Arbor Update

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City Council's 3-site/greenway hearing...the short version

14. June 2005 • Murph
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Here’s my highly abbreviated (and moderately irreverant) account of the hearing, meant as a starting point for conversation rather than as actual content. Enough AUers were there that the important details will emerge. Apologies for potential name misspellings of speakers.

Susan Pollay (DDA): The Three Site Plan comes with all sorts of good things. Here’s a landscape architect to explain why the park proposed in the TSP for 1st/William is good and to talk about what greenways require.

Margaret Wong (Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway): A full-scale greenway would be much better than what the TSP proposes. We should strive for the most we can achieve, rather than the least we can get away with. We could be like Rochester, MI!

Linda Brower (Parks Advisory Committee): We really like the “full-scale” version of the greenway. Please take us seriously, Council.

Janis Bobrin (Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner): “This is going to be the non-advocacy part of the meeting. I’m going to stick to facts.” Here are issues that affect watersheds. And now, here’s somebody to talk about watershed management through public art.

Norm Cox (Greenway Collaborative): Here are nine well-reasoned, and, in combination, quite devastating reasons why a greenway along the railroad and Allen Creek is a silly idea. At all. Let’s direct this energy towards a real greenway, like along the Huron River.

Amy HarrisKuras (Parks Department): I’ll pretend I don’t know anything about 1st/William and talk about 415 W. Washington and 921 N. Main instead. Here’s where a greenway could run on those sites, leaving the rest of the space for things like artists’ studios and affordable housing.

City Council members: We’re now going to ask formulaic and very predictable questions that make it clear what each of us thinks.

Public input (3 minutes each):
> We think the Three Site Plan is good! (23 variations.)
> We think the Friends’ plan is good! (27 variations.)
> We have opinions that Murph will not be able to categorize easily into one of those! (5 variations.)

Mayor: We’re going to stop now, and pick up again next Monday, 20 June, at the end of the City Council meeting, which will probably be around 10pm.

Best quote: the person who came over to me after I spoke and asked, “Is it just me, or do other people get really annoyed when Doug Cowherd stands up and claims to speak for 4,000 people, and then claims that 90% of the people here support the Friends, when input has been really very evenly divided?”

UPDATE, 11:30am: The Ann Arbor News puts the “score” at 24 DDA supporters, 25 greenway supporters, 7 neutral. I think at least some of their “neutrals”, “just advising the council to be deliberative,” went into my “greenway” column for hitting the “wait for FEMA and Calthorpe” points pretty hard and just not explicitly stating greenway support.

The article also mentions that the Mayor intends to host a town hall meeting – a much less formal event than a public hearing – at 7pm, 27 June, in the Council chambers.

  1. (Please pardon me if I ignore this thread for a while. I’ve got other parts of my life to catch up on…)
       —Murph    Jun. 14 '05 - 05:22AM    #
  2. grin
    Good job, Murph. That pretty much sums up the portion I saw.

    I should note that the Parks staff member who spoke was Amy Kuras (not Harris). She does good work, and laid out exactly the sort of compromise I’d like to see for the three city sites. (For those who weren’t there, she recommended bioswales in the floodway, parkland in some of the floodplain, and development like affordable housing & artist lofts for the rest of each site – but her analysis didn’t include First & William, sadly.)
       —KGS    Jun. 14 '05 - 12:05PM    #
  3. Did anyone say how much the full-scale (I still don’t know what that means) greenway would cost?

    Did anyone say where this money is coming from?
       —todd    Jun. 14 '05 - 01:37PM    #
  4. Heck, I really wish I’d have made it now.

    (Is anyone else relatively confident in City Council’s common sense? Cowherd’s political currency seems to be running pretty low these days, and I think the Friends’ real motivations are pretty obvious to everyone)
       —Brandon    Jun. 14 '05 - 02:11PM    #
  5. JulieW,

    Here’s the 1st indication that some local business owners are none too thrilled.

    Taken from aanews story on DDA plan.

    “Downtown business owner Jim Hart said his customers have told him they won’t park in the First and William structure if it is built.

    Hart warned that if the city does away with the Kline lot, “I guarantee you there will be businesses leaving.”

    I believe his jewelry shop in on the corner of Main and Liberty.

    This is the first gripe I’ve heard from local b’people. Wondering what his solution would be to the DDA’s problem. Put the parking garage on the Kline’s lot?
       —todd    Jun. 14 '05 - 03:15PM    #
  6. Todd,

    He also spoke (during general comment) at a Council meeting in March, objecting to the TSP for this reason. He last night mentioned an older plan to put underground (2 levels?) and structured aboveground (2-3 levels?) parking on Klines, with housing on top. He seemed not to care at all about the greenway or the other two sites the DDA is talking about. I put him in my “neither” count. He seemed somewhat on his own; the Chamber of Commerce had 3 speakers in favor of the TSP.

    I’m really not doing well with my resolution to stay out of this for a while…
       —Murph    Jun. 14 '05 - 03:22PM    #
  7. Someone last night mentioned (maybe Hart) that there were plans for a parking structure/condo building on the Klines lot location (one story parking underground, one or two above ground, residential above that) ... they were DDA plans and they’re stale now, but his suggestion was to resurrect them.
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 14 '05 - 03:22PM    #
  8. Two things:

    1. That plan for the Kline’s lot has been mentioned repeatedly, here and elsewhere, and seems to still have some public currency. Are there any reasons as to why the plans are stale other than the obvious (the traumatic cost of underground parking, for one)?

    2. And what specific objection would Hart’s customers have to a new structure that likely wouldn’t have them waiting in a queue down First on the weekends? Is he suggesting that the majority of his customers are Friends of the Greenway a la Cowherd and his semi-silent majority?
       —Marc R.    Jun. 14 '05 - 03:31PM    #
  9. Marc, my answers:

    1. It’s a darn shame to use good street frontage on the Kline’s lot for parking, flat or structured. I’d have to look further at the geometry of the lot; maybe putting above-ground structured parking at the center of the lot and wrapping the first floor with businesses and the upper floors with housing would work. I don’t know that the site is deep enough (east/west) for that to be feasible. Any plan on Kline’s will have some underground parking, I think.

    2. “It’s more than a block away.” He mentioned 27 new strip malls under development in the Detroit area, all of them with parking “at the front doors”. Personally, I think that closing the Kline’s lot for a year of construction would devastate his business just as well, if that’s the only place his customers will park.
       —Murph    Jun. 14 '05 - 03:45PM    #
  10. The one thing that I missed on the DDA plan is the timing. Murph, will the 1st and William structure go in 1st, or are all of the plots to be built out simultaneously?
       —todd    Jun. 14 '05 - 03:58PM    #
  11. Observations from last night and arguments in general:

    * Friends supporters repeated over and over again the high cost per spot for parking at 1st & William ($42k+ per spot), suggesting this was way to expensive to be worth the bother
    * Friends supporters seemed roundly in favor of underground parking, if it is to be built at all, which is dramatically more expensive than above-ground structures. WTF?

    I haven’t heard any good arguments for the case for the “full” greenway (the Easthope-Johnson, only parks on the three city sites, stance). I think there is an argument to be made about the structure on the 1st and William lot.
    * Jim Nicita thinks the structure would create a net for debris that may result in a dam during a flood event, dramatically worsening the effects of a major flood
    * Another guy (the guy who spotted the error in the FEMA floodway map when the Delonis center was in planning, who’s name I forget) thinks the structure as proposed would act as a funnel, concentrating the water as it heads downstream directly into existing buildings

    In any case, the design of the structure, if it is to go forward, would seem to need some serious analysis in terms of what effects it might have in the case of a major flood. If these concerns can’t be reasonably addressed in the structure design, then the plan might be revisited. If they can be addressed, I’ve pretty much been convinced that the DDA’s three-site plan is the way to go.
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 14 '05 - 04:07PM    #
  12. Murph,
    On #2:

    That just pathetic, almost beyond the meaning of the word to encompass. At all of those wonderful strip malls, the ‘parking at the front door’ is often the equivalent of a block away or more because the lots are made large enough to hold so many people that unless you’re the first customer of the day or are willing to the ‘parking lot vulture’ thing, you end up walking. My experience at Arbor Farms drives that point home on a weekly basis. The only genuine benefit is guaranteed access of some kind.

    The addiction to convenience of the American spender just boggles my mind. We have a couple properties on S. Forest between S. Univ. and Hill. More than once, I’ve suggested one of these buildings to prospective tenants and they’ve told me that it was ‘too far from campus’. I’m waiting for the day when I throw courtesy to the wind and simply ask them whether they want to pitch a tent on the Diag…

    On #1, you’re right, of course. I’ve been of the opinion/hope that the First and Washington redesign would be sufficient on the parking end of things, but there simply has to be a better use for the Kline’s lot if the city is going to hew to anything close to the idea of ‘build up, not out.’
       —Marc R.    Jun. 14 '05 - 04:29PM    #
  13. Murph, can you expand on Janice Bobrin’s comments? Was she really that self-serving? I have an interest in how the Drain Commissioner acts…
       —pete    Jun. 14 '05 - 04:34PM    #
  14. Cost of the parking structure: the $46,000 per space figure that is being thrown around is highly inaccurate. It includes the $1M for environmental cleanup of the site (which is never mentioned by those advocating for a park on that site) as well as the moving and enlarging of the Allen Creek Drain, to improve the water flow and quality. The sum also includes the proposed park and greenway link, as well as new safety gates to protect the cars and the pedestrians from the trains (required by federal law). All of this would be paid for by the DDA.

    When these costs are removed, the actual parking structure would be about $36,000 a space, about what it was at Fourth and Washington a number of years ago.

    Who would pay to clean up the site if a park were put there? We have already been told that the Parks Commission does not have the money – they can support it all they want, but “show me the money”.

    I am far more interested in trying to provide some affordable housing.
       —Leah    Jun. 14 '05 - 04:57PM    #
  15. Pete, I didn’t get the feeling that Bobrin was “self-serving” at all; sorry if I conveyed it that way. She kept strictly neutral on the two plans (basically did not address either of them) and was playing that for a laugh with her “facts” statement. She explained what the Drain Commissioner’s office is responsible for and gets involved in, explained where money comes from for drains, explained the issues with urbanized watersheds, such as raised peak surges and lowered off-peak flows, runoff from streets and lawns carrying contaminants, temperature shock from runoff surges, etc.
       —Murph    Jun. 14 '05 - 05:05PM    #
  16. Hart stated that his customers want to get in and out quickly. Maybe his store would be more successful in a strip mall. From the downtown vitality perspective, loss of that sort of business (those sorts of customers, actually) might be a good thing for all involved. Downtown offers them little, and vice versa (other than more traffic.)

    Or maybe he just doesn’t think that more downtown residents would shop there enough. Mostly, though he seemed like someone who couldn’t deal well with change.

    This raises a question about those local businesses which left downtown that folks have lamented recently. I think numbers can be deceiving. They should be evaluated on what they provide for a ‘lingering’ customer base. If they serve people who are in such a hurry that they can’t walk a few minutes (or bus or bike to get there), do they really fit into what we’d like downtown to be in the future?

    So it may not be a matter of local vs. absentee-owner, but of downtown fit.
       —Steve Bean    Jun. 14 '05 - 05:23PM    #
  17. “I think numbers can be deceiving. They should be evaluated on what they provide for a ‘lingering’ customer base. If they serve people who are in such a hurry that they can’t walk a few minutes (or bus or bike to get there), do they really fit into what we’d like downtown to be in the future?”

    That’s an awful wide swath you’re cutting with that sword, Steve.

    Off the top of my head, Downtown businesses that get $$ or even survive because it’s easy to get in and out:

    Metzger’s——older customer base
    Zingerman’s——to go
    Back Alley Gourmet—-to go
    My place/Arbor Brewing—— sixes/kegs to go
    Coffee shops——to go.
    Copy shops

    Any place that tries to serve lunch (the linger is longer, but workers are clearly pressed for time…couple of minutes for a bus/bike ride is a big deal for many workers).
       —todd    Jun. 14 '05 - 07:03PM    #
  18. Something that might be nice for the city would be on-the-street “To Go” parking. Loading zones are a bit dodgy, but tossing in one spot per block that could only be used for 10 minutes from 6am to 10pm, with a hefty fine for violating that, might help with the perception that it’s hard to do high traffic in a downtown area. Make the fine $50 or more, and people would adhere to the limits, even if the enforcement was no more often than at current (every couple of hours). I know that it would cut down on the number of cars that toss their hazards on and sit in the middle lane of Main. If there was a PR push with “To Go” parking, people would not only know about it, but get the mindset that there was parking to be had downtown. It might not help Todd, but it’d probably help ABC.
       —js    Jun. 14 '05 - 07:16PM    #
  19. We have more than enough parking, as you know, js. We’re all set.

    IMHO, that is a terrific idea, josh.
       —todd    Jun. 14 '05 - 07:21PM    #
  20. Steve, I don’t think we should be cavalier about tossing businesses and patrons to the curb. I’m sure there are a huge number of businesses in Ann Arbor that serve a customer base that also spends time at other local businesses, activities, etc, but would not survive without also being able to serve customers who are in a hurry and just have a single destination in mind. If we refuse to serve the customers-on-the-go, we lose the business, which in turn provides one less reason for people to linger. I’m pretty sure Borders would close #1 if it weren’t right next to the most popular parking structure in town – but the existance of car-borne customers who just want to get in, grab a birthday present, and get out doesn’t preclude the existance of customers who stop in to kill 15 minutes before a show at the Michigan or State.
       —Murph.    Jun. 14 '05 - 07:23PM    #
  21. I think Josh’s idea is good, too, in theory. Problem is: how is it enforced? The reason that loading zone parking works as it does is because, unless you’re a loading vehicle, you’ll get tagged if the agent on route sees you there. As it’s $25 minimum, most people will be leery of doing it again if they get caught.

    With timed parking, you can do the chalking tires thing, but at 10-minute intervals, you’ll need a LOT more parking agents and a lot more room in the city’s budget (for the cost of writing tickets, whether you have more agents or not) for that plan.

    You could try private enforcement (i.e. put the burden on the merchants to police the spaces in front of their stores), but that idea’s a non-starter, as most local merchants have neither the staff to do so nor the inclination to piss off potential future customers by telling them to get out of their ‘To Go’ space if they’re not coming in to their store.
       —Marc R.    Jun. 14 '05 - 07:48PM    #
  22. Ya got me MarcR. I have no idea how to enforce this, and while this would take away a spot for a restaurant or some other business that you stay at for a while, I’d bet that there would be quite a few happy, happy, business owners who don’t have long transaction times…..

