Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Mallen on DDA/Greenway Proposals

4. April 2005 • Brandon
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In today’s column, Michigan Daily writer Elliot Mallen takes-on the DDA/Greenway controversy:

Sadly, the Ann Arbor Greenway is a half-baked proposal that falls short of its promise to support a supposedly eco-friendly city. Keeping downtown density low by snapping up property in order to make Ann Arbor feel more green is an unsustainable plan that will only stunt the city’s vibrancy and lead to more urban sprawl.

  1. Gee, that’s a pretty thoughtful piece of writing for the Daily. I’m impressed, and I agree.
       —JennyD    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:40PM    #
  2. And I’m pleased several sectors of the community are realizing and calling the greenway “proposal” what it is.
       —Dale    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:44PM    #
  3. Eh, it seemed like a basic rehash of everything that’s been talked about here and in the News, really. But I am glad to see such views on a rather complex (and obscure to most students?) issue espoused in the Daily.
       —Brandon    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:58PM    #
  4. Did you read the whole piece, Julie? It’s largely hindered by either/or thinking, false premises and some combination of ignorance and bad logic.

    The first example is the straw man of “keeping downtown density low” in the section cited above.

    Mallen goes on to state:

    “The Downtown Development Authority’s counterproposal involves building a five-deck parking structure on one of the contested lots, as well as a medium-rise building that would place an additional 200 housing units downtown — adding to the area’s density. The organization recognizes the importance of building up the city’s downtown in order to enhance its vitality and staunch the spread of sprawling subdivisions on the outskirts of town. After all, Ann Arbor already has 154 parks, many of which remain perennially underutilized.”

    1) It’s not a “counterproposal”. It’s a marginally incompatible proposal. (And that may be an overstatement.)

    2) Increasing density downtown will have no direct effect on sprawl. People live where they choose to if they can. Only zoning, PDR/conservation easements, and gas prices are likely to impact sprawl, especially when property taxes are so much lower (read: subsidized) in the townships (currently.) Housing downtown will be needed when people decide they want to live here, and (primarily) for those who already want to (who, by the way, are not building new houses on farmland—most likely they’re renting on the fringe.)

    3) Many parks may indeed be underutilized. Those that are most utilized have trails and/or paths. His comment is too broad a stroke to be useful.

    “Perhaps most importantly, the restrictions on downtown housing that go hand-in-hand with the Greenway would further insulate Ann Arbor from the real world, as the already-restrictive cost of housing would only increase. Ann Arbor has the unfortunate reputation as southeast Michigan’s elitist stronghold, and making it even more difficult to find affordable housing would only reinforce this image. A Greenway would exclusively serve those who are already wealthy enough to live in Ann Arbor, while the DDA is proposing to open up the city to those who otherwise lack access by increasing the supply of downtown housing.”

    1) There are no “restrictions on downtown housing that go hand-in-hand with the Greenway”.

    2) No one is proposing anything “making it even more difficult to find affordable housing”. That’s another straw man (but not the last.)

    3) The remaining comments are based on similarly faulty premises.

    “There’s no reason Ann Arbor can’t become a more aesthetically pleasing city without dropping an ultimately harmful Greenway through its center.”

    You’d think he was talking about an expressway.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 4 '05 - 04:36PM    #
  5. Um, OK Steve, I’ll comment, but the original comment on this post was from JennyD, not Julie.

    I must say that I do agree with most of your comments. I was not particularly impressed by the Daily commentary, although I do think that it is good that people across the city are talking about this issue.

    One thing that everyone seems to be forgetting is that the First and William site is entirely in the Allen Creek floodway. There will not be condos on this site, there will not be apartments on this site. No new residential buildings are allowed in a floodway. Even a business would have problems with insuring anything built on this site. In addition, any structure built in the floodway can contribute to worse flooding in the floodplain. From the FEMA website:

    “Rivers and streams where FEMA has prepared detailed engineering studies may have designated floodways. For most waterways, the floodway is where the water is likely to be deepest and fastest. It is the area of the floodplain that should be reserved (kept free of obstructions) to allow floodwaters to move downstream. Placing fill or buildings in a floodway may block the flow of water and increase flood heights.” To bring a structure into compliance with National Flood Insurance Program regulations: “In most cases, this means you will have to elevate the structure above the Base Flood Elevation. Because placing fill dirt in the floodway can make flooding worse, you’ll probably have to elevate your structure on columns, pilings, or raised foundation walls.” (The new Y took this approach, which is why the actual facility, including the pools, begin on the second floor of the building.)

    As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of any of the Greenway plans, but I don’t think the First and William site is a very good site for a parking structure.
       —Julie    Apr. 4 '05 - 05:15PM    #
  6. I thought it was a good piece considering that the writer is an undergrad. Certainly better and more relevant than most of the Daily’s inane column writers.
       —phil    Apr. 4 '05 - 05:23PM    #
  7. Steve, regarding “restrictions on downtown housing”, I don’t think he’s talking regulatory restrictions. I think he’s just referring to the fact that nixing the DDA’s proposed parking would derail the plans for housing on the other two DDA sites.

    And, for the “making it harder to find affordable housing,” point, see my discussion with John Q. in the other thread – John’s view is that affordable housing will get harder to find regardless, while mine is that it doesn’t have to get harder if we’re proactive about creating it (“it” being both affordable housing in particular and housing in general). The Greenway folks may or may not be intending to block attempts to increase housing supply (including explicitly “workforce housing” supply), but, unless they can come up with a better way of providing it, that’s what they’re doing.

    It’s not a straw man if it’s true, and “advocating a position that blocks housing creation” while housing demand continues to grow does contribute to increasing housing unaffordability.
       —Murph    Apr. 4 '05 - 05:43PM    #
  8. Steve made a point that I’ve forgotten to mention in the various back-and-forths. I generally agree that whatever happens in downtown Ann Arbor will have little impact on sprawl outside the City for all of the reasons that Steve listed. Don’t confuse that with an argument for not having more residential downtown – I do think it’s needed. But don’t oversell the benefits of it by trying to claim that every housing unit downtown is a housing unit that won’t be built on farmland.

    To me, this is the hardest part of the problem – I think I saw someone call it the Portland Paradox, or something like that – the more liveable you make your city, the more people who want to live there and the less affordable it becomes. It also makes it harder to maintain a sense of identity as you plow down the bungalows and other historic places to accomodate the multi-story developments that can accomodate more people. As density increases, the demands for greenspace increases at the same time you are losing it to development. So what do you do? Is there a point where you say “no more”? Or do you keep chasing the idea that you can accomodate everyone who wants to live in the City?
       —John Q    Apr. 4 '05 - 06:17PM    #
  9. John—a full answer would require several chapters, but the city needs to (and seems to have started) think on a “metropolitan” scale, about how downtown actions and development impact the suburbs and the rural areas (and vice versa). Downtown development like that proposed in the DDA plan is more responsible in terms of metropolitan development. More certainly needs to be done in this regard, as downtown and suburbs are clearly related in terms of affordability, accessibility, and desireability.

    As to sense of place vs. more buildings, a major challenge is how to accommodate both history and development. In many cases, I think it can be done, like the incorporation of the Frieze facade into a North Quad design. In terms of detached single family residences, I think it was an error in judgment for many people to purchase houses because of Ann Arbor’s “small town feel,” thinking it would last, when the reason for Ann Arbor’s desirability is a 3.5 billion dollar institution devoted to modernization. Hey, you had that feel for 20 years; Ann Arbor isn’t a small town any more (by Michigan standards). A new sense of place can arise in the context of growth and development—indeed, it always has. And don’t get me started on the literature about neo-nativism. I’d submit anyone interested in local history look at Ypsi—that’s a city with a rich past.

