Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

"Is the greenbelt truly regionalism?"

25. June 2005 • Murph
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The Ann Arbor News editorializes in the “News” section that the greenbelt does indeed constitute regionalism, citing exactly one opinion on the question:

The city of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program, approved by voters in 2003, is another example of regionalism, several planners and preservationists said. The program uses revenue from Ann Arbor taxpayers to preserve farmland and open space primarily outside the city limits.

Fundamentally, it is regionalism because it is thinking about the larger community outside of one’s own borders, said Barry Lonik, a Washtenaw County-based land preservation consultant.

“Crossing political boundaries = true regionalism.” Any person here could have written a more thorough and balanced article on the question of the greenbelt, so, go for it:



  1. (On my way into the VC, I noted that the dead-tree copy of the News had multiple stories on “regionalism”, with the A1 story seeming to say that this region is failing, rather than just this one that’s on MLive. Tragically, I forgot to pick up a copy on my way out of VC. Can anybody sum up?)
       —Murph.    Jun. 25 '05 - 08:49PM    #
  2. Is there some question about whether the greenbelt effort is a regional effort or not? Not many issues have united as many communities towards the same goal as the greenbelt issue. Two communities outside of Ann Arbor have even passed millages that will be combined with the City’s Greenbelt millage to preserve properties within those communities. The communities actively supporting the Greenbelt include the following Townships: Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, Scio and Superior. Plus, the efforts do benefit more than the City. Seems pretty clear-cut to me.
       —John Q.    Jun. 26 '05 - 01:09AM    #
  3. John, for my own part, I’m a little reluctant to call it “regionalism”. Yes, it has a regional scope – as in, it goes a little beyond the borders of the City. Yes, it has cooperation of other governmental units. But I wouldn’t call it “regionalism”; more of “a first step towards regionalism”, or “the first tool towards regionalism.” It ain’t nearly sufficient, and if it leads anybody to say, “Well, we’ve already implemented a greenbelt in order to take care of things outside Ann Arbor; now we’ve got to worry about things here!” Yes, as if a single ballot initiative is enough to take care of all of the regional concerns around Ann Arbor.

    The greenbelt doesn’t even take into consideration the Washtenaw County Master Plan of a year or so ago, which calls for clustering development regionally – take all of the development expected for Scio Township, say, and induce it to happen within a certain few square miles of the Township, rather than spread across it. Induce some of the development to happen in Ann Arbor, rather than in Scio Township in the first place. Instead, the greenbelt tries to prevent sprawl simply by, well, prevention, and not nearly enough of it. My mom was commenting just this past week about how the farmers around Chelsea were seeing increased pressure from developers, and wondering if the greenbelt might be partially responsible, failing at its goal of preserving undeveloped land by just causing the development to happen further out, where it would consume just as much land but cause people to drive more.

    If the greenbelt wanted any sort of decent regionalist cred, I’d say it would have to involve the following things:

    * A Transfer of Development Rights program, TDR, not just PDR, for developers to buy land within the greenbelt, strip them of their development “credits”, and use those credits within Ann Arbor. Get the developers working towards the same thing the City is.

    * Cooperation of Ypsi, Saline, and Dexter, so that the TDR can be used to move development credits into those cities as well.

    * A requirement that millage dollars would only be spent within Townships whose master plans were in compliance with the WashCo plan, featuring concentrated development around the edges of existing urbanized areas, or in compact “new towns” where there was no existing urbanized area to put it in/next to. Use dollars to reward good planning, rather than to reward wealth – which is what we’re doing now, by concentrating money in the Townships that have the ability/capacity to tax themselves. (Any wonder A2 Twp was the first on board?)

    Instead of any of this, though, we have a Mayor who’s unwilling to advocate anything (downtown density, ADUs), referring to any such advocacy as “shoving things down people’s throats” – though he wasn’t at all afraid to advocate back when it was time to convince voters to pass a millage that would have addressed only the PDR side of the greenbelt, shrugging off concentrating development in already built-up areas until after we had the greenbelt passed and then shrugging it off until, well, we’re still waiting.

    Now, inevitably, somebody’s going to say, “Well, why should we in Ann Arbor have to accommodate unlimited amounts of in-migration to Washtenaw? Why, just because they want to move here, should we have to let them?

    At that point we’ll see how anti-regionalist a purchase-only greenbelt program is. It ain’t to preserve land, it’s to keep out and keep away people we don’t want. Want a truly regionalist program? Instead of pushing people away, we’d be working with the cities they live in now to make those cities viable and desirable places for them to live. Yes, that’s right, a regionalist outlook for Ann Arbor includes rolling up our sleeves and helping Detroit get back on its feet. (I’d be interested in knowing what percentage of Ann Arbor’s boomer population was born in the City of Detroit – those folks have been showing an astounding lack of regional perspective since they imagined they could move away from Detroit’s problems.)
       —Murph    Jun. 26 '05 - 10:22AM    #
  4. Now, inevitably, somebody’s going to say, “Well, why should we in Ann Arbor have to accommodate unlimited amounts of in-migration to Washtenaw? Why, just because they want to move here, should we have to let them?”

    What the firetruck are you talking about, Murph? We’ve already heard this statement….numerous times….from more than a few locals.

    I’d be thrilled if we just grew proportionally with the rest of Wash. County over the next 30 years…..and there’s no chance that citizens of Ann Arbor will allow us to meet this minimal goal. In other words, if Wash. Country grows its population by 10%, the city of Ann Arbor grows by 10%. Never happen. Boulder City Planners already learned this lesson…..citizens will fight tangible growth within the city limits to the bitter end.
       —todd    Jun. 26 '05 - 10:48AM    #
  5. Oh, and Murph, do you know when the first Calthorpe citizen workshop is being held?

    The AANews wrote a lengthy article about the workshops and citizen input, but neglected to list a single date for the workshops.

    Weird.
       —todd    Jun. 26 '05 - 10:57AM    #
  6. And my answer to John Q’s question: no, the greenbelt in and of itself is not a regional plan. Without things like infill and honest to god density throught a number of programs and zoning changes, the greenbelt will do little more than make Ann Arbor a home for the very wealthy….and again, this has already happened in Boulder who has used “greenbelt” millages as well. We’d be wise to learn from their mistakes, as well as their successes.

    What follows is an excerpt from the concluding pages of a case study on the Urban Planning/Growth issues surrounding Boulder County/City from the 1940’s until the present day. The document was written collaboratively by the City Attorney’s office and the Director of Planning for Boulder, Peter Pollack.

    Here’s the excerpt:

    On the other hand, most Boulder citizens clearly believe that the community is a desirable place in which to live and work in large measure because of the success of growth control efforts. So, for example, a recent report on affordable housing prepared for the Boulder City Council starts with the observation that “Boulder has a long history of citizens and city leaders making decisions, which have cumulatively contributed to Boulder’s desirability today.” However, the same report goes on to acknowledge that this success has not been achieved without negative impacts. It notes:

    “Boulder has a long history of growth management and open space preservation. These policies effectively limit the supply of land for future residential development. The ability to provide housing in Boulder is impacted by existing polices, regulations and programs, including the residential growth management system, the Open Space Program and the Comprehensive Plan. . . .

    There is a serious concern that Boulder’s population diversity may be at risk. We see this in statistics about the cost of home sales in Boulder as well as in the change in income ranges of the population. . . .

    It is important to provide housing to Boulder’s lower and middle wage employees who are critical to the community’s functions. These include the school teachers, firemen, policemen, car mechanics, retail clerks, nurses, restaurant cooks and servers, to name just a few. In order to maintain our high quality of life, we must continue to provide all the elements critical to the functioning of a vital community as well as a diversity of citizens.”

    Thus, as Boulder approaches its self-imposed build-out boundaries, it confronts a series of new challenges. Employers are starting to express concerns about their ability to attract workers. Local university students, faculty members and other university employees increasingly are forced to look beyond Boulder’sborders for housing. There is a wide-spread anxiety that children growing up in Boulder may not be able to afford to live in the community when they become adults. There is a perceived danger that Boulder’s successes in growth control could combine with an ever increasing regional population to push Boulder in the direction of extreme gentrification—a ghetto for the very rich. (todd: emphasis added. Sound familiar?)

    While Boulder has been successful in painting a ring of green around its borders, it now faces the challenge of finding places for working people to live within the ring. Boulder has limited its outward sprawl, but it now faces the challenge of finding infill and redevelopment opportunities within which to retain some demographic balance. Boulder has effectively controlled densities to preserve some of its small town heritage. Now it faces the challenge of making sure that the City’s zoning does not lead to social elitism and other unintended changes in the quality of life in Boulder.

