Hieftje Urges Unity on Fuller Road Station

Park commissioners concerned over lower revenue from UM

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (May 18, 2010): During an hour-long presentation and Q&A, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje urged park commissioners to support the proposed Fuller Road Station, saying he’d like the city to present a unified front as they pursue federal funding for the $46 million project – a large parking structure, bus depot and possible train station for commuter rail.

Amy Kuras, Jim Kosteva

Jim Kosteva, right, talks with Ann Arbor parks planner Amy Kuras during Tuesday's meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. Kosteva, director of community relations for the University of Michigan, was on hand for a discussion of the Fuller Road Station, though he did not address the commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Heiftje’s presentation had not been on the agenda, but the commission was set to discuss a resolution that called for city council to stop the project, or at the least negotiate better terms with its partner, the University of Michigan. Several commissioners have expressed concerns about the project, which would be on city-owned property designated as parkland. Under proposed terms – which Hieftje said are not finalized – the city would receive less revenue from UM for parking than it currently gets from the surface lots it leases to the university on Fuller Road. Those revenues support the city’s parks operations.

Another public meeting on the project is set for Wednesday, June 2, from 7-9 p.m. at city council chambers, 100 N. Fifth Ave.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners got a brief update on the urban forestry management plan – the first of two public meetings is set for Thursday at Tappan Middle School from 7-9 p.m. to get input on developing a plan to manage the city’s trees.

The artist selected for a public art project at West Park – Traven Pelletier of Lotus Gardenscapes – spoke briefly about his design. And in a third-quarter financial update for parks and recreation, commissioner Sam Offen reported that they’re in better shape than expected, needing less general fund support than they had originally budgeted for the current fiscal year.

Fuller Road Station: “This Does Not Benefit the Parks”

At PAC’s April 20, 2010 meeting, commissioner Gwen Nystuen – who has often publicly expressed concerns about Fuller Road Station – proposed forming a committee to evaluate the project. Commissioners agreed to discuss it in detail at the May 4 meeting of PAC’s land acquisition committee, which includes all members of the commission.

On May 4, a different proposal was floated – one that asked council to either halt the project, or to negotiate with the University of Michigan for higher lease payments. [See Chronicle coverage: "Better Deal Desired for Fuller Road Station"] On the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was a resolution to that effect. [.pdf of resolution]

It’s in this context that mayor John Hieftje showed up at PAC on Tuesday, asking to speak with commissioners. He began by cataloging various encounters he’s had recently with local, state and federal officials, as well as with executives from Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Railroad, which owns the tracks that run south of the proposed Fuller Road Station site. The project is proposed for an area between those tracks and Fuller Road, just east of East Medical Center Drive near UM’s medical center complex.

Hieftje described a discussion on Friday, May 14, that was organized by Congressman John Dingell and focused on high-speed rail funding for this region. The media event included Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman, Congressman Mark Schauer, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, and Dearborn mayor Jack O’Reilly, among others. Hieftje said he’d also talked with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin during the May 2 UM commencement ceremonies, saying that Levin expressed support for Fuller Road Station and the possibility of commuter rail.

There’s a “lively” negotiation going on between Amtrak and Norfolk Southern, Hieftje said – Norfolk Southern is interested in selling the rail line that runs through Ann Arbor, and Amtrak is interested in buying. He said that he and Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, emerged from Friday’s discussion very enthused about the possibility of federal funding for high-speed rail – and track improvements for high-speed rail would be the same ones needed for commuter rail, he said. “Rail transit coming to our region is inevitable.”

Ann Arbor is applying for about $40 million in federal funding for Fuller Road Station, Hieftje said, adding that he would very much like the city to present a “cohesive and unified effort” to bring rail to this community. There’s no other location that offers the synergy and impact of the Fuller Road site, he said. It’s near a concentrated employment center, which might bring even more jobs in the future. Rail transit holds tremendous potential for providing easier access to Detroit Metro airport, as well as for development in downtown Ypsilanti, he said.

The rail project could take years to unfold – it could take a decade, Hieftje said. And even if commuter rail doesn’t happen, the high-speed rail will, he said, giving this region something that every other major metro area in the country has. [Hieftje later clarified in an email to The Chronicle that he intended to say that every major metro area in the country has commuter rail.]

He told commissioners that he had read their resolution. If PAC wanted the city to drive a harder bargain with the university, then he would appreciate their support of the Fuller Road Station project.

Fuller Road Station: Questions for Hieftje

Commissioners had several questions and comments in the wake of Hieftje’s remarks. David Barrett asked when the next round of federal funding would be available – Hieftje said he didn’t have exact dates, but he expected it would happen later this year.

Doug Chapman said their intent wasn’t to express disunity, but rather to get a better deal. Heiftje said he had no problem with that, and noted that a deal with UM hadn’t yet been finalized.

Saying that commissioners shared Hieftje’s enthusiasm for rail, Tim Berla pointed out that their role was to look out for the parks system – and the structure was planned for land designated as parkland. It’s been difficult because it wasn’t clear what the process was for this project, he added. Berla gave the example of the budget process: Staff comes to PAC with a draft, it’s discussed, then PAC makes recommendations that are forwarded to city council. In the case of Fuller Road Station, Eli Cooper has made some presentations to PAC, but it’s not clear what their role is – or who’s making decisions, and when. Berla asked Hieftje to talk about what’s already happened, and how PAC can best help council.

Hieftje said that some money has already been allocated and spent, and that design drawings are coming together. He then described his own history of support for the parks, saying that his own feelings about parks and the environment are as deep as anyone’s and that he agonized over locating the project on parkland. But looking at the environmental spectrum, transit is a part of that, he said – and the success of rail transit in Ann Arbor hinges on this location.

Hieftje then touched on a range of other issues. He said he’s heard people say that this project will set a precedent – but one time doesn’t set a precedent, he said. The city doesn’t need to ask voters to approve the project because they aren’t selling the land, they’re leasing it. [He was referring to a voter-approved amendment to the city charter, which requires a voter referendum on the sale of parkland.]

Gwen Nystuen

Gwen Nystuen of the park advisory commission.

Gwen Nystuen addressed the issue of process – there hadn’t been any public input on deciding to locate the structure at the Fuller Road site, she said. Further, the large parking structure has nothing to do with a rail station. It’s commuter parking for the university, she said, and that’s not a parks use. Hieftje countered that the current surface lot isn’t a parks use either, but Nystuen replied that the university leases it during the weekdays – it’s available for parks users in the evenings and weekends. That won’t be the case with the new structure, she noted, which will bring in more traffic and be used by the university 24/7. “This does not benefit the parks,” Nystuen said.

Hieftje argued that Fuller Road is the only location where a station would work. “That’s your decision,” Nystuen said. No, Hieftje replied, that’s the decision of professionals. The question is how it benefits the community and the environment, he said, not just the parks.

If this is the best location, Nystuen said, then why not go through a public process to arrive at that conclusion? Then perhaps they’d decide to sell the land, or have people vote that they no longer want to use it as parkland.

It might have been parkland at one time, Hieftje said, but it tastes and feels like a parking lot.

People love the idea of a train station, Nystuen said, but a huge commuter parking lot doesn’t need to be part of that. The city is supposed to be working to have fewer cars, not more.

Sam Offen said there’s no doubt the land will be taken out of parks use if the parking structure is built. Now, the surface lot is an auxiliary use for parks, but it will be turned into a commuter structure. It’s something that would have been good to address months ago, he said. Offen also noted the recent planning commission vote to add “transportation facilities” as a permitted principal use for public land. He indicated that was clearly designed to allow Fuller Road Station to be built on public land.

