Post-Election DDA: Routine Reports, Retreat

Executive director Susan Pollay: There is no "next big project"

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): The board’s first-Wednesday monthly noon meeting often falls the day after Election Day, as it did this year. That left executive director of the DDA Susan Pollay with less sleep than others – as she did not conclude her duties on one of the city’s 11 absent voter count boards until around 3 a.m.

DDA board chair Leah Gunn checks her smart phone before the start of the Nov. 7 meeting.

DDA board chair Leah Gunn checks her cell phone before the start of the Nov. 7 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

But the DDA board’s agenda was relatively light. It did not include any voting items, and consisted of a series of reports and commentary – some of it in preparation for the board’s upcoming annual retreat on Nov. 16.

Sketching out the retreat for the board, Pollay told them that for the first time in the nearly 17 years she’s served as executive director, there is no “next big project.”

A big project the DDA is just completing is the construction of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue. The construction bills for that project were included in last year’s (FY 2012) budget, but not all of them came in by year’s end. So as board member Roger Hewitt reported, the first quarter financial statements for this year include bills that were originally budgeted for last year. When all the construction bills are paid, a budget adjustment will be made, he said. In any case, he characterized the DDA’s financial position as strong.

The board was also briefed on the public parking system, which the DDA manages under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. Chronicle coverage of the parking report came earlier in a preview article.

The board got an update on two projects recently proposed for the downtown, which have now undergone review by the city’s design review board, and for which citizen participation meetings have been held: 624 Church Street, next to Pizza House; and 413 E. Huron at Division Street. The next formal step for both of those projects will be submission to the Ann Arbor planning commission.

At the meeting it was reported that the developer of the 413 E. Huron project also has a possible interest in the city-owned properties that are included in the scope of the Connecting William Street (CWS) planning project, which the DDA is overseeing. The board got an update on CWS – the process is expected to result in a recommendation made to the city council before the end of the year.

The board also got an update on the review of an issue that mayor John Hieftje has pushed the DDA to address for the last three years: bicycle riding on downtown sidewalks. For now it looks like the DDA is not likely to move forward on that issue, until the problem is more clearly defined.

DDA Board Retreat

The board has scheduled its annual retreat for Friday, Nov. 16. The location will be Zingerman’s Events on Fourth from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Board Retreat: Executive Director

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, previewed the board retreat. Pollay told the board that the facilitator for the retreat, Kerry Sheldon, would be meeting with board members in advance of the retreat as well as with other stakeholders to arrive at a framework for the discussion. What are the things the DDA could be doing to achieve its mission – which is to make investments in public improvements to strengthen the downtown area and attract new private investments.

This retreat is a chance to take a step back, Pollay said. For the first time in her nearly 17 years at the DDA, there is no “next big project.” So Sheldon is shaping an agenda to allow the board to take a few minutes to think about strategies and then to think tactically about how to implement those strategies. The DDA is really good at some things, she said, so what are those things and how can the DDA do more of them? Another important consideration is to think about what the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor SPARK and other organizations need from the DDA in order for help those organizations be successful.

Board Retreat: Public Comment – Culinary Institute

A suggestion to the board for a topic of discussion at their retreat came during public commentary at the start of the meeting – from Elmer White. He hoped the program he’d be describing could be up and running by September 2013 with a small student body of 6-12 students. The three basics in life are food, clothing and shelter, he said. The economy is turning from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, he stated. In one of the latest issues of the Ann Arbor Observer there’s coverage of the St. Andrew’s breakfast program that provides food to indigent homeless people. Another Observer article mentions a young chef from Ecuador who is now preparing fine food at the restaurant that’s located where the Parthenon used to be, he said. [The new restaurant at the corner of Liberty & Main is called Lena.]