    Why are you asking pragmatic questions?!
       —todd    Jun. 14 '05 - 07:58PM    #
  23. I have a few comments to add about the meeting last night. First, it was remarkably civil. No one was rude and just about everyone seemed genuinely interested in hearing the speakers and the public (well, except Leigh Greden who fell asleep for several minutes about half-way through the public comments).

    Second, even though the speakers were fairly evenly split on their final recommendation, there were a lot of people who seemed to like parts of each of the plans. It seemed to me that most people felt like there was room for compromise and a final plan that might be relatively acceptable to all (or most). Although the DDA and the Friends leadership are very much on either side of the debate, I got the sense that a lot of the people there were interested in seeing something in-between.

    Related to the floodplain construction, I heard quite a bit of talk last night among people who might know this sort of thing that even if the TSP is approved by City Council, the DEQ, FEMA, and/or the Drain Commissioner might not approve this type of construction at the First and William site.

    Both sides touched on the fiscal implications (as noted happily by the Mayor) and how their plans would be funded but both sides are still pretty vague on a lot of the details (not only fiscal). I think we won’t really see more concrete details until a decision is made by City Council.

    Steve, I think you have to be careful about deciding what kind of businesses are viable for downtown. I have found jewelers to be very useful when I need my glasses fixed, or a watch battery, or a watch band, and so on. If those services are not downtown, I have to drive out to the mall. I have been known to pop into 16 Hands for a birthday card and come out with a lot more, but I wouldn’t have gone there if I thought it would have to be an hour-long trip. I think you have to give people the opportunity to do quick trips downtown in order to keep downtown viable and small local businesses going. Parking meters and surface lots are useful for that sort of thing. It sounds to me that you are advocating for business like Noodles and Company rather than something like Decker Drugs. Decker was a quick-stop store but I found it far more useful to downtown than Noodles and Co.

    As for structure vs. open lot parking. Wouldn’t it be possible to build a structure downtown so that the entrance floor is metered parking where people can just zip in and out, don’t have to wait for an attendant, don’t have to pay if they don’t have any money (yes, sometimes a ticket is an OK risk for a few minutes), and all other floors are hourly parking. The Maynard Street parking structure used to have a small metered section and the rest was hourly. It worked out well for those quick errands.
       —Juliew    Jun. 14 '05 - 08:31PM    #
  24. Something that might be nice for the city would be on-the-street “To Go” parking.

    Hmmm—I thought that’s what the no-parking-here-to-corner ‘spaces’ were for ;)

    Of course there are already 15 minute meters in some places. Maybe we need more of those.
       —mw    Jun. 14 '05 - 08:42PM    #
  25. “Metzger’s—older customer base
    Zingerman’s—to go
    Back Alley Gourmet—to go
    My place/Arbor Brewing—sixes/kegs to go
    Coffee shops—to go.
    Copy shops”

    Todd, BAG and your place have private parking, so I don’t think they fit in this discussion. Also keep in mind that I’m looking to the future (when we have more downtown residents for one thing), not current conditions.

    Zingerman’s and others (if they don’t have private parking) survive (or will) by catering to people who work (or live) downtown in addition to those who drive in. If Hart’s business can do that, great. If it can’t, then I suspect it’ll struggle.

    Murph, I’m not suggesting giving anyone the boot. I just suggested we take a look at those businesses that have left and see if it wasn’t more due to their clientele (or business plan) than to the fact that they’re locally owned or small or whatever the reason was that was discussed earlier. (I really don’t remember anymore what it was.) “Evaluated” was probably a poor choice. How about “examined”?

    I also wasn’t talking about businesses that serve on-the-go customers, but those (like Hart’s?) that serve only those types. The reverse of your last sentence is also true.

    Julie, I don’t get to decide. Fortunately. :-) (Did you know my wife owns 16H or was that just a coincidental comment?)
       —Steve Bean    Jun. 14 '05 - 09:31PM    #
  26. No one was rude and just about everyone seemed genuinely interested in hearing the speakers and the public

    I wish I could say that. There was a gentleman older man behind me who made snarky comments about every single person who spoke for the TSP, or who he thought would speak for the TSP. He hissed things like ‘well, we can elect someone else’ when Bobrin spoke, even though she was pretty even-handed. He discounted Norm Cox’s opinion by implying that Cox wouldn’t give his honest opinion because he has worked for the City & DDA. He even made petty comments about Pollay’s appearance, of all things. (!) It was extremely distasteful. Thankfully I left before the public comments. I can only imagine the awful things he must have said about each and every pro-TSP speaker.

    By and large things seemed pretty civil – it was just this one guy who needed a long class in manners.
       —KGS    Jun. 14 '05 - 09:39PM    #
  27. To my knowledge, parking enforcement is usually done up one side of a street then down the other. Chalk the tires once, then see if they’re there when the meter maid gets back on the other side of the street.
    Or hey, if anyone else has any ideas… I was thinking that the enforcement could be intentionally lax if there was a high enough fine (i.e. that an outsized fine would be sting enough to discourage those people who got caught).
    And, honestly, I’m not sure how much it would do with regards to actual parking. But it would make people THINK there was a lot more parking.
       —js    Jun. 14 '05 - 10:59PM    #
  28. Todd said:

    “Why are you asking pragmatic questions?!”

    Sorry. It’s one of my annoying habits, or so my wife continually tells me. I’m a pragmatic idealist. Or an idealistic pragmatist. Or something like that.

    Josh, I thought about the perception angle while I was writing that earlier response. I agree that it would likely encourage business over the short-term by creating the impression that there was more parking available, but I think that impression would fade quickly as the local buyers realized that the risk of getting a ticket was minimal. Anyone ever gotten a ticket downtown on Saturday for not paying the meter? Me, neither. Why? Because we all know the parking dept. is short-staffed and short-houred on Saturday, so the likelihood of getting ticketed drops to somewhere between 1 and 10% of what it normally is, even though Saturday should be one of the busiest parking days of the week for downtown.

    Which leads me into my next question: I wonder what the numbers are in terms of out-of-town shoppers to Ann Arbor, as opposed to the local and relatively local who would be more cognizant about such a thing. I know there’s been some discussion here about businesses depending on those people who’re saying “I’m in Ann Arbor for the day/weekend/whatever”, as opposed to the inhabitants. If we are talking about changing perceptions, how do we convey that to those Oakland County folks in the first place?

    I’m just Mr. Devil’s Advocate tonight…
       —Marc R.    Jun. 14 '05 - 11:40PM    #
  29. I am glad to see a common theme running through some of the above posts above regarding the primacy of the flooding issue and the need for information on what kind of impact the proposed DDA parking deck will have on Allens Creek flooding.

    The DDA has commissioned the consulting firm of Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber to study some of these impacts, but is not exactly being forthcoming with the information. With Vince Caruso’s permission, I am appending below a series of correspondences the Allens Creek Watershed Group exchanged with the DDA to secure the information. Vince posted these correspondences to the ACWG listserve, which I am on. I have told Vince about this blog, and I hope at some point he will chime in with some more of the details.

    Some comments:

    * I agree with Vince that the DDA should not try to charge $400.00 to put the information in a form the average citizen can understand. If the DDA can spend $20 million on a parking deck, it ought to be able to spend $400.00 to present public information in a format that the public can use to debate the pros and cons of its proposal. If not, perhaps the people on this blog can pass a hat…

    * I think the exchange bolsters my contention that the MDEQ is not applying the component of the state floodplain permit standard that an encroachment cannot change the direction of the flow of a river or stream in a manner that will cause one of the four negative consequences constituting harmful interference. The DDA is seeking from Fishbeck modeling on whether the deck would increase the flood stage, but does not even seem to feel compelled to request from Fishbeck modeling on alteration of flow pattern.

    * Typically a consultant will assemble raw data into an interpretive report. The public needs to know if this has been done yet. Is DDA really, in fact, going before the Ann Arbor City Council to present the 3-site plan without having completed the study it commissioned, or, if it is completed, without disclosing it to Council and the public?


    Date: January 26, 2005

    To: Adrian Iraola, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

    From: Allen’s Creek Watershed Group, Ann Arbor MI; ACWG.ORG

    Re: Freedom of Information Act Request – First and William Parking Structure Project
    MCL 15.231; MSA 4.1801, et seq.

    Dear Mr. Adrian Iraola,

    Thank you for discussing the First and William St. city owned parking lot proposal in the recent months and the invitations to the public meetings regarding this proposal.

    As you know many members of the Allen’s Creek Watershed Group (ACWG) attended several meeting regarding the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) proposed the First St. and William St. parking structure.

    At these meetings we, and other community members, voiced strong concerns regarding the construction of the structure in the Allen(’s) Creek floodway and floodplain, and the need for a watershed study to determine the extent of change in these benchmarks since the last thorough evaluation in 1968. We also expressed the logic and need for the creation of a greenway park in the Allen’s Creek Valley starting with city own land including the lot at First and William St.

    We voiced additional concerns related to the construction of permanent and temporary obstructions in this important area and their potential effects on flooding in surrounding Old West Side homes and Downtown business properties. We have advised the city on a number of occasions at public meetings and in written correspondence our concerns regarding these issues.

    In a recent Planning Commission meeting even the leading Ann Arbor architecture, engineering and planning firm’s hydrologist/engineer testified that there is a clear lack of understanding and data relating to the Allen(’s) Creek floodway and floodplain in this area.

    They went on to strongly recommend a hydrologic study of the Allen’s Creek to provide important guidance to the community, planners and developers. This contrasts to years previous public meetings where they strongly expressed contradictory statements regarding this issue. The ACWG has worked hard for many years to educate the community and professionals about the watershed’s problems we perceive chief among these is watershed benchmarks.

    Virtually all neighborhood groups on the west side have endorsed the critical need for a hydrologic and hydraulic study of the Allen’s Creek Watershed.

    We have learned from two separate and independent, and we feel, knowledgeable sources that the DDA has contracted directly or indirectly with the consultant firm Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber to conduct a Watershed Drain Report/Study, Existing Conditions Report relevant to the branch of the Allen’s Creek that flows under and near the First and William St. lot for the proposed parking structure.

    We understand that this site analysis of the drainage floodplain/floodway for the Allen(’s) Creek Drain would show significant changes in the known floodplain/floodway for the Allen(’s) Creek in this area.

    After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain this information from DDA staff we are requesting this information under state and federal Freedom of Information Act Request.

    This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

    The ACWG request that a copy of the following documents be provided to us, preferably in electronic form, to the ACWG’s contact person’s email address or by mail:

    1.) Watershed Drain Report/Study/Existing Conditions Report relevant to the branch of the Allen’s Creek that flows under and near the First and William St. city owned parking lot

    2.) Request for Proposal (RFP) for evaluation of the First St. and William St. site

    3.) Work Plan for the evaluation for the First St. and William St. site

    4.) Billing Statements and Payments to date for the request for evaluation for the First St. and William St. site

    5.) Work Product Statement on the contract with any consultant, engineers and contractors for contracts for the First St. and William St. site

    6.) If the Watershed Drain Report/Study/Existing Conditions Report has not yet been received by the DDA the date at which it is expected to be delivered

    Pursuant to the state open records law, Mich. Stat. Ann. Secs. 15.231 to 15.246, we write to request access to and a copy this information. If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and address.

    We request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to us is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in my commercial interest. We feel a clear understanding of these watershed benchmarks is of utmost importance to the community life, health and public safety.

    As provided by the open records law, we will expect your response within five (5) business days.

    If you choose to deny this request, please provide a written explanation for the denial including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. Also, please provide all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material.

    Please be advised that we are prepared to pursue whatever legal remedy necessary to obtain access to the requested records. We would note that willful violation of the open records law can result in prison time, a fine of up to $500 and the award of actual and compensatory damages, reasonable attorney fees, costs and disbursements.

    Thank you for your consideration of this request.


    Allen’s Creek Watershed Group

    Contact Person:
    Vince Caruso, Member ACWG


    From: Schwartz, Claire
    Sent: Friday, March 11, 2005 2:46 PM

    Subject: First & William Parking Structure


    The following electronic files are being transmitted at the request of the Ann Arbor DDA:

    1. HEC-RAS model files used to evaluate the impact of a preliminary parking structure layout on the 100-year flood elevation.

    2. StormCad model files used to evaluate a hydraulically equivalent pipe size for re-routing the enclosed Allen’s Creek Drain.

    3. Scanned images of calculations and printouts used to determine an open-channel section for the Allen’s Creek Drain.

    Please direct all questions concerning this transmittal through the Ann Arbor DDA via Mr. Adrian Iraola 734-761-8800.

    Claire E. Schwartz, P.E.
    Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc.
    1515 Arboretum Drive, SE
    Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546
    direct telephone: 616.464.3947
    fax: 616.464.3996


    March 16, 2005

    Dear Mr. Adrian Iraola,

    Thank you for meeting with me to discuss the First and William St. city owned parking lot proposal on March 1 at the DDA offices. As we discussed the ACWG is very interested in any evaluation of the Allen’s Creek watershed.

    Thank you for contacting Claire Swartz at FTCH regarding the watershed evaluations they conducted for the DDA.

    As these files and evaluations were unfortunately not available at the DDA offices on March 1st having them sent to us was of great interest to the ACWG.

    Unfortunately the files sent by Claire Schwartz on 3-11-05 (see text of her email below) were almost entirely in machine readable format which required expensive software (and training) to evaluate which the ACWG does not have. We will be offering the raw data files to members of the ACWG and others in the city which may or may not help evaluate the content.

    As indicated by the letter the DDA sent us from Claire Schwartz dated Feb. 7, 05 evaluations and determinations were made by her regarding the rerouting of the Allen’s Creek Drain, Storm (Water) Sewer Design & Modeling Software (StormCad) evaluations, the predicted water surface elevations on the site given different storm sewer configurations, HEC-RAS computer storm water modeling on the Allen’s Creek, hydraulic calculations to determine size of an open channel if the Allen’s Creek were daylighted.

    As part of our original FOIA request we are asking to see all the evaluations and determinations in a human readable format so we may have the information available from this work.

    We are particularly interested in the storm water surface water elevations on the site that she indicated to members of the ACWG on several occasions she conducted in the process of working on the project for the DDA.

    Thank you for your consideration of this request.


