Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

False dichotomy or brilliant ad campaign?

17. May 2005 • Murph
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The Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway are pressing their “Greenway or Concrete Jungle” slogan on every audience they can find. Last week, they pitched their message to an open house at The Planet, apparently without rebuttal or challenge, with the result that Planet organizer Adam de Angeli called City Council in e-mail, “so thoroughly corrupted by corporate influence that they have absolute-zero respect for the concerns, demands, and general well-being of the public.” [EDIT, 8pm: the e-mail mentioned was to The Planet’s mailing list, not to City Council themselves, to my knowledge. Sorry for the potentially confusing wording. -RM]

Today, the Friends are presenting to a probably calmer crowd, the Huron Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club, an event which chapter co-Chair Mike Sklar describes in e-mail as,

Two starkly different visions for the future of downtown Ann Arbor have been offered. The Sierra Club’s Huron Valley Group is pleased to offer the public an opportunity to understand those competing visions. On Tuesday, May 17, Margaret Wong from the Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway will present “Greenway or Concrete Jungle? Re-imagining Downtown Ann Arbor.” This free event begins at 7:30 pm at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens (directions below). Newcomers are welcome; no membership is required.

This “opportunity to understand these competing visions” seems to include airtime for only one of the visions, strangely enough.



  1. That bugged me too. “concrete jungle”? gimme a break. The solution can be some development and a greenway, if people would just give up the hyperbole and ‘hold this ground at all costs’ rhetoric. Compromise and we can find a way to all be happy – or at least mostly happy. I know it isn’t glamorous or as rousing to Sierra Club members, but it works.

    I guess that’s why I’m a middle-of-the-road urbanist, and not a ‘reluctant activist’.
       —KGS    May. 17 '05 - 09:14AM    #
  2. “so thoroughly corrupted by corporate influence that they have absolute-zero respect for the concerns, demands, and general well-being of the public.�

    Sounds like the greenway folks are reading Cowherd’s talking points.
       —Dale    May. 17 '05 - 09:34AM    #
  3. “Planet organizer Adam de Angeli called City Council in e-mail,’so thoroughly corrupted by corporate influence that they have absolute-zero respect for the concerns, demands, and general well-being of the public’”

    Wow, The Planet is SO punk. Viva la revolucion.

    The Greenway Folks/Sierra Club are really good at playing to gullible activists in this town… they seemed to have similarly infiltrated many students in the School of Natural Resources earlier this year.

    KGS, I think being a sensible urbanist might just be the best sort of activism going in this town. Cheers.
       —Brandon    May. 17 '05 - 09:49AM    #
  4. Man, do I hate political bullshitting.

    One thing that the Bush-era has brought our country is zero sense of compromise.

    I don’t even know how to respond to the accusations thrown at city council. It’s awful embarrassing to think that you have to use Rove-like tactics to scare the hell of residents to get them side with your point. I thought Ann Arbor was better than this. I thought Ann Arborites made fun of people who were dumb enough to fall for tactics like these.

    Lame, lame, lame.
       —Todd Leopold    May. 17 '05 - 09:53AM    #
  5. Hey Todd, you should check out this website sometime:

    http://www.annarborisoverrated.com
       —Brandon    May. 17 '05 - 10:03AM    #
  6. (Super-long, sorry.) So here’s more context for the quote from Adam:

    The next day, people trickled in and once we had an audience, we gathered in the show room to hear presentations from the Living Economy Network, from Brewing Hope, and from Friends of Ann Arbor Greenway, which featured a rousing discussion on the fair trade, localism, and the decline of Ann Arbor’s downtown development. Alan Haber talked about the proposal to turn the old Y building on 5th and William into a community commons instead of selling it to a developer. I talked a bit about how this store’s creation was a direct response to the simultaneous close-down of the Technology Center (where the new Y is) and the Wooden Spoon book co-op, and to other forms of gentrification that have plagued our fair city. We reached the conclusion that unless the whole population rises up to demand anything, the council completely ignores our voice, catering policy to big business and other special interests. We discussed the fact that the county plans to implement the giant jail (that the voters defeated in the face of a sneak election), and how even our LOCAL government (let alone the bigger ones) is so thoroughly corrupted by corporate influence that they have absolute-zero respect for the concerns, demands, and general well-being of the public.

    It was amazing to see how all of the things we had discussed were interlocked, and how the overwhelming case presented against the local government had taken form naturally in group conversation. I decided that some major direct action, directed towards the city council, must be taken. This being the case, perhaps a merger between Alan’s Human Chain for Peace and the Citizens United for a Better Government should get together and do a human chain around the City Hall and Ann Arbor News Building demanding justice from an unfit City Council and a good story in paper for once.

    And my e-mailed response to Adam:

    Adam,

    I’m a little bit concerned that you seem to be interested in making an “overwhelming case against the local government” after hearing a single position on various topics. In particular, I think you might want to look a little deeper into the Greenway plans (and the DDA’s related “three-site plan”, which you probably heard presented as diametrically opposed) before denouncing the local government. Holding the government accountable is a very good goal, but it works better if you’re working from a thorough understanding of the various issues. If you go in and rail at the City Council, but have your facts totally wrong, they’ll write you off. If you go in and rail at the City Council and are spot-on with all of your facts, they might listen to you – some of them are actually reasonable people.

    (Full disclosure: as of about two weeks ago, I’m an intern for the Ann Arbor DDA. However, I’m not going to talk at you about the DDA because I work for them. It’s the other way around – I applied for the DDA’s internship after spending a month or so looking at the greenway ideas and the DDA’s three-site plan, so I’m going to talk at you from the position of somebody who’s awfully interested in those ideas.)

    Everybody loves the idea of the greenway. If you heard that anybody is “anti-greenway”, or “anti-environment”, you heard bad information. The Friends of the Greenway have a tendency to present a very scorched-earth platform, that anybody who disagrees in the slightest with their vision is a shill for the big nasty developers, but they neglect to mention that some of the people who disagree with them are affordable housing advocates and former tenants of the Ann Arbor Tech Center. The question these people are asking is, “Well, sure, it’s a beautiful vision, but at what cost? What do we have to give up in order to achieve this vision? Who are the winners and who are the losers if we build the Friends’ greenway?” I personally think that *a* greenway would be a good thing, something we should work towards. I disagree with the Friends’ plan for a greenway, however, since it seems to focus on maximizing the greenway at the expense of other community goals. Either the Friends need to modify their vision to include some of these other goals, or they need to describe how these goals can be met alongside their vision. So far, they’ve just done a lot of handwaving about how “development is going to happen without using the greenway sites,” and haven’t actually addressed any other community goals.

    A few things to think about:

    * The Friends’ greenway would disrupt the DDA’s plans for the 1st/William parking lot, which would in turn disrupt the DDA’s plans for the 1st/Washington lot (part of the “Three-Site Plan”). What are the DDA’s plans for the 1st/Washington lot? Affordable housing. Not very affordable housing, mind you, but sort of mid-range. Consider that all of the housing currently being built downtown (Liberty Lofts, LoFT 322) runs at about $300k-$700k – very upscale/yuppie. The DDA would like to provide the 1st/Washington lot to a developer on the cheap with the condition that it be used for more reasonably priced housing – perhaps in the $150k-$200k range; still not something that I could afford, but at least modestly priced. They can only do this if they can move the current parking off of 1st/Washington, which requires the 1st/William lot. I’m sure you’ve been told that this is lies, that the parking doesn’t need to be moved, but the DDA has spent nearly 2 years looking at this, while the Friends’ present a pretty slideshow of a few evenings’ worth of photographing parking structures.

    * The DDA’s plan is not “a concrete jungle” or “anti-greenway”; it includes a park (yes, smaller than the one the Friends want) and pays for a portion of greenway construction out of parking structure dollars. Ironic, that the DDA have proposed to use commuters’ parking fees to subsidize the greenway construction, but the Friends accuse the DDA of being pro-parking and anti-greenway, isn’t it?

    * The Friends’ greenway would disrupt plans to use the old Road Commission Building on the 415 W. Washington site as affordable artists’ studios – a partial replacement of the old Tech Center. The City is going to be vacating this site in 1-2 years, and the Friends’ greenway involves tearing down the existing structures. A competing vision for 415 W. Washington involves rehabbing some of the buildings for studio space and turning half+ of the site into a greenway park. For a better idea of this, contact Dave Somers, dsomers@umich.edu . He’s another urban planning grad student (er, just got his masters, so not a student anymore, I suppose) and used to have space in the Tech Center before being evicted.

    * The Friends’ greenway would disrupt plans to build affordable housing on the North Main City Yard. Like 415 W. Washington, this site is going to be vacated by the City in 1-2 years. The Friends want to see it turned 100% into a greenway park; a competing vision wants to see affordable housing built on part of the site, with a greenway park built on about half of the site area.

    * The Friends have said, “Development will happen anyways – there are 200+ other sites in town that will be redeveloped eventually; we need to save these ones!” The problem with this idea is that those other sites assume wholly-private, “market-rate” (meaning more $700k penthouses) development. It’s a pretty unfortunate reality of land economics in this town that affordable housing just isn’t going to happen on any of those sites. The Friends’ vision of turning their sites into parkland and letting development happen elsewhere is that downtown will end up with a lot of very expensive housing and a lot of nice parkland. Is this really what we want?