It had occurred to White that we have schools of architecture for shelter, schools of design for clothing, but what about food services? He allowed that there’s a culinary program at Washtenaw Community College, and a culinary program at Schoolcraft, but those programs, as good as they are, prepare people to be able to put food on a lot of plates in a banquet context, he said – cafeteria and buffet-style restaurants. He described such restaurants as restaurants “with a small ‘r’.” He told the board that he frequently eats at Applebee’s, but described the menu there as “How many different ways can we prepare chicken breasts?”

The restaurants “with a capital ‘R’” are in downtown Ann Arbor, White said, and they’ve become a destination for people in surrounding counties. So how do those people get trained, who prepare food in downtown Ann Arbor restaurants? That food is prepared individually to order from a short menu that changes from week to week. He wondered if it were an apprenticeship program, or was accomplished through happenstance.

So White suggested creating something called the Culinary Institute of Ann Arbor, which he said would become the best culinary institute between Montreal and San Francisco. The word “cuisine” does not refer just to French food, White told the board, but rather it’s using food from the region. He saw the possibility of forming a partnership between Food Gatherers, St. Andrew’s and the Delonis Center, and other sponsors of a charitable nonprofit. [Though it does not appear to be exactly what White is suggesting, Food Gatherers currently operates a Community Kitchen job training program at the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter in downtown Ann Arbor.] That money would be used to purchase the food to be prepared. It would generate very good publicity nationwide for the Ann Arbor DDA, White concluded.


It’s not unusual at any given monthly meeting for development to occupy at least part of the discussion by the board of the downtown development authority.

Development: Church Street

Ray Detter reported from the previous night’s meeting of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council. The meeting was almost entirely devoted to two student housing developments. One is located on East Huron Street at Division and the other is located on Church Street in the South University area.

A 14-story project that was filed for design review is located at 624 Church Street, next to Pizza House. Dennis Tice, owner of Pizza House, is listed as one of the developers, along with 624 Partners LLC and Opus Group of Minnetonka, Minnesota. [.pdf of 624 Church Street proposal]

Detter noted that since the last meeting of the DDA board, both projects have gone before the design review board and have had citizen participation meetings. The Church Street project Detter described as having been treated “very gently,” supporting the DDA’s decision to accept the developer’s request to provide required parking offsite in the city’s public parking system, which is administered by the DDA. The major criticism of the project, Detter reported, was that it looked a lot like the two Zaragon projects.

Development: East Huron Street

By way of background, the 27-page proposal for 413 E. Huron calls for 213 apartments, about 3,000-square-feet of street-level retail space, and 163 on-site underground parking spaces. [.pdf of 413 E. Huron proposal to the design review board] The complex would consist of two main towers and an “inset upper level garden and pool courtyard,” according to the proposal. [.pdf of site rendering]

In the case of the East Huron project, the reaction of the design review board and the public was that the project needs to be redesigned. “Nobody likes this project,” Detter contended. The developer had made some minor changes after the design review board’s meeting and before the citizen participation meeting, Detter said, adding that most people present did not consider that to be nearly enough.

So the next morning, four members of the development team met at Sloan Plaza [an eight-story residential building standing just to the east of the proposed East Huron development] with seven members of the design guidelines citizen review committee – a group that is different from the design review board, and made up of representatives of the eight downtown and near-downtown residential organizations. The group included Doug Kelbaugh, former dean of the University of Michigan college of architecture and urban planning. Detter described the meeting, held in a room on the eighth floor overlooking the location of the proposed project, as “very cordial.”

The message conveyed to the developers was in line with that heard at the design review board, Detter reported. Namely, the building’s massing and bulk needs to be reduced to allow sunlight to the north and improve the pedestrian experience on Huron Street. The project was trying to “cram too much” onto the site. It was suggested that the elevator be moved to the southwest corner of the building, with Detter suggesting that maybe the building could be built higher than the height limit constrained by by-right zoning, if the project were proposed as a “planned project” and provided for larger setbacks. The project should show greater respect to the character area where the site is located, he said. Detter noted that the developers had been mistaken about the character area initially – because they said they were supposed to design a building that related to the new Justice Center at Fifth and Huron.