    Finally, conversations I have had with members of the DDA citizen’s council have convinced me that a parking garage in the floodplain can accommodate floods by incorporating drain systems and flood mitigation measures on and under the first level, meaning that the first level could just be closed off when a flood hit, leaving the rest of the garage operable, accessible from another entrance on a higher level. I was impressed that the DDA had already thought about this and investigated technical aspects, in contrast to what I have seen from the greenway folks.
       —Dale    Apr. 4 '05 - 06:43PM    #
  10. In the interests of stoking the flames of local hysteria I must ask has anyone been following the Lower Town Historic District proposal (the first reading of the proposed ordinance is tonight)? There was some crazy number of buildings involved if I remember correctly, like 200+, and I’ll be damned if I can think of more than about a dozen in Lower Town that I would consider historic (though they may very well be more than 50 years old).

    I know Brandon has lived in Lower Town and never seemed too high on its historic character. Any other thoughts? The city’s packet for tonight has a map on page 158 that makes the district look HUGE. Please pay attention to this item tonight (can’t be there or I’d comment)—this could be as big a block to development in the city as any greenway.
       —Dale    Apr. 4 '05 - 06:54PM    #
  11. Dang! First Scott instead of Todd, now Julie instead of Jenny. Can you guess why I prefer email?
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 4 '05 - 07:15PM    #
  12. Regarding Steve and John’s comments on in-town development vs. greenfield development,

    Your points are correct assuming that people are all currently living where they want to, and assuming that the rate of in-town vs. greenfield development planned is similar to new residents’ preferences.


    I assert that there is much more interest in downtown living than is currently being served, and much more interest in within-Ann Arbor living than is currently being served. Creating housing opportunities downtown will allow people currently living (or destined to live) in second-choice locations at the edges of town to move into downtown. Creating housing opportunities in the city in general will allow people currently living in second-choice locations in the Townships to move into the city.

    Creating more housing into the city will not draw people in who really want to live in the Townships, it’s true. However, creating the ability for people who want to live in the city to live in the city will help prevent them from living in the Townships. For some portion of the growth in the area, greenfield development can be directly prevented simply by allowing people the choice to live in the City instead.

    It is as you point out, John, that Ann Arbor is a desirable place to live within the region. But the people who want to live here are going to come regardless of whether they can find a home in the City or have to go to the Townships. Shouldn’t we try to allow them to choose to live in the city, allow them the choice of not consuming land- and energy-inefficient greenfield housing?

    This is one of those opportunities where “good urban planning says . . .” and “the market wants . . .” blatantly point in the same direction. Providing / allowing for more housing within the City is good policy whether you’re a rabidly social-equity interested environmentalist or a laissez-faire anti-government libertarian.

    Or maybe you just don’t care about either freedom or the environment. And maybe you’re against puppies, too. :)
       —Murph    Apr. 4 '05 - 07:47PM    #
  13. Murph,

    It’s at this point that I put my feet up on my desk, and let you Urban Planners do my thinking and writing for me…...leaves me to more more important things like making gin. :)

    Perfect assessment. Even the puppy joke.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 4 '05 - 07:52PM    #
  14. (Reasonable as Dale thinks I am, I sometimes can’t help tweaking. I’m not actually trying to trap you into saying you’re against both freedom and the environment – but I do want to make you come up with a really good argument, so I have to set a high bar.

    Oh, and the whole “Portland is unaffordable” thing has been debunked. There’s a Brookings Institute report on it out there somewhere . . .)
       —Murph    Apr. 4 '05 - 07:58PM    #
  15. Ah, division of labor.

    (Murph looks around for a piece of cardboard on which to crayon, “WILL PLAN 4 GIN”)
       —Murph    Apr. 4 '05 - 07:59PM    #
  16. Now Murph, if you can address the “our poor old neighborhoods/sense of identity” issue as related to the city’s built form, you will rocket to the top of my list of favorite urban planners.
       —Dale    Apr. 4 '05 - 08:12PM    #
  17. Dale: working on it. . .
       —Murph    Apr. 4 '05 - 08:21PM    #
  18. I’m not going to play the conservative anti-planning stooge here re: Portland. I’m not well-versed enough on the housing costs in Portland to make any definitive statements on its affordability. But I think it’s dodging the issue to not acknowledge that as long as a place is considered desirable to live, people will be willing to pay a premium to live there, driving up housing costs. While in theory, you can accomodate a limitless number of people in one location, in reality, there’s going to be a limit to the number of people that Ann Arbor is going to accomodate (or the community will be willing to accomodate). So long as more people want to live here than there are places for them to live, housing costs are going to continue to outpace those in other cities.
       —John Q    Apr. 4 '05 - 08:30PM    #
  19. Murph,

    It’s a straw man if it’s not demonstrably true, which it isn’t. The Sierra Club supports infill development. Margaret Wong serves on the board of Avalon Housing. I know of no evidence that the Friends or the SC oppose more downtown or affordable housing. (Yes, that’s potentially an argument out of ignorance, but someone here can inform me if that’s the case.)

    Do you really believe that stopping the structure at First and William would stop the other two developments? Why?

    If there really isn’t another place to put a parking structure the Friends won’t likely get what they want. Their current position doesn’t make them contributors to the unaffordability of downtown housing. They’re members of our community who have an opinion that should be considered. Keep in mind that a position can’t block anything, only the outcome can, and that’s up to council.

    Mallen is entitled to his opinion, but he’s more likely to make the compromise he seems to favor more difficult by his approach. His opinion is about other people and their positions, not about the proposal on the table (or an alternative.) What’s the value in that?

    I don’t say this to bash him (or to demonstrate my hypocrisy, which may seem obvious, though I claim a subtle distinction by virtue of my focus on the topic of discourse, not on the greenway/parking issue, with regard to his opinion), but to point out that public statements impact community relations, and that there are more positive approaches.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 4 '05 - 08:49PM    #
  20. Murph, are you arguing that Mallen knows what he’s talking about when he states that “the [DDA] recognizes the importance of building up the city’s downtown in order to enhance its vitality and staunch the spread of sprawling subdivisions on the outskirts of town.”?

    I doubt that that latter reason (to “staunch”) made their top ten considerations list when developing their proposal, and for good reason – because it won’t.

    I don’t disagree with your comments (though I’d put the “portion of the growth in the area, greenfield development can be directly prevented simply by allowing people the choice to live in the City instead” at about 5% or less, currently. It’ll increase over time.) I just think Mallen’s ill-informed (and not helping the situation.)
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 4 '05 - 09:11PM    #
  21. “I know of no evidence that the Friends or the SC oppose more downtown or affordable housing.”

    Well, the only evidence that I have is the proposal that they put forward to city council would have made all three city lots into parks.

    A portion of one of the lots is being considered for “affordable” housing by some affordable housing advocates. The Friends plan would have denied these advocates the opportunity to build the housing units.

    There you go.

    Note: I do not think that the Friends or the Sierra Club are specifically against affordable housing. That would be absurd. I am just pointing something out.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 4 '05 - 09:15PM    #
  22. “the Portland Paradox, or something like that – the more liveable you make your city, the more people who want to live there and the less affordable it becomes”

    Ya’ll are of course forgetting that most people are moving to Portland from California, where they are fleeing REALLY expensive housing costs. That mass-influx is why things are increasing… it’s as much a push as a pull factor.

