Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Parks vs. Transit: The Sierra Club and the Fuller Transit Center

19. January 2010 • Chuck Warpehoski
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The Huron Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club has taken a position opposing a proposed new transit station.

Why is the Sierra Club arguing against a transit station? The oppose the decision to build the station on top of what is technically parkland (it currently serves as a parking lot).

There are a lot of questions here (e.g. Is this a good investment for the city? Will it reduce congestion from the east? Will use this center to come farther into Ann Arbor?). What most strikes me is, “In this case, which is more environmental, transit or parks”?

  1. This is a great example of why I will never, ever join the local Sierra Club. They consistently oppose good projects for short-sighted reasons. This transit center is replacing a surface parking lot that has been there for as long as anyone can remember. I cannot understand why the potential of yet another ignored, decaying, non-income-producing park trumps the great good that could come out of having a transit node so close to the hospital.

    They should have their charter revoked. Clearly the national Sierra Club would support something like this!

       —KGS    Jan. 19 '10 - 10:41PM    #
  2. “They consistently oppose good projects for short-sighted reasons.

    Opposing the conversion of city parkland into other uses seems to me to be a pretty logical position for a group like the SC to take. To claim that they are opposing the transit center is false. They are opposing the location of a permanent structure onto parkland which guarantees that the land will never be used for a park purpose. An equitable solution would be for the UM or the City to designate some other city or University owned property which has actual park qualities as parkland.

       —John Q.    Jan. 20 '10 - 02:11AM    #
  3. Does anyone know what the decision-making process was for this position?

    It seems like something that would be controversial with the SC membership with strong opinions on both sides. Organizations have to do that sometimes. When the group I work for has had to make decisions like that, we’ve done a lot of listening to stakeholders.

    Was there a similar process of listening to the members or leaders in the local chapter? Or, am I wrong and this is not a controversial decision in the organization?

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Jan. 20 '10 - 02:22AM    #
  4. It may be designated as city parkland, but it’s already a parking lot. There’s no indication that the city has ever even considered converting it back to a park. So all the transit station proposal seems to do is convert a surface parking lot only used by the University into a parking lot and transit station used by everyone. How is this a bad thing? If the transit station never happens, guess what happens to that land? It’s still a parking lot. Not a park.

       —KEF    Jan. 20 '10 - 09:21AM    #
  5. Chuck, I think the best way to answer your question as to why the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club has taken this position, it is best to look at the entire statement that was presented to Council and distributed for public record…(the third paragraph from the bottom of the statement addresses the non-automobile transit issue).

    Good Evening Mayor Hieftje, members of Council, City Administration.

    I appear before you tonight as a member of the Executive Committee of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club, representing 3000 members in the area.

    At our December 14, 2009 meeting we passed a resolution in opposition to recent city actions concerning Fuller Park and the proposed Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station.

    We are outraged over the notion that the city, very recently after passionately assuring the public that the city’s parkland would never be sold to outside interests without a vote of its citizens, would turn right around and spend hundreds of thousands of its dollars and study a proposed permanent car structure to be built ON CITY PARKLAND to be leased by the university on a long-term basis.

    Very clearly this violates the spirit if not the fine print legal definition of the city’s ordinances. It is a breach of trust by the city with its citizens to protect and maintain its parks for present and future generations to enjoy, and it establishes a terrible precedent.

    Granted, the current site, a portion of what is currently Fuller Park south of Geddes Road west of the Huron River Bank, had been leased to the university for surface car spaces – with an agreement that lease moneys would go to City Parks and Recreation operations.

    The use of public lands designated as parks should be dedicated exclusively for city parks use, not for other purposes.

    The use of parkland, for well, parking, with all due respect ladies and gentlemen, is not really a parks and recreation use. Yes, parking exists at park facilities, but parkland for the sake of parking is another matter. Let’s get real here.

    We can smile at that but we have a very serious issue.

    Any disposal of parkland by the city either by sale, reassignment of purpose, or lease must come with the consent of a vote by the citizens, not council.

    Furthermore, we are also deeply angered by the city spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultant fees to study building a car structure on city parkland while city administrators threaten closure of existing park facilities on the basis of lack of funds.

    We also question if the city made any real efforts with the university in obtaining this arrangement to build a permanent car structure to pursue a potential land swap for such a massive project, if the revenues for parks and recreations operations was even discussed, or whether a perceived convenience by city officials trumped due diligence in pursuing this agreement with the university. Something of this nature really required a more public process than what was apparently conducted here.

    It is our parks that make Ann Arbor that special place for everyone, a value that can’t be quantified. It is the inherent responsibility of the city to take care of its parks for future generations.

    I should note that the Sierra Club is certainly supportive of many efforts, private and public to encourage non-automobile transit. I also note that this current proposal contains little in the way of concrete plans for non-automobile transit – its focus is on the 900-car parking structure, with most of the parking going to University staff parking and only approximately 200 spaces for a proposed train station.

    We DO NOT approve any disposal of existing city parkland, whatever the motivation or goal, either by sale, lease or reassignment without a public vote. We will fight any present and future efforts to use Ann Arbor city parks and their assets other than for the purposes for which they were entrusted by citizens to the city to look out for.

    On behalf of the Sierra Club I thank you for your time and strongly urge you to reconsider these actions to destroy city park infrastructure.