But Offen’s bigger issue related to revenue. He asked Hieftje’s view of the potential for success in negotiating a better financial deal with the university. The memorandum of understanding between the city and UM calls for the university to pay about $24,000 annually, which is roughly a third of what the city gets now from leasing Fuller Road lots to UM, Offen noted. Plus, the university will be parking more cars there – so it seems like the city is getting the short end of the stick, he said. [.pdf file of memorandum of understanding]

The rate hasn’t been voted on yet by council, Hieftje said, and armed with the second part of PAC’s resolution, they can press the university. But he was there to say that the first part of the resolution did nothing to advance their efforts to secure funding for the project. Yes, parking is for UM – but they’re a jobs creator, he said. They’re helping keep Ann Arbor’s unemployment rate the lowest in the state. He also said they couldn’t get people to take the bus or train by starving parking. Though they’ve had great success with programs like getDowntown, he said, the city still needs to provide parking. He also mentioned that AATA is interested in the project, and sees potential there.

The AATA is key to the city’s strategy for funding its share of the city-university project. From the Chronicle’s report of the April 21, 2010 AATA board meeting:

AATA board member Sue McCormick [who is public services area administrator for the city of Ann Arbor] also gave some shape to the city’s funding strategy for its share of the Fuller Road Station project: Once the environmental impact study is completed, that will make it possible for the local transit agency – in this case, the AATA – to apply for federal funds for the project. That’s consistent with the message thus far from city officials, who have said that whatever the funding strategy will be, it won’t involve city general fund money.

Julie Grand, PAC’s new chair, asked whether the recent meetings with federal officials changed the outlook for phase 1 of the project – the parking structure. Hieftje reported that Sen. Carl Levin would prefer that the project not have two phases, and that it would be easier to get federal funding if it were bundled as one project. [The project has been divided into two phases, with the first phase – the parking structure and bus station – moving ahead, with hopes that a train station would be built at a later stage.]

Grand said that when the project was first presented as a train station, it was easy to see the benefits. But over the months it’s been narrowed until it’s basically just a parking structure, and there’s been no opportunity for public input.

Hieftje said it would never be just a parking structure – even if there’s no rail component, he said, it would still be an intermodal station, with buses, taxicabs, and bicycles. It would serve as a hub for an interconnector bus system that’s now being studied, linking the north and south sides of town and campus. He said he couldn’t stress enough how much AATA was involved, and that the agency is out there trying to get funding for the Fuller Road project. If they want to wait for the certainty of funding for rail, however, they might be waiting a long time, he said, though there are many positive signs.

David Barrett told Hieftje that it’s important to see the context in which PAC is operating. They’ve had to make reductions in parks services, because of the budget. Then they get word that they’ll be getting even less revenue as a result of the Fuller Road Station – a project they haven’t been a part of. There was a breakdown in communication, he said, and he viewed Hieftje’s visit to PAC as a sign of good faith.

Hieftje noted that on Monday, city council had voted to restore money for mowing and trimming in parks, and had removed the proposal to have football Saturday parking at Allmendinger and Frisinger parks. He said he’d be happy to be armed with a strong message saying the city wanted a better deal, and take that to the university.

Berla asked Hieftje to improve the transparency of the process, so that they wouldn’t have to speculate about what was happening. There’s a formula that the city uses to calculate the amount it charges the university for parking, he said, but it wasn’t clear how that formula was developed. The same is true for the Fuller Road Station deal.

Hieftje said he wasn’t involved in the negotiations – that’s been handled by city staff. He also said that if Fuller Road Station is built and the university decides it doesn’t need to lease the parking lots on the north side of Fuller, which are also on city-owned parkland, then those lots might be returned to park use. He encouraged commissioners to look at it from that perspective, as the possibility of having more park and open space in that area.

In response to a query from Offen, Hieftje said that revenues from the university’s lease of Fuller Road Station would be returned to the parks budget.

Fuller Road Station: Discussion of the Resolution

Discussion of Fuller Road Station resolution came later in the meeting – Hieftje did not stay for it. Julie Grand, PAC’s new chair, began deliberations by saying the resolution had changed somewhat since their last meeting. It incorporated concerns about the lack of transparency and public input, she said, as well as safety concerns. The resolution was brought forward by Grand, Gwen Nystuen and Sam Offen:

Whereas, the Park Advisory Commission (PAC) has been briefed on numerous occasions about plans for the Fuller Road Station by project managers and City staff.

Whereas, PAC have yet to receive direction from the City Council to offer our opinion as an advisory body regarding the proposed Fuller Road Station.

Whereas, the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan have jointly proposed building an approximately 1,020 car parking structure, which represents an increase of 770 parking spaces.

Whereas, the proposed Fuller Road Station will permit cars and buses to run on a 24 hour schedule, while currently the University is limited to parking cars between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday on the South Lot.

Whereas, the proposed Fuller Road Station may offer limited amenities that benefit the parks system or park users, such as the expansion of the adjacent athletic field; in balance, the proposed project does not benefit park users, nor does the construction of the Fuller Road Station adhere to the Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan, which proposes open space, additional athletic fields and a service park building, as well as development of a Border-to Border trail and nature areas along the Huron River.

Whereas, PAC has serious reservations about setting precedent for long-term leases or other agreements on parkland, particularly if said agreement does not directly benefit park users or the parks system.

Whereas, PAC has concerns regarding the safety of park users, pedestrians, and bicycle commuters with the introduction of additional curb cuts, bus, and automotive traffic that may result from construction and utilization of the Fuller Road Station.

Whereas, PAC questions the inclusion of a commuter bicycle station at the Fuller Road Station in terms of its distance to the Medical Center as well as the aforementioned safety concerns.

Whereas, the Parks and Recreation Department currently receives $31,057.00 (FY 2010) annually from the University of Michigan for 250 parking spots in the South Lot and is slated to receive only $24,846.00 with a 3% yearly increase for 1,020 spots following completion of the proposed parking structure in 2012.

Whereas, it is unlikely that the University of Michigan will continue to lease the North Lots on Fuller Road following the completion of the proposed parking garage, resulting in an additional annual loss to the Parks budget of approximately $38,495 (FY 2010).

Whereas, the potential loss of revenue (totaling $44,706 in FY 2010 dollars) from the University of Michigan will result in the Parks and Recreation Department having to make additional cuts to an already stretched and shrinking budget.

Resolved, that PAC recommends that the City Council does not proceed in its approval of plans for the Fuller Road Station at the site where it is currently proposed.

Resolved, that if such plans are approved by Council, that the agreement with the University of Michigan is renegotiated to include a significant increase in revenue allocated to the Parks and Recreation Department. 100% of payments should come from the University of Michigan. Revenue at the current FY 2010 rate of approximately $125 per space would result in an annual payment of between $100,000 and $127,500 to the Parks Department.

Julie Grand

Julie Grand, chair of the park advisory commission.

Tim Berla said he didn’t share the safety concerns mentioned in the resolution. He wanted to send a message that the process needed to be transparent, and that PAC has the chance to give the agreement with the university a thumbs up or down.

Grand was concerned about the timetable and cited urgency, given that she thinks the city will be breaking ground this summer to do utilities work. Part of the problem, she noted, is that there’s a lack of information about exactly what will be happening, and when.

David Barrett said he was under the impression that city council had already signed off on the project – he asked for clarification from councilmembers Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who are ex-officio members of PAC. Taylor said it’s still in the planning stage, though they had voted on the memorandum of understanding with the university. The site plan hasn’t been approved, and the question of funding hasn’t been resolved.

Though Taylor acknowledged that some people on council are very keen on the project, “I don’t believe that the point of no return has been reached.”

Barrett said that PAC had been mad about the process and mad about the money, but it would be premature to say they didn’t approve of the project.

Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, came to the podium to explain the work that was being done this summer. The stormwater system adjacent to the Fuller Road Station site is undersized, he said, and needed to be replaced anyway. The work is being done in a location that anticipates the possibility of the station, he added, but they’d planned to replace the utilities anyway.

Taylor addressed the transparency issue, saying the process had been unclear but it hadn’t been a backroom deal – it hadn’t been “untransparent.” There’s no template for this kind of project, he said. It’s fluid, and the multiple funding streams are uncertain.