    * Alan Haber’s proposal for the Y site is interesting – but doesn’t really address issues of maintaining the very-affordable housing on the site. The “big bad developer” plans for the Y site involve not only keeping 100 units of very-affordable housing on-site, but also upgrading that housing to better suit the needs of residents. Right now, for example, the Y site housing does not include cooking facilities – which are pretty crucial in allowing people to provide for themselves. (What are they going to do, eat out at Gratzi’s every night?) I’d suggest that you head down to the Washtenaw County Housing department (in the County Annex on Fourth Ave.) and take a look at the various plans that were submitted. I know that the selection committee has narrowed the choice down to two of the six plans submitted; the Housing office can probably tell you which ones. You can also try contacting Councilmembers Margie Teall and Kim Groome, who are on the selection committee, to talk about your concerns with the plans and ask them about their decision process and priorities.

    * Talk to County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum about the jail. He’s good people, and has a very good grasp of the political climate – he sees the jail as more or less a necessary evil, a Trojan Horse to sneak mental health treatment services past the folks who just want to “lock ‘em all up”. Also talk to County Commissioner Conan Smith. He’s also good people. Then look at what Sheriff Minzey is saying. He’s, well, I can’t say anything nice about him, so I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.

    In general, I’d like to invite you to check ArborUpdate.com , where we’ve been discussing the jail, the greenway, the Y, and the general state of Ann Arbor, gentrification, sprawl, blah blah blah at great length for the past few months. If I can be of any help (providing more information, contacts, etc.) to you, let me know. I like what you’re doing, and I’m not trying to work against you – I’m trying to help you do it well.

    Thanks,
    Murph.
       —Murph    May. 17 '05 - 10:46AM    #
  7. (/me collapses on his keyboard in exhaustion.)
       —Murph    May. 17 '05 - 10:47AM    #
  8. Ha, Brandon!

    It is quite funny, and ironic, that one of Ann Arbor’s best citizens is running a site called AAIO isn’t it? And, no, I’m not joking.

    ....wait a minute. It’s not ironic at all. It makes perfect sense! It’s also funny that many respond to AAIO with a very ultra-Republican sentiment: “if you don’t like it here (Ann Arbor/America), why don’t you just leave?”
       —Todd Leopold    May. 17 '05 - 11:37AM    #
  9. “We reached the conclusion that unless the whole population rises up to demand anything, the council completely ignores our voice, catering policy to big business and other special interests”

    “I decided that some major direct action, directed towards the city council, must be taken”

    “the county plans to implement the giant jail (that the voters defeated in the face of a sneak election)”

    This is why I don’t call myself a “progressive” anymore. Everything’s a big conspiracy, and the way to fix it is through “direct action.” I appreciated your thoughtful response to the fella, Murph.
       —Brandon    May. 17 '05 - 12:31PM    #
  10. Nice and thorough, Murph. Thanks for the effort.
       —Marc R.    May. 17 '05 - 12:54PM    #
  11. Brandon, I think the solution is not to abandon any label which happens to get hijacked (whether by hostile or well-intentioned action), but to try to work out some of the differences with the well-intentioned folks and deliver big slap-downs to the hostile ones.

    If you’re coming at things from any kind of leftist or socialist viewpoint, then pretty much everything is a conspiracy, since capital is conspiratorial by its very nature. When was the last time you called anybody, “a nimby homeowner only interested in his property values”? Ta-da! You’re naming the same conspiracy Adam is!

    This is, of course, why the Friends have it easy. If you’re looking at the situation with a pre-existing suspicion of capital, it’s very easy to see “parks” as grassroots good, and “parking structures and development” as capital evil – we heard this message rehearsed to perfection from Cowherd, playing to every equity-minded bone in our little planner bodies, didn’t we? You have to dig a little to see that the people talking development are the same ones talking afffordable housing, and that the situation isn’t quite so clear-cut, and it was that digging that I was trying to encourage Adam to do.

    If I wanted to write off other radicals (and “radical” in general) just because some of them were wrong, I wouldn’t have bothered writing to him.
       —Murph    May. 17 '05 - 01:20PM    #
  12. murph, great to hear you’re working with the dda. i hope the meetings give you some insight into the process. you said one thing that piqued my interest:

    ‘’the DDA has spent nearly 2 years looking at this, while the Friends’ present a pretty slideshow of a few evenings’ worth of photographing parking structures’’

    it’s great that you’ve found the data the dda has been so painstakingly gathering. i know through working with the friends, that requests have been made of the dda numerous times (per the slideshow you mention, which was intended to gather some data, over many times of day and over several seasons), but the best data we ever saw from the dda was sketchy and incomplete. no coherent hourly, daily, or even monthly usage data – of any of the parking structures in the system, let alone those impacted by 3-site plan.

    and it is a parking system, right? shouldn’t we consider all parking together? addressing it parcel-by-parcel seems rather ad-hoc, and not such a great way to encourage transportation around town. shouldn’t we have a transportation system? one which integrates parking, bus, bike, carpool, etc, together? building a structure at the periphery of downtown seems like an odd place for it. or maybe convenient. anyway, i’m ruminating out loud, back on topic…

    but now that you’re part of this organization, the dda, can i make yet another request for this detailed parking data? i assume it’s public, since the dda is funded by council and taxes. how do we get our hands on this data to demonstrate the (self-evident) need for parking? and i’d like to see data on why building in the floodway is the best spot for this, with other sites centrally located and available.

    i’d also like to understand more about why the dda is insisting on developing this site even before the city and FEMA floodway reevaluation is completed.

    i’m looking forward to more civics,
    bob
       —bob kuehne    May. 17 '05 - 02:01PM    #
  13. Bob, note that I speak for myself only when bloggin’, and not for the DDA or anybody else, anything I say here is not the DDA’s opinion, even if it’s about the DDA, etc, etc. If you want an official DDA answer, call up Susan Pollay or show up at a Board meeting – they’re open to the public and there’s a space at the beginning to address the Board. Or hit the Downtown Area Citizens’ Advisory Council meetings, the first Tuesday evening of the month, and talk to people there.

    Also note that, even if I were speaking for the DDA, my activities there don’t cover the Three-Site Plan at all, so I haven’t seen anything related to it except what’s available to everyone.

    So, all that said, here’s the answers to your questions as I, a private citizen, understand them:

    * The DDA wants to hurry along the 3-site plan because the 1st/Washington structure needs to be shut down and torn down as soon as possible. They then need to replace that parking (see next point), which means either rebuilding a structure on 1st/Washington or else building a structure somewhere else to provide that capacity. (For example, 1st/William.) If 1st/Washington becomes unsafe before parking can be replaced on a different site, it will have to be rebuilt where it is, preventing that site from being used for other things.

    * I believe that the DDA knows what they’re talking about when they say they need to maintain parking capacity. (And many of the Main St. merchants seem to think they need more that the current capacity.) From conversation with Susan P. (back in March), they did not have detailed parking data, but are now collecting data on how frequently parking facilities fill beyond 85% (which is apparently an industry-standard measure, and is what Republic is capable of providing).

    * A personal observation from last Saturday evening: between 8 and 9 pm, the following lots and structures were “full” (as in, I couldn’t see more than a handful of empty spaces) – First/Washington, First/William, Brown Block, Kline’s Lot, Fourth/Washington, Palio’s Lot, DTE Building Lot. Fourth/William full to the 5th floor. Lots of cars parked in loading zones; in no-parking zones at the ends of streets; packed in three cars to two metered spaces; etc. No vacant metered spaces (meters not enforced at that point, mind you, but using “metered spaces” as a heuristic for “real parking spaces”. I’m sure every business and every patron on Main St. at the time would have told you there wasn’t enough parking.

    * When I said that the DDA has spent two years on the three-site plan, I didn’t mean they’d spent two years collecting parking data. I meant that they’d spent two years (a little less – since June ‘03) working on the overall plan. Given a planning process that long, a challenge of “Oh, it’ll work just as well without this parcel!” just isn’t sufficient. If it could work just as well without that parcel, don’t you think it would have happened that way?

    * As far as I can tell, yes, parking is being considered as a system: there are three parking facilities being discussed in the three-site plan (TSP), aren’t there? And transportation further: the DDA funds the GoPass program (commuter transit passes) and provided part of the funding for The Link. The TSP aims to increase residential and commercial density in downtown, which every planning student (and Jane Jacobs reader) will tell you is part of a comprehensive transportation plan.

    * Why put parking on the periphery of downtown? Partly because that’s the best place for it – parking in the middle of downtown uses up prime real estate. Additionally, I’d note that 1st/William is only 2 blocks from Main St, so it’s closer to the restaurants there than, for example, Ann/Ashley or the Maynard St. garage. “On the periphery” is a less useful measure than the actual distance. Besides, weren’t you at one point arguing for park-and-rides instead, which would be even further out? Care to pick a side and stick to it?

    I’ll reiterate (from a long time back) that I don’t even own a car, and am one of the loudest anti-car zealots around. However, I also know better than to say, “Oh, we don’t need any parking – it’ll be okay.” Okay for Bennigans out on Eisenhower, I suppose, but not for downtown.
       —Murph    May. 17 '05 - 02:42PM    #
  14. murph, here’s my simple point i hope can cut through the rhetoric a bit:
    – decisions to build a $44000/spot parking structure in a floodway deserve analysis.

    1) analysis of parking usage before the dda spends money designing them.

    1a) and i’m not talking analysis like: “I’m sure every business and every patron on Main St. at the time would have told you there wasn’t enough parking.” that isn’t analysis, that’s hearsay.

    2) the city should probably finish the floodway analysis it’s currently paying for. and that FEMA is currently doing. arguably before considering development in this floodway.

    just cause the process takes a long time doesn’t make it any more or less valid. research and data could and might even lead to some surprising conclusions and good design.

    bob
       —bob kuehne    May. 17 '05 - 03:03PM    #
  15. Bob, while I certainly won’t argue one bit for looking at data and the big picture, you aren’t going to get useful hard data regarding parking downtown.

    There are two questions at hand that are directed at two different parking users.

