DDA Sends William Street Project to Council

Board adopts policy for William Street grants; allocates money for Dawn Farm, energy grants; adopts audit, adjusts budget; OKs Varsity parking

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan. 9, 2013): The first meeting of the year for the DDA’s board featured a packed agenda – with items ranging from budget adjustments to the adoption of recommendations on the Connecting William Street project. Also voted on by the board were grants to the nonprofit Dawn Farm, an allocation of funds for the DDA’s energy grant program, and two monthly parking permits for The Varsity residential development.

Walkable City is a volume brought to the Jan. 9, 2013 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting by local developer Peter Allen.

Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City” was a volume brought to the Jan. 9, 2013 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting by local developer Peter Allen. (Photos by the writer.)

The budget adjustments to FY 2013 were made in order to account for roughly $2.6 million in construction costs associated with the Library Lane underground parking garage. They had been allocated in the previous year’s budget, but not paid last year – because the completion of the construction extended into this fiscal year.

The FY 2012 audit report, which the board also approved at its Jan. 9 meeting, shows that for FY 2012, the DDA spent about $2.5 million less than anticipated for that year – because the construction invoices were not all submitted to the DDA by the time books closed for the year.

The result of those changes leaves a budget with $22,237,924 in revenues against $26,339,555 in expenses for the year – which translates to a planned use of the DDA’s fund balance reserve of $4,101,632. That’s about half of the existing fund balance.

Not a part of the revised budget was the approval of two allocations made by the board – one of $50,000 in connection with the DDA’s existing energy grant program, and another of $150,000 for a grant to Dawn Farm, a nonprofit offering both residential and out-patient services supporting recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts. The energy allocation will essentially attempt to leverage energy audits completed through the DDA’s program for use in the Michigan Saves program, which offers low-interest financing for energy improvements.

The board also approved recommendations to be forwarded to the city council on the future redevelopment of five city-owned sites currently used for parking. The project, which is now named Connecting William Street (CWS), began with an April 4, 2011 city council resolution that directed the DDA to seek “robust public input” from experts, stakeholders and residents to develop a plan for those parcels.

In connection with the parcels in that area, the board also adopted a policy on possible grants from the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) funds to support development of the CWS properties. The policy makes clear that the DDA would not forgo its TIF capture on any property – but the amount of the grant would be calculated based on TIF revenue.

Also in connection with the CWS project, the board heard remarks during public commentary from representatives of the city’s park advisory commission as well as the State Street Area Association. The board also invited Doug Kelbaugh, a University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning, to share his thoughts on parks versus plazas – and why he thinks the site on top of the Library Lane parking garage is more likely to succeed as a plaza instead of a park.

FY 2013 Budget Revisions, Audit

The board was asked to consider $2.6 million in changes to the current year’s budget – FY 2013, the 12-month period starting July 1, 2012. They stem primarily from costs that had been budgeted for the previous year for construction of the Library Lane underground parking garage, but not paid for.

The result of those changes leaves a budget with $22,237,924 in revenues against $26,339,555 in expenses for the year – which translates to a planned use of the DDA’s fund balance reserve of $4,101,632. That’s about half of the existing fund balance. The FY 2013 budget projects a fund balance at the end of FY 2013, on June 30, 2013, of $4,380,341. [.pdf of revised FY 2013 DDA budget]

The budget originally approved by the DDA board on March 7, 2012 showed revenues of $22,097,956 against $24,101,692 in expenditures – for an excess of expenditures over revenues of $2,003,736.

Much of the roughly $2 million in additional expenses in the adjusted budget is attributable to construction costs of the Library Lane underground parking structure, which was completed in July 2012. That money had been budgeted, but not spent in FY 2012. To account for Library Lane parking structure construction, the adjustments to this year’s budget show an additional $850,000 to be expended from the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) fund and $1,792,388 from the DDA’s parking fund.

The DDA’s audited finances show that for FY 2012, the DDA spent about $2.5 million less than anticipated for that year – because the construction invoices were not all submitted to the DDA by the time books closed for the year. The board was also asked to adopt the auditor’s report.

Budget Adjustment: Board Deliberations

Roger Hewitt introduced the agenda items by explaining that the completion of the Library Lane underground parking structure had come near the end of the fiscal year.

In addition to the construction cost adjustments, Hewitt highlighted changes to the DDA housing fund budget. Those changes included the additional expense of a $246,000 allocation made as a grant to replace the roof on Baker Commons – an Ann Arbor Housing Commission property. That was balanced against the $400,000 that would not be spent to support the Near North affordable housing project, because that project has fallen through.

But given the energy saving grant allocation ($50,000) and the Dawn Farm grant ($150,000) approved at the board’s same meeting, Hewitt noted that the budget adjustments the board would be approving were already $200,000 off from the actual expenditures.