Sam Offen noted that their meeting packet included a timeline, dated April 30 and on the letterhead of Walker Parking Consultants. He asked whether this gave a clue about what will happen. Here’s the timeline from the meeting packet:

Park Advisory meeting #1: March 16 (done)
Building Board of Appeals: April 23 (done)
UM President’s review: May 5 +/-
Public meeting #3: May 6
Planning Commission submittal: May 17
Park Advisory meeting #2: May 18
City Council informal presentation: June 20 or 21
Planning Commission hearing: July 8
UM Regents formal review: July 15
City Council formal review: August 16

Colin Smith, the city’s parks manager, said that this schedule had been pushed back at least a month – he noted that it called for a presentation to PAC that day, which obviously wasn’t happening. In response to a question from Offen, he said he wasn’t sure what the regents formal review would entail.

Offen said he didn’t think PAC should wait too long to act, but suggested tabling the resolution to work on refining it, based on what they’d heard at the meeting.

Anglin weighed in, describing the process as “organic.” He said the city hadn’t handled this first phase well, and that they should be asking the university for millions of dollars, “not just this pittance.”

Berla suggested asking that council and staff present PAC with a complete plan, including the parking deal. That way the public could then see it and provide input, and PAC could make a recommendation to council.

Grand reported that she had attended the last public meeting held by staff on the project. People had asked when they could give input, she said, and staff told them they could do it at public hearings after the plan had been submitted. But by that point, she noted, it’s already ”a done deal.”

Grand said she was glad that the mayor had come to talk to PAC, but “it doesn’t mean we have to do what he tells us to do.” The project is still in phases, and phase one is still a parking structure, she said. That’s not in the best interests of the parks system, she said, adding that obviously the revenues aren’t acceptable either. She suggested stating in the resolution that PAC is in favor of the vision of rail transit, but that this plan isn’t the right one to achieve that goal.

Nystuen agreed. The plans that are fully developed are those for the parking structure, she said. There’s been no consideration of alternative plans, like ones presented at PAC’s March meeting by local architect Peter Pollack. The city has already spent $600,000 on the project, she noted. It’s important that council hear some of these issues fairly soon, she said, and to hear that so far, the deal doesn’t look good.

Christopher Taylor, Sam Offen

City councilmember Christopher Taylor, left, and park advisory commissioner Sam Offen.

Offen suggested adding to the resolution the fact that Sen. Carl Levin wants to see the phases combined into one project. However, he said he didn’t have much confidence that federal dollars would flow. The resolution should state that the city should negotiate a favorable return for the university’s use of city property – but to make it sound as pleasant and upbeat as possible.

Smith noted that the current draft resolution was quite specific, and that perhaps sticking to general themes – like the need for input and transparency – would be more effective.

Taylor suggested including in one of the resolved clauses a statement that revenues from Fuller Road Station would be allocated to parks. He said it would be incomprehensible that the city would lose money on the project, given the economic environment.

Commissioners discussed safety issues, with Grand noting that increased traffic – both in volume and in duration – would be an issue for both pedestrians and cyclists. Smith said that there’s now one curbcut to the surface lot, which holds about 200 cars that mostly come and go at two set times during the day. The Fuller Road Station would have three curbcuts, a steady flow of traffic, and more buses and cars.

Trying to see if they’d reached consensus, Grand asked commissioners whether it was fair to say that based on what they know about phase one, that they don’t support it. Berla said it’s reasonable to put something like that in the resolution, but that he wouldn’t vote for it.

Taylor said it seemed as though commissioners would support a rail project at that location, and would prefer to see the phases bundled into one – the “Levin project.” He said the mayor’s point seemed to be that PAC should be aware of the consequences of its resolution, as the city seeks federal funding.

Grand said she understood Hieftje to say that if PAC wants the city to negotiate a better deal with the university, they needed to support the project and present a united front. As advocates for the parks, she said, it’s not PAC’s job to defend his plan and present a united front.

Taylor said Hieftje might argue that rail transit benefits the environment, which in turn benefits the parks.

Nystuen moved to table the discussion until the June 1 meeting of PAC’s land acquisition committee – the motion passed. Grand will work on a revised resolution that they’ll discuss at that meeting, with the intent to bring the resolution up for a vote at PAC’s June 15 meeting.

Fuller Road Station: Public Commentary

Peter Pollack was the only speaker during public commentary, and he addressed the issue of Fuller Road Station at the end of PAC’s meeting. It was significant, he noted, that the congressional delegation preferred the project not to come in phases. If that’s the case, Pollack added, he urged PAC to reconsider the current design – it’s a large, multi-story structure on the corner of the site. Instead, he suggested a design that would be a better fit for the park and the landscape – long and low, stretching lengthwise across the current two soccer fields to the east. [Pollack had previously described his vision during public commentary at PAC's March 16, 2010 meeting.]

The parking structure and the need for parking should not be driving this project, Pollack concluded – the train station should. The city should design a structure that reaches far into the future.

Urban Forestry Management Plan

Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forestry and natural resources planning coordinator, briefed commissioners about the next steps in a process to develop a plan to maintain a healthy and sustainable urban forest. As part of that, a comprehensive tree inventory was completed last year, she said. There are over 40,000 street trees and about 6,600 trees in city parks.

The next step is to gather public input on what the community’s values are regarding its urban forest, Gray said. Two public workshops are scheduled: On Thursday, May 20 from 7-9 p.m. at Tappan Middle School, 2251 E. Stadium Blvd. and on Tuesday, June 1, from 7-9 p.m. at the Forsythe Middle School cafeteria, 1655 Newport Road.

After the workshops, city staff will send out a survey to get additional input, then form a stakeholder committee to work with staff on developing a management plan, Gray said.

Commissioner Sam Offen asked whether this plan concerned only the city’s urban forest, or whether it included University of Michigan and private property as well. Gray replied that the staff was keeping it open until they got public input, though they hadn’t intended to include the university, since it had its own management plan. But they could at least include the university in the stakeholder committee, she said.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked what kinds of activities might be included in the plan. Again Gray said that they’d like the community to direct the staff, but that a plan might include things like goals for tree-planting, canopy cover or maintenance.

West Park Public Art Project

City parks planner Amy Kuras is overseeing a major renovation of West Park, located between Seventh and Chapin, south of Miller and north of Huron.

Traven Pelletier

Traven Pelletier of Lotus Gardenscapes is designing a public art project in West Park.

The project is being funded by $213,218 from the park maintenance and capital projects millage and $1.374 million from the city’s stormwater fund, through a low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund (SRF) program. [See Chronicle coverage: " West Park Improvements Get Fast-Tracked" and "More to Meeting Than Downtown Planning"]

On Tuesday, Kuras told commissioners that there’s “a lot of dirt in big piles” – the project is taking shape. One element of that effort is the recent selection of an artist for a public art component – Traven Pelletier of Lotus Gardenscapes. The group that actually picked Pelletier – the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (AAPAC) – has been reluctant to go public with his name, though he announced it on his Facebook page in March. Kuras introduced him to commissioners on Tuesday, and included sketches of his design in the meeting packet. [.pdf file of West Park art project]

His work will be incorporated into new seat walls being installed in a hill facing the West Park bandshell. The project includes creating two metal tree sculptures at each end of the top tier of the concrete seating, and incorporating large boulders into the seating area and the plaza leading up to the bandshell.

Pelletier said the design is in its final stages, and that it would be good to know sooner rather than later if the project will be approved. [AAPAC has not yet voted on the final design.] He said he’s grateful for the opportunity to work on the site.

In response to a question from Sam Offen, Pelletier clarified that the trees will be made of structural steel. When Offen asked what material the boulders were made of, Pelletier quipped, “structural rock.”

