Navigating Library Lane

Library board asks for easement on city-owned "private" road
This rendering of the proposed Fifth Avenue parking project, on a billboard next to the downtown library, shows the proposed Library Lane running between Fifth and Division. The large building on the right of the image is a new library building – a project that was called off late last year. (Photo by the writer.)

This rendering of the proposed Fifth Avenue parking project, on a billboard next to the downtown library, shows the proposed Library Lane running between Fifth and Division (from the bottom to the top of the image). The large building on the right is a new library building – a project that the library board called off late last year. (Photo by the writer.)

The Chronicle arrived about an hour late to the Oct. 19, 2009 board meeting for the Ann Arbor District Library, which began before the conclusion of an earlier meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

When we arrived, however, the board was not in the downtown library’s fourth-floor conference room where these meetings are held – they’d moved into a closed executive session. Waiting for their return were Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and Adrian Iraola, project manager for the DDA’s Fifth Avenue underground parking project.

Pollay and Iraola were there to talk to the board about the city’s request for a utility easement on library property, to the east of the library’s downtown building. The easement is needed so that the DDA can install a new water main leading to a fire hydrant on Library Lane, a proposed east-west street that would lie between the library on the south and the DDA parking structure on the north.

When the board returned from their executive session, Pollay and Iraola got an unanticipated response – one that’s resulting in an adjustment of the DDA’s construction schedule on the project.

The DDA’s Request

In June 2009, Adrian Iraola of Park Avenue Consultants, who’s contracted with the DDA for management of construction projects, sent a letter to AADL director Josie Parker making the request for a utility easement.

As described in our meeting, the City of Ann Arbor Fire Marshall has requested that a new fire hydrant be installed to provide fire protection coverage for the interior of the block. And she anticipates that the Fire Department will use Library Lane for staging in the event of a fire. Library Lane will be designated by the City as a “private street”, and therefore it will not be possible to bring a water main for this fire hydrant from either Division or Fifth. Thus the granting of an easement to the City by the Ann Arbor District Library to accommodate this new fire hydrant is an essential element in planning for the new parking structure.

The letter also states that the DDA would be responsible for all costs of design, construction and installation, as well as pay for restoration of library property after the installation.

In addition, the city is asking that an electrical transformer and buried cable currently located on city property be relocated to library property, at the DDA’s expense. That line provides electricity to the library, and would serve the parking structure too.

Since the letter was sent in June, attorneys for the library and the city have been negotiating with the goal of drawing up a legal document for the easement. Generally, an easement gives an entity the right to use property that it doesn’t own. Both the library board and Ann Arbor city council would have to approve the easement agreement.

The board has been aware of this easement request for several months. Parker gave them an update at the board’s June 15, 2009 meeting. From Chronicle coverage of that meeting:

The DDA is requesting an easement on land that runs between the AADL building and the University of Michigan Credit Union, located at 333 E. William St. on the east side of the library. The DDA would use that easement to run water and power lines from William Street to serve the parking structure.

The library’s Fifth Avenue building currently gets its power through a line that runs under Fifth. Parker said that if the DDA’s plans for road improvements along Fifth move forward – a separate project – the library will have to get power from another source, such as a feed from William Street.

Parker noted that previously, the library also had been planning its own major project – rebuilding its downtown main branch at the corner of Fifth and William. Though the library board called off that project in late November, citing economic conditions, the DDA’s parking project is still moving ahead, although the authorized bonds have not yet been issued.

There are two requirements that the AADL has regarding an easement, Parker said. First, the library shouldn’t have to pay for any of the easement work – it’s the DDA’s project that requires the easement, she said, so the DDA should have to pay. Second, the library must be careful not to hinder its ability to do any kind of project in the future on its property, she said. No easements should be granted that limit AADL’s flexibility. She said she didn’t have a formal proposal at this time, but wanted the board to know that talks were under way.

Library Board Response

Returning from executive session – which included discussions with the library’s attorney, Jim Adams of Butzel Long – board secretary Margaret Leary said that the library would be happy to continue negotiating the water main easement, but that they also wanted to ask the city to grant an easement to the library for the proposed Library Lane.

Library Lane is an essential element for the library, Leary said, because vehicle access is critical for their programs and services.

Drop-offs at the library have been an issue at the downtown location, because the building’s front door faces Fifth Avenue, a busy one-way street. The design for a new library called for the entrance to face Library Lane. The board voted to suspend that project last November, however, citing the poor economic climate.

In the interim, two issues have arisen that worry the library board. First, the designation for Library Lane has been changed from a public street to a private street, and the library is unclear what the implications of that change might mean for them, including who would be responsible for maintenance and upkeep.