Outcome: Without substantive deliberations, the board unanimously approved the budget adjustments.

Audit: Board Deliberations

Roger Hewitt noted that the audit report, from Rehmann, had been reviewed previously at a meeting of the operations committee, which Rehmann’s Mark Kettner had attended. The highlight that Hewitt wanted to draw out from the report was this: “The results of our tests disclosed no instances of noncompliance or other matters that are required to be reported under Government Auditing Standards.” [.pdf of DDA FY 2012 audit]

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to accept the auditor’s report.

Dawn Farm Grant

The board was asked to consider awarding Dawn Farm a $150,000 grant to reduce the debt on two of the organization’s existing properties. By way of background, Dawn Farm is a nonprofit offering both residential and out-patient services supporting recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts. In 2001, the DDA had made a $135,000 grant to Dawn Farm to assist with the purchase of the property at 112 Chapin St.

The current request being made to the DDA is for $150,000 to help pay down the debt on two other Dawn Farm properties, at 343 Beakes and 324 Summit. The grant from the DDA would free up cash to expand the existing total 159 beds in Dawn Farm’s residential treatment facilities to 200 by early 2013, according to the nonprofit.

Jim Balmer, president of Dawn Farm, had addressed the DDA board at its Dec. 5, 2012 board meeting, asking the DDA to support the request.

Dawn Farm: Board Deliberations

Joan Lowenstein introduced the item on Dawn Farm, saying that the organization had approached the DDA to ask for money that would help the nonprofit refinance existing property. That would allow Dawn Farm to provide additional transitional housing units and free up money for services in the downtown area.

Newcombe Clark said that independent of all the work Dawn Farm does, the organization has very detailed capital expenditure and depreciation schedules. Dawn Farm has been setting money aside for capital costs. The reason the DDA asks for that, Clark said, is because it shows rigor. He indicated that in general, helping an organization to pay off debt is not something he thinks the DDA should get in the habit of doing. But in the case of Dawn Farm, he was satisfied that the DDA would not be backfilling a legacy of a failure to set aside sufficient funds. He described it as “refreshing” to see an organization have rigor in the way it approached capital costs. He felt that fact made it easier to approve Dawn Farm’s request without contention.

John Splitt indicated his concern that the DDA housing fund was being tapped to provide the funding – because he felt that Dawn Farm was more of an “outreach program” than a housing program. If this were the “housing and outreach fund,” he said, he’d be more willing approve the grant – but he added that the work Dawn Farm does is marvelous. Clark pointed out that Dawn Farm would be able to add beds as a result of the DDA’s grant – but Splitt indicated he already knew that when he’d made his comments.

Outcome: Despite reservations from Splitt, he joined his board colleagues in voting unanimously to approve the grant.

Energy Audit Grant

The board was asked to consider a $50,000 allocation to its existing energy saving grant program to support additional costs for energy audits ($40,000) and the administrative support of those audits ($10,000). The idea is to leverage energy audits completed through the DDA’s program for use in the Michigan Saves program, which offers low-interest financing for energy improvements – in the form of loans from $2,000-$150,000.

The DDA’s energy grant program provides funds to cover the complete cost of energy audits for downtown businesses and a rebate on the cost of undertaking the actual improvements indicated by the audit.

Sandi Smith reviewed the point of the energy saving grant program and described the connection to the Michigan Saves program. Michigan Saves has offered to provide food and staff support to help the DDA promote the new program.

Mayor John Hieftje pointed out that the city’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program staff could be tapped for expertise and assistance as well.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the $50,000 allocation to the energy saving grant program

Varsity Parking Permits

The board was asked to consider granting the right to purchase two monthly permits in Ann Arbor’s public parking system to The Varsity, in order to satisfy the project’s 76-space parking requirement under the city’s zoning regulations. The project, located on East Washington Street, is a 13-story, 173-unit, 178,380-square-foot apartment building for approximately 418 people. Construction on the project is well underway.

The request from The Varsity was before the DDA board, because the DDA manages the public parking system – including parking permits – under contract with the city. The DDA in turn subcontracts out the day-to-day parking operations to Republic Parking.

The developer of The Varsity had originally planned to satisfy part of its parking requirement through a contract with Zipcar, a car-sharing service. That arrangement turned out not to be feasible.

The purchase of the two monthly permits will be arranged through the city’s contribution in lieu (CIL) program, which allows a developer to meet a parking requirement by making an upfront payment of $55,000 per space or by purchasing monthly permits in the public parking system for an extra 20% of the current rate for such permits – with a commitment of 15 years.

The D1 zoning district, where The Varsity is located, does not have a parking requirement for construction that has less than a 400% floor area ratio (FAR). However, if a development exceeds 400% FAR – which is allowed for projects that include residential units – then parking spaces must be provided. The number of spaces provided is based on a formula of 1 space per 1,000 square feet in excess of 400% FAR.

