Postponed: A2D2, City Place, Moratorium

Derezinski: "A moratorium is the nuclear option"

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (July 20, 2009): Postponements of decisions on A2D2 zoning, the City Place “matter of right” site plan, and a proposed moratorium on development in R4C and R2A zoning districts meant that the most controversial items on council’s agenda were delayed.


Lyric sheet to a song sung by Libby Hunter at the public hearing on the City Place site plan. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Even an apparently mundane proposal from Leigh Greden (Ward 3) to allow for an additional exception to parking on front lawns was not acted on by council. In that case, they referred it to the planning commission.

However, the council did accomplish a substitution of taxable Build America Bonds for the tax-free general obligation bonds already authorized for the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, plus a site plan approval for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s park-and-ride lot at Plymouth Road and US-23.

And finally, Mayor John Hieftje gave an interpretation of council public hearing speaking rules that precludes audience members from joining in a group chorus when a speaker at the podium is singing: To the strains of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah, Density is coming to ya,” Hieftje warned he might “clear the room.”

The meeting was also notable for the closed session conducted in the course of the meeting to discuss attorney-client privileged information – it lasted over an hour, but provided a chance for attendees to mingle.

We begin this report in a somewhat unconventional spot: the Communications from Council. They were noteworthy, because the first communication – from Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) – put that section of the meeting to one of its potentially more important uses: notification of council and the public of upcoming openings on boards and commissions.

Communications from Council

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) alerted his colleagues and the public to the fact that there were two slots that were expiring on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission (GAC). One of the open GAC positions is specified to be the representative of an environmental group, while the other is to be filled with a plant biologist or animal biologist. He encouraged those with an interest to step forward and apply.

He also alerted the public that the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) was in the process of revising its bylaws, which would lead to an expansion of that body to include a wider range of transportation users. There would, therefore, potentially be additional seats on WATS.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) reminded the residents of Ward 4 that their Area Height and Placement community meeting would take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 23 at Cobblestone Farm.

Higgins also addressed a concern about scheduling a status report on the Stadium bridge replacement. She wanted to explore the possibility that a status report could be combined with an early August meeting about the concept and design process. City administrator Roger Fraser had expressed his preference to combine that update on the bridge’s status with the design work at the council’s Aug. 17 meeting.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) alerted the public to a meeting on Wednesday, July 22 from 6-7 p.m. at Slauson Middle School on the subject of a pedestrian refuge island at the intersection of Seventh & Washington streets. He thanked his Ward 5 colleague Carsten Hohnke for bringing it forward. He said there would be a series of ordinance changes undertaken to help alter the perception that in Ann Arbor, cars ruled. When a pedestrian is in the crosswalk, Anglin said, cars should stop.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) alerted his colleagues to two different infrastructure projects, one that had just been completed and the other which was just beginning. He commended city staff for the completion of the Nixon/Huron roundabout. He noted that many initial naysayers were now champions of the design. Rapundalo reported that the East Washtenaw/Huron Parkway project had begun that night and would continue for a number of months.

A2D2 Rezoning Package

A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) is a multi-year process to improve zoning, urban design, transportation and development in the downtown area. Several people spoke during public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, addressing the A2D2 item on the agenda.

John Etter: Etter said that he was there once again about the reconsideration of the proposed zoning of East Huron Street from D1 to D2. Etter supports the zoning of the area as D2 (a buffer zone between commercial and residential neighborhoods), not D1 as currently specified. He cited a letter written from the Michigan Department of Transportation opposed to the rezoning of the area as D1. In response to criticism that the author of the letter lacked experience, Etter cited the author’s 18 years of experience in the Michigan Department of Transportation as head of the Kalamazoo County office, plus five years of experience with the Indiana Department of Transportation. How can anyone defend your argument as reasonable, he asked?

Lazar Greenfield: Greenfield commended the council for their decision to review the downtown zoning. He noted that the Calthorpe study recommended enhancing pedestrian scale, whereas a D1 designation for East Huron violated that recommendation. He noted that the University of Michigan North Quad construction, together with the Children’s Hospital expansion, had not been factored into the D1 rezoning. He said that he supported further development, but only that which did not threaten Ann Arbor’s quality of life.

Hugh Sonk: Sonk introduced himself as the president of the Sloan Plaza Condominium Association. He cited various specific points of the 2005 Calthorpe study that he said argued against a D1 zoning for East Huron Street. Among them was on page 13, where it is noted that the non-pedestrian scale of Huron Street is described as a “negative.” Page 20, he said, recommends buildings that are somewhere between three and 10 stories tall for East Huron Street. A D1 zoning, he pointed out, would allow buildings much taller than that. He then went on to suggest the formation of a political action committee based on the 465,000 alumni from the University of Michigan that would be dedicated to the protection of quality of life in Ann Arbor. That suggestion drew applause from the audience.

Council Deliberations

Work on the  A2D2 zoning package, which includes a comprehensive rezoning of downtown Ann Arbor, can be traced back at least to 2005. In council’s deliberations on Monday, it was Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), the council’s representative to the A2D2 oversight committee, who suggested the postponement. The rationale was based on the fact that work on design guidelines would commence in earnest at a Sept. 14 work session and that it was essentially an opportunity to bring the two processes – zoning and design guidelines – into closer chronological alignment. In addition, it will give councilmembers more time to consider adjustments to building height and mass specifications suggested by the DDA board.

Outcome: A2D2 was postponed to the council’s Sept. 8 meeting.

Moratorium on Development in R4C/R2A Zoning Districts

Several people spoke during public comment about a proposed moratorium on building in districts zoned for multi-family residential dwellings (R4C) and two-family dwellings (R2A).

Mozhagn Savabieasfahani: She noted that she had been coming to city council meetings for many years asking for a boycott of Israel. She suggested that if Ann Arbor wanted to decide for itself how our city looks, that we could take a lesson from the democratic movement in Iran by simply stating, “This is how we want our city to look!” Referring to the City Place project on that night’s agenda, she described the removal of seven homes as “despicable.” It’s shameful, she said, to demolish part of our history. She encouraged the council to place a moratorium – also an item on the council’s agenda – on demolition. She then transitioned to talk about what she described as another demolition site – Palestine. She reflected on 25 years of Ann Arbor activism against the continued financing of Israel by the United States. She described Israel as the second biggest warmonger in the Middle East, behind United States. She warned that Israel was now planning to bomb her own country, Iran.

