According to a statement released on Feb. 10, 2012, the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor have halted plans for the proposed Fuller Road Station as it’s currently conceived – a city/UM parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located at the city’s Fuller Park near the UM medical complex.
The press release includes a statement from mayor John Hieftje, which reads in part: “After months of fruitful discussions, we received new information from the Federal Rail Administration regarding the eligibility of monies for the local match. This information altered project timing such that we could no longer finalize a proposal under the current Memorandum of Understanding.”
On the university’s side, Jim Kosteva – director of community relations – is quoted in the press release as follows: “We are optimistic the city’s drive to win additional federal and state dollars for Fuller Road Station will be successful …When the time comes, we stand ready to reengage.” [.pdf of press release]
The press release also includes the news that the university will build the parking deck it had planned for the Fuller Road Station site at a different location: “… it is acknowledged that the University will need to move forward with building a parking structure, in a yet to be determined location, near the Medical Campus to address the expected demand as employment and patient activity continues to grow.”
The university was primarily interested in the initial phase of the project, a large parking structure with more than 1,000 spaces planned.
The city of Ann Arbor’s main interest was in the second phase of the project – a multimodal transit center that city officials hope would include a new Amtrak station, bus depot and sufficient parking for those needs. That component of the project appears to be very much still in play, contingent on identifying funding.
The Chronicle has compiled a timeline overview of Fuller Road Station with links to previous coverage. After the jump, we look at: (1) the train/bus station component of the project; (2) what led UM to initially participate in the project; (3) what happened since a memorandum of understanding between the city and the university was ratified; and (4) the timing of the decision to halt the project.
Funding a Rail Station
With the university’s parking requirements no longer a part of the project, some of the controversy surrounding it could be reduced. That specific controversy stemmed from the objection that the construction of a large parking deck would require some kind of lease arrangement with the university over a long enough period to be tantamount to a sale of the land. A sale of city parkland is required by Ann Arbor’s city charter to be put to a voter referendum.
The parcel is zoned as public land (PL). The city council approved a change to the city’s zoning code in July 2010 that explicitly allows for “transportation facilities” on public land.
The city was looking to an investment from the university in Fuller Road Station to count toward matching funds for federal funding that would support construction of a later phase of the project, which would include a rail station. The project would still need to include a parking component – but not anywhere near the scale of the structure UM was planning to build. It’s not certain what funding sources will be available to the city of Ann Arbor as it moves forward with the project without UM’s involvement.
However, federal funds have always been a part of a hoped-for funding strategy. And in the spring of 2011, the city received news that initial federal funding for the project had been awarded – $2.8 million from the Federal Rail Administration, towards a $3.5 million project for environmental assessment and engineering at the site. The difference is required to be paid by a local match. The city and the university have already made expenditures in connection with that project that the city believes will count for most if not all of that local match. It’s typical that federally-funded infrastructure projects require something on the order of a 20% match in local funds.
The rail station component of the project is estimated to cost about $18 million, with necessary modifications and upgrades to tracks totaling an additional $6-7 million. When the FRA funding for the environmental assessment was announced, Ann Arbor transportation program manager Eli Cooper called the award significant because it indicates the FRA’s willingness to be the lead federal agency for the project. Although it’s not guaranteed, the FRA does not typically fund initial phases of a project like the environmental assessment without following through with funds for the project itself.
If the city eventually pursues the project independently of the university’s own parking needs, it would provide a more narrow focus on the amount of parking that’s required just for the rail station component. To meet that need, some amount of parking spaces would be required for short-term and drop-off parking, as well as some long-term parking. The figure corresponding to the city’s allotment of the spots when UM was involved would have worked out to around 200 parking spaces. Those spaces would need to be constructed as a project independently of UM’s parking needs.
