Ann Arbor City Council (Feb 17, 2009): City council’s Tuesday meeting began and ended in the woods: Dicken Woods (celebrating its fifth anniversary) and Bird Hills Park (off-leash dog problems).
In between, the deliberations on the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure sometimes ran off into the weeds, with some councilmembers seemingly more interested in rhetorical flourish than in just laying out an unadorned case for or against the decision they eventually made, with only Mike Anglin dissenting: to approve the site plan and financing (up to $55 million in bonds) for an underground parking garage at the “library lot.” The facility will, on the slightly reduced scale approved on Tuesday, provide around 670 additional parking spaces in downtown Ann Arbor.
The agenda item drew a mix of downtown merchants to the meeting, who were in favor of building the garage. Among them was Tim Seaver, co-owner with his wife of Tios Mexican Cafe on Huron Street, who offered a single wistful sentence of support: “I just want to let you know: I firmly support underground parking.” He had spoken earlier during public comment time against the use of the Huron Street property, purchased last year by the city of Ann Arbor, in order to create 16 (above ground) parking spaces.
Fifth Avenue Underground Parking Garage Public Commentary
Maura Thomson: Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, spoke in support of building the Fifth Avenue parking structure. She characterized it as an investment in downtown and the entire community, which would support new development as well as existing businesses. She quoted from Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of American Cities”: “Today those in despair at the war between those potential allies, automobiles and cities, are apt to depict the impasse as a war between automobiles and pedestrians.” Building parking, said Thomson, is not a display of disregard for pedestrians. The DDA works hard to explore a variety of modes of transportation, she said. Building parking underground is more expensive, she allowed, but it creates a better urban fabric. “People bring people, business brings business, residents bring residents,” Thomson said, and automobiles contribute to that cycle.
LuAnne Bullington: Normally, Bullington said, she wouldn’t be talking about the topic, because she likes parking structures: parking spaces “come in handy.” But based on her attendance at the council’s annual budget retreat, she said the underground parking garage seemed like it was part of a package to create a convention center. At that budget retreat, said Bullington, plans for a possible convention center were mentioned, as well as the possibility of replacing the Blake Transit Center with a roof constructed over 4th Avenue. “Who is pushing this?” she asked. Her answer was that on New Year’s Eve, Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel had met with Jesse Bernstein (president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board), who has long wanted to see a conference center downtown. She said she’d attempted to obtain information about those communications via the Freedom of Information Act, but received a letter from AATA interim executive director Dawn Gabay indicating the AATA had no information responsive to her request.
Bullington also pointed out that the reason the city wound up owning the old YMCA lot [at the corner of Fifth and William] was that the the city was concerned that the AATA, which had bid for the property, wouldn’t replace the 100 units of affordable housing located there. But the city, Bullington, had not yet replaced those units.
Roger Pothus: Pothus stated that he wanted to speak in support of the construction of the underground garage. The owner of Renaissance clothing store described their recent move from the corner of William and Main to Division Street and characterized the store as a “retail pioneer” in the newest chapter of development downtown. “We are the first light in a formerly dark corridor,” he said. He said that the new building at 411 Washington, with a plaza-like setback, shops, residences and offices, would open in May.
The pressroom of the Ann Arbor News building, he said, was of great interest to many developers. [Press operations moved out of the building in 2001, to a location on State Street south of Ellsworth.] He described the corner as “formerly blighted,” but said it was now coming to life. He described downtown as separated, with Main Street to the west and State Street to the east. The center, he said, is just beginning to take shape.
The center, he said, would be the heart of the downtown-UM economic engine. He described the surface parking lots in downtown as “scars” that could be filled with residences, shops, and offices. The times of adversity, he said, are times of opportunities. He said that it’s brilliant to undertake the project now, when building material costs are lower than they have been in months. He concluded by urging council to vote for completion of the project.
