Stories indexed with the term ‘Connecting William Street’

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 … [Full Story]

Council Gets Advice on Y Lot Development

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 20, 2013): As the city council considers selling the former Y site at 350 S. Fifth, planning commissioners have outlined the kind of development they’d like to see at that location.

Diane Giannola, Bonnie Bona

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Diane Giannola and Bonnie Bona drafted a resolution with recommendations to the city council regarding development of the former Y lot, which is owned by the city. (Photos by the writer.)

The commission voted unanimously to recommend that the council, if it decides to proceed with a sale, should use a request for qualifications (RFQ) and request for proposals (RFP) process.

The planning commission is also recommending that the council impose a set of conditions for future development. The list includes mixed-use development that encourages foot traffic and active first-floor uses, an entry plaza or open space, and mandatory compliance with the city’s design guidelines.

The site was one of five parcels that was the focus of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project. Much of the Aug. 20 discussion centered on the use of CWS as a framework for the resolution.

Sabra Briere, who serves as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, suggested removing entirely references to the CWS project. The council never adopted the CWS report or took any action to implement the CWS recommendations, she noted. Briere felt that leaving those references to CWS in the commission’s resolution might make some councilmembers more resistant to it.

Wendy Woods, a former councilmember, countered that “our role is not to give pablum to council.” The commission’s role is to give advice as a body, regardless of how it might be received by the council, Woods said. She also pointed out that it’s not necessarily Briere’s role to advocate for positions taken by the commission. “The planning commission is its own advocate and we stand on our own,” Woods said.

Bonnie Bona and Diane Giannola, who drafted the resolution, pointed to the amount of public input that had been solicited during the CWS process, and felt that it was more powerful for the commission’s recommendations to be supported by that input. Giannola didn’t want to get into the politics of guessing what the council might support, but offered to extract references to CWS from the two resolved clauses. That compromise was acceptable to Briere and the other commissioners. [.pdf of amended Y lot resolution]

During the discussion, Briere also reported that the broker hired by the city to handle a possible sale has been meeting with councilmembers to talk about the Y lot. The broker is likely to suggest putting as few stipulations on the property as possible, she said, because he believes that such stipulations will lower the purchase price. That’s not necessarily what all councilmembers believe, she noted, but it’s what they’re being told.

The commission’s resolution will be forwarded to the city council as an item of communication, and will possibly appear on the agenda as soon as Sept. 3.

In other action, commissioners recommended approval of a two-story addition that more than doubles the size of the Honda vehicle testing facility on Ann Arbor’s south side. The existing 19,357-square-foot building, built in 1975, is located at 3947 Research Park Drive on a 2.72-acre site. During a public hearing on the project, a representative of American Honda Motor Co. reported that the expansion will include a state-of-the-art environmental testing chamber, to help Honda develop vehicles with cleaner fuel emissions. The $4.3 million project is expected to increase the number of employees who work at the site from 6 to 10.

Commissioners also recommended approval of (1) the site plan for a proposed Belle Tire at 590 W. Ellsworth – just east of the intersection with South State Street, and (2) an annexation and zoning request for 2640 Miller Road, on the city’s northwest side. [Full Story]

Planning Group Advises Council on Y Lot

Ann Arbor planning commissioners are formally making recommendations to the city council about the future of the former YMCA lot at 350 S. Fifth, which the city purchased in 2003. The recommendations were passed unanimously, in the form of a resolution, at the commission’s Aug. 20, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of original planning commission resolution, before amendments]

The city council is exploring whether to sell that property, located across from the downtown Ann Arbor District Library and south of Blake Transit Center. Earlier this year, the city selected Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas to handle the possible sale, as the city faces a $3.5 million balloon payment this year from the purchase loan it holds on that property.

Now … [Full Story]

Planning Group Strategizes on Downtown

Two major downtown projects – the possible sale of the former YMCA lot, and a review of the A2D2 zoning – were the main focus at a July 9 working session of the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Looking east at the former YMCA lot, which has been owned by the city since 2003 and is used as a surface parking lot. The street in the foreground is Fourth Avenue. William Street is on the right. The reddish brown building at the opposite end of the lot – across Fifth Avenue – is the Ann Arbor District Library. To the left is the construction site for the new Blake Transit Center.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson updated commissioners on the city council-mandated review of downtown zoning. Ann Arbor-based ENP & Associates – consultants Erin Perdu and Megan Masson-Minock – are being hired to handle the process under a $24,500 contract with the city.

The primary concern for the council, as reflected in its April 1, 2013 resolution, is the downtown D1 zoning – which provides for the highest density allowed in city, with the tallest possible buildings. The concern was heightened by the controversial 413 E. Huron development, which the council approved on May 13, 2013. That site, located on a major transit corridor, but also next to a residential neighborhood, is zoned D1.

Rampson described the upcoming work as “fast and furious,” with a deadline of Oct. 1 to deliver recommendations to the council. The consultant will work initially with the commission’s ordinance revisions committee, which next meets on Tuesday, July 16 at 5:30 p.m. in the first floor south conference room at city hall, 301 E. Huron.

Zoning was also a point of discussion regarding the former Y site at 350 S. Fifth, across from the downtown Ann Arbor District Library and south of Blake Transit Center. The city council is exploring whether to sell that city-owned property, which was zoned D1 as part of the original A2D2 process. Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas have been selected to handle the possible sale, as the city faces a $3.5 million balloon payment this year from the purchase loan it holds on that property.

Bonnie Bona floated the idea of developing recommendations to the council regarding what planning commissioners think the city should require in a sale of that site. “I think we have a responsibility as planning commissioners to give them planning advice,” Bona said. Other commissioners agreed, and the item will likely be on the agenda for the group’s Aug. 13 working session for a fuller discussion.