Vivienne Armentrout: Armentrout began by noting that the previous speaker, Hugh Sonk, who had suggested a political action committee based on University of Michigan alumni, would be “a hard act to follow.” Armentrout stated that she was there that evening to support a moratorium on development in R4C and R2A districts. She said that to her, it represented a rational planning process: to ensure that a zoning category fits the master plan. With regard to that fit, she said everyone acknowledges that there are currently deficiencies. She described the 180 days of the proposed moratorium as a relatively short period. The tension between the Central Area Plan on the one hand and “matter of right” development on the other could be solved, she continued, by leaving the R4C/R2A study committee to do its work. She noted that the proposed moratorium had a built-in appeals process, and that the city council could repeal it at any time. Although the moratorium had come up in connection with the City Place project, Armentrout pointed out that the council was now contemplating a postponement of City Place that evening, so there was no longer a connection to a particular project. She concluded by encouraging the council to see the moratorium has an example of good government and good planning, not as anti-development.

Hatim Elhady: Elhady began by thanking Vivienne Armentrout for the sentiments she had expressed, and commended councilmember Anglin for bringing forward the notion of a moratorium. “Let’s try not to emulate Southfield,” he joked. He described a moratorium simply as taking “a breather.” He stated that he was not anti-development except when it endangers Ann Arbor’s quality of life. [Elhady is running as an independent for the Ward 4 council seat currently occupied by Marcia Higgins.]

Maureen Sloan: Sloan spoke on behalf of the Homebuilders Association of Washtenaw County. She asked that the proposed moratorium be tabled, citing questions about its legality because it did not address issues of health, safety, or welfare. She then ticked through various service problems with the city’s building department connected to issuance of permits and inspections. It had a negative impact on contractors and homeowners alike, she said. Among complaints that she cited were (i) delayed inspections, (ii) lack of consistency among inspectors, (iii) new items cited on re-inspection, (iv) a lack of mutual respect and (v) poor communication about scheduling appointments.

Beverly Strassmann: Strassmann spoke in favor of the proposed moratorium on R4C zoning, saying that it protected against unplanned development – sprawl. She warned the council that a vote against the moratorium was a vote for sprawl. She noted that while other communities were trying to engineer a sense of charm and history, Ann Arbor already has a sense of charm and history. As an argument for the moratorium, she cited the fact that currently there are no R4C projects before the city. If councilmembers did not support the moratorium, she told them that they would be “declaring war against your own constituents.”

Claudius Vincenz: Vincenz has spoken frequently in public hearings on the City Place project and thus introduced himself by saying “I’m afraid you know me by now!” He stated that his neighborhood was under assault. Because of the tension between the Central Area Plan and the definitions of R4C zoning, he said, it’s time to call a timeout – by applying a moratorium. Among the specific problems that he pointed out with the R4C zoning district was the number of bedrooms allowed – six. The city code did not define exactly what a six-bedroom apartment actually is. The result, he said, could be an apartment complex where 200 people had only 36 parking spots.

Council Deliberations

The basic idea of declaring a moratorium on development in R4C/R2A is to hedge the possibility that there would be a rush to push projects forward in advance of any changes to zoning definitions and districts that might come from the work of a recently created study committee to look at the R4C/R2A districts citywide.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who brought the initiative forward, led off deliberations by addressing, in part, one of the objections raised during public comment by Maureen Sloan, who suggested that public safety and welfare was not at issue. He contended that psychological welfare of the public was at issue. About the council’s fear of a lawsuit in connection with a moratorium, Anglin contended that if the fear of a lawsuit was council’s primary guidance, they would never get any change.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) suggested that the idea of a moratorium warranted very serious consideration. He noted that previously the city had never granted such a moratorium. And in connection with the discussion about the legality of a moratorium, he noted that the historical examples that had been cited were fraught with litigation. He described a moratorium as a “the nuclear option.” Said Derezinski, “You don’t drop the bomb without serious consideration.” He thus proposed a postponement until the council’s Aug. 17 meeting.

Mayor John Hieftje and councilmember Sabra Briere convinced Derezinski to move the postponement to the Aug. 6 meeting, saying that at that time they could extend the postponement to Aug. 17 if necessary.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) suggested that until the council took up the matter again, that they contemplate whether there were other zoning districts that needed to be included in the moratorium as well. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he was in favor of the postponement to Aug. 6, noting that there were 1,300 property owners throughout the city who would be affected by such a moratorium.

Briere, who favors a moratorium, echoed Taylor’s sentiments. She said that although she supported a moratorium, she also had an obligation to represent her ward’s views. “My ward has not been heard on this,” she concluded.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked if the city had any obligation to notify the 1,300 property owners of the impending moratorium. City attorney Stephen Postma indicated that in fact there was no requirement that the property owners be noticed.

Outcome: Consideration of the moratorium on development in R4C/R2A districts was postponed until Aug. 6. The voice vote was unanimous with except for dissent from Anglin.

Coda: During the public commentary open time – at the end of the meeting – Vivienne Armentrout noted something in the proposed language of the moratorium that might have assuaged some of the councilmember’s concerns about homeowners being affected who had possible renovation plans. She  pointed out for councilmembers concerned about property owners – specifically homeowners – that the language of the proposed moratorium explicitly excludes any activity that does not require a site plan.

Plymouth and US-23 Park-and-Ride

Jim Mogensen: Speaking during public comment time, Mogensen suggested to councilmembers that there were two different policy points that can be made on this fairly pro forma approval. The first, he said, was that the pedestrian walkway – an “escape hatch” – and 28 bicycle spots reflected a commitment to the political correctness of having a multi-modal facility, when in fact it was not clear how bicyclists or pedestrians would get to the lot. The other policy point, he said, was that if the AATA reconfigured the bus routes and the new park-and-ride so that it is less easy for people who live here to get around using the bus, then that creates a tension. The tension is based on the fact that it’s the people who live in the urban area who pay for the buses through their millage.

Thomas Partridge: Partridge said that before this particular park-and-ride facility was put forward there should have been a plan for a coordinated city and countywide system for park-and-ride lots. He called for a coordinated countywide regional bus service with attendant para-transit service. This park-and-ride lot, Partridge contended, reflected a piecemeal approach.

Council deliberations

Chris White, director of service development with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, was on hand to explain details of the site plan for the park-and-ride at Plymouth and US-23. The primary motivation, he said, was that the Green Road park-and-ride was now over capacity. It was being paid for with stimulus funds, he said. They anticipated starting construction in the fall, with completion sometime in November and service starting in January 2010.

White underwent close questioning from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who wanted to know if there had been any discussion with the University of Michigan about simply expanding the existing Green Road lot instead of picking an entirely new site. Part of the rationale, said White, had to do with issues concerning barriers to attracting drivers to use a park-and-ride lot. One of those is that drivers tend to prefer not to go much out of their way to get to the park-and-ride lot, White said. The proposed new lot’s location right off of US-23 corresponded to a phase change for drivers coming off of US-23 highway-style driving and going into the city roads. The location was thus ideal for attracting users, he concluded.