    In any case, Portland was cheaper than Ann Arbor by most measures when I was there a month ago, especially rent-wise. I can’t speak for housing purchase-price, however. And there’s still plenty of room for more density… many neighborhoods didn’t seem much more dense than Central Ann Arbor.

    Murph, you’re awesome.

    Dale, there are some amazing historic structures in Lower Town, but they are relatively scattered, and as best I can tell they must be including a lot of medicore and not-that-old structures in the district…
       —Brandon    Apr. 4 '05 - 09:19PM    #
  23. “So long as more people want to live here than there are places for them to live, housing costs are going to continue to outpace those in other cities.”

    So in your opinion, the problem isn’t that we haven’t built significant housing or commercial space in the past 20 years? Ann Arbor will always be more expensive than Ypsi, as an example. The problem is how much more expensive it is in relation to other cites in the area…and why this leads to sprawl.


    Can I ask why all of the local businesses are leaving town, then? Why isn’t the state of local business healthy?

    I bet you have the answer, and it will show why you are only looking at part of the picture.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 4 '05 - 09:28PM    #
  24. Steve, I’d be ecstatic if either the Sierra Club or the Friends made even the pretense of considering affordable housing. If they would just acknowledge that there is concern for this issue, it would be a great entree to the conversation for them. So far, neither group has attempted a conversation on this – they’ve instead gone for an all-out attack on the DDA and the DDA’s plan, and ignored every issue except green. (In two senses: they’re talking up greenspace, and trashing the DDA for being money-driven developers and/or developers’ cronies.)

    The Friends still haven’t demonstrated that they even know what the DDA’s plan is, really; the plan they’ve been criticizing certainly isn’t the plan the DDA actually has (and you’d think they would know what the DDA was proposing – many of the Friends were at the same presentation I was at).

    So far, the only attempt the greenway advocates have made to address other concerns is to pretend that parkifying sites “in their entirety” will have no effect on the other sites. As a transportation planner (in training) I’ll call that obvious baloney. Greenway advocates have shown that they know nothing about transportation and land use, and so far seem uninterested in hearing anything about it.

    If the DDA cannot consolidate parking on 1st & William, then they can’t eliminate parking on the other two sites. If they can’t eliminate the parking on the other two sites, then they will fight the city’s releasing those lots for development. (As will every business owner in downtown.)

    So, yes, I think Mallen’s right, the Friends’ plan for 1st & William will derail the rest of the DDA’s plan. I think that, currently, the burden of proof is on the greenway advocates to show that it is possible to get what they want without hindering the rest of our goals as a community. The DDA has proposed a plan that meets several community goals including the desire for parks, and the Friends have countered with a plan that would advance only the desire for parkland, and at best neglect our other goals.
       —Murph    Apr. 4 '05 - 10:43PM    #
  25. Murph, if you really think that the DDA “can’t” achieve all the community goals without this proposal intact, you might just come out in favor of it now. You do make a better case for it than Mallen did.

    As for the Friends, rather than rehash what they have and haven’t done, either dismiss them as Johnny-one-notes, or hear them and say, “Sorry, not good enough” and call your council member.

    On the other hand, if you’re really concerned about their approach, you could talk to them directly. Doug’s very approachable, as is Margaret, from what I can tell.

    I already sent them (as well as others) a message a while back indicating that they were being perceived in a negative light. More such direct feedback might sink in. If you don’t think so, then don’t do it. And then let’s stop talking about them, shall we? :-)

    I’ll follow my own advice and send my earlier comments to Mallen.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 5 '05 - 01:35AM    #
  26. Steve, if you haven’t been following, Todd and Murph have been contacting Cowherd and Wong in an attempt to have a REAL community discussion about these issues.

    On their side, they have not been forthcoming. I would love to see the Friends’ or the apparently different Sierra Club plans be revealed to the public. Have you seen the Friends website ?

    Let’s see: A green line drawn over the AA Railroad, links to email the mayor, council, and AA News, the famous parking analysis, and of course the urgency to save those three sites in their entirety for parks. No discussion on how they plan to work around the railroad, no discussion on why the DDA plan that includes space for a greenway isn’t sufficient and that those three sites must be large parks, and of course: “Questions and Answers (coming soon)”... they’ve been “coming soon” for months. I’m still waiting. As best I can tell their tactics are just to be as vague as possible. Why aren’t any of the “Friends” responding to the numerous concerns brought up here? Why did yesterday’s op-ed merely list a litany of speculative benefits about the glories of greenways in general?

    Cowherd’s essay on the subject is plain infuriating on many levels. Let’s seen, the railroad is conveniently ignored, the parking structure is portrayed as NEW parking, not merely a consoldiation plan, false dichotomy of buildings OR greenway, and of course, the typical portrayal of Big Bad Developers and Big Bad Buildings coming to destroy our dear Quality of Life™. “The Allen Creek corridor is our last chance for an urban greenway in Ann Arbor. It’s the last place near downtown with a critical mass of contiguous under-developed land.” EXACTLY. UNDER-developed.

    Okay, time to get some fresh air.
       —Brandon    Apr. 5 '05 - 02:02AM    #
  27. Brandon, (re)read what I wrote to Murph. Then consider doing your own direct communicating. I have no interest in doing it for you.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 5 '05 - 02:30AM    #
  28. Brandon, Todd’s now talked to both Doug and Margaret; once Todd managed contact information to the individuals rather than the organizations, stuff happened. I’m meeting up with Margaret on Wednesday, before she goes out of the country for the rest of the month (which is why she can’t come to a thing at Todd’s place this month). They’re not unreasonable people.

    Steve, I came out generally in favor of the DDA’s plan a month ago. (er, sometime between three and four weeks ago.) I’ve also said, though, that the greenway is a lovely vision, and, were it possible, I’d be happy with that. Which is why it frustrates me that its proponents don’t seem concerned with convincing skeptics that it really is possible – just with demanding it and attacking the DDA. Honestly, what moved me from “highly skeptical” of the DDA’s plan in the first place to “generally supportive” was the way the Friends acted during the Council meeting when the DDA first presented its plan. After seeing people stand up and attack a plan the DDA hadn’t presented and ignore what the DDA had actually said, I figured that if I were going to have any opposition to the plan, I ought to figure out some real reasons to do so. And when I tried to look closely enough to find some, I decided the DDA’s plan wasn’t half bad.

    So, yes, I wrote a letter to Council weeks ago and follow-up e-mails to Johnson and Greden (the ones who responded to the first one); I went to the Sunday caucus meeting two weeks ago; and had a letter in last week’s massive spread. I didn’t think I was being coy with my opinion around here. . .Mostly I just stopped saying “I support the DDA’s plan” because I figured everybody knew. (Well, and because my position has never been so stark. The only way I would be able to say, “I support the DDA’s plan” is if I were asked which plan I support, the DDA’s or the Friends’. Given a more open question, I’m liable to have a much more long-winded position. (Surprising, I know.)) The reason I haven’t written off the Friends entirely is because all of them, too, have a part in this conversation, if they choose to take it, and I’m not going to totally write them off. Though so far I’m unimpressed with their plan (though quite impressed with their devotion) I’d much rather have them involved in further discussion than have them just disappear.
       —Murph    Apr. 5 '05 - 02:39AM    #
  29. Setting the whole Greenway issue aside, I have a lot of concerns about the DDA plan. The plan provides for no more parking than is already downtown, while bringing in a large number of residences and retail. If the DDA is correct and we need more parking downtown, how does their plan address this? This plan will only make downtown parking worse even if underground parking is provided for the residents in the Kline’s housing site (the plan is for the First and Washington residents to park at First and William). It does not take into consideration that the 165-space parking lot at First and Huron could be sold or developed at any time. It does not include any of the old Y redevelopment plans (several of which include parking changes in the Main St. area). It does not make any mention of the Library lot, which is a far bigger site, not in a floodway, the same distance from Main St., and accessible to all parts of downtown. The proposed parking structure site is out of the way and at the edge of a residential neighborhood, not where shoppers would normally think of parking. If you are going to move the monthly permit holders to the new First and William site, that means you have a large concentration of monthly parking on the West side of town in the Ann Ashley and First and William sites. Is that really where parking is needed downtown? In addition, this all in a neighborhood that already has the Krause lot, Liberty Lofts, the new Y, and the new homeless shelter. Just like the Friends, the DDA has presented this as an all or nothing case, but I think there are alternatives. If alternatives are not feasible, the DDA needs to say why. They are proposing to spend $22 million on a parking structure that they can’t even say for sure that they need. When citizens question the DDA on the plan, the DDA says that anyone who opposes them is a NIMBY. I need a better argument than that, regardless of what else could or could not be done with the First and William site.
       —Julie    Apr. 5 '05 - 03:06AM    #
  30. Hmm. Let me try that again.