The 2.5-hour July 9 session also included a presentation by two Ann Arbor public art commissioners – John Kotarski and Bob Miller – about the finalists for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. And commissioners were updated by Rampson about the status of various projects and developments. This report focuses only on the Y lot and A2D2 discussions. [Full Story]

Colliers, Chaconas to Broker City’s Y Lot

Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas have been selected to handle the possible sale of the former YMCA lot, located at the corner of Fifth and William in downtown Ann Arbor. The roughly 0.8 acre parcel, owned by the city of Ann Arbor, is  used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system. City administrator Steve Powers notified councilmembers of the decision in an email sent July 3, 2013.

[Full Story]

Survey Drafted for Input on Downtown Parks

At a May 28, 2013 meeting interrupted by a tornado warning, members of the Ann Arbor downtown parks subcommittee reviewed a draft survey to gather input as the group develops recommendations for the city council.

Alan Haber, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alan Haber takes notes on a draft survey about downtown parks. He was attending the May 28 meeting of a subcommittee of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, which is putting together a survey that will be released in June. The subcommittee will be making recommendations regarding downtown parks and open space. (Photos by the writer.)

In a variety of ways, the survey attempts to gauge interest in downtown parks and open space, and to identify the types of activities and features that people might want, such as playgrounds or performance space. The survey also includes questions about assessing the existing downtown parks, including the farmers market, Liberty Plaza at Liberty & Division, and Sculpture Plaza at Fourth & Catherine.

This subcommittee of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission 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. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Parks Group To Weigh In On Downtown Need,” and “Committee Starts Downtown Parks Research,” as well as coverage included in the PAC meeting reports for March 19, 2013 and May 21, 2013.

Several leaders of the Library Green Conservancy attended the May 28 meeting, and gave input on the survey throughout the discussion. The conservancy previously has criticized a survey conducted by the DDA as part of Connecting William Street, saying that the DDA survey did not give respondents the option of supporting downtown parks and open space.

Based on feedback at the May 28 meeting, parks staff will revise the survey for final review at the subcommittee’s June 11 meeting. The intent is to launch the survey soon after that meeting. The goal is to incorporate survey results as recommendations are developed for downtown parks/open spaces, which will likely be delivered to the city council in August. [Full Story]

“Connecting William” To Be Resource Plan

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 5, 2013): Despite protests by members of the Library Green Conservancy and hesitation by some commissioners, the city planning commission voted unanimously to add the Connecting William Street plan to its list of resource documents that support the city’s master plan. After the vote, Wendy Woods tried to reopen the item for reconsideration, but she was unsuccessful in garnering support from the majority of commissioners, so the initial decision stands.

Sabra Briere, Jack Eaton, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jack Eaton talks with Sabra Briere before the start of the Ann Arbor planning commission’s March 5, 2013 meeting. Briere serves on the commission as the representative from city council. Eaton spoke during a public hearing on the Connecting William Street plan.

The Connecting William Street project was undertaken by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the behest of the city council. It focuses on recommendations for coordinated development of five city-own sites in the William Street area, on the south side of downtown. By becoming a resource document, the CWS plan carries less weight than it would if it were part of the city’s master plan.

Amber Miller of the DDA gave a presentation during the March 5 commission meeting, similar to those previously given to the council and the DDA board.

Much of the discussion among commissioners focused on the issue of open space. Miller noted that recommendations on that issue have been deferred to a committee of the city’s park advisory commission. That downtown parks committee is in the early stages of its work – it was scheduled to meet earlier in the day on March 5, but that meeting was canceled.

Commentary during a public hearing on the CWS plan also focused on open space, with several members of the Library Green Conservancy advocating for a centrally located park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure. They criticized the DDA’s process for developing the plan, and felt the planning commission had not adequately publicized the fact that a public hearing on Connecting William Street would be held that evening.

Additional public commentary came after the commission’s vote. Woods said her decision to ask for reconsideration of the item was prompted by concerns raised during this final public commentary. She felt it wouldn’t hurt to wait two weeks until the commission’s next meeting, so that more people could have the chance to weigh in, if they wanted.

Sabra Briere, who had expressed strong reservations before casting her original yes vote, said she supported Woods in her effort to reconsider the item, suggesting that postponement would be appropriate. She expressed concern that the commission was deciding to use the CWS plan as a future planning document – which would be referenced when the planning staff and commission make their recommendations to the city council on site plans and other planning and development actions. Given that importance, Briere – who also serves on city council – wanted to be absolutely certain before accepting it.

Other commissioners disagreed. Kirk Westphal, the planning commission’s chair, also served on a DDA leadership outreach committee (LOC) that helped craft the Connecting William Street plan. He said he felt extremely comfortable with the public process that had led to these recommendations. Eric Mahler also argued against reopening the item for another vote, saying the commission needed to bring closure to this long process. He was satisfied that sufficient public notice had been provided.

It’s unclear whether the city council will take any action on the Connecting William Street plan. As to what happens next, Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, told planning commissioners that the DDA will be following the council’s guidance. Councilmembers have already taken a first step related to one of the five parcels – the former YMCA lot. At their meeting on March 4, 2013, councilmembers voted to direct the city administrator to prepare an RFP (request for proposals) for brokerage services to sell the lot. A $3.5 million balloon payment on the property is due at the end of 2013. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA: We’ve Been Good Stewards

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (March 6, 2013): In a main agenda item, the DDA board authorized a $300,000 grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission – for renovations to the 64-unit Baker Commons public housing facility. It added to the $280,000 grant made late last year for the replacement of the Baker Commons roof.

DDA board member Keith Orr delivered extended remarks in response to a proposal currently being weighed by the Ann Arbor city council that would make amendments to the city ordinance governing the downtown development authority.

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Keith Orr delivered extended remarks in response to a proposal currently being weighed by the Ann Arbor city council that would amend the city’s ordinance governing the DDA. (Photos by the writer.)

The grant award had come at the request of AAHC executive director Jennifer L. Hall, who’s proposing a major change to the way the 360 units of public housing are administered. The approach involves privatization and project-based vouchers.

