Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Council to consider resolution to kill DDA plan

17. March 2005 • Murph
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A clash between the Downtown Development Authority and a group called the Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway looks like it will climax on Monday, 21 March, with a proposed City Council resolution that would set aside three city-owned sites as parkland, derailing plans to redevelop some city parking lots into residential and retail uses.

At the Ann Arbor City Council meeting of 7 March, the DDA presented a proposal that would condense parking from three city-owned sites into a single parking structure on one of those sites, at 1st and Wililam. The two freed sites (the decaying structure at 1st and Washington and the Klines Lot behind Gratzi) could be sold for development, with the DDA suggesting a mix of retail, affordable housing, and market-rate housing. This plan, says the DDA, would provide a number of advantages, including,

  • Putting more residents in the downtown area would allow them increased access to jobs and services, benefiting both those residents and downtown merchants.
  • Adding residents to the downtown will help support such amenities as full-scale downtown grocery stores and extended transit hours.
  • Selling the two sites will bring in an estimated $6 million to the City (which is currently expected to cover budget deficits only through cash infusions from the DDA), and resulting development will bring in $1-2 million in property taxes annually.
  • Replacing two parking lots with business and residential uses will provide stronger links between the Main Street area and areas west of downtown.
  • On the 1st and William site, the parking construction project would include a section of the site developed into a park, a section of pedestrian/bike greenway, safety improvements to the crossings of the Ann Arbor Railroad, cleanup of onsite soil contamination, and upgrades to the underground Allen Creek Drain within the parking budget, rather than those things being paid for out of separate funds.

The DDA’s plan has been under development for the last 18 months, and implements many recommendations of the 1988 Central Area Master Plan. A group called the Friends of the Greenway, with supporters concentrated in the Old West Side neighborhood beyond the 1st and William site, however, objects to the idea of building a new structure, and have demanded that the 1st and Washington site be purchased from the City by the Parks Department and turned entirely into parkland. Citing a lack of large parks in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods, the Friends also want the old County Road Commission site at 415 W. Washington, next to the new YMCA, and the City Yards on North Main to be converted entirely to parkland as the City moves the current functions of those sites to a service center further from downtown.

Additionally, the Friends claim that replacing the parking is unnecessary, and have compiled a photographic survey of public parking lots in the downtown to support their claim. This view is contested by Main St. area merchants, who say business will suffer if parking is not replaced (and some are worried business will suffer even if parking is collected onto a site further away); the DDA was initially slow to offer any countering evidence, but is now starting on a study of parking utilization.

While the DDA had hoped for a Council resolution at next week’s meeting that would accept their plan and allow for more detailed planning to begin, Councilmembers Easthope (D-5th) and Johnson (D-1st) have instead brought forward a resolution that would set aside for parkland the three sites demanded by the Friends. Not only would this action, in the words of DDA member Roger Hewitt, “completely kill” the chance of redeveloping the other two sites, it would eliminate any chance of reusing or redeveloping any portion of the two service yards, such as the idea of rehabbing buildings on the 415 West Washington site into artists’ studio space that would replace that space lost in the Tech Center.

Despite the fact that the Friends have claimed the DDA’s plan is moving too quickly and without enough public input, Easthope and Johnson’s proposal for Monday’s meeting will come with less than two weeks notice (and that only in an Ann Arbor News story that noted Easthope was planning to bring such a proposal) and does not include a public hearing component. While the DDA’s proposal is only conceptual and would require further discussion before any concrete action is taken (specifying only what uses would exist on sites and leaving open questions of site plan, specific mixes of use, etc.), Easthope and Johnson’s proposal would commit three city lots to eventual park use, effectively closing discussion on those sites before it has truly started.

Previous ArborUpdate items:
> 9 March, Ongoing Greenway drama: Easthope announces intent to kill DDA plan
> 8 March, Greenway advocates slam DDA plans for downtown parking

  1. Homework for the weekend: Email the Mayor and City Council using this link .
       —Brandon    Mar. 17 '05 - 04:59AM    #
  2. I am a graduate student of Urban Planning here at U of M and a life long resident of Ann Arbor. I currently reside at 803 Jones Dr. #2, 48105. I am requesting speaking time at the next City Council hearing on Monday March 21st. I will also describe my position. I oppose the demands put forth by the Ann Arbor Downtown Greenway organization and that they are in almost complete conflict with the greater interest of the Ann Arbor community and the principles of the greenbelt proposal.

    The expenditure of nearly any greenbelt money spent on this greenway is at best a betrayal of principle that does the total opposite of the inention of curbing sprawl, and at worst it is corruption of city funds beholden to what I see as narrow community interests. Its a classic bate and switch by those leading proponents of the greenbelt. Voters widely supported this proposal in the aspirations of curbing the rampant consumption of land by low density housing developments which is responsible for degrading the landscape and environmental quality in south east Michigan. Many of us looked at the greenbelt as a starting point to regional planning where Ann Arbor was taking the lead in not just protecting the regional environmental integrity, but also as a starting point in promoting regional equity and spearheading sustainable land use practices in South East Michigan. These are efforts aided by redirecting growth downtown. Its a cynical move that communicates no initial intention to curb sprawl, but instead on appeasing politically connected neighborhood interests who are already well endowed with underutilized parkland.

    The city should approach the properties in question, namely 1st and Washington, the service yard off Huron, 1st and William, with more community minded intentions such as promoting affordable housing and diverse housing options, bringing back the arts community in exile from the YMCA displacement and promoting a more viable downtown in uses that give a better economic return for their location.

    The city caters to the Old West side needs while ignoring greater community needs. A brief longitudinal case study illustrates an alternative priority. Fritz Park is a West side park of note that was named after my great grandfather’s family who were part of the old German settlers on the west side. My Grandmother was then born and raised on Morton where my mother was also born. In the 80’s my Mother was able to buy a house on Easy Street on the South East side. My sister now rents in Ypsilanti where her child will attend Ypsilanti schools and her family will ultimately be left with few options to purchase but to buy on a newly constructed McMansion relegated to the urban fringe. This is partially a function of economics but also implicates political priorities. It is the politics of exclusion.

    The sentiments behind the Ann Arbor Greenway represents an underlying exclusiveness that has been heard more common and shrill in recent days. It is a sentiment that abuses environmental rhetoric behind a mask of exclusion and seeks to manipulate a greater principle into achieving narrow community gains. As a Greenbelt supporter, an active environmentalist and life long Ann Arbor resident, I oppose this effort.

    Dave Somers

    How will the brownfield clean up be financed on 1st and William as a Park? Do you feel comfortable telling voters that they spent Park and Greenbelt money on acquisition of parking lots and old service buildings? The amount of money spent on acquisition, the tax dollars lost, the cost to remediate, the costly landscape improvements vs. acquisition of development rights for areas of REAL ecological integrity and the ability to preserve what has not already been lost to sprawl. How will you explain to voters in your district that all this extra money spent an area already more proportionately endowed with parks and public spaces than the rest of the community and not on protecting?
       —dsomers    Mar. 17 '05 - 05:15AM    #
  3. My guess is this is a political gesture, Easthope trying to appease his angry constituents, and the majority of city council members won’t support this extreme slap in the face of the DDA at this time. You don’t have to like all aspects of the plan to see this Easthope/Johnson resolution as a violation of civic trust.

    How is the mayor, who allegedly supports the DDA agenda, going to entice anyone with any sense to serve on such a body in the future if as soon as they come up with any plan at all it is shot down without even the courtesy of a community discussion.
       —Matt    Mar. 17 '05 - 07:30AM    #
  4. To those of you concerned, please e-mail the Council members and Mayor (find their addresses at the city web site) and tell them to vote “no” on this resolution. Especially the Mayor. They need to hear from their constituents. Thanks.
       —Leah    Mar. 17 '05 - 01:03PM    #
  5. My letter to Council:

    I’d like to express my extreme objection to the resolution that Council members Easthope and Johnson are bringing to Monday’s meeting that would set aside three City-owned sites “in their entirety as Greenway parks.” While the vision of the greenway supported by this resolution is impressive, I am worried about the cost of this action – what other community priorities might suffer through the implementation of this vision? Even more concerning, though, is the suddenness of this proposal. A major action like permanently setting aside three properties should be preceded by a community discussion of the trade-offs involved, and whether these trade-offs are what we really want.

    One of the major complaints that I heard from citizens at the previous Council meeting, when the DDA presented their proposal, was a feeling that the DDA was moving too fast and with too little opportunity for public input. In this context, Easthope and Johnson’s proposal is confusing: calling for major, concrete action on very short notice and without so much as a public hearing at the Council meeting, strikes me as an extreme violation of the participatory process. Even if the final decision is that setting aside those properties is the best idea, it should be that, a final decision, and not a short-cut through the discussion like the resolution for Monday night. Even if you support the Friends’ vision of the greenway, I ask that you reject this overly rushed action.