The meeting at Sloan Plaza was followed by two additional meetings, both of which mayor John Hieftje had attended. One of those meetings was with the neighborhood groups and one was with the developer, Detter reported. The goal is to make the project better before it gets presented to the planning commission. Detter allowed that the design review board makes recommendations that have only voluntary – not mandatory – compliance. Detter said that the developer is also looking at the parcels in the Connecting William Street area, with an eye toward possibly developing one of those city-owned parcels. So the goal is to make the East Huron Street project as good as it can possibly be, Detter concluded.

Development: Connecting William Street

An update on the Connecting William Street (CWS) project was provided by DDA board member Joan Lowenstein. She reported that the public outreach phase has been completed. From August through October, a total of 20 events had been held.

Joan Lowenstein

DDA board member Joan Lowenstein.

The form of those events included traditional meetings, webinars, and small group presentations. [For Chronicle coverage of one presentation, see: "Planning Group Briefed on William St. Project."] Over 170 people participated, she said. History and context was provided, along with draft scenarios. Feedback on various components of the project as well as general thoughts were collected. The feedback has been summarized and is currently being digested, and will be available on the DDA website soon.

The CWS leadership outreach committee had met in October to start reviewing the feedback and begin thinking about the draft recommendations. The staff and the DDA’s consultant have been working on draft recommendations and will meet on Monday, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m. Lowenstein felt it would be one of the more important meetings, because the committee would see a draft of the presentation that would ultimately be made to the city council.

Development: Beyond Downtown

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Ray Detter told the board that the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council had started considering the nature of who they are as a council, given that their interests goes beyond the downtown. He cited as examples the desire to be a part of conversations about rail transit and the future of the North Main corridor.

Financial Status Report

The quarterly financial report for the first three months of FY 2013 was presented by Roger Hewitt. He prefaced it by saying it had been anticipated that the transactions for the entire Library Lane underground parking garage were going to be completed in the previous fiscal year. That had been done to ensure there were no negative fund balances for the previous fiscal year. In fact, not all of the construction costs were billed during the previous fiscal year, so some of those costs are showing up as expenses on this year’s balance sheet.

The current year’s budget was set based on the assumption that the construction invoices would already be paid. So Hewitt described the quarterly report as “not overly helpful at this point.” As soon as all the bills have come in on the construction for the Library Lane garage and the Fifth and Division streetscape projects, a budget revision would be presented that accurately reflects what actual expenditures have been – he hoped that would happen in the next three months. [.pdf of FY 2013 first quarter financial statements]

Roger Hewitt

DDA board member Roger Hewitt.

After walking the board through highlights of the financial statements, he concluded that overall the DDA’s financial position, measured by fund balances, is much better than had been anticipated two years ago.

The TIF (tax increment finance) fund balance stands at $6.8 million. The housing fund balance is a little over $1 million. The parking fund balance is about $5 million. And the parking maintenance fund stands at about negative $0.5 million, because a transfer of funds to that fund has not yet been made. All those fund balances would decrease once the final payments are made in connection with the Library Lane parking structure, Hewitt said. Still, when all is said and done, the DDA would have healthy fund balances, he said.

Hewitt attributed the better financial picture to a combination of increased usage of the public parking system and rate increases. Hewitt also reviewed the parking report in detail, which The Chronicle previewed in earlier coverage: “Ann Arbor Parking Data: Slower September.”


Transportation was a theme common to a number of reports.

Transportation: Bicycles on Sidewalks

Reporting out from the operations committee, John Mouat summarized some discussion that the committee has had recently on the topic of bicycles on sidewalks.

By way of background, the issue has been pushed by mayor John Hieftje as one that the DDA should be addressing. He’s been bringing it up for at least the last three years, including mentions at the Jan. 6, 2010 and Dec. 7, 2011 meetings of the DDA board, and more recently at the Sept. 5, 2012 meeting.