The DDA’s support for public housing also surfaced at the meeting as a talking point for board members in the context of a proposal being considered by the Ann Arbor city council – which would amend the city ordinance regulating how the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture works. The amendments would clarify existing language in the city ordinance in a way that would favor the other taxing authorities, whose taxes are captured as a part of the DDA’s TIF. The council postponed action on that proposal at its March 4, 2013 meeting. In that context, at the DDA’s March 6 meeting, board member Sandi Smith raised the specter that the DDA would in the future not be able to support affordable housing in the same way it has done in the past.

In addition to clarifying the question of how TIF is calculated, the amendments would prevent elected officials from serving on the board and would impose term limits for board service. Board members took turns at the start of the meeting arguing that the DDA had been a good steward of public dollars and that the amendments to the ordinance are not warranted. Board members indicated that they didn’t think their service as volunteer members of a board was being afforded adequate respect by the city council.

The board comments followed a turn at public commentary at the start of the meeting from Brendan Cavendar of Colliers International, a commercial real estate services firm. His commentary departed from the typical pattern of someone signing up to address the board for up to four minutes. Instead, Cavendar had been invited to appear, and responded to prompts from board members to deliver a range of positive responses, including: future tenancy of the former Borders location; rising rents in the downtown area; and affirmation of the importance of the downtown public parking system.

The city’s public parking system is managed by the Ann Arbor DDA under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. The monthly parking usage report is featured at every board meeting. But the March 6 meeting featured the parking system in an additional way. The board decided to award the full $50,000 of a discretionary management incentive to the DDA’s subcontractor – Republic Parking – for operation of the public parking system. It’s an annual decision, but it’s the first time in the last five years that the full amount has been awarded. The decision was based on good performance on metrics tracked by the DDA, according to the board.

In a third voting item, the board authorized $610,662 in support of getDowntown’s go!pass program, which provides a subsidy to cover the cost of rides taken on Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses by employees of participating downtown businesses. To participate, a business must purchase a go!pass for all employees, at an annual cost of $10 per employee. Roughly 6,500 downtown employees are provided with go!passes through the program. [Full Story]

Planning Group Acts on Connecting William

The Ann Arbor planning commission has voted to add the Connecting William Street plan to its list of resource documents that support the city’s master plan. It was the main agenda item at the commission’s March 5, 2013 meeting, and was approved unanimously. By adding the CWS plan to the list of resource documents, the planning commission did not alter the city’s downtown plan or the master plan.

However, there was some concern about whether the agenda item had been adequately publicized. Those concerns were voiced by several people during public commentary before and after the vote, which led Wendy Woods to attempt to reopen the item for reconsideration at the end of the meeting. The vote to reopen … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Preps to Sell Former Y Lot

The city of Ann Arbor has taken a step toward putting the former YMCA parcel up for sale. The roughly 0.8 acre parcel at the corner of Fifth and William in downtown Ann Arbor is currently used as a surface parking lot in the city’s public parking system. The city purchased the property nearly 10 years ago, in 2003. At its March 4, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to direct the city administrator to prepare an RFP (request for proposals) for brokerage services to sell the lot.

[Full Story]

DDA Sends William Street Project to Council

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan. 9, 2013): The first meeting of the year for the DDA’s board featured a packed agenda – with items ranging from budget adjustments to the adoption of recommendations on the Connecting William Street project. Also voted on by the board were grants to the nonprofit Dawn Farm, an allocation of funds for the DDA’s energy grant program, and two monthly parking permits for The Varsity residential development.

Walkable City is a volume brought to the Jan. 9, 2013 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting by local developer Peter Allen.

Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City” was a volume brought to the Jan. 9, 2013 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting by local developer Peter Allen. (Photos by the writer.)

The budget adjustments to FY 2013 were made in order to account for roughly $2.6 million in construction costs associated with the Library Lane underground parking garage. They had been allocated in the previous year’s budget, but not paid last year – because the completion of the construction extended into this fiscal year.

The FY 2012 audit report, which the board also approved at its Jan. 9 meeting, shows that for FY 2012, the DDA spent about $2.5 million less than anticipated for that year – because the construction invoices were not all submitted to the DDA by the time books closed for the year.

The result of those changes leaves a budget with $22,237,924 in revenues against $26,339,555 in expenses for the year – which translates to a planned use of the DDA’s fund balance reserve of $4,101,632. That’s about half of the existing fund balance.

Not a part of the revised budget was the approval of two allocations made by the board – one of $50,000 in connection with the DDA’s existing energy grant program, and another of $150,000 for a grant to Dawn Farm, a nonprofit offering both residential and out-patient services supporting recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts. The energy allocation will essentially attempt to leverage energy audits completed through the DDA’s program for use in the Michigan Saves program, which offers low-interest financing for energy improvements.

The board also approved recommendations to be forwarded to the city council on the future redevelopment of five city-owned sites currently used for parking. The project, which is now named Connecting William Street (CWS), began with an April 4, 2011 city council resolution that directed the DDA to seek “robust public input” from experts, stakeholders and residents to develop a plan for those parcels.

In connection with the parcels in that area, the board also adopted a policy on possible grants from the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) funds to support development of the CWS properties. The policy makes clear that the DDA would not forgo its TIF capture on any property – but the amount of the grant would be calculated based on TIF revenue.

Also in connection with the CWS project, the board heard remarks during public commentary from representatives of the city’s park advisory commission as well as the State Street Area Association. The board also invited Doug Kelbaugh, a University of Michigan professor of architecture and urban planning, to share his thoughts on parks versus plazas – and why he thinks the site on top of the Library Lane parking garage is more likely to succeed as a plaza instead of a park. [Full Story]

City Council Acts on Wind Power, Park Items

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 7, 2013): Most of the council’s first regular meeting of the year was taken up with discussion of a U.S. Department of Energy grant of nearly $1 million for construction of two wind turbines, likely to be constructed on Ann Arbor Public Schools property.

This apple on a city council desk reflects the fact that part of the meeting was devoted to core priorities.