Janice Glander: Glander said she lived next to the location of the proposed underground garage, but was not opposed to it. Building the parking underground, she said, is a great idea. She expressed concern about the future plans for what goes on top of the parking structure. If you put in a foundation that could support a 15-story building, she said, she was concerned that this amounted to a decision that that’s what’s going to go there. She described how she left her Old West Side home to live downtown, giving up her backyard, because she wanted to leave a smaller footprint. But, she said, “We all need a little bit of green space.” She said that she understood that it wasn’t feasible to make the whole area a park, but felt like it was important not to dismiss the idea of something greener in the space for recreation and leisure activities. She said that to date, she felt like the interest in something green had been met by shutting off that feedback by saying simply: “It’s not going to be a park.”
Bill Sizer: Sizer works with Renaissance clothing store as the general manager. He built on Thomson’s earlier comments, saying that the additional spaces would bring more people downtown to help support the retail base that’s here. He focused on the streetscape improvements to Fifth and Division streets, to be undertaken in concert with the underground parking garage, but as separate projects. They would, he said, help pedestrian foot traffic along those streets so that they might be more viable for retail.
As a example of that kind of strategy that works, he gave the bump-out on Main and William [just down from the previous location of Renaissance]. That bump-out, he said, had already had an impact, because people had begun parking down by the DTE building and walking into downtown, whereas previously there was no pedestrian activity. He said that as walked across Division on the way to the meeting is was fairly dark and bleak and difficult to cross and he looked forward to the improvements, which would slow the traffic down.
Rich Bellas: The proprietor of Van Boven Shoes in Nickels Arcade drew one of the better laughs of the evening, when there was hesitation approaching the podium. [At public hearings people manage the line to the podium on a self-regulated basis, because they are not required to sign in beforehand.] Bellas explained the glitch by saying, “I bought my tickets from the scalper.” He said that Ann Arbor did not have a parking problem: the problem would be if nobody parked in the spaces. But now, he said, the system is at capacity. The structures are full every day, he said.
He related the anecdote of a woman who came down to shop at his store during the holidays. She circled the block, the Maynard structure was full, but she found a spot at the Fourth and William structure. The elevators weren’t working, and she took the stairs, pausing to rest on the landings between floors due to her heart condition. A concerned Ann Arborite called an ambulance for her, which she did not want. She got back into her car and left. So she called Van Boven and said she was never coming back downtown. Bellas allowed that the anecdote was extreme, but not rare. He said once every week or two, someone would call him saying they couldn’t find a spot and wouldn’t be coming down that day. He said that he couldn’t afford to have one customer say that, let alone several. “We need the structure yesterday,” he concluded.
Bob Livingston: Livingston said that he was usually equipped to speak for more like 20 minutes – Livingston is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor. He was there, he said, to speak for the construction of the parking structure, saying that his church, as well as other religious organizations, depends on the city to provide parking. It’s a way, he said, to keep the community vital.
Bob Dascola; Dascola, who owns a State Street barber shop, said that for 40 years he’s asked his customers, “How was parking today?” He then ticked off a list of responses.
- I had to circle the block three times before I found one.
- I had to drive up on top of the Maynard Structure to find one.
- I used to park at the Liberty Square garage, but now it’s all monthly parking.
- I parked at the U’s structure behind the State Theater.
- I parked at the library lot and walked up.
- My wife dropped me off and is circling the block while I’m here.
- I rode my bike.
- I took the bus.
- I got a parking ticket and I’m really angry about that, I’m never coming back downtown again.
- A cell phone call: I couldn’t find parking today, so I’ll try again another day.
This is a real problem, said Dascola. He attributed part of the problem to so many college students parking downtown and the construction workers who are building North Quad [at the corner of State and Huron]. Because Liberty Square is monthly permit parking during the day, the burden falls to the Maynard Street stucture, which is usually full by mid-afternoon if not sooner. We need more parking, he concluded.
Tim Seaver: The owner of Tios Mexican Cafe, whose lease on his building expires in June of this year and will not be renewed by the city of Ann Arbor because the city would like to use the property for 16 above-ground parking spaces, delivered a single line at the podium: “I just want to let you know: I firmly support underground parking.”