The approval of The Varsity’s monthly permits is just the second time the CIL program has been invoked. On Oct. 3, 2012 the DDA voted to approve the purchase of up to 42 monthly permits by the 624 Church St. project, another residential development.

The specific parking structure where the permits can be purchased has not been determined for either of the two projects. The topic of location – and the idea that a general policy should be developed to guide the choice of which parking structure can be used for permits sold under the CIL program – was part of the DDA’s operations committee meeting on Dec. 19, 2012.

Roger Hewitt described the arrangement for his board colleagues.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to sell two monthly permits to The Varsity, with the location of the parking structure to be determined.

Connecting William Street Parcel Plan

On the board’s Jan. 9 agenda were recommendations related to future development of five city-owned parcels in the DDA district – known as the Connecting William Street project. The recommendations cover: (1) the Kline lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the old YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library. [.pdf of presentation made at Dec. 5, 2012 board meeting]

The recommendations stemmed from a directive given to the DDA by the Ann Arbor city council in an April 4, 2011 resolution to engage in a public process with experts, stakeholders and residents, and then to develop a plan for those parcels. The council’s resolution describes a step in the process when the city council and the planning commission would adopt the recommendations on the five parcels into the city’s downtown plan. The downtown plan is one component of the city’s master plan. Other components include: the land use element, the transportation plan, the non-motorized transportation plan, parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, and the natural features master plan.

Streetscape view towards the east from Ashley Street

Streetscape view looking down William Street toward the east from Ashley Street – a schematic rendering of the Connecting William Street recommendations.

Based on the phasing described in the council’s April 2011 resolution, any request for proposals (RFP) to be made for the five parcels would come after the planning commission and the city council formally adopt recommendations on the five parcels into the downtown plan.

The vote on the recommendations came as preparation for the DDA’s presentation scheduled for a joint DDA/city council work session on Jan. 14. That session will begin at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

Also on the DDA board’s Jan. 9 meeting agenda was a policy on grants to be made by the DDA in the Connecting William Street area of study. Among other things, the policy gives priority to projects that promote public benefits related to connectivity and walkability improvements; environmental design features; significant architecture and design investment; public landscaping & plazas/urban open spaces; and infrastructure investments.

The grant policy makes clear that the DDA would not forgo its TIF (tax increment finance) capture on any property, but the amount of the grant would be calculated based on TIF revenue. The policy would apply only to the four city-owned properties in the area of the CWS study that are currently surface parking lots. [.pdf of grant policy draft]

CWS: Grant Policy

Sandi Smith pointed out the similarity of the language to that of a policy the DDA had adopted to guide the award of grants for brownfield projects. [The brownfield policy was created to provide guidance on the 618 S. Main project. The policy and the project grant were given approval at the DDA board's June 6, 2012 meeting.]

The policy establishes the public elements that the DDA would consider as items qualifying a project for a grant. The 17-25% of TIF capture that’s specified in the policy is a way to calculate the potential amount of a grant, but Smith stressed that the DDA will not forgo its TIF capture to help.

Joan Lowenstein echoed Smith’s characterization that the grant policy really is similar to what was done with the DDA’s brownfield policy. The idea is to give developers some criteria.

Newcombe Clark drew out the fact that the grant policy applies just to the city-owned parcels in the CWS geographic area, not to all parcels in the area.

Roger Hewitt floated the idea of a friendly amendment, which was accepted, that would characterize the grant calculator as 17-25% of the first 10 years of TIF capture for a completed project.

In discussing one of the criteria in the policy – “Environmental design exceeds City requirements” – DDA board members mulled whether that meant LEED requirements and wondered if there were other standards. From the audience, Doug Kelbaugh – a UM professor of architecture and urban planning – suggested that relevant standards could be found in Architecture 2030.

Outcome: The TIF grant policy for Connecting William Street parcels was unanimously approved.

CWS: Public Comment – Parks, Plazas

Addressing the board during public commentary on behalf of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC), was Ingrid Ault. She told the board she was there primarily because she had attended the CWS forum on Jan. 3, and she wanted to update the board on how PAC had been approaching the issue. She said her takeaway – shared by PAC members Bob Galardi and Alan Jackson – was that there’s a lot of support for some kind of open space in the downtown. But she described the evening’s discussion as yielding no real consensus one way or the other, calling it a spirited discussion.

Ault described a recent retreat held by PAC. An outcome of that retreat was to form a subcommittee to talk about downtown open space. She and Jackson serve on that subcommittee. One of the steps the subcommittee will take is to take an inventory of what’s in place, and talk about what works and doesn’t work – before thinking about what PAC might want to add.