Second, the city has indicated that Library Lane is not a required design element for whatever might be built on top of the parking structure. That issue emerged at a Sept. 25, 2009 mandatory meeting for people interested in responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) for a top-of-the-structure development. [The deadline for submitting RFPs is Friday, Nov. 13 at 2 p.m.]

At the Sept. 25 meeting, developers asked city staff whether Library Lane was a required component. City administrator Roger Fraser and Jayne Miller, the city’s community services administrator, urged developers to be creative, and said that the city was flexible in considering alternative designs.

At the library board’s Oct. 19 meeting, Pollay assured board members that the DDA – a city entity that manages parking as well as downtown improvement projects – is committed to building Library Lane as a through street, and recognized its importance to the library. She asked that the board not let the nomenclature of public/private color their understanding of the issue. It had been remiss of her not to bring in the project’s architectural drawings, she said, which would have helped explain the project.

Board vice president Jan Barney Newman said the board understood the DDA’s intention and current project design, but that it was the city – not the DDA – that would be making decisions about the development on top of the parking structure, and that would be contracting with a developer on that site. The library needed to protect itself by getting an easement, she said.

The easement, board members said, should give the library rights from curb to curb – both for the width of Library Lane, and its length from Fifth to Division. Library board member Ed Surovell said the easement was important for the future flexibility of the institution. “I want to be protected,” he said. “I do not wish to find that I fell short.”

Board president Rebecca Head told Pollay that they weren’t going to take a vote on the issue, but that the board was in full agreement. They’d leave it up to their attorney to negotiate with the city, she said.

Public vs. Private Streets

In a follow-up interview with The Chronicle, Pollay explained the rationale behind changing Library Lane from a public street to a private one. The street is designed to be pedestrian-oriented, she said, not car-centric. As such, it’s about two feet narrower than what’s required for a public street, per Michigan Department of Transportation standards. As part of its pedestrian focus, Pollay said, Library Lane’s sidewalks are designed to be wider than those located next to a public street.

In addition, public streets have a 25 mph minimum speed limit – that’s too high for the intended use of Library Lane, Pollay said. As a city-owned private street, the speed limit can be lowered to 10-15 mph, she said.

Another factor: The road is being built over the parking structure, and MDOT codes for public streets don’t accommodate that, Pollay said.

Strategically, the library can benefit from the private-street designation of Library Lane, Pollay added. It will be considered as part of the underground parking structure managed by the DDA. That means the DDA would handle snow removal from the street and sidewalks, giving it higher priority than the street would get if it were plowed by the city, which prioritizes major arteries like Stadium Boulevard and Washtenaw Avenue.

That said, Pollay says she understands the concerns of the library board. Rather than rush negotiations between the city and the library, she said the DDA was rearranging its construction schedule to buy more time. At this point, she said, there is no drop-dead deadline for reaching an agreement.


  1. October 29, 2009 at 3:54 pm | permalink

    The Library Board is right to want an easement for the entire length and width of Library Lane. I’m a former member of the Board, and I was “present at the creation” of Library Lane. Doug Kelbaugh suggested it. We thought this new street would add a lot to the city, as well as helping the Downtown Library.

    I thought Library Lane was an element of the new underground parking structure that had already been agreed on by everyone. I am surprised, and seriously displeased, by City Administration’s idea that it is not a required element.

    The Library Board should be cautious in dealing with the City, and the DDA adds more uncertainty to the mix. Only three people ever really understood the relationship between the City and the DDA: One died, one went mad, and the third person forgot all about it. 8-)

  2. By Marvin Face
    October 29, 2009 at 5:24 pm | permalink

    I said this when it was first proposed and I will say it again here: This street is not necessary and is a bad idea. Doug is widely known as someone who is an advocate for adding streets so it makes sense that he proposed this. The City is being prudent and I agree with them. A pedestrian corridor? Sure. A steet? No need.

  3. October 29, 2009 at 7:12 pm | permalink

    Please say more, Marvin. Why is it a bad idea? What are your thoughts on (convenient) drop off/pickup of kids and materials?

  4. By Rod Johnson
    October 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm | permalink

    I’m with Marvin. We need fewer streets, not more. Every intersection is a tiny injection of chaos (what do traffic engineers call’em–conflict points). A little pedestrian lane would be a civilizing amenity, and would fit well with the new streetscape taking shape on Division and Fifth. Surely there are other ways of providing access (like the current Fifth Ave plan, which has a little in’n'out loop in front).

  5. By Matt Hampel
    October 29, 2009 at 7:58 pm | permalink

    A street – or some cul-de-sac – is very much necessary. People stop in Division all the time to let out and pick up passengers.

    Also necessary is a marked pedestrian crossing to Blake, which might already be on the way with other planned DDA Division Street improvements. (could we make an underground tunnel, now that everything is being dug out for the lot anyways?)