The FAQ maintained by the city of Ann Arbor about Fuller Road mentions that Greyhound and Amtrak have indicated an interest in the project. [For a historical look at Amtrak ridership from 1994-2011, see "Transit Ridership Data Roundup: 2011"]
The Fuller Road Station is included in a 30-year vision that has been developed by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority as part of a transportation master plan for a countywide system. The transition of the AATA to a system of governance that includes a wider geographic area than the city of Ann Arbor is currently being debated by the Ann Arbor city council. That’s a discussion centered on details of a four-party agreement – between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA.
Wall Street Controversy Led to Fuller Road Location
The attempted collaboration by UM with the city on Fuller Road Station stemmed from a controversy about UM’s plans to build a parking structure on Wall Street dating back at least four years. Plans by UM to expand in the general area go back to the 1980s. In 2008, the university’s plans to address its parking needs by constructing a parking deck on Wall Street had generated vocal opposition among nearby residents.
So the alternative proposal to build the parking structure at the Fuller Park location next to the railroad tracks – in conjunction with a transit station that the city hoped to construct – had relieved some of the Wall Street controversy.
The specific pitch by the city to the university to collaborate on a multimodal transit center was publicly given concrete form at a January 2009 meeting of city staff and neighbors held at the Northside Grill, on Broadway in the Wall Street neighborhood. The city had identified the possible site for the proposed Fuller Road Station – a parking lot on land designated as part of the city’s park system – in its “Model for Mobility” long-term transportation planning initiative.
Later that year, on Nov. 5, 2009, the city council ratified a memorandum of understanding with the university for the parking deck component of the project. It called for a 22%-78% city-university proportionate share of the 1,050 parking structure spaces and a corresponding financial responsibility for construction. With an estimated cost of $46.6 million, the city’s share of the parking structure (phase 1) would have been roughly $10 million.
The UM board of regents approved the project at its Jan. 21, 2010 meeting. The memorandum of understanding calls for the parking structure component of the project to be ready for use by June 15, 2012. Construction would have needed to start in 2011 for that target to have been met.
The memorandum of understanding between the city and the university also gave a nod to the university’s interest in the rail station component (phase 2) portion of the project, but placed no obligations on UM: “The City and University shall cooperate and use their best efforts to achieve completion of mutually-beneficial elements of Fuller Road Station not included in Phase One.” Now, however, it’s not clear how UM might be involved on any elements of a rail station that might connect across the tracks to the UM hospital complex. The Feb. 10 press release includes the statement from Kosteva: “When the time comes, we stand ready to reengage.”
After the City-University MOU
Since the ratification of the memorandum of understanding, the project had languished, with little visible progress on the city-university deal. But community conversation about the deal has continued – during public commentary at meetings of the city council, the city’s park advisory commission, the city planning commission and of the UM regents. That’s because the Fuller Road location for the construction of parking for UM included at least as much controversy as the original Wall Street location – due partly to the fact that the parcel (currently a surface parking lot) is located on city-owned land designated as part of the city’s park system.
In May 2010, the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) considered a resolution that called for the city council to abandon the Fuller Road Station project, or at the least to get a better deal from the university in terms of revenues provided to the city for leasing the structure. [Chronicle coverage: "Better Deal Desired for Fuller Road Station"] That caught the attention of Hieftje, an advocate of the project, who attended PAC’s May 18, 2010 meeting and asked commissioners for their support. [Chronicle coverage: "Hieftje Urges Unity on Fuller Road Station"]
Hieftje’s request led commissioners to reconsider their position, dropping a call to stop the project but still urging city council to work for a more open process and to ensure a better financial deal to benefit the parks system. [Chronicle coverage: "PAC Softens Stance on Fuller Road Station"] The Ann Arbor city planning commission voted 7-2 on Sept. 21, 2010 to recommend approval of the Fuller Road Station site plan.
By the next year, with no visible additional movement, in June 2011 Hieftje indicated at a city council meeting that he’d be willing to schedule a work session on the topic of Fuller Road Station. And when a July 11, 2011 work session was added to the council’s calendar, it appeared the topic would be Fuller Road Station. However, at the council’s July 5, 2011 meeting, Hieftje indicated that the upcoming work session would not deal with Fuller Road Station – it dealt instead with possible changes to the city’s approach to garbage collection, as well as a reorganization of the city/county office of community development.