    The first is for the Developers of new residences downtown. The question is, how many spaces do you need and where do they need to be in order for these high density projects to begin construction? In other words, how many monthly spaces are needed for these new projects, and where are they located. The developers already have this information for the most part.

    The second is for the potential customers of downtown businesses. You can count parking spaces until you are blue in face, but the fact remains that there is a perception that it is difficult to park downtown.

    You want hard data? Take a survey for residents of Wash. County and ask, among other things, if parking is factored into a consumers choice as to where to shop/dine. Ask if they think parking is a problem in Ann Arbor. I’ve got $100 that says that a majority thinks that you can’t park in Ann Arbor at night, and I’ve got $1,000 that says that 75% will tell you that you can’t park in Ann Arbor on weekends.

    Going to a parking space and saying “see, here’s a space right here. What’s the problem?” doesn’t work. Neither does “hard data” that shows that we aren’t at 100% usage. The problem comes with a consumer’s perception of the problem.

    ...and this is coming from a businessman with his own lot, and who doesn’t own a car.
       —Todd Leopold    May. 17 '05 - 03:22PM    #
  16. todd,

    if the cosumer’s perception of the problem is that it’s hard to park, then we need to fix that perception, not build unjustified parking structures in floodways.

    correcting perception is a lot more tractable and affordable than building parking structures to correct incorrect perceptions.

    bob

    ideas: take these and run with em:

    let’s inform people about where parking exists, for example, when going to ABC, parking nearer the co-op across huron is always available. if the obvious surface lot at william/ashley is full, how about a system map, showing all the other parkign structures nearby? since we’ve got $22M to play with ($44k/spot), how about an automated system to measure actual parking? i bet i could do that for less than $1000 per parking structure. let’s bulk it up to ‘industrial’ prices, and make it $10k a lot, ship live parking data around to all the lots, with a sign in front of each showing the live number of spots available, etc. i’ll bet i could build and maintain a system for a decade for less than a handful of spots.
       —bob kuehne    May. 17 '05 - 03:34PM    #
  17. Not bad at all, Bob. Some good ideas there. I really like the thought of neon signs that help to advertise where open spaces are. It sounds awful expensive, though. One automatic valve in my brewhouse costs $600 installed.

    But this still doesn’t handle the issues surrounding question #1…the developers needs.
       —Todd Leopold    May. 17 '05 - 03:45PM    #
  18. > One automatic valve in my brewhouse costs $600 installed.

    well, fair enough. but you don’t have to eat off of my parking signs. hehe.
       —bob kuehne    May. 17 '05 - 04:01PM    #
  19. Developers needs? Obviously profit comes to mind. Developers don’t build because of the civic spirit. They build to make a buck. And why are developers needs more important than what’s best for the city as a whole? It seems to this writer that the political masters are in the pockets of developers. The whole stinking process began with the politically moltivated firing of Karen Hart by Hieftje and his hitman Rogert Frazier. Ask any city planner what they think of the current and future planning for the city. It’s not a rosy scenario. The foxes are in the henhouse.

    I’ve yet to hear anyone make a convincing argument as to WHY Ann Arbor NEEDS more housing, density, tall buildings. Is it because the city needs to grow? And what is the driving argument for more growth? To increase the tax base? As if there hasn’t been enough of an increase in local housing (rental, single family) or commercial development in Ann Arbor over the last 20 years. If the city feels a need for increased revenue from taxes maybe they should learn to better manage the tax dollars they already have instead of letting developers make their profits and split.

    The argument about downtown businesses closing due to lack is a tired old myth. Businesses close for lots of reasons. Maybe those businesses that have closed were poorly managed or the result of a poor economy? Why is the lack of parking always the culprit? Let the market decide who the winners and losers are. Let’s not have a publicly funded welfare program that subsidizes developers who want the public to pay for the parking for their condos and apartments, however affordabler they may be. If downtown was meant to have greater density and housing, let the markets bear out the claim.
       —Rick    May. 17 '05 - 05:00PM    #
  20. Oh, Roger Frazier believes and has stated publicly that if Ann Arbor has a city income tax that landlords, whose property taxes will supposedly go down, will lower rents and make housing more affordable. This comes from Mr Frazier, a known sprawler who lives in the Polo Fields in Scio Township. In fact, his housing costs were subsidized by City Council to the tune of a $30,000 housing bonus over and above his salary when he was hired.

    Let’s see, $30k isn’t even the cost of one parking space at First and William. Not much really.
       —Rick    May. 17 '05 - 05:13PM    #
  21. This will be a shocker to some of the regular posters here but I’m totally unimpressed by the Greenways plan pitched by the Friends. Even though I think a greenway can be achieved along the railroad ROW and even though I think we have to be careful about development in the floodplain, I don’t think this plan really accomplishes much.

    The website claims “Establishing the pathway and the three parks will provide the basis for a substantial, full-scale Ann Arbor Greenway.” Really? This is the foundation for what? And where will this greenway go? It just seems like a lot of effort for very little payoff.
       —John Q    May. 17 '05 - 06:15PM    #
  22. I don’t like the idea of a Greenway (any of the proposals) and never have. However, I don’t think the DDA plan is very good either, I think a parking structure in that location is no better than the Ann/Ashley lot and far less effective for most of downtown than other options. I also don’t like how the DDA has presented the plan to the public, how they tie the “affordable housing” in as a threat to anyone who does not support their idea, how they have dismissed questions raised by the public, how they have no qualms about building a parking structure in a floodway, how they have steadfastly refused to make modifications to the plan or consider other options (or tell the public why other options won’t work), and how they justify the parking structure based on the need for more parking, but then advocate a parking structure that does not increase the number of parking spaces downtown despite adding residential and retail.

    It is important to remember too that the DDA is not only funded by parking, but that 2% of all property tax paid in Ann Arbor goes to the DDA. They need to take citizen comments into consideration. The DDA says in their literature that they “invite a continuation of the community dialogue on the topic,” but that is hard to believe when dissenting comments are dismissed by them as “NIMBYism.”
       —Juliew    May. 17 '05 - 07:08PM    #
  23. As the Living Economy Network presenter who was a bit surprised to be on a panel with the Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway, I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents. The panel was on the topic of a Sustainable Economy, and was set up to be a series of presentations. There wasn’t much chance for discussion, though I did get a chance to talk to some folks after the panel.

    I guess what frustrates me after talking with people on all ‘sides’, is that is seems many of the Friends of the Greenway actually have just about the same goals for Ann Arbor as the groups/people supporting the DDA plan. I tried to get that across during the forum, but apparently not with much success. I spent some time after the forum feeling quite frustrated about the fact that something like this is dividing people who I think essentially are on the same side. These are the people who should be working together to counteract the people and developers who really ARE interested in shoring up their own pocketbooks at the expense of Ann Arbor’s livability. There are many of these, but they aren’t the people having this disagreement. Stepping back a bit to play analyst, I think apart from whatever grandstanding might be going on from some parts of the greenway camp, one of the things I think is driving some of this (especially from the citizens who are supporting the Friends) is feeling like they have no power over how downtown will be developed. And if you are feeling powerless, what do you do? Pull out catchy convincing phrases and find opportunities to make your case to sympathetic activists – really, anything you can think of to ‘win’ the argument. I’ve done much the same when I’ve felt powerless. So I don’t have the answer to much of this, but I think it’s important to look at what’s underlying some of this conflict.
       —Lisa    May. 17 '05 - 07:18PM    #
  24. “I’ve yet to hear anyone make a convincing argument as to WHY Ann Arbor NEEDS more housing, density, tall buildings. Is it because the city needs to grow? And what is the driving argument for more growth? To increase the tax base? As if there hasn’t been enough of an increase in local housing (rental, single family) or commercial development in Ann Arbor over the last 20 years.”

    Rick, go here and scroll to the very last article.

    “If downtown was meant to have greater density and housing, let the markets bear out the claim.”

    Tell me more about this free market for land development of which you speak. Sounds intriguing. I’ve been looking to build a corner store in your subdivision. Or apartment housing in Burns Park. Or a Wal-Mart in the Old Fourth Ward.
       —Brandon    May. 17 '05 - 07:40PM    #
  25. Bob,

    just cause the process takes a long time doesn’t make it any more or less valid.

    I agree. And, in fact, I would prefer that a significantly longer time be taken to do this work. The problem is, there are two pressing time constraints:

    1. First/Washington (the first parking structure in the nation!) falling over. If this happens before either we have proven that we don’t need the parking capacity or found a way to put that capacity somewhere else, then it’ll just be rebuilt, killing the whole deal.

    2. A bunch of folks convincing Council to take rash action and tie up land as parks despite various more pressing needs. If the DDA were to back off and go back to spend another year and a half studying the issue, would the Friends quiet down and wait patiently? I doubt it. If the DDA came back and presented evidence that, yes, this really was the best plan, would the Friends say, “Oh, okay, well, now that you’ve studied it, we’re satisfied”? Heck no! And how much money will it cost to perform every study that every one of the Friends want the DDA to do – studies that the Friends will dismiss, saying, “We’re still not satisfied, and look how much more taxpayer money you’ve wasted!”
       —Murph    May. 17 '05 - 11:11PM    #
  26. Rick, regarding density, there are two important reasons:

    1. Central Ann Arbor is desirable. Given the artificially constrained supply created by a political system hostile to development (funny how little development occurs in a city so in the developers’ pockets, isn’t it?), reasonably priced housing is unachievable. Allowing development, intelligently, will allow us to achieve our social equity goals.

    2. A certain amount of population growth will happen in the area no matter what is done. We cannot choose whether or not it will happen, but can only choose how to accommodate it. The best place to put growth is in built-up areas, such as downtown. Downtown Ann Arbor is presently ridiculously sparsely populated – there are only around 2000 people living in the DDA area, which works out to about 5 dwelling units per acre. Practically suburban. Given pressing population growth and an empty downtown, what better place to put it?

