A2D2 downtown design guidelines: Should they be mandatory?
Ann Arbor residents still want a voice in the final draft of the A2D2 development guidelines heading to City Council this fall.
They also want more time to make themselves heard before the process ends.
And downtown-watchers shouldn't be surprised if the theme of the continuing conversation focuses on elevating the guidelines from voluntary to mandatory.
That was the message delivered Wednesday night at the Kerrytown Concert House, where about 30 people gathered to hear a presentation from the consultant who whittled about 50 design recommendations into 28 that form the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown document.
"If you’re hearing frustration here, many of these people have been going from public hearing to public hearing," said Ethel Potts, a former Planning Commissioner. Her point: They haven't felt like their concerns were heard and incorporated into the document.
A2D2 has been a work in progress since 2006, as the city kept the momentum generated by the community while a core group of residents debated what downtown should look like as part of a consultant's study.
That also followed years of heated downtown property acquisition and development plans that pushed the city's limits on height and building mass.
What should Ann Arbor's downtown allow, development-wise? And how can the city end up with buildings that fit the community's standards?
Loaded questions, especially in a city where so many residents define themselves as stakeholders in the decision. In Ann Arbor, ownership of downtown goes far beyond the name on a property deed.
So now with A2D2, Ann Arbor is closer to defining the answers. The draft plan gives suggestions for building placement, shape and materials.
According to the initial plan, residents only had days to weigh in: The deadline for giving feedback on the 60-page document, available only online, was Sept. 14. The final draft was to be done by Sept. 23, with council approval possible just weeks later. Unclear right after the meeting Wednesday was whether that timeline - and the opportunities for public comment - will change.
One result of Wednesday's meeting is that the city will increase access to the plan by bringing copies of it to the libraries and making pages available for purchase at copy stores. More residents in the city should find it easier to find the plan, read it and react to it.
But the nature of that reaction, based on conversation from the crowd on Wednesday, may not focus on the design particulars.
Instead, officials and the steering committee should be bracing for feedback that, like one speaker, defines the A2D2 approach as "timid."
Because even after years of discussion, it's clear that some residents are not satisfied to hear voluntary guidelines - which would "encourage" compliance and not mandate it - will be defining downtown development goals for the city.
Now the public discussion, if it follows the themes of Wednesday's meeting, is likely to focus on the question of whether the guidelines need enforcement teeth.
The driving question may be: Does Ann Arbor need to mandate how developers design their projects in downtown?
Anyone with an opinion on how the city should answer that needs to read the plan - soon - and react.
To comment on the A2D2 plan, contact Alexix DiLeo at (734) 794-6000 or by email.
Paula Gardner is business director at AnnArbor.com, where she covers Ann Arbor real estate and development.