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.
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.