This apple on a councilmember’s desk could reflect the fact that part of the meeting was devoted to core priorities. (Photo by the writer.)

Councilmembers established a concern about the possible financial risks associated with the project, and a desire that public input be solicited on the ultimate decision for a site. But the vote was unanimous to accept the grant, which includes an obligation to provide roughly $480,000 in matching funds. That match is expected to be provided by Wind Products Inc., a company located in Brooklyn, New York.

At a meeting of the city’s energy commission held the following night, commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction that the proposal had not been brought to that body for review.

Some of the council’s deliberations on the wind turbines included the question of whether the effort was consistent with the council’s priorities for the next two years – ones that were formally adopted at the Jan. 7 meeting. The priorities, which had been identified in a Dec. 10 planning session, included the basic areas of: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing.

The council had three parks-related voting items on its agenda, neither of which prompted extended deliberations. One was approval of a design for the new skatepark in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, which is expected to start construction in the spring and be completed in the fall. A second voting item was the approval of another contract with the Conservation Fund, which helps manage operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs.

A third parks-related voting item was authorization of a contract to replace roofs on two buildings at Cobblestone Farm.

Another agenda item – related to parks, but not requiring a vote – was a presentation from the council-appointed task force that’s been asked to make recommendations for a future vision of the North Main Street corridor, extending to the Huron River, including the MichCon property. They focused their presentation on the 721 N. Main property, for which the council had authorized two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. The group has a summer 2013 deadline to make recommendations for the whole area.

Also on the topic of parks, the council heard from representatives of New Hope Baptist Church during public commentary, regarding a planned new dog park. Members of the congregation oppose the location of the dog park inside West Park, because it’s immediately adjacent to the church on Chapin Street. Also during public commentary, the council again heard calls for the top of the Library Lane parking garage to be designated as a park.

Some other items on the agenda could be grouped under land use and planning. The council gave approval to changes to the site plan for Packard Square, a proposed redevelopment of the former Georgetown Mall. The council had postponed the item from its Dec. 3, 2012 agenda.

And the council gave initial approval to a zoning request in connection with the proposed Summit Townhomes project site, just east of Stone School Road. The land was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.

Also as a result of council action, Ann Arbor residents could have some additional flexibility for parking cars on their front lawns – beyond just the occasions of University of Michigan football games.

In other business, the council approved the appointment of Carrie Leahy to the board of the local development finance authority (LDFA). The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA.

Other public commentary heard at the meeting included remarks opposing continued investment in companies that provide military hardware to Israel.

One hour immediately preceding the regular meeting was a special session of the council. Its agenda consisted only of a closed session, to discuss labor negotiations – which is an allowable topic for a closed session under the Michigan Open Meetings Act. [Full Story]

DDA Set to Present Parcel Plan to Council

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has voted to approve the recommendations related to future development of five city-owned parcels in the DDA district – known as the Connecting William Street project. The recommendations cover: (1) the Kline lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the old YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library. [.pdf of presentation made at Dec. 5, 2012 board meeting]

The recommendations stemmed from a directive given … [Full Story]

Post-Election DDA: Routine Reports, Retreat

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): The board’s first-Wednesday monthly noon meeting often falls the day after Election Day, as it did this year. That left executive director of the DDA Susan Pollay with less sleep than others – as she did not conclude her duties on one of the city’s 11 absent voter count boards until around 3 a.m.

DDA board chair Leah Gunn checks her smart phone before the start of the Nov. 7 meeting.

DDA board chair Leah Gunn checks her cell phone before the start of the Nov. 7 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

But the DDA board’s agenda was relatively light. It did not include any voting items, and consisted of a series of reports and commentary – some of it in preparation for the board’s upcoming annual retreat on Nov. 16.

Sketching out the retreat for the board, Pollay told them that for the first time in the nearly 17 years she’s served as executive director, there is no “next big project.”

A big project the DDA is just completing is the construction of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue. The construction bills for that project were included in last year’s (FY 2012) budget, but not all of them came in by year’s end. So as board member Roger Hewitt reported, the first quarter financial statements for this year include bills that were originally budgeted for last year. When all the construction bills are paid, a budget adjustment will be made, he said. In any case, he characterized the DDA’s financial position as strong.

The board was also briefed on the public parking system, which the DDA manages under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. Chronicle coverage of the parking report came earlier in a preview article.

The board got an update on two projects recently proposed for the downtown, which have now undergone review by the city’s design review board, and for which citizen participation meetings have been held: 624 Church Street, next to Pizza House; and 413 E. Huron at Division Street. The next formal step for both of those projects will be submission to the Ann Arbor planning commission.

At the meeting it was reported that the developer of the 413 E. Huron project also has a possible interest in the city-owned properties that are included in the scope of the Connecting William Street (CWS) planning project, which the DDA is overseeing. The board got an update on CWS – the process is expected to result in a recommendation made to the city council before the end of the year.

The board also got an update on the review of an issue that mayor John Hieftje has pushed the DDA to address for the last three years: bicycle riding on downtown sidewalks. For now it looks like the DDA is not likely to move forward on that issue, until the problem is more clearly defined. [Full Story]

PAC: Downtown Park, More Input Needed

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Sept. 18, 2012): Reprising issues they discussed in August, commissioners heard from several residents about the need for: (1) more downtown green/open space; and (2) one or more centrally located dog parks.

Eric Lipson, Mary Hathaway

Eric Lipson and Mary Hathaway attended the Sept. 18, 2012 Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting to advocate for more green space in the downtown area, specifically on top of the Library Lane parking structure. (Photos by the writer.)

PAC took action on one of those topics, passing a resolution to give formal input on the Connecting William Street project. That effort, led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, is process to examine five city-owned parcels for possible redevelopment. All but one of the sites are now used as surface parking lots.