    Brandon, you might consider contacting Doug or Margaret yourself to share your feedback. I’m not planning on passing on again what I’ve read here.

    Yeah, that’s better.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 5 '05 - 04:04AM    #
  31. Julie, how about if we rezone the lot at First and Huron to “Parking may not be the primary use of this lot”?

    Maybe then FM will stop camping on it, raking in cash from the DDA, and actually do something useful with it.

    (That’s a “Yes, I agree. That lot could be developed at any time. Why don’t we tip their hand so that we know what’s going to end up there?”)

    In general, I think that a new Central Area / Downtown Master Plan needs to happen. The old one is 17 years old and clearly contentious, and, with things like the greenbelt and the Downtown Residential Task Force’s findings new since then, there’s been a lot of change to consider.
       —Murph    Apr. 5 '05 - 12:57PM    #
  32. Actually, that stretch of W. Huron has a large number of development possibilities, especially for residential (most of which are currently empty lots or surface parking). Most are owned by local developers (Dahlmann, First Martin). I see from their website that the DDA has been working on Huron:

    “Three major corridors, Huron Avenue, Division Street, and Fifth Avenue, present the first view of downtown Ann Arbor to many visitors, and provide important means of daily travel for residents as well. Because of their significance, these corridors offer enormous potential to enhance perception and use of the downtown.
    In order to explore this potential, the DDA commissioned a study to examine ways to enhance the appeal of downtown through quality infill development, pedestrian and bicycle enhancements, and other improvements. Exhaustive research and numerous public meetings culminated in an “Urban Design Workbook,” outlining many dozens of recommendations.
    In February 2005, the DDA approved the selection of Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. to develop many of the ideas from the Urban Workbook study into detailed designs for Huron Avenue, from Third Street to Thayer.”

    I wonder what the DDA is proposing to do with this (I can’t find the Urban Design Workbook on their site), if any of the existing owners are willing to go along, and why it has not come up in any discussions of the three-site plan. I definitely think a downtown Master Plan needs to happen. It seems quite apparent that three sites just isn’t comprehensive enough.
       —Julie    Apr. 5 '05 - 01:46PM    #
  33. Julie – I must repeat to you that the DDA did what Council asked it to – to submit a plan to address the three CITY-OWNED sites on the West side of downtown. There are many other ideas and plans that exist, including a long dormant plan for underground parking and development of the library lot. The responses to the “Y” site RFP are being addresed by a selection committee appointed by City Council. Council should have that recommendation some time in June. There are two master plans which exist – the Downtown Plan and the Cental Area Plan. The urban Design Workbook is in the DDA office, and I am sure they will share a copy with you. No one has ever said that there would not be parking at First and Washington to accomodate the residents. The First and Huron lot is privately owned, and if the DDA gave it up, the present owner could continue to use it for parking because the use is “grandfathered” in. (I know this because I asked the question myself and was given this answer.) The DDA has allocated $50,000 to help pay for a planner to look at zoning in the downtown to change it to meet the goals of the Downtown Residential Task Force. The DDA sees the large picture, but the three site plan is a direct response to Council’s request.
       —Leah    Apr. 5 '05 - 05:27PM    #
  34. Leah,

    From the three-site plan as posted on the DDA section of the city web site: “Site II First & Washington Project Goals
    Encourage the development of as many as 100 units of housing that would be less expensive than many units that have come on line in the past few years, to encourage downtown workers to live downtown. Perhaps this might be accomplished by encouraging smaller unit sizes and providing resident parking at the new First & William structure, rather than on site.” Unless there is some special City Council reading of that, I think it says there may not be parking on-site.

    I have no problem with the DDA doing what City Council asked it to. I just don’t think that is comprehensive enough and so I can not support it. I do realize that there are two plans that cover the downtown area. They are also very out of date, vague, and enforced only when City Council chooses to do so.

    The present owner could have parking at First and Huron, or they could not have parking. The potential loss of 165 spaces needs to be considered when planning for parking needs in the Main St. corridor. It makes sense for the city to examine potential change in use of other sites, even if they are not city-owned, as these will directly affect downtown businesses.

    I have read the minutes and discussions of the Downtown Residential Planning taskforce and saw that on Feb 2, 2004 the taskforce minutes reflect that: “it was generally agreed that zoning isn’t the problem. Rather, other forces are discouraging development” for residential construction. This was followed by three months of meetings discussing zoning changes. I’m so glad to hear that the DDA has now contracted with a planner to spend $50,000 to investigate zoning. It all sounds like a bit of a boondoggle to me.
       —Julie    Apr. 5 '05 - 06:37PM    #
  35. Julie, since we have Leah here, can you rephrase that last paragraph in the form of a question so we might learn something from her?
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 5 '05 - 10:30PM    #
  36. In reading over the “Report on Recommendations Addressing Barriers to Downtown Residential Development,” I see the Residential Task Force did propose zoning changes and included a brief explanation of why they might focus on that despite their February zoning comment. However, zoning was only a small part of the overall report. Is there a reason the recommendations of the Task Force were not considered as written and a consultant needs to be brought in?
       —Julie    Apr. 6 '05 - 02:09AM    #
  37. Steve Bean,
    your premis in your first post is very flawed, but it also is a common argument. People live in sprawling suburbia mostly because there is little other options. More housing options in already urban areas takes pressure off housing where urban and sprawl consumers overlap. With more urban housing demand absorbed frees up pressure on existing housing market and pressure from the periphery. People want housing downtown, why do you think the rents are so high? They can’t get it because its not there.

    Zoning will not fix sprawl, it creates it….we legally mandate it and the only way to change it is to do away with the hegemony of R1 zoning, but we can’t because some environmentalists (middle class property owners) actually love it. We need less regulation and let real consumer preferences be fulfilled. SPrawl is not the number one choice, its an institution created by zoning, reinforced by lending institutions and, in the case of Ann Arbor, a product of a political process.
       —daveSomers    Apr. 6 '05 - 07:52AM    #
  38. Dave, your comments sound like they’re based on some theory instead of reality.

    So people aren’t living in sprawling suburbs because they can have a larger lot, a larger house, a neighborhood where their kids can play in the street, a tax bill that’s several thousand dollars less per year? It’s really because they can’t find a home downtown? Do you know of any real examples that don’t fall into the category I referred to of renters on the fringe?

