Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Dueling North Quads: A Criticism of Supporting Land Uses

7. November 2004

The Ann Arbor News today runs articles on both the private dorm planned adjacent to North Campus and the planned replacement of Frieze with a University dorm—both projects have been referred to as “North Quad” at some point, and both seek to provide students with apartment or suite-style residence. University, City, and developer are in agreement that the housing market can support the 1400 new beds that the two developments will create.

One major difference between the two projects, though, is the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. The University’s dorm, planned to replace the Frieze Building at the corner of State and Huron, would put students within easy access of the State Street and Liberty Street business areas, as well as being closer to classroom buildings than most of the existing dorms. This project fits into the City’s vision of increased downtown residential density, and local businesses are happy. From New dorm’s impact generating worry:

Roger Hewitt, the owner of Red Hawk and Zanzibar, two restaurants just a block or two down State Street from the new dorm, said the project injects more life in the downtown area and will encourage private residential development aimed at an older crowd.

“I think it’s great that the university is putting more downtown residential in this area, because I think it helps re-establish this as an urban residential area,” he said.

The University’s project will include no parking at all, leading residents of the Old Fourth Ward to worry that students will swamp that neighborhood’s street parking. Traffic concerns have been one of the major concerns with the private dorm on North Campus as well, with the Broadway neighborhood worried that student traffic will destroy the character of their street. What the News doesn’t mention in their article on this development, Private dorm will open first, and what the City seems to have almost completely neglected is the role of surrounding uses in determining traffic patterns. In a September 19, 2002, meeting of the Planning Commission (pdf) at which this project was discussed, Jena Carlberg was the only Commissioner to mention non-car accessibility, and then only in passing while praising the proposal’s inclusion of only 245 parking spaces for the 900 predicted residents.

While the proximity to commercial uses seems to be a major consideration in advocacy for turning the Frieze into a new dorm, the North Campus development has no pedestrian-oriented commercial uses at all in the vicinity. A quick survey of the area surrounding the Murfin-Plymouth intersection shows two gas stations, a junkyard, an auto repair shop, a Ryder truck rental, a car wash, and two auto-oriented strip malls. While the strip malls do include such student staples as pizza, liquor, tobacco, video rental, and fast food, the area is much more heavily oriented towards commuter traffic taking Plymouth in from US-23 than towards any notion of serving local neighborhood needs.

The City Planning Department’s Draft Northeast Area Plan (pdf) calls for “mixed-use neighborhood retail centers”, which would feature office or residential uses above storefronts, buildings fronting on the sidewalk, and minimal off-street parking. “Auto related uses,” the plan notes, “such as gas stations, auto repair shops and car washes should be prohibited.” (Chapter 6, Page 12) The plan does specifically target (pdf) a few of the auto-oriented land uses in this cluster: the truck rental should be replaced with “office uses”, and the plan says that “a neighborhood commercial zone. . .would be more appropriate” for the site the gas station/junkyard/repair shop cluster occupies. (Chapter 10, Page 11) The plan does not criticize the rest of the auto-dominated uses, however, and even goes so far as to show picture of the Courtyard Shops, the single-use, mostly single-story, parking-lot dependant strip mall on the north side of Plymouth, when discussing the qualities of a good neighborhood commercial area. The picture is, of course, carefully cropped to avoid showing the parking lots, or the fact that the “sidewalks” the stores front on are not actually on the street, but internal to the development. The University is aware that placing students and pedestrian-oriented commercial areas close together is highly desireable, to the point of including no parking in their new development—why shouldn’t this lesson be considered on Plymouth Road?

The City has said that the lack of progress in increasing density in the downtown area is due to the fact that the downtown area master plan is outdated, and needs to be revised to include new priorities, such as density. The Northeast Area Plan, however, is brand new, and won’t even take on the task of providing 900 new students (and the thousands who already live within a quarter-mile radius, in Bursley, Baits, the Highlands, Willowtree, the co-ops, and other multi-unit residences) with walkable commercial areas. If the Northeast Area Plan’s definition of “neighborhood commercial area” is representative of the way that the City will approach “downtown density”, it’s probably safe to say that very little progress will be made in the foreseeable future.

