleasing structures!)). Are you getting this from the DDA? I hadn’t realized (or hadn’t heard in their presentations) that they had thought out the shuffle that far?

    I think one of my main positions in all of this goes along the lines of, ”(shaking head) boy, wouldn’t it be nice if they were right?” If we could evaporate 500 parking spaces and have the downtown be immediately better for it? Someday, we’ll have the transit system and the downtown density. . .
       —Murph    Mar. 31 '05 - 03:45PM    #
  5. Yes Murph. I’m getting this info from the DDA. I have been associated with them for many years now. The next general meeting is next Wed. at noon at the Kerry Town Concert House. Public is welcome. To me, it’s very important to be involved with the downtown community, which I am. The point made above has not been brought up by any body yet and I thought that this forum was the right place to lay it out. As the proposal is presented to council you will hear about this. The DDA has brought the parking structures back in good repair and management. The city before didn’t take care of them and only took the money out, with no funds for repair, that’s why they were falling apart before. Murph, The DDA is the best ever since it’s beginning. The people on the board are volunteers from different parts of our community. The plan is just starting to come to light now that the reaction from the Green people is over. As the public input comes along over this issue many things will come out. The plan has been well thought out and talked within the DDA. More later.
       —Bob Dascola    Mar. 31 '05 - 05:43PM    #
  6. “This will be a win-win thing. Political bulling and NIMBYism won’t work any longer either. There will be a fair decision made about the whole issue because what is at stake is the future of the Down Town and what is good for the whole community.”

    Bob, the more that I get into this debate, the more that I believe that your above statement is true. I am hoping that the charrette at our place will be a small step in this direction, and I am hoping that you will attend. I would very much like to meet you.

    I agree with everything that you have said about both the council and the DDA. I really believe that we have people in place who will look after the best interest of the city as a whole.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 31 '05 - 06:08PM    #
  7. To second what Todd has said, I have to say that this episode has raised my opinion of Council significantly, and has also produced an opinion of the DDA, which I really didn’t have before. (And I’ll say now that my esteem for the DDA’s intentions is much higher than my regard for their PR ability. Well, actually, I suppose it could have been their intent all along to have their battles fought by a rag-tag crew of planning students, bloggers, and local business owners, in order to deflect attention from themselves, in which case it seems to have been a fairly successful PR strategy. The other explanation is that they were just too busy Doing Stuff to worry about who was going to come out of the woodwork when they started trying to show off what they’d been working on, but not knowing that the Friends were out there waiting to jump them seems like a significant oversight to me. We’ve all learned something out of this, I suppose?)
       —Murph    Mar. 31 '05 - 06:40PM    #
  8. Thanks for the input Todd and Murph. I’m the “canary in the coalmine”. For the past 3 1/2 years I have been very active in many things in town. I have been listening to what people have been saying for the last 35 years that come into my business. These wonderful people come from all walks of life, so the cross section is there. The info that I have is something you can’t buy anywhere. It’s good community to have people get along and work together. Only time will tell. I admire you Todd for planning to host all the groups at your place of business. I hope that all the groups will realize the importance of getting along and having a civil discussion. Blaming, political bullying and all that stuff should be checked at the door. Openness and honesty with good ideas would be in order. Like I have said before about the DDA plan-much thought and planning went into it, the end results being the compromise of a park, start of the greenway/Allen Creek and a new parking garage that could be made to look like the side of a hill. It’s all in the Master Plan written a long time ago. Ciao Roberto(aka Bob).
       —Bob Dascola    Mar. 31 '05 - 08:44PM    #
  9. I wish I could go along in the lovefest of the DDA and City Council, but from the perspective of, let’s see, I guess I am a “wealthy, city-hating, rampant hypocrite, NIMBY, pseudo-environmental, SUV-driving, elitist” who chose to live downtown years ago, it all rings a bit hollow. I actually had a positive view of the DDA before this whole episode. Now I have quite a different view, which is that members of the DDA (and many downtown merchants) heartily dislike the people who currently live and shop downtown. I would have thought that the DDA would want to try to work with current residents (who, after all, are doing a great deal to support the downtown businesses) to find a good solution, but the anti-development assumptions and the sneering NIMBY comments seem to preclude that.