    Do you think that if 10,000 people had been able to live downtown instead of ‘having’ to live in the townships there wouldn’t just be 10,000 more right behind them to buy all those houses that developers were more than happy to build on farmland?

    Do you really think that “real consumer preferences” aren’t what’s driving sprawl?

    If zoning is the problem but not the solution, what is the solution?

    Are you implying that if more people lived downtown our property taxes would be lower? (I could see that.)

    I don’t mean to pepper you with questions, but your comments run almost completely contrary to my experience. People in my neighborhood have moved out of the city after their kids have gotten older. They didn’t want to live in a 10-story condo with small rooms, no yard, no attached garage, and high taxes. (Affordable housing isn’t just about purchase price.) They didn’t even want to live in the house they already owned because the yard was small, the rooms were ‘small’, and the taxes were ‘high’.

    Yes, young singles and even young couples and retirees would like to live downtown. Still, there’s a huge population out there (mostly with kids) that would love to live within ten miles of Ann Arbor, regardless of how many people live downtown. They drive sprawl with their choices, not those of us who are paying the high property taxes to do the responsible thing and live here, while they enjoy the parks and services and parking and night life and then drive home for fifteen cents.

    To answer your question, I think the rents are so high because there’s demand pressure from students because the U doesn’t provide enough housing, plus there’s no more room in the city to build single-family detached housing that most people prefer.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 6 '05 - 12:53PM    #
  39. “To answer your question, I think the rents are so high because there’s demand pressure from students because the U doesn’t provide enough housing, plus there’s no more room in the city to build single-family detached housing that most people prefer.”

    So your answer is to let the University build more non-taxable housing? Let me ask you this: Since you just admitted that there is more demand than supply in the above statement re:students, let me go ahead and tell you what the problem is here:

    For decades your fellow citizens have shouted down every housing project that is taller than 10 stories. We could have built ten university towers by now, giving quality taxable housing to students, and we would have more single family detached housing available to non-students.

    Why would there be more detached housing available in Ann Arbor? Local entrepreneurs wouldn’t have bought up hundreds of homes and split them up into apartments because the demand for student housing would have been met by the skyscrapers.

    Instead of building tall apartment skyscrapers that encourage taxes and walking, here we are in 2005, and some of the citizens are completely baffled as to why the city wants to develop downtown so badly and so quickly. The reason the city is panicking is that we are having a hard time paying for basic services like the fire dept. or the police dept. There just isn’t enough tax base to pay for everything.

    Steve, I simply don’t believe that you think that sprawl exists around Ann Arbor because people just don’t want to live downtown.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 6 '05 - 01:41PM    #
  40. Steve, it’s impossible to call for scientific, experimental evidence (which I assume is what you’re asking Dave to do when accusing him of using theory over reality) in this sort of thing. Shall we randomly assign people to homes in vs. outside of Ann Arbor and see who is happier?

    You are correct that the current situation appears to be the product of consumer preferences, but that’s largely because government intervention has so thoroughly skewed the marketplace than nobody even remembers that it’s there, and thinks they’re choosing housing in a realistic marketplace.

    Consider the Townships’ fury over having to pay for Sheriff’s patrols. Guess what – this is a product of their “real consumer preferences” coming up. Previously, Sheriff’s patrols of the Townships was subsidized by the cities (either directly or indirectly, through the State) – city residents paid for their own police services, while also helping pay for rural police services. With the ability-to-subsidize drying up, Townships are being asked to pay for their own patrol services, which means that they’re now facing the same choice that cities have: either pony up for services or else do without.

    The cities also subsidize rural roadbuilding and bridge construction. Imagine the outcry in the townships if the Road Commission insisted that townships pay full cost for all rural road improvements!

    In addition to a bunch of governmental interventions skewing the market towards exurban sprawl, there are also interventions skewing the market away from cities. Headlee and Proposal A are crippling cities’ ability to provide services. Zoning pushes people out of cities by setting maximum densities, minimum lot sizes, minimum setbacks, maximum heights, etc. Dave’s pushing the same way I am – towards removing the barriers that both prevent real consumer preferences from being acted upon and that have significant negative effects by encouraging sprawl.

    This isn’t a bunch of leftist urban planner crap, either. Last night, Dave and I were both at a talk given by a candidate for Director of the UMich Real Estate Certificate program, a talk also attended by such as A. Alfred Taubman and Bill Martin. There are plenty of developers and realtors who believe, every bit as strongly as planners do, that the market is broken, and people are being forced into sprawling areas.

    I saw a survey last week of real estate developers nationally – when asked “what’s the chief reason preventing you from building alternatives to sprawl?”, only something like 10-15% said “lack of market demand.” 42.7% (you can tell which number I actually wrote down) said “local regulations” only allow construction of sprawl.

    As a compromise solution, how about we reduce the regulatory barriers to sensible development within Ann Arbor and see what happens. If the current trends continue unchanged, then I’ll admit that it really is consumer preference being demonstrated, and we won’t have lost anything by reducing the regulations. If, however, less sprawl and more neighborhoods are built, then I’ll ask you to admit that you were wrong, and that real consumer preferences are not currently being reflected – and, in addition, we’ll have a more pleasant and more environmental built form.

    Seems to me we’ve got nothing to lose through this little test, so regardless of what you think, you ought to support it, right?
       —Murph    Apr. 6 '05 - 01:52PM    #
  41. Steve, as a simpler proposal, let me ask you a question:

    If the typical family had the choice between a home in the Old West Side and a home in Pittsfield Township, at similar cost (sticker price + taxes + transportation costs), which would they choose? Do you believe that the choice is really that 1% would choose to live in the OWS, and the other 99% would choose sprawl?
       —Murph    Apr. 6 '05 - 02:23PM    #
  42. And even if sprawlsville is full of families who want to be there, it also has its fair share of young singles, married childless couples and retirees (as Steve pointed out) who want to live in or near downtown who are priced out of it. So even if downtown was populated primarily by childless households, we’d still all be better off.
       —Scott    Apr. 6 '05 - 05:17PM    #
  43. There’s no doubt that there’s a subsidy factor at work that makes suburban living “cheaper” than living in the cities. But I’m leery of developers claiming that it’s zoning regulations that are keeping them from building in a less sprawling fashion. If developers had their way, they would plow down every tree, fill in every wetland and cram in as many homes or apartments as possible and then move onto the next farm field. It might take them longer to build a landscape of sprawl but the end result would be the same and the end product would be even more pathetic than what we get now where we at least make an effort to save some of the environmental features.
       —John Q    Apr. 6 '05 - 06:35PM    #
  44. “If developers had their way, they would plow down every tree, fill in every wetland and cram in as many homes or apartments as possible and then move onto the next farm field.”

    This is exactly why my stomach turns when I watch developers who desperately want to build downtown get turned away by citizens. They don’t just sit on their capital…..they put it in neighboring towns, levelling farmland in the process.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 6 '05 - 07:09PM    #
  45. John, that’s a ridiculous charicature, and you know it. I’m sure you’re thinking of corporations like Pulte and Toll Bros and IKEA and Wal-Mart, who see housing and shopping as commodities that can be bundled up and shipped to anywhere in the world. On the other hand, though, you have the locals, like Beal and Allen and Kinley (and Martin, though his company mostly owns office parks and parking lots, so I’m not going to defend him too strenuously), who are interested in contributing to Place with their developments, and who are part of the community rather than some global corporation airlifting in a few thousand identical McMansions.

    Interestingly, if you zone development out of the cities and into the Townships, you’re taking business away from the local developers, who know and care about the community, and giving it to Pulte and Toll Bros, who don’t care for anything in the community except its dollars.

