Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Dec. 2, 2009): In a meeting dominated by status reports for ongoing DDA initiatives, a glimmer of a possibility emerged that a discussion about the parking system could begin between the DDA and the city of Ann Arbor.
That discussion would be focused on parking fines – a topic the Ann Arbor city council was briefed on at its Nov. 9 work session by city financial services staff. That session did not include the DDA, which manages the Ann Arbor’s parking system under a contract with the city. Republic Parking is the company contracted by the DDA for operation of the system. [See Chronicle coverage: "Parking Fines to Increase in Ann Arbor?"]
In the only board resolution considered at the meeting, executive director Susan Pollay was authorized to negotiate easements with property owners adjoining the construction site for the underground parking garage, which is now starting construction.
The audit of the DDA’s books was reported as clean. Compared to the same month last year, the parking system continues to show gains in numbers of hourly patrons and in revenues – a consistent pattern for the last year.
Discussion of future downtown development emerged at several points in the meeting. It included the new downtown zoning package recently approved by the city council, plus design guidelines – which are to accompany the new zoning regulations, but which have not yet been approved.
The future of development atop the new underground parking garage, on the site known informally as the Library Lot, also received brief mention – an announcement of the first meeting of the RFP advisory committee, which will review the six development proposals received by the city. The group meets on Friday, Dec. 4, at 11 a.m. in the conference room on the sixth floor of city hall.
The Library Lot will also be included in a set of projects to be presented by students of Peter Allen, who teaches at the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Those presentations will be given on Dec. 14, from 7-10 p.m. at the UM Ross School of Business in Room 0240.
The board heard an optimistic report from the Main Street Area Association on its window display contest, which is coordinated with the Friday, Dec. 4 Midnight Madness. And the board heard a report from getDowntown on its new physical location, which included an announcement of new email addresses as well as a new street address.
Hewitt on Parking Fines: “We have a number of thoughts!”
Early in the meeting, Sandi Smith gave what’s become a standard update from the “mutually beneficial” committee: Nothing to report.
The committee was established in early 2009 to meet with a corresponding Ann Arbor city council committee to renegotiate the parking agreement between the city and the DDA. The DDA manages the parking system through a contract with the city. The city of Ann Arbor has penciled in a $2 million payment from the DDA for its FY 2011 budget plan – a payment that the DDA is not required to make under terms of its current contract. Hence the desire on the city’s part to renegotiate the deal.
[For more historical background on the formation of the respective mutually beneficial committees, see previous Chronicle coverage "DDA: Who's on the Committee?" and more recently "Parking Fines to Increase in Ann Arbor?"]
In contrast to the report of inactivity on the parking agreement front – with no forecast for any future activity – there was a hint at Wednesday’s meeting that some kind of conversation might happen between the DDA and the city on the subject of parking violation fines.
In reporting out from the operations committee, Roger Hewitt mentioned that the committee had discussed the presentation on parking violation fines that the city council had received at its November work session. He observed that the DDA, and the operations committee specifically, had a number of thoughts and opinions on the subject, which “we’d be happy to share with city officials if they’d like us to.”
Sandi Smith, who sits on the DDA board as well as the city council, took up Hewitt’s conversational gambit by asking him what his preferred forum would be for the communication. Hewitt suggested that the natural vehicle for the DDA would be the operations committee and that it could include city staff as well as city council members. Smith then turned to Mayor John Hieftje, who also has dual status on the DDA board and the city council, for his thoughts. He offered that the important thing was for councilmembers who wished to attend to be made aware of the meeting date.
It was not clear if the goal is to have the conversation sought by Hewitt at the very next operations committee meeting. That meeting is scheduled for Dec. 16 at 11 a.m. at the DDA offices.
Demand Management: Parking as Part of Transportation
The next meeting of the operations committee on Dec. 16 will overlap with the transportation committee. The transportation committee will start at its usual time at 9 a.m. and go until 10:30 a.m., at which point the transportation and operations committees will meet jointly for an hour, before the operations committee continues at 11:30 for the rest of its regular meeting.
The point of the overlap, as explained by Roger Hewitt, who chairs the operations committee, and Jennifer S. Hall, who gave the transportation committee’s report in John Mouat’s absence, is to focus on transportation demand management (TDM). The goals of TDM, Hall explained, are twofold: (i) promote greater use of sustainable transportation options – bus, bicycle, walking, and (ii) increase the efficiency of the parking system.