    These new challenges are stimulating some within the Boulder community to focus on policy issues with a somewhat different perspective than in the past. Past efforts were designed (in part) to preserve spacial separation between Boulder and its surrounding communities. Now, however, regional transportation solutions are being considered to allow workers to commute between those same communities. The Integrated Planning Process and comprehensive rezoning exercises resulted in limitations on the density of commercial development and housing within the City. Now, however, the community agenda includes consideration of infill building, mixed use development and accessory dwelling options in order to foster demographic diversity. (todd: emphasis added, now where have we heard this before? Hmmm.)
       —todd    Jun. 26 '05 - 12:00PM    #
  7. Todd,

    What the firetruck are you talking about, Murph? We’ve already heard this statement….numerous times….from more than a few locals.

    Oh. Yes. I guess we have, haven’t we? Funny, that . . .
       —Murph    Jun. 26 '05 - 12:41PM    #
  8. If you’re including me among those “few locals”, you’d be incorrect in doing so. My comment on that subject was in regards to the WDC attracting businesses (and people) to the county. To the extent that people do immigrate to Washtenaw, I agree that we should develop urban or village (i.e., concentrated) housing for them.

    My question is, why should we be actively encouraging immigration to Washtenaw when we don’t know if we have the local resources to support the population into the future (especially when the current practice is to eliminate one of those local resources: farmland)?

    I like the course of this discussion, though. It’s gotten me thinking about related issues like K-12 education, which I think is a big factor in people’s thinking about population and affordable housing. It’s also one that isn’t brought into discussions on planning and housing very often (that I’ve noticed.)

    Maybe this Calthorpe process will be the time to bring it and other issues into a very broad planning/visioning discussion, and we can highlight the connections better than in the past (like the AAA 2000 effort.)
       —Steve Bean    Jun. 26 '05 - 10:58PM    #
  9. Steve, I wasn’t suggesting, by any means, that we should be encouraging immigration to the County! We’ve got enough coming as it is, without encouraging it. 80k-100k predicted in the next two decades; let’s deal with them before we start encouraging any more.

    Generally I think you’ve got good ideas, Steve. But saying, “I’m not one of those Ann Arbor isolationists you’re talking about – we need to think about closing the gates to the whole County!” doesn’t do it for me.
       —Murph.    Jun. 26 '05 - 11:15PM    #
  10. “But saying, ‘I’m not one of those Ann Arbor isolationists you’re talking about—we need to think about closing the gates to the whole County!’ doesn’t do it for me.”

    Murph, then don’t say it. I didn’t. I posed a question. Read it again.

    Maybe it’s time we both called it a day.
       —Steve Bean    Jun. 26 '05 - 11:30PM    #
  11. Murph,

    Put down that strawman!!

    The article didn’t say that the greenbelt was the end-all-to-be-all of regionalism. It stated that it’s “an other example of regionalism”. For the reasons I stated above, I think that’s the case. I think a lot of your points are well-taken. But many of them beyond what can be accomplished through the greenbelt alone, even if there was the legal framework to make them happen (and I’m not sure that’s the caes).

    As for the impact of the greenbelt, I disagree with both you and Todd about the how the greenbelt will influence development. Is it possible that it will force sprawl further afield? Possibly – but more likely, it will serve as a kick in the pants to outlying community to get their planning and zoning acts together and start planning to accomodate growth in a sensible fashion, because it’s coming, greenbelt or no greenbelt.
       —John Q.    Jun. 27 '05 - 12:40AM    #
  12. “As for the impact of the greenbelt, I disagree with both you and Todd about the how the greenbelt will influence development.”

    OK, so what has Ann Arbor done that is somehow different from what Boulder did with its open space program that would make you think that we won’t wind up in the exact same place that Boulder did?

    I’ve cited the census before. The poor are already leaving, with the very wealthy coming. What are we doing that is different?
       —todd l.    Jun. 27 '05 - 10:55AM    #
  13. Steve, I’m sorry for the tone of the previous post. I’ll try again,

    My question is, why should we be actively encouraging immigration to Washtenaw when we don’t know if we have the local resources to support the population into the future (especially when the current practice is to eliminate one of those local resources: farmland)?

    I agree: we shouldn’t be actively encouraging immigration. But I don’t think we are. (Or, at least, I’m not, and nor are you, and I don’t know who is, aside from maybe Toll Bros. and Pulte.)

    I don’t think we need to have anybody encouraging immigration to the County, though, in order to have a crisis on our hands; there’s significant immigration without any encouragement whatsoever. (Or, at least, no encouragement aside from existance of farmland that hasn’t been built on yet and a desirable job and cultural center in Ann Arbor.) (Countdown to being mocked by the AAiO crew for referring to A2 as a “cultural center”. 10…9…)

    Various estimates by Washtenaw County Planning & Environment, SEMCOG, etc, give “no action” estimates of 80k-100k new residents in Washtenaw by 2020-2025. How do we deal with them? John says,

    _more likely, it will serve as a kick in the pants to outlying community to get their planning and zoning acts together and start planning to accomodate growth in a sensible fashion, because it’s coming, _

    Now, John, why should we expect Chelsea and Dexter to radically overhaul their planning and zoning when Ann Arbor is failing to take the lead? Ann Arborites are loudly crying, “Why should we plan for new residents downtown? Why not plan for the people who are already here!” and are throwing up roadblocks and stalling a process that’s trying to facilitate letting people live downtown. Chelsea is not going to say, “Oh, well, Ann Arbor has a point. Their existing character is worth preserving, and ours is not, so we should take in all of the population that they’re not going to take.”

    Yes, the Sylvans and Scios and Northfields need to realize that blocking development and immigration is impossible, and that trying to freeze their townships in amber and lock them in stasis will only serve to distract them in futile efforts until it’s too late – they need to fundamentally examine the way they plan their land, take a realistic view of the population pressures in the region, and act accordingly.

    And that entire previous paragraph applies just as strongly to the City of Ann Arbor as it does to the Townships, and I believe that Ann Arbor is every bit as unprepared as the Townships to cope. I see the Greenbelt program as one of those head-in-the-sand issues that makes Ann Arborites feel like they’re doing something productive, a feeling that prevents them from adding on to it the things that are needed to make it actually effective. The Greenbelt is a good program, within its scope, and should not be imagined to be more than it is. It ain’t regionalism; it’s a small but deceptively flashy part of it.
       —Murph.    Jun. 27 '05 - 11:02AM    #
  14. “Now, John, why should we expect Chelsea and Dexter to radically overhaul their planning and zoning when Ann Arbor is failing to take the lead? Ann Arborites are loudly crying, “Why should we plan for new residents downtown? Why not plan for the people who are already here!”

    Amen. You should add that both Wash. County and Ann Arbor city planners have tried to enact planning. Citizens have failed to act on their advice (whether this is for good or ill).

    My favorite quote from Peter Pollock, the Boulder Planner I always refer to, is that “there are Master Plans all over America gathering dust”.

    “I see the Greenbelt program as one of those head-in-the-sand issues that makes Ann Arborites feel like they’re doing something productive, a feeling that prevents them from adding on to it the things that are needed to make it actually effective.”

    I’ll go one step further. Without infill and other steps, the greenbelt program makes things worse rather than better, both environmentally and economically, for Ann Arbor.
       —todd l.    Jun. 27 '05 - 11:30AM    #
  15. Murph, ask Susan to introduce you to Susan Lackey, former Washtenaw Development Council president (now director of Washtenaw Land Trust) for an introduction to the Council’s past and present activities. It’s the kind of thing you would benefit from knowing.

    The Council’s (devoid-of-context) mission statement: “To operate a centralized, cooperative, publicly and privately supported economic development effort that assists in providing jobs and tax base for the residents and communities of Washtenaw County.”

    You can also check out the WDC website.

    And thanks for restating your comment.
       —Steve Bean    Jun. 27 '05 - 12:49PM    #
  16. Okay, you’ve got a good counter-example on recruitment there. (Though some of their material is a little, ah, pathetic. “Michigan led the nation in job growth between 1991 and 1997!”)
       —Murph    Jun. 27 '05 - 01:29PM    #
  17. To the extent that people do immigrate to Washtenaw, I agree that we should develop urban or village (i.e., concentrated) housing for them.

    But what if ‘concentrated housing’ is not what new immigrants want? Should we (and can we?) prevent them from choosing as big a sheetrock McMansion as they can afford? Because, I’m sorry to say, I know quite a number people who have chosen this option very intentionally—not because they couldn’t find anything in town they could afford. They really want 3000+ square feet, a 2-story entryway (that looks to me like an office building lobby), a couple of acres of lawn and a riding mower. Strangely enough, they don’t really seem to mind commuting or driving their kids everywhere. They like the fact that their kids are isolated from everyone except the folks in their little neighborhood enclave.

