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Posted on Sun, Feb 13, 2011 : 5:52 a.m.

Ann Arbor sets public meetings to get reaction on Washtenaw Corridor Improvement Authority

By Paula Gardner

I drive on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor on a daily basis., heading from the east side of the city to downtown.

And I’m not alone: About 34,000 other drivers pass through the same intersection with Huron Parkway every day, according to traffic estimates.

It’s a busy road from West Stadium in Ann Arbor all the way east to Ypsilanti. And it’s also a significant commercial corridor that continues to attract development attention.

Some recent examples: The long-closed buildings at the corner of Platt Road and the vacant land across from Huron Village soon will re-enter Ann Arbor’s planning process. Developers this spring expect to propose Arbor Hills Crossing, a 90,000-square-foot mixed-use center with emphasis on retail spaces.

The shopping center a bit east, across from Arborland and home to the Dollar Tree, also has new site plans in the works. Exterior upgrades, parking lot changes and additional retail spaces all are proposed there.

Then even more easterly is the former Dairy Mart, a symbol of blight at the entrance to Ypsilanti Township on its Pittsfield Township border, which soon could be demolished and a new restaurant built.

There are other, smaller examples of improvements, hoped-for changes and needed revisions to the property along Washtenaw.

To that end, the county’s effort to unite the communities that host the roadway into a Corridor Improvement Authority are moving forward in the City of Ann Arbor with several key meetings over coming weeks.

The goal, said city planner Jeff Kahan, is to get public reaction to the effort, since it also could result in the municipalities setting up a tax capture along the corridor to divert increases in tax revenue from the respective general funds to goals that further Washtenaw’s improvement.

The improvements, Kahan told me last week, would be mostly in transportation, then possibly infrastructure and encouraging private development.

“The theory is public improvements will attract private investment to the corridor,” he said.

Changes likely would be gradual over time, he said. Eventually, the corridor _ the most direct connection among Ypsilanti, Ypsilant Township, Pittsfield Township and Ann Arbor - could also unite the communities beyond just traffic lanes.

The corridor also could set a similar vision for alternative transportation options, appearance, function - like encouraging development closer to the road instead of parking lots. All of that could enhance the value in the corridor, both from a real estate and community perspective.

As officials take the next serious step toward a CIA, the funding component could be the biggest hurdle: Every community affected also is fighting to hold onto general fund revenue amid falling tax revenues.

I’ve been skeptical that a new taxing body is needed to accomplish improvements on Washtenaw.

But I also tried to make a left turn onto the roadway at 9 a.m. recently without the benefit of a traffic signal, and recognize that it can use attention.

And I’m curious to hear the public reaction from the 3 meetings Ann Arbor officials will hold on the issue:

• Feb. 23 from 7:30- 9 a.m. at Paesano’s Restaurant, when business owners and operators along the corridor are invited to share their perspectives.

• March 2 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm, when residents’ input is the focus.

• March 7, when City Council holds a public hearing at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The feedback from the meetings will guide the city’s decision on creating the CIA.

The impact of that decision will affect our direction on this significant gateway corridor for years to come.

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.



Mon, Feb 14, 2011 : 5:18 p.m.

Has anyone on this discussion actually read the corridor report? Many issues and reasons for the changes are reported. There is definitely a case to be made for a coordinated, cooperative governmental/business effort to address a full range of needs on this heavily used state trunk. Once you buy into creating a planning document, there's a need to discuss funding mechanisms. There are over a dozen planning documents in the city so this is a routine mechanism for getting state and federal dollars into the city. I live, walk, bike, recreate, drive, and steward a park in this area. It is my everyday 'downtown' and I would like to see it developed as a sustainable transportation corridor with high density residential behind a vibrant retail/office corridor that starts to provide an environment for sustainable public transport on Washtenaw between EMU and UM (including a bike lane all the way downtown to UM AND to EMU). On the face of it, I like the idea of some of the taxes collected from businesses in this area being captured and directed to the areas needs rather than downtown.


Sun, Feb 13, 2011 : 10:04 p.m.

Thank you for this article. Can you explain at bit more about this taxing authority? What is the purpose? (Why won't the current ones work? What projects in the past have had their own taxing authority? Have those been positive outcomes?) Is anyone really thinking that Washtenaw Ave will become a pedestrian strolling zone? It's loud and ugly, and the stores are huge with huge parking lots between them and the sidewalks. You'd have to be an amazing walker to think you could shop up and down this corridor on foot; and you'd have to be immune to traffic noise and smells to want to do it.

sandy schopbach

Sun, Feb 13, 2011 : 6:06 p.m.

Washtenaw would be a prime spot for an automated tramway down the middle, like they have in Germany and other European countries. Automated would keep staff costs down. And it has enough attractive destinations - mainly shops but also restaurants - to make it profitable, provided it ran regularly, which would be possible if it were automated. City Hall... think it over.


Sun, Feb 13, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Compare the flood of comments on the sales tax story above to the minimal commentary on this one. Everyone howls when our sticky-fingered leaders talk about tax increases, but nobody pays attention to the sneaky ways they set up the need for such tax increases: by putting in place unelected, unrestrained bodies over whose funding voters have no control. Whatever community you live in, make note of who votes for this!


Sun, Feb 13, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

(Existing framework can address traffic signal issues.) We don't need a new taxing authority. The 'county' need look no further than for enlightened feedback regarding this unneeded concept. Clearly some one in the county administration wants a new organization created; it would be helpful to know just who conceived this idea, and why. A friend of a developer? Likely. We need to follow the money backwards a bit further to learn: what are the true motivations of the few people behind this unneeded concept?