The two committees’ subject matter overlaps in the area of TDM, so they’ll be meeting jointly to tackle TDM.
The parking system continues to show gains both in hourly patrons and revenues versus last year. For October 2009, revenues were $1,291,669 – a 3.07% increase compared to October 2008. For October 2009, 203,107 hourly patrons used the parking system, a 13.3% increase.
The roughly 200 spaces lost on the Library Lot, which has become a construction site for the underground parking garage to be built there, were reflected in a 500% increase in number of hourly patrons and a 200% jump in revenue at the Fifth and William surface lot just across the street, which is also commonly known as the site of the old YMCA. In October 2009, the Fifth and William lot generated $26,742 in revenue with 10,423 hourly patrons.
Future Downtown Development
Future downtown development surfaced as a topic at several points during the DDA’s board meeting.
Sites for Development
The Fifth and William site, which is enjoying increased parking usage, is not envisioned long term as a surface parking lot. The old YMCA building that previously stood there was acquired by the city of Ann Arbor in 2003 in order to preserve the 100 units of affordable housing that the building offered. The YMCA had no plans to incorporate residential units at its new site on West Washington, and neither did the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which had contemplated redeveloping the old building as a transit center and office headquarters.
In 2005, the mechanical systems in the old YMCA building failed to such an extent that residents needed to be moved out of the building. Seeing no immediate prospects for redevelopment of the property, the city (in coordination with the DDA) took the first step that any redevelopment would require: demolition of the building. Since the summer of 2008 the site has served as a surface parking lot. At its meeting on Dec. 1, 2008 the city council refinanced the property at the site of the old YMCA, which it purchased for $3.5 million dollars.
A previous private development at that site, William Street Station, was to include some affordable units, but the city council pulled the plug on that project, when the developer failed to meet various deadlines. The developer recently filed suit over that action.
In that context, during public commentary at the DDA’s meeting on Wednesday, Peter Allen, a local developer who teaches at the UM College of Architecture and Urban Planning as well as the business school, told the DDA board he was looking for jurors. The jurors are needed to judge graduate student projects focusing on three different sites in Ann Arbor, not all of them in the downtown: (i) the Library Lot, Fifth and William, (ii) the Fuller Road Station and (iii) the current Amtrak station. Those presentations will be given on Dec. 14 from 7-10 p.m. at the Ross School of Business in Room 0240.
In addition to academic proposals for the Library Lot, the city of Ann Arbor has received six responses to its request for proposals (RFP) for the top of the underground parking structure. Those proposals will be reviewed by the RFP advisory committee on Friday, Dec. 4 at 11 a.m. in the conference room on the sixth floor of city hall. From the DDA, the advisory committee includes current board chair John Splitt and executive director Susan Pollay. Other members are Margie Teall (city council), Stephen Rapundalo (city council), Eric Mahler (planning commission), Sam Offen (park advisory commission), Roger Fraser (city administrator), Jayne Miller (the city’s director of community services) and Matt Kulhanek (manager of the Ann Arbor municipal airport).
It’s not clear what, if any, outcome might result from the initial meeting, but in his report from the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, Ray Detter suggested that none of the six proposals could be endorsed by the advisory council, and that it might be wise to wait a bit and see if other proposals could be generated.
Zoning and Design Guidelines: Residential Density
While there was no consensus on which of the six proposals for the Library Lot was best, Detter reported, the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council was still commited to residential density.
In reporting out from the A2D2 steering committee on which he serves, Roger Hewitt echoed Ray Detter’s sentiments on residential density. Hewitt noted that city council had approved the recommended new zoning for downtown Ann Arbor at its Nov. 16 meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead"] But he expressed his disappointment that the city council had not acted on the DDA’s recommendations for amending the zoning. Specifically, he contended that after five years of a planning process – dating back to the Calthorpe report, which had residential density as a goal – the city had actually gone backwards on residential density.
After the meeting, Hewitt walked The Chronicle through his reasoning. Under the old zoning, Hewitt explained, there was a reward for building residential construction – for every square foot of residential construction that was built, a developer was allowed an additional square foot of residential construction up to a maximum floor area ratio (FAR) of 660%. Under the new zoning, the maximum FAR has increased slightly to 700%. But Hewitt pointed out that the reward is no longer 1-to-1 but rather 1-to-.75. Otherwise put, for every square foot of residential construction built, a developer is rewarded with the ability to build an additional .75 square feet of residential, which actually makes it more expensive to achieve the rewards. As a practical matter, he contended, under the .75 reward system, it was only possible to achieve an FAR of around 600%.
