Coverage of Ann Arbor city council’s Sunday night caucus is The Chronicle’s mechanism for previewing council meetings for the following Monday. In light of another cancellation of council’s Sunday caucus this week, we’re previewing a “Chronicle’s Choice” item from Monday night’s agenda.
This week we focus on a resolution that’s being proposed by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Mayor John Hieftje, calling for the preservation of a city-owned parcel on the northeast corner of First & William – the parcel would become “open space” and be rezoned as public land. The site currently serves as a surface parking lot with 108 spaces, administered by the Downtown Development Authority.
The idea of establishing the parcel as a green area is not at all new, but the specific timing of the move warrants analysis. Why now?
Remember the 3-Site Plan?
The First & William parking lot was one of three sites proposed for development back in 2005 as a part of the DDA’s 3-Site Plan. The 3-Site Plan also included First & Washington and the Kline’s Lot – on the east side of Ashley Street between William and Liberty. The concept underpinning the 3-Site Plan was that parking could be decoupled from development – build a parking structure at First & William and free up the other two sites for development without the constraint of building on-site parking.
But instead of pursuing the 3-Site Plan, Ann Arbor’s city council opted to create a Greenway Taskforce to explore the possibility of incorporating the First & William lot into a greenway along the Allen Creek creekshed.
What about the other two parcels? The First & Washington site has a currently approved site plan for City Apartments – a combined residential/parking development by Village Green. No similar progress has been made on the Kline’s Lot.
In some respects, the resolution on the city council’s agenda for Monday night is a reduced version of a resolution brought in 2005 by Chris Easthope, who then represented Ward 5. Easthope’s “Greenway Resolution” would have established as “greenway parks” the following three parcels in their entirety: First & William city surface parking lot; 415 W. Washington St. city yard; and 721 N. Main St. city fleet services yard.
When council voted, the “Greenway Resolution” foundered on the phrasing “in their entirety.” Some councilmembers thought that one part of the First & William parcel – the strip on the west side of the railroad tracks – might suffice as a greenway-type amenity, with the remaining land developed.
Note that the three parcels in the “Greenway Resolution” are not the same three parcels as in the 3-Site Plan. But the proposals have one site in common: First & William.
What Does Monday’s Preservation Resolution Do?
The resolved clauses of Monday’s resolution to preserve the First & William parcel as “open space” read as follows:
RESOLVED, At that time as the City has accomplished the remediation of First and William parcel, the parcel shall be preserved as open space and zoned Public Land.
RESOLVED, The City Administrator shall continue to seek additional funds for the remediation of the First and William parcel;
RESOLVED, Prior to the completion of the remediation of the First and William parcel, the City Council shall seek a mutually beneficial adjustment to any parking agreement with the DDA that includes the First and William parcel;
As Judy McGovern reported back in May for The Ann Arbor News, the city has received $200,000 to investigate underground pollution at the First & William site. In that article, McGovern attributes the sentiment to Hieftje that the ultimate goal for the site is for use as a park.
This resolution appears to be a step in that direction.
That’s actually a question that an Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy board member had when The Chronicle called her. Margaret Wong said she’d been alerted to the resolution only on Thursday, when a friend saw the item on the agenda.
Wong reported that she planned to address city council on Monday, hoping to encourage councilmembers to amend the resolution to give it some teeth. As it’s written, she said, it’s not clear what mechanism will be used to convert the parcel – it’s currently zoned C2-B (commercial). To become a public park, she said, her understanding was that the Park Advisory Commission might need to include it in the Parks, Recreation & Open Space (PROS) plan.
But at least one greenway advocate did have a heads-up on the resolution. Joe O’Neal, who founded the nonprofit Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy, was apparently apprised of the resolution in general form late last week, according to Wong.
Analysis: Defense Against an Environmental Lawsuit?
The city of Ann Arbor faces the possibility of an environmental lawsuit over plans to construct an underground parking garage offering more than 600 spaces at the Fifth Avenue “library lot.” Part of the basis of the possible lawsuit is that an increase in parking supply leads to increased vehicle miles travelled (VMT), which results in increased carbon emissions.
If the city of Ann Arbor could show that the underground parking structure did not appreciably increase the parking supply – because of reductions elsewhere in the system – that would work to undercut the contention that the new parking garage would increase parking supply. Reducing the number of parking spaces in the parking system by the 108 spaces at the First & William lot would help the city make that argument.
The possibility of taking surface lots offline as a result of the added parking capacity provided by the underground structure was a part of deliberations by both the city council and the DDA board in considering the site plan and bonds for the parking garage. The resolution to be considered on Monday provides a specific example of that strategy.
Implications for Liberty Lofts Commercial Space?
The First & William lot lies just across the street from the Liberty Lofts “greenhouse” space, which Morningside – the building’s owner – has to date unsuccessfully marketed to commercial tenants. In March, the Historic District Commission turned down Morningside’s request to demolish two houses along Second Street – a request made in order to add more on-site parking to the west of the building (the First & William lot is on the east side of the building, and across the street).
A lack of sufficient parking was cited by Morningside’s Ron Mucha, speaking to the HDC, as one barrier to marketing the site. But in their deliberations, HDC commissioners cited the abundance of close-by parking as one factor they said worked against Morningside’s contention that more on-site parking was necessary to market the “greenhouse” space.
With the reduction of close-by parking, the marketability of the site won’t be enhanced.
Added Challenge for DDA-City Parking Agreement
The most recent figures from the monthly parking report for May 2009 put revenues from the First & William lot at $8,368. Totals from May 2008 were $10,520. As a rough estimate, then, the First & William lot generates around $100,000 per year in revenue to the DDA.
In the context of the negotiations that unfold over the coming months between the city and the DDA over a parking agreement, the removal of $100,000 per year of revenue to the DDA will make those negotiations incrementally more challenging. The city of Ann Arbor has planned for a DDA contribution of $2 million from the parking fund to the city general fund in FY 2011 that the DDA is not bound to make, based on its contractual obligations under the existing parking agreement. That agreement specifies $1 million per year for 10 years, with the provision that the city can ask the DDA for as much as $2 million in any given year as long as the amount does not exceed $10 million over 10 years. For each of the last five years, the city has received $2 million from the DDA.