Packard Square Brownfield Plan, Grant OK’d

At its May 18, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave final approval to the brownfield plan for the Packard Square project in Ann Arbor, on the site of the former Georgetown Mall. The board also approved a $1 million grant application to the state Dept. of Environmental Quality for brownfield cleanup at the proposed $48 million development. Commissioner Wes Prater voted against the brownfield plan and the grant application.

However, the board tabled action until June 1 on a $1 million loan from MDEQ, as well as a request to authorize designation of the county’s full faith and credit as a guarantee for any loan that might be awarded, up to $1 million. Four commissioners – Barbara Bergman, Kristin Judge, Alicia Ping and Wes Prater – voted against tabling the vote.

The board also discussed a broader public-private investment policy, a subject they had initially debated at a May 17 special working session. Based on the discussion at the working session, board chair Conan Smith had drafted a policy that he distributed to commissioners a few hours before Wednesday’s meeting. They ultimately tabled action on the policy until their June 1 meeting – voting against tabling were Bergman, Smith, Ronnie Peterson, Yousef Rabhi.

The Packard Square project has been the topic of some controversy at the county level. The board had been asked at its May 4 meeting to give initial approval to the grant and loan application. It was the loan guarantee that raised concerns among some commissioners, who were uncomfortable putting the county potentially on the hook for a private developer – especially since back taxes were owned on the property, and the county is facing a large deficit in the coming years.

Instead of voting on May 4, the item was taken up at a May 5 working session, and again at a special working session called for May 17.

The brownfield plan would enable the developer to use up to $5,840,558 of tax increment financing over 14 years to support cleanup of the site, where a dry cleaning business operated. In addition to cleanup activities, TIF funds would have been used to repay the $1 million loan and to pay $23,000 annually for administrative fees to the county’s economic development & energy department, which manages the brownfield program. The development includes 230 apartments, plus retail and office space. The Ann Arbor city council approved both the Packard Square site plan and brownfield plan at its May 2, 2011 meeting.

Two people spoke during a public hearing on the brownfield plan at Wednesday’s meeting. Bruce Measom of Bloomfield Hills-based Harbor Companies, the project’s developer, listed several public benefits to the project. Thomas Partridge also spoke in support of the project.

The board is expected to vote on the loan and board policy at its June 1 meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]