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Posted on Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 11 a.m.

4th Ward Ann Arbor council candidates clash over development issues and neighborhood flooding

By Ryan J. Stanton

The candidates running for the 4th Ward seat on the Ann Arbor City Council traded subtle criticisms during a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday night, as they clashed over issues ranging from downtown development to neighborhood flooding problems.

"This election provides a clear choice for Ward 4 voters," said challenger Jack Eaton. "If you elect me to council, I will provide responsive representation.

"I will answer your emails. I will return your phone calls. I will meet with neighborhood groups. I will release a regular email update."

Incumbent Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, suggested Eaton is one of those candidates who fears "change of any kind" and can only say "no" to things. She said change is coming to Ann Arbor, and she'll continue to engage with residents to find solutions and thoughtfully prepare for it.


Jack Eaton and Marcia Higgins pose for a portrait together before the start of Wednesday's candidate forum inside Community Television Network studios.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"During my years on council, my constant focus has been on building our infrastructure, and it's always keeping an eye toward the future while respecting our past," she said.

Eaton, a labor attorney and longtime neighborhood activist, is trying to unseat Higgins, Ann Arbor's mayor pro tem and a council member since 1999, in the Democratic primary on Aug. 6.

He said Ward 4 residents tell him the City Council needs to focus on more sensible priorities such as essential infrastructure and core services.

"I'm running for office because I've been involved in local politics — I've been active in my neighborhood association and in helping other neighborhoods organize," Eaton said. "What I've found is that our council is unresponsive to the concerns of city residents."

The 4th Ward, perhaps more than any other ward in Ann Arbor, has been plagued by flooding problems that have sometimes filled residents' basements with water and led to sewage backups. Eaton raised concerns that the city is dragging its feet on the issue.

"In 1997, the city did a major flood study in the Lawton neighborhood and simply failed to follow up on any of the recommendations, and here we are 15 years later repeating the process of studying the problem we already ignored," he said.

The city of Ann Arbor, in close cooperation with the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner's Office, has multiple efforts underway to look at the city's stormwater and sanitary sewer systems and related flooding problems.


Students took to kayaking in the street during a recent flood in Ann Arbor.

Courtesy of Judy Ramos

That includes a two-year study that involves monitoring and evaluating stormwater behavior throughout the city.

The study includes intensive data gathering to fine-tune or calibrate the city's stormwater model, which will be used to develop recommendations for improving the stormwater system.

"We have been experiencing flooding in Ann Arbor for years," Higgins said. "We have new tools that we can look at, and we have several different projects underway right now.

"To move forward just to move forward quickly — if it's not the right solution, we can exacerbate the problem further down the stream," she said. "So we're taking this time period to look at this, and we're working with the water resources commissioner and using his expertise."

Higgins said Ann Arbor's streets were purposely designed years ago so that when the city's storm sewers reached capacity, the streets would hold the extra water.

"Not everybody understands that," she said. "So if you see a street flooding, it's actually supposed to do that. But because of the additional storm events that we're having, the higher storm events, we're seeing that flooding go over land and that's what we're dealing with."

Eaton said two of the area's main watersheds — the Mallets Creek and Allen Creek — don't have the capacity to handle the level of stormwater the city is experiencing, yet the city continues to plan for more development. He said the city needs to approach the problem in a variety of ways.

"We need to use paving materials that allow the stormwater to soak into the ground at the site, rather than just moving it down the stream," he said. "We need to increase our capacity to move water through the Allen's Creek and the Mallets Creek to the river. And we need to set up retention and detention ponds in neighborhoods to delay flow into the downtown areas."

If elected to council, Eaton said he'd be a voice for sensible priorities such as public safety, protecting local transportation and maintaining essential infrastructure.

"It's our responsibility now to set the foundation with our infrastructure so that 10 or 20 years from now we don't continue to suffer the bad roads we have now, we don't continue to suffer flooding that allows people to kayak in the street," he said. "We need to take responsibility for the problems we have now so those future generations can build on what we have done."

Higgins argued the city has been tackling long-term issues related to transportation and what the downtown looks like, while paying attention to infrastructure.

"We've rebuilt five bridges in the past 10 years," she said. "We've put in miles of roads, we've replaced water mains and sewer pipes, we've replaced sidewalks, and most importantly we've done it while in a terrible economic downturn."


Marcia Higgins


Jack Eaton

She added, "We have a great budget — it's balanced every year, we're not raising taxes, we're providing services, our core services are intact."

Higgins said the city's parks and recreation facilities also remain a tremendous asset, and the city continues to win awards for livability and is envied by other cities.

Eaton said he doesn't think Ann Arbor has a good enough relationship with the University of Michigan and that's something he'd like to see improve.

Higgins argued the city already has a good working relationship with the university. She said city staff and university administrators meet on a monthly basis to discuss issues coming up and they try to find opportunities for collaboration.

As for the issue of city-owned properties in the downtown, Higgins said the city has been working with the Downtown Development Authority on that and just recently contracted with a real estate professional to look at selling the Y Lot — the parking lot at Fifth Avenue and William Street.