Third-Quarter Financial Report, Other Budget Updates

Sam Offen is chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee, and gave an update to commissioners on financials for parks and recreation. [.pdf file of budget as of April 2010]

The city’s fiscal year ends June 30. The parks and rec budget is now forecast to end the year needing $89,000 less than expected from the general fund, Offen said. That’s not to say they’re in the black, he noted – a general fund subsidy of $1.467 million will be needed for the year. But that’s better than expected, he said, thanks to the staff’s efforts to cut expenses in response to lower revenues.

The public market and the city’s two golf courses – which are enterprise funds, designed eventually to be self-sufficient operations – are forecast to end the year needing a general fund subsidy of $487,441. That’s $170,000 less than expected, Offen said.

In response to a question about how the recent rainy, cooler weather might affect revenues, parks manager Colin Smith said he’d rather have that kind of weather in May than in June, when kids are out of school. Noting that May wasn’t off to a great start, Smith said that March had been a “ridiculously good” month, as had April.

Smith also reported that the stop log was recently removed at Argo Dam – that allows water to flow back into the dam’s headrace, which in turn lets canoes and kayaks pass through. Having the stop log in place would have impacted revenues at the Argo Canoe Livery. [Details about issues with the Argo Dam, including an agreement between the city and state that resulted in removal of the stop log, are included in Chronicle coverage of the city council's May 3, 2010 meeting.] The Argo livery is still closed because of high water conditions, but they expect it to open relatively soon – possibly this weekend.

Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, also spoke to commissioners about a few budget-related issues. There’s about $126,000 left over from the upgrade to Fuller athletic fields, which will now be used to install LED lighting at Garden Homes Park. And the city council’s approval on Monday of the FY 2011 budget included funding for hand trimming in the parks – Warba said he’s sure it’s apparent to everyone that they haven’t been able to trim around trees. They’re currently on a 19-day mowing cycle with the large mowers. Because weather has been warm earlier in the season this year, they’ve already mowed three times – usually, they would have only made one pass at this point in the season.

Warba noted that the budget passed by council does not affect the need to eliminate or reduce maintenance in 17 city parks. Details of that were discussed at PAC’s meeting in April.

Smith also reported that the FY 2011 budget has reinstated funding for the Ann Arbor Senior Center and Mack Pool, which had initially been slated to close. Staff will be working to implement the recommendations that task forces for those two facilities developed, as ways to cut expenses and raise revenues. All fee increases were approved by council unanimously with no discussion, he said, as was a recommended rollback in funding for the natural areas preservation program.. The volunteer outreach position was approved as well – he’ll be posting a notice for that job soon.

The council rejected a proposal to use Allmendinger and Frisinger parks for parking on University of Michigan football game days, Smith told commissioners. Related to that, he reported that Allmendinger had been used for parking by law enforcement officials when President Obama came to town for UM’s May 2 commencement. It had rained heavily that day, and neighbors were upset by damage done to the park by the vehicles. Smith said that neighbors hadn’t been notified in advance because of security issues.

He said that he and Warba had visited the park for several days after the event, and had determined that there’s no need for restoration work. When Offen asked how the park looked now, Warba said there’s no evidence that anything had been disturbed. Christopher Taylor pointed out that if the plan had moved forward to allow football parking, they had made provisions not to do it during rainy conditions.

Miscellaneous Reports

During his report to commissioners, parks manager Colin Smith gave several updates:

  • PAC’s June 15 meeting will be held at CTN studios on South Industrial, as will their meetings in September and December.
  • The city’s swimming pools are set to open on Saturday, May 29 – Memorial Day weekend. He urged commissioners to buy a season pass before then, and get a discounted rate.
  • The city is parterning with the Center for Independent Living to offer a paddlesports program on June 10 from 3-7 p.m. at Gallup Park. Parks staff will be trained on how to better serve people with disabilities.

Matt Warba reported that his staff is working to restore damage to the Sun Dragon sculpture at Fuller Pool. [This situation was also discussed at the May 11 meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. AAPAC chair Margaret Parker designed the sculpture.]

Warba also told commissioners that athletic fields 1, 2 and 3 at Fuller Park will be open for play on June 1. [For details of renovations of the Fuller fields, see Chronicle coverage of PAC's Jan. 19, 2010 meeting: "Fee Increase Suggested for Athletic Fields"]

Present: David Barrett, Tim Berla, Doug Chapman, Julie Grand, John Lawter, Karen Levin, Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen, Mike Anglin (ex-officio), Christopher Taylor (ex-officio)

Next meeting: Tuesday, June 15 at 4 p.m. at the CTN studios, 2805 S. Industrial Hwy., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]


  1. By Pete Richards
    May 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm | permalink

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  2. By jenkins
    May 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm | permalink

    I cannot believe the arrogance of some of the parks commissioners. The needs of the parks do NOT trump all the other needs in the city. The train station or multi-transportation station is a huge benefit for the city. To argue that replacing a parking lot with the transportation station is not in the interest of residents or the environment is ludicrous. The transportation station will do more to help the environment, by far, than replacing the current parking lot with a strip of grass which would have a negligible use or keeping it as a current parking lot. This is not a pristine park where we are using a valuable resource for thee transportation center. It is currently a parking lot!

    As the debate has continued, what we now hear is that the parks commission is concerned with loss revenue from the lease of the parking lot. In all the negative comments that have been said regarding the university using this lot for its employees over the past few months, many have failed to mention how these lease payments have been funding the upkeep of many of our other parks. It has been the parks commission and parks department that has benefited over the past 15 years from this revenue. Threatening the UM with higher lease payments is opportunistic, greedy and unprofessional. What would the parks commission/department do if the UM pulled out of both leases and built the own structures on Wall Street. How would the loss of revenue from BOTH parking lots on Fuller affect the parks budget?

    I am a UM employee and city resident and am completely offended that my rights to have access to convenient and efficient transportation to work is considered secondary, inappropriate and unethical by the some on the parks commission and city council. The community and council/DDA has endless debate on transportation for workers downtown whether the conversation is over the go pass, meter parking, discounted parking structures for workers etc. When it comes to discussion of transportation options for UM employees the conversation is always spun as if that is unjust and sinful. Well, the UM which has over 40K employees, compare that to the number of employees in all of downtown.

    Downtown business employees should not have their transportation needs valued higher than UM employee needs. We all work in the city and many of us also live in the city.

  3. May 20, 2010 at 5:08 pm | permalink

    “And even if commuter rail doesn’t happen, the high-speed rail will, he said, giving this region something that every other major metro area in the country has.”

    Mary, is this backwards? Other metro areas have commuter rail, not high-speed rail, correct?

  4. By glenn thompson
    May 20, 2010 at 5:19 pm | permalink

    Steve, the statement made by the Mayor is reported correctly. One, of course, might question the accuracy of the statement.

  5. May 21, 2010 at 10:16 am | permalink

    It’s distressing to read calls for “unity” when the project in question seems to be another manifestation of the city’s “edifice complex.” I wish our elected officials would spend less time as green urban visionaries and more time as Chicago aldermen: fixing things that are broken (like the E. Stadium bridge) mowing the parks, providing public safety.

  6. By W S Con
    May 21, 2010 at 1:56 pm | permalink

    I thought the Feds already turned the city down for funding for this project? Why are we revisiting this? It should be way down on the ‘needs’ list for the citizens of Ann Arbor.

  7. May 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm | permalink

    You’re missing the bigger picture. Hieftje and his allies want to greatly expand the population of Ann Arbor. The code for this is “density”. Rail transit doesn’t make sense for a city the present size of Ann Arbor. It only makes sense for a much larger city.

    The Fuller Road Station is part of this larger scheme to build mass transit in order to serve the bigger city that does not yet exist.

  8. By Rod Johnson
    May 22, 2010 at 10:58 am | permalink

    Conspiracy theory is one thing this story has lacked so far, so thanks for that.