    There’s also an interesting intersection between these two points. All the talk about “cool cities” and the “creative class”? About how Michigan is losing its college educated young people faster than any other state? We don’t have any way of retaining these people if all we have to offer them is $300k+ houses in Ann Arbor or reasonably priced houses in Canton. And since Canton’s not going to get any better, the place to address this is in Ann Arbor.
       —Murph    May. 17 '05 - 11:27PM    #
  27. I’m sure that this has already been discussed in detail but I’ll ask anyways – since the 1st and William site seems to be the one that is causing the most friction, was consolidating the parking at First and Washington with a tear-down of the existing structure and building a new one ever considered? I’m thinking of flipping the uses between the two sites although now that I’m looking at the floodplain map, is the entire 1st and William site in the floodplain??
       —John Q    May. 18 '05 - 08:11AM    #
  28. Yes, John, the 1st & Wm. site is entirely in the floodplain. Murph might know for sure if it’s all in the floodway as well. (The floodway is where water is moving during a flood, not just rising and then falling in level, so it’s more dangerous.)

    Concerns over (at least most of) it being in the floodway are that in high flood waters, cars can be moved and structures can cause backups of the water, thereby inundating areas outside of the normal floodplain. Picturing the site, I don’t see how a three-lane street and a railway wouldn’t allow enough water to pass even if the parking structure was there. So a few cars get scooted to the downstream end of the parking structure…

    Which begs the question: which is more of a potential danger, a structure full of cars or the cars parked on First street?

    Maybe someone can explain it. Maybe the concerns are over people who might be in the structure when the flooding occurs. Still…
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 08:55AM    #
  29. “A certain amount of population growth will happen in the area no matter what is done. We cannot choose whether or not it will happen, but can only choose how to accommodate it.”

    Can’t we? Population growth seems to be (one of) the elephant(s) in the room. I understand many of the concerns that come up when it’s examined. Yet I think that we haven’t really faced it sufficiently.

    The county’s development authority encourages people to move here. That, at the least, could be changed.

    Beyond that, I think there are other things we could and should do to raise that issue to the surface. There are many sensitive approaches that are possible. We just have to stop taking it as a given.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 09:00AM    #
  30. “The county’s development authority encourages people to move here. That, at the least, could be changed.

    Beyond that, I think there are other things we could and should do to raise that issue to the surface. There are many sensitive approaches that are possible. We just have to stop taking it as a given.”

    Do you mean this? I hope sincerely, sincerely hope not.

    If we are not encouraging them to move to cities (and Ann Arbor in particular), where are we encouraging people to move? Suburban and rural areas. If we don’t take it more or less as stipulated that city development is better than (a sensitive approach to) suburban development, we are on two different planets.
       —Dale    May. 18 '05 - 09:32AM    #
  31. murph, you seem to be advocating that something has to be done right now. i find that a disingenous argument for three reasons.

    * the dda has been working on this plan for 2 years, according to your estimate. didn’t they have any time to actually study parking in that 2 years? how then, do they decide to build spend $22M taxpayer dollars on a structure in a floodway that they don’t have data to demonstrate a need?

    * given the ongoing city-funded floodway evaluation and FEMAs update of the floodplain, doesn’t it make sense to at least let these complete before developing in the floodway, causing future problems?

    * what’s the rush to develop this particular site? we all agree that it’s the one in question, so let’s take it off the table for now, do some analysis of larger issues, and have a public discussion, rather than a rush to develop these sites, independently of the larger urban context.

    * let’s look at the parking and transportation systemically, including alternate options like statistically-based parking allotment, directional sinage and maps, permanent data gathering facilities in all structures, and putting long-term parking at the edges, and local, short-term parking in the middle. if we have density (and a livable downtown), we should need less parking, not more, in the core, where there’s valuable real-estate to make places livable. that does include parks, with actually greenery.

    your arguments about what the friends will or won’t do in other hypothetical situations are specious. let’s focus on what’s actually going on around town, and discuss the current and strategic issues, not cast aspersions.

    bob
       —bob kuehne    May. 18 '05 - 09:43AM    #
  32. Dale, the planet I’m on is running out of oil and other energy sources. Many of those people who move here will die prematurely in 50 years if we can’t feed them with locally grown/raised foods or heat their homes with local biomass and solar energy.

    My suggestion isn’t a short-sighted “solution”, it’s a future-focused step in the right direction. I wouldn’t want our county to be the only one putting out that message. I’d hope that others followed suit, and states as well. Again, “sensitive approaches”, not fences and border guards.

    “Sorry folks, we won’t be able to feed you in the future. You might want to reconsider that second or third child….” That’s where I’m going with this.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 09:48AM    #
  33. “If we are not encouraging them to move to cities (and Ann Arbor in particular), where are we encouraging people to move?”

    Dale, I think this has to be kept in the context of the reality that in the Metro Detroit area, almost none of the growth that is occuring is due to population increases. It’s almost entirely due to people moving from one place to another. A big frustration for many people is that the ill-effects of sprawl are largely caused by people moving further and further out in the effort (ironically) to escape the effects of sprawl. That doesn’t change the reality that you have to deal with that movement but it does highlight why some people feel the need to accomodate more population growth is missing the bigger picture.
       —John Q    May. 18 '05 - 09:48AM    #
  34. Dale, also, by “here” I meant Washtenaw County, not Ann Arbor. The Washtenaw Development Council or whatever it’s called doesn’t make a distinction between city and township when it’s recruiting new residents. My suggestion was in no way intended to keep people from moving into the city. (Though I’m not sure where the best place to live will be in 50 years.)
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 09:52AM    #
  35. “if we have density (and a livable downtown), we should need less parking, not more, in the core, where there’s valuable real-estate to make places livable. that does include parks, with actually greenery.”

    This is wrong. People come downtown from out of town and need parking. Increasing downtown residential density (and absolute population) does not decrease this. In fact, it will INCREASE the need for parking. Have you ever noticed how larger cities than Ann Arbor have MORE and LARGER parking facilities?

    I think several of your ideas for managing parking are good, particularly in tracking (though the “FULL” signs have always been enough for me), and I hope you will address them to the DDA. However, most of your criticisms seem to be outside the purview of the DDA. They were given a job and did it. The current parking structure is not getting any more structurally sound.
       —Dale    May. 18 '05 - 09:52AM    #
  36. The First and William site is entirely in the floodway and so it is illegal by federal law to put any residences at that site. The only possible built uses are for parking or something like the new Y (also built in the floodway) which does not have any living space and is placed on stilts with about half the site undeveloped. The other two sites being considered by the Friends as parks are part floodplain and part floodway. However, the FEMA maps are being redrawn and because they take impermeable surfaces into consideration, it is expected that the floodway area will be greatly increased, thus pushing most of the other two sites fully into floodway (as well as a chunk of the Old West Side). Steve, your point is good though—I wonder if they could do artist lofts on about half of the First and William site with greenway on the rest. The city could open up a competition for UM students to design the artist space, now that would be cool.

    I’m not going to cry for the poor developers. Various developers have owned the open lots on Huron for years and are just waiting to see who blinks first (Will Bill Martin build his conference center? Will Dahlmann build another hotel?). Any one of them could have built something fairly profitable years ago, but they chose not to because they are waiting for the big score.

    I think there have been a lot of really good ideas come out of discussions here on ArborUpdate and in some of the open meetings. However, I don’t see the DDA making any concessions on their plan or even saying that there might be other options. I know the process has gone on for a long time, but it is now that people are really being creative and contributing. Shouldn’t we as a city take advantage of this?
       —Juliew    May. 18 '05 - 09:57AM    #
  37. Good point, John. And yet, our (state, national, global) population is TOO HIGH already, and it is still growing. See dieoff.org for the very likely future we face.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 09:58AM    #
  38. “Any one of them could have built something fairly profitable years ago, but they chose not to because they are waiting for the big score. ”

    And now with cheap oil (and steel and concrete) behind us and China sucking ever-harder on the straw, they’ve missed the boat. The big scores are only going to get smaller.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 10:03AM    #
  39. Steve—ok, I misunderstood you. You are saying that Washtenaw Co. should not be attracting people, is that right? I disagree.

    Where do you think people should be moving? As a general rule, I am satisfied with movement trends from the periphery towards urban cores in established cities (minimizing greenfield development). Washtenaw, Wayne, Kalamazoo: as far as I am concerned, urban development in all of these counties is good because they have cities that can/should be able to handle the populations.
       —Dale    May. 18 '05 - 10:03AM    #
  40. dale,

    yes, large cities frequently have parking, but have you noticed that they also require landlords to take on the cost of that? they reap the benefits of rent, location, and traffic (pedestrian and vehicular), and so must be able to accomodate those needs. even award-winning buildings do this:

    http://tinyurl.com/ax4k6

    nobody’s advocating no parking for downtown, but a more sensible arrangement than the argument ‘well, parking’s hard, therefore we need to build more parking’. that just won’t cut it in an era where budgets are tight, and the tax burden is increasingly being shifted away from corporate entities onto citizens.

    good for the dda, doing the job they were asked, i suppose that’s something we should be happy about. but i don’t think they came up with a good solution, nor do i think they were tasked with a good problem to solve. 3 sites considered, but not large adjacent and more central sites (ashley/huron, library lot, etc). nor was parking considered in a larger context. these are problems to be addressed, not to be glossed over in some push by the dda and council to develop these sites.

    i’m personally encouraged that there’s a lot of vocal discussion (here at least) about these issues. my hope is that we can actually address some, instead of just saying ‘well, plans were made’, and moving on. let’s actually do something strategic here, rather than just tactically address these sites, and not think of the larger civic context.

    bob
       —bob kuehne    May. 18 '05 - 10:05AM    #
  41. “You are saying that Washtenaw Co. should not be attracting people, is that right? I disagree. ”

    Yup, that’s what I was saying. Why do you disagree?