    Moving from process to content, I believe that the Friends’ “full-scale” greenway plan (and the resolution supporting it) is short-sighted, and does not consider the complexity of any of the issues involved. The resolution will not only prevent potentially valuable mixes of uses on the sites named, but may disrupt plans to make better use of other downtown sites – and all of these things should be considered before land is set aside. As a few examples:

    * Promoting car-free transportation is cited as a goal of the resolution, but providing car-free routes is not enough to achieve this: the city’s built form must provide enough uses in close enough proximity to allow access between them. If the form of the greenway interferes with the creation of this built form (such as by preventing redevelopment of the 1st and Washington or Klines Lot sites) it will prevent, not promote, a truly walkable city.

    * Providing an amenity for downtown residents – and especially residents of affordable housing – is another admirable goal, but if the greenway displaces other uses, affordable housing in the central area will likely fall off of the list of things that we actually create. Not only might the full-scale greenway reduce the number of affordable housing units eventually built, due to lack of space, but it will also undoubtedly raise the market value of any properties near it, making it harder to promote private development of affordable housing downtown.

    * The resolution cites a desire to support artists and the arts, and I admit that the connection between the full-scale greenway and supporting artists is lost on me. The only relevant mention of artists that I have heard is the idea of rehabbing the structures on the 415 W. Washington site into affordable studio space for artists. Since the resolution would prevent this from happening, I believe it would only exacerbate the lack of affordable space in Ann Arbor, continuing the trend of artists moving to Ypsilanti or Detroit.

    It would be wonderful if we as a city find a way that we can meet all of these goals and still implement the full-scale greenway plan – but we should consider that before we close off any other options. If we advance the full-scale plan now, before figuring out how we are going to meet these other needs, what we are saying is that adding parks to a particular part of town is a higher priority than any of these other goals, and that’s a statement I’m not comfortable with.

    Richard Murphy
    1512 Gilbert Ct. (1st Ward)
    Master of Urban Planning candidate, University of Michigan.
       —Murph    Mar. 17 '05 - 04:36PM    #
  6. Note that the Ann Arbor News still hasn’t said anything about this. I hear they’re planning to run something on Sunday, but that seems like awfully short notice to me.

    Also, Doug Cowherd, one of the masterminds behind the “full-scale” greenway campaign, is apparently throwing around his reputation as the town’s kingmaker, and has been making thinly veiled threats to run his own candidates against any City Council member who doesn’t go along with this resolution; I don’t have a direct quote, but have now heard this from a few different sources, and, considering the tenor of Cowherd’s past interactions with Council , it’s hardly surprising.
       —Murph    Mar. 17 '05 - 04:46PM    #
  7. Hey, as a thought, how hard is it to toss a park on top of a parking structure? I mean, I’ve seen them before in other cities (Phoenix Plaza in Plymouth being the most immediately memorable), and know that a foot or so of dirt plus some sod and some plants can make for a decent public space, up on top of developed land. I wouldn’t imagine it would be too much more expensive (I mean, dirt and grass has to be lighter than cars, and dirt and grass is pretty damn cheap), and it would provide downtown green space, and probably a pretty nice view. And in Plymouth, Phoenix Plaza is actually a pretty great place to see bands during the summer.
       —js    Mar. 17 '05 - 09:13PM    #
  8. Well, I just think that the parks a lousy idea. Where will all the homeless go? It’s just to inconvient and unsafe to scratch out an existence in the woods or city park. What they need is more doorways and parking structures to inhabit. Follow DDA and help the homeless.
       —Eniis Biggert    Mar. 17 '05 - 09:38PM    #
  9. I simply, simply do not understand the ridiculous rhetoric that there are not enough park spaces in Ann Arbor. This is an illusion. There are parks all over my neighborhood (West Side of South Main). Right behind my house is a nice long park – two blocks to the south there is another nice park with tennis courts and a baseball diamond. Why do you need more green space downtown? This place is a disgusting suburban nightmare as it is.

    What pisses me off about you Fat Hippie Greenbelt Supporters is that you DRIVE absolutely everywhere. You have to, because there is NOTHING OF INTRINSIC VALUE DOWNTOWN, LIKE A FOOD STORE. OR DRUG STORE. So you drive to the store, drive your kids down the street to Pioneer High, but DAMNED if you drive to a park! You are unbelievable! Why not just give up the guise and stop hiding that gas guzzler in the garage. And don’t bullshit me that you need it in the winter – my honda civic has done fine for the past two years. I hate the Greenbelt people and I’m so glad leaving this despicable city for good.

    I don’t doubt that the Greenbelt will have its way though, first, because this town is asinine and second, I’m fairly certain the collective IQ of the city council hovers around 13 – so I’m sure they will vote yes on this as the drool drips down their faces because “Green” and “Way” at least are part of their vocabulary while “Downtown Development Authority” and “rationality” are words that first graders have to deal with.

    I hate this town.
       —Dr. Mandrake    Mar. 17 '05 - 10:16PM    #
  10. js,
    I thought about the idea of rooftop parks also because I have heard of a rooftop dog park in Seattle. I think that would be so cool.

    I will take some time to write to City Council on this issue. I am annoyed thinking about how a series of broken up parks in this vicinity will be empty like Liberty Plaza and West Park. Most of the West Siders pack up and go to Gallup or Saginaw Woods (or so I’m told). Many people enjoy the wooded parks in Ann Arbor and I don’t think they will transplant nice wooded parks in the 1st and William to Washington corridor.

    Ann Arbor needs to attract young workers (and not students alone) in order to be vibrant. I see my options for living downtown like this: student housing that should be condemned (Catherine Street has a house or two like this…), overpriced apartments, cramming too many people into a space to make the rent, or living far enough away that I have to rely on the bus that does not run enough (or near where I need to go). Yes everyone has to decide between these options if they are renting in Ann Arbor, but I am particularly tired of it.
    So I really hope that the Council can come up with something better than shooting down the DDA plan.

    This is saying a lot coming from me because I have been trying for two years now to start a dog park! Parks are great, but I like the DDA plan better for this area.
       —Lizz    Mar. 17 '05 - 10:19PM    #
  11. I am a candidate for a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture at UM and an 8 year downtown Ann Arbor resident. A high density downtown makes Ann Arbor a more environmentally responsible city and these surface parking lots must be converted into a more efficient use. A greenway also makes the city more environmentally responsible, but it must take on a form that is responsive to creating a high density downtown. In addition to some larger parks, the greenway through downtown should be lined with office, retail, visually friendly parking structures and residential. This will make the greenway a safe and highly used 24 hour place. It makes architectural sense to develope at least a portion of all sites aquired for the greenway in an a form that makes the greenway function better in the context of downtown. Limiting our options by setting aside entire lots for only park use is ridiculous and will likely result in poor design. The city council should look at some greenways in Europe and do some homework asap. Also, parks on the roof of the parking structures probably wont get used, but community gardens could work.
       —isaac brown    Mar. 17 '05 - 10:37PM    #
  12. Wonderful to see some spillage from AAiO; I can only imagine what kind of response I would get from Mandrake if I reminded that “greenway” and “greenbelt” are two entirely separate (and, to some degree, conflicting) programs around here?

    js, apparently if you build a structure sturdy enough to hold one more story than you actually build, you can put trees on top of it (with all of the soil required for such and all of the water weight the soil would soak up in a storm). It’s been suggested that a structure on 1st/William could be tiered, with a ring of water-absorbant soil+plants around the edge of each level, both to capture stormwater and to break up the visual impact of the thing. Isaac’s idea is interesting; you could rent out plots to the folks living in the Eaton Bldg – that way they would both be able to have themselves a little garden to go with their urban lofts, and they would have a reason to enjoy the view. (And it would give them a reason to keep tabs on what’s going on across the street; very Jane Jacobs.)
       —Murph    Mar. 17 '05 - 11:18PM    #
  13. Murph- The only concern I would have about trees is the same one that I have to deal with— they get into foundations something fierce. But still, yeah, why not? I’d love to see more rooftop greenery all over this city (noting that it saves on energy costs and often can be used as a selling point for rentals within a building). It’d be nice if that was simply a bid condition for contractors doing parking structures here in town.
    But hey, did Scott show you that letter I got from some damn community group rallying to make sure the the city doesn’t sell off any of the Huron Hills golf course? One of their lines was that it was “ludicrous for the city to spend money to buy up green space outside the city while selling off green space inside for development.” It’s like these people didn’t even read the damn law they voted for with the greenbelt; that’s exactly what Ann Arbor should be doing.
       —js    Mar. 18 '05 - 03:20AM    #
  14. Those golf courses are ripe for development. Talk about a waste of space used by almost nobody but rich white guys… Prime candidates for new, dense, mixed-use neighborhoods someday. The city sure can’t afford to operate them, either.