    Is there really hope for regional planning with enought bite to prevent people from making such choices (and to prevent developers from offering them)?
       —mw    Jun. 27 '05 - 07:19PM    #
  18. mw, absolutely, that is the choice being pushed by the culture and media, and it has been widely accepted, even around here.

    Sad to say, probably most of the people who move into Washtenaw County from elsewhere in southeast Michigan are coming here specifically because we are building plenty of 3000 square foot McMansions for them, in far-flung car-only subdivisions with low township taxes.

    That’s why I’m opposed to demonizing the Old West Side Association and others who defy the dominant housing paradigm.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 27 '05 - 11:04PM    #
  19. we are building plenty of 3000 square foot McMansions for them

    Yep. And there’s nothing we’re doing right now that’s going to stop that, or even slow it down. You’ve seen the WashCo land use map for 2020? The one that’s basically just a smear of “rural subdivision” across the County map? (The one that will be barely changed by the greenbelt plopping some preserves into the close-in parts of it?)

    that is the choice being pushed by the culture and media, and it has been widely accepted, even around here

    But that is also the choice that the City of Ann Arbor (like most Cities in the country) has been pushing. The number of housing units in Ann Arbor grew by 7% from 1990 -> 2000; the number of housing units in Washtenaw County grew by 18%. (3000 units vs. 20000 units.) Over 2000 -> 2005, that only accelerated: Washtenaw up 10.6%, Ann Arbor up only 3%.

    Given a very limited supply of housing in Ann Arbor, and the fact that housing in Ann Arbor is more desirable than housing outside (check the price per square foot in the OWS), there really isn’t a choice for most people. A couple I know from high school, having graduated from Michigan and having two professional jobs in Ann Arbor, bought a house in one of the sprawldivisions out by Dexter because they wanted to live in Ann Arbor but couldn’t find anything at a reasonable price. (Of their house, he says, “We had a choice of three styles; our house is the only one that looks different on the block because we’re the only people who chose the smallest style.”)

    It’s not just a “more house for your money” issue. People will (and do!) pay a premium to live in Ann Arbor, when given an opportunity to. Not all people, no. Many preferentially live near Pinckney and commute in, and that’s not going to change. But we do have the ability to capture a certain amount of the population influx in Ann Arbor (and, as another regionalist perspective, we need to look east and ask Ypsi what we can do to help out. We, Ann Arbor, need to help Ypsi address its problems so that it can be a viable choice as well).

    On the other hand, not everybody who is displaced from Ann Arbor for lack of choice in housing buys a McMansion. Many of them leave entirely and go to Chicago, or Boston, or Austin, or LA, etc. That’s Michigan for you – leading the nation in non-retention of college graduates.

    I’m not demonizing the Old West Side. I’m criticizing the dominant attitude towards housing within Ann Arbor.
       —Murph.    Jun. 28 '05 - 10:00AM    #
  20. Hey Murph,

    This is a quote from the AANews report on the Town Hall Meeting:

    “Proponents of a full-scale greenway say all they want is the DDA to give up First and William so it can be developed as a park. They say they have no objection to the development of the Kline lot or the First and Washington parking structure. ”

    By “proponents”, does the AANews mean the Friends? Did they really say this (I am assuming that you were there)?
       —todd l.    Jun. 28 '05 - 11:14AM    #
  21. Murph, you’re also essentially criticizing the people who point out to you that your ‘plan’ doesn’t address a large segment of the incoming population.

    mw posed a question and you almost answered it. Instead, you restated your position while acknowledging mw’s point (and Larry’s agreement) only in passing. I point this out only because I think you’re getting close to talking past people and I don’t think you really want to do that.

    Got an answer to his question?

    Here’s my shot at it, mw:

    “Is there really hope for regional planning with enought bite to prevent people from making such choices (and to prevent developers from offering them)?”

    I think there is, and I think Murph has already referred to it in comment #3.

    In addition to zoning and planning for concentrated development, we will now have energy prices—both for transportation and heating/cooling—on our side. People will want or need to live in smaller (likely attached) homes, closer to their place of employment and necessary services. The demand will start to shift. The challenge is to get our local governments to push that demand shift, rather than trail behind it.

    Another challenge (as you may already recognize, Murph) is to help Ann Arborites see that planning for people who already live here can and should be done as part of planning for those who will come here. We need to help those who like AA the way it is to see that it can be better* for them even when more people come here to live. We need to find out what they fear losing and address that. They may not even know themselves what their fears are.

    *AAIO, after all, right? One reason I don’t appreciate that attitude is that its expression creates and strengthens divides. In this case it can make those who we hope to change become more defensive, which only makes our task more difficult. I suggest we lose the attitude for all our sakes.
       —Steve Bean    Jun. 28 '05 - 11:22AM    #
  22. I have several problems with Todd’s Boulder analogy. First, Ann Arbor City isn’t going to grow out to the boundaries of the Greenbelt. Its borders are largely defined either by legal agreements or the limits of its ability to annex additional land. So the greenbelt isn’t restricting the City’s growth in that regard.

    Second, the current “business as usual” pattern of sprawl has led to a city where housing demand exceeds supply and prices make it difficult for people to find affordable housing. All of that happened before one Greenbelt dollar was spent. If we never did the Greenbelt and allowed development to consume the areas around the City, that would still be true except we would have an expensive City that lacks affordable housing that would be surrounded my unmitigated sprawl.

    I’ve always said that the Greenbelt is one piece in the puzzle. But to claim that we would be better off without the Greenbelt, as Todd did, defies comprehension and common sense. The builders’ lobby pitched the same argument against the Greenbelt and residents rejected it.
       —John Q    Jun. 28 '05 - 11:35AM    #
  23. “First, Ann Arbor City isn’t going to grow out to the boundaries of the Greenbelt. Its borders are largely defined either by legal agreements or the limits of its ability to annex additional land. So the greenbelt isn’t restricting the City’s growth in that regard.”

    Strange response, John. First of all, the greenbelt funds can be used anywhere that the committee sees fit. Unless you are trying to tell me that these funds will never be used anywhere near the city limits (I’d be thrilled if this were the case), this statment is patently false. Ann Arbor could “grow to the boundaries of the greenbelt” the instant funds are used within the city limits. It could happen tomorrow.

    It is not the greenbelt program that I take issue with, John. It is the lack of mandated programs that work in concert with the greenbelt that bothers me. Boulder planners, and now its citizens, if you take a minute to reread my post, have bemoaned this very mistake in their open space plans.

    So I ask again (you dodged this question before): What has Ann Arbor done that is somehow different from what Boulder did with its open space program that would make you think that we won’t wind up in the exact same place that Boulder did? In other words, a city for the very wealthy.
       —todd l.    Jun. 28 '05 - 12:33PM    #
  24. “If we never did the Greenbelt and allowed development to consume the areas around the City, that would still be true except we would have an expensive City that lacks affordable housing that would be surrounded my unmitigated sprawl.”

    Now if you truly believe this, John—-and I hope you do, then I have found an ally for removing any limits to building heights within the DDA area. If we are to avoid or control sprawl outside of the city, then we have to move the growth inside the city. Which is precisely what I want, and precisely the dead horse that I have been beating on Arbor Update all along. If we do this, then the greenbelt program makes perfect sense, and will be an asset for years to come.

    Am I correct? Is this what you want, too?
       —todd l.    Jun. 28 '05 - 12:56PM    #
  25. I’ll work backwards – I’ve never been against more density downtown. I do have implementation questions that others have raised more eloquently (Juliew) but I’m 100% behind that goal. I don’t think that alone will “avoid or control sprawl” but it’s part of the toolkit and we should be doing it, for all of the reasons you have articulated in the past, even if it had zero effect on sprawl.

    As for your Boulder analogy, I just don’t buy it – I’ll say it again, if we never do the Greenbelt, what makes you think we’re not going to be in the same place – “an expensive City that lacks affordable housing that would be surrounded my unmitigated sprawl”??

    As to the original point – the City won’t grow out to the Greenbelt – this is hard to illustrate online. I don’t think there’s a map online that shows this. But much of the City border, especially to the south and west, is hemmed in by existing development in the surrounding Townships. The only place where you’ll see the Greenbelt “abutting” the City borders is those areas along M-14 where you have the City to the south and farmland in Ann Arbor Township to the north.
       —John Q    Jun. 28 '05 - 02:31PM    #
  26. I read Todd’s comments more along the lines of emphasizing a need to funnel development nearer to the “urban core” (smirk stifled) of Ann Arbor. Not JUST in the DDA, but proportional densification throughout the urban area. That way, there are myriad choices—for those who want an 800 sqft condo in town AND those who want a 3000 sqft SFR in the sticks—and those options will have some kind of connectivity (insert whole other conversation about transit, neighborhood centers, or sidewalks here).

