Library Board Weighs In On Urban Park

About three hours before the Ann Arbor city council took action on the issue of a park at the Library Lane site, the Ann Arbor District Library board passed a resolution on that topic. The board asked the council to reject designating a portion of that city-owned site – which is adjacent to the downtown library – as a public park or plaza at this time. The vote taken at the AADL board’s March 17, 2014 meeting was 6-1, with dissent from Nancy Kaplan.

The resolved clause states:

That the AADL Board asks the Council to reject the Resolution until the entire site at 319 South Fifth Avenue receives a complete review by experts in zoning, land use, economic development, and others who can determine the highest and best use of the property; ensure the safety and security of AADL patrons; and consult with the owners and occupants of surrounding properties, downtown business owners, and other stakeholders Council may identify.

In introducing the resolution, Rebecca Head – who chairs the board’s communications committee – reported that the committee had met with some city councilmembers and the mayor to discuss this issue. The committee, which includes Margaret Leary and Prue Rosenthal, then drafted a resolution about the Library Lane site that she was bringing forward.

Head noted that the library hasn’t objected to the concept of open space at the Library Lane site, as part of overall development of that city-owned property. But the AADL board resolution states that the council resolution “does not allocate the City resources needed to create a successful park, such as physical maintenance, programming, and monitoring unsafe behavior; and…the City has not been able to allocate resources for those purposes to the nearby Liberty Plaza park, Wheeler park, Sculpture plaza on North 4th Ave., or the Kerrytown plaza….”

Several trustees weighed in to support the AADL board resolution. Barbara Murphy said she was conflicted, because she supports having a park or plaza on the Library Lane site at some point. But the council resolution seemed to be putting the cart before the horse, she said. She pointed out that the AADL board resolution is not advocating for tall buildings.

In dissenting, Kaplan described the long history of efforts to put some kind of a public park or plaza on the Library Lane site. She didn’t want to cut off that process. Kaplan also raised the point that the library board would be asking the council to reject a resolution without knowing the exact content of the resolution – because the council could amend the resolution during its deliberations.

In fact, the council did amend its resolution during a lengthy and sometimes heated debate. [.pdf of resolution at the start of the March 17 council meeting] Sabra Briere (Ward 1) brought forward an amendment to the first resolved clause, describing the site as a public space, publicly owned, of at least 6,500 square feet, with the northern boundary to be determined at a future time. The original resolution, developed by Jack Eaton (Ward 4) had designated 12,000 square feet as the size, running across the entire western edge of the Library Lane site, along South Fifth Avenue.

The council’s discussion included remarks by AADL director Josie Parker, who attended the council meeting and was called upon by mayor and other councilmembers to comment. She cited security concerns, and pointed out that the police are already called to the downtown library every three days or so. “We manage it, and you don’t know about it, and that makes it successful,” Parker told the council. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) characterized the AADL board’s position as “fear mongering.”

After about 2.5 hours of discussion, the council voted 7-3 to pass the resolution as amended. Dissenting were mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4). Sally Petersen (Ward 2) was absent.

A report on deliberations at the council meeting is included in The Chronicle’s live updates from city hall during the March 17 meeting.

This brief was filed from the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth. A more detailed report will follow: [link]