  9. May 22, 2010 at 11:40 am | permalink

    Hieftje and Company don’t make any secret of what they plan to do, so it is hardly a conspiracy.

  10. May 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm | permalink

    So David, assuming the goal is to increase population, what’s wrong with that? Coming to this without preconceptions, it doesn’t seem that terrible to me.

  11. May 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm | permalink

    Because the voters have never approved such a goal. The Greenbelt vote in 2003 was a successful anti-development campaign. Remember the flyer with the bulldozer on it? A classic!

  12. May 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm | permalink

    That doesn’t seem like a fatal objection to me. It’s an intrinsic aspect of human nature and politics that there are times when worthy goals have to be obfuscated or soft-pedaled in order to be achieved. While I’m not crazy about the obfuscation involved here, at the moment I am more concerned with the substantive issue whether it would be good for Ann Arbor to have more density and more people. What’s wrong with that?

  13. May 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm | permalink

    I don’t believe in slimy politics. Eschew obfuscation!

  14. May 22, 2010 at 7:24 pm | permalink

    Fred has a good point. This is a major question that deserves a forthright debate. There are many points of policy and principle that derive from it. Rather than a full public discussion, we are often hearing arguments about related questions that dodge around the central point. What kind of community do we want to have in the future? And who is qualified (and entitled) to make that decision?

    BTW, I love the “edifice complex” phrase. It is very apropos.

  15. By Tricia
    May 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm | permalink

    Greenbelt wasn’t anti-development, it was anti-sprawl. If you want to avoid sprawl, you have to build more densely in the center.

    What bothers me about the PAC discussion is that it sounds like they were all whining – “how come you didn’t talk to us first? We’re going to take our ball [this land] and go home – nyah nyah nuh nyah nyah!” They’re missing the forest for a tree.

  16. May 22, 2010 at 9:31 pm | permalink

    Tricia, you have fallen for the Myth of the Inevitability of Development (MID). There is no necessity for Ann Arbor to grow at all. Remember, our population has remained stable for the past 40 years.

    For the future, there can be no development in the Greenbelt, and no development (or very little) inside the city. We can stay the mid-size college town we are now. It is all a matter of political choice.

    If people want to live in Chicago, they should move to Chicago.

  17. By Jenkins
    May 23, 2010 at 9:56 am | permalink

    @David Cahill

    A city that does not grow dies.

    I agree with Tricia that the Grennbelt was all about anti-sprawl and pro-density. If the public believed in your interpretation David , I would bet that the millage would never have passed.

    Ann Arbor has grown slowly over the years, but it has grown. Where would we be if the 1950′s folks thought as you do and believed that all growth should be stopped in Ann Arbor? Which generation gets to put a hold on change, growth and the future?

    And allowing Ann Arbor to grow slowly over time so that the city can thrive and be competitively in todays world is not equivalent to the size of a city like Chicago. It is silly to compare Ann Arbor to Chicago.

    “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”
    — James Belasco and Ralph Stayer
    Flight of the Buffalo (1994)

    “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
    — Niccolo Machiavelli
    The Prince (1532)

    “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
    ~John F. Kennedy

    “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
    ~Benjamin Franklin

  18. By Rod Johnson
    May 23, 2010 at 12:46 pm | permalink

    No, Jenkins, there’s nothing in between Ann Arbor and Chicago. That’s the stark choice we make, my fellow citizens: Ann Arbor or Chicago.

    Ah, this town’s been going downhill since the Organ Works closed anyway. Then freeways came along and ruined everything, and Tower Plaza was the dagger through this once bucolic town’s heart.

  19. May 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm | permalink

    Forty years of steady population and prosperity makes a pretty good argument for zero population growth.

  20. By John Floyd
    May 23, 2010 at 10:44 pm | permalink

    Sustainability is about not needing a continuous inflow of outside resources to survive. This seems at odds with the idea that growth is required for survival. If population growth is required for survival, the logical extension of this is that world population needs to grow forever if “the world” is to survive. Does this make sense?

    Change comes in many guises. Population growth is merely one of them.

    The city has built a parking lot on the site of the old YMCA. Is it anyone’s contention that because this site is now a parking lot, that it can never be anything else? The fact that the U is using a parking lot now does not mean that the lot can never be removed, or removed only at outrageous expense.

    The city ordinance does speak to the “sale” of public land, and the legal form of this proposed transaction is of a long-term lease. The substance of the proposed transaction, however, is that of a sale: my great-grand children will still be looking at this parking building.

    The point is not that the proposal is good or not good. Even if this “transportation center” was the single greatest idea in the history of our city, we still were promised that parkland would not be turned over to non-city entities for non-park use without a vote. A public referendum is called for on this topic. If it is as great as its proponents suggest, it shouldn’t be a hard sell.

    Why is the political establishment so afraid of a vote on the parkland transfer, and so afraid of public discussion that the Park Commission must be muzzled into “unity” with the political establishment?

    Ann Arbor is not a metropolitan area. At most it is an Edge City, on the fringe of the actual metro area of Southeast Michigan: Detroit.

    For Ann Arbor to accomodate the Mayor’s 1/2 million population goal, virtually the entire city would have to be torn down, re-laid out for streets and sidewalks that can accomodate such numbers, and then built from the ground up. A project of this magnitude demands pubic discussion and approval.

    John Floyd
    5th Ward Republican Council Candidate

  21. By blackcanoe
    May 23, 2010 at 11:08 pm | permalink

    Oh you people who never grew up with public transportation never cease to amaze me. it’s not about ann Arbor, it’s about making public transportation available in SE Michigan. I think Michigan is at the lower one tenth of all states in public transportation. we NEED public transportation. get over yourselves.

  22. May 24, 2010 at 8:48 am | permalink

    Very well said, John.

  23. By Leslie Morris
    May 24, 2010 at 9:10 am | permalink

    When my family arrived in Ann Arbor a little over 40 years ago, the train station was that large, impressive “gateway to the city” that is now the Gandy Dancer restaurant. The railroad had two tracks between Detroit and Chicago. One of those tracks was removed years ago, and there is now a single track.

    I seem to remember that part of the recent proposal to improve rail service involved building more sidings, so that passenger trains could be pulled off the single track to let freight trains, which have the right-of-way, go by. Apparently this did not get funding from the federal government.

    The current railroad proposals do not represent a glorious future for mass transit in southeast Michigan, or even for Ann Arbor. It would take huge amounts of money to restore the train service lost in the recent past. I see little prospect of that money arriving any time soon.

    Expansion of bus service is much more cost-effective.

  24. May 24, 2010 at 9:16 am | permalink

    How long does a lease have to be for a court to look through the form to the substance, and to conclude that the lease is, legally speaking, a purchase?

    For example, what about a 500-year lease with an option to renew?

    Thoughts that keep us from our rest….

  25. By abc
    May 24, 2010 at 10:47 am | permalink

    Mr. Cahill, please rest assured that every time you post this fiction I, or someone else, will correct it.

    Your statement,“Remember, our population has remained stable for the past 40 years.” is BS.

    ‘Our population’ in this sentence is strictly the city of Ann Arbor; exclusive of the surrounding townships. Not included are Pittsfield, Ann Arbor, Scio and Ypsilanti Townships all of which have grown substantially in the last 40 years. Between 1970 and 2005 Ann Arbor Township grew by 30 %, Ypsilanti Township grew by 60% Scio Township tripled and Pittsfield Township quadrupled. The total growth of those surrounding townships over that time frame is 60,000 people. Oh and by the way, the city in 2005 had 110,000 residents which was 10% MORE than it had in 1970. So between 1970 and 2005 the Ann Arbor area grew by 70%.

  26. By Leslie Morris
    May 24, 2010 at 11:10 am | permalink

    Congratulations to Pittsfield, Ann Arbor, Scio and Ypsilanti townships. Their local governments should really be looking into financing an area-wide bus system. (Thank you, Ypsilanti City, for putting a transportation millage on the ballot.)