    Vince Caruso
    Allen’s Creek Watershed Group


    March 22, 2005

    Mr. Vince Caruso
    558 Glendale Circle
    Ann Arbor, MI 48103

    Re: Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) for documents relating to the First and William Parking Structure Project

    Dear Mr. Caruso,

    In response to your earlier request, our consultant at Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc. (FTC&H) sent to you the following on March 11, 2005: 1. HEC-RAS model files used to evaluate the impact of a preliminary parking structure layout on the 100-year flood elevation. 2. StormCad model files used to evaluate a hydraulically equivalent pipe size for re-routing the enclosed Allen’s Creek Drain. 3. Scanned images of calculations and printouts used to determine an open-channel section for the Allens Creek Drain.

    In your email on March 16, 2005 you indicate that you are unable to download the HEC-RAS model files and StormCad model files. We have contacted our consultant at FTC&H to determine if these files can be provided in an alternate format. She has indicated that the two formats HEC-RAS and StormCad are public domain, readily available programs, and are available at such locations as the University of Michigan and at the US Army Corps of Engineers, at their Detroit location: Detroit District, 477 Michigan Ave., Detroit, MI 48226. Telephone Toll Free: 1-888-694-8313 or (313)-226-6413.

    For our consultant to reformat the information, she has estimated the cost to be about $400 for both sets of information, which would include cutting, pasting, and turning the files into an Excel, Word, or PDF document.

    Susan Pollay, Executive Director
    Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority


    Date: March 26, 2005

    To: Adrian Iraola, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

    From: Allen’s Creek Watershed Group, Ann Arbor MI; ACWG.ORG

    Re: Freedom of Information Act Request of January 26, 2005- First and William Parking Structure Project
    MCL 15.231; MSA 4.1801, et seq.

    Dear Mr. Adrian Iraola,

    Find below a scan of the latest response we received late this week from the DDA to our FOIA request. Below it is the third page of a letter to Adrian Iraola the DDA forwarded to us on February 11, 2005 from Claire Swartz indicating work done by FTCH for the DDA.

    As indicated by the letter the DDA sent us from Claire Schwartz dated Feb. 7, 05 evaluations and determinations were made by her regarding the rerouting of the Allen’s Creek Drain, Storm (Water) Sewer Design & Modeling Software (StormCad) evaluations, the predicted water surface elevations on the site given different storm sewer configurations, HEC-RAS computer storm water modeling on the Allen’s Creek, hydraulic calculations to determine size of an open channel if the Allen’s Creek were daylighted.

    We are still interested in all the evaluations and determinations that were made by the consultant.

    On March 1 meeting with you, unfortunately, the only paperwork made available to us from FTCH was a single page DRAFT MEMO containing a general discussion of the project issues. Having received the Feb. 7th letter from Ms. Schwartz we had hoped to see the work she described.

    At that meeting you had indicated to me you had no knowledge of the HEC-RAS and StormCad evaluations and determinations, and moreover had not seen the letter addressed to you from Claire Schwartz dated Feb. 7, 05.

    It was most unfortunate that the March 1st meeting was not more fruitful.

    As the city has paid for this work it is of the utmost importance for us to see these evaluations and determinations in human readable format.

    It was communicated to us that the consultant found in her modeling that the flood elevations for the 100 year rain to be different, higher, then what is shown on the FIRM for the site.

    Asking us to pay $400 for work the city has already paid for would seem unacceptable and we must respectfully reject this response of our original FOIA of January 26, 2005.

    Thank you for your consideration of this request.

    Vince Caruso
    Allen’s Creek Watershed Group


       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 15 '05 - 05:30AM    #
  30. Just FYI:

    Vince will be speaking tonight at a forum about water issues sponsored by the Huron Valley Greens. Roger Rayle will also be there from Scio Residents for Safe Water, the leading citizens’ group concerned with the dioxane plume from Pall-Gelman. It starts around 6 PM at the Burns Park Senior Center.
       —Marc R.    Jun. 15 '05 - 01:23PM    #
  31. I have the original files Vince received from the DDA via FOIA. I’ve been meaning to write up a post on this, and see if anyone out there wants to take a look. It sounds like what Vince wants is a sort of executive summary analysis of the data, but the data is only available in a more raw form. Anyone out there want to take a look at it? I’m pretty busy lately but I might find time to put a post together about it and look more closely at the data itself to see if this non-expert can make heads or tails of it. I’m not convinced that even if Vince raised the $400 to get what he’s asking for he’d have anything useful.
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 15 '05 - 02:16PM    #
  32. Scott, Vince didn’t ask for just the electronic data; he asked for things like the scope of work and the final report. These have not been forthcoming. Again, what is the DDA doing presenting its parking deck plan without offering the public—which paid for everything—the information with which to engaged in an informed debate about the impacts of the parking deck on the Allens Creek flooding situation.

    In addition to tonight’s water forum, I would recommend folks interested in this matter attend tomorrow night’s Allens Creek Watershed Group meeting to organize with Vince and the ACWG how to get that information out into the public domain.

    Allen’s Creek Watershed Group Meeting

    7:00 p.m. Thursday; June 16, 2005

    Ecology Center Lower Level Conference Room
    117 N. Division, Ann Arbor, just north of Huron St.
    Parking in rear off Ann St.and Huron St., and on Ann St.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 15 '05 - 06:27PM    #
  33. I read in the News this morning that one of my Councilmembers is “leaning towards” the DDA plan—not sure where the other one has his heart set. Next week’s hearing should be really interesting (I might even go!).
       —Lazaro    Jun. 15 '05 - 09:08PM    #
  34. Public bodies are not obligated to produce any new documents pursuant to a FOIA request, no matter how trivial an effort it may seem to require (eg the excel sheet you suggest). Additionally, if a summary or report was given orally (eg in a face to face meeting), no document may have been produced.

    The bottom line, based on my experience with a newspaper, is you (or Vince) need to get better with the requests. There are certain limits and costs imposed upon requests to make sure that public bodies are not inundated with trivial or malicious requests that grind them to a halt or interfere with their operations.

    Here’s my suggestion: take a look at the raw data. See if anything jumps out at you (if your group has expertise in discussion of watershed issues, you should be able to at least get the gist). Call up a professor at the university or or professional in the community and ask some questions about the raw data—what was collected and what they found. When you think you have a handle on the data, call the appropriate person at the DDA and/or the city and ask some informed, pointed questions. They should be willing or eager to correct your mistakes and if you have an idea of what you’re talking about, they answer you seriously. Any complaints before this point are premature.
       —Dale    Jun. 15 '05 - 09:10PM    #
  35. Dale: Nice. I had thought that I had posted my advice on how to file a FOIA (First note: don’t be a dick. Threatening legal action is the fastest way to get an obnoxiously narrow view of what they’ll provide), but it escaped into the ether…
       —js    Jun. 15 '05 - 10:30PM    #
  36. Yeah, js, it’s a pretty important tool, but people don’t know how to use it or its limitations. I agree on the attitude thing. This goes not just for FOIAing, but anytime I talk to a public official or city employee—be semi-informed and be polite and people will usually be eager to help.

    While I’m suggesting stuff, it might me a nice feature to make a FOIA wiki for AU, seeing as it’s sort of a news site.
       —Dale    Jun. 15 '05 - 11:52PM    #
  37. Dale:

    I don’t need instructions on the FOIA; I have some experience with this law (See Nicita v. City of Detroit). [BTW, so does Larry K. – see Kestenbaum v. Michigan State University.]

    My point is not that the DDA has to create a document from the raw data that was produced because the FOIA requires it as a matter of law. My point is more of a political one, that the public and city council should require the DDA or its consultant to provide the information in a format the public can understand, so that a fair public debate can take place. We shouldn’t have to contact university professors or others to process the data. It is public money that funded the raw data, so the DDA should present it to the public in a form the public can understand.

    As to Vince’s tone, it may seem harsh at first. But, one of the reasons I hoped he would chime in was to give the background history that for some amount of time the DDA at first denied it even had the data. I would imagine that Vince dropped the legal threat only after getting his chain jerked excessively. And again, there are documents he asked for (the scope of work, for example, which may actually state whether a report will be generated) that certainly should exist, and which have not been forthcoming.

    Because of my own particular experiences, I don’t share your rosy picture of public bodies and their willingness to share information. Indeed, there is a reason why we need a FOIA in the first place.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 16 '05 - 01:45AM    #
  38. Jim—that’s great; if you know what you’re doing, keep on doing it and I’m sure things will work out. You seem to be getting results. (BTW—who’s Larry Kestenbaum?)

    My point about a wiki is that not everyone has experience submitting FOIA requests and that it does have utility. Perhaps they can learn from the accumulated experience of the people here and not blunder through the system the first few times as I’m sure most of us did.
       —Dale    Jun. 16 '05 - 02:06AM    #
  39. Dale: it might me a nice feature to make a FOIA wiki for AU

    Ah, what a fortunate typo. I think you just volunteered to do it.
       —Murph.    Jun. 16 '05 - 02:47AM    #
  40. Dale:

    Larry Kestenbaum is the Washtenaw County Clerk, and a frequent contributor to this blog (see the Great Train Robbery thread, e.g.)
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 16 '05 - 08:02PM    #
  41. Get out!
       —Dale    Jun. 16 '05 - 08:10PM    #
  42. Dale, be nice. :)
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 17 '05 - 12:07AM    #
  43. One of the things I was thinking today, whilst walking around town getting my parking study on for the dda, was how frustrating the current drama is. (This is the product of having asked, “So, what happens if the Council votes ‘yes’ now?”)

    Here we have the Friends and the 3-Site supporters acting like this is the last stand, the final cataclysmic battle, burning whatever social and political capital necessary to assail or defend The Plan. The problem with this approach is that there’s another year or so left in the process, and we’re all going to end up angry and embittered long before the final decisions are made.

    Here’s the remaining process as I understand it: If the Council approves the general concept that the DDA has come up with (the current decision that they’re being asked to make), then the design work starts. Even if Nicita and Caruso got themselves every document they wanted that existed, it wouldn’t mean much, because there is no parking structure. The DDA and it’s consultants cannot provide a report that says, “The parking structure will have x impact on the floodplain,” because there is no parking structure. Right now all there is is the idea to create a parking structure, and, once one has been conceived, then a solid analysis can be done and Caruso can have all of the numbers he’s looking for, because they will then be possible, and they aren’t now. You can’t ask an engineer to quantitatively model the impact of something that has no form, but you will be able to at some point.

    Once the DDA (staff and committees) have done all of the necessary studies and planning and RFPing and consideration of bids, then the DDA (board) asks, “All right. Now that we’ve seen tangible, solid designs of what we had conceived of, is it really still what we conceived of, or does it not make sense?” If the studies show that the best parking structure possibly designed will likely cause a heavy rain to cause millions of dollars in property damage, is the DDA Board going to go ahead with it? My answer (having interacted with the staff and Board and found them to be good and decent people, rather than simply imagining them to be evil Business People who only care for Profit) is no. If it doesn’t make sense, the DDA will scrap it.

    If the DDA does decide that, having done all of this extra work, it still thinks the 3-Site Implementation is a good idea, then . . . it still doesn’t get built. Everything still has to go through Planning Commission. And then through City Council. And then apply for building permits. (Though, as far as I can tell, the DDA has incredibly competent engineers at their disposal, so permits won’t be a problem.) And then it can be built.

    So. What does this mean? This means that,

    * No final plans will exist before the FEMA re-mapping is done, or before the Calthorpe study is done.
    * There will be two more hearings, one before Planning Commission and one before Council, on each of the sites in the TSP. (Though, presumably, only one of those will be highly contentious?)
    * Real, actual designs will be available for concrete (no pun intended) critiques to be leveled at during those hearings. Unlike now, when only general ideas are being discussed. (At least, by the DDA, unfortunate “artists renderings to give to the newspaper” aside. The TSP’s critics seems to have all sorts of concrete numbers, even if they all contradict each other.)
    * The results of the FEMA remapping and Calthorpe study will be available for the CPC and Council to consider when deciding upon those proposals. (As well as for the DDA Board to consider when deciding to submit real development proposals.)
    * What the DDA is asking for “approval” of now is concept. “Do you think that this is generally the right track, and that we should sink time and money into coming up with real, buildable plans for implementation, or is this just totally off?”
    * Given the concept that the DDA has presented, I as a planner and as a citizen expect Council to say, “Yes, this is worthy of fleshing out.” It would be quite reasonable for Council to say, “Yes, this is worthy – but here are some concerns that have come up that you should pay extra attention to,” but I do expect them to give some sort of “yes” answer. (If the Council objects to letting the DDA try to come up with ways to create affordable housing and to sustain local independant business in Ann Arbor, well, then they’ve got a talking to coming.)

    So much energy and antagonism going into just a milestone release. Three Site Plan version 0.1.
       —Murph.    Jun. 17 '05 - 04:35AM    #
  44. The snark has been separated into its own comment:

    Of course, it seems like my own political capital is waxing over the course of the current debate, while Cowherd’s is waning. And anything that causes people to stop drinking the Kowherd Kool-aid is good. So let’s keep fighting!
       —Murph.    Jun. 17 '05 - 04:37AM    #
  45. Jim, I looked up your name, and you seem to be associated w/ the Green party somehow.

    What is your/their stance on the Friends proposal?
       —todd    Jun. 17 '05 - 02:08PM    #
  46. Murph,
    I just talked to Vince on Wednesday and he was talking about a planning program that would, in fact, allow predictions of what would happen to the floodplain with a structure in place as currently imagined. I’m not sure how accurate the models would be, but he was suggesting that it was a pretty easy answer to the claim that “we won’t know until…”
       —Marc R.    Jun. 17 '05 - 02:20PM    #
  47. Todd, Marc R. and Scott T. are also “associated with the Green party”. From that, I draw the Green’s position to be “definite lack of consensus.”

    Marc, there’s definitely some predicting that can be done. I think I can predict, without any programs, that “a structure in the floodway will not be good for the floodway, for all cases of ‘structure’”. What I object to is the demand for precise, final, (hopefully damning!) numbers at a point when modeling is no more precise than setting a blank cube in the floodway and seeing what happens.

    This is my point: at this point, any numbers given for 1st/William – by either group – are handwaving. In six or eight months, when there is a close-to-final design for a parking structure, a park, a drain upgrade and realignment, etc, then there will be much more precise numbers to sling about. Is it worth a long drawn-out FOIA battle for bad numbers when good numbers will exist down the road?
       —Murph    Jun. 17 '05 - 02:32PM    #
  48. Murph,

    Ah, I didn’t know that.