Acknowledging Rapundalo’s point that UM now owned all the property adjoining the Green Road lot as a result of Pfizer’s sale of the land to the university, White said that the planning for the park-and-ride lot had taken place before the sale.

Outcome: The site plan was unanimously approved.

City Place Site Plan Approval

The public hearing on City Place – a project proposed  on the east side of South Fifth Avenue just south of William – included many of the same speakers and touched on many of the same themes that have appeared from the start of the meandering path that the project has taken through the city’s planning process in its various forms. Here’s a timeline:

  • Jan. 15, 2008: Conditional rezoning – Ann Arbor Planning Commission recommended denial.
    YES: None. NO: Bonnie Bona, Craig Borum, Jean Carlberg, Ron Emaus, Joan Lowenstein, Eric Mahler, Ethel Potts, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal.
  • May 20, 2008: PUD (planned unit development) – Planning Commission recommended denial.
    YES: Emaus. NO: Bona, Borum, Carlberg, Lowenstein, Mahler, Potts, Westphal. ABSENT: Pratt.
  • Sept. 4, 2008: PUD – Ann Arbor Planning Commission recommended denial.
    YES: Borum, Lowenstein. NO: Bona, Carlberg, Potts, Pratt, Westphal, Woods.
  • Jan. 5, 2009: PUD – City Council denied on a unanimous 0-10 vote. NO: Hieftje, Briere, Derezinski, Rapundalo, Greden, Taylor, Teall, Higgins, Hohnke, Anglin. ABSENT: Smith.
  • April 21, 2009: MOR (matter of right) – Planning Commission recommends approval on 6-3 vote.
    YES: Bona, Carlberg, Derezinski, Mahler, Westphal, Woods. NO: Potts, Borum, Pratt.
  • June 1, 2009: MOR – City Council postponed due to inconsistencies in drawings provided on website.
  • June 15, 2009: MOR – City Council sent it back to Planning Commission due to technical errors with drawings provided at the Planning Commission April meeting.
  • July 7, 2009: MOR – Planning Commission recommended denial on 5-1 vote to approve (needed 6).
  • July 20, 2009: MOR – City Council postpones until January 2010.

The matter-of-right (MOR) project before council on Monday night was a 24-unit project with six bedrooms per unit.

The public hearing was noteworthy for its musical component. Libby Hunter sang a song as her contribution to the public hearing. [This is the second time Hunter has treated council to a singing public commentary.] For the final chorus, sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” several members of the audience joined it.

This provoked Hieftje to threaten to “clear the room.” Before he could follow through, the song ended. [When The Chronicle followed up later, city attorney Stephen Postema clarified that the phrase simply meant that council would have taken a break and allow things to settle down.]

When the song ended, Hieftje stressed that only one person could speak at a time and the rules needed to be followed. At subsequent public speaking turns several speakers addressed Hieftje’s reaction.

Among them was Karen Sidney, who began her remarks with an apparent allusion to the recently FOIA-ed emails among councilmembers during meetings, saying: “Council will get the respect from citizens that they give to citizens.” Glenn Thompson, for his speaking turn, suggested that council needs a sense of humor, saying, “Your iron fist will rust and crumble someday.”

Charles Loucks noted that when people join in singing, there’s chaos – because it breaks the rules. So why, he asked, can we allow developers to break the rules?

Chip Lind, after apologizing for singing – he didn’t know the rules, he said –  referred to the proposed design of the project by saying: “If it looks like a giant square, we become square.”

Also worth noting as somewhat different from previous public hearings was the presentation of a new 3-D model of a hypothetical building by resident Tom Whitaker, who has previously brought a different model to public meetings on City Place. The new model demonstrates the interpretation of roof height that city planning staff uses to determine conformance with the zoning code. Whereas his previous model was constructed so that he could lift off the narrow strip corresponding to the “roof,” the new version is constructed so that he can add something – a piece of “trim” – that results in a “reduction” of the building’s height.

Council Deliberations

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) began deliberations by describing the City Place project as having been a “contentious issue.” He said that one thread running through the history of the project was the possibility that some of the disagreement might be resolved to the potential satisfaction of neighbors, the city council, and the petitioner, Alex de Parry.

He therefore suggested a postponement of the City Place matter of right project until the council’s second meeting in January of 2010. The postponement included a provision that the city of Ann Arbor accept a PUD application for a project that might reflect the kind of compromise the various parties hoped to achieve.

Outcome: The postponement was approved unanimously.

Build America Bonds

The general obligation bonds that had been authorized for issuance at city council’s Feb. 17, 2009 meeting are tax-free. That is, for the purchaser of such a bond as an investment, the typically lower interest rate earned from a municipal bond is somewhat balanced by the fact that the earnings are tax-free. Build America Bonds, explained the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, are taxable and thus have a somewhat higher interest rate – on its face more expensive for the city. But what is special about Build America Bonds is that they provide coverage of some of the debt service. The direct federal subsidy payment to local governments is equal to 35% of the total coupon interest paid to investors.

In brief deliberations, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) clarified that switching from one kind of general obligation bonds to another would not require council to wait an additional 45 days before issuance. The time requirement had already been met, she said, in the time that had passed since Feb. 17. The 45-day time window allows for the possible circulation of the petition that, if successful, would require a voter referendum on the bond issuance.

Outcome: The issuance of $49 million to $50 million worth of Build America Bonds was unanimously approved.

Front Yard Parking

Leigh Greden (Ward 3) introduced a resolution that would revise how parking in front yards is controlled. Parking cars in front yards, Greden explained, is currently prohibited except for two cases: University of Michigan football Saturdays and art fairs.

The change he was proposing would allow churches and other houses of worship to park cars on their front lawns up to two times a year and would require a permit, he explained. He said that the second reading was proposed for Aug. 17 instead of at the council’s next meeting in two weeks, because of a staff request that they be given enough time to inform the public about the change.

In subsequent deliberations by Rapundalo, Anglin, and Higgins, it was determined that it would be best to refer the matter to the planning commission. What really seemed to seal the deal was input from community services director, Jayne Miller, who said that revisions to Chapter 59 of the city code do normally go through the planning commission.

Outcome: The proposed change was referred to the planning commission.

Outdoor Sales

The council’s agenda included an item to allow temporary outdoor sales and displayed goods and services as a special exception use for C3 commercial zoning districts. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) thanked the city staff for moving the change along quickly. The impact of the change included the ability to hold a farmers market in the Westgate parking lot next to Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Outcome: The change to allow uses to include outdoor markets was unanimously approved.


Leah Gunn and and Russ Collins were nominated for reappointments to the Downtown Development Authority board.