  27. May 24, 2010 at 11:54 am | permalink

    ABC (whoever you are), I was plainly talking about Ann Arbor City only.

  28. By jenkins
    May 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm | permalink

    @ David Cahill: You have missed the entire point of why the greenbelt was created. This large population increase in the townships and beyond was one of the main reasons why the Grennbelt was created; to keep the population within the city boundaries or as close as possible. It is all about anti-sprawl and pro-density.

    Nowhere does it ever stipulate or insinuate that it means no growth. It is suppose to be pro-growth but in the right areas; the areas that benefit the city.

  29. By Leslie Morris
    May 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm | permalink

    The greenbelt vote was not a vote to increase density. If it had been presented as such it would not have passed. The density fiction has been added later by those who don’t like the Ann Arbor that actually exists. In the same way, the many successful Ann Arbor ballot propositions to buy or take care of parkland are not indications that Ann Arbor citizens harbor an unfulfilled wish to replace houses with large apartment buildings. What nonsense.

  30. May 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm | permalink

    Statements are frequently made about what the meaning of the Greenbelt ballot initiative was that are not supported by either the language of the initiative or the advertising that was used in the campaign. Of course, no one can say what the motivation was of each person voting for it. The major difference of opinion is over whether the vote was for urban density or not. (I say not.)

    I recently reviewed this controversy in my blog [link]. This review includes a look at the original resolution and the ballot language. I won’t try to repeat them here.

  31. By Rod Johnson
    May 24, 2010 at 12:23 pm | permalink

    Does it really make sense to draw that arbitrary line, though? The townships are clearly part of the Ann Arbor “ecosystem” as far as employment, retail and transportation go.

    I’m not advocating we grow to a half million people. If Hieftje really thinks that’s likely he should be institutionalized. But I’m equally sick of the lack of urban amenities here. Regardless of our pretensions to being a “world class city,” we’re actually a jumped-up small town with all the stodginess that implies. A denser urban core would be a good thing in my opinion. It wouldn’t take an enormous increase in population to accomplish that, and it wouldn’t necessarily mean the radical change to the nature of A^2 (whatever that is) that’s implied by the Chicago comparison.

    “Forty years of steady population and prosperity” could also create stagnation and a smug mindset, a whiff of which I believe is faintly detectable around town. I agree with John that we’re not a metro area. In fact, I think calling us an “edge city” is too kind–we’re increasingly just a suburb of Detroit, albeit one with a large university and a somewhat awkward location. (To some extent this explains why we have to go to places like Taylor or Westland for some of the industrial services that even a smaller city like Jackson or Battle Creek might have nearby.) If we want to continue to have our own identity and not just become another node in the web of Best Buys and Walmarts blanketing Southeast Michigan, I think it would be good to urbanize a little.

    I agree, though, force-feeding us a railway station or a WALLY is not going to have an appreciable positive impact.

  32. By Rod Johnson
    May 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm | permalink

    Whoops: my comment was directed at Dave’s #27 above.

  33. May 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm | permalink

    John, I’ve seen you reference the mayor’s population goal before, but I haven’t otherwise ever heard it attributed to him. Would you please clarify?

    Also, your statement about sustainability is mistaken. Think sunlight.

  34. By abc
    May 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm | permalink

    “I was plainly talking about Ann Arbor City only.” I know. That’s what you always limit your comment to when it comes to past population increases. But rather than being clear, as my post is, you choose to lie by omitting the facts.

  35. By Tom Whitaker
    May 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm | permalink

    Buying up development rights for a greenbelt could certainly be seen as a theoretical way of discouraging sprawl and encouraging urban development, however, we are talking about human beings here, not colors on a map. People make choices about where they want to live based on employment, affordability of housing, perceived safety, amenities, proximity to shopping and attractions, etc., etc. The tiny dots of greenbelt land may someday fill in, but I think it will be decades and decades before there is enough land strung together to have any real impact on sprawl. The economy and financial markets are the only things slowing it down right now.

    Also, I don’t think it’s logical to believe that most people in the market for a 4000sf house with a half-acre yard, and a 3-car garage (all for under 350k) are going to toss all of that aside and instead choose to live in a 1200sf condo in a downtown high-rise for $500,000+, simply because the City bought up a few hundred acres of open space. (In fact, I could see a subdivision developer of nearby land using that as a selling point: “Located next to pristine farms and forests that will never be developed!”) Some might be convinced to move to a more traditional neighborhood close to the core, but only if they were convinced that there were good schools, a high measure of public safety, and quality parks to substitute for their smaller yard. In other words, if the City was providing a “comparable product.” Unfortunately, the trend seems to be toward encouraging the wholesale replacement of these desirable urban neighborhoods with apartment buildings that will never be attractive to the subdivision crowd.

    It’s all about providing options. Some people will always choose the subdivision over the City. It doesn’t matter how much gasoline costs. (Besides, with talk of E/W and N/S commuter rail and county-wide bus service, we would only be making it more convenient and affordable to live farther away from the core.) We need to follow our recently adopted downtown master plans and allow the big buildings in the core (if there is a market, they will be built), respect the D2 buffer zones, and protect our desirable neighborhoods from encroachment (sprawl on a micro level).

    Future greenbelt purchases, in my opinion, ought to be focused on Huron River watershed property to protect Ann Arbor’s drinking water supply (like NYC did many years ago). The City’s water demand already experiences peaks at 80% of capacity. If one believes that a population increase in the City of Ann Arbor is inevitable, then someone ought to be thinking about what all those people are going to drink. If the river ever gets contaminated, we’ll be in a lot of trouble, with or without the additional population.

  36. May 24, 2010 at 1:51 pm | permalink

    By way of context:

    - World conventional oil production peaked in 2005. World total liquid fuels production very likely peaked in 2008.

    - World population is anticipated to peak by 2050 (less than 40 years from now), and the projection has steadily moved forward (that is, fewer years away—in 2001 the UN prediction was for a peak in 2070.) Some now put it at 2035 (25 years from now) or before.

    - Michigan population peaked in 2006. Washtenaw County population peaked in 2008. US population growth rate is less than 1% and declining.

    Regarding the parkland question, Bonnie Bona, chair of the planning commission, suggested to me that a land swap with the university is a possibility that apparently hasn’t been considered. I wonder if part of the former Pfizer property would be of use as a neighborhood park.

    More to the point, the need for a parking structure for the purpose of obtaining funding for the train station remains unclear. If it’s needed, why can’t someone simply explain it instead of talking around it? If it’s indeed not needed for the train station, why would the city facilitate it and the millions of miles of annual vehicle travel and thousands of tons of annual CO2 emissions that would be induced from its construction and use?

  37. May 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm | permalink

    @31 – Rod Johnson — I agree that Ann Arbor needs to have a more accurate and less inflated self-image, and that it’s silly to worry to us being like Chicago. I think it could be great if the city proper had a population of 200,000, but I also agree with Tom W @ 35 that it’s not going to happen.

    @36 – Steve — I wonder if you saw the Wall Street Journal piece on “Shale Oil Rocks the World” [link] — would be interested to know how you demolish it. ;-)

    Re 0.915% population growth — that’s a bit disingenuous — 1.00915^40 = a 143% increase in pop over 40 years, which is an additional 120M people in the US by 2050 — exactly in line with the Census Bureau. [link]

    Obviously, MI has population loss b/c economy. It would be good if we had pop growth b/c of job growth — pop growth w/o job growth is unlikely to happen.

  38. May 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm | permalink

    @Steve Bean and others,

    I wish I could speak with real authority on this subject. I don’t have any insight into the design decisions that were made which resulted in the presentation of the parking structure as Phase I. While I believe there were some long-term efforts to woo the University away for its intended course of building two 600-car structures on Wall Street, these decisions may also have been the result of efforts to get the University to the table as a true development partner, sharing costs of the design and construction of this project.