    Ok, just apply my question to Jim, then
       —todd    Jun. 17 '05 - 02:54PM    #
  49. Todd,
    Full disclosure: I was the state chair of the Green Party of Michigan for most of the period between late 2000 and late 2004. Also, Steve Bean has been a member of the local Huron Valley Greens longer than either Scott or me.

    Despite my and Scott’s entreaties for more of the local to actually get involved in the whole Greenway discussion, no one other than those of us who frequent AU have done so, so there is no set position of the HVG on the whole matter.
       —Marc R.    Jun. 17 '05 - 03:30PM    #
  50. Todd:

    I would happily admit to being a card-carrying member of the Green Party, if we were organized enough to have membership cards.

    Also, although he will strain to acknowledge the fact, Scott Trudeau and I were for a time housemates in Arbor Vitae.

    Oh, wait, maybe not. I have finally found some time to nose around the archive of this blog, and lo and behold, I am being not un-favorably quoted by none other than Scott in what may be the first thread on this blog regarding the greenway (forwarding a post I made to Marc’s campaign list last fall):

    (Scott:) “Apparently, this isn’t a new idea. It’s just getting attention because Cowherd & Co. are pushing it. One thing that is important to note is that all of this is in the Allen’s Creek floodplain. Building large buildings in a floodplain can be very problematic, so this site might actually make sense. Here’s what my former housemate Jim Nicita says:

    When Urban Design Advocates did its prospectus for Allens Creek, we recommended that the greenway be approached truly as an urban design problem: that is, it is not just the design of a greenway, but the design of the lower Allens Creek valley. Instead of putting up a parking deck here, a building on North Main there, one would take the overall form of this crescent-shaped valley sloping down to the Huron River, and design well-proportioned and positioned buildings (in urban design geekspeak-monuments at the end of visual NS and EW street axes that intersect the valley at key points) atop the valley’s edge that would accentuate the form of the valley. This architecture-not buildings, but true architecture-would look down upon three different “flows” of activity: a trail with pedestrian traffic, an open channel watercourse (see, and commuter trolley traffic along the now- very underutilized Ann Arbor Railroad (if you think this latter is a pipe dream, I can introduce you to people who have studied the idea and think it is feasible.)
    -Scott T. Oct 22, 7:34am #”

    And, goodness, two posts down, even Larry K. acknowledges knowing me:

    “I know Jim Nicita, too—a very good guy and clear thinker—but his vision of the Allen Creek valley assumes the disappearance of the railroad embankment.
    -Larry Kestenbaum Oct 22, 8:16am #”

    Aw, shucks, Larry. I must say, though, that the UDA prospectus on an Allens Creek greenway does not assume the disappearance of the AARR embankment. Our design works around it. There is sufficient space to do so. And, further, it is not all AARR right of way. Take a look at a tax parcel map. There is one particular strip that I think could easily be, with a very low investment, the first stretch of the greenway. It runs along the east side of the AARR embankment from Miller north to Felch. It is only 20 or 30 feet wide, and though privately owned, it is not owned by the railroad. There is a fence that separates it from the J.C. Beal Construction Co. property on Felch.

    One of the last things I did in Ann Arbor before moving was to go with John Satarino to sit down with Gerry Clark of the Parks Department. We succeeded in getting this parcel placed on the Parks Department’s acquisition list, with a high acquisition priority under their ranking system.

    Todd, to get back to your query, I am not sure why you link my being a Green Party member with what I think of the Friends’ proposal. Is Green Party ideology or philosophy supposed to color my opinion of their proposal?

    I am personally quite gratified to see the Friends finally get a large amount of traction with the greenway idea. I have heard concerns from Scott and Marc about the Friends’ tactics, such as booing people at public hearings—and I would certainly share these concerns—but it would probably be a generalization to paste every member of the Friends with this characterization.

    The Friends certainly have not focused sufficiently on water issues and the Allens Creek as a watershed ecosystem. Perhaps they will come to realize that the parking deck they oppose so much is most vulnerable on the flooding and drainage issue.

    The best document that puts the greenway idea within the context of the Allens Creek watershed is the Allens Creek Watershed Group’s Watershed Management Plan:

    I encourage people to spend some time with this document.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 18 '05 - 05:38AM    #
  51. Jim,

    I also have a big problem with the Friends’ all-or-nothing “full greenway” argument that unless all three of the city sites are dedicated to large parks, this will somehow destroy the entire concept of the Greenway. I acknowledge there are potential concerns about a parking structure at the first and william site, but the proposals portions of the Washington and Main sites that are outside of the floodway are too intriguing (affordable housing, cheap artists space, expansion of Kiwanis facilties) to kill before they get a full hearing—which is what the Friends want (it’s what they mean by “full scale” greenway) and what the Friends sponsored Easthope-Johnson resolution proposed. All of the existing proposals include plans for some park or open space on each of the three sites that could easily connect to and enhance a future greenway.

    I’m not even sure three such large parks in the area would even be used – given the impression that West Park seems to be underutilized (and probably adequate for large park need for much of the near west side)—and that larger parks can easily become dead spaces if they’re not programmed—smaller parks might be better for some of these sites.

    In any case, I think the Friends very narrow focus and unwillingness to consider other positive uses for portions of the other three sites is narrow and unwise.
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 18 '05 - 02:18PM    #
  52. “Todd, to get back to your query, I am not sure why you link my being a Green Party member with what I think of the Friends’ proposal. Is Green Party ideology or philosophy supposed to color my opinion of their proposal?”

    Whoa, no…..I’m not trying to link anything, Jim. I asked you about your affiliation because my brother, my father and myself have been perplexed by the response to these issues by local environmental groups. I am trying to understand why the “full scale” greenway is getting so much support from some of these groups….if I mischaracterized you or your opinions, let me apologize now. I am not assuming that you are for or against anything. If you are for the Friends plan, or know greens who are, maybe I can get a few answers.

    I am just hoping to understand what the deal is.

    A few questions, then:

    1.Why would anyone who cares about regional sustainable design want our city to spend incredibly scarce resources on a couple of parks that only a handful of citizens will have access to? The Parks rep showed that people aren’t really going to use a neighborhood park unless it is within 3 blocks of where they live. Further, many have argued that no one who shops/visits main st. will want to park in the 1st and William structure. Does it not then follow that these same people will not use a park there…that it’s too far from them?

    2. Think about the opportunity cost. If the DDA sells these three plots, why wouldn’t someone who honestly thinks that Ann Arbor is in desperate need for more green just say, “OK, those lots are all yours. Give us the revenue generated from the sale of the lots, and we will buy parkland that is two or three times BIGGER than the downtown lots because the money goes much, much further when purchasing land outside of the city center”.

    Where is the big picture thinking from the so-called environmentalists? Think about it. Would you rather have the, what, piddly 8 acres of these three sites, or two or three times that amount set aside near the Huron greenway? 8 acres? For starters, the quoted cost for just the soil remediation from just the 1st and William site is what, $1 million? Why would anyone with land use experience want to plunk down that much money for a park of that size? It doesn’t make any sense.

    Forget the DDA plan. Focus on how much money it would cost the city to put in these three parks. It doesn’t matter if the money comes from Fed grants or any other source. Why would we not apply this same money to help, for instance, control sprawl on the outskirts by providing usable greenspace/parks/greenway/undevelopable land?

    Or how about the woman from the OFW association who complained at the meeting that they aren’t getting any parks or greenspace….why aren’t environmental groups saying….you know, she’s right…the OWS is getting this nice greenway. Why don’t we let the DDA build on 1st and William, and demand that they install a park in the OFW.

    And you keep bringing up the danger of building the parking structure in the floodway/plain. Now this is a totally valid concern, and I agree that we may find that this is a bad, bad idea. But….will we or won’t we find this out when the DDA applies for a permit from the DEQ? If the DEQ thinks this is a bad idea, won’t they just reject the application? Where is the mystery here? Is it that you don’t trust the DEQ?

    Further to the floodplain issue…and this one has really been bothering me….they keep showing massive trees in their greenway photos. Given what you believe about the floodway Jim, do you think that it is wise to plant large trees in along the path of the floodway/plain? If the parking garage presents a danger in that area, wouldn’t a tree filled park do the same? Won’t we wind up with hundreds of big trees heading downstream?

    3. My last point seems to be the same point that was made by many at the recent Council meeting. Who is going to be able to afford to use these parks? If we are using city resources for these plans, whether it’s hard cash or opportunity cost, and the property values are going to skyrocket even higher, isn’t this going to make Ann Arbor even less affordable? Are the less fortunate not allowed access to parks? The greenway will literally run right past my place of business. Theoretically, this should be a financial boon for my family. In effect, though, we will be taking money from anyone who lives outside of downtown and giving it to those who live along the greenway and in particular, those who live next to the parks. This is just? I sure don’t think so.

       —todd    Jun. 18 '05 - 03:11PM    #
  53. Oh,

    And Jim, after reading about your group’s work… older brother Scott was a P.E. at Black and Veatch before we got into this crazy business. Water, wastewater treatment and hydrology is kinda in his wheelhouse, so to speak, so if you need assistance for future projects, then I’m sure he’d help out….
       —todd    Jun. 18 '05 - 03:25PM    #
  54. Murph (# 43 and #47):

    I am troubled by the manner in which you pre-emptively discredit as “bad” or useless any information that might just call into question your agency’s chosen policy. This reminds me of President Bush when he talks about climate change data.

    Irrespective of complex hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, I think there is enough basic information, and there are enough indicators, which even a lay person can comprehend, that Allens Creek is already very stressed and increasingly dangerous system: I’ve already mentioned surcharging and specific incidents like the woman stuck in the pool at W. Kingsley and N. First. Even this information should give us pause about the wisdom of sandwiching a parking deck tightly between a steep hillside and a large (former) manufacturing building, and in the path of a projected oncoming flood.

    I for one have confidence in the climate data and modeling the president dismisses. And if we can model that system, there is no reason why we can’t credibly model the little Allens Creek watershed in order to have a database of information upon which to make sound decisions.

    The Allens Creek Watershed Group in its watershed management plan recommends developing a dynamic hydrologic and hydraulic model of the watershed. (There is already such a dynamic model for the Mallets Creek watershed.) This model would be much more comprehensive that the FEMA floodplain remapping project that is going on right now.

    The ACWG and Urban Design Advocates collected about 10-15 resolutions from community groups that called upon the City Council to fund such a model. Council member Bob Johnson responded to the grassroots call, and assembled the Allens Creek Technical Review Task Force. This task force reviewed existing technical data on Allens Creek, and made recommendations on what further information was needed. The task force affirmed and validated the call for dynamic modeling of Allens Creek.

    I will give one very specific example of the need for a whole-systems view of Allens Creek as it relates to the parking deck. The DDA proposes to straighten the drain and increase its capacity. What will the hydraulic effects of this be? I could hypothesize a very negative impact. I don’t think the DDA is planning on increasing the drain’s capacity all the way down to the Huron River. If the DDA straightens out the drain and increases its capacity only under the First and William site, won’t this merely force and ram a more efficient flow of water into the severly under- capacity drain downstream, below First and Liberty and northward? Would this just increase the pressure and exacerbate the surcharging in places like the already-dangerous corner of N. First and W. Kingsley?

    For various reasons of budget and politics, the recommendations of the task force have never been implemented. This information certainly would facilitate decision-making on the parking deck and other development proposals in the watershed. Perhaps this can be raised in the upcoming town-hall meeting on the parking deck, and in the fall election campaign.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 19 '05 - 05:55AM    #
  55. This conversation is going on between this topic and “Greenway hrg. unbalanced?” So please see my post #82 re: upcoming public design workshops and lectures on creating a strategy for downtown development. It also appears clear to me, at least, that the from this public dialogue is going to come some amount of greenway and some amount and location of parking. As susan Pollay said, in her usual, well-thought out manner, the two are not mutually exculsive tho’ DDA’s plan is now more minimalist and FOAGW is maximalist on the greenway portion. But whatever final plan emerges, it needs consensus to succeed. Susan Pollay and DDA understands this b/c they are the ones funding Calthorpe and part of the lectures. And the whole calthorpe process will wrap up in Dec.05 (and the Flood-plane mititgation and mapping will be done before that) which seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable period of time to have some better data AND consensus. From what I’ve seen so far, I haven’t drawn any conclusions as to where, on the “parking v. greenway” continuum, we should go. Both the Friends and the DDA have some excellent points and both are well articulated. And both groups have Ann Arbor’s best interest as their guiding principle, tho they may differ on their vision of what that is. Margaret W. is doing a fine job. And Susan Pollay is one of the ablest administrators and most cogent spokespeople I have ever met. And now that the two polar positions are so well drawn, I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how the public process (Calthorpe, Council, Planning Commission etc.) finally plays out.
       —Eric Lipson.    Jun. 19 '05 - 11:28AM    #
  56. Hey! Check out the “Ode to Murph” by Mary Morgan in Sunday’s AA News!
       —Eric Lipson.    Jun. 19 '05 - 02:29PM    #
  57. Eric: uh-oh. I’m afraid to look.
       —Murph.    Jun. 19 '05 - 03:30PM    #
  58. Jim, I’m totally with you on parts of that:

    The DDA proposes to straighten the drain and increase its capacity. What will the hydraulic effects of this be? I could hypothesize a very negative impact.

    The difference I see between this and Bush’s view on climate change is that our dear President would just like to quash discussion entirely and wish the subject away. The DDA, as I understand it, is proposing further study on the best plan for that area. When I asked Susan P. what the process was from here – since that’s one of the things that the DDA and Council need to make a lot more clear; public awareness seems to be that the process from here is non-existant; if Council says “yes” today, the DDA’s bulldozers start going nuts on the site tomorrow. When I asked for clarity for my own sake, part of Susan’s response was that the DDA Board might decide, upon further study, that parts of the plan just don’t make sense, and that there’s really no good way to put a structure on 1st/William.

    The difference I see is that you, Jim, are hypothesizing that everything the DDA proposes for the site is bad, whereas the DDA is proposing to sink a lot more money and staff time into it to determine whether it’ll be bad, and, if so, how bad and how it might be mitigated.