Ray Detter: Detter, speaking on behalf of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, said that the DACAC had been a strong supporter of a new structure for 17 years. The DDA, said Detter, has made alternative transportation a goal, but recognizes that it’s part of a transportation plan. The underground garage is part of that plan. Detter said that the garage’s central location can support both Main Street and State Street. He said they supported the version of the garage with 777 spaces and would want even more.
Tom Partridge: Partridge called on council and the public to think twice or three times before urging council to approve the site plan and the concept. The underground garage, he said, doesn’t correlate with environmentalism, but runs counter to the best concepts in environmentalism. People should park on the perimeter and use public transportation into the downtown, he said. It’s a plan, he concluded, for people who are after profits.
Steve Bean: Bean asked council to postpone the decision, saying that there were many nuances and data on system use and hourly users that need to be examined more closely. He said he understood the concerns of business owners, but wondered about the claim that the garage would support the State Street area. “How do we know that?” he asked. Bean said that the underground garage had been considered from an economic standpoint, but not from the standpoint of the environment or social equity.
Joan Lowenstein: The former councilmember (until November 2008) drew a laugh by announcing that she was there as a private citizen. She said that she was, of course, there also as a member of DDA board, on which she continues to serve. She said she wanted to clear up some misconceptions about the data and the public discussion. She pointed to the Nelson\Nygaard study as an extensive collection of data, and noted there had been extensive public input. So the question, she said, is not whether the underground parking garage should be built, but rather about the site plan and the financing.
Council weighed all those options, she said. It was city council that directed the DDA to design the structure and to figure out a way to finance it. She noted that the Nelson\Nygaard study recommended not just picking one approach. And Ann Arbor was not picking just one approach – the city was using transit, remote parking, price increases, valet parking, bicycle-pedestrian improvements, and multi-space meters.
She cautioned against getting too parochial, thinking that because it’s possible for near-downtown residents to walk or bicycle into downtown, it’s possible for everyone. She noted that a huge percentage of downtown visitors come from all over our region. And those people, she said, are not just going to walk.
Newcombe Clark: Clark said that he was speaking as the president of the Main Street Area Association, board member of the Michigan Theater, UM Museum of Art campaign and the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, and represented the position of all of those organizations. He said he represented 25 buildings, comprising around 450,000 square feet, or 35% of the real estate currently available for lease in downtown. He said that the only reason that people do not locate their businesses downtown is the reality or perception that there is not enough parking.
To illustrate, he told council about Xoran Technologies, often pointed to as a parade example of a successful tech transfer from the University of Michigan, located downtown at First and Miller. They are moving to Pittsfield Township, he said, because they could not get 20 parking spots, even though they were willing to pay for them. He said that despite the best efforts of councilmember Leigh Greden, he was not able to secure 20 parking spots for Xoran. The only reason, Clark said, that they went to Pittsfield was that Ann Arbor could not provide 20 parking spots, which they were willing to pay double for. “How many more companies will we lose?” asked Clark.
Fifth Avenue Underground Parking Garage: Council Deliberations
Councilmember Carsten Hohnke said that he was supportive of the parking structure, describing it as a need to balance investments. He noted that the city’s transportation plan calls for this balanced approached and he referenced Joan Lowenstein’s comments from the public hearing on the topic. Automobiles, he said, are currently a part of the reality: people drive into Ann Arbor from outlying areas. He said that the goal was to move forward in the future to where those people have more options (like transit). The reality that currently exists, though, includes automobiles. Based on the both the 2007 Nelson\Nygaard study and the anecdotal data, it’s clear that the parking system is at capacity and that we need to increase it, he said. Now was the time to undertake the project, he said, and echoed the earlier comments of Roger Pothus, who said that prices for construction materials were currently lower than they had been or would be.
On the flip side, said Hohnke, there’s only so much we can do with the resources we have. He called on Tom Crawford, chief financial officer for the city of Ann Arbor, to give his assessment of the Downtown Development Authority’s financial condition.
Crawford reported that on looking at the DDA’s financial picture, he noticed that they don’t have a minimum reserve policy. He said he generally used 15-20% as a minimum reserve. In light of the need to maintain adequate reserves, he said that in his view the project is “not affordable with the plans they have.”