    It’s not just developers claiming that exclusionary zoning is a big driver of sprawl – I’d advise you ask Dean Kelbaugh, of the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, or Dean Bierbaum, of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. They’ll give you the same answer – that zoning is a big part of the problem. (Though, obviously not the whole problem.)
       —Murph    Apr. 6 '05 - 07:17PM    #
  46. There are many people who prefer to live in the suburbs and exurbs (not just families). There are actual (and perceived) barriers to living downtown—it isn’t everyone’s dream.

    One of the most interesting comments in the meeting minutes of the Downtown Residential Task Force was from the International Downtown Association which stated that cities find that 1-2% of the population actually choose to live downtown. Of these, some people will have barriers to doing so (economic, availability, etc.) which could be removed but regardless of anything the cities do (zoning changes, subsidies, marketing), only about 2% of a population will choose to live in a downtown area. Ann Arbor currently has 2% of its population living downtown. Because of the University, Ann Arbor can probably go over that 2% figure, but I would imagine something like 4% would be as high as it would go. This is why the Task Force set the goal of 1000 new residential units in downtown by 2015. It may not be feasible to build more. The reason zoning is not considered the main barrier is because under current zoning regulations, as many as 22,000 residential units could be built in open (empty lots and surface lots) areas downtown. It is true that developers are less interested in building housing downtown because the ROI is less and current zoning requirements make residential less lucrative. Zoning changes and premiums can help to make residential building more attractive for developers, but it won’t change the picture as dramatically as some of you portray.
       —Julie    Apr. 6 '05 - 07:21PM    #
  47. The debate about demand and zoning is interesting. Here are some recent examples supporting Todd & Murph:

    The 322 Liberty Project: They sold reservations for almost every unit during opening weekend.

    Liberty Lofts (Eaton Building): they have sold reservations for over 70% of their units after only a few weeks.

    Corner House Lofts apartments (a few years ago): They rented their units very fast.

    Interestingly, the units in these projects aren’t particularly cheap, but they still sold/rented fast. Imagine if we had more reasonably-priced units on the market!

    Many of these homebuyers are, indeed, young singles, young couples, and older couples. But if they couldn’t buy these units, where would they buy? Probably a condo in Pittsfield, Scio, or Superior Township.

    The demand for housing in the City of Ann Arbor—particularly downtown—is very high. But the supply has not been allowed to meet the demand because of the reasons cited by Todd and Murph. If the supply is permitted to meet the demand, it will naturally reduce the demand for housing in the outskirts of town. That’s better land use planning, better for the environment, better for our locally-owned merchants, and better for our tax base. Keep up the fight, Todd, Murph, Scott, et al.
       —Lifelong Ann Arborite    Apr. 6 '05 - 07:37PM    #
  48. I’ve said this before (and so, I think, has Murph), but I think one way to hit that sweet spot of affordability in a downtown development is to put in a building-with condos like the above described (with requisite site density and all that), but build the thing as a co-housing community. Instead of a community-house you’d have a community-floor, providing a huge community kitchen (in addition to your unit’s kitchen), guest bedrooms, childrens play area, library, or whatever. Because there is some intentionally shared space, the individual units can be a little smaller. Combine that with a building-wide (or just on-site) car co-op to reduce parking/car owning needs, and holy shit you might have affordable units starting around $150k or less (like Touchstone did/does) but downtown instead of out in the greenfields of the townships.
       —Scott    Apr. 6 '05 - 08:31PM    #
  49. I’ll reserve judgment on Liberty Lofts and LoFT 322 until they are actually sold, not just reserved. A lot can change in the meantime.

    Co-housing units scattered about the downtown would be a great idea. I don’t know what the actual market would be, but with graduating co-opers and a mixed population downtown, I think one or two developments would do well. I know we would have loved something like this for Greene St., but alas, we got the monstrosity.
       —Julie    Apr. 6 '05 - 09:03PM    #
  50. Hell, there are three just up the road in Scio townships. I’d guess, in the next 10 years, at the pricepoints I’m talking about, you could fill 10 large cohousing buildings full of units pretty darn quick.
       —Scott    Apr. 6 '05 - 09:12PM    #
  51. Not exactly on-topic, but I was just mining the archives of my blog and found this little tidbit from a July AA News In Brief article:

    “Opponents of a new parking structure at First and William streets have scheduled Picnic for a Park from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

    Nancy Goldstein and Margaret Wong mobilized when the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority began considering a multistory parking structure.

    They and other opponents say Ann Arbor has enough downtown parking, a structure in the Allen Creek floodway poses environmental problems and the project conflicts with the Downtown Master Plan.”

    No mention of a greenway, interestingly enough… and they admit to have mobilized after the parking structure was proposed. Folks have tried to spin the issue as being “pro-the-REAL-Greenway” rather than “anti-parking structure,” but if you look to the annals one gets a clearly different picture. Just thought that might be of interest.
       —Brandon    Apr. 7 '05 - 12:54AM    #
  52. Scott,

    My group’s term project in Peter Allen’s class is ground-floor retail (an expanded PFC), second-floor parking, 3rd – 5th co-housing, near Kerrytown.

    I’ll toss a copy of our final report your way.
       —Murph    Apr. 7 '05 - 02:47AM    #
  53. Todd, I agree with everything you said except when you put words in my mouth (“So your answer is to let the University build more non-taxable housing?”) and when you questioned what I believe.

    You make a good point about taxable housing. I hadn’t considered that. I was telling Dave what I thought. Now I think a bit differently.

    I do believe what I said about people’s preferences driving sprawl. And I agree that the situation downtown could be different. And that if it were, we’d still have sprawl.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 7 '05 - 03:02AM    #
  54. I didn’t say “every” developer and there are exceptions locally. But you’re choosing to ignore the push that’s been made by both the local and state level Homebuilders Associations to strictly limit zoning regulations by riding the argument that they support “smart growth”. So excuse me if I’m not ready to hitch my wagon to a movement that has some good intentions here in town and bad intentions just about everywhere else in the county and state.
       —John Q.    Apr. 7 '05 - 03:09AM    #
  55. Brandon et al,

    Check out this photo of the four grassroots activists including Margaret Wong and Sonia Schmerl back when they were the Friends of First and William Park before they became Friends of the Greenway. The google trail is clear that this is a neighborhood effort to stop a parking structure, which may or may not be a good idea, that then appropriated the Sierra Club’s greenway scheme into its neighborhood-based agenda.
       —SG    Apr. 7 '05 - 03:32AM    #
  56. Murph, you (and perhaps others) seem to have gotten the impression that I was arguing for or against something. I’m not sure why. I thought I was pretty clear about what I was saying and what my questions to Dave were. No need to make assumptions. Maybe you missed what I wrote about the responsibility of paying for the services we want. But thanks for the lecture on subsidies anyway. ;-)

    Dave wrote, “People live in sprawling suburbia mostly because there is little other options.” That’s what I was responding to. I disagree. The numbers Julie provided seem to agree with my experience, as well as being more relevant to my point than those that you shared.

    I do support more housing downtown. I opposed the development proposed for the Bluffs because it’s not downtown and it’s on a prominent natural feature; I argued against my friends who wanted the Liberty site (east of Stadium) made into a park, because it was a good spot for housing right on the AATA route and within walking distance of the Stadium business district (which I’ve argued is too auto-centric); I suggested the Dicken Woods site for the PROS plan because I thought that it was a good connector with Hansen Park natural area (and wet—possibly groundwater recharge area and probably headwaters of Allens Creek); I think that Kingsley Lane is a great project (full disclosure: my employer is Mark Berg. Tell Peter I said “Hi”, Murph.)