Later in July 2011, Hieftje sent a letter to constituents that reviewed much of the information that was previously known, but appeared to introduce the possibility that the University of Michigan would provide construction costs for the city’s share of the parking structure up front, with the city’s portion of 22% to be repaid later.
Although the final project has not been voted on and formally approved by the city council, aspects of Fuller Road Station, including its design, have moved ahead. A task force for a public art component was formed last year, for example. But at the public art commission’s November 2011 meeting, commissioners on the task force reported that they were told by city staff that the project had been delayed by 6-12 months.
Timing of the Decision to Halt Fuller Road Project
The Feb. 10 announcement about halting the joint university/city project comes after a release on Jan. 31 by the Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group of the city of Ann Arbor’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information on Fuller Road Station.
The material released under the FOIA request indicated growing frustration on the university’s side dating back at least to late October of last year. In an Oct. 20, 2011 email sent to mayor John Hieftje and city administrator Steve Powers – with the subject line “Action on Fuller Road Station” – UM director of community relations Jim Kosteva wrote:
There is growing anxiousness among university leadership regarding the ongoing delay in getting the commitment from Council and construction started. And revisiting our decision to postpone the structure(s) on Wall Street is becoming a more frequent discussion.
In that email Kosteva points to the imminent opening (since opened) of the new C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the increased pressure that the new hospital puts on the university’s parking system. [.pdf of Oct. 20, 2011 Kosteva email]
The decision about halting the Fuller Road Station project was made at least as early as Wednesday, Feb. 1. And in retrospect, there were some signs of that. During that afternoon’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Hieftje appeared pre-occupied at the board table – he did not cast his vote of principle against the Republic Parking management incentive, as he has consistently done the previous three years.
And Lucy Ann Lance reported on air just after 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 3 that a hoped-for guest who could talk about UM’s parking and transportation system – Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations – would not appear on her Business Insider radio show (1290 AM) that morning.
Possibly factoring into a delay in announcing the news were two public events held by the city of Ann Arbor on Wednesday and Thursday this past week (Feb. 8 and 9) – events where the topic of Fuller Road Station might naturally emerge. On Wednesday, the city hosted two sessions of a forum on the city’s non-motorized master plan update. And on Thursday, the city held the second of a four-part series on sustainability forums. The city’s transportation manager and AATA board member, Eli Cooper, was a speaker at both events. Had the news been released before those events, conversation might have centered on Fuller Road Station to the exclusion of other topics.
Even without the news of the project’s suspension, the topic of Fuller Road Station was raised during the sustainability forum, which focused on land use. During a question-and-answer period, Clark Charnetski – a member of the AATA’s local advisory council – voiced support for the proposed location.
Charnetski’s comment prompted a response from Joe Grengs, a panelist and UM associate professor of urban and regional planning. Grengs said he didn’t believe the university needed more parking, and that there are steps that could be taken to reallocate parking within UM’s current infrastructure.
The Fuller Road Station project undermines the city’s stated sustainability goals, Grengs said, because the mode of parking falls into a completely different category than walking, biking and rail transit. All of those latter modes work well in areas of high density, he said. But cars work against that – they are “big, hulking objects” that simply sit all day, he observed. So to have 1,000 cars parked at that location every day, at a place where there should be opportunities for interaction – places for retail or recreation, for example – “to me is a mistake and I’d urge the city to think about that,” he concluded. Grengs’ remarks were met with a smattering of applause from the audience.
Grengs’ commentary included a view that has been expressed by UM graduate student Joel Batterman at more than one public meeting covered by The Chronicle: That the university could meet its parking needs by reallocating and optimizing its current parking resources. Batterman is an urban planning student who is specializing in transportation issues. From his remarks made to UM regents on Jan. 20, 2011: “… continually increasing parking supply may be less environmentally and fiscally sustainable than an alternative strategy of adjusting parking pricing to more efficiently use existing parking supply.”