    As for the current City Council, the interactions I have had with them have been disappointing, disillusioning, and (by their own admission) not in the best interest of the city as a whole.
       —Julie    Mar. 31 '05 - 10:58PM    #
  10. Quick update on the Leopold Charrette as I’m short on time:

    I just got off of the phone with Doug Cowherd. The reason that the Sierra Club didn’t get back to me was that it wasn’t clear to them that I was specifically inviting Mike Sklar or Doug Cowherd to come and actively participate. We have (and will continue to) donated to the Sierra Club on an annual basis, so they saw at the end of my email that I was offering to donate all profits from the Charrette to the Sierra Club, and assumed that I was simply alerting them about an impending donation.

    I am very, very sorry for my ineptitude in drafting my invitation, and I just wanted to make sure that everyone knows that is was entirely my fault that the Sierra Club did not respond to my invitation. My apologies to AAIO, Sierra Club members, Mike Sklar, and Doug Cowherd.

    On a much happier (and less personally humiliating) note, Doug and I are actively working to come up with a format and a neutral moderator that would enable him to attend the charrette. Cool.

    More later as I have more time.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 31 '05 - 11:24PM    #
  11. Whoa, Julie,

    Where did that come from?
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 31 '05 - 11:25PM    #
  12. I have some more thoughts about the planning of the DDA plan. The newspaper did cover the story a couple of days before the council workshop meeting on the 7th of March, but the green supporters were very well prepared to speak because they knew long before all about the DDA plan even before the newspaper ran the story on the workshop. The DDA has been very open about this and nobody that I know of has been doing thing in secret on planning, etc. That isn’t the DDA’s style. It’s very important to keep an open mind on the issue, because there will be much input from many people at the public hearings when the DDA proposal is brought to council. This is the correct way to do this and the plans will change somewhat depending on what the council hears from the public at large, and then decide what is best for all. A Public hearing is very important in a democracy. With the Easthope resolution, if you’ll remember, there was no public hearing what so ever, only the few well prepared speakers that had signed up before hand including myself. During a public hearing no body has to sign up, they just get up and speak in the allotted time and everyone is heard no matter what. Most of the council members want public input on this issue and the resolution wouldn’t do that. Now that it’s voted down, as far as I know, the resolution won’t be brought up again and the issue will move forward to the public hearing on the DDA proposed plan in the near future. Public input on any issue concerning public land is very important. The important thing to remember is to keep an open mind because the whole community will have input and in the end will decide what will happen to the city property in question.So, get ready for the public hear, it will be here before you know it. Bob
       —Bob Dascola    Apr. 1 '05 - 03:45AM    #
  13. Bob, I personally think that a public hearing is a pretty suboptimal method of allowing community participation. You get a bunch of people who stand up and talk, for three minutes, with no response, and with no follow-through necessary. This encourages two (fairly opposed, depending on the nature of the issue and the nature of the decision-makers) phenomena:

    1. Whichever side can mobilize the largest group of supporters on a certain night wins.
    2. The decisionmakers just ignore the folks who talk (or react, but in a merely placating, and not meaningful, fashion).

    The Friends and/or Cowherd have demanded “2 public hearings in April” on the greenway. What exactly will this mean? That greenway supporters effectively filibuster for 3 hours (per hearing) and exhaust any opposition? That greenway supporters talk for 3 hours and Council takes the opportunity to catch up on e-mail? I think that they’re hoping for the former in demanding public hearings, but I don’t really think this is a particularly good way of accomplishing things. (I’d almost go so far as to say, “Ann Arbor is Overrated is a more meaningful form of community participation than is the standard public hearing.”)

    I’ll let Julie take it from here on public hearings and placation (vs. meaningful action) by officials, since it seems like she’s fishing for an invite along those lines . . .
       —Murph    Apr. 1 '05 - 04:11AM    #
  14. Julie,