    The greenbelt does conflict with this vision because it WILL produce gaps in the continuity of urban development. And if the greenbelt raises proximate property values (as we have previously demonstrated that it will), getting something affordable will necessitate moving that much farther out from the city.
       —Dale    Jun. 28 '05 - 05:38PM    #
  27. “The greenbelt does conflict with this vision because it WILL produce gaps in the continuity of urban development.”

    Again, I disagree – as I already noted, the periphery of much of Ann Arbor is already developed with a slew of suburban development – head east of Plymouth Road or south down Ann Arbor-Saline Road – there’s your “3000 sqft SFR in the sticks”.

    Now, if you’re vision is a dense downtown that spreads out to a suburban landscape until you reach Dexter, that’s a vision I don’t share. If you have something else in mind, please explain.
       —John Q    Jun. 28 '05 - 06:24PM    #
  28. High density in the middle, decreasing towards the periphery, with many nodes of mixed-use activity spread throughout. Limited petroleum-fueled transportation throughout. cf any American city ~1900 (let’s say 1910 to accommodate SOME use of the auto).

    Residential suburbs predate industrialization—you’re not going to get rid of them. However, by creating differing density throughout the region and connecting the urban to the suburban to the rural (without relying entirely on cars), you can provide access to urban amenities and rural greenspace and everything in between in a more socially vibrant and less consumptive manner. I don’t think that’s too crazy a vision, and it offers choices that are not available now.

    It would require altering the roughly 3 types of density we have in Washtenaw County now—downtown density (pretty wimpy in reality), suburban (OWS and the sprawl subs), and rural (1 house on 30 acres). Downtown needs to be more dense, the OWS needs to be more dense, the city’s edge needs to be more dense, and the township subdivisions—some can be more dense and some (but fewer) can be about what they are now. More to the point, there’s some integration within and between neighborhoods and municipalities.
       —Dale    Jun. 28 '05 - 07:13PM    #
  29. Farmland? Open space? Do we hop on the train to Jackson County to see that?
       —John Q    Jun. 28 '05 - 07:17PM    #
  30. Steve,

    I wasn’t trying to answer mw’s question – in no small part because I have extremely little faith in our creating any kind of regional planning that precludes McMansionization of the suburb-townships. My suggestions above are the things that I think would probably have to happen in order for us to have any hope – and I’m not optimistic about them.

    My “plan”, as you say, doesn’t address a large part of the incoming population. That’s correct. I’m not working on a plan to handle 100% of the growth. I’m working on a plan to handle the 10% or 20% of the growth that would prefer to locate in an urbanish environment – a segment that I don’t feel is being planned for now. The segment that wants their 3000 SF mcmansion? They’re being “planned for” just fine as it is.

    I’m not arguing that mw or Larry are wrong. I think they’re quite right: by and large, many people would prefer 3000sf with a half acre yard in Pittsfield or Scio to 1200 or 1500sf on a 1/12 acre lot within Ann Arbor, or an 800sf condo downtown. I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing (as I always have) that it’s a shame we’re forcing people to choose the poorer option. If we’re talking about, “How do we make people stop choosing sprawl?” then isn’t “Create another choice” a pretty basic step? Especially since creating another choice will, in and of itself, cause some people to stop sprawling?
       —Murph.    Jun. 28 '05 - 07:39PM    #
  31. John, I think your questions of Todd and the Boulder Experience can be answered in one of two ways. Either,

    1. The greenbelt is insufficient to stop sprawl in the Townships because it won’t preserve enough land, ergo, we need more tools in order to stop sprawl, or else,

    2. The greenbelt will be sufficient to stop sprawl, and will therefore drive up prices in Ann Arbor to the point that A2 becomes an enclave for the wealthy.

    I’m inclined to vote for #1. I think the greenbelt is good and important. I think it is a good and important part of a multipartite program for addressing sprawl that doesn’t exist yet. If we rely on the greenbelt alone to ensure that we have farmland and forest, then my prediction is that we’ll end up with patchy little preserves surrounded by sprawl. We’ll be able to visit farmland within Washtenaw just like we were going to see Greenfield Village. We need more than this!

    And I disagree with Dale’s contention that the greenbelt will get in the way on land that needs to be urbanized. I agree that it needs not to be urbanized – but the greenbelt isn’t going to stop it from happening.
       —Murph.    Jun. 28 '05 - 07:46PM    #
  32. John—Ann Arbor has plenty of parks. I’d say we’ve got enough parks to accommodate several years of growth and density before we add any more. And for farmland—I don’t see that the greenbelt will have a significant impact on agricultural production (and I don’t much care to have proximate farmland just for the vista). I certainly do value agricultural production in Michigan and Washtenaw, but competing with developers for farmland is no way to promote regionalism or to combat sprawl, and that is what the greenbelt is doing.

    And I should note I only contend that the greenbelt area should be urbanized eventually if there is enough density within.
       —Dale    Jun. 28 '05 - 08:40PM    #
  33. “As for your Boulder analogy, I just don’t buy it – ‘ll say it again, if we never do the Greenbelt, what makes you think we’re not going to be in the same place – “an expensive City that lacks affordable housing that would be surrounded my unmitigated sprawl”??

    OK, now you’re just being deliberately obtuse. It sounds an awful lot like we are on the same side, John.

    Without boring the hell out of the other posts, I will say that one of the dead horses I’ve beaten makes you correct. The greenway in and of itself isn’t going to make Ann Arbor that much more expensive (although I will say that it ain’t free, and has raised taxes…but why split hairs). It’s the lack of infill that’s the problem….which is why I gave you the Boulder analogy. Demand exceeds supply. If we don’t meet the demand within the city limits….it will go to the surrounding areas, and we will get….SPRAWL. You know, the “Ann Arbor living, without the taxes” ads you’ve seen around Wash. County? In addition, the aggressive demand with no supply relief makes the housing/commercial costs go up.

    Fair enough?
       —todd l.    Jun. 29 '05 - 10:48AM    #
  34. Todd, you ought to do some talking to the DDA Board and to the Council. Several members of each are going to the International Downtowns Association (or something “IDA”) conference in Denver in September, with a side trip to Boulder planned “to look at one of Calthorpe’s recent project sites and to talk about best practices in urban design.”

    Your outlook on Boulder certainly has some differences from that of many of Ann Arbor’s decision-makers, and I think it would be good for you to share some of your thoughts on Boulder’s missteps so that they can be on the lookout for not just “best practices” but also big mistakes.
       —Murph.    Jun. 29 '05 - 11:58AM    #
  35. Off-topic: It being noon, I’m headed over to Liberty Plaza by way of Le Dog. I’ll be there for the next half hour with my book, in case anybody else is looking for a place to eat lunch. . .
       —Murph - off-topic, lunch!    Jun. 29 '05 - 12:03PM    #
  36. Actually, It’d be pretty easy for me to arrange a lunch/dinner with both my father (who produces 30 year plans for cities) and Peter Pollock, the Boulder City Planner. They can hear it from the horse’s mouth…and Peter is pretty familiar with the situation in Ann Arbor from having conversations with my father.
       —todd l.    Jun. 29 '05 - 12:16PM    #
  37. So, last night at Top of the Park I get stopped on the way up the ramp by a couple of Greenway folks trying to get signatures. I tell the guy I support downtown development, he tells me that there’s a pipe in a floodway, I tell him I don’t care I still support development and the DDA plan, he says something else.

    So finally I say, “I am a friend of Murph’s. You know, Murph. IN the newspaper and in the Observer. I on Murph’s side of this.”

    Oh, okay. The guy stopped arguing with me and we smiled and said goodbye.

    Now honestly, I wouldn’t know Murph if I fell over him except through this website and his recent media blitz. But his name carries some weight around here, and I saw that greenway guy pale at the mention of it.
       —JennyD    Jun. 29 '05 - 12:19PM    #
  38. Maybe I oughta frequent ToP more than I have been this year (you get rained on yesterday?) in hopes of meeting some Friends. I try to talk to a few new ones after every hearing or whenever I run into petitioners.