Mouat reported that he and DDA research and planning specialist Amber Miller had talked through the basic parameters of the issue – which is perceived mainly as a safety challenge related to bikes on sidewalks downtown. They’d talked about where the problem areas are: South University, South State Street and Main Street. So it’s not all of downtown that is perceived as problematic. Miller has also pulled together information about existing ordinance information, and maps of bike routes and “sharrows,” as well as information about what other communities are doing.

John Mouat

DDA board member John Mouat.

Mouat told the board that in his mind, there are three elements to consider for this issue: education, enforcement, and design. He noted that Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, had touched based with the Ann Arbor police department on the topic of ordinance enforcement. But Mouat indicated that he thinks it’s a real challenge to define the problem. His understanding is that the police department doesn’t have a record of people calling in complaints or a record of injuries.

There are things that people hear about and feel, Mouat allowed, and there’s a real safety issue that someone could come out of a door and get hit by a bike. But there’s also a perception that’s involved. If you’re walking down the street and there’s a bicycle “bombing toward you,” do you feel endangered? But defining the problem is a real challenge – because asking the police to commit resources to enforcement is important to think about, he said. If a police officer is in a patrol car and sees a bicyclist riding on the sidewalk, is that something that the officer should stop and address?

Mouat reported that he’d talked to Stephen Dolan, executive director of parking and transportation services at the University of Michigan, to see if Dolan thinks bicycle riding on sidewalks is an issue on campus. According to Mouat, Dolan perceives it as a cultural and educational issue. “I don’t know quite where that leaves us,” Mouat said. It would be possible to talk about everything from signage to “this, that and the other thing,” he said. His own view is that very likely, a high percentage of people who are riding a little bit recklessly on the sidewalks are students. How you educate a new group of thousands of people is a challenge. Mouat concluded that he was a little bit at a loss as to how to proceed, until the problem could be better defined.

Transportation: Bicycle Cage

Mouat gave an update on the bicycle cage for the Maynard Street parking structure. By way of background, it’s a 50-bike storage facility that would have the footprint of two automobile parking spaces. [.jpg of footprint]

The authorization of $30,000 from the DDA’s parking fund – for design, fabrication and installation of the bicycle storage facility – was given at the board’s Oct. 3, 2012 meeting. Similar “cages” in other cities use a chain-link fencing material. However, the DDA hopes a more aesthetically pleasing option can be identified.

At the DDA board’s Nov. 7 meeting, Mouat reported that the cage is currently being designed.

Transportation: Connector Study

Roger Hewitt gave an update on the transportation connector study, noting that the Ann Arbor city council has now funded the final piece of the project. The $60,000 remaining for the $300,000 local match required by the $1.2 million grant to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had essentially been split 50-50 between the city of Ann Arbor and the DDA. The DDA board had authorized $30,000 for the study at its Oct. 3, 2012 meeting.

The corridor that’s the subject of continued study runs from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. The funding approved by the council on Oct. 15 would support an alternatives analysis phase of the study, which will result in identifying a preferred mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and the location of stations and stops.

The next steps will include public process, Hewitt said. A series of workshops will take place in the first part of December at locations like Briarwood Mall and downtown Ann Arbor. The format might be more of a “drop in” style, which would involve placing some dots on maps. The goal of the outreach is to get as much community input as possible about where people want to go.

Transportation: Blake Transit Center Groundbreaking

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, getDowntown director Nancy Shore alerted the board to the groundbreaking that would be taking place for the new Blake Transit Center downtown – on Nov. 19 at 11 a.m. [The AATA board gave final approval of a roughly $8 million budget for the transit center at its Oct. 18, 2012 meeting. The location will house offices for getDowntown.]

Present: Nader Nassif,  Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Newcombe Clark.