PAC did not advocate that a particular site be turned into a park. Rather, the resolution recommends that the Ann Arbor city council seek additional evaluation of locations for a downtown park, the best mix of amenities for the population expected to use a downtown park, and the costs of developing and maintaining a new addition to the parks system. PAC also recommends that the council refrain from adopting plans for the five city-owned lots before resolving the question about open space in the Connecting William Street area. [.pdf of final Connecting William Street resolution]

At the start of the meeting, three members of the Library Green Conservancy – advocates of creating a commons on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure – spoke during public commentary. [The Library Lane site is one of the five properties included in the Connecting William Street project.] They urged commissioners to support their plan for a park at that location, adjacent to the library. The underground structure was built with a foundation to support a high-rise building on the site, in addition to a plaza area. PAC’s recommendation to the city council did not highlight that particular site.

Also during the meeting, commissioners heard from two speakers during public commentary who supported the creation of more dog parks. One speaker noted that despite potential problems – such as dog fights and the fact that ”pooping can occasionally go unnoticed” – a dog park poses no greater liability than a skatepark, pool or “even simply sidewalks.”

Colin Smith, the parks and recreation manager, told commissioners that staff did not support an unfenced option, but indicated that they’re exploring possible locations for one or more fenced-in dog parks. One possible site: A parcel on the east side of West Park, near the entrance off of Chapin.

PAC also was briefed on plans for rain gardens and other biodetention measures at Miller Nature Area and Garden Homes Park, in connection with a major reconstruction of Miller Avenue next year.

Smith also updated commissioners on letters of objection that had been submitted to the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regarding plans to build a section of whitewater in the Huron River, near the Argo Cascades. A permit is needed from the MDEQ before the project can move forward. For a full report on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “EPA, Others Object to Whitewater Project.”

It was the last meeting for commissioner Doug Chapman, whose term ended on Sept. 30. At the city council’s Oct. 1 meeting, his replacement was confirmed: Melissa Stults, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. [Full Story]

City Council Punts on Several Agenda Items

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 17, 2012): The council’s initial agenda, released on Wednesday before the Monday meeting, was relatively light. But by the time the council had approved that agenda to start the meeting, it had grown considerably heavier.

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and former councilmember and planning commissioner Jean Carlberg.

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and former councilmember and planning commissioner Jean Carlberg. (Photos by the writer.)

Five significant items had been added: (1) a proposal to suspend temporarily the footing drain disconnection program in one area of the city; (2) a proposal to waive temporarily the city’s living wage requirement for certain nonprofits; (3) a proposal to establish a sidewalk gap elimination program; (4) a resolution on dealing with proceeds of city-owned land sales that competed with one already on the agenda; and (5) reconsideration of allocating $60,000 for a transit study – funding that the council had rejected at its previous meeting.

The first two items were added on Friday, Sept. 14. The second two were added the day of the meeting (Sept. 17), with the fifth item added at the council table. Of the added items, the council approved only one – to suspend temporarily the footing drain disconnect program. The rest were  postponed, withdrawn or voted down.

Postponed was the resolution added by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to establish a committee of city officials and 10 residents – two from each ward, to be selected by councilmembers for respective wards – to address the issue of city-owned parcels in downtown Ann Arbor. The citizen committee to be established by Anglin’s resolution would study the available options for use of proceeds from the sale of downtown city properties.

Also postponed was the resolution that Anglin’s proposal was essentially challenging, which was brought forward by Sandi Smith (Ward 1). Smith wants to direct the proceeds from city-owned land sales to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Her idea – which she first floated to her council colleagues in an email written in late August – enjoyed the support of nonprofits, as well as the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

While Anglin’s resolution was postponed until Oct. 1, Smith’s was referred to the council’s budget committee and postponed until the council’s Oct. 15 meeting.

Also postponed was a requested $60,000 contribution to fund further study of a transportation connector – for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. The outcome of this phase is to identify a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and the location of stations and stops. The council had voted down the proposal at its Sept. 4 meeting, but it was brought back for reconsideration on Sept. 17, only to be postponed until Oct. 15. The $60,000 is meant to be the city’s share of a $300,000 local match for a $1.2 million federal grant that has already been awarded.

Withdrawn was the proposal to waive a requirement of the city’s living wage ordinance for those nonprofits that receive funding from the city to deliver human services. The ordinance has a provision for a hardship waiver, but states that a nonprofit must submit a plan for eventual compliance within three years. No nonprofits had submitted such plans, meaning that the council’s resolution would have amounted to an attempt by the council to amend the living wage ordinance through a simple resolution, which it cannot do. When the council reached the item on the agenda, it was withdrawn, with an indication that an ordinance revision would be brought forward to a future meeting.

Also at the Sept. 17 meeting, the council heard about an item related to nonprofit funding for human services that will be brought forward on Oct. 1: a request to continue the two-year pilot program for coordinated funding. That news came during a presentation from Mary Jo Callan, head of the city/county office of community and economic development.

Voted down was a plan to initiate a 5-year program to eliminate sidewalk gaps in the city. Councilmembers voting against the resolution pointed to the fact that the city’s non-motorized transportation plan takes a comprehensive approach to identifying such gaps. They feared that people might mistakenly believe that certain gaps would necessarily be filled through this program, and raised concerns about equity. The resolution sought to identify independent funding sources to pay for such projects – the city’s strategy in the past has been to levy special assessments on owners of property adjoining the sidewalks.

The footing drain disconnect program was the only one of the late additions to the agenda on which the council took final action. In the general vicinity of the Lansdowne neighborhood, where some houses have already had sump pumps installed as part of the disconnect program, residents have reported that during heavy rains, the overland stormwater flows and the sheer volume of water in the city’s stormwater system prevent sump pumps from being effective. At an Aug. 22 neighborhood meeting, residents had called for a moratorium on the program. That’s essentially what the council’s resolution did.

Flooding was also a topic included in other council business that had been placed on the agenda through the regular agenda-setting process. The council approved an update to the city’s hazard mitigation plan. It will allow the city to receive already-approved federal funds for demolishing two out-buildings located in the floodway at the city-owned 721 N. Main property.