    But now we’re getting off-topic. Email City Council!
       —Brandon    Mar. 18 '05 - 04:23AM    #
  15. keep in mind, too, that what the greenway advocates are suggesting is not that there’s a particular design for these parks, nor that it’s exclusivly park – a combo of light retail, commuter friendly activities (think chicago’s bike station ) etc, could be part of the mix. the greenway advocates are advocating for the easthope/johnson resolution to get the parks in place, then design a balanced usage thereof.

    further, the major objection that i personally have to this dda plan is that they’ve decided that a $22M parking structure in a floodplain is a good idea. but the dda has not even begun to analyze the existing parking usage, which is exclusively under their supervision, and they retain the $ too. i don’t want my tax $ spent on superfluous parking, when better signage, directions, and usage/monitoring could point out if this is actually necessary.

    a second objection i have is selling these parcels. why wouldn’t the city long-term lease them instead? they can easily sell whatever they want to alleviate the budget crunch, but that’s really short-term thinking. how about some innovative long-term thinking – like planning how to make ann arbor a more attractive place to live and work? context-friendly buildings (an 11-story building at klein’s off main-street? how does that fit in)? i’m tired of handouts to corporate interests – i want to see ann arbor designed with ann arbor’s best long-term interests in mind.

    a couple other thoughts:

    – where will the homeless go? where do they go now? we built this shiny new homeless shelter just for this purpose:

    – cleanup of greenway sites? seems like these sites can be either cleaned up (if necessary) or just built over. how is the latter a solution?

    – parking structure: the city has to actually pay to build this. and by their analysis, it will cost $22M to build, but gross $13M over the next 10 years. this is a handout of your tax $ to ‘long-term parking’ which is the same as saying commuters, which is the same thing as advocating_sprawl. how about a set of ann-arbor dexter/saline/chelsea bus lines instead? seriously! think outside the bun here, people!

    – how about this? if you build a building, you’re responsible for providing parking within the design. you’re also responsible for a certain amount of clean energy generation on-site (solar), and you’re responsible for some greywater mitigation (green roofs). maybe in lieu of some parking, there could be an aata subsidy. who knows. but let’s talk, and think largely, not easy (sell property) and simple (build parking).

    look, i would love to see more density downtown, more greenspace, and that the combination build a better community. the eaton building is a great example of doing this – re-use old buildings, create attractive properties, etc. but to think that what ann arbor really needs is another parking structure, and not innovative green design, innovative thoughts about commuting, and innovation in new urbanism, is silly. we need to have a discussion of options, not a presentation of the same-old dda pander-to-developers plan that is so timeless.

    ok, it’s early, i’m cranky. someone needs a coffee.
       —Bob Kuehne    Mar. 18 '05 - 01:46PM    #
  16. Yes, managing the root problem is something I’ve never quite understood . . .

    I don’t necessarily think that we should be selling off chunks of golf courses or other land around the periphery right now, though. If we sell land over on that side of town for development, we’re going to end up with more cul-de-sacs and parking lots – at a public hearing for the Draft Northeast Area Plan last year, it was noted that recommended densities in the draft were already down (by 30% ?) from the original staff recommendations, due to the input of various residents of the area. There’s nothing really attached to that area to influence its urban design in a good direction; I’d rather see a focus on downtown and on areas adjacent to well-built neighborhoods – push Burns Park style down along South State and Packard, OWS’s built form out to Stadium, etc. Use network benefits and all that.

    Also, the Greenbelt wasn’t pushing for less open space in the city. Recall that the ballot language included “the acquisition and management of land and land rights both within and outside the City”, and the Council resolution (Hieftje & Johnson) passed before the vote to establish guidelines for the program “expected that approximately one-third of the millage revenues will be used for purchases within the City”. I’ll admit that I was pretty wishy-washy on the Greenbelt proposal at the time because of this (and wasn’t forced to choose which way to vote, since I was living in NJ at the time. . .). I think it would be more accurate, using the greenbelt proposal as general bounds to stay within, to say, “Why are we talking about hugely expensive new acquisitions within the city when we can’t even afford to maintain the parkland we already have?”
       —Murph    Mar. 18 '05 - 01:58PM    #
  17. Bob, some good thoughts, but what I’m most curious about is your assertion that the greenway advocates are not suggesting an “exclusively park” design, and that the Easthope/Johnson resolution is about making sure there’s some space for parkland on the sites, then negotiating uses. The aagreenway website calls, right up front, for “Greenway anchor parks occupying the entirety of three city-owned floodplain/floodway properties”, and the resolution would designate the sites “in their entirety as Greenway parks.” If you’re describing the intent correctly, then both of these sources are doing a very poor job of presenting their cases. If a reasonable mix is what the “full-scale greenway” supporters want, then they should tone down their rhetoric and not support Easthope’s resolution.

    As just a few other notes: I’m all for commuter (express) bus lines to Chelsea, Dexter, Plymouth, Brighton, Milan, Ypsi – that’s been near the top of my list of transportation goals for years (along with “students ride AATA free” and “transit service to DTW”. One for three, so far.) Even if you add those cities’ and villages’ transit-supportive housing stock to Ann Arbor’s, though, you don’t have nearly enough to handle the demand for housing by A2 workers. All of those other places need to look at their development patterns as closely as A2 does.

    Parking construction won’t come out of tax dollars, or, at least, will mostly come not-out-of-tax-dollars. The DDA’s parking system is run (almost? entirely?) separately from anything else they do, with the structured parking (for people who work downtown) losing money over the first 10-20 years of its life, but being supported by surface lots, metered parking, and older structures.

    I’m taking a real estate class in the Planning and Business schools right now. If we require people to provide on-site parking, we either end up with an exurban, strip-mall style built form, or else developers have to provide underground parking or structured parking sandwiched in the middle of their building, and have to hike the prices they charge in order to pay for that (massively expensive) construction. Do we want to provide for the homeless and encourage “workforce housing”? Do we want to encourage compact, walkable development? The only way to meet both of those goals in the downtown area, with any degree of success, is to take care of parking off-site, in shared structures. I’m, personally, anti-car and anti-parking, but, professionally, I understand the forces that make a public parking structure something that should be seriously considered, and not just written off as pork.
       —Murph    Mar. 18 '05 - 02:35PM    #
  18. hi murph, good responses to my questions. a few more thoughts: my understanding of the full-scale greenway as advocated via the greenway group ( and the resolution by easthope/johnson is to establish parks, as parks (and yes, i guess the resolution does say these sites are to be exclusively park – i don’t consider this a bad thing). however, i don’t believe that the vision of the ‘full-scale greenway’ involves exclusively park throughout. in fact, i think the success of places like chicago’s millenium park demonstrate the ability to create interesting civic-mixed-use sites. i’d be interested in pushing this further, too, to think of places that integrate small-scale retail (think rollerblade or bike shops, coffee-shops, cafés, etc.) into greenway stuff.

    my basic take is that a greenway will be vastly more difficult to achieve if we give up prime opportuntites along the way, namely the three sites asked for for the greenway. note that the only overlap here between the dda proposal and the greenway is the first/william site. so the arguments about the greenway being anti-density are just false – the only place that the two proposals intersect is here, and chiefly over parking – a need which has yet to be demonstrated by the body proposing to build such a thing.

    another observation: the idea that parking is paid for not out of tax dollars is false – it’s not property tax perhaps, but it’s our tax revenue nonetheless. if the council cedes control of parking revenue to the dda, then the dda has essentially been given control of city (and therefore your/mine) tax revenue to do with it what it will. seems almost self-evident that they’ll try to build more parking with our parking revenue, to further increase their revenue, and control/power.

    finally, i’d challenge your assertion that on-site parking creates either exurbs or unaffordable development. there are lots of cities world-wide, and in the us too, that have this, and lots of successful ones at that. i guess i approach this as not an issue of where people park – cars are part of the current and historical american culture – but who pays for it. ultimately, if developers are to profit from building spaces for rent/lease, and expect people to get to those spaces, they should either be responsible for dealing with the extra traffic and parking load, or figure on another way of bringing getting people to their properties. i’m not really excited about directly or indirectly subsidising developers. it’s either profitable for them to build or not – and right now, judging from the immense interest in these sites, it’s very profitable.

    we need some capitalist responsibility – no more handouts, no more pillaging city coffers for subsidized parking so developers can profit. it’s always so interesting to me to see this split between the ‘take-care-of-my-needs’ approach by developers, but their nominal attempts at taking care of the urban qualities that make the environment they want to build in so attractive in the first place.

    cities for citizens, damnit.

    (still cranky, but the coffee’s helping).

       —Bob Kuehne    Mar. 18 '05 - 02:57PM    #
  19. “we need some capitalist responsibility – no more handouts, no more pillaging city coffers for subsidized parking so developers can profit.”

    Am I to assume that you haven’t figured out that the downtown homeowners have been profiting in the name of environmentalism for decades now? If you purchased a home in downtown Ann Arbor 20 years ago for $150K, how much do you suppose it is worth today?

    Have you noticed that these people aren’t pushing for more parks around, say, the Stadium street strip malls? Gee, I wonder why that is? It’s within the city limits, and god knows that that is an area that could stand to have more green. Why not there?

    “it’s either profitable for them to build or not – and right now, judging from the immense interest in these sites, it’s very profitable.”

    There is a very simple reason for this. There is an alarming problem with the ratio of jobs to residences in Ann Arbor (the primary indicator for good urban density), and this problem is focused (obviously) in the downtown area. Developers have been shut out for decades….it has nothing to do with profitability. It has everything to do with demand. This is where people should be living if you want sustainable development. Any first year Urban Planning student knows this.

    What people don’t seem to realize is that they need these parking structures, or the developers will take their money and build their buildings outside of town. This is specifically and by definition SPRAWL. They don’t need the parking so that they can make more money. They need these parking structures, or THEY WON’T BUILD AT ALL. This is precisely what a downtown homeowner wants, and I can assure you that the person in the meeting Monday who bought the downtown house at $150 20 years ago can add, and has figured out that more parks will add even more to their bottom line.