Next regular board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. By Steve Bean
    November 12, 2012 at 9:56 am | permalink

    “The DDA is really good at some things, she said, so what are those things and how can the DDA do more of them?”

    The board might also constructively ask which things the DDA is not really good at and consider how they can do them better (to the extent that it’s appropriate that they do them at all).

  2. November 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm | permalink

    The DDA’s Connecting William Street project is nearing its end and the DDA will soon recommend sale of all the publicly owned land to private developers with a goal of maximum density construction – including a ten story hotel on top of the new underground parking structure next to the library. All of the public input in favor of a downtown park has been blocked by the DDA. To quote an unintentionally ironic DDA board member,

    “People say that we aren’t listening to them, but that is wrong. They aren’t listening to us! We are a development authority”

    Thankfully it isn’t up to the DDA. They can only recommend. The elected City Council will have the final say about what happens to the five public properties including the library lot. Now is the time for people to tell their elected City Council representatives not to sell out the future of downtown Ann Arbor for the shortsighted vision of the DDA. Tell City Council that we want a real downtown park on the Library Lot.

  3. By Steve Bean
    November 14, 2012 at 8:30 am | permalink

    @2: Telling people what to tell city council is no better than the approach you attribute to the DDA board.

    Also, your assertions raise questions. What’s the basis for the prediction of what the DDA will recommend? What IS “the shortsighted vision of the DDA”?

  4. November 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm | permalink

    Re (3) Steve, I disagree. The City Council gave the DDA the responsibility to engage in a robust public process to find out what we wanted done with the City owned properties in question. The DDA has engaged in a process that appears to anyone who has participated to have a predetermined outcome for which the DDA merely seek reinforcement. The online survey had no questions about using any of this publicly owned land for parks or recreation. (The public provided overwhelming support for parks and open spaces in the open ended comment sections for questions about other matters). The public meetings included questionnaires that also failed to allow for answers that touch on green or open space uses.

    Repeatedly the public has asked the DDA to revise its process to include possibilities other than (1) dense, (2) denser, or (3) densest. Repeatedly, DDA staff has claimed that they “hear” our concerns but then did nothing to reform the public engagement process.

    Like so many things our civic “leaders” do for us, this effort is doomed to failure because of the preconceived notions of the facilitators of the public process.

    Mr. Hathaway is asking community members to tell the Council the very same things we have been telling the DDA. What we are about to engage in is the robust public discussion the DDA failed to perform.

  5. By Steve Bean
    November 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm | permalink

    Hi Jack. I’m not sure what you disagree with. That Will’s assertions raise questions? (Which your comment partly addressed–thanks.) If he’s seen the draft report he could say so. Otherwise he’s muddying the waters with speculation.

    He wasn’t asking community members, he was telling them. That’s what I was pointing out. “Physician, heal thyself.”

    In any case, I don’t disagree that at least some DDA board members haven’t been good listeners in certain circumstances instead asserting their intentions, that aspects of the process could have been less directive, or that community members still have an opportunity to influence this process via their council reps.

  6. By Joan Lowenstein
    November 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm | permalink

    Both Mr. Hathaway and Mr. Eaton have misrepresented the Connecting William Street draft recommendations, which have yet to be finalized or presented to the DDA Board. The Chronicle, I believe, will have a report of the CWS Leadership and Outreach Committee meeting earlier this week, which neither Eaton nor Hathaway attended, and Chronicle readers will be able to get an accurate report of the process of drafting some recommendations.

  7. November 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm | permalink

    Re (5) Steve, I was disagreeing with your suggestion that the DDA’s failure to conduct the robust public discussion was the equivalent of Will’s call to action. The DDA was supposed to collect information but instead instructed participants on what the DDA’s stakeholders want. Mr. Hathaway was continuing his efforts to gather people of similar concern to lobby their elected officials on the proper use of public assets. The distinction couldn’t be clearer.