    Where do I think people should move? That wasn’t my focus, but the answer (right now) is to where the existing infrastructure is. Detroit comes to mind. Ypsi.

    In thirty years, I really don’t know what the proper balance will be between urban and rural. In any case, I don’t think new houses should be built on existing farmland, and that’s what’s happening here and elsewhere, in part because our county government is saying “Come on in!”

    Bob, I found the specifics and perspective in your last post constructive. Keep talking overall strategy and Murph might come around (and hear you better.)
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 11:27AM    #
  42. Wait, I’m the one saying, “Ann Arbor has more (and more pressing) needs than merely parkland, especially in the context of the Washtenaw and Detroit region,” and Bob’s the one with the strategic perspective that I should be brought around to? Interesting.

    “Strategically”, there are a lot of interesting questions here, such as:

    * How do we maximize the utilization of existing infrastructure, in order to minimize governmental costs and also minimize greenfield development?

    * Considering that the bulk of the underused capacity is in Detroit and other places that people have been slowly evacuating for 40 years, how do we reverse those trends?

    * How do we prop up Michigan’s economy enough to allow us to maintain even the existing infrastructure, let alone build new?

    * How do we change the state and federal tax codes in order to encourage beneficial behaviors, rather than positive reinforcement cycles of sprawl and urban decay?

    Steve, these are all issues I’ve got in mind, but I’m honestly not too hopeful about the ability of any Ann Arbor civic body to address any of these issues at a high level. Given a lack of control over land use in surrounding townships; a minority voice on the County Commission; a miniscule voice on the State level; a general lack of sympathy from the Uticas, Cantons, and Birminghams of the state; the inability for the Detroits, Hamtramcks and Ypsis of the state to help us out much; and the general societal trends and beliefs of the last several decades, all of these “strategic” questions are going to take us . . . an awfully long time to do anything about. Personally, I don’t think that all within-Ann Arbor questions should be set aside until the higher-level strategy is totally mapped out. We’ve got to keep ourselves afloat long enough to see things get better, and floating high enough to free up resources for working on the larger issues, and, sometimes, you have to make tactical moves before the whole strategy is known.

    Do I think the DDA plan is perfect? Of course not. Does the DDA think the DDA plan is perfect? No – they haven’t even worked out the final details. Think back to the first presentation Rene Greff made to the Council, back in March, when it was explicitly stated that the Three-Site Plan was not a final site plan, that the DDA was not asking for final approval on anything, that a “yes” resolution at this time would not mean that shovels would be in the ground tomorrow.

    What the DDA was/is asking for, as I understood it, was the Council to say, “This is generally a good idea, and is worth the investment of time and money that a final plan and design would require.”

    Does that sound like an unreasonable request to you?
       —Murph.    May. 18 '05 - 11:51AM    #
  43. In general, I suppose I’m curious where exactly the resources are supposed to come from in order to exhaustively study parking, transportation, and land use on every site in Ann Arbor at a very specific level, and to do so fast enough that the results are still relevant by the time the study is finished.

    Bob and Steve, either you have a more optimistic view of the City’s budget situation or a more optimistic idea of the planning process than I do. All I can say is, there’s a reason that Rational Planning (study all possible alternatives, exhaustively, in order to pick the absolute best one) went out of style decades ago – practitioners realized that it just wasn’t feasible.
       —Murph.    May. 18 '05 - 11:55AM    #
  44. John Q said: I am sure that this has already been discussed in detail but I will ask anyways – since the 1st and William site seems to be the one that is causing the most friction, was consolidating the parking at First and Washington with a tear-down of the existing structure and building a new one ever considered?

    Yes, it was – sort of. The DDA put out an RFP for just such a project a while back – 3 years ago, maybe? – for a private developer to come in and rebuild the First & Washington parking structure plus affordable and market-rate housing. They were open to build relatively tall at that site too, since you can’t go down very much due to a high water table. However that RFP didn’t include replacement parking for the First & William site. (I worked on a response to that RFP, which is how I know about it.)

    The DDA found a developer, started working with them, and the whole thing fell apart due to lack of financing and irreconcilable differences, last I heard. It was disappointing.
       —KGS    May. 18 '05 - 12:09PM    #
  45. Oh, Murph, you theoretical planner, you, with your Capital Letters and your vision for the city that doesn’t flail from freewheeling global doomsday to paralysis by analysis—when will you ever come around?
       —Dale    May. 18 '05 - 12:11PM    #
  46. “All I can say is, there’s a reason that Rational Planning (study all possible alternatives, exhaustively, in order to pick the absolute best one) went out of style decades ago – practitioners realized that it just wasn’t feasible.”

    It’s rather annoying that we always ditch the planning dept. when times are tough. Boulder did the same thing, now they too only have a skeleton crew “planning” for the short term (i.e. approving site plans). The Planning Dept. is more important than the Police Chief. Why? Because a good planner can help to provide the tax base that pays for things like Police Chiefs.

    The irony, of course, is that we are short of money because we chose not to follow planners advice (as Boulder did), so now we can no longer afford to plan….right when citizens have finally understood that we need to plan for the long term.

    What’s really absurd is that a plain old parking garage has the entire city up in arms. Doesn’t anyone else find this strange?

    What would be interesting, Murph, would be to look at the cities that pro-greenway advocates have counted parks in, and count how many parking garages/spaces they have.
       —Todd Leopold    May. 18 '05 - 12:12PM    #
  47. Regarding the demand for parking downtown…

    There are huge waiting lists for monthly parking passes in all of the parking structures, as far as I know. In some cases, the wait can be months or even years for the people on that list. I imagine the DDA has numbers on this.

    I once heard a presentation from Jonathan Levine, a prof at the UM Planning school, about the parking downtown. He pointed out that the problem with the mothly parking passes is that the pass owner pays one fee for the entire month, whether they use the parking spot or not. This acts as an incentive to drive your car in and use the spot you pay for, since you’ll have to pay for it anyway.

    (Incidentally, I think this is part of why the parking structures look empty; the monthly parking passes aren’t used all the time, but the structures have to be built to accomodate all of the passes + a certain amount of hourly visitors. I bet it’s a management issue more than anything)

    He recommended changing the process so that you only pay for the amount of parking you actually use. Essentially you have a monthly parking pass, but you are assessed for just the amount of time that you pass through the gates. I think that makes managing the structures a little more difficult, but it would disuade people from driving in to some extent. And that’s what we want to encourage, right?
       —KGS    May. 18 '05 - 12:17PM    #
  48. KGS,

    One of the planning students who just-graduated-pending-project-completion (and who is interning for getDowntown) is doing his master’s project on incremental parking cash-outs: if a downtown employee holding a parking permit chooses not to drive to work on a given day (telecommuting, vacation, sick day, carpooling, nice enough day to bike, whatever), how do you credit that permitholder for not using the permit and also notify the system that it should allow one more hourly user into the parking facility. Last I talked to him about this (a month ago), he was still looking at some pretty tough questions on the implementation side of this.

    It might be easier (possible) to do on a corporate level: a bunch of large landlords downtown buy blocks of permits to provide to business tenants, who provide them to employees. If the office space is vacant for a month, those permits could be temporarily vacated, and that many more spaces opened to hourly parking.

    This would all, of course, work much better at the attended lots than at, say, 1st/William.
       —Murph.    May. 18 '05 - 12:32PM    #
  49. (Which is, of course, part of the problem with all of these brilliant ideas. Even something so simple as “let people choose not to use their parking permit and get credited for it” is a half-time job for 5-6 months for a grad student to research and design, let alone implement. Which brings me back to the question, “where the heck do the resources come from to comprehensively plan absolutely everything simultaneously and in a timely fashion?”)
       —Murph.    May. 18 '05 - 12:35PM    #
  50. The University has what are known as “hunting permits” rather than guaranteed spots for parking. You buy a permit and you get the right to try to find a spot in a structure, but no guarantee. This works out for the most part. The city, on the other hand, guarantees that you have a spot. So if you don’t park, there will be an empty space in your designated parking structure. The city monthly permits are also much more expensive than the U. Implementing a “hunting permit” sort of system wouldn’t cost much and although people would be upset at the idea, if you lowered the monthly parking rates, it would probably compensate. Some companies/buildings lease blocks of spaces in the structures. One North Main has 130 spots in the Ann-Ashley parking structure for their tenants, but they have a lot of available space so those spots have sat empty for literally years. They are paid for, so the City doesn’t care from that standpoint, but they aren’t of much use.

    Murph, if, as you say, the DDA is just asking for general approval on the three-site plan, I would say that they got pretty good feedback that people aren’t happy about it for many reasons. I think now is the time for them to go back to the drawing board and look at other options. What I see though is that the DDA is going to take this to the wire and submit this plan only to City Council in spite of the feedback they have gotten. If City Council says no, then it gets farther behind. Why not do some additional options now or even some comparisons rather than give the One True Plan? Nothing fancy, no plans or drawings even, but just some very basic options to see how people react?
       —Juliew    May. 18 '05 - 01:31PM    #
  51. It doesn’t look like the entire site at First & William is in the floodway by this map (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~copyrght/image/solstice/sum01/imap4/index.html), but it’s darn close. Close enough that I, personally, would not be for building anything in it. I’d hoped it was otherwise, that there was some portion of the site that is in the floodplain – which is marginally better – but it isn’t. It has never made sense to me to build anything in a floodway; why incur the risk financially, and make such an environmentally poor decision?