    Now I ask you: who is REALLY being greedy here, and who is really getting city subsidized profits?
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 18 '05 - 04:27PM    #
  20. hi todd,

    interesting assertions. here’s what i don’t understand:

    * if the goal is to have people living and working downtown, why do we need more commuter parking? isn’t adding parking, not living spaces, adding to the problem of sprawl? catering to people driving into town to work? shouldn’t we encourage them to live here?

    * if our parking usage is currently completely untracked, how can we say with any confidence that we need more parking?

    * you assert that developers have been shut out for decades? what about the residence/office complex at main/william? what about the new residence/retail complex at state/washington? how about the new residences planned between 5th/division on liberty?

    * you assert that ‘Any first year Urban Planning student knows’ that developer interest has nothing to do with profitibility, but demand. i suggest sticking with the urban planning program beyond the first year, and see what later years teach. take some econ too. developers aren’t doing this out of kindness – it’s a business.

    i look forward to learning more.
       —Bob Kuehne    Mar. 18 '05 - 05:09PM    #
  21. Bob, as I understand the DDA’s proposal, there’s not parking being added; they’re just consolidating it from three sites to one. Subtracting parking would be nice, but ask a few Main Street business owners whether they think this would be a good idea. I’d like to see some hard data too, but I think it’s pretty well agreed that Ann Arbor is not a city that is suited for carfree living. My concentration in the urban planning program is “transportation and land use planning”; from that point of view, trying to generate a carfree city by forcing out the cars usually leads to a city that’s carfree because it’s dead, not because it can function without them.

    And, as far as dealing with commuters “encouraging them to live here”, instead of by providing parking, well. . .In a year and a half, when we finish our current programs, Cara and I will have three masters degrees between the two of us – yet we don’t expect to be able to afford housing in Ann Arbor. In a few years, when we look to buy a house (er, dwelling unit; not necessarily “single-family-detached-house”), it will more likely be in Ypsilanti, Hamtramck, or Detroit than in Ann Arbor, because that’s what the economics dictate. The DDA’s “3 site plan” says that they want to enable the creation of both market rate and “affordable” housing, and that this is only possible with structured parking on 1st and William. They might be wrong, and, if so, I’d like to see an alternative plan (with at least as good an analysis as theirs). In the meantime, though, my personal interpretation of things is that folks won’t have to worry about my being a gadfly forever. When I graduate, a professional urban planner’s salary will put me solidly in the “affordable housing” bracket in Ann Arbor, even if I were to score a super-spiffy City of Ann Arbor planner position. When Cara graduates, a job in social work or counseling will hopefully allow us as a “household” to claw our way above the median income for this town, but should it really be so difficult?

    If you want economics, there’s my economics for you; hopefully it will give you an idea of why anybody would ever defend a parking structure. (And, trust me, it is only in extremely rare circumstances that I will defend a parking structure.) Read Dave Somers’ e-mail (comment #2, above) for his economics. Maybe Todd will offer up, as another data point, the economics of starting up an independant business in downtown Ann Arbor. The loose version of it: the economics of Ann Arbor’s land use patterns mean that we’re likely to see more Buffalo Wild Wings than Arbor Brewing Companies or Leopold Brothers in this town’s future.

    If you think I’m wrong, please prove it. (Honestly: please, please, please prove me wrong!)
       —Murph    Mar. 18 '05 - 05:41PM    #
  22. You didn’t answer my questions. Pleased take a minute and answer them.

    To summarize:

    1. Why are these proposed parks always near city center? Where are the proposed parks for the less affluent parts of town.

    2. How much is that $150K downtown house bought 20 years ago worth today?

    3. Do you not see that the financial conflict of interest is just as bad on the downtown residence’s side as it it on the developers?

    4. If it isn’t financially viable for developers to build downtown, where are they going to build their structures? They need to make $$, so where will their investments go?

    As to your questions about parking: Who said this was parking for commuters?

    If you want to put in a new building, the first thing that the planning dept. asks is: where is the parking? You literally can’t build without it. Looking past that, if you are looking to buy a condo downtown, and all of the monthly passes in garages are sold, would you spend egregious amounts of money for the unit? You know the answer. No parking, no residences. It’s that simple.
    So to your question “if the goal is to have people living and working downtown, why do we need more commuter parking?” they don’t need commuter parking, they need RESIDENCE parking.

    So to answer you question of shouldn’t we want them to live here, yes, but they need a place to put their car. Asking someone to pay $300K for a unit without access to parking is absurd. This isn’t downtown Chicago.

    “developers aren’t doing this out of kindness – it’s a business.”

    Actually, developers are very much trying to build in the downtown area out of kindness and a desire to increase density downtown while maintaining a greenbelt around the dense city. The DDA would rather have the development occur downtown as it helps local business and prevents sprawl.

    You have suggested that I need to take more econ classes…this tells me that you have taken more, so I ask you: if the developers tell you that without parking they cannot add residences, do you think they are kidding? Where do you think that they WILL build? I will answer this for you: they will build on fresh land where putting in more blacktop that isn’t tiered like a parking garage is. Is this what you want? Is your goal to simply keep downtown developers from making $$?
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 18 '05 - 06:11PM    #
  23. so on my walk home today for lunch, i took a gander at the william/main-fourth lot. i saw the entire top deck occupied by two cars. a rough eyeball estimate about 100 cars up there.

    my beef with the dda’s plan is largely with the parking lot portion. i’m all for downtown urban density to support living and working downtown. but why am i bent about the parking? three reasons:

    * the alleged dda plan goal for first/william is to consolidate parking. but there’s lots of parking available at other sites, and there’s NO evidence being presented (of actual parking usage or otherwise) that more is necessary. the greenway advocates gathered the first evidence of this kind, presented it to council, who were ‘surprised’.

    * building a parking lot in a floodway is not good sense, from a financial, environmental, or urban planning viewpoint. period.

    * anecdotally, it’s ‘hard’ to park in downtown. we could add signs pointing people to the lots that are relatively empty. it’s insane to build a giant lot two and a half blocks from another giant parking lot, without trying other options first.

    todd: whenever i walk by your lot, there’s parking available – can i recommend this to others? are you doing business in downtown ann arbor out of ‘kindness’ or is it a business? are you in it to make money? i don’t care if developers intend to make money on their investment. i do care if they ask me to subsidise parking that benefits them. parking that has not been adequately justified, built in an environmentally sensitive area, without exhausting other options like improved signage, actual usage tracking, and more stringent requirements for developers to be responsible for their own parking.

    ann arbor is a great place to live. the greenway would make it better. density downtown would make it better. developers are obviously interested in downtown – no vacant lots here. it takes will to make change happen, and it’s not easy, but if we make ann arbor a more green place to live, a better balance of density, residence, and parking downtown, it will become a better place to live.

    i don’t want to live here because it’s good for business, i want to live here because it’s good to live here.

    keep up the discussion. i don’t think this is a ‘density’ vs ‘park’ issue – it’s about quality of place – life and work both.
       —Bob Kuehne    Mar. 18 '05 - 06:30PM    #
  24. Bob, you aren’t doing a very good job of justifying your position. You are making a ton of assertions about developers, and yet you have failed to answer any of my question about the other side of the equation…the downtown homeowners. How about it? Answer my questions. Please.

    If I understand you correctly, you are what I would call the average Ann Arborite. You want more parks, you don’t care if taxes go up, you don’t care if both commercial and residential rents go up, and you don’t care if you can’t build downtown…and if they do build downtown, the developer better pay for their own parking while at the same time they can’t make the building taller than 8 or 9 stories.

    That about sums it up, right? Now for the umpteenth time, there isn’t a single thing wrong with your position. I just happen to vehmently disagree with your position because:

    1. Local business is dissapearing because they can’t afford to keep their doors open because of rent/taxes that keep rising because of too much demand for properties. In fact, when our lease is up (a long time from now) and our landlords decide to charge the going rate of $30+ a square foot, we will move. Period. I hope you like the chains.

    2. If the it isn’t financially viable to build downtown, then the developers will build elsewhere. The strip malls and the tract housing south of 94 come to mind. You’ll note that there’s plenty of parking out there. Make no bones about it…your position is one of the main reasons that this sprawl exists.

    3. You are turning Ann Arbor into a country club made for rich people. The fact that people like Murph can’t afford to live here makes me angry. Check the change in the Census figures over the past 20 years. We are shutting the middle class out.