  8. By Steve Bean
    November 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm | permalink

    “The distinction couldn’t be clearer.”

    Yes, when you rephrase everything and leave out the relevant parts (i.e., assertions and instructions), it’s quite different, really. :-)

    @6: Thanks, Joan. Nevertheless, they’ve got a point about the process and attitudes on the board. Of course, unless the mayor is reading this, it’s probably of little consequence.

  9. November 14, 2012 at 2:30 pm | permalink

    Joan, although I attended the meeting of the LOC on Nov. 12, it’s unlikely that it will be written up as a stand-alone meeting report. For one thing, I’m unlikely to allot time to that, given other priorities. For another, the draft recommendations were – in my view – likely to undergo numerous revisions in light of the committee’s discussion. Those revisions would not be substantive as in,”Let us not recommend any kind of building on the Kline Lot after all and instead let us recommend that we install a native praire, or perhaps a dairy farm,” but rather at the level of the semantics of “could,” “should,” “must,” and “encourage.”

    I think it’s worth remembering that this CWS planning process includes five city-owned parcels, not just the Library Lot. And I think it would be fair to judge the public process the DDA has implemented based on the entire set of recommendations – as opposed to applying some kind of Library Lot litmus test. Those recommendations are listed out in draft form in at least a dozen different categories per parcel (e.g., massing, land use, connections, parking, etc.) and are mostly variegated according to parcel – though there’s also considerable overlap.

    What I observed at one of the early meetings of the LOC – which I also did not write up – was an explicit conversation about the mechanisms for soliciting feedback. LOC members were concerned that some mechanisms for feedback be chosen that did not convey a sense to participants that they were “voting” – because that would give rise to expectation that the resulting recommendations should be based on an arithmetic calculation, as opposed to the collective judgement of the committee. I’m not sure if the mechanism of feedback can actually affect how the public perceives the role of “public input” in a process like this. I think there’s a expectation by many that the public process should essentially be an extended public referendum.

    For example, as expressed in Jack Eaton’s comment [emphasis added]: “The City Council gave the DDA the responsibility to engage in a robust public process to find out what we wanted done with the City owned properties in question.” In my view, that description is closer to one where the public engages in the decision-making process as opposed to providing input into the decision making process. This is a distinction made earlier this year by a Chronicle reader who comments as Marvin Face:

    Per the discussion about public input, I believe some here and many elsewhere are confusing public input with decision-making. When the public is asked for input on what they want or if they like something, it is just that: input. Thank you very much for participating and providing a valuable perspective. That input is then considered along with all the other input, data, and knowledge during the decision-making process. Just because you voiced an opinion, and even if that opinion is shared by a majority of folks who provided input, that does not make it so.

    I think it’s worth pointing out that there are at least some actual ordinary residents of the city of Ann Arbor (who aren’t members of the DDA board) who don’t think the Library Lot is a good place for just a park and/or open space. I would not even venture a guess as to what percentage of residents see things that way, but it’s not zero.

    As to the specific characterization of the LOC’s recommendation for the Library Lot, the 10-story hotel described by Hathaway is half right. What’s currently in draft form, based on the Nov. 12 meeting, is up to 20 stories, and includes not just a hotel as a possibility, but also large floor plate office among the land uses. Part of the height recommendation is related to possible decreased building footprint (and increased setback from Fifth Avenue) – in order to increase the visibility from Liberty Street southward of the open space element. That height could be achieved through a “planned project” that would stay under the maximum 700% FAR but exceed the 180 height limit.

  10. November 14, 2012 at 2:39 pm | permalink

    Re (6) Ms. Lowenstein, your comment that I “have misrepresented the Connecting William Street draft recommendations” seems particularly odd. Nothing in my comment addresses the draft recommendations. I discussed the terribly flawed process. I admit that I implied that a process that is that flawed will have a poor end product. But, my comment was limited to the DDA’s failure to conduct a robust public discussion as directed by Council.