       —James D'Amour    Jan. 20 '10 - 10:37PM    #
  6. Mr. D’Amour

    Per the above post #5 you (as the Sierra Club’s representative) seem to have two different objections that are being used interchangeably, but to me are different in nature. Your comments include that you are outraged that this park land is being considered for another use without a public vote [emphasis added], as well as the sentiment that this is a destruction of city park infrastructure.

    Is your outrage over the process, which has not yet been offered to the citizens for a vote? You make multiple references to that. Or is it the Sierra Club’s position to not support this proposal even if the citizens were to vote to support it? Or is the Sierra Club against the proposal but is arguing about a failed process as a way to prevent any progress?

    I do not know anything about how the city will be handling this but I believe that if the city was to go to the citizenry for approval with no more than a description, the electorate would reject the proposal with the argument of not wanting to authorize a blank check. It seems that some design and planning has to occur before the citizens are approached. How else would someone be able to come to an opinion about the investment cost? Even you complain about specifics that you want more information about. (Objecting to exploring an idea, and complaining that the presentation of that idea is lacking … seems like a professional communications disorder).

    As I said I do not know anything about how the city will be handling this and maybe the city really is looking to get around its obligation to have the new use voted on. Nevertheless, as an environmental protection organization I think the Sierra Club could work harder than the above to say what it means.

    The question begging to be answered then is this. Is there a circumstance where the Sierra Club would support park land being used for another function?

       —abc    Jan. 21 '10 - 12:29AM    #
  7. The statement by James D’Amour doesn’t make specific reference to the measure passed by voters in 2007. It specifically forbade the sale of parkland without a vote of the people. I believe that the argument is that a long-term lease (to the UM) and building a substantial structure (presumably permanent) on it is equivalent to a sale in spirit if not in fact and thus violates at least the intent of the ordinance.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jan. 21 '10 - 02:52AM    #
  8. “This transit center is replacing a surface parking lot that has been there for as long as anyone can remember.”

    I, for one, DO remember the days before this was a surface parking lot. I believe it had additional soccer fields and just plain old open space. I also remember when Fuller was a 2-lane road all the way out to Huron High. I also remember the days when the UM’s athletic field on Fuller had just a small parking lot and woods across the street. Now both sides have large surface parking lots. I also remember when the back lawn of the Art and Architecture building had a really cool art installation of grassy mounds (now also a surface parking lot).

    Two things I don’t understand: One, if we’re expecting trains to bring UM workers in from the east, then why build an enormous parking structure? Isn’t the one supposed to preclude the other? Isn’t that the fundamental benefit of mass transit—fewer cars? Has UM committed to removing some of these satellite surface lots once they build the new parking structure and transit center?

    Two, if this is going to go forward, with or without citizens voting, why not pursue the land swap idea? The UM just bought back acres and acres from Pfizer along Plymouth Road.

       —Tom Whitaker    Jan. 21 '10 - 10:29PM    #
  9. I can only think of two remedies from the University of Michigan that would satisfy Tom Whitaker. One would be for the U to refuse to hire anyone who needs to use a car to get to work. The other would be for the U to scale back to the size it was when Fuller was a 2-lane road. How does he propose to compel the U to do either?

       —Henry Brysk    Jan. 22 '10 - 03:28AM    #
  10. I don’t need to be satisfied of anything, Henry. Someone made the claim that no one could remember this land ever being anything but a parking lot. I do remember.

    Someone else claimed that rail transit will bring in UM commuters from the east and thereby reduce car traffic, emissions, carbon, etc., etc. That’s great, I’m all for it. But, if that’s true and it’s being used as justification for building a rail transit center on parkland, then why build a 1000-space parking garage, too? How many years of environmental savings from rail transit are being wiped out by the construction of a huge new parking structure? What other environmental trade offs could be considered to help offset this impact, like perhaps removing some of these extra satellite surface lots that in theory, should no longer be necessary?

    I’m not a member of the Sierra Club, locally or nationally. I just appreciate a little common sense from public institutions who are spending my tax money.

       —Tom Whitaker    Jan. 22 '10 - 06:50AM    #
  11. “If you build it, they will come”? A parking lot is not a “field of dreams”. People go to a parking lot because it gives them access to some place they need to be, not for the idle pleasure of being there. Yes, there will be more cars parked at that location, but they will not materialize out of thin air, they will be cars that otherwise would park in denser areas. The concept of a peripheral lot is to reduce traffic congestion at the center and marginally reduce pollution. That said, I cannot tell whether the particular proposal is an optimal solution to the obvious need for more parking with access to the Medical Center (and I agree that the city bureaucracy should do a better job of informing the public). Let us discuss the merits of the particular project without injecting an ideology that parking is evil per se.

       —Henry Brysk    Jan. 22 '10 - 07:51PM    #
  12. They have already built the surface lots and the cars already came. Now they are building 1000 more spaces in a new structure. Is it not reasonable to suggest that there may not be a need for BOTH? Especially if rail transit results in fewer of those “evil” cars, as is being touted?

    If what we’re being sold is that the environmental positives of rail transit will outweigh the negatives of lost parkland and the construction of a huge new parking structure, I guess I just need more proof. Removing some existing asphalt surface lots would at least seem to better balance the equation, in my opinion.

       —Tom Whitaker    Jan. 23 '10 - 12:52AM    #
  13. I thought the medical center was planning on building a multilevel lot near Kellogg, but would suspend that project if this one goes forward.

       —jcp2    Jan. 25 '10 - 06:50AM    #