    I could go on. To reiterate….there is nothing inherently wrong with what you want, and I respect your position….but your choices have consequences, and it would strengthen your position if you would actually acknowledge that.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 18 '05 - 07:23PM    #
  25. hi todd,

    i fail to see how the dda proposal makes any of your points valid. the dda proposal isn’t going to produce cheap commercial or residential space, it isn’t going to create lower prices (unless you consider $250k for a 600 sq. ft. condo ‘affordable’). besides which, you can get ‘affordable’ housing right now at those eaton lofts, starting in the $200s.

    this is the cycle that always happens. inexpensive areas become attractive to artists & small businesses, these attract other biz & residence, and before you know it, the neighborhood is getting gentrified, and the very people who catalyzed the process can’t afford to live there. and developers swoon and swoop in.

    but you’re kidding yourself if you think the dda proposal promises affordable housing or commercial space. it increases density downtown, but makes the responsibility for that density the city’s, and yours and mine, by providing parking for them for ‘free’. as ann arbor residents and homeowners, i think we’d both be incensed by that. i know i am.

    there’s probably an interesting side discussion to be had here about the ‘true’ costs of our car-centric society, who pays for them, and why regressive taxes are bad (unless you’re wealthy) but that’s for another discussion.

    i want what i think you want – a local economy, walkable streets, sustainable living, and a livable city – i just disagree strongly that a greenway providing non-motorized transportation paths to/from downtown and park is somehow causing sprawl. and i really can’t see how a parking structure explicitly stated to consolditate commuter parking accomplishes that and makes ann arbor a more livable place.

    here’s my position, simply:

    * let the dda develop two of their three sites for places to work and reside.

    * let’s make the third, located in a floodplain, into a park.

    * let’s balance that commercial devleopment – selling (or more sensibly, leasing) city property to developers with usage of city property that benefits all ann arborites who work and live downtown.

    hey, todd, too, i like your beer, and i’d hate to see it go away. it’s expensive, sure, but i am willing to pay for it, because it offers me things i choose to spend extra for. and i think living close to a downtown anywhere in this country has those same tradeoffs.

    good debate – carry on!
       —Bob Kuehne    Mar. 18 '05 - 08:07PM    #
  26. Bob, I don’t why the DDA didn’t take the “there’s plenty of parking” objection seriously earlier in the process; I think they were just operating on the “common knowledge” that, well, of course we can’t subtract parking! Everybody knows that! I think that was a mistake. I think they could and should been collecting this kind of data on their facilities since they first took them over, years ago. However, I’m just as uncomfortable relying on anecdotal, “well, there’s parking available there now!” evidence to make a final decision as I am to rely on “common knowledge”. The Friends’ photo-survey of parking is a good start, but I’d like to see a reasonably intense study before either construction starts on a new structure or the possibility of constructing a new structure is totally eliminated, and the DDA apparently is beginning something of the sort, now that they’ve been smacked upside the head and told that it would be a good idea.

    Also, I think you’ve slammed the DDA’s parking plans both for being tax-leeching subsidy to developers on both sides of calling it (when I asserted that it breaks-even-or-better) of being a play for the power-hungry DDA to increase their revenues and influence. I’d like to ask that you pick one of these to stick to. :)

    Todd: for some reason I thought you owned your building. Frightening to hear that you don’t. Maybe Cara and I (and Brandon?) can join Steven and Hillary in persuading you to start up Hamtramck’s first sustainable brewery when you lose your lease here?
       —Murph    Mar. 18 '05 - 08:26PM    #
  27. Well, I emailed Hieftje and my councilpeople (Reid and Lowenstein). I noticed while reading the actual text that one of the reasons proposed for the greenway is that it will be easier to walk downtown. I don’t even have a car and I have no problem walking downtown. If people have to be trained to walk, then we have a problem…
       —Lazaro    Mar. 18 '05 - 09:11PM    #
  28. Lazaro,

    Thanks for pointing that out. F’in hilarious. If any place needs more walkability, it’s the areas far from downtown and the proposed greenway areas. I dread the 1/4 mile walk from my bus stop to my house (which is entirely along W. Stadium) but take delight in the 1/2 mile walk from the downtown bus stop to my downtown office.
       —Scott    Mar. 18 '05 - 10:21PM    #
  29. This is insane. They are talking about selling the Huron Hills golf course for development because the city is broke, but they’re also going to take really important downtown sites, places for diverse housing, real people retail (supermarket?), arts spaces, all that,and turning it into a park.

    How stupid is this council? I will email my reps immediately.
       —JennyD    Mar. 18 '05 - 10:23PM    #
  30. Lots of good points on both “sides.” There are advantages, disadvantages, and consequences to all the positions, but the end goal is a better city (or at least not a worse one).

    My thoughts:
    1) The three proposed park sites are all in the Allen Creek floodplain. The entire First and William and most of the other two sites are in the Allen Creek floodway. The FEMA flood maps are currently being redrawn and the expected outcome (in large part because of the addition of so many impermeable surfaces in the City) is that the floodplain and the floodway will be extended outward—placing all three sites in the floodway. Even with the current FEMA maps, these are not sites that can have any residential and any building at all is an iffy proposition.

    2) The proposed parking structure at First and William is extraordinarily expensive. $44,000/space is far more than the average cost to build a parking structure. This tells me that the First and William site is not the optimal site for a structure.

    The DDA must find a way to analyze parking usage. This is a huge problem on their part. Spending any money without adequate usage information is poor management.

    If more parking is needed, plans for a parking structure on the Kline’s lot have been finalized for years. A parking structure on the Library lot would also make more sense (pending the Y proposal decision) as it is the same distance from Main St. as the First and William site and also accessible to Liberty and State.

    If you build whichever structure is cheapest/space, allow another few residential stories on the First and Washington site to maximize the selling price and tax base, and leave the First and William lot alone (yes, leave it a surface lot for now until a new structure is finished and then see what happens), the city and DDA might end up money ahead AND with a better relationship with both the neighbors and the business owners.

    3) In large part it is owner greed, not demand, that increases the price of downtown retail. The City is going to have all commercial property tax information on-line by the end of the year which may prove to be interesting reading.

    4) Apartment vacancies are extremely high in downtown neighborhoods. Condos are also not selling well. Will new dense units be condos or apartments? If cost is the main factor (as so many of you imply), how will new construction be able to be less expensive than the vacant units already here? What compromises or payoffs will the City have to make to put these mixed-use buildings downtown and have “affordable” housing. Who will live in this housing (and why)? It is my experience that many people, especially second-generation suburbanites, don’t want to live downtown. Ann Arbor is a medium-sized Midwestern city. People don’t move here to live in dense downtown developments, especially when then can get something “better” (single-family house with lawn) close by. Access to a greenway might actually be a good thing to lure people into more dense housing downtown.

    4) The characterization of current local homeowners (and customers) is insulting. The assumption is false that anyone who made the choice (and it is not always an easy choice) to live and work downtown years ago is a greedy NIMBY out to make money off the poor, while new owners are shining environmental saviors.

    5) Developers are not always right and they do not always act in the best interests of a city. They always act in the best interest of the developer. Sometimes the developers are right (hopefully Eaton) and sometimes the neighbors are right (Ashley Mews, Tally Hall, Ann-Ashley).

    6) The DDA is not the bad guy in all this, nor are the Greenway backers. Drawing lines in the sand, insulting the other side, and making wild proclamations of doom doesn’t help. (Although it can be entertaining.)

    7) Murph, if you do decide you want a housing unit in downtown Ann Arbor, let me know. I know of a place that might be of interest to you.
       —Julie    Mar. 18 '05 - 11:56PM    #
  31. “sometimes the neighbors are right (Ashley Mews,...”

    Please explain. The Ashley Mews units have all sold, and I live a block away and find them pretty unobtrusive. I can’t afford to live there, of course, but at least they are pretty decent-looking for new construction. If OWS neighbors are opposed to historic-looking townhouses, I’m not sure what sort of development they WILL welcome, and that is the problem.

    And yes, Ann Arbor is a mid-sized Midwestern city, but growth pressures dictate it ought to become a larger, more urban place. Frankly, there are a lot of us who would welcome that on its own merits, beyond issues of “sensible land use” and the like.
       —Brandon    Mar. 19 '05 - 12:47AM    #
  32. Brandon,

    It is possible that they had a banner month at Ashley Mews, but as of last month, only 40 of the 54 total units had sold. Nine of those that sold were the $100,000 affordable housing option and one was a penthouse (whose owners live in Florida). Mind you, this is three years after they came on the market. My husband has to walk by Ashley Mews every day on his way to work and he has kept a tally of the number of different people he has seen walk out of their front doors in that development. So far he has seen three.

    The first floor retail area has had only one tenant, which went out of business after a few months.

    Ashley Mews even received money from the DDA to create a pedestrian walkway open to all city residents, but how often do you see anyone use it?

    I agree that Ashley Mews is nice enough looking, but that doesn’t mean it is a success.
       —Julie    Mar. 19 '05 - 01:45AM    #
  33. Ah, that’s not what I was told by the arcthitect and a city planner, but you may be correct, however. I agree that I never see anyone walking out of there on my way up Main.

    I did meet a grad student whose parents PURCHASED one of the units (damn, we’re oppressed workers!) for her to live in and she definitely has neighbors, though I can’t say whether it’s filled-up.
       —Brandon    Mar. 19 '05 - 05:36AM    #
  34. Oh, and the retail? That’s a bad site, mainly because of the gas station acting as a barrier to pedestrian traffic southward from the heart of downtown. Not to mention a window design that isn’t conducive to, uh, window-shopping. The right destination tenant (Buffalo Wild Wings? ha) could make it work, I think, but not a mediocre sub shop.
       —Brandon    Mar. 19 '05 - 05:39AM    #
  35. Julie, one of my hopes/expectations right now is that the Ann Arbor housing market is going to pop in a few years. Rental vacancies have been high for some years now (20%+ for the whole city, though less around campus, comes to mind, though I don’t know where I saw that), and I expect it will only get worse with North Quad and the north campus area dorm coming online and draining off some of the student pressure. Also, next year will be the first round of student housing contracts to have been signed after students gained the ability to ride AATA for free, which might cause some balancing in the campus-area vs. outlying area vacancy rates.