    I don’t like tall buildings that result in windy conditions for pedestrians. (Please read that carefully and don’t assume that I mean that I don’t like tall buildings. For all I know there are ways to affect those conditions.) Other than that, build all the mixed use housing downtown that you want. Housing that has shared walls is more energy efficient, and we’re going to need that. I like the co-housing floor concept a lot.

    Anything else I can share to make my position clear?

    In return I’m curious if any of you folks are married and/or have kids. Oh, and maybe Lifelong could share his/her real name so I can say “Hi” when we see each other downtown.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 7 '05 - 03:52AM    #
  57. I was going to take a stab at the exlusionary zoning claim (“exclusionary zoning is a big driver of sprawl”) but we probably need to agree on a definition of “exlusionary zoning”. Many developers claim that agricultural zoning is exclusionary and have sued on the same basis (the proposed Colt Farms development in Ann Arbor Township as one example). As I’ve said before, I think one would be hard pressed to claim that the zoning in the downtown area is exclusionary. There are definitely examples of exclusionary zoning in the burbs but that just makes those areas less affordable, not more so.
       —John Q.    Apr. 7 '05 - 04:10AM    #
  58. SG,

    Some choice quotes from the recent AA News profile of Ms. Wong :

    “Remember,” Wong said after completing a two-hour interview. “Not a NIMBY.”


    “Avalon works on behalf of really vulnerable, voiceless people,” Wong said. “They can be steamrolled by more powerful voices.”

    Wong said she sees the same thing happening to a vision of a greenway.

    “Vision of a greenway”? Ms. Wong is probably as nice a woman as everyone says she is, but the news trail that I and SG have sketched clearly show that it wasn’t her vision that the DDA was planning on “steamrolling,” it was a vision she appropriated in an attempt to block the DDA’s own vision. And I am not sure how starting an anti-parking-garage-a-block-away organization can be characterized as anything but “I don’t want a parking garage near my house,” or, “in my backyard,” if you choose. This was a reactionary “movement”, plain and simple. Maybe Joe O’Neal and others have had a greenway vision for years, but the evidence regarding the leaders of the Friends points toward other primary motives.
       —Brandon    Apr. 7 '05 - 05:13AM    #
  59. Brandon, please make a case for why her NIMBYism is a problem that we can somehow impact. Otherwise, let’s move on. If you’re really just concerned about Ms. Wong’s personal shortcomings, you can take them up with her directly.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 7 '05 - 12:27PM    #
  60. Wasn’t Wong portrayed in the AA News as an “accidental activist?” Maybe Brandon should suggest them to read their own archives before writing stories about people. That’s all.

    As for getting the city to get smarter about development, I ask a favor of all of you. I would like to show up and say something about why we need downtown density the next time this is up for debate/vote. I read this site to figure out when that might be. Thanks.
       —JennyD    Apr. 7 '05 - 12:50PM    #
  61. Steve, my point was there is just appears to be a bit of dishonesty about how the News and/or the Friends are portraying their cause is all.
       —Brandon    Apr. 7 '05 - 02:10PM    #
  62. Steve, to answer your question, I am married, and both my wife and I intend on paying a higher price (we’ll have to) to live either downtown or in the inner ring neighborhood.

    I would argue the 1-2%, I’d like to see where that came from. Especially if you consider where the demographics are going, people waiting longer to have kids, baby boomers entering retirement, much less married households, youths strong preference for cities. Look at the shows on television in the 90s compared to the 50s…Friends, Seinfeld, ER vs. Leave it to Beaver et al…they all take place in cities. Thats not by accident, its a result of market research . There will continue to be a demand to live in single detached by traditional housholds, but that group is shrinking in relation to the former…unless you count immigrants who have allways shown an ability and sometimes preference to live in cities. We haven’t even discussed what will happen once gas goes to 5$-8$ a gallon….The market isn’t working and the number one reason is R1 zoning and political opposition. We’ve simply built the wrong country for the future population that will live in it.

    I still fail to fathom how some environmentalists could oppose higher denisty. I think theyre too attached too the destructive myth of Malthus, or just protecting property values. Our environmental crises is not so much a funciton of over population (which to me is conviniently placing blame on peoples of the third world with an undertone of racism) but over consumption. R1 zoning is a regulation that mandates over consuming. Not that I think you would make the Malthus argument…but from one environmentalist to another, I think this misunderstanding can distort the debate and cause otherwise like minded people to vigorously disagree on the most reponsible way to live.
       —daveSomers    Apr. 7 '05 - 04:17PM    #
  63. the last paragraph was a complete tangent, and not repsonding to anything in particular I’ve read on this post.
       —daveSomers    Apr. 7 '05 - 04:22PM    #
  64. Dave, the quote for the 1-2% was from Fred Beal of the DDA (also president of JC Beal Construction in Ann Arbor). The info came from an International Downtown Association conference he attended. You should check with him for the actual citation and research.

    My experience is that a lot of people “say” they want to live downtown, but the reality of a small older home or small apartment/condo, no yard, close neighbors, rental units close by, difficult parking, busy streets, and so on ultimately changes their minds. It usually isn’t the cost of the house as much as it is the perceived value. Most people I know paid more for houses in the suburbs than we paid for our house downtown, but they got houses that are double the size of ours. You would be surprised how many people “can’t” live in a two-bedroom house with one bathroom.

    Most (not all, but most) people are on-board that downtowns should have more density. It is the types of buildings and how much housing a downtown will sustain that people disagree about.

    Some environmentalists talk the talk, some walk the walk. If you are a family of three living in a 900 square foot house on the OWS who walk to work, school, and shop local businesses but want a park in the floodway at First and William, are you more or less of an environmentalist than someone who lives on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, drinks Starbucks coffee, drives in to school or work, and wants a parking structure at First and William? Desire for housing downtown is not the only measure of environmentalism and being for or against the First and William parking structure is not at all a measure of being for or against density downtown (regardless of how the DDA wants to paint it).
       —Julie    Apr. 7 '05 - 09:30PM    #
  65. John, “exclusionary zoning” is usually meant as zoning that pushes out people below a certain income level, whether by intent or by side effect, by making residential development too expensive (requiring minimum lot sizes and setbacks that demand a lot of land expenditure, or minimum unit sizes that are more house than people need/are able to pay for).

    It definitely exists in downtown Ann Arbor, though moreso in some parts (South U., Kerrytown) than others; PUD zoning offers some means of getting around it, but that’s still a difficult way to go. Having looked at the zoning for the Kerrytown area, I’ll note the too-common problem that “you wouldn’t be able to build today” anything on Fourth Ave if you stuck to the zoning, let alone anything financially feasible. Our class project in the area is workable (we hope) only because we’re assuming that we could convince the city that we’re advancing enough social goods that they’d give us a good deal on land.

    Yes, it also occurs, to a lesser degree, in Ag zoning. Consider, though, that a 5 or 10 acre lot typical of Ag zoning in many of the townships is still cheaper than the 10th-acre plot required for a dwelling unit in parts of downtown.
       —Murph    Apr. 8 '05 - 02:57AM    #
  66. See Murph, that’s the problem here. You hear “exclusionary zoning” and go by your textbook definition. Developers say “exclusionary zoning” and it means “any rules that don’t let me build exactly what I want, wherever I want”. But it’s OK – the real world of development is an eye opener for anyone who has the misfortunate of getting dragged into it willingly or unwillingly. Unfortunately, some of us have learned the hard way that flexibility sounds good in concept and is almost always abused in practice.