Other Commentary

Chip Lind: Lind said he wasn’t really planning to speak at the concluding public commentary session, but he had missed his bus and figured, why not. He suggested that the city think about making compost bins available. He also suggested that Ann Arbor have its own currency.

Tim Hull: Hull alerted Council to the problems at Arborland in connection with the eviction of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus stop from that parking plaza. He suggested that a crosswalk be installed to ensure pedestrian safety to bus riders who had to cross Washtenaw Avenue to get to the bus stop that had previously been located in the parking lot. On a separate topic, he also addressed a bar ID policy, noting that his attempt to purchase a drink at  Bar Louie had foundered on the fact that he had a Michigan state ID but not a driver’s license.

Thomas Partridge: During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Partridge introduced himself as a Democratic uniter on the local, state, and national level. He gave endorsements in the Democratic primary races for city council: Ward 3 – LuAnne Bullington; Ward 5 – Mike Anglin. He said he perceived both of those candidates to be decent people with progressive policies. On a separate note, he urged council that for all the resolutions they were considering that evening, that amendments be passed to ensure democratic access, singling out a special need for access to transportation and affordable housing. He allowed that there had been disagreements over the zoning of a particular site, but that they needed to unite with the goal of democratic access.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, John Hieftje.

Absent: none.

Next Council Meeting: Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

Note the different day, Thursday – a schedule revision to accommodate the Aug. 4 primary elections.


  1. July 22, 2009 at 9:55 am | permalink

    The link to Libby’s presentation is:

    Link to YouTube video

  2. By ted whalen
    July 22, 2009 at 10:09 am | permalink

    God, these things are so depressing.

    I can’t wait to get my diploma so I can move out of NIMBY-town and live somewhere that cares about vibrancy, growth, and affordable housing. (Note: if you’re “in favor” of affordable housing but don’t want renters or apartment buildings in your neighborhood, you’re a hypocrite.)

    The desperation with which Michiganders cling to the sand running through their fingers is really saddening. “What we had in the past was perfect, what we have now is still pretty good, and the future is just scary, so let’s not imagine it. Why can’t things just stay the same?” Because everyone is LEAVING. The long term threat to your town isn’t density, it’s twenty years of smart, well-educated young adults moving away because Ann Arborites only care about making their town an interesting place to live for home-owners with two dogs and a Subaru Outback.

  3. July 22, 2009 at 11:23 am | permalink

    Funny, I know a lot of smart, well-educated young adults who still live here.

    How about a list of better places? I’m not suggesting that there aren’t any, but it would be interesting to know what places measure up. Perhaps we could study their moves.

  4. By Richard
    July 22, 2009 at 12:45 pm | permalink

    Ted…you are right on. Some people are stuck in a time warp and want Ann Arbor to stay exactly how it is right now, but the fact is compact/dense development is environmentally friendly, promotes better transit accessibility and reduces public infrastructure costs.

    But god forbid you offend the resident C.A.V.E people…Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

    How sad.

  5. By David Lewis
    July 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm | permalink

    There is truth in what you say. They will not come out and say it but there is an organized group of neighborhoods that are against every building proposal in or near downtown. Every single one meets organized opposition. They are conservatives who label themselves “progressives.”

    Look at the protest over the affordable housing on N. Main. It’s Main St folks, it’s affordable housing! There may be several reasons but here are two.

    One: It is all about economics. A2 is a desirable place to live. More housing means less of a scarcity when the economy comes back. Many of the protesters own rental housing. More competition means they can’t jack up the rents every year.

    Two: There are a large number of these folks who went to school here, very few grew up in Ann Arbor and they want it to be the same as it was back then. They are almost all over 50 to boot. They have their slice of the quality of life pie and they don’t want to share it.

    The town will become older and older and it might take them passing on for some change to occur. Meanwhile the younger people will get out of college and leave.

  6. By Newcombe Clark
    July 22, 2009 at 1:46 pm | permalink

    I know smart well-educated young adults here too but given that there are only roughly 5 thousand of us total, I wouldn’t say there are a lot of them.

    “Better” places can be subjective, just as what is and is not a “good” development. Couple of data points to consider. In 1980 (the year that I was born), almost 48% of our county was aged 20-35, as of 2008 census estimate, that number is close to 7.0%. If you trend out that regression, it’s been a straight line down with no peaks or valleys for the past 30 years. This period also coincided with a vast increase in median income and property values and a vast decrease in diversity along race and economic lines, not just age.

    To be blunt, as we’ve become wealthier, we’ve become older and whiter. If continued, and by taking into account revised total population growth estimates, 20-35 year olds will be down to 2% by 2015. Madison Wisconsin has 5 times the number of 25-30 year old households as Ann Arbor. By 2015 Michigan is also expected to gain over 750,000 citizens over the age of 65 and lose an additional estimated 300,000 aged 20-35. Some may say that some young people that leave will move back and there is always the opportunity to convince some of Michigan K-12 kids to stay. And that could change this trend. Nobody is saying we have many hopes to meaningfully attract new young people to this state that don’t already have a connection. So they go on to say we could rely on a bounce back or of the up and comers and not do anything to drastic to attract new people to the state. Well, already 76% of Michigan households currently don’t have children under the age of 18, a trend that also has a straight line regression and is likely to continue. Not only are we losing population, we’re losing age diversity at an alarming rate. In 10-20 years we won’t have enough K-12s or boomerangs to save us, we already don’t.

    We’re certainly not alone with these trends. Of the 331 largest MSAs in America only 23 are growing or stagnant in population. Which means that over 90% of the country is losing population to the remaining 10% (our MSA, which at the time of the study was included in Metro Detroit, ranked 181).

    Say we choose to measure a “better” community by a growing, or at least not shrinking, population. To directly answer your question about what do those 23 cities have that we don’t, well they did build a data model and the research was what became the basis of the Cool Cities movement of the early to mid 2000s.

    What they basically found was that there was no correlation to climate, or population size, or political ideology or any of the traditionally believed models. You didn’t have to be a big, liberal, sunny city (like San Diego or Miami) to grow. What the data showed was that cities that were growing had the highest measurable degrees of talent (number of people with BAs or better), innovation (amount of VC funding, number of patent applications, etc), diversity (geographic and social integration and diversity of races, age and income level, etc), and environment. Environment includes arts and culture, affordable housing, public transportation, parks and open spaces, etc.

    Now every city has measurable aspects of all of these things and most can agree that Ann Arbor is already better positioned in these areas than most Michigan cities. But the trend line in all of these areas for us is going in the wrong direction (especially in diversity). The bigger problem is however, we’re not competing with the rest of Michigan; we’re competing with cities around the world. Ann Arbor is competing with Madison, and Austin, and Portland, and Bolder, sure, but we’re also competing with Berlin, and Rotterdam, and Fukuoka…and in the national and international race, we’re losing and losing big.