Preparing to Dig, Executive Director Gets Negotiating Authority
As a part of his report out from the capital improvements committee, John Splitt said that earth retention work would begin next week in preparation to dig the hole for the underground garage at the Library Lot. In the context of construction work set to begin in earnest, and at the request of neighbors who wanted clarification, the DDA board considered a resolution that gave the executive director of the DDA authority to negotiate easements with owners of property adjacent to the construction site.
Executive director Susan Pollay clarified for board members what this might entail: If sidewalks were broken in the course of construction, for example, then the DDA would repair them, or if landscaping was damaged, then the DDA would restore it.
Board member Gary Boren wanted to know if the resolution gave Pollay the authority to actually ink a deal, no matter the cost. John Splitt confirmed that it did, but Pollay assured the board that she was keeping the operations committee apprised of all conversations with neighbors. Roger Hewitt further clarified that any cost associated with the negotiations completed by Pollay would fall within the guaranteed maximum construction price.
Outcome: The board approved authority for the executive director to negotiate easements, with dissent from Jennifer S. Hall.
Clarifying her dissent on the vote in an email sent in response to a Chronicle query, Hall wrote:
I had no problem in general with the authority the board was giving to the executive director. However, I am still of the opinion that the more environmentally and economically sustainable decision would have been to invest substantially more resources into transportation demand management and alternative transportation and then evaluate the need to build more parking. I don’t support the parking garage project and cannot support any resolution relating to its implementation.
Grants: Near North and Arts Alliance
Reporting out from the partnerships committee, Sandi Smith said that the Near North affordable housing development had asked the DDA for $500,000. Near North, which was approved as a PUD (planned unit development) by the city council at its Sept. 21 meeting, would include 39 total units – with 25 targeting incomes at less than 50% of the area median income (AMI), and 14 units of supportive housing targeting incomes at less than 30% of AMI.
Smith noted that the Near North development was within 1/4 mile of the DDA district, which was within the area where the DDA’s policy supports affordable housing. This was a policy adopted at the DDA board’s March 4, 2009 meeting. It was during that meeting that former board member Dave Devarti was “channeled” in support of the idea of not limiting the range to just 1/4 mile – an idea that ultimately did not win the day.
Smith said that the dialog with Near North had continued and that the partnerships committee expected to make a decision on a recommendation to the full board at the committee’s next meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 9 a.m.
As for the Arts Alliance request for $25,000 to build a web portal – as part of a $50,000 total budget – Smith said that the partnerships committee had recommended to the alliance that it provide a clearer idea of what the portal would do. If the alliance needed some start-up money to get started so that the idea could be clearer, the committee had suggested to the alliance that the executive director of the DDA had discretionary use of amounts up to $10,000, which they might pursue.
Main Street Windows
During public commentary, Maura Thomson, executive director of Main Street Area Association, expressed her thanks to the DDA board for their help in putting on a store window display contest, which will continue through Friday’s Midnight Madness event.
At its July 1, 2009 meeting, the board had approved $4,000 for each of the downtown’s four merchant associations for a window display contest, for a total of $16,000.
Thomson reported that the window display contest was a success as measured by participation: 30 merchants were participating and to date over 1,200 people had voted on the website. Voting continues until midnight, Friday, Dec. 4.
It was also a success, she said, in terms of the intended impact: to get merchants to think about their windows as a way to tell the story of what’s sold inside. As an example, she gave Seyfried’s Jewelers, which had sold two items from their window display the first day of the contest, and Four Directions, which had sold out its inventory of scarves, after featuring them in their window display created for the contest.
During public commentary, Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, thanked the board for their help with the move from office space previously provided on an in-kind basis by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. The new location at 518 E. Washington includes 260 square feet of office space for getDowntown. Newcombe Clark, who sits on the DDA board as well as the chamber board, and is a principal at Bluestone Realty Advisors, found the new space – a service he reported he’d provided at no charge.
Shore clarified that the two getDowntown staffers would, for the next year, be employees of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority as the future of the organization was planned. The AATA, the DDA, and the city of Ann Arbor continue to provide support to getDowntown. Email addresses have changed to the domain getdowntown.org.
Present: Gary Boren, Newcombe Clark, Jennifer S. Hall, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein.
Absent: John Mouat.
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010 at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]