The Future Face of Ann Arbor

Many of the issues that will be important in this council campaign apply to one central question: What will be the future face of Ann Arbor?

The present council majority and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority have often taken a stance that could fairly be described as pro-development.  Does that mean that many of us who have opposed one project or another, or lobbied for open space in a particular location, are anti-development?  Not necessarily.   Rather, it is often a disagreement about the future course of the city, both how its physical environment (built and natural features) will be presented, and how the life of the city will revolve around and within that physical reality.

Don’t forget.  This is where we live.  What happens to the spaces around us affects our lives.  Ann Arbor is changing daily, and will continue to change, and that is just fine.  But the question of how it will change should be open to discussion.

There are several important initiatives afoot that will affect the future face of the city.

Connecting William Street is a project in which the DDA (by assignment from the City Council) is seeking to determine the best use for several city-owned parcels in the downtown.  I will be discussing this process in detail, and I favor a park or open public space on the Library Lot.

New task forces are being formed to examine other city-owned lots, especially those in the Allen’s Creek floodway, in the path of the proposed Greenway.  Here is a good recent review by the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  These include sites that have previously been discussed in several contexts, such as 415 West Washington, the First and William parking lot, 721 North Main.  I don’t currently have any position on the outcomes, but it will bear watching.

Note that we are talking here about city-owned land in both cases. Last year a group of citizens formed the Public Land – Public Process group as a basis for resistance to the plan to put a hotel and conference center on the Library Lot.  Here is a link to the statement of principles we devised.  I think it is pretty good and I still endorse these principles. The statement says in part:

When estimating the value to the community of the land and of a changed use, discussion should not be limited to extracting the top dollar value from the project. The city should not be acting as a venture capitalist or a dealer in real estate. Rather, broader public benefits must be considered. These would include enhanced services, enhanced local environment, and enhanced vitality of the area for residents and businesses.

Fuller Road Station is another example of public land being used for a new purpose, and one that has never really gotten adequate public review.  It was originally a joint project between the University of Michigan and the city, in which the first phase was basically a parking structure.  The UM pulled out of the parking structure agreement in February 2012 but some at the city are still talking about a train station at that location.  It looks from here as though part of the motivation is that there are other plans for the area where the current train station is located.  As the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported, some of those may be linked with development around the area of the MichCon site by the river.  I am already on record as opposing a new station at the Fuller Road site.

Not about city parcels, but still important to the face of Ann Arbor: the R4C/R2A report (here is a good summary by the Ann Arbor Chronicle) and whatever ordinance changes may result.  This could have major effects on the scale of new developments in the near-downtown neighborhoods and elsewhere.  Certainly we want to avoid another travesty like City Place.  (I commented on the history and meaning of this project several times: here was the last one.)

I’ll be examining these issues in more detail over the course of the campaign.  It is clear that Council will be making a lot of decisions in the near future that could determine the future face of Ann Arbor, and I’m on the side of the community in making them.  As Yogi Berra said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it”.  We have to figure that one out.

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