    The U will continue to be a success and continue to shield us from many of our problems. Yet a strong local university allows for the opportunity for a great quality of life but in no way guarantees it. Look to South Bend or to New Haven for cities with great universities but less than desirable living conditions, especially downtowns.

    We can debate all we want on the merits of what is and is not a “good” project, and we should. The more rocks in the tumbler, the shinier the stone. But what is happening is that the debate is stopping dead all development, especially if we start talking about moratoriums. One thing that, while controversial, but undeniable from a benchmarking and data standpoint, is that the solution to many of our problems is very simple…more beds…downtown…yesterday. With increased density we get better supported downtown cultural institutions and businesses (including food, hardware, and pharmacy), better supported and justified public transportation (long term funding for transportation is usually based on demand, not desire), and more affordable housing options (more supply brings down prices, regardless if they are designated “affordable”), and more young people moving here and staying here (every survey says a desire to live in a safe walk-able, 24 hour environment is a top priority for us).

    Currently, only 2% of our population lives in the area designated by the census as our city core. Even less live in the DDA (which is a considerably smaller area by the way). If we are willing to accept that increased density is a proven solution for many of the things we as a city can agree are important and at risk, we as a city will have to push on our leaders to make it easier to put more beds downtown. If you don’t want it in a certain neighborhood, that’s fine, and within everyone’s right to voice an opinion on. But we need to accept that it has to go somewhere. We can’t have everyone pushing it out of their neighborhood because there’s nowhere left to push it. If even a fraction of the energy and time that is currently being spent fighting development was spent actively encouraging it, we would not be in the situation we are in right now, which is a divided community, stagnation of progress forward, and rapid regression of the desirable assets we have left.

  7. By donna
    July 22, 2009 at 2:16 pm | permalink

    Newcombe Clark for Mayor!

  8. By my two cents
    July 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    Finally, some rational voices on the chronicle blogs!!!!

    Woo Hoo (arms waving back and forth) Ted, Richard, David and Newcombe!

    Love the C.A.V.E comment. I may need to borrow that term sometime.

  9. July 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    To respond to Vivienne’s comment (albeit not directly), I thought I’d post this recent article from the NY Times online, highlighting some of the non-reciprocal flight from Washtenaw County to New York City. Worth the look.

    Link to New York Times article.

  10. July 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    A good and sincerely felt response, Newcombe. I’d like to challenge a couple of your points, though.

    First, the loss of population in Michigan in general and in Ann Arbor is surely linked to our failing economy. I think young people in general and especially educated professionals will tend to go where there are jobs in their chosen profession to which their skills can be applied. I think I heard the other day that Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

    I reject the idea that a simple measure of population growth per se is a good measure of the health of the community. For example (I haven’t looked up any numbers), many Sunbelt communities experienced a significant growth in population because of retirees.

    Finally, I don’t follow your numbers in the comparison with Madison, Wisconsin. I was in graduate school there and have a lingering fondness for the place. It has several differences from us, like being the state capitol and an ability to annex territory. Its population is thus much larger, as Ann Arbor’s would be if our entire metropolitan area were part of the city.

    Given all that, here is the bottom line: A higher percentage of Ann Arbor’s population than Madison’s is in the 20-35 range.

    Here are the numbers:

    Madison total population: 219,843
    20-24: 33,166 (15.1%)
    25-34: 37,998 (17.3%)

    [Editor's note: Here's a link Vivienne supplied to more Madison data]

    Ann Arbor total population: 113,100
    20-24: 21,357 (18.9%)
    25-34: 20,055 (17.7%)

    [Editor's note: Here's a link Vivienne supplied to more Ann Arbor data.]

    Numbers from the ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates: 2005-2007, U.S. Census Bureau. (See American Factfinder.)

    I’ll leave it there for the moment. A big subject.

  11. By suswhit
    July 22, 2009 at 2:31 pm | permalink

    Google “zaragon place” and see what people like N. Clark think are “good” developments…student apartments that rent for between $2,500 and $6,000 a month. Um, sure, that’s going to keep recent grads around our town…
    Please. In what “better” town is that considered either good for the local community or heaven forbid “affordable”?????

    People opposed to City Place are actually working to save truly affordable homes. But, I’m sure you’ll disagree. Unless we let developers do whatever they want in Ann Arbor, we are unenlightened, conservatives pretending to be progressive. Whatever.

  12. July 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm | permalink


    Conversely you’re making an assumption that Newcombe only wants to remove homes, and that’s not a fair assumption either. Some development is bad, some development is good. There are, and should be rules surrounding it. I think we all agree here.

    I’ve brought this up on Arbor Update as well, but what do we consider “good” development?

  13. By ted whalen
    July 22, 2009 at 2:41 pm | permalink

    “2 Bedroom Monthly Rents starting at $2,500.00 / 4 Bedroom Monthly Rents starting at $4,000.00 / 6 Bedroom Monthly Rents starting at $6,000.00″

    What’s the problem here? Are you worried these are too expensive? That they’ll be empty because no one can afford to live in them? Gosh, if they can’t be rented at that price, maybe the developer will, I don’t know, have to lower the rent?

    Or are you worried that students with between $1000 and $1250 to spend on monthly rent won’t have to pay slightly less than that much to rent run-down houses and apartments (in what is, quite frankly, a blighted neighborhood) close to campus? Go down to Arch Street or Oakland Ave and see what $950/month will get you. You’ll be appalled.

  14. July 22, 2009 at 3:09 pm | permalink

    “what is happening is that the debate is stopping dead all development”

    Not true, Newcombe. And the proposed moratorium would be temporary and limited in scope (see the comment attributed to Vivienne in the “Coda” section of the article)–i.e., delaying some, not “stopping dead all”. (Not an argument in favor of it, just a clarification.)

    Why do you see it as a competition to attract new residents as opposed to an effort to improve the community for those who already live here (which would have the side benefit of attracting others)? There’s more to it, certainly, but I’m interested in your perspective on that in particular.

    Thanks for checking on the Madison numbers, Vivienne. I was wondering the same thing.