    Problem is, the city has no policy, no mention in ANY master plan, of the idea of not building in the floodway. Should we create a city ordinance that permits no building in the floodway? while this makes sense to me, another problem arises in that such a policy results in a takings. It would mean that all property in a floodway becomes worthless by the signing of that ordinance – at which point the city (& every other landowner with property in one!) is out a huge amount of money because they can’t develop their own property. This is hardly a good solution when the city is already so financially strapped.

    So what do we do with this property? can the Friends scrape together enough money to offer even half of what the property is worth? Is making the property a park the only solution here? The city is in a bind over this, no doubt about it.
       —KGS    May. 18 '05 - 01:58PM    #
  52. “Close enough that I, personally, would not be for building anything in it. ... It has never made sense to me to build anything in a floodway; why incur the risk financially, and make such an environmentally poor decision?”

    KGS, what specifically is/are your concern/s with building in the floodway at that location? And what difference do you see between the environmental impact of the proposed structure (with soil cleanup and drain pipe replacement) and some other use? If you have an environmentally preferable use in mind, you could share that, too.

    I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but I think it will help us all to get a little more specific about these kinds of things. Of course, anyone else is welcome to answer.

    I don’t understand why the greenway proponents haven’t been more specific about such things.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 02:37PM    #
  53. “where the heck do the resources come from to comprehensively plan absolutely everything simultaneously and in a timely fashion?”

    Murph, “absolutely everything” would of course be out of the question. Is more out of the question? Seems to be. Why? Resources? I haven’t heard that as a reason. (Doesn’t mean it isn’t, and of course they’re a major factor.)

    I think Bob is entitled to say “I want more of the downtown to be looked at than just what city council decided was relevant/important/urgent.” Why try to convince him that’s not possible rather than saying, “Thanks for your perspective, I’ll consider that,” and then truly considering it?

    What I was alluding to that you might come around to was seeing Bob’s perspective rather than defending yours against it. You’re generally pretty open, but we all do this out of habit to some extent. Like the way Dale belittled it. It’s a form of groupthink (one group—planning students, business owners, homeowners, adults, men, whoever—knows better than another.) Our competitive nature often gets in the way of community.

    One concern I’ve had with working on city commissions is the tendency of some citizen members to anticipate what council will likely approve, or what staff want to be done, etc., and then limiting their vision. We shouldn’t be trying to do council’s job for them. Our job (responsibility) as citizens is to speak our minds respectfully and constructively and then vote them out if they don’t pay attention or, in some cases, don’t make good decisions in spite of our selfish input. Even that can be lessened by improving communication and info exchange both ways.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 02:59PM    #
  54. To followup on Bob’s notion of looking at more of the downtown, here’s an observation. City council asked the DDA to look at the three sites in question. They also asked for proposals for the old Y site. Some respondents to that request offered proposals that included, or suggested including, more parcels, like the library lot.

    What’s the reason for not looking at all these downtown sites (within just several blocks of each other) together at this point? How much more time and other resources would it take? Might it be worth it? Try to look at it objectively (think research project, not thesis defense) if not enthusiastically. :-)
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 03:11PM    #
  55. “Like the way Dale belittled it.”

    When I said this?

    “I think several of your ideas for managing parking are good, particularly in tracking (though the ‘FULL’ signs have always been enough for me), and I hope you will address them to the DDA. However, most of your criticisms seem to be outside the purview of the DDA.”

    or this:

    “This is wrong. People come downtown from out of town and need parking. Increasing downtown residential density (and absolute population) does not decrease this. In fact, it will INCREASE the need for parking.”

    Because it reads like disagreement to me.
       —Dale    May. 18 '05 - 03:36PM    #
  56. My preferences on uses for the 1st & William site are pretty much in this preference: (1) greenway or park (flood mitigation); (2) a parking lot; (3) a parking structure (worse than a pkg. lot b/c it takes up volume in the floodway); and (4) retail or other mixed use. I much prefer option 1 over 2, and likewise much prefer option 2 over 3, etc. But no matter what use ends up on the site, we ought to clean the soil and replace the drain pipe.

    My problems with building in the floodway – ANY floodway of ANY creek or river – are as follows:
    * Building in the floodway is expensive, because you have to design the buildings to withstand a flood.
    * The cost of insuring these buildings is very high, and insurance is required by FEMA.
    * Buildings in the floodway block the passage of water when there is a flood, creating dams and other dangerous conditions for anyone caught in them.
    * Buildings in the floodway decrease the amount of permeable soil and increase the storage needed by a flood, so the floodway grows well beyond its original boundary.
    * Buildings that are regularly occupied, like retail and office, present a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of those users in case of a flood.

    I think building in the floodway is a bad idea because, frankly, it costs a lot more money than building the same building on higher ground. That money, whether by a city or by a private developer, could go to much better uses. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    What I’m having difficulty reconciling is the belief that floodways are bad places to build versus the financial repercussions of not building in the floodway at all. I don’t have any other answers, and hope that others might have better ideas – hence raising the point here.
       —KGS    May. 18 '05 - 04:19PM    #
  57. Well, Steve, I can tell you that the group reviewing the Y Site RFP has limited the selection to only those proposals that included the Y site and the AATA site – eliminating, for example, the proposal that included the Palio’s Lot, the 4th/Washington parking structure, and the Library Lot, because those were outside of the scope of what had been asked for. Given that kind of context, it’s not unreasonable for the DDA to limit their scope to what they were asked for.

    It’s a slightly different circumstance, since the DDA is just planning, whereas part of the rationale for eliminating the broader Y proposals, I gather, is that, in offering public sites to private developers, they would have to offer the same sites to all of them. Yes, I think a broader Main Street District Master Planning process would be a good thing to have. Given the time constraints mentioned above (1st/Washington falling over and the City Yards being vacated in a year) when compared to the 6 years and counting of the Northeast Area Plan (which isn’t even as detailed as we are talking here), and the limited resources of the DDA (only two full-time employees), I don’t blame them for not doing a full blown area plan.

    Now, I think Julie is probably closest to the pragmatic official approach to take here. Given that the DDA is asking the City to say, “Is this worth further study and expenditure?” the answer is clearly “yes”, accompanied by some nice clear feedback as to what exactly the City will expect out of further study. The answer is clearly not, “Yes, we’re ready to put shovel to earth tomorrow,” and it is also clearly not, “No, this whole endeavor is a waste of time; just forget about it.” Requests for further study would, of course, have to be limited to that which can be performed before 1st/Washington falls over (requiring action, regardless of how close to done a plan is), and by the resources available. Considering that the DDA just bailed out the City to the tune of $10m, I’d expect that a few resources – staff time and whatnot – would have to be put under the DDA’s command in order to do an intensive large-scale plan.

    (Of course, I may just be saying that because, if the City makes a large request for further work, I may be able to get my paws dirty and actually work directly on the TSP. . .)
       —Murph    May. 18 '05 - 04:50PM    #
  58. What is this city-funded floodway evaluation I see mentioned? Last I heard there was no such animal for Allen’s Creek (much to the chagrin of the ACWG). Is FEMA updating the floodway maps of the Allen Creek?

    I bring this up because I remember that being a big issue for the homeless shelter back in… what was it, 1999? 2000? .. that the FEMA maps hadn’t been updated in so long they needed to guess where the floodway line was. I’d be very keen to hear more info on this.

    Point is, if the FEMA maps weren’t updated 5 years ago, and they still aren’t now, how long are we willing to wait until they are updated??
       —KGS    May. 18 '05 - 04:50PM    #
  59. Yes, KGS, the FEMA maps are currently being updated for Allen’s Creek. I might be able to get some more information, but don’t know any expected release dates. By all accounts, it is going to be a wake-up call for the city and a lot of home and business owners in the new Allen’s Creek floodway and floodplain.
       —Juliew    May. 18 '05 - 05:02PM    #
  60. Oh good! I’m glad to hear they’re updating the maps – it’s long overdue. Now if only they could finish them in the next year or so, we might have a chance at talking to the DDA, the Friends of the Greenway, and landowners more constructively about what to do with the floodway/floodplain of the Allen’s Creek.
       —KGS    May. 18 '05 - 05:07PM    #
  61. Dale, sorry, I thought it was obvious. When you said this:

    “Oh, Murph, you theoretical planner, you, with your Capital Letters and your vision for the city that doesn’t flail from freewheeling global doomsday to paralysis by analysis—when will you ever come around?”

    Maybe I misinterpreted it.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 09:22PM    #
  62. ”... because those were outside of the scope of what had been asked for.”

    Murph,

    I agree that the DDA was only acting on the directive from council. I think that’s where the limitation stems from, as the quote above, regarding the old Y site points out.

    I’m not arguing that council should request a shift from a three-site plan to a six- or eight-site plan. (Still a far cry from a “full blown area plan”, yes?) It may be too late; it may not make sense. But let’s decide that it doesn’t make sense because we (or council, or someone) considered it openly. I suspect you get my point by now.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 09:43PM    #
  63. KGS (or anyone), I wonder if parking structures really do cost more to build in a floodway or cost more to insure there. If so, how much more? (Looking for more specifics.) Seems like they’d be sufficiently sturdy to withstand a foot of moving water, maybe more. ... Maybe not.

    I actually asked the drain commissioner at the Women’s Progressive Activists(?) forum a few weeks back (which Murph and Julie also attended) if there’d be much difference in flood mitigation between a parking structure and a park. She indicated that it would be negligible (my word.) So I’m still wondering if there’s a specific use for that site that would make a (greater-than-negligible) positive environmental impact.