  11. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm | permalink

    Once again, Ms. Lowenstein gives more weight to the argument that the entire concept of a DDA should be reevaluated with a discussion about eventually abolishing the organization. If the DDA isn’t getting the message from Council to conduct a ‘robust public discussion’, then the newly sworn in Council will have communicate this message to the group a bit more forcefully.

  12. By Joan Lowenstein
    November 15, 2012 at 11:24 am | permalink

    Dave, as a neutral observer you confirm my point — the DDA has yet to make any recommendations. The Marvin Face comment is also accurate. Calling for a public meeting and having the same 6 people show up is not necessarily robust public discussion. The recommendations will be based on input from more than the usual sources, plus expert planning opinions, plus expert economic opinions, plus a review of existing planning documents, some of which already took into account public opinion.

  13. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 15, 2012 at 11:29 am | permalink

    I think, Ms. Lowenstein, in the political world, this is called ‘blowing smoke’. Future proof the entire concept of the DDA needs to be reviewed in the months to come with a discussion of whether it should be abolished.

  14. November 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm | permalink

    Re #12; I have now scanned the article and comments again and can’t find a comment by Marvin Face. I assume that he was not present in person, since this name is a pseudonym.

    I attended a number of meetings early on in the parcel project and heard the same point expressed by Ms. Lowenstein a number of times: public process that gives undue weight to the relatively small number of active, engaged citizens who are heard from on many subjects is to be avoided. The solution was to have a handpicked board of “experts” and programmed survey vehicles that screened out unwelcome responses.

    The truth is that most citizens simply do not have the time or interest to attend every public gathering, but that does not mean they don’t have heartfelt opinions. It is indeed difficult to construct a process that allows for true public input. I think that the City of Ann Arbor planning staff did a pretty decent job on the Area, Height and Planning revisions. Unfortunately some of the revised recommendations based on that input were overruled by council. I think this also happened on the A2D2 process.

    The flaw in the DDA process that is most evident is that the board repeatedly expressed a bias from the beginning, and has done everything to assure that results supported that bias. That includes an emphasis on the most massive development possible, and a total dismissal of any downtown park.

    What we really need is a community conversation about the role of the downtown in our civic lives as city-wide residents. Is it an engine for economic development, defined as attracting non-retail business with a primarily office land use? Is it a tourist haven that townies never visit? Is it a place offering a range of services that city residents can use, from restaurants to shopping to insurance and key-cutting? Is it a central gathering place where we meet city-wide neighbors in festivals and public events of all kind? Or is it a bank of real estate development land to generate taxable value for the DDA? That seems to be their motive.

    We need to decide what the true public benefit of these changes in downtown is to be.

  15. By Steve Bean
    November 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm | permalink

    @14: The MF comment was on a different Chronicle post, Vivienne.

    @12: “plus expert planning opinions, plus expert economic opinion”

    These, the economic ones especially, have the potential to lead to overreaching (or at least unrealistically high hopes). The global financial situation is evolving rapidly into deeper depression, and the economic analysis in use by CWS and the DDA is both out of date (based on a brief countertrend) and oblivious to that situation. But then, I’m no “expert” and perhaps am seen as one of those “usual sources”.

    @14 again: I think your “flaw” assessment supports Alan’s point. The DDA is doing it’s job. As long as it exists, the challenge for residents will continue to be in countering its influence with those council members who don’t question its role vis a vis the interests of the city as a whole.

  16. November 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm | permalink

    Re (14) Dave quotes Marvin Face’s previous comment in #(7) above.

    Re (7) I agree that there are various opinions about what a robust public process should include which is demonstrated by the divergence between my view and that of Marvin Face.

    The importance of the public process is that eventually a decision will be made by Council. It is hard to believe that sale of any of these CWS properties can be accomplished over the popular opposition of the electorate. I suggest that the arts millage, library bond and countywide transit plan all demonstrate the divergence between the views of downtown-insiders and City residents in general.

