Library Lot Recommended for New Park

A group that’s been meeting since early 2013 – to explore the possibilities for a new downtown park – delivered a set of recommendations to the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting.

The eight recommendations of PAC’s downtown park subcommittee are wide-ranging, but include a site-specific recommendation to develop a new park/open space area on the top of the Library Lot underground parking structure. Now a surface parking lot, the site is owned by the city and is situated just north of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building. The recommendation calls for only a portion of the site to be used for a new park/open space, and stresses that AADL should be involved in the planning process. [.pdf of full subcommittee report]

The subcommittee’s eight recommendations, as amended during the meeting, are as follows [added text in italics, deletions in strike-through]:

1. The development of any new downtown park or open space should prioritize community preferences. The most commonly expressed community-based priorities include: a central location; sufficient size for passive recreation/community gatherings; shade; and natural features.

2. New downtown parks and open space should adhere to placemaking principles. Necessary criteria for a successful downtown open space include: high traffic/visibility; flexible programmable space; active use on at least three sides; the ability to provide activities desired by the community; and funding for maintenance and security.

3. Any new downtown park should enliven the downtown, complement existing parks and development, and serve the community desire for a central gathering space.

4. Any additional downtown park space should not come at the expense of the quality or maintenance of Ann Arbor’s existing parks. Downtown parks are expected to be more costly to develop and maintain. Further, existing downtown parks are not currently utilized to their potential. Given the limits of current parks funding, the development of new parks should not be approved without an identified funding source for capital development, ongoing maintenance, and programming.

5. Significant capital/structural improvements to Liberty Plaza should only be made in concert with the adjacent property owner. Short-term efforts should continue to focus on smaller-scale incremental changes (removal of shrubbery) and programming opportunities (fee waiver). Future improvements should also work to create a permanent and highly visible connection between the Library Lot and Liberty Plaza.

6. The downtown could benefit from the addition of small “pocket” parks and flexible spaces. The City should work with potential developers of city-owned properties to identify opportunities, create, and maintain privately funded, but publicly accessible open spaces. (e.g., the Y and Kline lots). As a part of this effort, staff should develop recommendations for how development contributions can better serve to provide and improve downtown passive recreational opportunities, including proposals such as flex space (parklets), streetscape improvements, and public art.

7. The public process for downtown parks and open space does not end with these recommendations. Any additional park/open space would require robust public input regarding the design, features, and proposed activities.

8. Based on the aforementioned criteria, the Downtown Parks Subcommittee recommends that a park/open space be developed on the Library Lot that takes advantage of the flexibility offered through temporary closures of Library Lane. The size of this space should exceed the proposed allocated open space in the Connecting William Street study (5,000 square feet). However, the subcommittee is strongly in favor of a mixed-use vision for the Library Lot that utilizes the city’s investment in development-ready foundation and infrastructure. Adjacent Development of the site and adjacent parcels, including the accompanying increases in activity, is essential for the future success of this site additional downtown open space. In order to adequately address issues of safety and security, the Ann Arbor District Library must also be strongly represented in the planning process.

This subcommittee – Ingrid Ault, Julie Grand, Alan Jackson and Karen Levin – has been meeting regularly since early February. Their work relates in part to a request that mayor John Hieftje made last summer. It’s also meant to supplement the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project. In addition to focus groups and public forums, the subcommittee conducted a survey that yielded more than 1,600 responses. [.pdf of 110-page downtown park survey results] Their recommendations were based in part on that feedback.

The Library Green Conservancy has been advocating for a park atop the Library Lot, but conservancy members envision a much larger footprint than the one proposed by PAC’s subcommittee. During deliberations on Oct. 15, it emerged that the subcommittee hoped for more than the minimum size of 5,000 square feet that was mentioned for a park or open space on that site in the Connecting William Street report.

For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Parks Group To Weigh In On Downtown Need,” “Committee Starts Downtown Parks Research,” “Survey Drafted for Downtown Parks,” as well as coverage included in the PAC meeting reports for March 19, 2013 and May 21, 2013.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, where PAC holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]