    One more thought on flooding: So when we experience a thirty-year or even a hundred-year flood, what will the difference be for neighboring homes, for example, if the floodplain is raised by six inches or the floodway is partially blocked? How many more houses will get water in their basement? How much higher will the water be in the basements that would get wet anyway? Maybe those questions can’t be answered until the FEMA study is complete, but maybe we know enough to have a good idea what the answers are.

    Sorry to hog the thread.
       —Steve Bean    May. 18 '05 - 10:01PM    #
  64. Steve, if FEMA says any piece of your property is part of the floodplain or floodway, you are required to carry flood insurance from the government, which is very expensive. If you are in the floodway and make a claim for more than 50% of the house value, you are required to either move the house or raise it above floodway level. In addition, you are restricted from adding on to or making various changes to your house if it is in the floodway. I know a couple on the OWS who wanted to put a small addition on their house, but it was rejected because it was a change to a residential building in a floodway.
       —Juliew    May. 18 '05 - 10:25PM    #
  65. Steve—that was just a sort of joke to Murph for using the term Rational Planning (demonstrating how theory and practice are related) like an anonymous poster criticizing planning students on AAiO for being all theory and no knowledge. Though I did try to relate it to this thread.
       —Dale    May. 18 '05 - 11:06PM    #
  66. Steve, I think the concern with building a parking structure (or any structure) in the floodway is that it would create a bottleneck and prevent water from flowing through, which would propogate upstream and widen the floodplain upstream by preventing water from draining away. It seems to me that architectural creativity should be able to minimize this effect, especially in a parking structure, where you don’t need to worry about keeping out the cold or whatever; parking decks are already relatively horizontally porous, as buildings go, so it seems like this could be overcome – assuming we went in with an awareness that it needed to be overcome.

    I also am curious to see the new floodplain maps come out, since my new house is only a block out of the old floodplain, and it’s a pretty flat street.
       —Murph    May. 18 '05 - 11:23PM    #
  67. “The irony, of course, is that we are short of money because we chose not to follow planners advice (as Boulder did), so now we can no longer afford to plan…”

    I hate to keep beating the drum on this, but that is just not true.

    The city of Ann Arbor is short on money because of Proposal A, which permanently capped tax assessments on corporate owned property (and temporarily on property owned in the name of specific human beings).

    Briarwood Mall (and practically every other multimillion dollar property in Michigan) will never be reassessed again unless the law is changed, which is politically impossible.

    Many of the functions that are possible for Ann Arbor to afford now will become imposible within five years. And it’s happening that slowly only because of the city’s affluence and growth. Places like Detroit and Hamtramck are on the brink of bankruptcy, and there is no fiscal hope for them at all.

    The abandonment of city services is certainly going to drive tremendously more sprawl as residents give up and move to lower density settings where the lack of services has less impact.

    The lights are going out in city government offices all over the state, and very few voters care about this unless it directly impacts them.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    May. 19 '05 - 12:05AM    #
  68. Larry, just because Headlee and Proposal A have clipped the wings of cities doesn’t mean nothing else matters – there are still “good, given Prop A” and “poor, given Prop A” scenarios that can be imagined. At this point, though, I think that hardly matters.

    Meanwhile, you’re painting a pretty depressing picture again; what can be done to keep the rest of Michigan’s cities from going the rest of the way under?
       —Murph    May. 19 '05 - 08:01AM    #
  69. Murph, I was responding to the contention that Ann Arbor’s budget crisis was brought about by downtown development policies.

    Compared to all the other older cities in the state, Ann Arbor has a successful downtown, both from an economic activity standpoint and a tax revenue standpoint. I’m not saying we should sit back and be satisfied with what we have—far from it! But blaming lack of central business district development for our budget shortfall seems misplaced to me.

    Second, as important as downtown may be, it’s not the majority of the city’s overall tax base. There’s a lot going on in the other 24 square miles, and again, it’s a far brighter picture economically than comparable cities around the state. Here, the biggest suburban shopping mall is actually inside the city limits.

    I did not say that “nothing else matters,” but public resources ARE being strangled. Planning depatments are not going to be a high priority as cities are forced to cut deeply into their services. Stupid in the abstract, sure, but you don’t expect a drowning man to think about saving for retirement.

    I could probably come up with a ballot initiative to help cities which would have a chance of passing. Say, expand the homestead exemption while uncapping all nonresidential properties, or the portion of value over $1 million, or properties owned by other than living humans.

    But writing, defending, circulating and passing a tax initiative would take the resources of somebody like George Soros. And decluttering the property tax code is apparently not a feasible option—all we can do is fight complication with more complication. And the more complicated it is, the less likely it is to pass.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    May. 19 '05 - 10:02AM    #
  70. what’s interesting to me about proposal a is that it helps frame why there’s such a push for development in downtown ann arbor.

    since there’s no new tax revenue (and therefore, because of inflation, a decreasing tax base) in the core of the city, the only time property values and taxes are reassessed are when buildings change hands. however, since buildings are usually corporate-owned assets, this doesn’t happen. the corporation is sold (or interest in it trasnferred to another party), and so the building is still legally owned by the same ‘individual’. another example of a regressive tax, transferring burden onto citizens (who move, and with each sale have that property’s tax burden increased) and a payout to developers.

    so to get new income in the system, new sites must be developed, to add tax revenue back into the system. this is obviously only a temporary measure, since once this development happens, it’s now squarely in the same camp as the rest of the properties. so there’s another push for development of new parcels.

    none of this obviates the need for density or more livable urban areas, but it does frame why there’s such a push to develop underutilized sites.

    so, on to ideas, and proposals:

    in my estimation, this is a stop-gap measure, and one reason why selling properties to developers is such a bad idea. the city trades some short-term revenue for a long-term problem. why can’t cities lease sites to developers, at some reasonable long-term rate? say a 50-year lease on a site? get some inflation-adjusted ongoing revenue back into the game, rather than just relying on property tax.
       —bob kuehne    May. 19 '05 - 10:11AM    #
  71. According to the Municipal League, even the process of changing ownership and “uncapping” properties isn’t helping the bottom line for Cities:

    “The combination of treating uncapped values as growth on existing property with limiting individual property taxable value growth to the rate of inflation produces a double reduction that was never intended by the voters on Proposal A in 1994. Further, the elimination of Headlee roll ups takes away a self correcting tool that was historically viewed as part of the Headlee formula until 1994. As a result, millage capacity is being effectively eliminated.”

    Related links:

    System Failure: Michigan’s Broken Municipal Finance Model
    http://www.mml.org/pdf/plante_moran_report.pdf

    Commercial Property Tax – Busting the Myths!
    http://mml.org/whatsnew/commercial_property.htm
       —John Q    May. 19 '05 - 10:43AM    #
  72. Hey Larry, I’m thinking this is the kind of thing I’d like to ask some friendly state legislators about (e.g., Alma Wheeler Smith) to see what they think it’d take to pull something like that off. It seems like, if you could get mayors and councils of most Michigan cities behind something like that you’d have a fighting chance… though the Mackinac Center types, big money and politically saavy township pols would probably kill it, eh?
       —Scott    May. 19 '05 - 10:49AM    #
  73. “But blaming lack of central business district development for our budget shortfall seems misplaced to me.”

    Wait a minute Larry, are you trying to say that a new $20 million dollar building wouldn’t increase the tax base in Ann Arbor?

    That can’t be what you are saying.

    You did a great job in explaining Proposal A before, but to simply say that garnering new tax revenue from new construction in Ann Arbor wouldn’t help to balance the budget simply isn’t true…..unless my math is wrong somewhere.
       —Todd Leopold    May. 19 '05 - 10:50AM    #
  74. “Wait a minute Larry, are you trying to say that a new $20 million dollar building wouldn’t increase the tax base in Ann Arbor?”

    Increasing the tax base doesn’t equal balancing the budget. Contrary to public opinion, adding new tax base doesn’t translate into much in new tax revenue. Just run the numbers:

    $20 million Market Value / 2
    = $10 million taxable value / 1000
    = $10,000 in new revenue per mill * 16.9 mills (City tax rate)
    = $169,000 in new revenue for the city

    But that amount has to be apportioned per the millages:

    http://www.ci.ann-arbor.mi.us/FinancialAdminServices/Assessor’s/homerates.html#h03-04

    So the $20 million building generates about $60,000 in new revenue for general city services. It all helps but that’s not going to balance your budget. You need a lot of $20 million dollar buildings and no major offset in expenses (more police, fire, etc.) to balance your budget.
       —John Q    May. 19 '05 - 11:01AM    #
  75. And, if that $20m development is downtown, that $169k will be captured by the DDA, and will therefore be used for downtown-specific uses, rather than into the general City coffers, where its use is geographically unrestricted. Which is yet another reason to consider peripheral development clusters, like turning Lower Town, (far) South State street, and the Stadium/Washtenaw area into denser, mixed-use, walkable places. Not everything has to go downtown in order to be done well.
       —Murph    May. 19 '05 - 11:20AM    #
  76. “So the $20 million building generates about $60,000 in new revenue for general city services. It all helps but that’s not going to balance your budget. You need a lot of $20 million dollar buildings and no major offset in expenses (more police, fire, etc.) to balance your budget.”

    worse yet, next year, only that same $60k is available, and the year after, and the year after. so that with a 3% inflation rate, 10 years from now, that development only provides $44k in present dollars.

    in essence, no amount of new development today will balance the budget sustainably. new development will temporarily increase tax revenue, but that erodes quickly, and new development revenue today serves to offset some of the accruing inflation-erosion in the current downtown tax-base.
       —bob kuehne    May. 19 '05 - 11:27AM    #
  77. While most of the discussion here focuses on the impact on cities, the same forces are at work in every local government in Michigan. Older, urban Townships (Redford, Clinton, etc.) are getting pinched just as hard by these dynamics as cities like Ann Arbor, Ypsi., etc.
       —John Q    May. 19 '05 - 12:04PM    #
  78. John Q –

    First, it seems to me you are making a few assumptions in your calculations and/or negelecting a great deal of tax revenues or fees:

    1) Assessed Value = 50% of “market value”. In new sales, is this really the case?