Any future decisions about what to do with city-owned properties should be driven by the community, Higgins said, noting no decisions have been made yet.

Eaton said it makes sense to sell the Y Lot as soon as possible to pay the debt owed on the property, but he said the city should make sure it's zoned appropriately first.

"The other properties that we don't owe any money on are really public assets and we should be careful how we use or dispose of those properties," he said. "I believe that we should take a close look at developing downtown parks, creating downtown performance centers — things that actually serve the community rather than just simply selling it for a price."

Higgins talked about her involvement in the multi-year process that led to zoning changes in the downtown. She said there was community consensus around increased density, and until she hears something different, she's going to continue to support that.

She said there are issues where areas zoned for 180-foot development abut near-downtown neighborhoods and the city is taking a close look at that.

Eaton said it's his understanding that when the city rezoned the downtown to allow more density, it was trying to attract both young professionals and empty nesters.

"And I think we've actually failed on both counts," he said. "The massive building that's happening in the downtown area has been student housing — not for young professionals, not for empty nesters, not for any just normal residents of town.

"So I believe the downtown zoning efforts have really seriously failed and we need to go back and address what it would take to make that area more inviting for those groups."

Higgins doesn't believe the city has failed. She said there still are wonderful lofts above historic buildings downtown and condos in Sloan Plaza on East Huron Street that attract empty nesters.

Eaton and Higgins stand at odds on the 14-story apartment high-rise planned for 413 E. Huron St. Eaton opposed it, while Higgins voted to approve it in May.

Higgins noted almost 60 percent of the units will be one and two bedrooms, so she thinks those could attract young professionals and empty nesters.

Eaton said there needs to be a buffer between downtown core density and near-downtown neighborhoods, and the 413 E. Huron project violates that.

"I think we do have competing visions," he said. "It seems that some of our leaders in Ann Arbor envision making radical changes to our town, changing the character of downtown dramatically, and perhaps even making this a mini-metropolis. I'm not sure that everyone supports that."

He also spoke critically of the proposed Packard Square apartment development that's planned for the site where the Georgetown Mall recently was demolished.

"We've extended this idea of density out into the neighborhoods, so we're going to allow a four-story, massive, apartment and multi-use project on the Georgetown Mall site in the middle of a residential block," Eaton said. "I'm not sure that's an appropriate use of density."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

If there are Higgins supporters here, I'd honestly like to hear from them. I see signs in some yards, so I know they must be out there, but I would like to know why her supporters believe that she is the best representative of the Ward. She doesn't seem to have made much of a case for her re-election, and criticism is widespread. What am I missing here?


Sat, Jul 13, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

He really is Mayor Satan... the face of evil is often banal.


Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

She supports the mayor so his campaign machine will be working for her.


Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 4:46 a.m.

Jack! He da man!!!


Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 12:09 a.m.

As a relative newbie to A2, I googled Marcia Higgins trying to gain a better understanding of her professional and academic background so that I could make an informed decision in the Primary (not that it really matters because I plan on voting for Jack). When I googled her I could find NOTHING. No academic nor professional background. I did find a Marcia Higgins as an Admin at a Pet Supply Store (go figure). Can someone, anyone enlighten me about this woman? I have not heard, nor read anything positive about her so it definitely appears the "winds of change" are upon us. In all seriousness, can someone tell me anything about her besides the fact she is as old as water!:)


Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

Lately, Ms. Higgins has been attending City Council meetings regularly but you would not know it due to her lack of participation. Her only actions have been to put off voting for a future meeting or to table a resolution.


Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

The reason that so many others refer to her is "MIA" is that she maintains the lowest possible profile -- no positions on real issues, no presence within the community or the Ward, and even an abysmal record for attendance at Council meetings.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 8:44 p.m.

I hope 4th Ward voters have the good sense to take-up ballots and smite the Hieftjeite Higgins on August 6th. It may take a little extra effort, what with summer vacations competing with the Democrat primary (which used to be in another month more favorable to larger turnout, if memory serves me correctly - another Hieftje manipulation), but it will be more than worth it to rid council of yet another unresponsive, agenda driven ally of the worst administration in the history of Ann Arbor. Never have so few taken so much from so many, and given so little in return. Let's make sure that another one bites the dust in Ward 4. Go, Jack!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

Marcia Higgins has been a key ally of Mayor Hieftje over the many years he has served as Mayor. During this time the following boondoggles were supported by Councilwoman Higgins: 1) The Rog Mahal 2) The Garage Mahal 3) The Huirinal 4) The 1% For Art Fund 5) Cutting fire and emergency services under the levels required to assure service is at minimum national standards. 6) Cutting police services dramatically to levels under the minimum required to provide proactive policing to solve crimes. 7) Cutting road repair below minimum levels required to prevent major deterioration. Is it ironic that one of the Mayor's current key allies is a former Republican candidate for Mayor? As a Ward 1 resident I don't get a vote in this race. If I lived in Ward 4 I'd vote for Jack Eaton. I've known and worked with Jack over the years to fight and reverse many of these bad policies and he has been a great ally in that effort. That's why I endorse Jack Eaton for City Council.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jul 18, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

Boondoggle #8: The city pension fund early buyout that gave former city manager Roger Fraser and many other city employees a very generous golden retirement payout, and helped to bequeath the city taxpayers a massive pension fund deficit of over $200 million and prompted major cuts to basic city services.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 10:38 p.m.