  6. By Marvin Face
    October 29, 2009 at 8:46 pm | permalink

    First, I suppose my view is colored by the notion that downtown libraries don’t need special off-street “drop-offs”. All my neighbors walk to the library, kids (little kids) in tow. I walk/bike to the library becuase I work downtown. My wife takes the kids and they walk. I don’t ever believe I have accessed the downtown library by car in my 20 years of living in Ann Arbor. I have driven to the branches several times.

    Second, this additional street, library lane, will cause nothing but additional car/walker conflicts. People will park along both sides with flashers on as they “just run in for a second”. Also, everyone parking in the new parking garage will have to cross this street right where people turn into it from 5th.

    If they are making improvements to 5th and making parking spaces by taking out a lane, create a pull-off on 5th right in front of the library if everyone is so determined to drive.

    It just seems so meaningless to create a street that ends at 5th and Division and doesn’t go anywhere further.

  7. By Rod Johnson
    October 29, 2009 at 8:52 pm | permalink

    That pull-off is in fact in the plan: [link (10 meg pdf file)]. And, looking at that plan, it’s hard to see where Library Lane would go.

  8. October 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm | permalink

    The Library’s surveys show that most people come to the Downtown Library by car. Many of them succumb to the almost irresistible temptation to drop off passengers (including children) on Fifth Avenue in front of the Library. This situation is, literally, an “accident waiting to happen”.

    Library Lane, with a variety of pedestrian-friendly features, will be a dramatic improvement.

  9. By Marvin Face
    October 29, 2009 at 10:31 pm | permalink

    Sounds like library lane will have a lot more vehicle-friendly features than pedestrian-friendly features and will be the accident waiting to happen. Still think it’s a bad idea and the better idea is a drop-off on the newly traffic-calmed 5th.

    However, I realize that the reality of the situation is that it is too far along and is a done deal so I’ve already spent too much time on this.

  10. By abc
    October 30, 2009 at 9:58 am | permalink

    The success or failure of Library Lane will be based solely on how it is done. If it is treated as a real street it could succeed. If it is treated like Liberty Plaza it will fail. When I hear terms such as “pedestrian corridor” or saying it will possess “a variety of pedestrian-friendly features” I fear that it will be the latter.

    The current drop off on 5th is terrible because 5th is a small highway through the city; a four lane wide road with lights timed to keep traffic moving at a steady 35 to 40 mph does not mix with a pull off for library patrons (despite someone’s call for “traffic calming”). Nevertheless Library Lane will not succeed just because a 5th Street drop off is senseless. Library Lane will only succeed if it is designed and built like a real street, with new buildings that face to Library Lane that are filled with businesses giving pedestrians many reasons to be there. Anything short of that and it should be called Library Alley because that is all it would be.

    I could see first floor coffee and / or sandwich shops thriving across from the library, what a perfect combination. I can see second floor professional offices and 2 story residents above those making modest four-story buildings, all taking advantage of south facing windows and street views to Library Lane. Visualize Washington between Main and Ashley, without the continuous street, and you will have an idea but it could be better than that.

    I can imagine a narrow street with wide sidewalks that can accommodate seating and umbrellas, with parallel parking to protect the pedestrians which will also keep traffic going slow. If need be the street can be paved with cobbles; the bumps dissuade drivers from stomping on the gas, and the noise helps make it easier to understand the approaching vehicle and its speed.

    But alas I have been through the DDA’s information, as well as the Library’s, none of this is planned. We are planning a glorified alley, call it what you want.

  11. October 30, 2009 at 10:30 am | permalink

    Gee, Library Alley doesn’t sound so bad to me. I have many positive associations with Diagon Alley.

  12. By KGS
    October 30, 2009 at 12:38 pm | permalink

    It appears that the pull-off is gone from the plans. If you look in the Request for Proposal from the city, the plans show the area in front of the library entrance as being parallel parking. [Link]

    I must say that I do not understand why people drop off anyone on Fifth, and that would seem only more dangerous as we move from 4 lanes to 2 in front of the library. I seem to recall this coming up before, though, and someone doing a search to find if there had been any accidents there. Apparently there was no evidence to support the theory that this is an ‘accident waiting to happen’. But my memory may be fuzzy on this, and I’m not entirely sure where I read about it… maybe it was on Arbor Update.

  13. By Pete
    October 30, 2009 at 1:51 pm | permalink

    Were there at some point drawings or statements that implied the ‘ground level’ of the parking structure would be open green space, like a park? Or am I just imagining a brighter past?

    I also have to agree that it’s a bit strange that we’re worried about creating a ‘drop-off zone.’ I thought this parking structure was going to magically encourage everyone to park and stay downtown?