    I agree with you: The Allen Creek floodway (and watershed in general) are in terrible shape, and have been for decades. (The historic marker in front of Grizzly Peak says it’s been in a pipe since 1923, because the watershed was so degraded that there were damaging floods then.) I don’t think the proper course to take from that agreement, though, is to hypothesize catrastrophe and accuse the folks that are proposing to study the matter at a fine level of detail as wanting to wish it away.
       —Murph.    Jun. 19 '05 - 03:42PM    #
  59. Murph just jumped the shark.
       —Dale    Jun. 19 '05 - 03:51PM    #
  60. Re: Ode to Murph –
    I often wonder how my appearance comes off – and if I’m set up as the anti-Newcombe, that’s fine by me. (I like Newcombe, mind you, I just desire not to look like a dapper young real-estate agent.) The column kind of comes off as something that should be in a magazine with an accompanying photo spread and fashion notes. (“Iggy Pop is from Ypsilanti” t-shirt by Crimewave USA, available at Henrietta Fahrenheit. Jeans by Levis, available at Sam’s, etc.)

    I’m a little disappointed by the parts she left out – e.g. my mini-homage to Margaret Wong as somebody who is tooth and nail on the other side of this issue, but whose dedication to the same “make Ann Arbor a better place” cause I admire. I suppose there’s only so much that can be said in a column, though.

    She also left out my 100 Year Plan For The Allen Creek Valley. Ah, well.

    (Note: you will never ever witness me receive any kind of praise or positive feedback comfortably.)
       —Murph.    Jun. 19 '05 - 03:57PM    #
  61. It’s true—last week I said “Murph, you rock,” and he punched me in the face.
       —Dale    Jun. 19 '05 - 04:00PM    #
  62. (Oh, and does anybody have a dead-tree copy of the News that I can snag for my parents when you’re done with it? I’ll talk to the News, but I prefer not to give them money, what with the whole Ed Petykiewicz scab thing .)
       —Murph.    Jun. 19 '05 - 04:04PM    #
  63. Scott (#51)

    The UDA prospectus for an Allens Creek greenway did in fact show the First and William site undeveloped, and the N. Main and W. Washington sites with the greenway in the flood-prone areas and development outside the flood-prone areas of each site.

    If I’ve never showed you a copy of the UDA document, I will bring a copy with me when I see you next month.

    All: Correction – I just noticed that in post 76 back on the “Greenway Hearing Unbalanced” thread that I mis-identified Phil D’Anieri as a participant in UDA. It was actually James D’Amour. I was getting that “D’A” thing conflated.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 20 '05 - 01:24AM    #
  64. Tip: to make a link to a previous comment on any thread, the URL lies under that little # mark next to the time. So copy that URL (either by clicking on it and copying from the location bar of your browser or right-click, copy link), and then link to it by putting the link text in double quotes, followed by a colon and then the URL. So, to link to comment 76 on “Greenway Hearing Unbalanced,” which Jim refers to, you’ll find it’s at so, if you write it like:
    ‘’Comment 76, Greenway Hearing Unbalanced’’: except with real double quotes ( ” ), it’ll look like:

    Comment 76, Greenway Hearing Unbalanced
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 20 '05 - 01:53AM    #
  65. I really oughtta put that in the wiki…
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 20 '05 - 01:53AM    #
  66. Murph. I really think that Mary Morgan was really surprised by your insight and wisdom. For such a young person you have much going for you. Congratulation on proving there is much more to the book then just the cover.

    I have an extra copy waiting for you at my work place. Stop by any time you can and pick it up. That will give me the chance to shake your hand.
       —Bob Dascola    Jun. 20 '05 - 12:34PM    #
  67. “my mini-homage to Margaret Wong as somebody who is tooth and nail on the other side of this issue, but whose dedication to the same “make Ann Arbor a better place” cause I admire.”

    I have to say that I was very, very impressed with her Friends presentation. If Ann Arbor existed in a vacuum, she had me completely sold.

    Nice lady, too. I just don’t agree with her. The other nice thing that has happened over the last few months is that the vitriol seems to have cooled a tad on both “sides”.
       —todd    Jun. 20 '05 - 05:43PM    #
  68. Todd (#52 and #53): Here are my sequential responses to your questions:

    1. I am under the assumption that the ongoing density study by Calthorpe (and I know and respect some Ann Arbor residents who just don’t buy into the whole density push in the first place) will facilitate more dense residential development in the downtown area, and I would expect that a lot of this development will take place along the Allens Creek Valley. This dense development should generate numerous residents that will live within 3 blocks of the three city-owned lots and whatever parkland gets developed within them.

    The greenway should also be a link between parks. It should have an offshoot path up to West Park, and an offshoot path over to Bluffs Park (I once traced a feasible path up a dead AARR spur behind the AA Art Center up to Hiscock and Summit and then over through some woods above N. Main and into Bluffs Park.) It might be that some parks are under-used because of a lack of linkages between them, and that the greenway could solve this by tying many of them together.

    I also think that use of parks in the Allens Creek valley would depend on how they are designed. I myself don’t think that a park on the First and William site should necessarily be a sylvan greenspace with plenty of trees. My model for that site would be more like Jamieson Square out here in Portland’s Pearl District. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find to find a picture of this park on any website that I could refer people to. Jamieson Square has a kind of terraced fountain with rounded rocks that turns on and off, and discharges into a very shallow pool. It is utterly jammed with kids, playing in the water and on the fountain. Around the pool is a flat cobblestone / brick plaza, and then further towards the edge of the park there is some grass and trees. Around the square are huge 6-7 story high loft apartment style buildings that look down on Jamieson Square and enclose it as a social space (see Camillo Sitte’s book on town planning according to artistic principles); the same kind of dense development I imagine Ann Arbor is gunning for with the Calthorpe study.

    The First and William site has similar potential. I imagine that the Ashley block above will be dense residential development, as will the Eaton Building lofts on the other side. Beyond the Eaton building is the Old West side neighborhood. On the south side of the space, there is a small cluster of condos on William, and on the other side of William there is, if my recollection is correct, a children’s day care center in a converted railroad depot, then Ashley Mews, very dense, also within 3 blocks of First and William.

    A First and William square modeled on Jamieson Square would therefore serve very dense development within 3 blocks. It would be a center of social activity, and, importantly, would tie together socially downtown residential development and provide a smooth transition between downtown and the OWS. A parking deck, on the other hand, would create a barricade and wall of dead space between downtown and the OWS.

    As for funding, I think this new dense development could provide the funding for Allens Creek greenway and park development. Peter Allen, for example, has spoken in the past of how new development on the North Main Site could provide the funding for drain improvements on that parcel. I would like to see an entire separate Tax Increment Financing district—separate and distinct from the current DDA downtown TIF district—established say from William down to the river, and on either side of the valley. Within this district there would be a COHERENT development, financing, parking, affordable hosing, drainage, environmental (remediation, etc.) urban design, and greenway plan implemented in a systematic and wholistic manner. There are several planning and financing tools—TIFs, exactions, etc.—whereby revenues from dense residential development would be used to finance public improvements within the development plan area: a better drain, parks and greenways, etc.

    2. I do not think that a greenway system in the Allens Creek valley is an either-or proposition against the Huron River greenway. In the UDA document, we specifically recommended that the Allens Creek greenway by a pedestrian and bicycle link with the HR greenway. As I mention in the paragraph above, I think the funding for the greenway and 3 parks can be financed within a TIF-type program. Money for controlling urban sprawl I thought was the precise purpose of the Greenbelt initiative.

    As for MDEQ and the floodplain, I absolutely do not trust the MDEQ. In my comment letter on the parking deck to city council, I recommended they basically assume the role of state floodplain permitting authority, and ask themselves if the parking deck could meet the black-and-white text of the floodway standard that MDEQ itself ignores. On the trees in the floodway, I already addressed this in a previous post. I agree that growing trees in the floodway could obstruct flood flows, but that parks in the Allens Creek valley could be designed specifically to provide for unobstructed space to permit flood flows.

    3. See my response to your paragraph #1 above. I would hope that the development planning in the area around the Allens Creek valley would include, for example, a 20% low or moderate income requirement in new residential apartment buildings.

    I assume from your discourse, Todd, that if a low-income apartment building with access to the greenway were built on each side of your place of business, you would welcome this.

    RE: Black and Veatch, this firm has done some of the key studies on Allen’s Creek that are cited by the Allen’s Creek Technical Review Task Force. Ask Scott if he worked on these.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 21 '05 - 02:36AM    #
  69. Some arguments against a park at First & William:

    (1) “Build it and they will come” is an untenable position to take for parkland when (A) there are areas where existing residents have a lack of parkland (i.e. OFW, among others); (B) the city doesn’t have the money for upkeep of the existing parkland as it is; and C) the same residents who are fighting for the park are fighting against density and more residents downtown. How can TIF financing work when density and redevelopment is consistently stopped or extremely delayed by the residents?

    (2) An unused park is just as bad as a parking structure when it comes to deadening activity on the street. What happens in the park 6 months of the year, when it is too cold and dark to do anything outside? this isn’t Portland and we can’t design it as such!

    (3) How does PAVING OVER the floodway do anything better than a parking lot or structure?! It doesn’t matter if it is asphalt or pretty little bricks, the fact remains that it is impervious surface – the very thing that we are trying to avoid adding in the Allen’s Creek area.

    (4) Why is linking the parks downtown important? I can understand linking the parks along the Huron River – that is a very obvious natural feature that people like to walk along. I fail to understand how linking the parks downtown, or anywhere else in the city for that matter, will increase the number of people using them. Where is the Friends data on the usage of parks? how many adults go to one? how many children? wouldn’t it be more useful to have many small parks spread throughout the population rather than one VERY big, VERY expensive park just for downtown?

    To me, if you allow development at the First and William site, it should be a parking structure. The benefits of the TSP far outweigh the benefits of a park in that area, and the benefits go toward the WHOLE city, not just a small wealthy minority.

    If, however, you want to use the floodway/floodplain argument against the parking structure – and I have – then that site should not have ANY impervious surface on it. Go to the opposite extreme: clean the soil, enlarge the pipe, plant bioswales of native plants, etc. Make it a true floodway and a unique feature at the edge of downtown. If we really want to help Allen’s Creek, that’s the way to do it – make it a celebration of nature, not a Disney-bred park.
       —KGS    Jun. 21 '05 - 01:39PM    #
  70. Your Jamieson Square analogy sounds lovely, but ignores the fact that on three sides the First and William lot is bounded by the ass ends of buildings, with all the dumpsters, garden hoses, sheds, and other detritus that accumulates behind buildings. It’s a shitty looking lot, and the only way to improve it would be to buy all of those houses on Ashley and tear them down to build your “dense residential development”. That’s a lot of individual purchases to negotiate. Might happen, but I doubt it. And the buildings on the North and South sides are not going anywhere. The First and William lot is an eyesore, and no amount of decorating is going to make it look like anything but a vacant lot. You can’t just plop a park wherever you like; it needs to be designed into the neighborhood, and you’re not going to get that here. In fact, what applies to this particular plot of land applies to the whole greenway: it’s all BEHIND things. I like to walk the train tracks, you get a an interesting perspective from back there. It’s kind of spooky, like an alley that runs for miles, but it is in no way “parklike” unless you’re into broken glass, grease dumpsters, graffiti, old packing crates, dead cats, homeless squats, fire escapes, barbed wire, syringes, stray bits of coal, rusty railroad spikes, and the back sides of dozens of decaying garages. It’s actually pretty cool back there, and the best way to move across town if you want to drink and walk at the same time, but Biff and Muffy aren’t going to want to walk the Pomeranian through your ill conceived bullshit idea of a greenway.
       —Floyd    Jun. 21 '05 - 02:19PM    #
  71. The OFW proper may not have any parks, but it borders the real Ann Arbor greenway and several of the larger homes have pretty nice yards. Theirs would be a pretty weak claim of any need for parkland. Ann Arbor simply does not need any new parks.
       —Dale    Jun. 21 '05 - 02:53PM    #
  72. Jim,

    Thanks for bringing into the discussion the idea of using what happens along the greenway to drive the greenway; that’s an idea that I think is important to the success of any greenway that I’ve only heard Peter Allen voice so for. I’m not at all happy with your mentioning of the greenbelt funds in this context, since I’m of the opinion that the greenbelt is a limited enough endeavor without being hamstrung by budget-raiding for urban parks, but as long as you’re talking general concept rather than concrete source of funding, I’m going along with it.

    Too much of the “parks or parking structure” rhetoric, I think, has concentrated on-site, with the breadth of discussion limited to the geographic breadth of the various proposed greenways, and occasional vague references about, “Oh, and it’ll be good for economic development, too,” or “And it will enhance all that residential development that’s going to happen downtown.” The Friends’ side of the discussion has seemed to assume that the status quo will take care of everything that’s not a park, and it’s only the park that needs work to happen well.

    One of the things I talked about with Mary Morgan that didn’t make the column was the idea of a 100-year-plan for Allen Creek. In my mind, talking now about daylighting Allen Creek, or in any way talking about it as a creek, is ludicrous, but it would be an excellent goal to say that, 100 years from now, we will have repaired the watershed to a great enough extent that a mostly-natural creek can run so close to downtown and so close to urban neighborhoods (a built form like the OWS is only marginally better for stormwater than downtown – daylighting Allen Creek would have to involve re-opening cisterns and replacing sod with native plants on every single property in the OWS, among other major changes).

    Would a parking structure on 1st/William be in the way of reclaiming the creek? Well, it would have to be among the later pieces of the plan, but consider that 1st/Washington is the oldest deck in America, and it’s almost dangerously unusable after
       —Murph    Jun. 21 '05 - 03:27PM    #
  73. “the same residents who are fighting for the park are fighting against density and more residents downtown.”

    OK, this has gotten old. Yes, I know there are people against tall building downtown. However, these are not necessarily the same people who want a park at First and William no matter how many times you repeat this. The people who want a park at First and William are also not anti-environmentalist (most of them actually practice what so many of you are preaching). Nor are they against affordable housing (for crying out loud, Margaret Wong is on the board of Avalon housing—the only group that actually provides true affordable housing downtown). The DDA has brought us the Galleria, One North Main, and Tally Hall. All of these were touted as “the best thing for downtown” “the only thing that will keep downtown from ruin” and so on. Well you know what, they didn’t. They were crap and did more to hurt the downtown and the cause of density than they did to help it. The DDA came close to ruining downtown. Had it not been for the non-compete clauses at Briarwood, all of downtown Ann Arbor would be chain stores if the DDA had been able to do it. I think the current group is far more savvy and well-meaning than some of the former DDAs, but for those of us who live downtown and have been in town for years, we are naturally skeptical.