    Bogeyman isn’t my ideal role to play in all this – I don’t want to be a bedtime story told to make Friendkids hide under their covers – but if it serves as a shortcut to conveying what your current opinions are, then invoke my name at will. :) See if it makes the conversation any more productive by demonstrating that you know something about it.
       —Murph.    Jun. 29 '05 - 01:08PM    #
  39. All of this is starting to sound like a broken record so I’ll just lay out my points so I can link back to them in the future….

    1) The Greenbelt is a good thing if for nothing else than ensuring that Ann Arbor won’t be surrounded by a sea of suburbanization (farmland preservation is a good thing too).

    2) The Greenbelt will have little impact on housing prices in the City or sprawl development in areas outside the Greenbelt. We already have housing prices that make Ann Arbor unaffordable for some people and even if we let the entire Greenebelt area be developed, that likely still would be true.

    3) Increased density downtown will have little impact on sprawl outside the City or housing prices inside the City. But it’s a good thing for many reasons (support for local businesses, more efficient use of resources, etc.). It complements the Greenbelt but neither is “the solution” to sprawl.

    4) The pursuit of affordable housing, via increased density, subsidies or other means must be a prominent portion of the development and redevelopment of the City of Ann Arbor.

    5) Outlying established communities must adjust their zoning to allow more urban development but in a way that complements the existing character of the community. These communities also must look at creating their own mini-greenbelts to create areas of separation between existing urbanized areas. Otherwise, the Detroit-to-Lansing sprawl pattern will be repeated across WashCo™.

    6) Transportation networks need to be established that provide alternatives to single-user automobile traffic. These networks especially need to interconnect the existing urban centers in WashCo (and even outlying cities, like Plymouth and Brighton). A transportation link between Ann Arbor and Metro Airport should be a high priority.
       —John Q    Jun. 29 '05 - 03:13PM    #
  40. I agree with every single one of your points except the first part of #3, but because what you said about why density is good in the second sentence….who cares? I’d be splitting hairs.
       —todd l.    Jun. 29 '05 - 03:43PM    #
  41. Yep, I’ll join todd in the general consensus with that platform.
       —Murph.    Jun. 29 '05 - 04:32PM    #
  42. Here comes affordable housing:

    http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-13/1120054231102020.xml

    I believe this is in or near the Greenbelt.
       —John Q    Jun. 30 '05 - 08:48AM    #
  43. (Chortle…”this is in or near the Greenbelt”. How long before the first instance of that on the Ann Arbor Craigslist?)

    I was noticing that yesterday. (Clickable link: 1,950-home plan in works )

    Not that the existing zoning (one unit per 2 or per 5 acres) is worth anything for stopping sprawl, and it’s hard to be against 2000 housing units under $100k within a few miles of A2, but it doesn’t seem like a great plan…

    Jennifer Hall (housing JH, not planning JH) came to the DDA Operations Committee this past week to ask for (monetary and advisory) help in creating an RFP for a comprehensive assessment of housing in the Ann Arbor area (A2, Ypsi, and five or six Twps). For each income level / family size, determine whether available housing in the area is adequate for the needs of the population; use this to create advisory tools for local governments to use in planning and developers to use in design. Among deliverables, create web-accessible GIS tools to view demographic and housing characteristics, as well as things like transit access. Hot.

    Seems to me like an important piece of work from a regional perspective.
       —Murph.    Jun. 30 '05 - 09:15AM    #
  44. Talk about history repeating itself—this is almost a carbon copy of some 1920s Detroit developments I have studied. The developer strew VERY inexpensive homes about farmland he had purchased in the townships outside Detroit and mocked up his own pseudo-city services to attract people out of the city. In a matter of a few years (with almost every new subdivision) he was either asking the city for help on services or promoting annexation.

    “According to Malvetis, and to a Nov. 3, 2004, letter from Rock’s engineering consultant to the DEQ, the company changed its mind about including any single-family homes in the project, which would have required it to provide some sort of financial assurance for future plant operation.”

    I can’t even get my head around how crappy this is going to turn out.
       —Dale    Jun. 30 '05 - 09:31AM    #
  45. And from today’s News—Ann Arbor loses population since 2000.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-13/1120142404138703.xml
       —Dale    Jun. 30 '05 - 11:00AM    #
  46. “it’s hard to be against 2000 housing units under $100k within a few miles of A2”

    Why? What favors would you be doing to the future residents or the existing residents of Superior to plop a mini-city in an area with dirt roads, no utilities, no parks, limited police and fire services, no schools, etc. There are good affordable housing plans and there are bad affordable housing plans. I’m pretty sure that most people here are smart enough to know the difference. That’s why when I hear developers pitching “affordable housing” or some similar claim, my BS detector goes to red. I can be convinced but I’ve seen enough scammers along the way to be skeptical.
       —John Q    Jun. 30 '05 - 11:43AM    #
  47. But that is also the choice that the City of Ann Arbor (like most Cities in the country) has been pushing.

    I agree with this in the sense that zoning and other requirements force developments into the low-density suburban mold, and the city’s passivity on these issues does limit housing opportunities in the city. I don’t agree that census figures demonstrate that the city’s policy is to intentionally create sprawl.

    Given a very limited supply of housing in Ann Arbor, and the fact that housing in Ann Arbor is more desirable than housing outside

    We should step back a second and realize how unusual this is. No other central city in Michigan (maybe in the Midwest) is in this situation. Other older cities are much more affordable than Ann Arbor because they are perceived as much less desirable than their suburbs.

    Moreover, there is far more new housing construction in Ann Arbor than in other central cities around the state. We may not like all the housing that’s being built (some of it bears an uncanny resemblance to McMansions on the other side of the city line), but it is certainly happening.

    Yes, there needs to be more and higher density housing. But if Ann Arbor’s population has indeed dropped (I’m skeptical), it’s because the ongoing decline in the number of people per housing unit is outstripping the growth in units.

    (continued below)
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 1 '05 - 12:51PM    #
  48. High density in the middle, decreasing towards the periphery, with many nodes of mixed-use activity spread throughout. Limited petroleum-fueled transportation throughout. cf any American city ~ 1900 (let’s say 1910 to accommodate SOME use of the auto).

    Though land use in American cities a century ago provide ample precedent for decent living at average densities much higher than today, we should realize that those patterns developed under very specific economic conditions.

    A pervasive national railroad network connected stations in just about every sizeable place, for moving people and goods. Within the city, the streetcar network moved people around quickly and cheaply, but goods moved slowly and expensively by horse and wagon.

    That’s why industrial and commercial zones in the pre-truck (and pre-zoning) era were so tightly concentrated around railway nodes, whereas “streetcar suburbs” (with single family homes on narrow lots) fanned out along major streets in all directions.

    (continued below)
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:20PM    #
  49. And who knows if those conditions will be returning, but I think we can see the social and ecological value that much of that built form held (though it of course had its problems like tenements). AND we have the means to replicate that form even when we’re not forced to by economic necessity. IE, economic conditions are not uniquely deterministic; I put human agency above nearly all other forces.

    I’ve been reading City: Urbanism and its End by Douglas Rae about New Haven. His tracking of groceries, among many other urban features is fascinating. (Bottom line: there used to be many small groceries in NH, like 500 for 150k of pop. Now there are about 125 for 125k in the city.)
       —Dale    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:34PM    #
  50. “But if Ann Arbor’s population has indeed dropped (I’m skeptical), it’s because the ongoing decline in the number of people per housing unit is outstripping the growth in units.”

    That seems to be the case.

    Which has me wondering…

    Would it make any sense to require a certain number of one-bedroom units in new developments? If we really want to increase population density as opposed to housing density in the downtown, that might help. My guess is that many multi-bedroom units are bought/rented by fewer residents than there are bedrooms, so they can use the second and/or third for an office or storage.

    Might this be one way to ensure that housing is as affordable as it’s intended to be, simply by reducing the demand for those required single-bedroom units, or, rather, by creating a supply of them that meets or exceeds the current demand?

    That may be the current effect of the affordable housing requirement for PUDs (though that doesn’t seem to be the case yet), but I wonder if such units are always the result. And as Murph pointed out (correct me if I’m misrepresenting you, if it matters) in another thread, it might take requiring affordable housing in all new developments to make it successful at the level we’d like.

    I’ll let others expound on how cooperative housing might be similarly considered.
       —Steve Bean    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:34PM    #
  51. It would require altering the roughly 3 types of density we have in Washtenaw County now: downtown density (pretty wimpy in reality), suburban (OWS and the sprawl subs), and rural (1 house on 30 acres).

    I would never put the OWS and the sprawl subs in the same category. Look at an aerial photo some time and compare them: a large new lot is almost as big as an old-style block with a dozen houses. In units per acre, it’s almost an order of magnitude difference.