Well said, Stephen!


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

I'm glad Higgins fears change. She must be fearful that she will be unseated in the election as Ann Arbor citizens rid the council of the status quo and replace with new members who will work on the people's behalf.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 6:07 p.m.

Marcia "MIA" Higgins will be voted out. Maybe she can upgrade her website when it finally happens!

AA Neighbor

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 5:56 p.m.

The change we need is in the make up of City Council. Jack Eaton has my vote.

Colorado Sun

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

Marcia Higgins' website is largely in Latin and purports that she seeks to "reform foreign policy" and "immagration(sic)." Good for running for office at the Vatican, or possibly targeting the Classical Languages faculty and students at U-M? There is an anti-Higgins website at but the real site is more hilarious that the satirical one. What are her educational accomplishments or current occupation? I am surprised she even showed up for this debate.


Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 1:11 p.m.

So less than 30 days prior to the election, Ms. Higgins has not seen fit to complete her own campaign website? Might that apathetic, passive approach not speak volumes for her attitude about the job as a whole?

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 7:25 p.m.

The pages of Latin text are a commonly used method of inserting placeholder text. See In the old days, we used what was called "greeking" or "greeked text" - neatly scrawled nonsense characters. Old-style typographers could write this rapidly to hold the place in a layout before final text was prepared. There was no danger of this nonsense text being printed as it might have been if you used English placeholder text like the Gettysburg address, etc. What the presence of this text in Higgins' website says is that the site is simply not finished.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

"Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, suggested Eaton is one of those candidates who fears "change of any kind" and can only say 'no' to things." Good! At least Eaton is consistent on the issues. When gargantuan highrise development hinges on what Council members say in the past, Eaton will not be going back into the archives to dig up and modify his record. When the DDA repeatedly demanded a new library with adjoining hotel, Eaton repeatedly said "NO". When the Mayor repeatedly demanded that the city spend millions on fancy mass-transit systems Eaton also repeatedly said "NO". Given what the UM and Developers want Council to do for them while failing to address what the people want Council to do, just saying "NO" is exactly what is needed at this time. If Higgins fears no change - then she won't care when Eaton takes her seat on City Council.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4:45 p.m.

I can only hope that the good citizens of the 4th ward see clearly through Ms. Higgins' misrepresentation of her own record. She has regularly been unresponsive to concerns raised by people withing and without her ward, she has voted for every bad development that has come up in a predictable manner, although often without any explanation. The city needs more people like Eaton on council!


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

"I will not answer your emails. I will not return your phone calls. I will not meet with neighborhood groups. I will not release a regular email update." Although not explicitly stated, one candidate has demonstrated this philosophy in their track record. They might as well make it their campaign slogan. They will not receive my vote, even if they visit my flooded basement wearing waders, while toting a mop and bucket. "Hey, I keep bailing this water out of you basement. It just keeps pouring back. Yuck." Sort of like a certain 14-yr incumbent running for re-election.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

I believe the 4th ward has been poorly represented for the last decade. They aren't representing their constituents. I wonder what Mr. Eaton would have said about the digital billboard, errrr "marquee" constructed on Stadium? I doubt his response would have been "we couldn't do anything about it" so we didn't do anything about it, apparently, or, even better, no response at all from Councilwoman Higgins. Mr. Eaton will get my vote.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

Isn't it the case that developing higher density living down town will serve the purpose of having some of the chopped up, woefully neglected, back yard graveled, "Vintage" former single family homes reclaimed as single family homes? If the landlords cannot make high rent on them any more because people opt for newer high rises, then it would appear that the NeverEverChangeAnything people will get part of their wish as owners sell them and get out of the landlord business. Though it is possible that some of the 'cherish our past' gang are these same landlords (who are seeing their rent dollars flee) in preservationist's clothing. I'm also thinking that the 'people won't want to live in "student" high rises next to students' argument is pretty weak since people in single family homes don't want to live next to the previously mentioned chopped up homes next to students either. Higher density may slow the spread of speculators buying and "converting" single family homes.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 10:34 p.m.

LBH -- Actually the expensive leasing rates that accompany every new student high rise has had the effect of raising rental rates for students in the neighborhood. This may change soon if the student high rise apartment leasing becomes saturated. We will see how well empty nesters and young professions enjoy living in an apartment building filled with students when the massive 413 E. Huron student residence building is completed.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

What about backyard chickens and homeless panhandlers, especially in the winter when they spray paint graffiti on your back if you don't give them enough cash, which you happen to need for the dispensary?


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

If there's one thing I hate it's backyard chickens with spray paint.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

I have to agree with Mr. Eaton on pushing the "density" concept out of downtown. We already have quite a bit of "density" in the Georgetown area and I don't think the sudden influx of 400 people are going to improve the neighborhood at all. I'd much rather see another office-retail combination on that site.