    KGS, I do agree with you that the site at First and William should be more of a rain garden/natural area than a “park” the way most people think of a park. That to me is the only truly environmentally responsible use for that site.
       —Juliew    Jun. 21 '05 - 03:42PM    #
  74. Who were the people advertising their competing visions as “Concrete Jungle or Greenway”? How are we supposed to interpret this, Julie? Also, ICC provides affordable housing downtown—without subsidy. Just for the record.

    Anyway, I was a bit skeptical about the “oldest in America” claim; in my research I come across communities saying they have the oldest or the best or the biggest whatever, which doesn’t hold up after some digging. This one seems to. Just for fun, I’m linking to a 1942 Christian Science Monitor article about Ann Arbor originating the requirement of off-street parking in the US, and a 1949 NYT article about Ann Arbor’s parking deck and Kansas City developing surface lots.

    Christian Science Monitor

    New York Times
       —Dale    Jun. 21 '05 - 03:52PM    #
  75. Dale, those are great clips. I see that the First and Washington site has lost 42 parking spots since 1949. Gives us an idea of how car sizes have changed.

    When I have heard people use “Concrete Jungle vs. Greenway” it is in the context of a lot of new buildings moderated by green space so that it isn’t all buildings. I haven’t heard people use it in the context of not building anything new, but rather not building large buildings on all available space. I do wonder where all these new downtown residents will walk their dogs. Maybe the First and William site could be a dog park and we could let the Greenway and dog park supporters duke it out …
       —Juliew    Jun. 21 '05 - 04:18PM    #
  76. It was a rhetorical question, actually. From an email from Doug Cowherd:


    Two starkly different visions for the future of downtown Ann Arbor have been offered. The Sierra Club’s Huron Valley Group is pleased to offer the public an opportunity to understand those competing visions. On Tuesday, May 17, Margaret Wong of Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway will present ‘Greenway or Concrete Jungle? Re-imagining Downtown Ann Arbor.’”

    Your explanation does not fit with the “starkly different” and “competing visions” rhetoric.

    Except for Sonia Schmerl’s Viewpoint claiming that the AARR greenway would yield economic development (not really relevant as she wasn’t advocating development), I have yet to hear any pro-greenway partisans say that development and the greenway are complementary. I HAVE heard pro-density people acknowledge that greenspace might complement development.

    But anyway—let’s talk about the primaries or something.
       —Dale    Jun. 21 '05 - 05:17PM    #
  77. Will the process of selecting developers for the TSP retail and housing sites (or other aspects of the plan) be different than they were for Tally Hall, One N. Main, and the Galleria? I don’t know the details of how those plans came about.

    Is this DDA-ja vu for anyone?
       —Steve Bean    Jun. 21 '05 - 05:38PM    #
  78. the same residents who are fighting for the park are fighting against density and more residents downtown.

    I say that with some credence, Julie. I have seen the same faces doing exactly that: Doug Cowherd, Sonia Schmerl, Chris Crockett, & Ray Detter stick out most in my mind, though I’m sure there are others. Look at the recorded minutes for the Corner Apartments (State & Washington), Ashley Mews, Glen/Ann Place, the new YMCA, etc. Look at the people fighting density in the form of Lower Town, even. You’ll see many familiar names, no doubt.

    Now of course not ALL people for the park are against density. But neither are the pro-TSP plan folks all in the pocket of the DDA, paid off by developers, or whatever other slanders the greenway folks sling against them.

    Neither has the DDA ONLY done ‘bad’ work. Look at the redesign of the State/Liberty corridor; the Forest Avenue and Fourth/Washington parking structures, or heck, the entire turn-around of the parking structure system; the trees & paving along Ashley Mews, Main Street, etc; the Go! Pass program; numerous bike hoops & lockers; etc. They have given money to a lot of really good programs, and to ignore that just isn’t fair.

    Tell you what: I’ll stop my generalizations if you stop yours. ;-)
       —KGS    Jun. 21 '05 - 06:11PM    #
  79. Dale: let’s not hold anything Cowherd says against anybody but him.

    Steve: I don’t know anything about the RFP / developer selection process for the prior projects. Nor do I know details of how it’ll work this time around. My assumption is that you can look to the Y site redevelopment process for the way it’ll work. (Fred Beal and Leah Gunn, DDA board members, were on the selection committee for that.)

    KGS: My Big Development Bosses would like an address for you so that they can mail that wad of bills they promised… :)
       —Murph.    Jun. 21 '05 - 07:43PM    #
  80. “I assume from your discourse, Todd, that if a low-income apartment building with access to the greenway were built on each side of your place of business, you would welcome this.”

    Maybe I’m reading you incorrectly, but this is coming across as some sort of a challenge. In response: If you are talking about an 8+ story building for low income housing, where do I sign to make it happen?

    Of course, our south parking lot sits right in the floodplain, so nothing of note will ever be built near our place. Lame.

    “As for MDEQ and the floodplain, I absolutely do not trust the MDEQ.”

    Well, that answers that question. Now it makes sense as to why you are so hot and heavy for the new data. I guess that I mistakenly assumed that DEQ was a good barometer. My mistake.

    “On the trees in the floodway, I already addressed this in a previous post. I agree that growing trees in the floodway could obstruct flood flows, but that parks in the Allens Creek valley could be designed specifically to provide for unobstructed space to permit flood flows.”

    You have to admit that it’s gonna be pretty hard create the Greenway that we keep seeing from the Friends without any trees. Sounds like a pathway, not a greenway. Waste of $$$$, if you ask me.
       —todd    Jun. 21 '05 - 07:47PM    #
  81. “I do not think that a greenway system in the Allens Creek valley is an either-or proposition against the Huron River greenway…...As I mention in the paragraph above, I think the funding for the greenway and 3 parks can be financed within a TIF-type program. ”

    Jim. Come on, you know full well that money is beyond tight for all levels of government. At least acknowledge that we barely have enough $$ to maintain and patrol the parks that we currently operate. Simply adding taxes, however you want to slice it, will do nothing more than make Ann Arbor an enclave for the very wealthy.

    “Money for controlling urban sprawl I thought was the precise purpose of the Greenbelt initiative.”

    Now I say this with some levity, but if I understand you correctly, you are my sworn enemy. Are you saying that we should use greenbelt money to build parks and paths in a an area that is, for the most part, protected by FEMA reg’s from meaningful development? Please tell me that I read you incorrectly.
       —todd    Jun. 21 '05 - 07:59PM    #
  82. KGS, Yes, the DDA has done good work. However, their biggest successes are related to the parking structures and transportation and their greatest failures are with mixed use buildings. Within that, the two structures that the DDA has built (Ann Ashley and Liberty Square) are the least used. I consider Ashley Mews at best a neutral project. Yes, there is housing, but it took a long time to fill and is not particularly contributing to the downtown ambience (I must confess that I have no idea what you are talking about with the trees and paving at Ashley Mews and I walk by there every day. There are some street trees and then a lot of very hot, impervious pavers as far as I can tell). Yes, it has retail space, but has never actual had functioning retail. Yes, the large tower is occupied, but it was occupied before it was built by the company that built it. So while it is certainly better than Tally Hall, it isn’t exactly a shining success. As a pedestrian, the State/Liberty redo has been a disaster. It is entirely focused on cars now and is far more difficult to get across than it used to be. I also know of at least one DDA member who is of that same opinion.

    I actually don’t want to bash the DDA. I think they do a great job on a lot of things, but I think they do a very poor job with mixed-use buildings and they do a poor job working with and listening to current downtown and near downtown residents. This results in poor designs that don’t take into consideration how current and future residents actually live, work, and shop downtown. Two of the principles listed on the DDA website related to near-downtown neighborhoods are: “Resist development pressures and uses within these neighborhoods that are not consistent with their residential nature” and “Consider the impacts of downtown development projects and improvements on near-downtown neighborhoods. This includes consideration of project design, massing, and height, possible future traffic impacts, and encouragement of elements that add to the attractiveness of living near downtown, such as open space.” Not necessarily against putting a parking structure across from a near-downtown residential neighborhood, but it doesn’t exactly point in that direction either.
       —Juliew    Jun. 21 '05 - 08:02PM    #
  83. I partially agree on the State/Liberty point Julie makes. Crossing State St. is much more difficult for peds now that it is two ways, and traffic flow is worse. This is particularly a problem since this is the part of State that has the most campus foot traffic. The Maynard and North U two-way switch, however, didn’t seem to hurt much. The State St. change, IMO, was only an improvement for perpetually lost out-of-towners driving near campus. It’s worse for peds, delivery drivers, and drivers who know their way around town. I think it should switch back to one way or do some Dutch-style traffic calming
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 21 '05 - 08:28PM    #
  84. Come on folks. Crossing two way traffic on foot is not rocket science.

    And I’ll tell you one way that converting those streets back to two-way traffic has been good for pedestrians, it keeps my bike off the sidewalk. I used to ride around there on the sidewalk rather than pedal several blocks out of my way to only get a block. Now I ride in the street like I’m supposed to. You’re all a lot safer.

    And why isn’t efficent traffic good for all of us? As it was before the return of two-way traffic it was almost as if the Ann Arbor traffic engineer’s dictionary only included the literal definition of circulate, that is to “travel in a circleâ€?. What’s an extra couple of minutes stuck in traffic on State compared to the days when southbound traffic on State was diverted onto Liberty, and then Thompson, and then William, and finally back onto State with a net gain of one block after two right turns and two left and five blocks traveled. And woe unto the poor unfortunate, who, wanting to go south on State Street, happened to be moving west on North University. She can now drive to State and turn left, a distance of about two blocks, but before she’d make seven turns and drive eight blocks, that is if she didn’t get lost and end up in Dexter instea.

    So even those who resent anyone getting anywhere quickly in a car (especially an out of towner) should at least be able to recognize the gain for all of us in terms of less fuel burned and less overall congestion.
       —Floyd    Jun. 21 '05 - 08:59PM    #
  85. The two way streets up at State and Liberty was to make the area more user friendly. Before two way it was,”You couldn’t get there from here”. Now the traffic is much slower and people look around more and the bikes are in the streets more then the sidewalks. The one way streets were to move the traffic thru the area better, but the cost of that was,”You couldn’t get there from here”.
       —Bob Dascola    Jun. 21 '05 - 10:34PM    #
  86. Scott, I’m with you on the woonerfing of State. If it weren’t for the buses, I’d be pushing it already . . . Maybe I should suggest a de facto extra-slow speed limit for buses on that stretch next time I see Chris White. I agree that State/North U. isn’t so happy for pedestrians – assuming the pedestrians pay attention to the traffic signals, and that’s their problem. I find traffic is rarely so heavy as to require waiting for the signal.
       —Murph.    Jun. 21 '05 - 10:38PM    #
  87. Julie W. I wanted to address for a few lines about the Galleria. That project as far as I know was the work of a private person not the DDA. The person also bought the corner of State and William, space on 4th Ave and a building on E.University. His intentions are to make big bucks as the corner of State and William is going for $60 per sq.ft. The rest of the area is getting $35 per sq.ft. The Galleria property use to be the Campus Theater with a house next door that got torn down for the Galleria development. That person is now trying to move on into the never world of retirement and is trying to sell off what left of his properties, but the price is to great for any one to buy. Greed, yes indeedy, self focus, yes indeedy, good for the community not a chance.

    The DDA did re-build the Parking garage that was falling apart on Forest St off SU. Back in the late 70’s the parking garage was in such bad shape that the city was going to sell it off to get out from under it, but the business people over there looked over the city books and showed them where they were making the big mistake by not putting money in a fund to repair the garages. The DDA has done that very nicely and the garages are in much better shape for it and will continue to be maintained. The U-M was in on that project, and what a partnership it was. Without that garage in the area the businesses would of been SOL.
       —Bob Dascola    Jun. 21 '05 - 10:40PM    #
  88. Floyd, crossing two-way traffic is not rocket science, but there is simply much more going on so when the traffic gets busy (rush hour and weekend evenings), it takes a lot longer for a gap to open up in all directions (and the gaps are much shorter). I used to live on this block, so I probably have more experience crossing that particular street than most people. It’s worse now. Better for bicyclists, though, I agree.

    My “dutch” reference basically refers to eliminating all “authority” on the street (lane markers, signage, lights, curbs) which somewhat non-intuitively, makes a highly mixed use street safer in European and Asian experiments.
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 22 '05 - 09:39PM    #
  89. Murph, at #72 above:

    “I’m not at all happy with your mentioning of the greenbelt funds in this context, since I’m of the opinion that the greenbelt is a limited enough endeavor without being hamstrung by budget-raiding for urban parks, but as long as you’re talking general concept rather than concrete source of funding, I’m going along with it.”

    Todd, #81:

    “Now I say this with some levity, but if I understand you correctly, you are my sworn enemy. Are you saying that we should use greenbelt money to build parks and paths in a an area that is, for the most part, protected by FEMA reg’s from meaningful development? Please tell me that I read you incorrectly.”

    You both seem to be under the impression that I am recommending using Greenbelt initiative money for an Allens Creek greenway. I am not.

    Could you both point specifically to something I wrote that gave you that impression?
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 23 '05 - 01:30AM    #
  90. #68—“Money for controlling urban sprawl I thought was the precise purpose of the Greenbelt initiative.”

    Perhaps you meant “we’ve already shown the willingness to spend money on parks, greenspace, etc.” However, Todd and Murph took the natural reading of your quoted sentence, I believe.
       —Dale    Jun. 23 '05 - 01:57AM    #
  91. Murph (#72):

    Aside from what appears to be a misunderstanding that I advocate using Greenbelt initiative funds for the Allens Creek greenway, I must say I found this post quite thoughtful, and dangerously close to my own thinking on Allens Creek. If you really have a 100-year plan for Allens Creek written down, I would like to see it sometime.

    [Hmm…thinking 7th generation on restoring a stressed ecosystem. Sounds—dare I say it—GREEN.]

    Let’s see if we can come to a convergence here: Since you are thinking wholistically, can you be receptive to the idea that if a separate TIF or some other kind of comprehensive development plan were undertaken for the entire Allen’s Creek Valley—and how the valley relates to both downtown and the near west side—that examining parking needs and possibilities on all lots within the study area, instead of through the Council’s articifial mandate to consider only three city-owned sites as per the TSP, might yield a parking solution that does not require a parking deck in the floodway?

    And on the daylighting issue, thanks for giving me the segue to talk more in detail about Herbert Dreiseitl. Check out his website: And I can’t recommend his book Waterscapes highly enough.