Also related to emergency preparedness, the city council authorized the purchase of a light rescue vehicle that can be used by firefighters to respond to medical calls. Because its staffing requirement is just two firefighters instead of three, the use of the vehicle would allow response to medical calls without diminishing as much of the department’s response capability for fire calls.

The council also gave final approval to rezoning of an Eden Court property to public land. [Full Story]

PAC Wants More Downtown Green Space

On a 7-2 vote, Ann Arbor’s park advisory commission passed a resolution urging the city council to get more input for a possible downtown park. The action, taken at PAC’s Sept. 18, 2012 meeting, comes in response to a request from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which had asked park commissioners for input on the Connecting William Street project. That effort is focused on developing a plan for five city-owned properties along William Street, between Ashley and Division. Four of the parcels are surface parking lots; the fifth is a parking structure at Fourth & William.

Voting against the resolution were two of PAC’s newest members: Ingrid Ault and Bob Galardi. Galardi also serves on the DDA’s leadership and outreach committee for the … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Delays on Land Sale Policy

A question about whether net proceeds from the future sale of city-owned land in Ann Arbor will be allocated to the city’s affordable housing trust fund has been postponed and referred to the city council’s budget committee. The action to postpone the issue until Oct. 15 was taken at the city council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting.

The policy has a long history dating back to 1996. A previous policy of directing proceeds of city-owned land sales to the affordable housing trust fund was rescinded by the council in 2007. More detailed background is provided in previous Chronicle coverage: “City Council to Focus on Land Sale Policy.”

Resolutions urging the city council to adopt such a policy were approved by the board … [Full Story]

Park Commissioners: More Green, Please

Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners had a wide-ranging conversation on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012 – mostly focused on responding to a Connecting William Street presentation that was made at PAC’s Aug. 21 meeting.

Liberty Plaza

Liberty Plaza, a downtown city park, as viewed from the corner of Liberty and Division facing southwest. The white house in the left background is the Kempf House Museum. The red brick building visible in the back right is the Ann Arbor District Library.

Their consensus: That the potential development scenarios presented by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – focused on five city-owned properties along William Street – did not include sufficient parkland or green space.

Commissioners plan to craft a resolution for their Oct. 16 meeting, recommending that the DDA incorporate more green space into its final proposal to the city council. The council had directed the DDA to develop a coordinated planning approach for the five sites, to guide future development. The parcels include the lower level of the Fourth & William parking structure, plus four surface parking lots: (1) the Kline’s lot on Ashley; (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant at Main & William; (3) the old YMCA lot between Fourth and Fifth; and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.

PAC’s resolution will also likely suggest specific attributes they’d like to see in a downtown park, such as grassy areas, interactive sculptures, or a performance space. Other attributes might include a visible location with mixed-use development around it, and programming or activities to attract people to the site.

Despite consensus that more green space is needed, commissioners were less unified about where that green space should be located, and expressed some frustration that they didn’t have more time for this task. One possibility discussed was a downtown greenway, making connections between different parcels where pedestrians could walk from Main Street to the library on South Fifth, and possibly continuing to State Street.

Other ideas included setting aside one of the five sites – either Main and William, or Fifth and William were suggested – as a park. Commissioners also discussed a possible park or plaza on the Library Lane site. There was some sentiment that having an outdoor space next to the library would be positive, though they acknowledged the concerns raised by library officials about putting a park there.

Liberty Plaza, one of the city’s current downtown parks, was part of the mix, although it’s not included in the Connecting William Street project. Commissioners have been asked by mayor John Hieftje to look at that park and some staff suggestions for improving it. More broadly, Hieftje has asked PAC to help prioritize the needs for downtown parks and the possibility of adding more parks into the system.

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation manager, encouraged commissioners to review the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, which includes recommendations for downtown parks. Some of these issues have been discussed for years, he noted, and it’s important not to “reinvent the wheel.”

The follow-up discussion to requests from Hieftje and the DDA was held at PAC’s land acquisition committee meeting on Sept. 4 in the city council workroom. It was attended by seven of the nine park commissioners: Julie Grand, Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Alan Jackson, John Lawter and Karen Levin. Not at the meeting were the two city councilmembers – Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor – who are ex-officio members of PAC.

Also absent was Bob Galardi, the commission’s most recently appointed member. His absence was noted by some commissioners, who had hoped to hear his perspective as a member of the DDA’s leadership and outreach committee for the Connecting William Street project. [Full Story]

Park Commission Focuses on Downtown, Dogs

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 21, 2012): Several items at the August monthly PAC meeting related to parks and green space in downtown Ann Arbor – improving what the city already owns, and possibly adding more to it.

Colin Smith, Bob Galardi

From right: Bob Galardi, the newest member of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, talks with parks & recreation manager Colin Smith before the start of the Aug. 21, 2012 PAC meeting. Because the PAC meeting in July was cancelled, this was the first regular session for Galardi since his appointment by city council. (Photos by the writer.)

In their main action item, commissioners voted to direct PAC’s dog park subcommittee to develop recommendations that could lead to additional off-leash dog parks, to be located in central Ann Arbor. Those recommendations will likely be presented at PAC’s Sept. 18 meeting.

The commissioner who’s been spearheading this effort for more than a year, John Lawter, didn’t attend the meeting. That disappointed one member of the public, Steve Thorp, who advocated for West Park to be considered as a potential site for a dog park. He dubbed Lawter “Citizen Canine” and said the ballfield at West Park could be a spot for a temporary dog park during certain hours of the day or times of the year.

Commissioners also heard from mayor John Hieftje, who asked PAC to help prioritize action on downtown parks. He highlighted possible improvements at Liberty Plaza and a process for moving that work forward. [.pdf of Liberty Plaza staff memo] But he also listed several other city-owned properties that he’d like to see as part of a greenway – including the 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington sites – as well as the DTE/MichCon property that’s being cleaned up along the Huron River.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked how the Library Lane site – atop the new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue – fits into the mayor’s vision for downtown parks. Hieftje said he’d attended a picnic there this summer hosted by the Library Green advocates. He felt it was a little disingenuous of them to show images of a possible future park with large, mature trees – because there’s only three inches of soil, he said, so if you’re looking for greenery and shade, that’s not the best place. There’s room for a plaza, Hieftje added, but the question is how large it should be.