There are 157 parks in Ann Arbor, Ault said. She said that PAC is concerned about adding space that has no active use. PAC doesn’t want to add open space that just sits empty, she said. PAC at this point is in the early stages of its discussion, she said, and had talked about different land uses in the CWS area. There’s no initial consensus on that. She said that the next step for PAC was to provide the DDA board with information, so that they could move forward in a thoughtful manner with the community. [For more background on PAC's discussions, see Chronicle coverage: "PAC: Downtown Park, More Input Needed."]

Introducing herself for public commentary as the new executive director of the State Street Area Association was Frances Todoro. She indicated that the former executive director, Tom Heywood, would still be around for a year to help with the transition.

She was interested in speaking to the board on the subject of adding parks downtown – by first focusing on an existing park downtown, Liberty Plaza, located at the southwest corner of Liberty and Division. [Todoro holds a masters in urban planning and geography from the University of North Carolina.] It’s been a struggle to make the park work on a consistent basis, but she allowed there’d been spurts here and there when it’s been cleaned up and it’s worked for a few months. She noted that Sonic Lunch, sponsored by the Bank of Ann Arbor, is a hugely successful program – for a few days out of the year.

The State Street Area Association, she said, would want to see the park maintain a consistent success year round. SSAA was interested in focusing first on that success before bringing any additional parks online, she said. A lot would be learned from solving the existing problem of Liberty Plaza park, she said. And learning from those solutions would be beneficial to the existing community. It would help SSAA realize its vision of a clean and safe community.

During public commentary Eileen Ilene Tyler reported that she attended the Jan. 3 meeting on the CWS, but couldn’t stay until the end. She agreed the city should be proactive in defining the opportunities for development that are compatible with the central area plan. She supported the inclusion of a greenway-streetscape connection between downtown and the University of Michigan campus. She appreciated that the DDA had contracted with a local design professional [SmithGroup JJR] to illustrate the designs, saying she respected their work. [Tyler is an architect with Quinn Evans.]

However, Tyler didn’t see any actual “connecting” going on – especially along William Street. She asked that this be articulated in a more detailed way in the schematics, by adding nodes or oases along the route. That approach would break up the linear street, which is depicted as a straight and narrow “chute,” with a little bit of green cover around the street edge. Things like benches should be included, she said, or variation in paving material, and additional greenery. By including such elements in schematics now, developers might be more inclined to include them, instead of deferring only to minimum zoning requirements – which require no setbacks.

She wanted to be able to point to the CWS project as a positive force by the city to encourage better design from developers. Lawyers and developers are too quick to use precedence, she said, as the sole argument against the need to provide better design. She wanted to encourage the features of good urban design to be included in the final documents.

CWS: Public Comment – 413 Huron Street

The conversation at the board meeting connected concerns about the CWS recommendations and a proposed project outside the CWS area – at 413 Huron St.

The 413 Huron St. project is a proposed 14-story building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division – which calls for 213 apartments, about 3,000-square-feet of street-level retail space, and 163 on-site underground parking spaces. The complex would consist of two main towers and an “inset upper level garden and pool courtyard,” according to the proposal.

Toward the end of her remarks, Tyler noted that the lack of adequate setbacks of buildings in the schematics for CWS was one of the same problems with the 413 Huron St. project.

And when Ray Detter reported out from the previous evening’s meeting of the downtown citizens advisory council, the main highlight of his remarks was the CAC’s strong opposition to the 413 Huron St. project.

Detter supported the commitment to good architecture in the CWS proposal. He called the best public art a good building that’s well designed. Pedestrian-friendly setbacks should also be encouraged. He said he was very pleased that future projects undertaken in the CWS area will allow the planning commission to ask developers how they have responded to the design review board (DRB) process. He allowed that compliance with DRB recommendations was voluntary.

Detter noted that the city’s historic district commission had approved a resolution critical of the 413 Huron St. project, because it would have a negative impact on the Old Fourth Ward historic district. Regarding two members of CAC who live in Sloan Plaza, Detter said that as a result of the 413 Huron St. project “their sunlight will be gone forever.”

And during a presentation made to the board by Doug Kelbaugh, a University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning, he offered as an aside that he agreed with comments by Detter and Tyler about the proposed 413 Huron project – adding that it did not lie within the area he considered to be the “downtown core.”

CWS: Board Response to Commentary

Mayor John Hieftje responded to remarks from Ault and Todoro, by commenting on Liberty Plaza. He said the city is just now in the beginning stages of taking a look at Liberty Plaza. The parks staff have developed a preliminary timeline, he said, but he appreciated the comments people had made. He contended that he feels comfortable in Liberty Plaza, but allowed that some community members don’t feel comfortable there. He said that it needs to be improved so that it’s more inviting to all city residents. [Hieftje had made similar comments in a presentation at the Aug. 21, 2012 meeting of the city's park advisory commission.]