    I’ve heard the arguments that minimum lot sizes, etc. have the effect of keeping out affordable housing. And that might be true in some communities. But in a high-demand location like Ann Arbor, I think the effect is overstated. Even without minimums, 9 out of 10 developers aren’t going to build affordable housing. They’re going to build and sell housing at the price point that the market will bear. Are people willing to spend $300,000 or $500,000 to live in a community? Then that’s the kind of homes you’ll get, not the $150,000 variety.
       —John Q.    Apr. 8 '05 - 03:17AM    #
  67. I think many people on the Old West Side want a suburban neighborhood two blocks from a vibrant downtown. It’s a nice dream, and I wish a lot more of us could afford it. I’d gladly trade my house which is about a mile from downtown straight up for a number of those OWS homes that would have a direct view of a future parking garage if it is so oppressive. Be warned though because I would probably gain $100,000 in home equity as a result.

    People railing against the DDA say they support higher density and point to the YMCA and the new condos. But both were already zoned industrial and these new developments will definitely enhance property values in the area—upscale condos instead of a factory and a great new gym complete with day care an easy walk from home.

    What bugs me is the sense of entitlement that a substantial amount of the greenbelt money should be spent on a park that is, let’s be honest, largely going to be used by a few nearby neighborhoods. And this idea that the city should take these valuable properties off the market because of neighborhood opposition. There’s a reason that most of the leaders have come from the OWS combined with the usual anti-density suspects who appear to be taking a backseat to let this be portrayed as accidential activists instead of the “green machine.” But why isn’t there a rising greenway tide in the rest of the city where presumably a lot of environmentalists live too? Because this is a typical NIMBY effort, and not all NIMBY efforts are wrong, of course. But before the city spends a lot of money and forfeits a lot of money on this I would like to know that it is in the best interests of the whole and not just those within a couple blocks, who after all don’t have life so bad seeing as how they can walk to lots of great things but have their gardens and dogs and kids just like in the ‘burbs.
       —SG    Apr. 8 '05 - 04:08AM    #
  68. SG, did you see my thoughts posted at on promoting/developing Fourth Ave. as the connector between downtown and the river? Any thoughts on whether that would be a worthwhile effort (relative to the Allens Creek greenway concept)?
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 8 '05 - 04:58AM    #
  69. Yes, I did and I liked that post. I wish we didn’t have these four-lane one-way streets slamming through downtown at all.
       —SG    Apr. 8 '05 - 05:47AM    #
  70. I think the four-lane one-ways are the only thing that allow us to have Fourth and State be as un-car-dominated as they are. As long as we’ve got 10k people coming off 23 on Plymouth Road every day, we’re going to need somewhat high-volume routes into town.

    Though, I’ve managed to snag a copy of the DDA’s “Huron/Fifth/Division Urban Design Workbook” (Julie: hah!), and it contains lots of suggestions for making adjusting the geometries / lane assignments of all of those streets to make them usable as more than just traffic chutes.

    Actually, I’m very impressed with some of the building-level suggestions in the Workbook; somebody was really paying attention to the relation of architecture to street life.
       —Murph    Apr. 8 '05 - 11:49AM    #
  71. The one-way streets came up when the Energy Commission worked with Susan Pollay five or more years ago on parking and traffic issues. Apparently, part of the reason for the one-ways was fuel efficiency, and also traffic flow, of course. The trade-off being that cars don’t travel slow enough for drivers to notice the shops they might stop at.

    Anyway, we talked about putting more on-street parking in various places. Division was one. I just had a thought that maybe in front of Ashley Mews on Main might be a good spot. The sandwich shop there has closed from what I’ve heard. Maybe parking would help the retail there. The right lane on that block isn’t really a big deal for southbound traffic flow since Main is a single lane in the previous blocks on the other side of William.

    The northbound lanes are a different matter, with the AATA buses turning right onto William, with a stop in front of the DTE building. The stop on the southbound (west) side is past the intersection at Packard, so adding parking between there and William (actually, the gas station entrance) wouldn’t interfere.

    And what about on Catherine, where we both wondered about the number of lanes there near Fourth Ave.? Parking’s at a premium for the farmer’s market, right? I think replacing extra lanes with parking (throughout downtown) could both improve the parking situation and provide a further incentive for using park-and-ride lots for downtown workers if the traffic flow were to worsen (which would further improve the parking situation for shoppers.) If traffic didn’t worsen, then the lanes obviously weren’t necessary to begin with.

    I realize that we’re only talking about a few spaces here and there, but, as Bob (I think) informed us, that’s all it takes to support a few small businesses.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 8 '05 - 01:38PM    #
  72. I actually like the one ways, and think Murph is right that as long as we live in a highly autocentric region, we might shoot ourselves in the foot if we get rid of them..

    And I really miss the one-way section of state st b/w William & North U. Traffic crawls through there now and it’s MUCH harder to cross the street (instead of looking in one direction, you have to look in three or four directions and the windows to cross is much narrower). The only realy benefit I see for that particular strip is it makes it easier for folks who aren’t familiar with downtown to find their way around. This is nice (when I first started driving into AA, I’d get lost a lot, and State St.’s two-blocks of one-way helped with that)—but overall, I say screw the tourists and serve the residents but, of course, I’m biased.
       —Scott    Apr. 8 '05 - 02:22PM    #
  73. Steve, I’d love to see on-street parking on Catherine; the PFC is in desperate need of parking as well (short term and as close as they can get it, to minimize the distance members have to schlep stuff), and I think that Catherine just has no need of four traffic lanes. (Especially four traffic lanes one-way – I would give even odds that turning one lane of Cath. into parking would make the Cath/Fourth four-way stop easier to interpret.)

    As for State, I’d optimally replace the pavement with brick from South U to Washington, and maybe put in a few small median islands to provide psychological slowing of the cars to the point where peds could walk out whenever and have the cars be moving slowly enough to stop. If there’s anywhere that crazy Dutch “no explicit traffic controls – let people work it out between themselves” plan would work here, that’s it.
       —Murph    Apr. 8 '05 - 02:53PM    #
  74. I hope you’re getting all this, Leah. :-)

    I sent my thoughts (#71) to Susan, but you and Bob could perform a service by transmitting some things to the DDA. I don’t imagine they’ll be hosting a site like this or a listserv anytime soon. Or might they?
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 8 '05 - 03:01PM    #
  75. Steve: I doubt it. If I were on the DDA, I certainly wouldn’t want a public listserv that went direct to the Board. . .

    I’m actually pretty surprised / impressed that recent discourse on this site has remained as civil as it has. For a site that at least one DDA member / county commissioner openly comments on (and various other commissioners and councilmembers have been known to read), I’m happy that “NIMBY” and “developer” are the worst ad hominems that have been slung around. (Well, okay, there is the occasional thread on Palestine/Israel, but I’ve just stopped reading those. Ari can take care of himself.)
       —Murph    Apr. 8 '05 - 06:43PM    #
  76. The multilane one-ways are not conducive to a pedestrian downtown. It is unpleasant to walk down them and it creates isolated islands of commerce rather than a continuous flow of pedestrians and cars in a better relationship. I don’t see the need for four lanes of one-way anywhere inside the city. On Fourth, the main effect seems to be that cars can pass one another going really fast, and do we really need to facilitate rapid movement through downtown, as opposed to orderly traffic through it that is respectful of pedestrians and outdoor dining opportunities and bikes?
       —SG    Apr. 8 '05 - 11:08PM    #