    Help me out…..where are these new opinions coming from?
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 1 '05 - 02:57PM    #
  15. Three minutes in front of City Council is a bad way to have public discussion. Proclamations are not the same as discussion. Any meaningful public discussion needs to take place in a forum such as Todd is discussing or in small group discussions (with multiple stakeholders). Why didn’t the DDA do these before presenting the plan? Why did they present just one plan? Why didn’t they present multiple plans with pros and cons for each? Why hasn’t the City sponsored open forums on this? Yes, I can go to the DDA meetings at noon on Wednesdays at Kerrytown. But I have a full-time job and my job, which I walk to, is on the other side of town. I can also go to the Democratic caucus meetings on Sunday nights and get the ear of City Council, but not everyone knows that. I won’t go in to my personal experience with City Council, but I do know that very often the issue is already decided on some other grounds before the public discussion is ever held.
       —Julie    Apr. 1 '05 - 05:02PM    #
  16. My impression has been that the DDA proposal is meant to be a starting point for public discussion, not the last word on the three sites. If so, the DDA has dropped the ball when it comes to public relations. Had the DDA trotted out several alternative plans, it would have been much harder for the Friends and the News to characterize the situation in terms of Parks vs Parking.

    Because the DDA presented only one plan, it’s much easier to say, “Developers and politicians are trying to ramrod something through.” Unfortunately, the News has jumped right on the Friends bandwagon and the DDA hasn’t been able to (hasn’t tried?) to counter the histrionics of the Friends.

    When the DDA presented their plan to the City Council, they made it very clear that it was the first step of a long process – one that will include (and has quietly already included) real public input.

    Ultimately, it’s much easier to publicize a reactionary viewpoint (e.g. money grabbing developers want to put parking lots EVERYWHERE, trample the fragile Allen Creek ecosystem, build SKYSCRAPERS in our green spaces) than it is to publicize a process of calm, thoughtful discussion.

    I think the DDA plan is flawed, too. But I think it’s a good start. Now that the Easthope-Johnson resolution is out of the way, maybe the air of crisis will pass and people can approach the issue of how best to address those three sites more calmly.
       —JustinW    Apr. 1 '05 - 08:23PM    #
  17. Here is an idea for the proposed First and William parking deck, if such an idea has not already been proposed: build the structure immediately adjacent to the proposed site, to the east and into the hillside.

    The DDA plan already calls for developing the Kline’s lot on Ashley. A parking deck could be constructed under the Kline’s lot, under Ashley, and under the west side of Ashley opposite the Kline’s lot. The parking deck would also support denser development – three to four-story structures – on the Kline’s lot, and on the west side of Ashley, where several small businesses now rent space in houses.

    The businesses could be relocated into the new structure on the west side of Ashley. Above them, three stories of apartments could look down into the Allens Creek valley, onto the park and greenway on the First and William site. The west side of the parking deck would be solid, and preserve the valley wall. Perhaps it could be a climbing wall, as one of the letters to the Ann Arbor News suggested, incorporated into the First and William park.

    This scenario would be more expensive as it would involve excavation and property acquisition. It might also involve the City getting over its traditional reluctance to use eminent domain. Balanced against this added cost would be the benefits of not creating yet another floodway development hazard, of not having an unsightly parking deck destroy the elegant valley form of Allens Creek, and of preserving the First and William site for a park and greenway.
       —Jim Nicita    Apr. 2 '05 - 01:43AM    #
  18. Nice suggestion, Jim! That’s the kinda thinking I like to see…
       —Scott T.    Apr. 2 '05 - 04:53AM    #
  19. I would like to defend the DDA’s three site plan. The City Council asked the DDA to come up with a plan for the three City-owned sites in the western part of downtown. The impetus driving all of this is two part – one is the need to attract more people to live downtown and the other is that the First and Washington parking structure is falling down and needs to be replaced. The patching up that the DDA has been doing for many years is reaching its end, and time is of the essence here. Therefore, the DDA committee on partnerships and the Board all agreed that this would be a good plan to submit to City Council. All the meetings are open, and there were a lot of people commenting and sharing ideas. In the end, the DDA decided that this is the best way to go. It consolidates parking, and provides housing in the downtown. As I have said before, we must deal with reality – people drive cars. And for someone to say that the DDA and the merchants don’t “like” the people who live downtown is nonsense. These very people are the lifeblood of the city. The Citizens’ Advisory Council to the DDA, which is made up of people who live downtown, has unanimously endorsed the three site plan. They know what they need – a critical mass of downtown rsidents, which will bring a grocery store, a drug store, a dry cleaners and other residential services which would be profitable only with more residents. I love downtown and spend a lot of time there. But I also drive my car – I have to, in order to get from place to place in my rather hectic daily schedule, which includes not only downtown but other places, inside and outside of the city, as well. The DDA was doing what Council asked it to do. It is good urban planning. And downtown residential density will help to stop sprawl in the outlying areas of the region.
       —Leah    Apr. 2 '05 - 03:32PM    #
  20. Jim, I’ve definitely been thinking about the possibility of connecting a deck at 1st/William through to underground parking at Kline’s; this sounds a little more ambitious than even that.