The Library Lane site is one of five city-owned properties that are being evaluated as part of the Connecting William Street effort, which aims to coordinate planning and possible development on those properties. At the Aug. 21 meeting commissioners were briefed about that project, led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA was seeking feedback from PAC on three development scenarios that, generally speaking, represent low density, moderate density and high density development.

Several commissioners expressed disappointment that the scenarios did not include more green space. Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, urged PAC to give specific feedback about where they’d like to see more green space and how they envision it being used, in the context of other downtown parks. She said the city needs to find a “sweet spot” between parks and the population density needed to support those parks.

Also on the agenda was an update from the nonprofit Community Action Network. CAN operates Bryant Community Center and Northside Community Center under contract with the city, which owns those properties. [Full Story]

Council Puts Art on Ballot; Lets Land Leaven

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 20, 2012): City council actions finalized the set of ballot questions for Ann Arbor voters on Nov. 6: A public art millage will join the Ann Arbor District Library’s bond proposal and the city of Ann Arbor’s parks maintenance and capital improvements millage on the ballot.

Mural at Allmendinger Park

A section of a partially complete mural at Allmendinger Park, funded through Ann Arbor’s existing Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer.)

The public art millage would be levied at a rate of 0.1 mill, which would raise around $450,000 from Ann Arbor taxpayers annually. Passage of the public art millage would, according to the corresponding charter amendment, suspend the city’s public art funding mechanism embedded in the Percent for Art ordinance – but only for the duration of the four-year millage.

A selling point of the millage, compared to the current Percent for Art program, is that millage money could be used more flexibly than money set aside under the Percent for Art program. The Percent for Art ordinance requires that 1% of all city capital projects be set aside for art. But this funding mechanism carries with it a legal requirement that art paid for through the program be in some sense “monumental” art that is permanent. Performance art or temporary installations would not qualify under the current program.

Even though a millage offers more flexibility, leaders in the arts community are concerned about a possible perception that it would be completely flexible – which led the council to change the ballot language and charter amendment from “public art” to “art in public places.”

A proposal from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to begin the process of revising the Percent for Art ordinance in advance of the millage vote got little traction from the council. Lumm indicated that she wanted to offer voters a clear choice – that unless the millage were approved, public funding for art would disappear. But her resolution was voted down, with additional support only from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

The majority of councilmembers felt that such a move was “premature.” Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he was open to a scenario in which the millage passed, the tax was levied for four years (which would generate roughly $1.8 million in money that could be spent flexibly), but then was not offered to voters for renewal after four years, which would mean an automatic reversion to the current Percent for Art program.

In other business, the council declined to take action on two pieces of land at opposite ends of the downtown – 414 N. Main St. (site of the old St. Nicholas Church), and 350 S. Fifth Ave. (the former YMCA lot). The council rejected a proposal to begin the rezoning process for the St. Nicholas Church property – in advance of a public auction of the land starting Sept. 6. The council also declined to support a directive to the city administrator to prepare for disposition of the old Y lot, citing an ongoing planning process for the area of downtown Ann Arbor that includes the city-owned parcel. That process – Connecting William Street – is being led by the Ann Arbor DDA under direction from the city council.

The council transacted a mixed bag of other business, including approval of a collaborative effort with Washtenaw County to handle towing. The council also approved the final grant contract necessary for completing an environmental study in connection with a runway extension at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.

The council rejected a proposal from Comcast for a new franchise agreement, opting instead to allow the current arrangement to stay in place at least through the end of its term in 2017.

The meeting ended around midnight with jostling among councilmembers on the issue of mayoral appointments. Prompting the discussion was the reappointment of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to the board of the Ann Arbor DDA. Kunselman and Lumm voted against the reappointment, objecting to Smith’s dual service on the city council and the DDA board. Smith was originally appointed to the board before her election to the council in 2008 and is not seeking re-election this term. Other councilmembers defended Smith’s selection.

Less controversial was the appointment of Michael Benson to the taxicab board. That body had been unable to meet because it had only two voting members out of five, and could not achieve a quorum. If all three members show up now, that body can hold its meeting. [Full Story]

Old Y Lot Gets No Action from Council, Yet

A planning effort by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Connecting William Street, got an implicit expression of support from the city council at its Aug. 20, 2012 meeting, when it voted down a resolution directing the city administrator to proceed independently of that effort. [See also Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Briefed on William Street Project"]

The resolution would have directed city administrator Steve Powers to evaluate the parcel at 350 S. Fifth for possible public or corporate use; and if none was found, to report back to the city council with a timeline for the disposition of the property – based on state and city laws and policies. That parcel is more commonly known as the Fifth and William parking … [Full Story]

Planning Group Briefed on William St. Project

At their recent working session, Ann Arbor planning commissioners got their first detailed look at the Connecting William Street project – an effort to coordinate planning for five city-owned sites in downtown Ann Arbor.

Cheryl Zuellig shows a slide of possible development on the Library Lane lot

Cheryl Zuellig of SmithGroupJJR shows a slide of a possible type of development on the Library Lane lot. It’s one of many scenarios that are being discussed as part of the Connecting William Street project, which aims to form a framework to guide future development of city-owned parcels along William Street between Ashley and Fifth. Zuellig is facilitating the project for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

Led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the behest of city council, the project’s goal is to build a framework to guide possible development of those sites, which are primarily surface parking lots: (1) the Kline’s lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the old YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, which recently opened north of the downtown library.