    The parking structure spaces may benefit the University, but having the University pay to build parking for the commuters who would get on the train in Ann Arbor would be a good thing. The City would also benefit by having bus and (one presumes) taxi stops at this train station. Anyone getting off the train would need to use some form of transportation to get from the train station to anywhere other than the University hospital or Fuller Park.

    So, is the question whether this is a great spot to put the train station? Is the question whether having a busy train station in Ann Arbor to handle commuter and high speed rail requires having adequate parking — something we really don’t have now? Is it whether it’s appropriate to re-purpose a public park to use it as a transportation hub?

    Or is it whether there is a train — which may be more existential a question than I want.

    In my ideal world, we would know whether there is a train, and we would build the train station as a central design element for the project. The parking — no matter how many spaces were decided on — would not dominate the purpose of the project, which is to encourage mass transit and alternative transit (bus, bike, train more than car). When people get off of this transit, they would know they have *arrived*.

    As far as trading park land for former Pfizer or other land, I am not privy to such discussions, but I do know that these ideas have been suggested by members of Council to the administration. I also know that the existing parking lot at Fuller is the result of such a trade, and that any further successful trade would be based on who wants what most.

    There is still quite a bit of opportunity to change direction on the design and implementation of this project. There is also no guaranteed consensus on Council to procede with any project at all.

    There’s a meeting scheduled for next Wednesday. [Editor's note: Update on May 25 from the city is that the meeting has been postponed due to a scheduling conflict.] Many questions can be asked there, including any asked but not answered here.

  39. By Rod Johnson
    May 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm | permalink

    The 1% pop growth is interesting–that also means the population will be aging fairly rapidly. This is already a big problem in parts of Europe. Are we thinking about our response to a significantly older population? Or is A2 relatively immune from this because of the U? (Sorry if this is going too far afield.)

    Re #35: as usual, Tom has a pretty wise take on things. I am more hopeful the the price of gas and the bursting of the real estate bubble will make those 4000sf houses less desirable… but no doubt that will be a slow process. Sprawl is not likely to die soon.

  40. May 24, 2010 at 4:05 pm | permalink

    Rod # @39 — I’m no expert, but I’m confident from my reading that the future US has a younger demographic profile than most of the rest of the “developed” world including (interestingly) China. US tends to be younger b/c of immigration & differing value systems. Ann Arbor is probably better off than rest of the state due to desirability as a target for immigration. One implication of “keep population lower” is probably that population would also tend to be more aged, perhaps increasing demand for city services, decreasing house prices (less turnover = less demand) => lower city tax base.

    As Vivienne suggests, a realistic discussion about what sort of city we want to have would probably focus more on demographics and job creation than on gimmicks like train station and green belt. IMHO the only viable path is one that is strongly supportive of a) immigrants b) new small businesses c) the University (“think global, not local”) d) integrated with the rest of the state (no state prosperity, no University). Without job growth, there will be no population growth and no increased density.

    John Floyd’s comment @ 20 is an insightful one that IMHO identifies a fundamental paradox in sustainability. Stasis is not a winning strategy. If in 2050 Ann Arbor is a green haven with no job growth, it will be a green haven with a dwindling and aging population.

    Is a train station the best way to ensure job growth? IMHO, no. It is a distraction from the real issues.

  41. May 24, 2010 at 4:12 pm | permalink

    We might be having a different discussion if Ann Arbor had been allowed to grow organically as a metropolitan area. The township system and the boundary act have landlocked the city (where urban amenities are provided) and prevented its tax base from growing with the surrounding population growth. Thus, we do not benefit from all the commercial development in Pittsfield Township. The lower taxes in the surrounding townships also provide a strong incentive for home buyers to locate there. Meanwhile we are not able to exercise any of the planning devices that a truly metropolitan region could use. For example, we do not have the opportunity of using a true TDR (transfer of development rights) because we can’t transfer zoning from an outlying area (to preserve open space or agricultural use) to a denser receiving area.

    Michigan law, also heavily influenced by townships, does not allow for inclusionary zoning [link] so that some proportion of affordable housing is always included in development. (We use a patched-together version with our PUD system but it is awkward and not applied evenly.) We are also not able to levy impact fees for development, whereby developers pay for new roads and water utilities required by their development. That has made the cost of building in townships really cheap and exacerbated sprawl.

    Since we have all these limitations imposed by Michigan law, trying to make our landlocked city into a true metropolitan area needs to be approached carefully lest the major cost and negative effects are imposed on its residents.

  42. By Rod Johnson
    May 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm | permalink

    Here’s a summary from Pew: [link] It’s full of interesting stuff, but the takeaway here: “The nation’s elderly population will more than double in size from 2005 through 2050, as the baby boom generation enters the traditional retirement years” and “There were 59 children and elderly people per 100 adults of working age in 2005. That will rise to 72 dependents per 100 adults of working age in 2050.”

  43. May 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm | permalink

    @37–Fred, I read the article you provided the link to. The author offers a largely political analysis. In terms of available energy reserves, I think she hasn’t considered the full picture adequately. While this new source of natural gas might supply an important transition fuel, as she suggests, there are several factors that will limit likely its value.

    First, since we’ve passed peak oil, natural gas will start to be used in its place for more applications, which will increase its price. (It’s odd that she says that gas will “[eat] into the market for oil”, when demand for oil will exceed supply except when inadequate supply again dampens, if not crashes, the economy.) Surprisingly, she makes no mention of peak oil, only mentioning increasing oil prices in the context of offshore spills.

    Second, if it is somehow as “cheap” as she believes it will be, demand will rise and it will be used up faster than anticipated.

    Third, vast reserves don’t equate to rapid production. I don’t know anything about the technology involved (including how much energy is required to extract the gas, which could be substantial), but if it can’t bring the gas to market fast enough, then the impact of these reserves on natural gas and other fuel prices and on the economy in general will be muted.

    Fourth, 40 years is much less than two turnover periods for the US car fleet (currently at about 26 years, and growing longer.) Natural gas isn’t likely to become a major fuel for transportation for this reason. It would more likely be used to generate electricity for plug-in vehicles, but even in that case, the portion available would supplement or replace the existing supply, not overwhelm it. Natural gas from shale fields can’t replace other dwindling domestic natural gas supplies, imported LNG supplies, home space and water heating needs, gasoline for transportation, nitrogen fertilizer production and who knows what other sorts of chemical feedstocks, *all at the same time*.

    I’ll stop there. :-)

    Regarding the population growth rate, I’m not sure how that number could be disingenuous. I didn’t make any claim as to its implications—it’s just a number. Your calculation of population in 40 years, though, seems to not take into account that the rate is decreasing.

    Regarding job growth, with unemployment and underemployment rates as high as they are, we could have population decline and still increase jobs. “Growth is good” is a simplistic and short-sighted sentiment that doesn’t take into consideration (among other things) that we’ve burned up half or more of our natural capital—the highest quality parts, in fact. Actually, it was simplistic and short sighted even before that process was begun, it’s just obvious now. Isn’t it?

  44. By Michael Campbell
    May 25, 2010 at 1:55 am | permalink

    If this is indeed the site for regional transit, then we need residential here, not parking. For environmental protection, we need the people that will be using this transit to walk to and from it, not drive. So the residential density of this site needs to increase trmendously in order to make it work as a transit oriented development. And if this is park-owned land then all of the revenues from such development need to then go to the parks department for park enlargements and improvements elsewhere within the region and/or for greenbelt expansion.

  45. May 25, 2010 at 10:14 am | permalink

    @ 43 Steve — thanks for the insight on shale oil! Sorry about the word “disingenuous”, that was intemperate and I withdraw it. But my calculation has exactly the same result as the census bureau’s [link] — and they know a lot more about how to do population projections than either of us, so I think the discussion should assume 140M new people in the US by 2040. How many of them will be in Ann Arbor? is a key question for the future of the city.