John Splitt indicated that as a member of the State Street Area Association board, he wanted to thank First Martin for doing the best job they can, by contributing their help in emptying trash and helping with the upkeep of the public park. [First Martin owns the building adjacent to Liberty Plaza.]

Sandi Smith responded to Tyler’s points about the specificity in the CWS drawings by saying that the leadership outreach committee had struggled to balance the amount of detail shown in the buildings. They’d started with “blocky” buildings, and by giving them a little more design they didn’t want to go down the path of designing an entire building. Tyler responded that some of the elements she was talking about could be put it in the narrative to the recommendations, if not in the schematics.

Joan Lowenstein told Tyler that she loved Tyler’s use of the word “oasis,” saying that was the intended concept.

CWS: Executive Summary

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, began by thanking the board and others who had worked on the Connecting William Street project. She sketched an overview of the process, but did not go through the PowerPoint presentation that had been shown at the last board meeting and at two subsequent public meetings. [.pdf of CWS presentation made at Dec. 5, 2012 board meeting]

She reviewed how the process had been undertaken over the last 15-18 months, when the DDA got approval from the city council to take charge of an RFP process for city-owned properties in the downtown. The DDA had set out with a belief that the process would build on a lot of good planning that had already been done, she said, without starting from scratch. So the first step was to review all the existing city planning work – the downtown plan, the central area plan, the A2D2 process, the Calthorpe study and the city’s design guidelines.

The community was then asked to speak to that planning in a more granular way. In the past, she said, when the city had issued vague RFPs, potential developers had essentially been directed to those plans and told, “Just look to those plans, they’ll tell you what to do.” The result was “strange polarities,” Pollay said, which were reflected most recently in competing visions for the top of the Library Lane underground garage – as people talked about an ice-skating rink versus a hotel/conference center. She compared the issue to one where you try to choose between a stick or a bagel.

So the Connecting William Street project was a chance for the community to decide for itself what it would like to see on the five sites, without immediate development pressures.

Pollay noted that part of the public input had included a survey to test whether the goals distilled out from previous planning efforts were still embraced. She stressed that the survey was not an attempt to conduct a vote for a particular use on a particular site. What they’d heard consistently was that the values reflected in previous planning were confirmed – walkability, density, diversity of use, and quality of buildings.

Scenarios were developed to test in more detail what public reaction was, and Pollay said that what they’d heard in several different meetings was consistency. People might not have agreed with the building height as depicted in a scenario, but weren’t opposed to having a building there at all. Or people did not oppose having active uses on the first floor. They’d found many areas of agreement, she said.

There are many areas where the plan has to come together and work together, Pollay said. As an example, she said there are opportunities to pursue jobs in the downtown by providing for large floor-plate office space. But there are also opportunities to provide housing for the workers who might be employed in those jobs. There are a great number of opportunities not just in the downtown, but also specifically in the area of downtown that makes up the study area, she continued, pointing out that the AATA’s Blake Transit Center is located there. Something like 600,000 people a year visit the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, she said, which is a great strength. [The downtown library is located at the northeast corner of Fifth and William.] But that meant that surrounding uses needed to be complementary to that.

Pollay said that for 95% of the plan, there was very little controversy. There was some quibbling about density, but generally there was a lot of agreement, she said. They’d strived for a diversity of voices in gathering input, and made a point to reach out to as many neighborhood groups and civic organizations as possible – at least 100. A mailing list of interested citizens was developed that had over 700 people on it. A total of 300 people had attended meetings and over 2,000 people had responded to a survey.

They’d strived for a diverse and robust response, she concluded. About the question of parks and open space, Pollay ventured, “We are saying different things, yet saying the same thing: We want more open space downtown, whether it’s a park or a plaza, whether it’s green, whether it’s sized this way or that.” She said there was still some dialogue going on.

The previous evening, she’d met with the housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB) and talked about affordable housing. There was no one of the five sites that seemed to call for affordable housing – but instead there seemed to be a lot of consensus at HHSAB for selling the property and rebuilding the city’s affordable housing trust fund. That would give flexibility for the location of affordable housing.

The idea was discussed that a contribution in lieu program could be provided for the density incentives that are available under by-right zoning. [Currently, up to 900% FAR (floor-area ratio) is allowed in by-right projects, if the use of a project includes a suitable amount of affordable housing.] There was a strong willingness to explore a contribution to the affordable housing trust fund in lieu of providing the affordable housing units within a project.

She concluded by thanking everyone, and cautioning that there is a lot of work yet to be done.

Sandi Smith noted that some of the outreach for the project that had been directed was to connect to the University of Michigan. So she invited Doug Kelbaugh, a UM professor of architecture and urban planning, to present some of the work his students had done.