  15. By suswhit
    July 22, 2009 at 3:20 pm | permalink

    I’m all for dense developement downtown. The City Place project isn’t downtown, it’s in a residential neighborhood. Plus, there already are a bunch of those “affordable” new luxury student apartments around town and I’m sure your friend Mr Clark could tell you that there isn’t a mad rush to sign a lease on any of them. (which might explain why his “Moron-ian” project doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.)
    So, to appease you “true progressives” we should let a developer rip out the heart of an entire block of beautiful, historically significant houses, so that he can — best case scenario, build a hideous monstrosity — or worst case scenario, tear the historic, affordable houses down, dig a big hole and then have his precarious financial house of cards collapse. (Do some research!) How exactly would a fenced, abandoned block entice those talented innovators who apparently don’t want to live here because we don’t have enough new development?
    And then there’s the matter of how the developer says his 200+ renters will be able to use the parking spaces at the proposed underground parking lot. You know, the ones that taxpayers are funding at $55,000 a space. The ones that are supposed to help the downtown merchants. Or are they supposed to replace spaces in deteriorating structures around town? It changes everyday so it’s hard to keep track.
    You’ve got this all figured out so I’m sure you can make sense of it.
    Too bad deParry didn’t buy up a bunch of houses on Arch or Oakland. Sounds like things are pretty bad over there. Maybe Clark and Helminsky should look into it.

  16. By Newcombe Clark
    July 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm | permalink

    I don’t think anywhere in my comments did I say what I thought was “good” developement. My argument, and I would love to compare data points and sources with anybody, isn’t about the merits of any particular pending or past project. We’re going to get some projects we don’t like and we’re going to get some projects we love. And those opinions will change over time. I advocate simply for more beds, downtown, yesterday. Not to necssarily grow our city, but to change how we use it and to diversify the population we have along age, economic, and racial demographics. And yes, Sean, I don’t believe our current demographic trends are sustainable. So if we’re not going to choose to grow in population, it means we will have to change the profile of those who already live here. Personally, if it means our survival, I would rather choose growth of population, then replacement.

    As for jobs, the unemployement rate in Michigan for people with BAs or better last I heard was less than 3% (DLEG data). There are a lot of jobs here for the educated. Also, if you recall hearing this a month ago (big story on NPR), the class of 2009 nationwide only had a hire rate of 20%. Meaning 80% of people coming out of highschool and college do not have jobs this year, that’s nationwide, worse in recorded history. That doesn’t mean that those 80% of young people are just going to shrivel up and die, they’ll still do something, move somewhere. The problem is, they’re not likely to move here. While overall, populations tend to trend towards better economies, It is a common misconception that young, educated people follow jobs first and not quality of life, it’s simply not true. And, as I mentioned, there are jobs here. Although it may be easier for us to just blame the economy and go back to our own self interested fight. Much like it’s much easier to dismiss or judge “people like [me]” than offer up complex, albeit controversal, solutions of one’s own.

    The trend of young people leaving Ann Arbor has been going on for 30 years, while the population in Washtenaw county over the same period has almost doubled. We’re heading straight for an iceberg of unknown yet scary implications. I’m worried that we’re hoping it well just melt before we hit it rather than go thru the difficult effort of changing our course today.

  17. July 22, 2009 at 5:49 pm | permalink

    Why is it scary, Newcombe? What are your assumptions?

    (You’re about the 10th person to contract my name into “Sean”. I wonder why that happens.)

  18. By John Floyd
    July 22, 2009 at 6:03 pm | permalink

    Mr. Clark’s comment that people are attracted to quality of life is on the mark. That’s precisely why preserving Ann Arbor’s unique sense of place is so important to sustainable economic development. The place for new highrises is by the transit nodes: freeway entrances, such as near Arborland, Briarwood, and Westgate/Maple Village.

    Ann Arbor has no natural reason to exist: no mountains, ocean, minerals, navigable river, or Great Lakes frontage. Quality of Life is the only thing going on here. The irony is that what makes our city center attractive IS its historic feel. The city is not supposed to be a museum, but tearing down the best of our history to replicate Southfield cannibalizes the very thing that makes this place interesting.

    it is unlikely that conventional retail could ever make a go of it in central Ann Arbor, no matter how many people are squeezed into it. The big box stores are close (2-3 miles) to downtown, at freeway entrances, and have easy parking. They pay lower land taxes (especially if they are outside the city limit), and have greater economies of scale. For a small journey, they will be able to price much, much lower, and offer a wider array of goods. That’s why conventional retail left downtown in the first place.

    South University is an example of this. It has the favorable Burns Park demographic next door, and already has thousands of affluent university students (and faculy/staff) living and traversing it daily, yet retail does not succeed there beyond Cuervo, condoms, and caffeine. Adding another couple of thousand residents (by the way, can the sidewalks handle many more people?) is unlikely to change the economics of this situation.

    Downtown retailing survives the high rent and taxes by offering high marku retailing. It is unrealistic to imagine Target relocating to Main Street, no matter how many more people are crammed into it. It will simply be much cheaper to buy on Jackson Rd or Ann Arbor Saline, and they are only 10 minutes away.

    People pay more for conventional retailing in Manhattan than in Westchester due to the hassle of driving 10 miles from the city across a bridge to a suburban shopping area in New York traffic. To a lesser exent, this is also the case in Chicago – the people who live in high rises (who are generally at least middle aged, not hipsters) pay city prices because of the hassle of Chicago traffic on the way to the suburbs. This dynamic is not likely to be repeated in our town.

    The homes on Oakland are the grandest surviving homes in the city. If they are in bad repair (is the city not enforcing codes?) due to their owner’s interest in maximizing return on investment, it is not realistic to imagine that when they tear them down to add greater “density”, these owners will suddenly discover a previously-dormant esthetic sensibility.

    To those to whom “density” is a god to be worshipped at any cost, North Campus is an obviously pagan place – arguably the worst offender in the city. 20,000 units of New Urbanism housing (i.e., stuff that looks like homes in our R4C district, but with fake panelling) would dense-up North Campus, give students more options, and open up single family homes to young families who want a small yard, a sense of place, and the ability to walk downtown. Granting concessions to various hip vendors (Starbucks, pizza shops, t-shirt shops, Ben & Jerry’s, etc) in scattered village squares would give kids all the urban experience they can handle.

    For growth to be sustainable, housing for young families is important. It is a big part of KEEPING the 20 somethings around after they decide to mate. Wander the Old West Side and environs – many young families are there, and many more would live in similar neighborhhods if they were available and not overrun with frat boys & sorority girls.

    The point is not for Ann Arbor to be a museum, but for development to compliment and enhance our quality of life – not to cannibalize it. Quality of life is, in the end, the only economic resource Ann Arbor has. Squandering it to the gold fever of cheesy apartment buildings will undermine our long-term attractiveness. Growth and development must compliment and enhance our quality of life.

  19. By ted whalen
    July 22, 2009 at 6:26 pm | permalink

    Why are the rents so high in high-traffic areas like downtown and South U? Basic economics tells us that the demand for retail there must outstrip supply. I guess we could shrug our shoulders and say, “It is unlikely that conventional retail could ever make a go of it in central Ann Arbor.” Or, we might wonder why, if street-level retail property in these areas is so valuable, useful, wonderful, why isn’t more of it being created?