    As soon as rental property appreciation starts to flag, I think we’ll see some landlords start to flinch, and that might be a good time to pick up a house. Either that, or they’ll back down by dropping the rental rates of their units down to something closer to the market level. (Note also that a 3000-house development was just approved near Milan; not that I’d want to live there, but some people might.) We’ll see; under current lease conditions, I have a little under a year before I have to seriously consider looking for a next-housing situation.

    Both Eaton/Liberty Lofts and LoFT 322 have apparently been selling units like hotcakes, so I think they’ll do just fine.

    Meanwhile, I think there’s more to cost-of-parking than just construction cost. There’s also opportunity cost; in the floodway, basically all you can build is a parking structure or a park, but on the other sites you name, you can build anything you want, including a parking structure or a park. Building those two uses on the sites that can only support those two uses leaves more land ot be used/sold for other things.

    Brandon and Julie, I ought to introduce the two of you; you live all of two and a half blocks apart. . .
       —Murph    Mar. 19 '05 - 05:40AM    #
  36. The DDA plan incorporates the proposed Greenway. A parking structure at 1st and William will absolutely NOT destroy or cause any sort of major reworking of the Greenway. It will still follow the railroad tracks from point A point B when all the land is acquired, over the course of the next fifty years.

    The Easthope/Johnson resolution will, however, scrap the DDA proposal. A few home owners get a bump in property values, less market rate as well as affordable housing is available in the city center, parking downtown is more difficult and we get a small, virtually private park for the residents of the Eaton Liberty Lofts. I do not understand why so many of the pro-greenway crowd see the DDA plan as- You are either with us or against us. The downtown greenway will happen, just maybe not with a large park at First and William.

    Another question. I keep seeing the figure of $44,000-45,000 per space for First and William. Where did this come from? Given that the final size and design of the proposed structure has yet to even be decided, it sounds like Friends of the Greenway propaganda to me. Even if it is a real cost, where will parking built more cheaply? As Murph pointed out, on land that is not in the flood plain and therefore has much more development and tax revenue potential?

    In fact, in the Mayor’s response to my email about the issue he said that he felt it would be best to put ALL the parking from the DDA plan at First and Washington instead. I can only assume that this will mean a truly tall parking structure (on a relatively tiny footprint) at the cost of less housing and business at that spot and in downtown in general.
       —Kurt    Mar. 19 '05 - 04:28PM    #
  37. Julie, do you think you are being a little silly when you call my characterization of homeowners insulting, and then a few sentences later you call people who own commerical property greedy?

    You are the second intelligent person who seems to be squarely on the side of those who want more parks. The first declined to answer any of my reasonable questions. I’d really appreciate it if you could answer a few questions so that I could understand your position, because I frankly don’t get it.

    1. Do you not recognize that central Ann Arbor already has two enormous parks: central UMich campus, and the Arboretum? These are huge lots of green in a small city. This isn’t enough, together with Burns Park, and the other smaller parks?

    2. Do you not find that it is a strange “coincidence” that none of the people who want these parks push for parks in less fortunate areas of town? This is the single biggest reason that I believe we are dealing with greed. Where are the OFW’s when it comes to putting in new parks near, say, Stadium and Packard? That area could use more green.

    3. Do you remember how many stories were chopped off of the original plans for Ashley Mews by local NIMBY’s? Do you remember how many times the plans for AM were tabled? Do you recognize that this is what drove the prices up on each and every unit, and is the reason that all of the units didn’t sell immmediately? The owners could have had AM build before the stock market bubble burst, but they couldn’t get it through the city.

    4. You can get commercial property tax info at city hall today, if you want it, and it is very interesting to read. You won’t find personal property tax, though.

    5. Are locals like yourself at all alarmed at how many local business have left town? Do you (be honest with yourself here) seriously think that it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that developers have been trying to put in new residences for 20 years now, and every time they do, the project either get tabled (adding $$ to the project because of delays), get disapproved, or NIMBY’s take valuable stories off of the buildings—-making affordable housing impossible, driving up the cost per unit, and wasting the footprint of the land. These residences have been placed out of town, and as a result, both retail and restaurant sales have suffered.

    6. The biggest NIMBY flag for me is some local’s fear of “tall” buildings. Do you not recognize that lopping floors off of proposed sites makes poor use of a lot? Or that this causes the prices of units to go up? Do you not believe the Dean of Urban Planning (I think he was the current dean) when he told city council that AA needs to build one very tall (i think 20 story) in downtown Ann Arbor each year for 20 years if it is to become sustainably dense? Do you not recognize the lost tax $$?

    All of these things occur because a neighbor finds tall buildings to be an “eyesore”. That’s the best reason that people can come up with for not wanting tall buildings. Where are these people’s sense of compromise? They want affordable housing, and density because as a reasonable person, these ideas make sense to them, but they are willing to shelve these modern ideals because tall building make them feel “woozy”? What is up with that?

    7. Have you checked the difference in income for the city of Ann Arbor over the past twenty year? Take a look at the census. It’s online, and it’s easy to use. Talk about interesting reading. Now why do you suppose there has been an explosion in rich people over the last ten years in AA, while the less fortunate have left in droves? Don’t you think it has to do with the fact that we haven’t allowed developers to build, and that we keep the height of the buildings to a minimum? Now you can’t turn around and say “well those are just market forces”, because that simply isn’t true as we haven’t opened up the market to allow contractors to build residences ACCORDING TO DEMAND. We haven’t allowed the natural market forces to work, and home prices have skyrocketed as a result.

    I guess my overall problem with the parks stance is that downtown resident are treating an urban area like it is a suburban covenant tract housing lot. Everything has to be the same height, the same colors, and for pete’s sake, don’t let any students live near us, and we would each like a personal park just to ourselves. Where is the downtown local’s sense of responsibility for making downtown fiscally healthy and affordable?

    I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just trying to understand some of your positions…maybe some of them aren’t your positions at all, and I’m putting words in your mouth.

    Answer away.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 19 '05 - 04:36PM    #
  38. You know what would really help make this city more pedestrian friendly? Minneapolis-style inter-building walkways. I’d want to walk around downtown in January a lot more if we had some of those.
    Aside from that, I think that a couple things are kinda going missing. The first is the question of where the new residents are supposed to come from. Something that used to happen was that people would come to Ann Arbor for school and then stay here, and that doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore (maybe I read too much AAIO). People need career-style jobs and places to live if you want them to be here. Much as I love Leopold’s, I doubt that tending bar there is going to pay people enough to live in town (if it is, Todd, I’d like to tender my application as of now). Michigan, as a whole, is having a hard time retaining young people, and while Ann Arbor does better, my impression is that it’s still losing people my age.
    Part of that may be because this city seems to aim for the middle-class, middle-aged folks who can afford to live here already. By not appealing to younger people, we’re cutting our legs out from under ourselves. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that the only type of people who live here are the ones who want things like Main Street ventures. People like Brandon and Murph, who support places like Leopold’s, leave once they’re done with school because they can get so much more for their dollar in a bigger place. Over time, there’s been less and less unique character here in this city, and without something unique, there’s no real reason to stay.
    Oh, and parks are not unique. Even having more parks doesn’t make you unique. It means that you have more parks. But trust me, very few people would move to Ann Arbor just because it had one more park downtown.
       —js    Mar. 19 '05 - 05:17PM    #
  39. As much fun as it is, if we could get away from trading random insults against various categories of property owners . . . ?

    I’ll agree with js’ parks comments. If we really want to discuss whether the Allen Creek corridor is terribly underserved by parkland, well, I certainly don’t think that “access to parkland” is a variable that Ann Arbor needs to worry about addressing.

    A (very) quick piece of work (pdf) with the City’s GIS files the other day showed me that finding property in the city more than about 0.3 miles from a City parks facility is somewhat of an accomplishment. Of course, I generalized in things like Parks Department maintenance facilities and the Farmers’ Market, but I also excluded all UMich and Washtenaw County facilities – almost the only places in town more than a half mile from a City park are the middle of North Campus, the UM golf course, and State Street from Wolverine Tower south.

    One assertion I’ll make is that adding sizeable parks at the three locations named in the Easthope resolution won’t do very much to increase “access to green parks”, but will merely add parks to areas already relatively well served. The greenway plan as a whole will increase access, but not by adding parkland – just by providing a connection between the Argo/Bandemer system, West Park, and other areas along/near the greenway route.

    The other day I walked the tracks from the Eaton Building north, passing within a block of West Park (a larger, more functional green park than any of Easthope’s sites could be), stopping in for coffee at Big City/Small World, going to a meeting on North State (this was a practical trip), crossing the Argo Dam and heading up along the causeway to Lower Town (a much more “natural” leg of the trip), and catching AATA #2 up to home. Had I gone the other direction, I could have come close to Leopold’s, Brandon’s house, Julie’s house, hit a roller hockey game at Elbel, passed through the sports campus, hopped off the tracks and gone four blocks to my living-situation-as-of-May-3, and four blocks further to Burns Park.