    2) What about the other 45 mills that goes to the county and school district? That doesn’t have an effect on the city funding, or state grant programs?

    3)Construction fees?

    4)One-time and on-going licensing or permitting fees?

    5)Water and sewer connection fees?

    6)Water, stormwater, and trash pick-up charges?

    7) Personal property tax on all of the equipment that goes into the building?

    8) Sales tax. Right now it goes to the state, see #2. People have talked about it instituting a city sales tax.

    9) City Employment tax. Not applicable now, but in the future?

    10) Economic “spillover” benefits from the people that build the building, live and/or work in the building and the tax revenue they generate.

    $169k/yr significantly understates both city revenues and the economic impact that building and the operations within would have on the city.

    But setting all of this aside, your argument that proposal A makes the contribution from property tax dwindle over time makes it more important to have new construction, not less important.

    And yeah, the other cities are getting pinched in Michigan. The difference between Ypsi and Ann Arbor is that in Ypsi no one seems to want to build in those downtown, and in Ann Arbor developers have been begging to build downtown…and we say “no thanks”. My point is that there is no need for us to be in the same situation that less fortunate cities in Michigan seem to find themselves in…...
       —Todd Leopold    May. 19 '05 - 12:49PM    #
  79. “But setting all of this aside, your argument that proposal A makes the contribution from property tax dwindle over time makes it more important to have new construction, not less important.”

    i don’t think you’re advocating that development is necessary just because we need the tax revenue. but that’s what i understand the above sentence to mean.

    a lot of what’s been proposed early on in this thread is about how to grow ann arbor smartly, because there’s a need, desire, or choice to make the urban core more dense. we don’t want to develop rashly just because it provides a short-term cash influx. that doesn’t solve the long-term problems. it’s not a sustainable answer to revenue, nor does it necessarily create a more livable city.

    i think a better answer is to solve the problems proposotion A creates in the first place. let’s fix the legislation rather than trying to work around it, or other bad legislation. prop A works as an incentive to cities to sell/develop their land, not to responsibly and coherently develop vibrant ubran centers.
       —bob kuehne    May. 19 '05 - 01:22PM    #
  80. Todd, a few answers:

    (1) If the tax assessment is more than 50% of “true cash value”, the property owner can appeal to reduce it to that level. In other words, 50% is the starting point, and the cap forces it down from there.

    Before Proposal A, it was required that ALL non-exempt real estate be assessed at 50% of true cash value. That is now the maximum instead of the standard.

    (2) The other mills generally go to other taxing authorities, like the county and the community college, which have their own budget issues.

    (3-4) Building permit fees are supposed to cover the costs of inspection and the like, not to generate added revenue for the city.

    (5-6) Likewise, it would be an abuse of water and sewer fees, etc., to generate revenue above the cost of providing the applicable service.

    (7) Personal property tax is definitely a plus for the city, but it is very expensive to collect compared to other revenue sources. Unfortunately because cities tend to be a lot more aggressive about personal property tax collection than townships, this creates an unintentional sprawl incentive.

    (8) Any sales tax beyond 6% would require amending the state constitution. Normally it is thought to be a plus (for business climate, overhead, etc.) that Michigan’s sales tax is at a single rate throughout the state.

    (9) The city has the option of imposing a 1% income tax on residents, and one-half percent on nonresidents whose place of employment is in the city. But that requires a citywide vote in favor, and that would be very difficult.

    Lots of folks on the left argue that a city income tax would be unfair to students and the lower-income workers who commute in to U-M and hospital jobs. Add to that the voters who instinctively reject any tax increase, or who would rather not add a THIRD income tax form after federal and state, and it’s pretty much impossible to pass.

    (10) Of course new projects generate spillover and economic multiplier effects, and those things are good for everyone. You and I are on the same page here.

    But the city captures very little revenue from visitors, or from economic activity directly. If something doesn’t show up in a property tax bill, it doesn’t have much effect on the city budget either way.

    One consideration I didn’t mention before is that we may be facing the impending collapse of a good chunk of Michigan’s auto industry. That could be a debacle which will dwarf the little problems of city government finance.

    Ann Arbor may think it’s not dependent on the auto industry, but it is. Just for starters, imagine what would happen to U-M if the state government goes broke.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    May. 19 '05 - 01:28PM    #
  81. The rumor mill tells me that the U is getting their ducks in a row to “go private” if need be—I.e., if the state goes belly up and cuts their funding so severely that they’d be better off private, they’ll do it. Not sure if that’s a realistic possibility…
       —Scott    May. 19 '05 - 01:41PM    #
  82. Bob, I don’t think Todd was at all saying that municipal revenues were the only reason for downtown development. I read his statement as saying that the fiscal impact of new downtown development is something that adds to rather than subtracts from its desirability. A piece of the benefit, not the only benefit. In general, the fiscal impact of new development is more desirable when it is more compact – when the same amount of use requires fewer lane-miles of road, fewer route-miles of transit and solid waste collection, fewer miles of water, sewer, and stormdrain, fewer square feet of impermeable surface, blah blah blah. $20 million of development is far more cost-efficient when it happens on a quarter of a City block than when it happens at $300k /acre across 60 acres of Township.

    I do think that Larry is, right, though – municipal finances are not something that A2 (or any other older municipality in MI) can build its way out of. We can hope to buy a few more years to work on a solution, but the solution does have to be at a higher level than the city.
       —Murph.    May. 19 '05 - 02:03PM    #
  83. I’m sure that some folks at U-M fantasize about “going private.” However, I can’t imagine that a bankrupt state government would be willing to let a private entity walk off with billions of dollars worth of land and buildings that were originally funded by state appropriations.

    That is, unless somebody came up with enough money to buy out the state’s interest in the University, and I don’t see that happening.

    Of course, it would be a tremendous boon to the city if the UM campus suddenly became taxable. And that’s another reason it won’t happen: after somehow financing billions to pay off the state, how can UM afford to pay hundreds of millions of dollars every year in local property taxes?
       —Larry Kestenbaum    May. 19 '05 - 02:47PM    #
  84. The U only gets about 6% of its operating budget from the State as it is. Most of that goes to units that have no way of raising their own money, like the Library. The U would only go private if it absolutely had to, but it probably could. It would be a very different entity though (even 6% is a lot of lost money) and no one wants to see that happen.
       —Juliew    May. 19 '05 - 03:16PM    #
  85. About Hamtramck… we have a balanced budget and a positive fund balance (pending Wayne County doesn’t screw us on the jail PILOT). If Hamtramck can do it, any city can.

    We do not have a planning department. Hamtramck zoning ordinances are very flexible and zoning is handled by boards manned by volunteers. All tax dollars generated by increased revenue in the CBD go into the general fund.

    In the 5 months that I have lived here, more groceries have opened in my neighborhood than all the new businesses started in Ypsilanti over the last 3 years combined.
       —Hillary    May. 19 '05 - 03:47PM    #
  86. Even if U-M was “private”, the property that’s used for “educational” purposes would be exempt from property taxes.
       —John Q    May. 19 '05 - 04:15PM    #
  87. I’m amazed that all the municpal governments, citizens who want municipal services, and assorted interest groups can’t form some sort of alliance to repeal/alter proposal A or introduce some sort of other legislation to improve our fiscal woes. If local governments have so successfully fought against measures that would threaten their “home rule,” why can’t they muster the political influence to save their drowning ships?
       —Brandon    May. 19 '05 - 04:33PM    #
  88. It looks like some people are starting to talk about this. http://www.detnews.com/2005/wayne/0503/01/C03-103225.htm

    Not surprisingly, Tom Barwin is in the mix. “Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin called the amendment a mixed blessing.

    “It’s been effective at slowing local tax increases, but in recent years—combined with Proposal A (school finance reform)—it has created structural problems for older cities and it should be revisited,” Barwin said. ” (different DetNews article).

    Michigan Municipal League Headlee summary: http://www.mml.org/pdf/plante_moran_summary.pdf
       —Dale    May. 19 '05 - 05:06PM    #
  89. Brandon, it’s because home rule is supported by people like our good friend L. Brooks, while Proposal A overhaul is supported by Larry K. No offense meant to our good Clerk, but one of these has a much bigger soapbox than the other.

    Also, the people who want to defend Prop A have much deeper pockets than those who want to overhaul it. “Prop A helps out grandmothers on a fixed income and small family farmers!” will say the landlords and REITs. “How evil do you have to be to kick a grandmother out of her home by hiking her property taxes?!” It’s a hard PR campaign to counter.
       —Murph    May. 19 '05 - 09:53PM    #
  90. Murph, if the proposal as Larry suggested was to lift the cap on commercial properties but maintain the cap for residential properties; and/or lift the cap for properties of a specific, high value … and if the proposal protects (perceived as?) vulnerable populations like small farmers/business owners … well, the opposition’s rhetoric would have to at least tighten up a bit. It pretty much leaves them with “this is class warfare/communism” if they bother to be somewhat honest in the debate. Not sure how that one would resonate right now. Even a red stater will vote for things that will obviously benefit her, or at least not with a direct corresponding cost, if it doesn’t (e.g., minimum wage increase in FL). So I’m not quite as pessimistic on this politically, though almost anyone with deep pockets would hate to see it happen, so it’s still likely to be a very tough fight.
       —Scott T.    May. 19 '05 - 10:58PM    #