    Subdivisions at these ultra low densities waste land, infrastructure, and energy compared to the much tigher format of older neighborhoods. But the modern pattern is so outrageously wasteful that relatively slight changes, small density increments, etc., would yield large benefits in time and resources saved and infrastructure used more efficiently.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:39PM    #
  52. Yeah, I wouldn’t use the OWS or OFW as examples of lamentably sparse development. If we could make all the residential development in Ann Arbor hit the same density as the OWS, we’d probably see a major increase in housing/population. I’m not going to look to the OWS as the place to target for density. There’s an amazing amount of sprawl-style housing (and commercial space) within the freeway ring; let’s not get distracted by the first ‘hood we come to.
       —Murph.    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:46PM    #
  53. Steve, I really like the idea of enhancing the supply of studio and one bedroom units.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:46PM    #
  54. John, I wasn’t being particularly emphatic about it, but I don’t think the Superior Twp development is a good idea. It wouldn’t do the existing Sup-Twp residents any favor, nor would it do the new residents any favors to offer them isolated, car-dependant sprawl as their only option. It’s just unfortunate that this kind of development is the best source of affordable housing we’re seeing.
       —Murph.    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:49PM    #
  55. Steve & Larry: Me too.

    And not “luxury” one-BRs or studios either. I know plenty of people who would be happy to have a cute but cramped and non-flashy 1BR downtown, especially among my peer demographic, and the new construction we’re seeing doesn’t offer any of this.
       —Murph.    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:54PM    #
  56. As urban historians will tell you, they originate from the same impetus and, while there seems to be a significant difference between 1 unit per acre and 4, it’s only because we are only looking at a tiny range of densities in most of Ann Arbor.

    Murph, I’m surprised that you would say that—I’d say we need to target just about EVERY ‘hood we come to. That’s what ADUs mean to me.
       —Dale    Jul. 1 '05 - 01:55PM    #
  57. Unfortunately, because University Housing says that six-bedroom units have the lowest vacancy rates, that is the biggest trend right now for new construction in the “near-campus” neighborhoods. 828 Greene Street might have been one of the first, but there are several proposals out there (some approved and some pending) that are similar. These buildings give the developer an advantage because the actual number of units is low and all the ordinances are per-unit, rather than per-bedroom (as an aside, this is how the Glen-Ann proposal could provide less parking—they just converted their proposed one-bedroom units to two-bedroom units). The more bedrooms per unit, the less the developer has to provide. They don’t have to have the same number of car or bike parking spots, they don’t have to run as much sewer or water, they don’t have to do as many footing drain disconnects, don’t have to provide handicapped or low-income housing, and so on. What isn’t considered is that the main reason people are living in six-bedroom units is because they can afford them. At $650+/bedroom, this “new, great for students” type of unit isn’t going to be so attractive. Not only that, but since most of them are being built on existing home lots that were bought at or above market value, this new construction actually raises the price of all housing in these neighborhoods.
       —Juliew    Jul. 1 '05 - 02:13PM    #
  58. Here’s another puzzle for you: Can anyone give me a good reason to rent out a room in our house after our son moves out? Is there some incentive (beyond the rental income) that might tip the scales to outweigh the inconveniences and loss of privacy that come with a boarder? All, of course, in the name of increasing population density in the city.
       —Steve Bean    Jul. 1 '05 - 02:35PM    #
  59. If you find the right person, it can be an enriching experience for all of you.
       —Dale    Jul. 1 '05 - 02:47PM    #
  60. I’ve got an answer: if you’re financially stable, and you put aside the warm and fuzzy (although true) answer from Dale, then there isn’t much of an incentive.

    Which is kinda the point. I think that the reason that we have more units but less population over the last five years is clearly the change in financial demographics.

    If you have the financial means, you won’t, on average, have as many people living in a single dwelling than you would would as a household that earns near the bottom of the bracket.

    The census numbers bear this out. The lower financial bracket people have bailed. The upper bracket has exploded. Bigger units, fewer people. It’s not very complicated.

    But getting back to Steve’s question: his question shows a pretty good point, and it also shows why the wealthier members of our community don’t understand the need for ADU’s, and keep shooting the idea down. And to be clear, Steve, I’m not pointing the finger at you…..you asked a very good and relevant question.
       —todd l.    Jul. 1 '05 - 03:00PM    #
  61. Ann Arbor has a weird occupancy trend – students still living as tenement-like as ever while the household size drops.

    Steve, yep, what they said. If you don’t need/want the cash, then you’re only going to find it worthwhile if the roomer is a relative or a PhD student your family gets along with or the like.
       —Murph.    Jul. 1 '05 - 05:22PM    #
  62. Don’t give up yet, folks.

    What about the city providing some kind of useful service and/or information and possibly a financial (i.e., property tax—is that possible, Larry?—or maybe utilities?) incentive for homeowners?

    The county, by way of the WDC, plays a sort of matchmaker for businesses checking out the county as a home base. Can the city gov’t do something similar to hook up roomies? Would there be some real value to the city in arranging for 5000 additional residents in existing housing?

    Oh, here we go! Could the affordable housing fund be used? You can’t get much more affordable than existing housing—both for the owner and the renter.

    In the case of a new homeowner, how would that play out if a buyer could afford a three-bedroom, say, if they could rent out one of them? Could the rent pay off a medium-term loan from the fund? In particular, by “play out” I’m wondering if there would be any unintended consequences like more competition for three-bedroom houses actually upping the price. Would car ownership by the tenants present a problem? What were the ‘granny flat’ fears?

    For a current homeowner, like me, what might be a comparable incentive? A short-term, zero-interest loan to do energy-efficiency improvements in order to make my home even more affordable (and comfortable for my tenant)? A solar hot water heater to handle the added demand for showers and laundry? I’d probably have to commit to renting out a room for several years at least in order to get the assistance.
       —Steve Bean    Jul. 1 '05 - 06:57PM    #
  63. Steve, you bring up a good point. There are certainly no incentives, and there are disincentives, such as the graduated water fee. Maybe utility fees should be graduated, but normalized (or counter-graduated?) by number of people in the house? E.g. 2 people using 300 units of water pay more for each unit than 2 people paying 200, but 3 people using 300 pay less per unit than 2 people using 200? Build into the fee structures something that recognizes that you’re using less (in an overall sense of “less”) by living together? (Yum! Administrative nightmare!)

    I’m told that at least some of the strong granny flat fears were in an outlying neighborhood that thought it would bring in (horror!) people who weren’t like us! Like…Grad students! Possibly non-American grad students who don’t have kids and therefore won’t come to PTA meetings! We won’t know them! They could be hooligans, for all we know! Other terrible protectionist stereotyping! (This is basically a rephrasing of the explanation given by a professor who lives in said neighborhood and was quite unhappy at his neighbors’ reaction…) Other fears were in places like NoBuPa, where, yes, I’m told things like parking congestion were feared.
       —Murph    Jul. 2 '05 - 12:03AM    #
  64. Yeah, there was a firestorm of protest from some neighborhoods fearing more congestion in already dense near-campus neighborhoods. Counsel dropped it like a hot potato. There have been proposals to limit accessory flats to some less dense neighborhoods. I think the concept is a good one. Especially when it allows families to house an elderly member or allows a growing family to expand its living space w/o moving to the burbs. But here, again, is one of those tools that can increase density in a relatively gentle manner (v. a ten story hi-rise)that meets opposition when it’s in “my backyard.”
    On the issue of one v. two bedroom units, when the Glen Ann building (ten story mixed-use PUD) came to planning commission for its pre-petition review it had many more one bedroom units than the final proposal that was presented. They claimed this was a market-driven decision, not just an attempt to re-configure their parking requirements to allocate some parking for the offices (tho it had that effect as well). As a PUD, the number of parking spaces was not dictated by code. But the allocation of units is still in flux. I believe there was flexibility built into the development agreement. So for those of you who think that there is a greater market for the one bedrooms, it is possible to contact the developer and perhaps convince him that his market analysis was off, by a display of interest for one bedrooms.
    Also on the density front, there is lots of talk w/in planning commission and some on counsel to revise some of the zoning to reduce set-backs and reinstitute a more urban neighborhood zoning, like the old west side, v. the suburban zoning with 60 foot wide street rights of way. A good model: The new “North Sky” development on pontiac trail (also a good model of more enlightened development because they plan to build with multiple housing types/sizes to the contours of the land and around natural features rather than just bulldozing everything.
       —Eric Lipson.    Jul. 2 '05 - 11:20AM    #
  65. Eric,