Amber Miller of the DDA and Cheryl Zuellig of SmithGroupJJR led the Aug. 14 discussion and solicited feedback on three development scenarios. Broadly speaking, the scenarios represent low density, moderate density and high density development, and all conform to current zoning. They were created based on input from interviews, focus groups, an online survey, and the work of land use economist Todd Poole. [.pdf of Poole's market study]

Miller stressed that these scenarios are not recommendations for development, but are being used as conversation starters to get additional feedback. The final recommendation to the city council, which is expected in late October, will likely be a hybrid of the ideas in these scenarios.

The planning commission had a wide-ranging discussion, floating questions and suggestions. Ideas included: (1) creating spaces for food carts to give downtown workers more low-cost lunch options; (2) building structures that are adaptable, and that could easily be transformed from office to residential space; and (3) incorporating aspects of the city’s recently approved sustainability framework, as well as elements of a climate action plan that’s being developed.

Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, raised concerns over Ann Arbor becoming a “Disneyland of foodies,” and stressed the importance of diversity for a healthy downtown. Poole’s market study indicates that Ann Arbor residents spend 1.6 times the national average on dining out and entertainment.

Eric Mahler, a planning commissioner who served on a committee that had recommended a development on top of the Library Lot, cautioned that the public’s response to any proposal can’t be underestimated. People will likely challenge any assumptions related to market demand, he said, such as demand for a conference center. He also indicated that parking and traffic concerns shouldn’t be underestimated – people will raise those issues, too.

Miller noted that one of the lessons they’ve learned from previous unsuccessful efforts is the importance of having conversations in advance of specific proposals, and of reaching out to a more diverse group of people. That’s what they’ve been doing with Connecting William Street, she said, and it’s what they’ll continue to do in the coming weeks as they gather input for a final recommendation. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA Updates: Budget, TIF Talk

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 4, 2012): The absence of four out of 12 DDA board members had no effect on any outcomes at the meeting, because the board did not have resolutions on its agenda.

Susan Pollay, Marcia Higgins

Before the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority's April 9 budget presentation to the Ann Arbor city council, DDA executive director Susan Pollay rolls up her sleeves as she chats with councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). (Photos by the writer.)

The meeting took place against the backdrop of the DDA’s budget presentation to the city council the following week – on April 9 – and various other ongoing projects. So the board’s agenda consisted of a collection of regular committee updates and status reports.

Those included an update on the Connecting William Street project – an initiative to explore alternative uses of a limited set of city-owned parcels currently used for parking. The DDA embarked on the project at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council in a resolution it approved about a year ago – on April 4, 2011. The DDA had wanted the ability to lead that exploration, partly in exchange for renegotiating a contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. That new contract was finally settled on May 31, 2011, and features a clause that provides the city of Ann Arbor 17% of gross revenues out of the public parking system.

Total parking revenues for fiscal year 2013 are projected at around $18 million in the budget approved by the DDA board at its meeting the previous month, on March 7, 2012. That budget was presented by the DDA at a city council work session on April 9. The budget presentation featured a review of the DDA’s history of infrastructure investment and impact on the downtown district since its formation in 1982 – over $100 million of DDA investment, accompanied by $300 million in private investment and an increase in taxable value from $89 million to $386 million.

Another work session highlight was a series of questions posed by councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) about compliance with Ann Arbor’s ordinance that regulates how the tax increment finance (TIF) tax capture works for the DDA district. Last year, the city’s financial staff pointed to Chapter 7 of the city code, which appears to limit the amount of taxes the DDA can “capture” from the other taxing units in the district. The DDA board agreed with the city’s interpretation, and returned $473,000 in combined TIF revenues to the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw Community College and Washtenaw County.

Subsequently, the DDA reversed its position and gave a different interpretation to Chapter 7. Responding to Kunselman at the work session, DDA board chair (and retired Washtenaw County administrator) Bob Guenzel told Kunselman that the DDA had informed other taxing units of the DDA’s revised position, which was not to say they agreed with the DDA, he said.

Also the focus of TIF monies captured by the DDA is a proposed development at 618 S. Main, which received a positive recommendation from the Ann Arbor planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. The developer of the project, Dan Ketelaar, has estimated that the tax on the increment between the current valuation of the property and the final built project would yield around $250,000 a year in TIF revenue to the DDA.

Ketelaar is was initially asking that in addition to reimbursement of certain costs (at around $1.4 million) within six months of the project’s completion, the DDA pledge 80% of its TIF capture money for six years – an additional $1.3 million – to support certain aspects of the project in connection with the state’s Community Revitalization Program. But subsequently, Ketelaar revised the request to include just the TIF reimbursement. So the total request, over six years, is $1.3 million. The CRP is the successor to the brownfield and historic preservation tax credit program. In order to approve the tax credit, the state would like to see a commensurate commitment from local units – and Ketelaar is proposing that it take the form of the DDA’s support.

Ketelaar has pitched his idea to the DDA board on several occasions now – first at the full board meeting on Feb. 1, 2012, and at three subsequent DDA partnerships committee meetings. DDA board members are cautious about the precedent that such a pledge might set, and the appropriateness of the DDA’s role at this early stage in the project. (Ketelaar has not yet acquired the land.) At the March 28 partnerships committee meeting, DDA board member Newcombe Clark expressed concern that, depending on the precise role defined for the DDA’s participation, the DDA could effectively be artificially inflating land values.

This report takes a look in more detail at Connecting William Street, the DDA’s April 9 budget presentation to the city council, the lingering TIF capture issue, and the 618 S. Main project, as well as odds and ends from the April 4 DDA board meeting. [Full Story]

Downtown Parcel Planning Gets Budget

At its March 7, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board voted to establish a budget of $100,000 for its Connecting William Street project, which it’s undertaking at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council. The council passed a resolution on April 4, 2011 that gave the DDA direction to explore alternative uses of city-owned parcels – currently used for surface parking – in a limited area of downtown. The area is bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets.

Parcels included in the area are: the Kline’s lot, Palio’s lot, Fourth & William parking structure (ground floor), the old Y lot (Fifth & William), and the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, which … [Full Story]