Ann Arbor Delays on Downtown Urban Park

A resolution that proposes to build an urban park on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure has been postponed until March 17, 2014 by the Ann Arbor city council. Postponement came at the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting.

Library Lane, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Library Lane park proposal.

In arguing for postponement, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he wanted time to bring forward a companion resolution that would involve putting the development rights for the top of the Library Lane parking structure up for sale. He also indicated he wanted to discuss the issue with members of the Ann Arbor District Library board and explore the idea of building a new library building on top of the structure.

The resolution postponed by the council on March 3 includes a proposal to reserve about 10,000 square feet on the surface of the Library Lane structure for an urban park, to be “bounded by the Fifth Avenue sidewalk on the west, the Library Lane Street sidewalk to the south, the western entry to the central elevator to the east, and the southern curb of the service alley on the north.” [.pdf of proposed resolution] [.pdf of proposed site boundaries]

The proposal was also presented at the Feb. 25, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. The commission was not asked to act on it.

Sponsors of the resolution that appeared on the March 3 city council agenda were Jack Eaton (Ward 4), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who serves on PAC as an ex officio member.

The resolution calls for financial support as well as an allocation of staff time to design and create the park. The resolution asks PAC and the parks staff to prepare preliminary recommendations for the park’s design, to be presented at the council’s first meeting in October of 2014.

Other aspects of the proposal include:

  • asking the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to prepare for an eventual transition from parking to non-parking on the surface of the Library Lane structure;
  • asking the DDA to conduct a structural analysis of the Library Lane structure to determine if any modifications are needed to safely support design features, such as soil, plantings of various sizes, water features, a skating rink, a performance stage, and play equipment;
  • asking that the city’s community services and parks staff work with DDA and the Ann Arbor District Library to facilitate public programming with activities including craft fairs, book fairs, food carts, and fine arts performances;
  • asking the DDA to work with the city to explore possible above-ground private and/or public development of the remaining, build-able portion of the surface level north of the central elevator and above the central exit/entrance ramp.

The resolution specifies certain conditions for development rights on the remaining surface of Library Lane, including additional public open space and pedestrian access as features of any private development. The resolution also calls for close collaboration with neighboring properties and businesses, including the Ann Arbor District Library, First Martin Corp., the University of Michigan Credit Union, the Inter-Cooperative Council, and the businesses facing Fifth Avenue and Liberty Street.

Activists have pushed for a public park or plaza on the top of the Library Lane underground parking structure for several years. Several members of the Library Green Conservancy – including former park commissioner Gwen Nystuen, and former Ann Arbor planning commissioner Eric Lipson – attended PAC’s Feb. 25 meeting. The presentation to PAC was made by  Will Hathaway, on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy.

PAC has explored the urban park issue more broadly, most formally with a downtown parks subcommittee created in 2012. The subcommittee presented a report at PAC’s Oct. 15, 2013 meeting that included general recommendations, with an emphasis on “placemaking” principles that include active use, visibility and safety. The most specific recommendation also called for developing a park or open space on top of the Library Lane structure. A park or open space at that location should exceed 5,000 square feet, according to the report, and connect to Library Lane, the small mid-block cut-through that runs north of the library between Fifth and Division. [.pdf of 21-page full subcommittee report]

The subcommittee’s report was accepted by the Ann Arbor city council on Nov. 7, 2013 over dissent from Anglin.

Hathaway’s presentation on Feb. 25 drew on recommendations from the PAC subcommittee, as well as from information in the DDA’s Connecting William Street study.

On Feb. 25, several park commissioners raised concerns, some of which focused on the process of bringing this resolution forward without specific direction from the council. Hathaway noted that the council resolution is intended to start the process, with council direction, to begin working with stakeholders, PAC, the public and others in the design and development of this park.

Several people spoke about the issue during public commentary on March 3, including the current PAC chair, Ingrid Ault, and former PAC chair Julie Grand. They highlighted the PAC recommendations on downtown parks, and urged the council to postpone action on the resolution. A report on deliberations during the March 3 council meeting is provided in The Chronicle’s live updates filed from council chambers.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]