The proposed structure would occupy area under Fifth Avenue. But Hohnke expressed concern that the cost of an extension along Fifth Avenue southward past the southern edge of the library lot all the way to William Street (part of the current plans) didn’t offer commensurate value for the investment. He was concerned that the cost would constrain the DDA in making other needed investments. He said that while there’s no doubt more space is required, he thought that the roughly 770 spaces to be built exceeded what’s required.
Hohnke then proposed an amendment that would slightly reduce the scope of the project, by whittling around 100 spaces off the total through eliminating the Fifth Avenue extension all the way to William Street. Even the reduced number of spaces would represent roughly a 10% increase in the 5,000 spaces currently in the city’s off-street parking inventory, Hohnke said.
Queried by Mayor John Hieftje, Hohnke said that cost savings of removing the 100 spaces would be around $6 million.
Councilmember Greden declared his support for the amendment. He said that when the idea was first discussed a year and a half ago, his concerns were about building a garage that was too large. He was concerned especially because he felt that the benefit of the extension – enhancing the viability of the Fifth and William lot known commonly as the old YMCA lot – was too speculative. The reduced project, Greden said, will accomplish what they need, and recognizes the financial situation.
Councilmember Sabra Briere announced that she had a lot of questions for Tom Crawford and Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA. Pollay was up first.
Q: How will the timing between the Fifth and Division streetscape improvements (already approved by council) be affected by the proposed underground parking structure?
Pollay agreed with Briere’s assessment that the projects were very entwined. She said it was fortunate that members of the parking structure design team, Beckett & Raeder, were doing the design for the Fifth and Division improvements.
Pollay said that in the summer they would begin some utility work on Fifth Avenue for the parking structure. Pollay stressed that the project is not just about parking spaces, it’s about up-sizing other capacity as well. For example, on Fifth Avenue there is a 4-inch water main that will be taken out and replaced with a 12-inch water main. That work would be coordinated with Art Fairs and well as with a resurfacing project on Liberty Street during the summer. At the same time, Division Street work would be started. They anticipated going out to bid, she said, around the same time as for the underground parking garage. So the streetscape improvements would start on Division first, in order to allow the parking structure work to start on Fifth. Over the next year or so, a big hole would get dug at Fifth Avenue and after that the streetscape improvements on Fifth could begin there. Pollay said there would be coordination by the same design team of Beckett & Raeder.
Q: How many net spaces would be gained via the Fifth and Division streetscape improvements, excluding the parking structure?
Pollay said there would be an additional 100 on-street parking spaces created, about half in the core downtown, half in residential areas.
Urged by Hieftje to focus on the amendment to the main resolution, Briere complied.
Q: How would the amendment to reduce the scope of the parking garage affect the streetscape redesign?
Pollay said that as far as she was aware it would not affect the cost. Asked to elaborate on how the streetscape improvements were to be funded, she said that they would be using the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund to pay for it. The TIF fund generates about $3.5 million a year, she said, with about $1 million going to debt service, another $.5 million going to the city of Ann Arbor for the police-courts facility, but the lion’s share given over to projects like the Fifth and Division project. Pollay said there was also a state grant worth upwards of $1 million.
Q: What’s the oldest parking structure in the city?
The Maynard Street structure, Pollay thought, was the oldest, after First and Washington, which having been demolished, exists temporarily now as just its bottom floor as a surface parking lot. Maynard Street had been built in the early ’50s and shortly after that the Fourth and William structure was built.
Q: What’s the anticipated mix in the new underground parking structure between permit and hourly parking?
That had not been determined, Pollay said. She noted that demand from the campus area was only going to continue to grow. She said that probably at least a couple hundred of the permits that exist at the Maynard Street structure now would be moved one block to the west – to the new structure. That would allow more customer spaces in the Maynard structure. She estimated that the top two layers of the new underground garage would be dedicated to hourly parking.
Q: Are you able to track the difference between residential permits and work permits?
Pollay said they didn’t see as many people who live downtown move their cars in the morning – either because they both live and work downtown, or are retired, or are students. So there are a lot of downtown residents who don’t move their cars. Pollay said there are $30 overnight permits, which are severely discounted, to provide an incentive for people to move their cars.