CWS: Kelbaugh Connection

In the summer of 2011, Kelbaugh had pitched his services to facilitate a public process for the Connecting William Street project [though it had not yet been given that name], but ultimately the DDA board declined the offer.

Kelbaugh began by discussing the question of whether the open space on the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage should be a plaza or a park. He offered three reasons why it should be a plaza, not a park.

  1. Urban rationale – downtowns need outdoor living rooms that are:
    (a) spatially well defined, enclosed by buildings on at least three sides (ideal width is 100 feet – which is the distance at which you can recognize somebody’s face);
    (b) activated by programmed, spontaneous and informal activities for diverse demographics – so that it’s not dominated by rich, poor or anybody in between;
    (c) with lots of entrances, windows, retail on the edges, as well as “eyes” on the plaza. Kelbaugh contended that Ann Arbor has great streets and great parks but not a lot of good plazas, i.e. “outdoor living rooms.” These characteristics meant that Liberty Plaza will never actually be a plaza – it will always be a park. It could become a better park, but would never be a plaza – because the historic building to the south [Kempf House] would never have windows and doors opening onto it from that side. However, the Library Lane site had the potential to be a plaza, he said. Kelbaugh said that the side of the Earthen Jar restaurant would never be an adequate activator of a plaza.
  2. Architectural rationale – a plaza is better suited structurally for construction on top of a parking garage than a park, which needs deep soil for trees and berms.
  3. Environmental rationale – it’s greener to have a dense, complete downtown than suburban sprawl (urban residents have smaller ecological footprints per capita).

Kelbaugh then showed the board some student projects for the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage, highlighting how they made a connection from a plaza on the Fifth Avenue side of the parcel to the Liberty Plaza park. For one of the buildings that the students had designed, the connection went through the buildings – with an elevated exterior “public street” that led past retail shop entrances. When you come out the other side, he said, you are greeted with a “true green park” – where Liberty Plaza is. That would require the cooperation of Bill Martin and his son, Kelbaugh allowed – because of property that is owned by Martin, situated between the Library Lane parking garage and Liberty Plaza.

Kelbaugh included in his remarks a sketch of how he imagined it might be possible to get from the Kline lot on the western edge of downtown to the University of Michigan campus, using mid-block cut-throughs.

CWS: Board Deliberations

Newcombe Clark ventured that what the DDA board would be approving was a snapshot – saying that the minute you collect data, it starts to degrade. It could become more or less relevant as time goes by and various macro forces act on the situation. He ventured that the plan will be trotted out years later as proof of something. He felt it might not hold up well if it’s put on a shelf.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he appreciated all the work that had been done. He asked for an amendment to the resolved clause [added text in italics, bolded type for contrast]:

Resolved, The DDA approves the Connecting William Street Plan, and anticipates that the Plan will be presented to City Council later this month, with the expectation of working to implement this Plan in the future, following further input from city commissions and the public.

Sandi Smith indicated that unfortunately she didn’t consider that amendment to be friendly. Joan Lowenstein suggested tweaking the change as follows, which was amenable to Smith and to Hieftje:

Resolved, The DDA approves he Connecting William Street Plan, and anticipates that he Plan will be presented to City Council later this month, with the expectation of working to implement this Plan in the future, in conjunction with further input from city commissions and the public.

Smith called it a significantly different statement. John Mouat expressed some caution about the added language, saying that the project had already lasted one and a half years, so he hoped to see some timely action on it. Clark ventured that the next step could be for the DDA to develop an RFQ (request for qualifications).

Outcome: The board unanimously voted to adopt the Connecting William Street recommendations.

Communications, Committee Reports

The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.

Comm/Comm: Parking Report

Roger Hewitt delivered the report on monthly parking, which has been covered in more detail in previous reporting: “Parking as Residential Incentive: Where?

Comm/Comm: Downtown Marketing Task Force

Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the DDA board as mayor, reminded DDA board members of a first-Tuesday monthly meeting – of the downtown marketing task force. He called the meetings productive and encouraged DDA board members to attend.

Comm/Comm: WATS

John Mouat reported that the executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS), Terri Blackmore, had resigned. Blackmore is taking a position at North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization in Fort Collins, Colorado. Mouat indicated that Leigh Greden is leading the effort to find a replacement for her at WATS. [Greden sits on the WATS policy committee – in his capacity as the executive director of government and community relations for Eastern Michigan University.]

Comm/Comm: River Up!

Elizabeth Riggs, deputy director of the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC), addressed the board on the topic of River Up! She told the board that she and HRWC director Laura Rubin had met with DDA executive director Susan Pollay a couple of times, and that Pollay had suggested Riggs make a presentation to the DDA board.

Left to right: DDA board member Sandi Smith and Huron River Watershed Council deputy director Elizabeth Riggs.