    “The place for new highrises is by the transit nodes: freeway entrances, such as near Arborland, Briarwood, and Westgate/Maple Village.”

    I’m going to assume this is some kind of sarcasm, because I really can’t imagine anyone seriously suggesting this. No one who moves to Ann Arbor for “quality of life” wants to live in a high-rise tower with a great view of the Target parking lot. I guess downtown is supposed to be some kind of “Main Street” theme park that we all should drive down to, park, enjoy for a few hours, and then drive back to our human warehouses out in the exurbs.

  20. By Balanced
    July 22, 2009 at 6:50 pm | permalink

    Glad to see the public comments for boycott of Israel.

  21. By Tom Whitaker
    July 22, 2009 at 7:00 pm | permalink

    Of course Clark is advocating for more beds, his undergrad dorm project, The Moravian (which will tear down at least 8 affordable rental houses–Jeremy, we are not making assumptions) is still in the approval pipeline with the City.

    Clark and others, see the opportunity of cheaper property acquisition costs by going into the neighborhoods (and floodways and floodplains) and assembling parcels instead of proposing projects in the true downtown (DDA boundary) where land is more costly and surface parking lots dominate the landscape.

    Costly land helps to create density, as developers need to build higher to make the same return. If we let these developments go up in the adjacent neighborhoods instead, we are just allowing sprawl to start all over again from the center. The pressure must be created to build higher and denser in the core by restricting development outside the core. (Remember the Greenbelt?)

    Otherwise, less-sophisticated developers, who can’t afford the expensive land, will always be looking for a cheaper place to build–close by, but not where these developments are called for in our master plans. Then, they try to fool the public by calling these neighborhoods “downtown.” Neighbors, who have invested, lived and enjoyed their homes with the expectation that the City would honor its master plans and protect their neighborhood, are then called NIMBY’s or anti-development. These neighbors didn’t move next to the pig farm, they are trying to build the pig farm next to the neighbors.

    I do not believe in the premise that “If we build it, they will come.” There are plenty of “empty beds downtown,” with thousands more approved and ready to be built. But guess what? No market and no money. So why the push to expand the Downtown into the neighborhoods and dilute the true Downtown market that is already suffering half-empty buildings and vacant lots? Even with the relatively cheap land, what is the point?

    Ann Arbor went through the same type of developer-created hysteria in the 1980′s, only that time, it was office space. The result? Ugly, non-pedestrian friendly, cheaply built office buildings that sat half-empty for years. These badly designed buildings will be scars on our downtown for decades to come, with unwelcoming facades occupied by inactive uses. I lived in South Bend for two years and believe me, Ann Arbor looks more and more like it all the time. In both cases, it is the adjacent historic neighborhoods and parks that are the most appealing parts.

    Stop creating a crisis that doesn’t exist. Higher density is more sustainable, but not if you go in and knock down everything that is already there to build expensive housing that isn’t needed. If you want Ann Arbor to grow (and by the way, perpetual growth is not sustainable either) then why not spend more of that young professional energy on creating jobs instead of more private undergrad dorms.

  22. By donna
    July 22, 2009 at 7:02 pm | permalink

    Now I’m confused.
    Can anyone tell what boycotting Israel has to do with the Moratorium on Development in R4C/R2A Zoning Districts?
    Maybe someone could write a song about it for me.

  23. By Dave Askins
    July 22, 2009 at 7:23 pm | permalink

    Re: [22] and possible confusion stemming from [20].

    I read [20] as an acknowledgment of the inclusion in the meeting report of the remarks by a speaker during public commentary, who drew a parallel between demolition here and in the Middle East.

  24. By mike
    July 22, 2009 at 10:35 pm | permalink

    I resisted jumping on the dog pile, but man, does city council EVER make a decision? If its a controversial decision it is ALWAYS friggin tabled.

    Anyone who says there is already affordable rentals in Ann Arbor should actually look for some sometime. If you work here and make under 50K, you pretty much can’t afford to live here (unless you’re subsidized by your parents or student loans), or living with strangers in what would be student housing.

    I wish developers would build 10, 20, or even 30 story buildings, because thats the point it gets cost effective to really make it affordable for mere mortals, not students who have subsidized lives.

  25. By John Floyd
    July 22, 2009 at 11:20 pm | permalink

    Mr. Whalen,

    We agree on several points.

    First, the kernel of truth in your Main Street Theme Park comment is that downtowns have no need to exist any more, either as retail or employment centers (internet shopping, telecommuting, driving, mass transit). They serve as gathering places, as places to connect, as entertainment districts, as cultural districts, as places where you go to have a sense of actually being someplace. When our development destroys the sense of place, of specialness, of connection with people present and past, then downtown serves no function. You may as well, then, be in Downtown Disney – it has better public restrooms and no vagrants. We have the real thing here, don’t blow it.

    Like condos in Yosemite Valley, over-building Ann Arbor will destroy the reason that the place is special, the reason they would WANT to live there. My point is NOT that development should not happen in central Ann Arbor, or that it should be a museum. My point is that present zoning plans will through the baby out with the bath water by cannibalizing that which makes us attractive in the first place. Development should play to and enhance our strengths, not cannibalize them. Central Ann Arbor’s strength is the Charm Zone: build on it.

    Second, I agree with you that the mall areas have been allowed to become ugly. This can be fixed. In Europe, placing high rises outside the Charm Zone is exactly what is done. There is no reason this cannot work here. Stadium Blvd. should be a desirable address, not a poster child for unattractive urban life.

    Lastly, we agree that high rises are “human warehouses”, where ever they may be located. However, I recognize that some people actually like them, so I advocate locating them where they can form the nucleus of Ann Arbor’s new Modern Quarter. In the Modern Quarter, people who like the shiny-glass-and-steel-tower aesthetic can experience the sort of community center they want, and that you and I could visit as the mode struck us. This would add immensely to the diversity of environments in our city, and make it attractive to an even broader range of people. People might migrate between the Modern Quarter and the Charm Zone – we could have the best of both worlds.

    Sadly, we must agree to disagree on what an Exurb is. The freeway nodes/mall areas of Ann Arbor are Arborland, Briarwood, and Westgate. I’m not sure these qualify as Exurbs, or even suburbs, since they are inside the city and no more than 2-3 miles from its center. In particular, the Lakewood neighborhood (home to the Pretender to the 5th Ward Council Seat) lies beyond Westgate Mall. Is Mr. Rosencranz an exurbanite?

    I respect that you use your own name, not a pseudonym.