Briere continued her questions with Crawford.
Q: Would the DDA be able to build the underground parking garage and make bond payments if they didn’t raise parking fees?
Crawford didn’t mince words: “No.”
Q: Is the plan before us – even cut down by $6 million – within reach of currently available funding?
Even with the reduced size, said Crawford, it’s still really unaffordable, but it’s within reach for the DDA to explore other options. Asked by Briere as a followup to that, if the DDA would need to raise parking rates even further, replied Crawford: “That would be up to the DDA.”
So councilmember Sandi Smith asked Roger Hewitt, chair of the DDA board’s operations committee, who she described as the “parking manager in a sense,” to answer some questions. She asked Hewitt to describe how parking usage had increased over time and to describe the parking permit waiting list.
Hewitt said that about two years ago, the DDA started to notice that the same-month comparison from year to year showed an increase in hourly patrons and in revenues to the parking system. There have been around 5% increases for about two and a half years, he said. The result of the Nelson\Nygaard study, Hewitt said, was that 84% of the daytime capacity was being used, and that the relevant benchmark for “full” was 85%. The 85% benchmark correlates to the point at which people perceive the system as full and will stop coming downtown.
Daytime average use in the six parking structures, Hewitt said, is 90% at peak times – which is over the 85% threshold at which people perceive it as a full system. At the Maynard Street structure on event nights at 8 p.m. the occupancy is 98%, Hewitt reported. We’re clearly at a point where if we don’t expand the system as soon as we can, Hewitt warned, we’re not going to be able to have growth in the downtown.
The waiting list, Hewitt said, depends on how you count it, but there are approximately 1,000 people who are on the waiting list for parking permits. The belief, said Hewitt is that many of them are already parking in the system somewhere, or in the neighborhoods nearby. In any case, though, there’s a pent-up demand for people to get parking permits, he said.
Asked how many parking spaces had been added to the system in the last decade, Hewitt said there had been no substantial net addition to the number of spaces, while 2.5 million square feet of building space had been added. The last parking structures to be built, he said, were the Ann Ashley and Liberty Square structures in the mid-’80s.
Based on Hewitt’s remarks, Smith said she was reluctant to see the parking structure any smaller than it was originally planned with 777 spaces. They have a chance to build the last structure in the system, and they might not ever have to built another one, she said. She said she would support the amendment for reduced scale, because it’s important to get it underway. She stressed that it’s designed to be added on to, and it would still be possible in the future to extend all the way down Fifth Avenue to the old YMCA lot.
Councilmember Margie Teall wanted to know if the revised plan would change the speed ramp. Answer: no.
Councilmember Marcia Higgins was curious to know what the impact would be on the utilities improvements if the underground garage did not extend along Fifth Avenue all the way to William. Pollay explained that the new 12-inch water main would lead from Liberty Street. She added that water main improvements would also be undertaken under Division Street in connection with the streetscape improvements. The additional capacity, Pollay said, is intended to feed the entire district. As for the Fifth Avenue extension, the new water main would stop where the deck stops. The old YMCA lot, said Pollay, would be fed from the east-west line on William Street.
Responding to a query from Higgins, Pollay said that there is not a finalized plan for the percentages of permits that might be moved from Maynard to the new underground garage.
Responding to Smith’s concerns that the options to expand be retained, Hohnke provided the clarification that the amendment approves the entire site plan, but provides guidance to limit construction.
Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo identified the flexibility described by Hohnke as the aspect “that has sold it for me.” Ideally, if you’re going to dig a big hole, you dig it all at once, he said. And if the opportunity arises to go ahead, he said, they can do that.
Hieftje said he had a great deal of confidence in the DDA’s financial forecasting, because in the past it had been conservative. But he would still support the amendment reducing the scale of the project somewhat, because the structure would still be a very large structure and would add a great deal to the parking system.
Outcome: The amendment was passed unanimously.
Hieftje continued in the deliberations by noting that there has never been a time when the DDA could not handle its financial commitments since it was established.