    That all sounds good. Though Commission is still recommending approval for single-story commercial developments surrounded by parking in outlying areas (e.g. 3354 (3554?) Washtenaw a month or so ago); housing’s only half the battle for building neighborhoods for people over cars. I thought North Sky was pretty good, and am glad y’all approved it; any word on the Diehl junkyard project that was tabled at the same meeting? I continue to believe that building McDonald’s-style restaurants and strip retail on a site kitty-corner from a planed 1000-student housing development, across the street from Northwood family housing, and next door to Willowtree is a criminal waste of land, and it pains me to hear a developer say they’re not going to propose even the full FAR allowed by zoning because they don’t think it’ll pass Commission.
       —Murph    Jul. 2 '05 - 11:43AM    #
  66. Also, while the number of parking spaces for Glen-Ann was not dictated by code, it seems to me that parking overflow fears by the OFW were a major element of the objections raised. While parking requirements may not have existed in the code, they were certainly part of the process.
       —Murph.    Jul. 2 '05 - 01:42PM    #
  67. Murph,
    On Glenn Ann, you’re absolutely right about parking being a major part of the discussion. There is still no public parking in the building which I believe is a problem. All of the retail/office in the building will have to depend on foot traffic because there is NO street parking during the day. This is a gamble that the developers were willing to take. Won’t affect the neighborhood in that respect because there is already no available parking on the street. Traffic flow in and out of the new building was also a concern. Overall, I think this is a good project for the area (100 new residents w/in walking distance of the U or the Hospital) with retail on the ground level.(Also will have a green roof thanks to Commissioner Kunselman’s motion). The develper also must supply 15% on-site affordable housing (unless counsel reverses us) and move the two historic houses. It displaces Leonardos pizza, glenn ann towing and one of Angelo’s lots (tho’ Angelo’s get 8 spaces in the new structure for employees).
    On that Washtenaw Ave. Development where the Ponderosa is today, the Planning Commission really pushed the developers to go multi-story but we got nowhere. The developers said that their experience was that the market is not there. What we did get were concessions on number of parking spaces (with use of public spaces off washtenaw), reduced impervious surface, smaller setback from Washtenaw and storm water detention (the site currently has none. Code now requires it). I agree it’s not what I consider optimal but we have a limited amount of pressure we can bring to bear when developments meet code. Again, code needs some updates.
    On the old Diehl site, there is strong concensus from staff/commission that that development should be denser and more pedestrian friendly. The neighbors want less density and are concerned about soil contamination cleanup. The proposal that was tabled was for a low rise restaurant/retail area in front and, as I recall, a 2 story office bldg. in the rear with vehicle entrances off Upland and Plymouth. I proposed that the curb cut off Plymouth be eliminated and turned into a landscaped pedestrian plaza/entrance. I thought it would be a mistake to have a second curb cut a few yards from the signalized intersection at Upland/Murfin. (That plaza could still allow access for emergency vehicles). Commissioners also expressed the sentiment that this would be a good site for more high rise density. But when Brad Blake asked the neighbors how many could support up to a 5 story building on the site, he got zero positive responses from the neighbors and a wave of opposition (“out of character with the neighborhood”). There is this tension between advocates of density and neighbors. I think this is a perfect spot for more intense use. It’s on transit lines and across from N. Campus and the new proposed dorm. Perfect pedestrian/bike-accessible spot. If a taller office use was moved closer to Plymouth, this might make have less impact on the neighborhood but makes for a less inviting street scape and also require more parking. Still, that might be where compromise is possible. In general, everyone is excited that what is now a junk-yard with lead-laced soil will be cleaned up and turned into a multi-use development within walking/biking/transit reach of lots of people. I should check with staff and see what the status of that project is.
       —Eric Lipson.    Jul. 2 '05 - 03:44PM    #
  68. “So for those of you who think that there is a greater market for the one bedrooms, it is possible to contact the developer and perhaps convince him that his market analysis was off, by a display of interest for one bedrooms.”

    Eric, just to clarify my comment (#50), I don’t know what the market is for one-bedrooms. Whatever it is, I’m wondering if it would be worthwhile to force an increase in the supply in the interest of increasing affordable housing and population density in the city by requiring more of them in new developments.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect that (approval issues aside for the moment) housing developers look at market demographics that indicate the type of unit that a $100,000+ ($300,000+?) annual income household prefers. By requiring more one-bedroom units, we would get around such “market”-based decisions and result in housing creation for a broader range of incomes.

    Will the purchasers of the two- and three-bedroom units in the same development end up subsidizing the one-bedroom units, which might take longer to fill (due to efforts to sell/rent them for higher than affordable rates before dropping the price) and which might have higher per-foot construction costs? Yes, at least initially. Can we decide that that’s just one of the costs of living downtown?

    This brings us to the question of what type of ‘neighborhoods’ we want to create downtown. Do we want to create housing blocks for just the very wealthy and separate ones for others? Or do we value all people who are part of our community enough to expect them to live together (i.e., in the same building)? The same questions could/should be asked of the rest of the city’s neighborhoods. Can we decide that that’s just one of the costs—or benefits, rather—of living in this community? And would this also ultimately help us deal with those approval issues that I set aside earlier?

    What this builds up to is a community vision. Can you see it? People will have to see it—and embrace it—in order to avoid continually regressing back to their parochial positions on housing, education and other social issues like crime. (Uhh, what was this thread about, again?)
       —Steve Bean    Jul. 3 '05 - 12:34PM    #
  69. Steve, while I support the vision, I have to reiterate one of my standard positions: the effect we want least is for all of the developers to say, “Wow, that’s a lot of restrictions. Screw that – I’m gonna go sue Northfield Township again and just build more sprawl.”

    I think we should avoid tactics that fit into the general form of, “We should force developers to do x,” because we can’t ever force the developers to build the stuff we want, but we can quite easily induce them to build the stuff we don’t want, objecting to “good built form” because it’s not “best built form”, and ending up with more “worst built form”.

    I mentioned that the City/County housing departments are working on a housing needs assessment for the A2/Ypsi area, that will examine, across the range of 0% to 200% of area median income, who is at each income level, whether they’re being served currently, and examining not just whether there is demand for housing at a certain income level, but what kind of housing is desired. For example, it’s all well and good to say, “There’s demand for housing in the $100-150k range,” but it’s another thing to say, “There are this many people who want housing in that range; of them, this many would prefer 1BRs, this many 2BRs, this many apartments, this many somewhat more detached units, &c.” Housing’s Jennifer Hall described the current intent as the latter.

    Developers are conservative people – they won’t generally go out on a limb. Showing them that un-served demand exists is much more effective a means of inducing the kind of development that we want than is mandating the demand to exist.

    We should also, I think, provide easy, well-specified, and predictable partnerships to ease creation of a wide range of housing. Provide all developers with information on how the local community land trusts work (creating more such trusts if necessary), and how they can get extremely favorable review if their projects include some units that provide permanently affordable ownership units by partnership with certain land trusts, and an easily understood process for applying for monetary assistance for the land trusted units.

    Reading The High Cost of Free Parking has only reinforced my attitude that “removing barriers to desireable development” is the first step to anything good.
       —Murph    Jul. 3 '05 - 01:27PM    #
  70. Murph, thanks for the added detail on the needs assessment. Sounds good.

    I understand your thinking on the problems with restrictions. Any ideas how to blend that concern with the goal of inducing higher population density, or shall we set that aside until the assessment is done?

    Also, would you say more about “land trusted units”? I’m not familiar with the land trust/housing link, just the farmland and natural area preservation type.

    I’m checking out reviews and excerpts of The High Cost of Free Parking. Looks very good.
       —Steve Bean    Jul. 3 '05 - 06:03PM    #
  71. Steve,
    RE your post:

    “By requiring more one-bedroom
    units, we would get around such “marketâ€?-based decisions and result in housing creation for a broader range of incomes.”
    That’s my feeling. I’d like to see more one bedroom apartments in that Glenn/Ann building to make some units effectively more affordable.

    “Will the purchasers of the two- and three-bedroom units in the same development end up subsidizing the one-bedroom units, which might take longer to fill (due to efforts to sell/rent them for higher than affordable rates before dropping the price) and which might have higher per-foot construction costs? Yes, at least initially. Can we decide that that’s just one of the costs of living downtown?”