    So, yeah, I like the idea of a greenway. I don’t particularly need it, since hiking boots are my daily footwear and a Northside-Grill-to-Produce-Station jaunt is only sort of a long walk in my opinion, but it would nice if people uninterested in scrambling up railway embankments and stepping tie-to-tie across bridges could make the trip, as it’s by far the most direct north-south route in town. But this is a purpose that can be served with a ten-foot-wide right-of-way.

    * Greenway: cool idea, for transportation (accessibility) reasons.
    * Large park at 1st/William: nice, I suppose, but unnecessary.
    * Best potential greenway feature: linking lots of distinct parts of town.
    * Worst potential greenway feature: reducing the distinctiveness of various parts of town by trying to turn everything along the route into a park, preventing other things from happening.

    Has anybody considered that the greenway would make the OWS into fair game for football Saturday parking? It’s almost line of sight along the tracks from Eaton to Elbel. . .
       —Murph    Mar. 19 '05 - 07:14PM    #
  40. I’m not trying to trade insults.

    If I did, I apologize.

    I just want one person who feels strongly about these parks to answer my questions. I’m not trying to personally attack anyone. My problem is that I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t feel the way that I do about density and the overabundance of parks…. so when I finally find someone who disagrees with me, I really want to know why they believe what they believe.

    If I come across as insulting…I write a sentence or two and then go turn a pump on, leading to typos, poor grammar and syntax and , leading to poorly conveyed thought…I want to apologize to Julie or whomever else I have offended.

    It is difficult to convey tone on blogs…at least for me.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 19 '05 - 08:55PM    #
  41. Todd, first of all, I’m not necessarily a greenway fan. I was actually a fan of a parking structure originally. The more I learn though, the better off I think the city is if First and William is a park/flood runoff site (I’ve lived here during some big floods, it can get pretty interesting).

    1) Yes, Ann Arbor has parks. Central Ann Arbor actually has fewer parks than any of the surrounding areas. There is a nice map on the city web site that illustrates this (it does not include the Diag): For a few examples of parks in “less fortunate areas,” see Garden Homes, Hollywood, Dolph, Miller Nature Center, Evergreen, Lakewood, South Maple, Vets Park, Greenview, Hansen, Brown, Cobblestone Farm, Buhr, Southeast Area, Scarlett/Mitchell, County Farm Park, and Honey Creek. People have pushed for parks in these areas for many years, but right now, the parcels in question are not in those areas. Hard to move them to someplace “less fortunate.”

    2) There are lots of excuses given for why Ashley Mews hasn’t done well. I’m sure a lot of factors go in to it. I know they did not want to provide any affordable housing. That is the excuse I hear most often for why the other units are so expensive. Again though, the assumption is that people want to live in condos in downtown Ann Arbor. If you are going to pay over $200,000, there are several decent options within a mile of downtown and a huge number of options within a 15-minute drive so “more expensive and smaller” condos downtown are not tops on most people’s lists.

    3) Yeah, I know you can get commercial tax info at City Hall, but it is hard for me to get there when it is open. I prefer to look online.

    4) I am alarmed at how many local businesses have left town. That is why we make it a point to live, work, and do about 90% of all of our business downtown, including buying all groceries, most clothes, prescriptions, toiletries, eating out, etc. I can only buy so many $40 T-shirts and $100 wineglasses though. This is one of the reasons I do support more parking downtown. You can not ignore that more and more people live on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. You can bring some of them in to live in the city, but not everyone wants to. I think the 20-year goal for the City is to bring in 2500 new housing units, about one new subdivision on the outskirts of town.

    5) So the goal should be 20 new 20-story buildings in Ann Arbor in the next 20 years. Hmmm. Why Ann Arbor? Why not Detroit? Detroit already has an existing infrastructure that could handle that sort of influx. And no one is answering my question: who is going to live in those buildings? I walk by the corner of Maynard and William every day and can come up with quite a few other reasons why tall buildings can be problems just from a pedestrian standpoint.

    6) People move out of town for many reasons, but primary among them is the ability to buy a house and to live in their own space. Most people in a city like Ann Arbor do not want to live in an apartment or condo. Most do so because that is their only option. You would be surprised at how people act when you tell them you live downtown. It isn’t very positive. They want to live in a new house in the suburbs.

    Brandon, I’m taking the data for Ashley Mews from the City tax information which runs about three to five weeks behind. It has been pretty accurate for other things. They also put a big marking sign up a few days ago so I’m thinking it isn’t full. I agree that the retail site at Ashley Mews isn’t a good place, but I feel exactly the same way about retail on Ashley and Washington and First. Everyone seems to want more retail, but other than a grocery store and Decker Drugs, what kind of retail do people want?

    Kurt, the $44,000 /space is $22,000,000 (the price given by the DDA of the proposed new structure at First and William) divided by 500 (the number of parking spaces proposed by the DDA for that structure). Also, by all accounts (although I can’t substantiate this), the Easthope/Johnson proposal is a “non-binding proposal” so it is more of a test case than anything.

    Murph, landlords are flinching. There are a lot of former rental houses on the market right now. The money isn’t there for the rentals and they can’t make money by flipping the houses because they bought at the highest end. The prices are dropping, but slowly. I think this is great for people who want to buy a house closer in to town, which I would love to see, but it is harder to find those people than you think and I’m not sure what that would mean for high-density housing.
       —Julie    Mar. 19 '05 - 09:00PM    #
  42. It has been a few days since I have checked in. There are a lot of interesting ideas out there, and they make for good reading. The First/William proposal is for consolidation of existing parking, as well as environmental remediation and improvements to the Allen Creek drain, which will improve water flow and quality. The proposed deck looks more expensive because it includes these improvements to the drain as well as more safety at the RR crossings. There is also an area for a park, larger, actually, than Liberty Park Plaza. The Drain Commisisoner has suggested that perhaps we could have a demonstration “rain garden” there, and others have said, why not use the top floor for Top of the Park (we are losing the Univ. site)? All of these are interesting ideas. There ought to be pedestrian access to the site through the lot owned by the city on Ashley Street. It can be made into an attractive “pocket Park”. The DDA has just presented this three site plan, as City Council directed them to, and we need further public discussion. The resolution, as written, will kill it, and not for the good of the downtown. We need PEOPLE downtown, and we won’t get the amenities mentioned (grocery, drug store) until we have a critical mass of residents. That is why we need to reserve the other two sites for housing. The DDA is especially interested in putting workforce housing at First and Washington, so people can afford to live where they work. Housing is not possible at First/William. Please remember the big picture. The greenway can still happen within the three site plan.

    I urge those who support the DDA plan to sign up to speak at Council on Monday March 21st – call the City Clerk (994-2725) at 8 AM Monday morning to sign up. There are 10 spots for 3 minutes each. Tell them you want to speak to the resolution, as people wishing to speak on an agenda item take priority over others.

    Also, plan to attend Council Caucus Sunday night at 7 PM.

    Both meetings take place in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
       —Leah    Mar. 19 '05 - 10:21PM    #
  43. Thank you very much for answering some of my questions.

    6) People move out of town for many reasons, but primary among them is the ability to buy a house and to live in their own space. Most people in a city like Ann Arbor do not want to live in an apartment or condo.

    If what you say is true, that there isn’t a demand for condos or apartments downtown, then please tell my why you would have a problem with opening up the market and allowing developers to build more housing downtown with no height limits? If no one wants to live here, then why do you think that developers are champing at the bit to build more residences downtown? Are they looking to lose money? Or do they believe that the demand exists?

    “So the goal should be 20 new 20-story buildings in Ann Arbor in the next 20 years. Hmmm. Why Ann Arbor? Why not Detroit?”

    I have to admit here, again, that I am an ardent supporter of sustainable living. I feel that since Ann Arbor has a prosperous citizenry (comparatively speaking) that prides itself on it’s diversity and environmentalism, we have an ethical responsibility to be ahead of the curve and go out of our way to provide affordable housing and density. We should be supporting density more than any city in the country IMHO. We should be taking the bulk of the population growth in Washtenaw County for years to come. Everytime we can get a person to live downtown, that is one fewer person living in a new tract housing development in Saline or Dexter.

    Some town has to stand up and be accountable for sprawl. I expect more of Ann Arbor. Maybe I am foolish to do so. Someone has to do it, so why not us?

    The thing that stinks (in my opinion) is that developers have specifically told citizens that people desperately want to live downtown, and have asked citizens to step out of the way and let them build the units, and we have politely told them no thanks. This seems to run counter to what you are saying…. If there wasn’t a demand, we wouldn’t hear a peep from developers, now would we?

    Pointing to Ashley Mews without the context surrounding it’s construction isn’t a very good idea in my mind. Developers have been trying to put in projects like these for decades, and since we haven’t let them, we have created a housing demand imbalance. Property taxes per unit have gone up as a result of this imbalance, and too much demand has further raised the prices. Now people are complaining that these units cost too much, and wish to pretend that they don’t know why they are so expensive. It’s silly. Of course Ashley Mews is expensive. The owners had to lop entire floors off of their proposal…that’s why they didn’t want to yield on the “affordable housing” concession.