Hieftje then said he wanted to speak to the issue that they’d heard about from many of the speakers during the public hearing: The city is losing business in the downtown area because there is inadequate parking. He said he hears anecdotal evidence every week from people who talk about the fact that they can’t find a place to park in downtown Ann Arbor. The fact that high tech companies are leaving because the city can’t provide parking, he said, is a scary proposition.
He also said that he wanted to address the issue of why this isn’t approached entirely through alternative transportation efforts. He allowed that it had taken a long time for him to come around to the point of view that they needed the parking structure, because he’d been working hard since the day he was elected on alternative transportation.
He then said he was going to take a moment to highlight some of his efforts. He began by stating that there is no city in the state of Michigan that works as hard as Ann Arbor on alternative transportation and contended that Ann Arbor was one of the top cities in the nation on that issue. Just last year, he said, the city had received an award for being the third best city for walking in the U.S. by the American Podiatric Association and Prevention Magazine. In 2006, Hieftje said, Ann Arbor was identified as one of the top cities in the nation for bicycling by Bicycling Magazine. In 2005, the census showed that Ann Arbor was the 10th best city in the U.S. for the number of people who walked and biked to their destination. No other city in the state of Michigan, Hieftje said, had designated 5% of their Act 51 transportation monies to non-motorized transportation. The getDowntown program, Hieftje said, had won an international award.
Hieftje went on to describe the two proposals to bring commuter rail service to downtown: east-west and north-south. But neither of those services would be available in the immediate future, he said.
The bottom line, he concluded, was that they can’t make people go to work downtown, and they can’t make people shop downtown. He warned that downtown Ann Arbor could not survive based on the number of people who could park there now, plus the number of people who could find their way there by bus, bike or on foot. He characterized the current situation as a watershed moment: to build the large parking structure that so many people have said the city has needed for so long. He cited Google as a company that was progressive with respect to encouraging employees not to drive to work, but noted that they would not have located in downtown Ann Arbor if they had not been provided with guaranteed parking.
Councilmember Mike Anglin began by saying that they have the chance now to something bold. But he lamented the fact that they were going to do something that has been done over and over and over again. He said it’s probably possible to walk from one side of town to the other using parking lots, yet they are told that the city needs more parking. He said that what they’d heard from public speakers was that people park during the day downtown, but that after 6 p.m., the town empties out. He said that people who work downtown from 9-5 and don’t move their cars should leave their cars out of downtown. Anglin suggested that the city move those people into downtown the way they do during Art Fair, which is to have them park on the perimeter and bus them in.
Anglin said he was not against downtown businesses, noting that he owns a business himself. He reported that people who stay at his bed and breakfast don’t have a problem parking when they drive downtown in the evening. He noted that the city is getting 100 more parking spots on Division and Fifth, which are spaces on the street, and pointed to the new Ann Street spaces north of the Larcom lot that were added as a result of making it one-way. He suggested that this be done throughout the whole city, saying that it was a resource they had not even tapped yet.
Citing the part of the Nelson\Nygaard report that recommended using all available alternatives, Anglin said the alternative they’d used for 50 years – parking cars – was not novel. There was no plan for services, like a supermarket, he said. “I’m very disappointed,” he said, adding, “You’re making long-term plans on sand.” If you have a downtown business, he said, people will come to it, if it’s a good business.
The city could build forever and never accommodate all the people who want to park in this town, he said. “We’re a green town? It’s shameful.” He said he was not on council when the studies were approved, and that he would not be supporting it.
Hohnke [who was also not on council when the Nelson\Nygaard study was commissioned and the directive given by council to the DDA to design a parking structure] responded to Anglin’s point about being on council at the time. When we look at the Nelson\Nygaard study that we invested in as a community, Hohnke said, it talks about a multi-modal approach. A fair look at what’s been accomplished would show that alternative transport is being pursued and that the city’s parking system is at capacity, he said. Hohnke said in the future he hoped they could talk about which parking structure to take down.
As for what is going to be built on top of the structure, Hohnke stressed that no decision has been made. There would, he said, be a long public conversation about that.