    @42 — Rod thanks for the link, I accept that the US is graying but remain confident that our profile is younger than the rest of the developed world. Welcome additional research.

    Returning to @43 — “growth is good” is indeed simplistic but, I would argue, so is sustainability, which as I understand it boils down to achieving a sort of intelligent homeostatic appropriation of resources from the ecosystem. That IMHO is a chimera, no more natural than “grow or die”, and no more likely to be sustainable.

    @44 Returning to transit station (and staying there, since I am dragging this too far afield): it seems that there are a lot of cogent arguments that we don’t need a transit station this big yet … so why is it a city priority when the East Stadium bridge is falling down? As David C. and Vivienne suggest, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

  46. May 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm | permalink

    @45–Fred, those US Census projections I found at that link were made in 2004. I suspect that the approximate match (“exactly the same result”—really?) between your calculation and their projection is a coincidence and that subsequent projections by that office will (again) take into account the decline and result in lower projected populations.

    How many more people should we accommodate here? I don’t know. I think Tom has a useful perspective on drinking water, though.

    I didn’t notice it in your misquote of the title in #37, but the WSJ article was about shale gas, not shale oil. So-called “oil shale” (it’s neither) is a different resource, located in several western states as well as other countries, that has it’s own shortcomings, the main one being that extracting it is essentially a mining operation, requiring large energy inputs. (For any ‘new’ energy source, we need to examine the energy returned compared to the energy invested in obtaining it in order to properly evaluate its potential.) World-wide oil shale extraction peaked in 1980, by the way.

    Following you back to the growth issue: so you’ve interpreted sustainability in a way the means that it can’t be sustainable. :-/ Well done. :-)

  47. May 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm | permalink

    @45 — Steve — on the census numbers, you’re quibbling. If you think you’re a step ahead of the Census Bureau, more power to you.

    And you’ve hit the nail on the head about the problem with sustainability. What is wrong with describing it as a programme to gradually reduce the human appropriation of resources from the ecosystem? Assuming that, when do you stop working to reducing that appropriation? At some point, you have to stop because you are at the point where you can no longer supply the human population with its minimum energetic and caloric requirements. Once you stop, you are either maintaining homeostasis or, once more, increasing appropriation.

    The irony of sustainability (as with the threat of “invasive species”) is that it is actually a prescription for enormous detailed efforts to manage the natural ecosystem that is theoretically being protected from interference.

  48. By Michael Campbell
    May 25, 2010 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    @45. I don’t think the time is now necessarily, the time is whenever the trains start. Commuter or high speed. If it does happen, if there is to be new train service in the future, then there is federal funding available for development and Ann Arbor will not want to be left out. We need a stop. We have a stop currently. Ypsilanti wants a stop. In Ann Arbor, with its hospital and university, this is a big deal. I’m not sure this is the best location in town, but it seems ideal from my point of view.

    By the way, what I advocate personally is that any parking on the site must be concealed behind new residential (much new residential) for two reasons: 1. So that all views of any new development from Fuller Park will be of residential and not of a parking garage. 2. So that there will be also views of Fuller Park and the Huron River from this new residential, making it more valuable and thereby increasing revenues for park acquisitions and improvements and/or green belt expansions. By the way, such a proposal should not, in my estimation, let any new development cross Fuller to the north, should allow for the removal of all parking lots north of Fuller Rd. (improving Fuller Park), and be confined to the area south of Fuller Rd., which is underutilized currently as parland and more valuable to the parks department if developed, by proximity to the tracks. The jutification for removing parking lots north of Fuller Rd. (next to the pool) would be that, 1. with new development, this parking can be concealed behind new residential buildings and shared with the university, 2. that this new development can be done in such a way that calms traffic on Fuller Rd. (thus making the park more accessible to pedestrians) and finally, 3. with new residential and transit south of Fuller Rd. on the site, there will be less need for people to drive to and from the pool and soccer fields in the first place (and so less parking demand there).

  49. By Rod Johnson
    May 26, 2010 at 9:21 am | permalink

    Michael, I don’t understand what you’re proposing. The only undeveloped parcels within a mile are Fuller Park, Island Park, Mitchell Field and the Arb. The proposed FITS site is a narrow strip between Fuller and the bluff the hospital sits on, maybe a couple hundred feet from front to back. Where would residential units go?

    As for removing pool parking, forcing families with small children, strollers, etc. to cross Fuller to get to the pool? Seems very unlikely, in my opinion.

  50. By Dave Askins
    May 26, 2010 at 9:32 am | permalink

    Re: [49] “I don’t understand what you’re proposing.”

    I’m not sure that this UM student project (class taught by Peter Allen) is what Michael has in mind, but it’s a somewhat more ambitious vision of that entire corridor that sounds at least in some ways consistent with his comments above — large .pdf file: [link]

    That project was included in a set of student development proposals listed in a Chronicle column published in December last year: “Visions for the Library Lot

  51. May 26, 2010 at 10:02 am | permalink

    I reviewed the proposal in 50 but found it difficult to understand. But I agree with Rod that making pool-goers cross Fuller is very unlikely and IMHO should be considered unacceptable.

  52. By Rod Johnson
    May 26, 2010 at 10:41 am | permalink

    Interesting, thanks Dave.

  53. May 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm | permalink

    re: the Greenbelt millage, while Vivienne is correct that the millage language and official lit did not talk about a stop sprawl/increase density bargain, such a bargain was a big part of the discussions in the News and community during that time (I cite some sources for this in my comment on Vivienne’s post.

    re: the role of commuter lots and intermodal transportation, since many people in the region afford housing with a drive till you qualify approach, I see an economic justice reason to to provide diverse transportation options, including park-and-ride, bike trails, buses, AND parking (and ideally regional commuter rail).

    And just to feed the rumor mill, I have heard that the city plans to revise the plan to make it a “Levin plan” with rail in the first phase.

  54. May 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm | permalink

    Chuck is absolutely correct that discussions about building more densely downtown were going on concurrently with the greenbelt millage effort. However, I interviewed a number of people who had supported the millage, including one of its originators, Doug Cowherd, for my 2005 article in the Ann Arbor Observer [link]. These supporters denied that they had intended to support density as part of the greenbelt bargain. Others (including some who are also quoted in the article) did intend for the two issues to be linked and thought of them in that way. But what was presented to the voters was actually an anti-development scenario, including suggestions that the greenbelt would reduce traffic congestion and protect local (city) parks.

    Again, Chuck is correct that there were discussions ongoing at the same time that linked the two subjects. It probably depended on within what circles one was discussing the subject. Still, to say that the greenbelt millage was a vote for density is not correct.

  55. By Rod Johnson
    May 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm | permalink

    I gave a talk in 2003 at the height of the Greenbelt debate at St. Mary’s chapel about “ethical housing.” Some folks from Religious Action for Affordable Housing were there and we had an interesting discussion about how it was hard to want to keep housing affordable and be pro-Greenbelt (which a lot of them were) unless you were prepared to increase density. It wasn’t a very popular thing to say, but nobody thought it was a surprising connection to make. I think it’s safe to say that people were very aware of the linkages between the various issues.

  56. June 2, 2010 at 7:39 pm | permalink

    “Another public meeting on the [FRS] project is set for Wednesday, June 2, from 7-9 p.m. at city council chambers, 100 N. Fifth Ave.”

    No one was there at 7:00. Mary or anyone know if it was cancelled or postponed?

  57. By Dave Askins
    June 2, 2010 at 8:10 pm | permalink

    Re: [56] The meeting has been postponed to date uncertain. Wendy Rampson mentioned the postponement last night at planning commission, but it had come through the city’s automatic email notification service much earlier. My apologies for not updating the article.

  58. June 2, 2010 at 11:33 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Dave. I’ve signed up for email notifications for FRS. It’s easy, by the way. There’s a link at the top of the city’s home page.