    When you make some units affordable, the rest of the units definitely wind up subsidizing them to some extent. The city’s forumula for “affordable” is someone earning 80% of the median income. That’s a pretty good income! That’s not section 8 housing… But even that adds a tax on the other units. The issue of “permanent affordability” is another thorny one. Does that mean that a unit sells for the same price to the second buyer that the first buyer bought it for? Does the first time buyer get NO benefit of the unit’s appreciation? Or how much profit can the first owner make? There are some models out there for both keeping units affordable but letting the first owner benefit from some of the appreciation. And when these units are in a private development (say Glen/Ann) is there a continual burden on all subsequent market-rate purchasers? Habitat gives the house to the new owner who gets all of the appreciation. But many of these owners can’t pay the increased taxes as the units appreciate. Tricky stuff when you tinker with the market. You create distortions and unintended consequences. But I very strongly believe that we have to make efforts by whatever mechanism to get a diverse population downtown so that the service workers, secretaries, etc. can live there as well as doctors, lawyers and stockbrokers. I’m not happy with the “cash in lieu” concept where the city just gets cash from the developer, using the rationale that you can build more affordable units in less costly parts of town. I think part of that affordability goal is acheivable by preserving the existing housing in downtown and near-downtown and not allowing everything to be re-developed with upscale high-rises. This is a benefit of “historic preservation” which helps keep some of the funky “character” of the city. Another problem: It is hard to know what the real economics of developments are. You don’t want to dictate so many “public benefits” on a developer that the project fails under their weight. But each development should contribute to the whole city’s liveability….Not knowing the actual costs makes it a kind of game of chicken between developers and planning commission/council.
       —Eric Lipson.    Jul. 3 '05 - 08:12PM    #
  72. I just got on this site, and so my response relates to a discussion well up the chain, specifically John Q’s post many moons (or many posts) ago—no. 39.

    Why do you conclude that housing prices in Ann Arbor would be unaffected by more construction? I live in the Northeast side of town, and my casual observation is that after a big increase in the late 1990s early 2000s prices in our neighborhood has flattened—I assume due to the struggles of the Big 3 and Michigan’s sluggish economy, but possibly also to a number of newer developments around us (my neighborhood dates to the late 60s). While I agree Ann Arbor will never be cheap, wouldn’t provide more options for people who want to live in or near A2 reduce housing price inflation caused by too many buyers chasing too few houses?
       —PeteM    Jul. 3 '05 - 09:46PM    #
  73. i’ve been curious about the value of PDR, so with the first PDR on the agenda for tuesday, there are enough numbers to caclulate it.

    Resolution to Approve the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) on the Bloomer Farm at 3100 West Northfield Church Road in Webster Township with Matching Funds Through the Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), the Appropriation of $1,964,866.67 from the Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage Fund, Acceptance of a Non-Cash Charitable Donation in the Amount of Ten Percent of the Appraised Value of the Development Rights, and Approval of a Farmland Development Rights Grant of Easement Agreement

    here is the description of the property:

    The East 1/2 of the West 1/2 of Section 25, Town 1 South, Range 5 East, Webster Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan; minus approximately 7.605 acres

    this 160 acre strip of land is located a mile north and a half mile west of the corner of joy and maple. it stretches for a mile between northfield church rd. and gregory and is a quarter mile wide.

    back of the envelope, i get $14K/acre as the PDR appraised value.

    from a2openspace.org, i glean that there may be as much as $85M availaible for PDR purchases, i.e., 40 strips like this one.

    more bits, from washtenaw county records:

    Record For BLOOMER THOMAS Y & ROSANNE C TRUSTS
    Parcel Number C-03-25-200-001
    CVT Description TOWNSHIP OF WEBSTER
    School District 81010,ANN ARBOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    Property Class 101,AGRICULTURAL
    Address 3100 W NORTHFIELD CHURCH RD
    City/State/Zip Code ANN ARBOR/MI/48105
    Homestead Percent 100.00000
    Assessed Value 424100 State Equalized Value 424100
    Capped Value 199569 Taxable Value 199569

    this URL might get you somewhere (turn on pop-ups):

    washtenaw county GIS

    (find the square numbered 25 in the lower right corner, click on the dot (pond) in the middle of that square.)
       —peter honeyman    Jul. 3 '05 - 11:53PM    #
  74. Peter, are you sure that’s onlly 160 acres? (I won’t do the calculations); if so, I’m getting the value closer to $28k/acre, since there’s a federal matching grant in there to double the actual cash being laid out for this.
       —Murph.    Jul. 4 '05 - 03:06PM    #
  75. Steve,

    A community land trust (CLT) is basically a limited equity homeownership model that doesn’t give ownership of the land. (It can also be done with, say, some of the units in a condominiumed building, in which case “ownership of the land” is a little less literal than with a detached house on a distinct lot.) The idea is that you (as a qualified low-income buyer) own your house and can gain equity in it, but only at a certain rate, and you can only sell the unit either to the CLT or to another qualified low-income buyer. Equity gain is usually limited to some (slightly greater than 1) multiplier of inflation, some multiplier of the increase in the area median income, or some equation that includes the assessed value of capital improvements.

    Personally, I see this as having significant relevance to the DDA’s proposed housing at 1st/Washington, since the land is already controlled by the public, and acquiring the land is usually one of the barriers. If/when the TSP moves forward, I’ll be asking to spend some of my intern-time looking into this. (Unless they’re already familiar with the model – Leah?)
       —Murph.    Jul. 4 '05 - 03:20PM    #
  76. yes, i’m sure it’s 160 acres (plus or minus a tad), less the 7.5 or so acres excluded from the sale.

    i think the federal matching funds are already factored in. this is from the city:

    The conservation easement value was established at $2,110,000, based on the fair market appraisal approved by the City and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The FRPP share of $182,332 will reimburse the millage upon completion of purchase of this property. The seller is making a non-cash charitable donation (owner contribution) of ten percent of the appraised value, further reducing the cost of the conservation easement by $211,000. Incidental and closing costs are estimated at 2%, or approximately $42,000, of the total. The endowment costs, at $23,866.67, provides funds for yearly monitoring of the easement agreement, a one-time cost for legal defense, and survey of Farmstead Complex as required by the Farm and Ranch Protection program. The breakdown of these costs is:

    Project Budget:
    Estimated Easement Purchase Price
    Appraised Value: $2,110,000
    10% Owner Contribution: ($ 211,000)
    Purchase Price: $1,899,000

    FRPP Grant $ 182,332
    City OSPP Millage $1,716,668
    Purchase Price: $1,899,000

    Other Costs
    Closing/Incidental $ 42,000.00
    Endowment $ 23,866.67
    Total Other Costs: $65,866.67

    Purchase Price: $1,899,000.00
    Other Costs: $ 65,866.67
    Total Appropriation $1,964,866.67
       —peter honeyman    Jul. 4 '05 - 03:45PM    #
  77. PeteM – Are you referring to my comment about development downtown? If so, my comment is based on the fact that the housing market, even within the City is so large and broad that development downtown is going to have little impact on housing prices overall. There’s simply never going to be enough new or different housing downtown that it will noticeably affect the broader housing market (my position – others have made arguments in the other direction).

    In your part of town, I would guess that based on the age of your home, that there’s probably an equal number or larger of newer homes in the area, many built at a cost higher than your own and that’s why your seeing the flattening of costs. This effect can happen in a defined sub-area but across the City, you’re unlikely to see this effect as a broad-based trend.

    NE Ann Arbor is also a bit unique within the City in that the vast majority of development is of a standard subdivision-style as compared to downtown, west side, south side (which is largely non-residential) and SE (the old East Ann Arbor area).
       —John Q    Jul. 4 '05 - 06:19PM    #
  78. Peter: a-ha. Makes sense. I hadn’t realized the federal share of this particular parcel was so small.
       —Murph.    Jul. 5 '05 - 08:02AM    #
  79. Greenbelt receives $474,610 federal grant

    We may have covered this before, but can anyone point me to a map or aerial view showing where and how big these farms are? I’d like to be able to visually assess the progress of the Greenbelt program.
       —Dale    Aug. 11 '05 - 11:52AM    #
  80. The Council packets for the meeting where the Council voted to recommend these properties included aerials of the properties. I haven’t seen anything that shows the various greenbelt properties on a single map but that would be a great resource. Actually, it should show the various properties protected by PDR from the land trusts plus the greenbelt and the properties acquired through WashCos natural areas plan plus local and co. parks. That would give everyone a better job of what’s being protected and where.
       —John Q.    Aug. 11 '05 - 01:13PM    #
  81. Here are some properties – these aren’t for the program listed above but you can see some of what they are pursuing:

    http://www.ci.ann-arbor.mi.us/CommunityServices/Clerks/AgendaDocuments/07-18-05/D-14.pdf

    http://www.ci.ann-arbor.mi.us/CommunityServices/Clerks/AgendaDocuments/07-18-05/D-25.pdf
       —John Q.    Aug. 11 '05 - 01:21PM    #