Greden thanked the DDA for their work, noting that he’d been involved since before Day One, helping to write the resolution directing the DDA to go forward and design the parking structure. He said that while they call the space the “library lot,” that’s just because it’s easier to say. The discussion about parking had been independent of the possible construction of a new library facility, and it had nothing to do with a conference center, he stated. Greden reduced the discussion to what he said was a basic fact: small businesses are suffering because of the lack of parking. There’s data, theory, speculation and fantasy versus reality, he continued, but it boiled down to the question: “Do you want to support downtown business or not?”
Alluding to Anglin’s contention that the increased demand for parking was “built on sand,” Greden ticked off some counterexamples. The new North Quad dorm is not sand, 411 Lofts is not sand, Greden said. He cited the example that Newcombe Clark had adduced earlier of a company that is leaving downtown Ann Arbor for Pittsfield on account of a lack of parking.
“If you vote against this garage,” Greden said, “you’re voting against our locally, independently-owned businesses.”
Smith said it would not be a surprise that she supported the structure. In her four and a half years serving on the DDA board, she said, she’d come to appreciate parking even though she walks almost everywhere.
She noted that the TIF projections have historically been low and was hopeful that there would be sufficient funds to build the more ambitious version of the structure. She lamented the fact that they had not seen “any of the pretty pictures” of the structure’s design.
She said there needed to be a dialogue started about what goes on top of the structure, noting that there’s no additional cost to build for options that could go on top. Alluding to Anglin’s suggestion that streets be considered a resource where parking could be added, she said that Fifth and Division are the only streets wide enough to be augmented with additional parking.
In thinking about the future she said that people will definitely be driving vehicles, even if they were not gasoline-powered.
Councilmember Tony Derezinski introduced the perspective of people who live in different areas of Ann Arbor, including those who live miles away, because we have “miles away” in Ann Arbor. They drive into the downtown, he said. As you walk downtown Main Street, he said, you can see people lurking for parking spots.
Councilmember Margie Teall took on Anglin’s contention that what’s being proposed is not novel, saying, “This is not business as usual in terms of parking structures.” After an early 2000s trip made by many councilmembers and other community leaders to Boulder, they’d concluded, “We’ve got to start putting parking underground.”
Briere said she was disappointed that they weren’t pursuing the bold plan. She said they should dig the biggest, deepest hole and put the cars in it. The reduced plan wouldn’t save that much money, she said. She said that they’ve made a commitment to density as a council, and that’s a commitment coupled with the statement that they don’t require developers to provide parking, so parking is the council’s responsibility. She said that they have a commitment to the downtown merchants. She said she’d love to see the big hole allow them to tear down some above-ground structures in the future instead of shoring them up. She concluded: “I’d like to see us put our money where our mouth is and dig this big hole.”
Rapundalo cited his experience working in an office that backed up to the library lot as confirming much of the anecdotal evidence that council had heard. There was no doubt in his mind, said Rapundalo, that there’s consumer demand and small business owner demand. The example of Xoran, which was moving from downtown, was “incomprehensible.” It was particularly regrettable, he said, because Xoran is a company in the only sector that’s growing in the state: the biomedical technology sector.
Hieftje finished off deliberations by allowing that he’d spoken too long previously about all the efforts made in the area of alternative transportation. You can’t make everybody jump on a bus or a bike, he said. He said he thought they’d passed peak oil, but felt that people will still drive some kind of vehicle, though they might be electric-powered. He noted that the construction would provide jobs. He said that he got his inspiration from European cities, where the train station crammed with bicycles and parking for cars is underground.
Outcome: The site plan was approved with only Anglin dissenting. Notification of intent to issue up to $55 million in bonds was also approved, with Anglin dissenting.
Tios Mexican Cafe
Background: In July 2008, the city of Ann Arbor purchased the building at 333 E. Huron, where Tios Mexican Cafe is housed, for $605,000. The building sits on the same block as the Larcom Building (city hall). The lease to Tios expires this summer.