Left to right: DDA board member Sandi Smith and Huron River Watershed Council deputy director Elizabeth Riggs.

She said the point of the presentation was to start a dialogue and to promote future communication between the DDA and HRWC about River Up! She described River Up! as “nothing short of a renaissance for the Huron River.” She said the partners on the project were “thinking big.” Partners include the HRWC, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation and a group of community and business leaders called the Wolfpack. [For previous Chronicle reporting on River Up!, see "River Up! Focuses on Revitalizing Huron River"] It’s a group that has worked in the past on environmental initiatives on the state and the national level, she said. River Up! is an initiative to look at an asset in “our own backyard – the Huron River.”

Riggs told the board that the HRWC has been around since 1965 working to protect the river and the eco-system. She called River Up! a bold initiative to turn the communities on the river to face the river – as a new Main Street. In the past, the Huron River has been a working river, she said, and it showed signs of that. It was understandable that people wanted to put their backs to the river – because it didn’t smell very good. But in the last few decades, she said, there’s been quite a turnaround, and the river is now something to celebrate. It’s the only river in this part of Michigan with a “natural river” designation. It’s an important place for recreation and respite. The river could be a part of the place-making effort for Ann Arbor, helping it to be an economic engine. Other river towns besides Ann Arbor are Milford, Dexter, Ypsilanti, and Flatrock. The concept is very broad but there are three specific areas that the River Up! project involves: (1) fix up; (2) clean up; and (3) build up.

Fixing up means investing in the river, making it safer and more accessible, she explained. The creation of a 104-mile paddling trail is part of that effort, which includes fixing portages and installing wayfinding. And soon a waterproof flipbook map of the whole river will be available.

Cleaning up means supporting ecological improvement. The DTE cleanup of the old MichCon site on Broadway, adjacent to the river, fits in with part of that effort, she said. That cleanup will help establish the connection between the river and the downtown, she said.

Riggs concluded by saying she looked forward to potential future collaboration.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

Roger Hewitt reported that a meeting had been held by the funding partners for the connector study – an effort that’s exploring alternatives for high-capacity transit in a corridor that swoops in a boomerang shape from the northeast part of the city to the south. The corridor runs from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. The city council approved its part of the funding on Oct. 15, 2012 to 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.

At the group’s meeting they’d received a report on the first public outreach effort, which had taken place at six different locations – including Briarwood mall during the Christmas shopping season. The point of the outreach, Hewitt said, was to gauge the public response to the concept of a high-capacity connector. The people who’d been asked had reported their priorities for transportation in the following order: higher frequency of service, extended hours of service, and reduced emissions.

The result of asking people to put dots on maps indicating their desired travel destinations showed a large cluster in the area of downtown Ann Arbor, Hewitt said. Around 90% of people said they wanted some kind of enhanced system – compared to the current bus system. About 275 people total had been contacted at the six locations, he said. The next outreach effort would take place in a couple of months, Hewitt concluded. [.jpg of dot map]

Present: Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Nader Nassif, Russ Collins, Keith Orr.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2013, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. January 14, 2013 at 11:44 am | permalink

    I think that the comments reported above were made by Ilene Tyler, not Eileen.

    The proposal to provide FAR premiums in return for an in-lieu payment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund seems cynical to me. The reason that these premiums are in the downtown plan is to encourage affordable housing downtown. If the developer is not going to provide that, he should not be awarded a premium. This is a callback to the old system of in-lieu payments made by applicants for a PUD in order to show a public benefit. But this FAR program was specifically targeted to the downtown. The proposed mechanism (which I assume would require an amendment to the zoning ordinance) is simply a way for developers to buy additional floors.

  2. By Tom Whitaker
    January 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm | permalink

    Do the financial reports provide a full accounting for the construction of the underground parking structure? Did it come in under budget, over budget, or on budget?

    I recall the funding for the Fifth and Division improvements came from the same bond issue, and bids for that project came in over $1 million under budget. Some of the scope of that project had already been cut before budgeting/bidding, including improvements in the Kerrytown/Farmer’s Market/Community High area (ironically, the area with the most need for traffic calming and pedestrian amenities). Yet, surprisingly, no work was added back in to Fifth and Division after the bids on the reduced scope came in so much lower than expected.

    Where did that surplus go and why was it not applied to Fifth and Division, to complete the entire project as designed? The DDA had originally intended to complete Fifth and Division with its own financing (Council later co-mingled it with the underground parking structure bond)? What happened?

  3. By Steve Bean
    January 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm | permalink

    Tom beat me to it (and addressed more than I remembered, so thanks, Tom.)