    Steve Thorp, my former colleague at the Great Lakes Commission, came up with an idea as a near-term alternative to long term prospect of daylighting Allens Creek. That is, create an open channel running for the most part (it would not be possible to do so precisely) coterminously with the underground drain pipe, but at the surface.

    Dreiseitl has actually designed and implemented several such urban streams. I actually had an opportunity on a trip through Germany to take slides of several of his projects, and I have presented this slide presentation on numerous occassions.

    [Todd, I recall from earlier threads your unfulfilled offer to host a forum with the various greenway and parking deck proponents. I will be in AA the week of July 4th, and would be very happy to give this slide presentation in your venue as part of the summer’s dialogue on the whole Allens Creek issue.]

    Dreiseitl is a very unique mixture of sculptor and hydrologist. I visited his studio in Germany, and he actually has a staff of hydrologists that make calculations on the size of cisterns needed to run purified storm water through these “urban streams.” One of his big preoccupations is creating such streams that traverse play spaces for children, so they can learn to understand and value storm water as a resource, not as waste.

    I think such an open-channel water course would be desirable and possible along a greenway and through parks developed on or within the three city-owned sites in the Allens Creek valley. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, most people in Ann Arbor probably don’t even know that there is a creek running through the valley that happens to be in a storm drain. The open channel water course might serve as one of several educational means to “imprint” knowledge of the watershed ecosystem in the minds of the community, and foster discussion of things like daylighting after 100 years, and the evolutionary repairs (the turf removal and native plantings you mention, e.g.) to the ecosystem that must happen to achieve this.

    To get back to the parking deck, I think the DDA parking deck idea would certainly preclude running a designed open channel water course through a park on the First and William site. Why not plan comprehensively for the valley as a whole that would provide for parking under a different scenario, so that First and William can be retained for the design and watershed-ecological opportunity that it is?
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 23 '05 - 02:35AM    #
  92. Jim,

    I don’t have the time right now to give proper response to your meatier comment, but just want to hit the clarity issue. My complaint about greenbelt millage raiding was in response to this from you,

    As I mention in the paragraph above, I think the funding for the greenway and 3 parks can be financed within a TIF-type program. Money for controlling urban sprawl I thought was the precise purpose of the Greenbelt initiative.

    I could see two possible meanings for this. One is, “The greenbelt millage shows willingness to pay,” and the other “The greenbelt millage is a source of funds.” The first I’m cautiously with you on; the second is what I was trying to make sure you were not saying.

    I will also strongly state that Allen Creek is not an issue of urban sprawl, except possibly in the sense that “more intense use of the Allen Creek valley, like more intense use of any land within Ann Arbor, is a matter of avoiding urban sprawl.” I think this is what was tripping me (and probably Todd) up in your comment. There’s a stereotype that Ann Arbor voters supported the greenbelt millage in the name of totally halting development – in an exclusionary sort of way – with the intention of then raiding those funds to create parkland within Ann Arbor, and claiming that forcing development to happen not in Ann Arbor was equivalent to stopping urban sprawl. Your mention of the greenbelt millage in the context of greenway funding threw up red flags for me, and a fear that you were fitting handily into that stereotype.
       —Murph.    Jun. 23 '05 - 03:51AM    #
  93. Jim—if I’m reading it right, in the suggested open stream, the water would run independent of the underground pipe, right? That is, it would represent the underground water and what happens to it, but not actually be gathered and transported in the same manner.

    If that’s the case, couldn’t we as effectively (or nearly) do the same educating with signage and programs but without the cost of construction/improvements?

    While we’re thinking big about opportunities, can we come up with a development scheme that addresses the creek’s ecological needs AND addresses needed downtown development? That seems to me to be a larger project scope, but one that is what we as a city are really after.
       —Dale    Jun. 23 '05 - 04:09AM    #
  94. can we come up with a development scheme that addresses the creek’s ecological needs AND addresses needed downtown development?

    You hit the nail right on the head, Dale. I generally like the idea of the TSP: sell off city land that is not being used well with restrictions on its redevelopment, and put services (like parking) where it is needed. Likewise, I generally like the idea of a natural floodway in Allen Creek. The two needn’t be mutually exclusive, but with the restriction of looking at ONLY the three sites studied by the DDA, or ONLY the three sites owned by the City that the Friends want, we don’t have a third option like you describe.

    Anyone else want to join me in the ‘Citizens for an Urban & Ecological City’, or a similarly named group? surely with the expertise we have on this board we could create something that would be really useful to the city as a whole.
       —KGS    Jun. 23 '05 - 01:30PM    #
  95. “As I mention in the paragraph above, I think the funding for the greenway and 3 parks can be financed within a TIF-type program. Money for controlling urban sprawl I thought was the precise purpose of the Greenbelt initiative”

    This is the quote that scared the hell out of me….in particular, it looked like the second sentence was somehow relating to the first. Thankfully, Murph appears confused too, so I don’t look like a complete idiot. My apologies for misconstruing your intent and position.
       —todd    Jun. 23 '05 - 01:31PM    #
  96. “One of his big preoccupations is creating such streams that traverse play spaces for children, so they can learn to understand and value storm water as a resource, not as waste.”

    This is the same stream that floods and traps people in cars at the bottom of Kingsley, right? Now, I hate kids as much as anyone, and getting a few washed into the Huron would suit me fine, but it’s going to be hard to sell it to your typical breeder.
       —Floyd    Jun. 23 '05 - 02:11PM    #
  97. Floyd, when I was a child, I was really fascinated by trains. Like, had to be pulled away from the tracks by my parents lest I get sucked under the Amtrak fascinated. I imagine that, as a child, I would have had similar fascination with three feet of floodwater rushing towards me, carrying trees and cars with it, as I am told is the condition we’re planning for in Allen Creek.

    Hey, here’s an idea! What if we put something in the floodway in order to filter all of those trees and cars out of the flow so that they don’t smash the little kids playing downstream? Maybe, like, a parking structure or something?

    (Please understand the spirit of facetiousness involved in this comment…)
       —Murph    Jun. 23 '05 - 03:12PM    #
  98. Spouting manhole covers, educational open streams, rushing rapids—I’m starting like all this Allen Creek talk.
       —Dale    Jun. 23 '05 - 04:55PM    #
  99. Floyd (#70): I guess I have more confidence than you that a good architect or urban designer can do somthing significant with the First and William site, and in fact the entire length of the greenway. The things you describe now—backs of buildings, junk, syringes, etc.—are what is “bullshit,” a good urban designer or architect is trained precisely to change all that. Even facades can change; I remember marveling at the Kline’s building when Ed Shaffran removed the blank wall on the front facade and revealed the amazing historic facade we see today. A design of a park at First and William would similarly, if done correctly, plan for the four walls of what Camillo Sitte describes as the “outdoor room” the enclosure of a good public urban space.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 23 '05 - 08:25PM    #
  100. KGS (#69):

    First, I think you can have a stone plaza on the First and William site and still reduce imperviousness. Back at Comment 76, Greenway Hearing Unbalanced, I said:

    ”...the First and William site could be designed with a fountain at the base of the hillside, and with most of the flat part in the floodway with paving stones spaced to allow porous infiltration of low intensity rainfall. A lack of trees on the site would provide for the free flow of floodwater during a flooding event.”

    Otherwise, you are right that Ann Arbor is not Portland, and should not be designed as such. Allens Creek should be designed on its own terms. I think the crescent-shaped creek valley sloping down to the Huron River, intersected by an urban street grid system, is really unique, and something that the Pearl District can’t match.

    But that doesn’t mean that the Pearl District doesn’t offer some important lessons. The Pearl District, like Allens Creek, was a former—to use Floyd-ese – “bullshit” industrial area, and it has been totally transformed by a comprehensive planning process that uses both urban economic and financial development tools, has an affordable housing component, and places urban design front and center. Not to mention good parks; in fact, in addition to Jamieson Square, Herbert Dreiseitl has designed the next in the sequence of Pearl District parks, one block away from Jamieson Square.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 23 '05 - 08:45PM    #
  101. Murph, you’re right about the trains, like the raging floods, also constituting an attractive nuisance. When I was younger I once ran alongside a freight train, because I’d seen in movies that you need to be going the same speed as the train if you want to hop on. Of course I tripped over a railroad tie and skinned my hands and knees. Now, we don’t want that to be a daily occurrence in the greenway, so what if, while daylighting the creek, they at the same time put the train down in a tunnel, like three miles long. I mean, you’ve already got the bobcats and steam-shovels and stuff at the site, so how much extra could it cost? And what if they then added parking alongside the underground tracks. You could parallel park a lot of cars along that stretch. Add a trolley to the tracks and you’ve truly got something for everyone. Everyone in La La Land.

    Has anyone on here questioned the priorities, and maybe even the sincerity, of a group of environmentalists who want to buy over 100 viable homes only to tear them down and put them in a landfill? The displaced residents, who currently live within a short walk of downtown, would then have to drive in and park, thereby creating the need for the parking garage that the Friends claim is unnecessary. Sounds like bullshit to me, Jim.

    And Jim, the only way you’re going to get a nice “outdoor room” at First and William is by building sixty foot walls on three sides, and if you’re going to all that trouble, you might as well add a fourth wall and park cars in it.
       —Floyd    Jun. 23 '05 - 09:19PM    #
  102. Jim, what about an Allen Creek Valley Zoning Overlay District? (ACVZOD)

    All of that old industrial development that was excreted into the valley (to continue the metaphor) will be reclaimed and redeveloped in the next century or less – considering the value of land in Ann Arbor, there’s almost no way it won’t be redeveloped eventually, but I’m budgeting a century, considering that redevelopment requires a developer to find a project that will justify the cost of the land, won’t draw overwhelming opposition, accounts for the terrain and the Murph-proposed ACVZOD.

    So, taking into account that it’ll all get redeveloped in the next century, we leverage that, and do it more directly than your suggestion of having a dedicated TIF district. (Caveats, since “attack the intern” will probably catch on as a sport soon: This is pretty much on-the-fly, and would take years and $$$ to come up with a final implementation of, so consider this non-binding – it shall not be thrown back in my face when I say something perceived as incompatible, and it shall not be construed as my speaking against the TSP. I have criticisms of the TSP, but this ain’t one of them. I hate that I have to include long caveats in my comments…)

    * The ACVZOD covers every parcel in the Floodway, Floodplain, or adjacent to above.

    * When redeveloping any parcel in the ACVZOD, you may automagically split the parcel into “in the floodway”, “in the floodplain”, and “not in either” segments; the “not in either” segment may be automagically combined with 1 adjacent parcel, and the conglomeration inherits the higher zoning of the two.

    * Well, not quite automagically: in exchange for the split, you have to cede the “in the floodway” portion to the city as parkland. (Otherwise, you can still try to split the property through the standard channels, or you can go ahead and try to develop in the floodplain. Sucker.)

    * If you also cede the floodplain portion to the city and clear existing structures from the land in the process (or leave them, with permission from the Parks Dept.), then you may retain the development rights that were on the ceded land, piling them up on the retained land instead.

    * Open space requirements in your final zoning? Waived.

    * Site plans, of course, still have to go through CPC.

    So what does this crazy plan get us?

    * Developers get a mechanism for jumping past some annoying approval hoops easily and coming out the other side with a more desirable (and more financially feasible) project site, encouraging redevelopment of the industrial junk currently occupying much of the valley.

    * The floodway and large parts of the floodplain end up clear, in the hands of the city, and with some of the work towards recovering them done by the developer.

    * The redevelopment takes place in such a way that encourages dense mixtures of uses along the sides of the valley, probably facing inwards onto this hot new open space that’s been created and actually providing the uses and activity necessary to make a greenway (a) functional, and (b) safe.

    So there’s a bleeding-edge proposal from this little planning student. Discuss amongst yourselves…
       —Murph.    Jun. 23 '05 - 09:20PM    #
  103. Murph—If, in the above scenario, I bought 2 SFR lots/houses—one in the floodway/plain—would that mean that I could tear them both down and build a DUPLEX? Man, that would be great.

    What about instead of higher-of-the-two zoning, we gave highest-on-the-block?
       —Dale    Jun. 23 '05 - 09:26PM    #
  104. Dale: or buy three lots in the floodplain and one next to, and build townhouses on the one.

    “higher of the two” vs. “highest on the block” might or might not be a big difference; I’ll check when I get back into the DDA office tomorrow and see how widely any of the affected blocks vary.

    By “highest”, also, I mean “whichever the developer thinks is highest”, if that wasn’t clear.
       —Murph.    Jun. 23 '05 - 11:27PM    #
  105. I guess my point was that just shifting the zoning for one parcel on top of an adjoining one wouldn’t necessarily pay off (in the hypothetical case, with SFR; maybe it would with office or something). Say I buy 2 New West Side SFR houses for 270k apiece—what the Madison House is assessed at—I’d only get to build two units, right? A duplex would probably get me less money (though townhouses might fetch some coin) and I’m looking to sell these and cash in in this hypothetical, not to rent them). However, if there were a medium density multi-fam on the block (not just the street face, but all four sides), I could build something with whatever the medium-plus-SFR unit count would be. Say, 7 units?

    To carry this pointless exercise further, if I’m building 7 wood frame units averaging 1000 sq ft, at, oh, $200/sq ft, that’s 1.4M plus the 540k for purchase—I need to make about 2.2 million in revenue (about 10% for razor-thin overhead and profit), meaning these units have to go for about 300k (250-350) to make it happen. I think this means we’re still screwed at current costs. If somebody wants to flip through the National Building Cost Manual (available at Fingerle) and correct me, please do. I don’t even want to do the three townhouses calculation.
       —Dale    Jun. 24 '05 - 12:12AM    #
  106. 200 per sq ft looks too high now—say 150. 1.6M/7= 240k avg. Making a much more attractive range of 200-280k.

    But that’s increasing density 3.5x.
       —Dale    Jun. 24 '05 - 01:00AM    #
  107. Dale and Murph:

    I like the “path” you guys are going down.

    Murph, why are a TIF and an “ACVZOD” mutually exclusive? What is it about TIF that you don’t like?

    BTW – just out of curiosity, is this the first 100+ post thread that has occurred on this blog?
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 24 '05 - 01:14AM    #
  108. Not quite the first 100-poster, though I think all of them to date have been Three-Site/greenway related.

    The two are not mutually exclusive, nor am I necessarily opposed to a TIF (it could be used for site work on the land that is severed and ceded, I suppose). I’m suggesting the ACVZOD as the primary tool, rather than a TIF, because I don’t think any reasonably sized TIF would produce enough money to purchase all of the land involved, nor do I think that the TIF would necessarily provide any incentive for accompanying development.