Harriet Seaver: Seaver, who with her husband Tim owns Tios, began by introducing some restaurant business rules of thumb. To estimate the monthly rent you can afford, you double the daily sales average: If you do $1,000 a day in business, you can pay $2,000 a month in rent. On the landlord side, she said, you should be able to get 1% of the gross cost of the property as monthly rent: A property costing $600,000 should rent for $6,000 a month. Based on her 23 years in business at Tios at that location, she said, the most rent you could pay would be $3,000-3,500 a month. Why, she wondered, would the city pay $600,000 for the building?
Tios is a viable business, Seaver said, in contrast to six other local restaurants she could name, which are closed, closing, or are for sale, and four more fitting that description that she could not name, citing non-disclosure agreements. Because Tios employs 19 people (not counting the Seaver family), 13 of them full time, the city of Ann Arbor, said Seaver, had plans that would intentionally un-employ 19 people. “What intelligent city does something like this intentionally to its citizens?” she asked.
“City council has decided to destroy Tim Seaver and his family and the extended Tios family,” she said. “The Seaver’s family will be destitute. We will lose our house, which is the home that is pledged against a debt that the restaurant will no longer be able to pay.” Seavers explained that there was $30,000 in debt associated with the closing, that the city has refused to pay what the Seavers cannot pay. She characterized the situation as another home foreclosure that could have been avoided. She said that the 23-year-old business was going to be their retirement, which is being traded for 16 parking spaces. The reason for this decision, she suggested, could be found by “following the money.”
Tim Seaver: Tim took his turn at the podium continuing the theme his wife had begun. He said that property owners are being enriched outrageously by the city and called for investigation of the possible connection between the people who made the sale at the city and the property owners. If they were not guilty of malfeasance, he said, then they are guilty of poor business judgement. Publicly, Seaver said, the city has said they were trying to help the Seavers make “as soft a landing as possible,” but the reality is that the efforts amounted to suggesting that they call state agencies to ask for advice.
Seaver then offered an analysis of the economic impact of the decision. The combination of taxes ($35,000), wages ($274,000), charitable donations ($24,000), payments to local tradespeople ($42,000), advertising ($9,800) meant a total of $384,800 in economic activity generated by Tios each year.
Analyzing that lost benefit as part of the cost of the 16 parking spaces to be created, Seaver gave the following analysis of the total cost over a ten-year period: lost economic activity ($3,848,000), bond ($600,000), interest ($300,000). That meant, he said, a total cost over ten years of $4,748,000.
Jeremy Seaver, son of Tim and Harriet, was signed up to speak during public comment time, but waved off his turn, saying they had said everything that needed to be said.
5th Anniversary of Dicken Woods
Jack Eaton, representing the Friends of Dicken Woods, reported on the status of the property of Dicken Woods, which city council voted to allow the Friends to purchase in October of 2003. He said that the group had reached out to collaborate with the broader community. Highlights included the participation of 315 people for the recent 5th annual mid-winter candlelight walk, and the chipping of trails by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Eaton reported that the commitment the group had made made five years ago continues to be fulfilled. “It’s become a valuable asset in the neighborhood,” Eaton said.
Public Art: Dreiseitl Project
A resolution to approve the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (AAPAC) professional services agreement with Herbert Dreiseitl for design work in the amount of $72,000 was stricken from the agenda. The project would integrate stormwater in a rain garden waterscape sculpture for the police-courts building.
Although Margaret Parker, who chairs AAPAC, had signed up to speak during public commentary reserved time, she did not appear.
Communications: R4C and Dogs
Notable communications included one from Derezinski, who is city council’s representative to planning commission. He said that he’d be introducing a resolution at the next council meeting directing planning commission and planning staff to look at R4C zoning in light of the central area plan. This, as a result of some Planned Unit Developments that have recently been floated instead of conforming to R4C.
Mayor Hieftje reported that a bicyclist riding through West Park had been chased down by two off-leash dogs, crashed, and was laid up for a few days. “We cannot have our citizens attacked by dogs when they ride their bicyles through parks,” he declared. He related another off-leash incident in Bird Hills where someone walking a small dog was attacked by a larger animal and required a vet’s care. There had been long history of issuing warnings, but recent events will lead police officers to write citations, Hieftje said.
Present: Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje
Next Council Meeting: Monday, March 2, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]