    If you tell developers that they can build to any height they wish if they make x number of units affordable, they’d jump for joy. You can’t make a small buildings with affordable units downtown. The math doesn’t work.
       —Todd Leopold    Mar. 19 '05 - 10:21PM    #
  44. Well, so far I think they haven’t started to panic nearly enough for the bubble to deflate noticeably. I think in general folks are still optimistic about the prices they can get. I’ve looked at a few rental properties (houses and apartments) that the ICC has looked at in the past couple of months, and the prices people are asking just don’t make sense. The co-ops have negative marginal management costs for each property we acquire; we’re not trying to make a profit; and we have significantly lower vacancies that student rentals, and yet the numbers still aren’t working out, because the prices aren’t right for buying. Maybe another year.

    And, to segue into market demand, I think that if housing comes to the price point where fresh-out-of-college types can afford it reasonably (even if they have to double up), I think that will be a new market segment with a lot of demand for downtown housing. I know tons of ex-co-opers who move out of the co-ops because they want some real amount of private space, and then pretty quickly move out of Ann Arbor, because they want something more lively than a generic apartment in the edgeland, but can’t afford anything close to downtown. One ex-housemate just told me, “The co-ops have ruined me for suburbia,” and I know a lot of others feel the same. They want to live close to other people and close to activities, and, if the A2 price point comes down, at least some of them will stay.

    I walked through Ashley Mews today; the sign out front says “1 units left!” so their sales finally must have come through.
       —Murph    Mar. 19 '05 - 10:37PM    #
  45. To the “Why here, and not in someplace like Detroit?” question, my own answer is, “Yes, there too!” Historically, working with the City of Detroit has been rough, but I talked to some developers of loft conversion projects (one a block from the Whitney and one a block from Eastern Market) a few weeks ago, and they were saying that you can now get a site plan review, approval, and permit faster in the City of Detroit than anywhere else in Michigan. Some parts of the City government are getting their act together, it seems. But look also to Ypsilanti, which has started looking to downzone some of their neighborhoods, trying to turn areas with houses formerly broken up into student rentals back into single family homes and reduce residential density; it’s not terribly dense to begin with.

    I’m really hoping we can get some commuter rail on the A2/Ypsi/Dearborn/Detroit corridor soon; I really think that would help influence walkable, less car-dependant form around the stations. (Or maybe I’ve spent too much time on the East Coast.)

    Notice that the Ann Arbor News has still not talked about this. Way to keep the citizenry informed and foster public dialogue, Ed.
       —Murph    Mar. 19 '05 - 10:53PM    #
  46. I guess I should not be surprised that the Mayor et al have decided not to explain that the drain and RR crossing improvements are what add to the cost of the propsed parking structure, but are still happy to claim it costs too much to build. (I suppose that the DDA should have made that more clear. ) True, maybe the mayor didn’t know that, but I find it really hard to trust him given his track record.

    However, won’t those improvements have to be made to the site regardless? In other words, wouldn’t they also considerably raise the cost of just a park at First and Washington?

    BTW: 4th War Reps Teal and Higgins are for the DDA plan as is. At least that’s what they told me via email this past week.
       —Kurt    Mar. 19 '05 - 11:49PM    #
  47. Err… that should be “raise the cost of just a park at First and William” not ‘Washington”
       —Kurt    Mar. 19 '05 - 11:58PM    #
  48. Kurt, yes, the soil contamination clean-up, drain improvements, and RR crossing improvements will have to be done eventually regardless; under the current two options on the table, it’ll be done either out of DDA funds or Parks funds.
       —Murph    Mar. 20 '05 - 02:59AM    #
  49. “Why here, and not in someplace like Detroit?”

    Detroit has a 3% personal income tax and the property taxes on a $300,000 condo are roughly $10,000/yr. New developments are usually in tax abatement zones, but would you be comfortable investing in a condo when tax abatements will disappear in 10 years?

    Loft conversion projects aren’t the best for Detroit either. Condo renovations typically happen in FULL apartment buildings. Long time residents are evicted if they can’t afford a new loft. In Detroit, if you have no reason left to stay, you move to Sterling Heights.

    There are empty houses all over Detroit right now, waiting for people that love city living. I can see 4 “for sale” signs from the corner I live on. The most expensive house listed on in my zipcode is $165,000, including 6-unit apartment buildings.

    What are you all waiting for? :)
       —Hillary    Mar. 20 '05 - 05:27PM    #
  50. Hillary: graduation. :) (Well, and Cara graduating for the most recent time, and whatever jobs/etc. I get while waiting for her to graduate to wind up.)

    Is your zipcode just Ham-town? And is that the sale price for the full apartment building? If so, I’m rounding up five friends, and we’ll be there (and carpooling back to A2) starting the day after our current leases here end.
       —Murph    Mar. 20 '05 - 06:48PM    #
  51. Last time I was in Hamtown I saw an old social-club (life a VFW/American Legion) type hall thing for sale on (I think) Holbrook. Which I think would be an ideal conversion to a living space… So… Tempting…
       —Scott    Mar. 20 '05 - 07:19PM    #
  52. “You know what would really help make this city more pedestrian friendly? Minneapolis-style inter-building walkways. I’d want to walk around downtown in January a lot more if we had some of those.”

    No, no, no… underground/aboveground walkways = decreased street life.
       —Brandon    Mar. 20 '05 - 08:02PM    #
  53. I think the building Scott’s thinking of is a PLAV post (Polish Legion of American Veterans). Private social clubs are wildly popular in Hamtramck. Even some public neighborhood bars have doorbells.

    We live in 48212 which covers all of Hamtramck north of Holbrook and a section of Detroit roughly the same size to the north. The Detroit portion is a… shall we say “blighted” area surrounding Charles Park and Ryan Correctional facility.

    6-unit buildings are very common. I’m not sure if every unit has a kitchen. They’re 2800 sq ft not counting a walk-up attic.

    Something to consider: I’ve been thinking that a house with a non-traditional layout may be better for co-op living. Hamtramck is an immigrant town (40% foreign born). Immigrants like to live in dense situations and often change their houses to accomodate. Apartments on the second floor and in the garage are commonplace. Old storefronts are still out there too. You could easily find a 3 or 4 unit for $120-$140,000. Even a 4 bedroom, 2-unit might be a good fit.
       —Hillary    Mar. 20 '05 - 11:01PM    #
  54. Goddamnit, can’t someone talk Soros into funding the light rail? We’ll pay him back in 50 years…
    Couple three more things: First off, I gotta echo Murph and say that Ann Arbor is an eminiently walkable city. The distance to the Farmer’s Market to the Northside is nothin’. Think about how far blocks are in real cities; the distance between the Farmer’s and NoSide is as far as you’d have to walk between subway stops in some cities.
    Second, am I the only one who thinks that tall buildings are pretty cool lookin’? Like, that’s the look of a city, folks. State St.’s three stories are miniscule and only impress bumpkins and strip-mallers. When was the last time you saw someone looking up in Ann Arbor?
    Third, something that I consider absolutely awesome in Chicago, and would love to see supported here, is the public art requirement. Goddamn, if every development had to put in public art, I don’t think we’d be hearing so much about the parks… I realize that developers would likely wine about it instead of turning it into a mark of prestige (no Picassos or Rodins here; we’d be lucky to get giant robots…)
    [Second aside: I started writing this days ago, and didn’t send it. The comments are probably outdated by now…]
       —js    Mar. 21 '05 - 02:52AM    #
  55. Julie,

    I was one of the architects for Ashley Mews, so I can say with some confidence that your numbers for Ashley Mews are off a bit. :-) There are 47 townhouses, 9 of which are affordable. They are all sold, every single one. There were 9 penthouses originally, but one owner bought two of them to make into one unit (that’s the Florida owner). Another penthouse has also sold, bringing the number of open penthouses to 6. Fifty out of 56 isn’t bad, once you consider that all the units left are rather pricy.

    Another points of interest: the affordable housing units had a waiting list of over 40 people who qualified, and several dozens more who made just a tiny bit too much money to qualify. (I fall into that latter category, sadly.)

    Ashley Mews did receive money for urban design improvements for the Mews, but that money was almost entirely used for the new sidewalk, planters, and street trees on Main and Ashley. The walkway was developed by the owner, and I take it all the time when I park on the west side and walk downtown to my job. I have seen a few people doing the same, and a half dozen residents as well. You won’t see a lot of people walk out of their front doors for one good reason: all of the units except the affordable ones and 6 others have direct access to their garages, so they can go right to their cars and commute to Detroit or wherever they work.

    Another thing to consider here: Ashley Mews was, for all intents and purposes, developed by a gov’t entity. It is owned and operated by DTE, and since all they wanted was an office building – that is fully occupied, and has been from day 1 – they don’t really care about the rest of the development. They could care less if the penthouses sell quickly, or if the retail stays in business. Eventually it would be nice to have it all full, but they aren’t pushing them as a commercial developer would do. It’s a whole different perspective.
       —KGS    Mar. 21 '05 - 10:10PM    #