  4. By peter allen
    January 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm | permalink

    Besides the Walkable City book, I recommend reading the Blue Zones book, by the National Geographic author who documented the healthy cities in the world known for encouraging many residents to live into their 100′s. Ann Arbor should strive to replace the car with destination oriented pathways that connect every neighborhood to every desirable destination. The metric should be whether a mother would allow her kids to bike downtown to meet one another. Say, for instance, you live off Newport Road and work at the U and you want to meet your kids from Skyline or Pioneer for lunch downtown with out driving. Can you all rendezvous at J Gardens or the library without a car? That would be a fantastic community value! Peter Allen

  5. January 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm | permalink

    Re [5]:

    Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City

    And Dan Buettner’s “The Blue Zones

  6. January 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm | permalink

    Peter Allen is my kind of developer. Why can’t more of them be like him?

  7. By Rita MItchell
    January 15, 2013 at 4:57 pm | permalink

    I would be interested in hearing more about the River Up program. The third point: “build up” was not addressed in the examples that followed the list of points targeted by the program. Is there a reference to the plans?

  8. January 16, 2013 at 12:43 am | permalink

    Re: [7] “Is there a reference to the plans?”


  9. By Rita MItchell
    January 16, 2013 at 1:10 am | permalink

    Thanks, Dave!

  10. By Timothy Durham
    January 17, 2013 at 11:25 am | permalink

    Tom, is it possible to get a look at the designs from Doug Kelbaugh and his students for the Library Plaza?

  11. By Timothy Durham
    January 17, 2013 at 11:25 am | permalink

    Sorry. Dave, is it possible….

  12. January 17, 2013 at 11:36 am | permalink

    Re: [10][11] Timothy, I have a query in about that.

  13. January 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm | permalink

    Here’s a link to the PowerPoint of what was presented by Kelbaugh: [link]

    Here’s a link to a .pdf version of that: [link]

    Extracted .jpgs of just one project: [from 5th Avenue side] [from Division (Liberty Plaza Park) side)]

  14. By Timothy Durham
    January 18, 2013 at 10:47 am | permalink

    Thanks, Dave.
    I have to say I’m pretty disappointed with those drawings, too. There were some VERY tall buildings included and very little outdoor space. In addition, the buildings at street level- in spite of what was written in the class RFP (the “Urban Rationale”)- did not look like the buildings addressed the street or plaza very well at all.

    Maybe they could take a walking tour of Chicago some time. If they did, they would see- in areas where the built environment was rows of two and three stories with retail at street level and apartments above, like Andersonville or Wrigleyville (or Main Street in Ann Arbor)- loads of activity at all hours of the day and night. An “active and permeable membrane” addressing the street and sidewalk.

    On the contrary, where the apartment buildings stretch up to 10-12 floors and more, there is very little activity on the street. Lots of cars going by, though. Up Sheridan and Lakeshore drive, and in the heart of the Loop. Loads of tall apartment buildings and office buildings but very little street activity in the off hours.

    The apartment houses up Sheridan all have these sorts of plazas next to them or scattered amongst them and you never see any people in them. Lonely swingsets, benches unused, expanses of bare concrete. If there are no small businesses addressing them, why would people be there in the first place? Are people going to ride the elevator down from the 14th floor to sit on a concrete bench? They require glaring spotlights trained on them at night. You can imagine why- it’s not so people can see to read their books. They become places to avoid, especially at night.

    I read (in one of these articles on this issue) that the master planning for downtown Ann Arbor included a “built floor space to lot size” ratio of 9:1.

    Léon Krier, the architect and urban planner who designed Poundbury for Prince Charles:


    writes in his “Architecture of Community” that the urban ideal “floor space to lot size” ratio is 2:1.

    If you spend a lot of time in various cities (as I do), if you think about these ratios, you will notice this (2:1) being true. Main Street or Kerrytown in Ann Arbor vs. Grand Circus Park in Detroit; Dupont Circle, U Street Corridor, Adams Morgan vs. K Street in Wash, DC; North End of Boston vs. Financial District; Greenwich Village in NY vs. Wall Street; etc. The MOST active areas are where the streets are tight, the buildings are low and the business are many and diverse. Visit an area where the ratio is 9:1 at midnight and you will be lonely. Or at 3pm. Not so where the businesses are very diverse.

    Big building construction comes with VERY high rents at the street level. This has a tendency to drive up surrounding rents, drive out small (but crucial) businesses and bring in the national chains if anything.

    So if the challenge is to make some successful open space, Jane Jacobs says this requires being surrounded by diverse interests at all hours of the day and night providing “eyes on the street.” Right now, that is almost entirely lacking at that space.

    The sorts of small, diverse businesses are being driven out of the downtown core even as they are most needed for this to work. So killing two birds with one stone (surround the plaza with rentable stalls for small, diverse biz) is what I would suggest if these people listened to anyone. Which they apparently do not. You can feel the scorn in the quotes from Susan Pollay for anything that is not mega-sized.

    In my opinion…