    Also, I think there’s been a lot of fear w.r.t to the Joe O’Neal proposal that “it’s going to involve tearing down 100 homes!” To thread hop a bit, I think that having a land acquisition TIF as the primary tool makes it likely that eventually some Council will find it desirable to start taking houses; making land acquisition a side effect of development means that nobody gets displaced against their will.
       —Murph.    Jun. 24 '05 - 01:05PM    #
  109. To thread hop a bit, I think that having a land acquisition TIF as the primary tool makes it likely that eventually some Council will find it desirable to start taking houses; making land acquisition a side effect of development means that nobody gets displaced against their will.

    Can you imagine the irony if the Friends got their way and then, during the construction of the parks, their homes are bought using eminent domain? Supreme Court just gave it the green light.
       —todd    Jun. 24 '05 - 01:36PM    #
  110. I seem to have missed something. What does TIF stand for?

    As regards the 1st/William parking structure—-William between Ashley and First’s a pretty big hill, dropping over 40 feet in a block. Any idea how far up the hill the (pedestrian) exits from the structure are to be? I for one sure wouldn’t want to walk up that hill, and I don’t have many mobility problems; maybe that’s what “Downtown business owner Jim Hart”’s customers were referring to in comment 5. . . .
       —[libcat]    Jun. 24 '05 - 03:43PM    #
  111. [libcat]: “TIF” is “Tax Increment Financing”. Basically, you say, “Okay, within this area, any increase in tax revenues from current levels over the next n years will go into a separate fund, with a particular purpose, rather than going into general tax revenues.”

    1st/William hasn’t really been site planned / architected beyond “a parking structure on the north part and a park on the south part.” The DDA is waiting for approval of the conceptual plan before they spend lots of money investigating the details. I imagine that the parking structure will have a ped entrance into the park, another at the north end, and another onto Ashley street. If you walk down Ashley, you’ll notice there’s a vacant lot between two of the buildings, near the south end of that block; that vacant lot was bought up by the City several years ago with the intent of having it available for this sort of plan – so that anything on 1st/William could be accessed easily from Ashley street
       —Murph.    Jun. 24 '05 - 05:01PM    #
  112. Murph – there was a parking structure designed for that site, once upon a time. I’m not sure how big it was or anything, but know that I saw the drawings for it at my previous office. You may want to ask Susan about it sometime.
       —KGS    Jun. 24 '05 - 05:57PM    #
  113. ah! excellent!

    i realise that there isn’t yet anything more than a basic concept of what they want to go into that area, but at some point somebody’s going to have to figure out what to do about that hill. Of course, if they can make a Glen/Catherine-style bridge to the top of the hill, that pretty much solves it.
       —[libcat]    Jun. 24 '05 - 08:56PM    #
  114. More thoughts on the ACVZOD:

    I would again try to picture it as one component of a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the Allens Creek Valley; not a stand-alone planning tool.

    Perhaps on the west side of the valley the extent of the district could be only the parcels adjacent to the floodplain. On the east side, the district could perhaps run farther up the hill, say to Ashley or even to the alley behind the buildings on Main.

    And here’s a twist on the idea as it relates to the “crescent-shaped-valley-interescted-with-urban-grid” urban design element.

    Within the ACVZOD, certain properties could be “upzoned” where the continuation of the site line along a street axis lands on a site on the rim above the valley. On these particular sites, a “monumental” work of architecture could be constructed as a visual terminus. (Pre-emptive apology for the urban design geekspeak.)

    For example, if you walk eastward on Liberty, you can see the campus belltower off in the distance. It is an impressive structure, and it helps orient a person as to the person’s place in the city.

    But if you walk westard on Liberty, and look off in the distance, there is no similar visual monument. Because Liberty veers off to the south a bit as it heads up the west side, the extension of the axis / site line westward from the downtown segment of Liberty lands, if my memory serves me right, on a car wash.

    As part of the ACVZOD, this car wash property could be “upzoned” to allow a multi-story (4-7 ?)structure. As per Murph’s description of the zone’s mechanism, the developer might have to simultaneously dedicate floodplain space just below or at some other point to be allowed the increased vertical density.

    Or there could be alternative required dedications. Peter Allen’s model for drain improvements, for example. Or a contribution to a segment of the Dreiseitl-like open channel along the greenway that would run right past the building (the 415 W. Washington site is adjacent).

    The building taking advantage of the increased density on this site could not be some run of the mill, “excrement” building, but a work of true and notable architecture. The comprehensive AC plan would include intense-scrutiny design review (or even a design competition) such that the building would both be a welcome addition to the west side neighbors, and an inspiring urban sculpture for pedestrians, and in particular those on Liberty Street, one of the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfares.

    Add some more twists. As part of the overlay zoning, reduce or get rid of the minimum parking requirement. I think it was, of all people, Doug Cowherd who once told me about a phenomenon called “bicycle apartments”—located in Indiana, of all places—where an affordable housing apartment building had just such a reduced/eliminated minimum parking requirement. I think this concept could work in Ann Arbor with its student population, and on this site, as the building would be on the Allens Creek greenway path where residents could bike down to the Huron River greenway and points beyond.

    I would not at all recommend such dense “upzoning” for the whole ACVZOD—the “concrete jungle” comes to mind—but for very selected sites, where visual site axes terminate, it could work.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 25 '05 - 02:48AM    #
  115. Well, having looked at a zoning map overlaid with a floodway/plain layers, I think there’s not going to be too much worry about concrete jungle on the west side of the valley.

    With the notable exceptions, I think, of the Miller/Spring intersection and Liberty – Washington block (which would be good for the visual termini Jim’s talking), it looks like the highest density you’d get on the west side of the valley would be duplexes and townhomes. This would be consistant with the (relatively nonsensical, but popularly-accepted) tradition of using multifamily/attached housing as a “buffer” between downtowns and single-family house neighborhoods.

    In this case it might actually make sense; a townhome on the edge of the OWS overlooking the Allen Creek would probably be pretty desirable for somebody who wants to be close to the “urban” lifestyle but not quite “loft”-urban, and would serve as a density-transition.
       —Murph.    Jun. 25 '05 - 03:08PM    #
  116. Mini-rant: As a side note, I think the whole “concrete jungle” imagery is pretty silly. Broadacre City is a ridiculous fantasy, and possibly one of the most harmful “planning” ideas of the 20th century; a well-intentioned idea to integrate nature into the “cold, dehumanizing, impersonal concrete jungle” of the city whose direct effect, in implementation, is to replace healthy, vital, active downtowns with, well, let’s call it the “neon prairie.”

    Okay, I’m done now.
       —Murph.    Jun. 25 '05 - 03:21PM    #
  117. Some belated reflections on various above comments in this thread:

    I have advocated that, if a parking deck must be built, it should be built not on the First and and William site but into the hillside right next to this site, i.e., under Ashley, on both sides of the street, as part of a dense development above.

    Marc (#8) talks about the “traumatic” cost of underground parking. Scott (#11) talks about underground parking being “dramatically” more expensive.

    Just exactly on what basis have you to determined that underground parking is so “traumatically” and “dramatically” more expensive. Perhaps your claims are unfounded. Have you crunched the numbers? Has ANYONE crunched the numbers?

    I recall when I worked at the Great Lakes Commission in the mid 1990s, at the end of W. William St., I used to watch the construction of the building that now stands at the NW corner of Main and William. I was fascinated by the utterly huge hole the contractors were excavating, and this hole is now the underground parking for that building. Apparently the income the building earns supports whatever costs were expended for excavating and constructing underground parking on this site. If it can work at William and Main, I don’t see why it can’t work a block over at William and Ashley.

    I would recommend that a financial analysis be undertaken for constructing an underground parking deck under Ashley as an alternative to the DDA’s proposal to construct a parking deck in the floodway at First and William.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 27 '05 - 01:58AM    #
  118. Todd (#80):

    Yes, it was a challenge, and you passed.

    Garrison Keillor once cracked me up when he broadcast “A Prairie Home Companion” from Ann Arbor, and called the town “a place where people talk about socialism in expensive restaurants.”

    Sometimes I get a bit cynical about a very affluent community like Ann Arbor raising the cry of “affordable housing.” Aside from people like you who will go on record as welcoming low-income folks right next to them, I think the affordable housing mantra has its limits in Ann Arbor.

    In his book “Metropolitics,” Myron Orfield has a compelling—and radical (listen up, Marc)—idea, which I support, on the fair / affordable housing idea. That is, suburban and affluent communities should accept a certain amount of resettled populations of the true poor form poverty-stricken inner city areas, so that the latter can benefit from better schools, etc., and begin the climb out of poverty.

    I must say, if the DDA’s cherished parking deck were being advanced as necessary to create parking deck for a resettled community of the truly poor, imported from Detroit and Flint, in a Calthorpe-validated dense neighborhood on the eastern edge of the Allens Creek valley, the parking deck idea would be dropped by the DDA like a hot potato, the veneer of Ann Arbor liberalism would be exposed, and we would have a Republican majority on city council in short order.

    I think, rather, that the invocation of affordable housing as it relates to the DDA parking deck / greenway debate, is a typically cynical appropriation of “progressive” language by many those with a development agenda. If the deck gets approved and constructed, and the need for the appropriated terminology vanishes, my bet is that the parking deck will support pricey market rate condos.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 27 '05 - 02:19AM    #
  119. Murph, (#92):

    I repeat my query, which you haven’t answered yet. I’m not letting you off the hook. :)

    “Since you are thinking wholistically, can you be receptive to the idea that if a separate TIF or some other kind of comprehensive development plan were undertaken for the entire Allens Creek Valley—and how the valley relates to both downtown and the near west side—that examining parking needs and possibilities on all lots within the study area, instead of through the Council’s articifial mandate to consider only three city-owned sites as per the TSP, might yield a parking solution that does not require a parking deck in the floodway?”
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 27 '05 - 02:24AM    #
  120. So, Jim, I think the general plan is that there will be underground parking on the Kline’s site as part of whatever development occurs there, similar to the underground parking included in the Glen/Ann Place proposal and the Ashley Lofts proposal. That part’s all well and good, but can’t be included in the First/William concept of “replace the parking displaced by parking and development.”

    The space under the road and on the Ashley side of the road could be turned into underground structured parking – and I think that was discussed here some months back, though I’m not going to go digging. Problems I see in that include getting the land that’s privately owned on Ashley in order to build under it – we’d have to take down the structures there now. The developer (I’m told one person now owns everything on that block but Hathaway’s Hideaway, and will probably develop eventually) may want underground parking, or may just not be willing to partner with the city, and eminent domaining the land away would be $-times-lots.

    I personally think it’s worth looking into, though I doubt it would be fiscally feasible. It would also be a tough sell – with half a dozen people standing up at public hearings saying, “Why are we spending so much to build parking that we don’t even need?” coming back with a plan that includes the price of invoking eminent domain on well-situated properties probably wouldn’t fly.

    Also, this is the kind of thing that would be investigated once Council gives the okay to the DDA; I doubt it’s something that DDA is going to spend their money studying if they see it as just a stalling tactic to tie them up, rather than as part of a genuine general interest in moving forward with the TSP, but I expect it would be in the scope of the upcoming study/design phase if Council specifies, in the okay, that they want it to be. (And, honestly, any okay that Council gives is going to be three pages of whereases long – they can’t even write a resolution that says, “Let’s turn three sites into parks” with a page and a half of verbiage….)
       —Murph.    Jun. 27 '05 - 02:46AM    #
  121. Jim, the other day I witnessed two DDA Board members, claws out and teeth bared, “discussing” at each other across a table whether certain affordable housing levels were “affordable enough” to serve Ann Arbor’s needs. You may want to try getting to know the people you’re criticizing before you assign them motivations; you might be pleasantly surprised by some of them.

    that examining parking needs and possibilities on all lots within the study area, instead of through the Council’s articifial mandate to consider only three city-owned sites as per the TSP, might yield a parking solution that does not require a parking deck in the floodway?

    Yes, it’s possible. I question feasibility, though, or timeliness. I also question opportunity cost. When I’m talking 100-year-plans for Allen Creek, it’s because, in my mind, Allen Creek is currently as dead as it’s going to get, and it’s not worth heroic efforts at this point – at the expense of several years worth of work that’s not being used for other purposes – in order to avoid putting a structure there. Consider that it took 18 months to come up with a plan for three sites.

    You aren’t going to come up with a solution that says, “We can evaporate 500 parking spaces from downtown without any ill effect.” That I promise you. You also aren’t going to come up with a solution that everybody is happy with. Ask Margaret (as the person I know to live across the street) if she’d let the City build a parking structure on her side of the street if it meant that 1st/William would be a park. Or ask the folks on the northwest side if they’d be willing to let their houses be razed for parking.

    As a planner, I have very little faith in comprehensive, “rational planning” style studies that would presume to discover the One True Place to put parking that everybody would be happy with and that would provide the perfect amount of parking. I’m applying a strong “good enough; can we get on to other things now?” heuristic.
       —Murph.    Jun. 27 '05 - 03:05AM    #
  122. Murph: what about Mayor Hieftje’s proposal? What do you think of that?
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 27 '05 - 07:42PM    #
  123. Todd (#81) and (#109):

    I’d like to address what seem to be your two primary concerns about TIF.

    First, TIF does not necessarily rely on an increase in tax rates. It can rely solely on an increase in tax revenues.

    So, for example, if in Murph’s ACVZOD, a four story building replaces a one story building, and the tax rate is the same for each building, the TIF district would capture the higher property tax revenues because a four story building would have a higher assessment as the one story building at the same tax rate.

    Second, there is nothing inherent in TIF that would make a city council more disposed to start taking properties by eminent domain. Your guarantee on that score is to elect council members who oppose the use of eminent domain.

    On another TIF issue, there may be a question of competition in a separate Allens Creek TIF district with the Ann Arbor Public Schools. I think someone in the past (Susan Pollay, maybe) mentioned to me that a TIF district supplants a school district as to the capture of tax revenue. I don’t know the details on this; it would have to be researched.

    But I think there is a solution to this problem in revenue sharing. To take my hypothetical building in #114 above, the new building’s tax revenue that equals that of the car wash could continue to go to the school district, while the new revenue from the upper floors could go to the Allens Creek TIF.
       —Jim Nicita    Jun. 27 '05 - 08:06PM    #