-Richard Murphy

  1. Agreed.

    The North Campus area’s problem has always been its focus on automobile use – somewhat paradoxical for a high-density student population in a “natural” setting. There is an absolute lack of anything that could be deemed “commercial” within walking distance of any of the North Campus residence halls, which not only keeps people from wanting to live on North Campus, but also prevents students from working part-time jobs near where they live. The bus to Central Campus becomes North Campus’ lifeline; without it, the area’s social life grinds to a halt. Until the University arranges for commercial spaces near the North Campus project, within walkable distance, with sidewalks or at least trails – free of accompanying streets, so they are not simply an add-on to automobile use like they are now – to make walking an inviting prospect, the Campus is going nowhere.
       —A former RA    Nov. 16 '04 - 10:04PM    #
  2. A nice place to visit… Being a native A2 resident, and having lived in LA, the UK, and Dexter, the ever-greedy and irresponsible ‘representative’ vision of governance never ceases to amaze. The old fantasy of building a
    spend-happy, car-less, high-rise “New York -style” tax base to fund a once beautiful and balanced natural community is rapidly chasing its sorry tail
    down its own myopic rabbithole. Wasn’t Olga’s just replaced with a “rental” highrise – or were they condos?

    Here is some food for city planner thoughts:

    1. enclose Ann Arbor with the “minimal” surrounding land necessary to sustain a zero-plus value belt. The key word here is sustained ‘value’ meaning continuous resources and brainy resident products for all time grown within. ‘Capital’ that is exported continuously to non-resident investors is hardly a sustainable value. Student accommodation over entrepreneural/researcher investment is hardly a sustainable value. Especially when the new brain
    investments return overseas – or never even show in the future given the growing number of online degree mills.

    Starting with a self-supporting ‘value’ policy (yes, spend only what you can earn or trade locally inside the smallest surrounding geographic belt), the City (and State, and even U.S. et al) may eventually find a real sustainable survival path. The holy global economic promise is a dangerous joke in case
    you haven’t figured that one out yet. Thanks to Hayek and his Chicago School of Bozos, the competitive and overpopulated Earth will likely soon go MAD fighting over a rapidly wasted resource base (much like an Iraqi oil master
    plan would work). The correct model of incentive is to make smaller, smarter, locally responsible families. Why doesn’t that quite fit the global investor program of mass-market production/ consumption for profit?

    If you cannot sustain economic life within a contained kingdom, then simply growing the same failure will not work globally, either.
    Value = Intelligence x Energy (or delta x energy if you know who Claude Shannon was). That is the working basis of all economic life everywhere. If you want more value in Ann Arbor, you need either more resources, or more brainy resident producers, or both, period. Pretend you own a machine that runs on pure energy. It will produce almost any product of design fed into it. How many humans will you need to run the machine to make the products you desire? How many would you want to make the machine, and share in its ownership?

    Fusion/hydrogen research/development is a crucial investment for Ann Arbor. Cybernetics and genetics are as well (not Pfizer, not Comcast, not Toyota, not Equity, not Walmart). Ford’s (unannounced) micro-production MI network
    as the new sustainable production model (vast small business owners/workers networked under a small final ‘machine’ corporate cap – with no fat
    middleman investors – is a ‘Job One’ quality idea yet to be seen).

    -2. Migrate the hospital complex Northward leaving a casual ‘art-fair’ campus atmosphere or ‘walking mall’ in town. Move downtown parking/ offices underground. Enact a two-story above ground building limit. Tax all ‘foreign’ cashflow
    going out (landlords must live/work in their buildings) and tax commuter worker by wage scale made in the belt (Foreign corporations bleed VATs, Dexter Doctors pay lots, Ypsi clerks less, A2 nurses none). Make all capital investment a long-term, local resident-producer/ government-bond enterprise determined only by local residents for local residents. Borrowing from the future producers makes more sense, not paying none-productive, greedy ‘foreigners’.

    More public transport (planes, trains, commute shuttles) equates to more local fiscal ‘control’ over foreign traffic influx. Municipal wi-fi with
    locally-owned optics to the box to ensure that a smarter-city ‘brain value’ will continually exist (Comcastickit). Build upon local IP television/ film/music production and online education going out the loop – relegating the in-town U. student
    population to become only the next selectively mentored future arts/sciences/law (brainy) residents (Oh, our show was produced in Ann
    Arbor. Oh, I was an ‘on-site’ UM graduate. Oh, I am sorry, you will need much more than cash to obtain a home in this little exclusive,
    co-operative, scenic community…Oh, Mr. Google that storefront is one million per month VAT, yet Mr. Powers, you can have it for just one dollar
    per month VAT as long as you still live here…). Did you hear that Beverly Hills was just a small country plot of land near LA. And that Rodeo Drive was just a low strip of boutiques serving the local ‘highly-valued’ 90210 populace there? Or was that 48104?

       —scott whitehouse    Dec. 9 '06 - 01:51PM    #
  3. i didn’t understand a word of that, scott. seriously. how about a rewrite?

       —peter honeyman    Dec. 11 '06 - 08:20PM    #