Fuller Road Station Timeline Overview
The following is a detailed timeline of the Fuller Road Station project, compiled by The Chronicle, with links to previous coverage.
- 1824 Ann Arbor is founded.
- 1837 University of Michigan re-locates from Detroit to Ann Arbor.
- 1993-Jun-26 UM and city make a land swap deal involving the surface parking lot at the site of the proposed Fuller Road Station. Ann Arbor News article states: “Oak trees to be spared from ax – A request from UM officials for a temporary parking lot may be the key to saving condemned burr oak trees.”
- 2006-Jun-15 City of Ann Arbor “Model for Mobility” introduced as a three-point vision, with: (1) north-south commuter rail, (2) east-west commuter rail, and (3) local circulator connector system.
- 2008-Sep-18 University of Michigan regents give initial approval to $48.6 million Wall Street parking structure.
- 2008-Dec-16 UM officials meet with residents who live near the proposed Wall Street parking structure projects.
- 2009-Jan-27 City transportation program manager gives combined multimodal transit center and parking structure concrete form by showing a sketch of the project, indicating its location at the Fuller Park parking lot. The presentation takes place in the context of a neighborhood meeting to respond in part to concerns about the UM proposal to build parking structures on Wall Street.
- 2009-Jun-19 UM regents pause the proposed Wall Street parking structure project.
- 2009-Aug-17 Ann Arbor city council approves $213,984 of city funds for an environmental study and site assessment. Of that amount, $104,742 was appropriated from the economic development fund.
- 2009-Nov-05 Ann Arbor city council approves memorandum of understanding with UM on Fuller Road Station.
- 2009-Nov-05 Ann Arbor city council authorizes additional $111,228 for environmental study and site assessment.
- 2010-Jan-21 UM board of regents approves the Fuller Road Station project.
- 2010-Feb-10 Public forum held for Ann Arbor residents on Fuller Road Station.
- 2010-May-04 Ann Arbor park advisory commission weighs a resolution calling for the city council to abandon the Fuller Road Station project, or at the least to get a better deal from the university.
- 2010-May-04 Ann Arbor city planning commission recommends amending zoning code list of permitted principal uses of public land (including the site of the proposed Fuller Road Station) – specifically, changing a “municipal airports” use to “transportation facilities.”
- 2010-May-18 Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje attends meeting of park advisory commission urging their support of Fuller Road Station.
- 2010-Jun-01 Ann Arbor park advisory commission modifies resolution draft due in part to the mayor’s visit at their previous meeting.
- 2010-Jul-06 Ann Arbor city council votes to change zoning code to allow transportation facilities as allowable use for public land.
- 2010-Jun-15 Ann Arbor park advisory commission passes resolution on Fuller Road Station calling for transparency.
- 2010-Sep-21 Ann Arbor city planning commission votes 7-2 to recommend approval of the Fuller Road Station site plan.
- 2011-May-17 Ann Arbor park advisory commission gets update on Fuller Road Station, including award of $2.8 million from Federal Rail Administration for environmental study and site analysis. The funds would reimburse some money already expended.
- 2011-Jun-06 Public commentary at a city council meeting prompts city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) to request that a council work session be scheduled on Fuller Road Station – mayor John Hieftje agrees that one can be scheduled.
- 2011-Jun-20 City council adds a working session to its calendar for July 11, 2011.
- 2011-Jul-05 Mayor John Hieftje indicates during the city council’s meeting that Fuller Road Station is not among the intended topics for the July 11 work session.
- 2011-Jul-27 Mayor John Hieftje sends letter to constituents about Fuller Road Station.
- 2011-Oct-20 Jim Kosteva, UM director of community relations, sends an email to the mayor and city administrator warning of the need for urgency.
- 2012-Jan-31 Press release from Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club calls for details of Fuller Road Station plans to be made known.
- 2012-Feb-10 Press release from the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan announcing a halt to the project.
- 2012-Jun-15 Date by which Ann Arbor-UM memorandum of understanding anticipates Fuller Road Station parking structure would be ready for use.
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