    By connecting under Ashley (and having parking there!), we get more parking spaces per ramp & other fixed costs. However, by building totally underground, we also push costs up. (Way up.)

    If we want to sell development rights to the stuff on top of the slope-deck (in order to cover our costs of acquisition), though, wait, this is starting to sound scarily Hathcock; the only way to do it might be to buy the structures, but leave air rights to the current owners. So we offer a swap – upzone the strip along the top of the slope enough to make that worth letting the City tear down the existing houses.

    We’d probably want some spacing between buildings on the top of the slope, rather than an Ashley Mews-style wall, to preserve some of the views. Allow a developer significantly increased density from what’s there now (say, up to three stories, zero setback on Ashley, much higher lot coverage) in exchange for preserving at least some pedestrian views into the valley from the Ashley sidewalk, as well as a pedestrian arcade through the block.

    The edge of the underground parking into the valley I’d want, at least in some places, terraced (rather than solid, with the slope rebuilt over it) allowing some light and air to the interior. A pedestrian path could wind back and forth across the tiers (at an ADA-compliant slope) to provide access down the hill. The top tier would have a rainwater catchment to filter debris carried through from Ashley before draining to the next tier, with landscaping chosen on the lower tiers both for rain-garden water retaining properties and for oil-resistance (and possibly accumulative? that might require a lot of maintenance to replace every few years as biohazards).

    Put a couple of sheer walls in there for rock climbing. I’m down with that idea.

    Jim, if you’ve ten million bucks in initial equity, I’ll start writing up the papers for the LLC.
       —Murph    Apr. 2 '05 - 03:38PM    #
  21. To come back to more solid ground and address Leah’s point, I agree that “why does the City hate the people who already live downtown?” is totally disingenuous. If you’re walking from the Eaton Bldg. to Main Street now, most of the stuff you pass is parking. Under the DDA’s plan, you will walk past no parking on William: new rail crossing, park, existing townhomes, new mixed-use development with sidewalk-addressing ground floor. A wild improvement over the current pedestrian conditions.

    I quite strongly feel that the DDA’s plan is not going to “ruin” that area for the existing residents; rather, the quibble is whether the plan will make a 75% or an 85% improvement for the area, and what that 10% difference will mean for other plans in the area. Given a straight-up choice between the options I’ve seen so far, I’m still going with the DDA’s plan.

    Doesn’t mean I can’t fantasize, though . . .
       —Murph    Apr. 2 '05 - 04:00PM    #
  22. “rather, the quibble is whether the plan will make a 75% or an 85% improvement for the area, and what that 10% difference will mean for other plans in the area.”

    I could agree more. That 10% means the world to the rest of downtown and the County.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 2 '05 - 04:13PM    #
  23. oops. “Couldn’t” agree more.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 2 '05 - 04:14PM    #
  24. That first comment did read a little funny. But yes, that’s what I was getting at.
       —Murph    Apr. 2 '05 - 04:30PM    #
  25. Jim,

    “The businesses could be relocated into the new structure on the west side of Ashley.”

    Not likely. Those businesses wouldn’t be able to afford the rent.

    Could you say more about the nature of the proposed parking structure as a “floodway development hazard”, so that we have a common reference?

    And could you also say more about what you mean by “having an unsightly parking deck destroy the elegant valley form of Allens Creek”? If I think about it for a while, I can picture the valley form of that area, but I don’t think “elegant” would come to mind, certainly not in its current state.

    I’m asking by way of trying to begin (or continue) the task of clarifying various characterizations and perspectives in this discussion that will need to also take place at Todd’s proposed charrette (or any of the other public meetings.) Moving toward common understanding will be necessary in order to move toward consensus (whether on the current proposal or some compromise.)
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 4 '05 - 04:22AM    #