415 W. Washington Land Sale Item: Withdrawn

By the time of the Ann Arbor city council’s July 21, 2014 meeting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) had withdrawn a resolution he’d sponsored on the agenda – which would have listed the city-owned 415 W. Washington property for sale and allocated $250,000 toward developing a master plan for the Allen Creek Greenway.

Warpehoski had sponsored the item along with mayor John Hieftje, with the title “Resolution to List for Sale 415 W. Washington and Appropriate Funds for Allen Creek Greenway Master Plan.”

As of mid-day Friday, July 18, no text or memo was included in the resolution. Warpehoski responded to an emailed query from The Chronicle by saying that the resolution might be pulled, depending on the outcome of a meeting of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy on July 18. [The agenda item was later updated with text. The amount to be allocated for the master planning effort was $250,000.]

On July 19, however, Warpehoski announced that he’d be withdrawing the resolution. An excerpt from the comment he left on The Chronicle’s meeting preview article reads as follows:

At the request of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy Board, I am withdrawing the resolution from the Council agenda.

The resolution to fund the creation of a greenway master plan and development of the greenway through the sale of the non-floodway portion of 415 W. Washington was developed in partnership with Bob Galardi, chair of the Greenway Conservancy, and Jonathan Bulkley, chair of the Greenway Roundtable.

Bob and Jonathan had discussed the potential resolution with the Conservancy board. They found some initial support from the board. At their meeting on July 18, the Conservancy Board reviewed the final resolution, but were not able to come to agreement to support the resolution at this time. As the conservancy does not have clarity in supporting the resolution, I am withdrawing it. From the beginning, the my approach to this was that if the Conservancy was supportive then we could bring it forward. If the conservancy was not in support then we would not move forward in this way.

The city-owed 415 W. Washington parcel is highlighted in yellow.

The city-owned 415 W. Washington parcel is highlighted in yellow.

Warpehoski indicated to The Chronicle that one reason a master plan for the greenway is important is that the lack of such a plan hurt the city’s application for funding from the state of Michigan to support renovations to the 721 N. Main property. The city did not receive the state grant after applying for it in early 2013.

In addition, Warpehoski wrote, there’s an opportunity to partner with the University of Michigan and a class taught by Larissa Larsen, a professor of urban and regional planning and natural resources. Such a partnership would reduce costs of the planning effort.

The idea of funding work on a master plan for the Allen Creek greenway was discussed most recently at the June 16, 2014 council meeting, in the context of a resolution that Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) had brought forward that would have jump-started an effort to redesign Liberty Plaza at the corner of Division and Liberty streets. Taylor’s resolution would have appropriated $23,577 for the work, which was to have included input from a variety of stakeholders, including adjacent property owners.

That resolution was ultimately referred by the council to the park advisory commission (PAC). At PAC’s July 15 meeting, two people spoke during public commentary to advocate for an integrated approach to the “library block,” which includes Liberty Plaza. But PAC postponed discussion related to Liberty Plaza and the council resolution, as only five of nine voting members were present. Taylor is an ex officio non-voting member of PAC, but had not discussed the resolution at previous PAC meetings. He attended PAC’s July 15 meeting.

The June 16 council meeting discussion featured the following exchange between Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Hieftje, recorded in The Chronicle’s live updates from the meeting:

10:15 p.m. Kunselman asks if this means that Liberty Plaza would jump ahead of developing a master plan for the Allen Creek Greenway. Hieftje says that if Kunselman can be a bit patient, there will be a master plan proposed soon.

10:18 p.m. Hieftje says that an Allen Creek Greenway master plan might be prepared before the end of the budget year. Kunselman asks if there’d been any council direction to start any of the activity that Hieftje has described. Yes, Hieftje says, there was a resolution involving 415 W. Washington. Kunselman reiterates the fact that staff has not been directed specifically to develop a greenway master plan. He’s reiterating the lack of resources for park planning. There are 157 parks in the city and he wonders why Liberty Plaza has become the most important one. Kunselman will support the referral to PAC.

If the council had directed the 415 W. Washington property to be listed for sale, it would have been be the third downtown city-owned property to be listed for sale in the last year and a half. The council directed the city administrator to move toward hiring a broker for the old Y lot at Fifth and William at its March 4, 2013 meeting. And on Nov. 18, 2013, the council authorized the sale of the lot to Dennis Dahlmann for $5.25 million.

And the council voted at its April 7, 2014 meeting to confirm its earlier decision to direct the city administrator to list the development rights for the top of the Library Lane parking structure for sale. On July 1, city administrator Steve Powers notified the council that he’d selected CBRE to market and broker the sale of the development rights.

The 415 W. Washington parcel is currently used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system, which has averaged about $18,000 in revenue per month, or about $216,000 a year over the last two years. The parcel also includes several buildings that previously served as the road commission facility and the city maintenance yard. A study commissioned by the city of the property concluded that the cost of stabilizing and renovating all of the buildings could be as high as $6 million. [.pdf of Aug. 29, 2013 report] That study came after the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios had stepped forward with an interest in the possible renovation and reuse of the building as artist studio space. For additional background on that, see “City Council Parcels Out Tasks: Open Space.”

Ultimately the city moved toward demolishing the buildings. The city administrator’s proposed FY 2015 budget included $300,000 for the demolition of the buildings, but the council amended out that allocation during its deliberations on May 19, 2014:

1:40 a.m. Budget amendment: 415 W. Washington demolition. This proposal will simply eliminate general fund support for demolition of the city-owned buildings at 415 W. Washington. [Kailasapathy, Lumm, Eaton, Anglin]

1:54 a.m. Outcome: The council approved this amendment over the dissent of Kunselman, Taylor and Warpehoski.

Two pieces of land immediately adjacent to 415 W. Washington have been in the news recently. At their July 1, 2014 meeting, city planning commissioners approved The Mark condo project for the parcel on Liberty Street where a car wash is currently located. The proposal from developer Alex de Parry is to demolish an existing car wash at 318 W. Liberty and build an 11,910-square-foot structure with seven residential condominiums – five two-bedroom and two three-bedroom units.

And at the July 2, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, it was announced that the final site recommendation for a downtown stop for the WALLY rail line is for the east side of the railroad tracks between Liberty and Washington streets – opposite of where the former city maintenance yard was located at 415 W. Washington. It was reported at that meeting that it would not be a full station. Rather, it would be a platform with canopies and a ramp to Washington Street to the north and a sidewalk connection to the south onto Liberty. The stop would be built entirely within the railroad right-of-way – and there would be no taking of public or private property. The site would be contingent on the WALLY project moving forward.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.