    The sale of any City property will require 8 votes on Council. While the DDA process will have the support of the selected “experts” it may fall short of the super majority Council vote required for the sale of city owned land. A properly conducted public process would have provided a means of building broader support for whatever recommendations are made by the DDA.

  17. November 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm | permalink

    Yes, sorry I missed the quote in #9 of a previous comment by M. Face.

    Actually, the point might be to ask, what is the DDA’s job? From the preamble to its charter renewal document in 2003, “the DDA has been a significant and influential catalyst behind the revitalization and renewal of downtown Ann Arbor.” That was my understanding of the role of DDAs in general – for revitalization of dying or threatened downtowns. It was not to press for extreme development or even to advance a particular plan of economic development.

    Further quoting from that preamble: “Downtown Ann Arbor reflects our social and economic diversity. It provides a wide spectrum of residential, commercial and service offerings, from upscale to funky, including homegrown and one-of-a-kind businesses, buildings, and a multitude of social gathering opportunities.”

    Is that where we are heading with this process?

  18. November 16, 2012 at 10:21 am | permalink

    I should have checked back sooner to see if the conversation had progressed. I am glad that people have seized the opportunity to add to the collective understanding of what the DDA is doing and the City Council decision that is about to occur.

    My choice of words seems to have pressed Mr. Bean’s button. As Mr. Eaton sought to clarify, I intended to issue a call for people to communicate their concerns about where the DDA’s Leadership and Outreach Committee is headed with its “Connecting William Street” (CWS) recommendations. Anyone who would like to get a picture of what those recommendations will be can look at the CWS materials posted on the DDA website. [link] At the bottom of the page are links to powerpoint presentations that give a clear picture of the evolving development “scenarios.” These materials also provide a history of the public process and support Mr. Eaton’s point that it has been biased toward a particular, preordained outcome of dense development.

    There are many points made by Ms. Lowenstein with which I take issue. I think I have been very fair in my characterization of both the DDA’s process and the recommendations which it is about to issue. It would be naive to accept Ms. Lowensein’s argument that we should reserve judgement until the final moment when the true, final recommendations are delivered to City Council. As Mr. Askins points out above, there may be minor tweaking of the language, but it is obvious that the general recommendations will be some form of what we have seen in DDA/LOC documents for months.

    I am a member of the Library Green Conservancy that has tried to work constructively with the DDA throughout this process. As Mr. Eaton pointed out, we have come to the conclusion that the DDA wasn’t really interested in any point of view that did not conform to its preconceptions about what should happen with these five sites. We have a website if people are interested in the alternative views we have been offering. [link] While we have focused on the Library Lot, our group is interested in how all of these parcels will be developed. Indeed we’d like to see a more inter-connected and pedestrian oriented approach to planning for downtown development. Some of our members do want to see a public open space on top of the entire Library Lot. Others, including myself, are open to mixed use of the site. So far, the DDA has been unwilling to compromise and include anything approaching a true public open space on any of the five parcels in question. In a recent meeting Ms. Lowenstein commented that “a sidewalk is an open space.” Our group respectfully disagrees with that philosophy.

  19. November 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm | permalink

    If a sidewalk is an open space, then ketchup is a vegetable.

  20. November 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm | permalink

    Regarding the sidewalk open space comment, I can’t help but cite my post, Ann Arbor’s Suburban Brain Problem. [link]

    It was a product of my sitting through a Partnership Committee meeting in which this notion of sidewalks and parking lots as our downtown open space was promulgated in all seriousness. The post is a bit sarcastic, but I hope it will elucidate the point.

    Ketchup at least contains lycopene.

  21. By Christopher Hewett
    November 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm | permalink

    I don’t care what is built, and where…i’m still trying to understand this City mindset that appears to be totally against just one blade of grass downtown…enough with concrete and hardscape.