  26. By donna
    July 23, 2009 at 1:34 am | permalink

    Mr. Floyd, please, please do your city a favor and read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs.

    I disagree with your statement that Main Streets don’t need to exist anymore. Main Streets DO still have a reason to exist. They’re for living on. They’re for walking out your front door and walking to your job, your grocery store, your hardware store, your local pub, etc. Downtown should be a neighborhood – not a district.
    This is what would attract young talent to Ann Arbor. Young talent doesn’t want the ‘sense of actually being someplace’, they want to actually live IN that someplace. Downtown is where they meet the partner of their dreams, get married, have a couple kids and a dog, and THEN move to a house in the Lakewood neighborhood.

  27. July 23, 2009 at 10:51 am | permalink

    hi all,
    well first off, and i will try to keep this short and make only a few points, basically i,m w/ floyd and whitaker…
    - i think there are a lot of rocks here already, set to be thrown into that tumbler, need a little shining up.
    -i don’t know what a nimby is, i don’t care and it has nothing to do w/ the discussion, any more than calling us CAVE people, a very stupid thing to say considering we are all intelligent..and care about our city
    - jane jacobs may be a little out of date, this is more relevant and to the point,
    link to Concentrate piece on historic preservation

    here is a first thought,
    -“To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.”
    –Winston Churchill

    my thought,
    -density development and destruction are not an answer
    -district and neighborhood are not necessarily two different things

    -cm Derezinski is wrong
    a moratorium will not halt on going projects, and will give us all a chance to step back and consider what is being done…
    and second,
    i do not know exactly what year or what it was called then, in the late sixties and/or mid 70′s, but there was a moratorium put in place, so that the city could measure the impact of the prolific and out of control destruction of historic neighborhoods and architecture, by those lovely concrete block 4/6/8 plexes called apartments…
    we have not come far as this continues to go on in Burns Park

    if we had not done that , and done a few architectural surveys, there would be no “Old West Side, no “Old Fourth Ward”, hardly a Kerrytown…
    y’all are better off now, whether you know it or not

    third and for the moment,
    there is no real master plan until areas of historic architectural resources, districts and neighborhoods has been completed and landmarks and neighborhoods of historic relevance and context, are identified, this cannot be done w/out real survey/s work…
    to spend 800,000 dollars on whatever “art” is, by an outsider, again is an amount so much larger than anything that could be spent on surveys of neighborhoods
    lets start w/ a study commision to look at Germantown
    Preservation is an Art…

  28. By donna
    July 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm | permalink

    First, I meant for Mr. Floyd to read some Jane Jacobs as a primer on what makes a healthy neighborhood, as he seems to be advocating that we all drive downtown to go to dinner and behold all the charm and then drive back out to our Courbusier high-rises by the ‘transit nodes’.
    Also, I’d argue that the Concentrate article you posted is moreso about historic preservation, and not enough about creating vibrant neighborhoods. At any rate, I agree with you on many points you’ve made. Preservation of what’s worthwile is a vital part of building and maintaining a vibrant downtown. You seem to think I’m all about bulldozing downtown and starting over. I’m all for historic preservation and yes, Ann Arbor is full of wonderful pedestrian-friendly urban streets that should be preserved, but there are very few residential opportunities in that zone.
    I’m merely suggesting that maybe we could intersperse some more residential buildings into the ‘charm zone’. There are a ton of under-used ‘charmless’ city blocks in downtown Ann Arbor. That fancy-schmancy water permeable parking lot at William and 4th springs to mind right away. What a waste of valuable city land! I’m not saying that we should pack people into a 30 story behemoth, but just a few dozen mid-range apartment units downtown to start — and yes, it is possible to build structures that are contextual and add to the ‘charm’ zone without destroying the historic fabric of a place. For example, something 4 stories tall with some ground-level, easily divisible retail. Seriously, nothing destroys the urban fabric like a parking lot – I don’t care how damn ‘environmentally correct’ it is.

    I’m advocating density and diversity, not mass redevelopment. What’s the harm in making it easier for people to live closer to that charm and history?

    Placing a moratorium on development (it doesn’t matter for how long, or in what zone) just makes it seem like the city advocates stagnation. And I have to admit, sometimes, it sure feels like it does.

  29. By Julie
    July 23, 2009 at 8:47 pm | permalink

    Donna et al,
    If it’s so reasonable and easy to intersperse some modest, 4-story, contextual living spaces into the “charm zones,” then why is this NEVER proposed by developers? They all seem to want to cram as many beds as humanly possible into the biggest, ugliest box possible, zoning be damned, in the name of “density.” Or I should rephrase… maximizing their bottom line.

  30. By John Floyd
    July 24, 2009 at 1:34 am | permalink


    Thanks for the Jane Jacobs reference, I will try to check in out in the next few weeks.

    After reading your comments, I suspect that we may not be as far apart as your initial comments suggest. In fact, as I re-read your comments, I’m not sure we are far apart at all. I didn’t find much to disagree with in most of what you had to say. It may be that I have not fleshed out or articulated my vision sufficiently for others. It may also be that we have a philosophical difference over whether the bar scene is a great place to find a life partner, but I digress…

    I love your idea a four story apartment building with retail on the 1st floor, that complements what is around it, on the 4th and William parking lot. Complementing ones surroundings can mean many things. It wouldn’t have to be in an historic style – I would enjoy a four-story structure on that site that artfully blended the old and the new. The Charm Zone is not supposed to be a museum.

    As Julie and Mr. Lamb have implied, the devil is in the details. The present zoning plans are a long, long way away from the Calthorpe process, and I don’t see the views you and I espouse in anything going on at city hall. I myself WANT to live near downtown in an historic neighborhood in which life can be lived largely on foot. I suggest that a downtown/near downtown that is hospitable to people over 24 (yes, to people in the second half of their twenties) requires a more-deft sense of life-as-art, and what Ann Arbor’s true strengths are, than what is now going on in our planning and zoning processes.

    My read of the tea leaves is that our present process is a cross between a noble but flawed vision that Ann Arbor can replace Detroit as the population and economic center of Michigan, with a population of over half a million, and a gold-fever mentality from elements who may see a once-in-a-lifetime chance to cash out big, the future be damned. Our present course of action will result in the cannibalization of the things that make the community attractive. Like you, I advocate that we build on our strengths, not destroy them.

    Making it easier for people to live near all that charm and history is great – but if we tear all the charm and history down in the name of density, what do we have? We need a more-deft touch than the current city hall crowd can offer. A moratorium makes that possible.

  31. By susan
    August 14, 2009 at 10:46 am | permalink

    I suggest getting rid of the current mayor and council, planning commission, and abolish party politics in Ann Arbor. Where are the progressives?