At planning commission’s working session on Tuesday night, held in the 6th floor conference room of the Larcom Building, representatives of the University of Michigan described a request for permanent closure of Monroe Street, between Oakland and State streets. Previously, The Chronicle covered the proposed Monroe Street closure as part of UM’s early December 2008 meeting with neighbors, which is now required under the city of Ann Arbor’s citizen participation ordinance.
Sue Gott, university planner, and Jim Kosteva, director of community relations, made the presentation to the commission’s working session for the permanent street closure, which would not come before the commission as a formal request until April 21 at the soonest, according to Connie Pulcipher, senior planner with the city of Ann Arbor, who attended the working session.
The presentation by Kosteva and Gott covered the history of central campus in the context of previous street vacations, as well as what the proposal meant for the future of the campus. Kosteva ticked through some permanent street closures that had been granted by the city of Ann Arbor – East University Street and Ingalls Mall in the 1970s, as well as a section of Monroe Street further to the east in the early 1980s. He highlighted Ingalls Mall as a successful public space which was open to the city community, noting that it is now the venue of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. The Monroe Street vacation, he said, would be a continuation of this successful tradition.
Gott began by saying that in connection with its Museum of Art expansion, UM had done a thorough corridor study for State Street. The impact on traffic, she said, would be minor. She described State Street as having evolved to become an important “spine” for the campus, with connecting gateways in the form of North Quad (at State and Huron) and Weill Hall (State and Hill). Professional schools like the business school and the law school, she continued, benefited especially from the existence of a cohesive space. The Monroe Street conversion to an integral part of UM campus would, said Gott, help “glue our campus together.”
Gott said that the new law school building, planned for the south side of Monroe Street, was being designed consciously with uses that would integrate with activity in other buildings and promote the movement of people between buildings. The new building, she continued, was not envisioned to be a separate module within the law school campus.
In discussion with planning commissioners, Jean Carlberg pointed out that the loss of 22 on-street parking spaces was of particular concern, especially given the proximity of those spaces to Dominick’s, which she described as not just a neighborhood establishment, but a city-wide institution. She pointed out that Dominick’s had a proposal in the works to expand. [By way of background on parking spaces, at the DDA's last board meeting, a resolution was passed asking city council to consider a formal policy attaching a dollar amount of $45,000 to the removal of any on-street parking space.]
Dave DeVarti, whose brother owns Dominick’s, attended the planning commission’s working session and was asked at the end of the meeting by planning commissioners what he thought the impact of the street closure on Dominick’s would be. While he said that the impact would be negative, that was not the reason he was there to speak.
Just prior to being queried about the impact on Dominick’s business, DeVarti had laid out the case he’d also made at the previous neighborhood meeting based on planning considerations. He said that while Gott had emphasized the integration and the cohesiveness of the campus itself, what is special, strong, and worth noting about the UM campus – as contrasted with the MSU campus – was its integration and coherence with respect to the rest of the community. It’s the dynamic interplay between UM and the community, both physically and geographically, that is worth highlighting, said DeVarti.
In other discussion among commissioners, the loss of parking spaces seemed to be of greatest concern. Commissioner Eric Mahler suggested to Kosteva and Gott that they needed to think of their audience when they bring the matter formally before the planning commission: the citizens who are going to “raise a ruckus” about the loss of on-street parking. Commissioner Eppie Potts said that she likes to park along Monroe when she goes to Dominick’s, although she allowed that she did not go there often.
Potts also raised the issue of the impact of the closure on traffic, given the grid pattern of the streets in the area. She said that the reason the grid worked was that if one street was temporarily unavailable, a driver could choose a different street. So the impact of closing off a street permanently was that the street became unavailable as a choice.
Tony Derezinski, who is city council’s representative to planning commission, asked whether alternatives like the existing tunnels (with which he was familiar as a UM Law School alum) or arches over the street had been explored. Gott said that the idea of the street closure had less to do with the convenience factor of being able to cross the street than with creating the coherent and cohesive sense of space for the campus.
Kosteva pointed out that the dean of the law school was very much involved with the project, which was not yet formally approved or fully funded, and that it was an important factor in possible fundraising with UM alums. [Editorial note: A missed opportunity by The Chronicle to ask Derezinski: Would you be more or less inclined to donate money if the project included the vacated street?]
A final note about parking. A brief discussion evolved of the overall role of parking spaces in transportation demand management, which Kosteva said was an issue at UM as well as with the city of Ann Arbor. He highlighted the already-implemented efforts at reducing demand (e.g., vanpooling, the M-Card program) as well as UM support for longer range projects (e.g., east-west and north-south commuter rail). A fact he said he’d be happy to have people quote was that more than 40% of UM staff arrive at work in something other than a single-occupancy vehicle.