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Posted on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

Ann Arbor gives OK to explore corridor improvement authority option for Washtenaw Avenue

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor City Council members get advice on carefully wording a resolution of intent to form a corridor improvement authority during a break in Monday's meeting.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously Monday night on a resolution of intent to create a joint corridor improvement authority for Washtenaw Avenue.

That makes Ann Arbor the third of four communities to give initial approval to establish a special tax-capturing district to redevelop the commercial corridor.

Both the city of Ypsilanti and Pittsfield Township have signed on. Approval from Ypsilanti Township is expected to come tonight.

Monday's resolution, sponsored by Council Members Tony Derezinski and Christopher Taylor, is only a first step in the process.

It simply declares the city's intent to work with the three other municipalities to explore the creation and operation of a corridor improvement authority.

As required, the resolution designates boundaries of the proposed district, which could shrink but cannot grow larger at this point, according to the city attorney.

The city portion of the proposed development area includes primarily commercial land uses along Washtenaw Avenue from US-23 to Stadium Boulevard.

The four municipalities joined forces several months ago to form the Washtenaw Avenue Joint Technical Committee, which has created a document called the Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Strategy. The strategy includes recommendations for land use and transportation improvements along the corridor.

City officials said Monday night the Ann Arbor City Planning Commission already has begun the process of integrating recommendations from the strategy into the city's master plan.

Before creating a corridor improvement authority, the City Council must hold a public hearing to give affected parties a chance to weigh in. That's expected to happen in March.

During a working session of the City Council in September, city officials received an update on the Reimagining Washtenaw Avenue corridor study project. Officials said at that time the corridor improvement authority, if formed, would oversee improvements along a five-mile stretch of Washtenaw Avenue from Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor to the water tower in Ypsilanti.

Under the Corridor Improvement Authority Act of 2005, local municipalities are allowed to set up authorities that use tax-increment financing to make capital improvements within an established commercial district. The act allows communities that already have downtown development authorities to extend similar benefits to aging commercial corridors.

Washtenaw Avenue is considered the primary transportation corridor linking Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, traversing Pittsfield and Ypsilanti townships. All four municipalities have been in talks for the past two years about ways to facilitate redevelopment of the corridor.


Terri Blackmore of WATS and City Planner Jeff Kahan appear before the City Council Monday night to talk about the corridor improvement authority strategy.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, has taken a lead role on the project. She told council members Monday night there needs be a change to state law before the joint corridor improvement authority actually can be formed.

Blackmore said the state law right now only allows up to nine members to serve on a corridor improvement authority. However, the law also mandates that the body must include five business representatives, one resident and the head official of each community.

With four communities cooperating, that's 10 people, Blackmore said.

"We need to have them just amend the law to allow one more seat for every additional community," she said. "We're the first one to have four communities. I think they just didn't think that this many communities would work together."

Despite Monday's unanimous approval, some Ann Arbor council members expressed hesitations about the idea and the potential implications on the city's budget, especially if it means diverting tax dollars away from the general fund.

"I'm not certain everybody has thought through what the budgetary implications are for this. Certainly I don't know all of the implications," said Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward. "This is a big deal, and maybe bigger than we have thought through."

Blackmore said the other communities also have reservations, not just financial. "This is not easy for any of them to work together. They've never done it before," she said, though expressing confidence that a tax-increment financing plan can be agreed on.

Derezinski agreed the authority is a big deal.

"And it's a good big deal. It's an example of urban collaboration and cooperation," he said, calling it "one of the best examples of collaboration that has come our way in a long time."

Council Member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, said she wholeheartedly supports the idea.

"The corridor right now is not attractive, it's not pleasant to drive along," she said. "Certainly, I can't imagine walking along it, and I would never dream of taking a bicycle on it. It is something that's hard to travel by bus because it takes so long. It's not very efficient that way."

Mayor John Hieftje said the corridor simply "doesn't work" right now.

"There remains a great deal of work to be done on Washtenaw and we do need to find some solutions out there or it's going to be even worse," he said. "When you look at it going back 20 years, it hasn't improved. There's more business out there, more congestion, still nobody walking, nobody biking. It's not a pleasant place to be."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Tom Teague

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 2:15 p.m.

@ERMG - Finding common cause with the three of you is reward enough! Merry Christmas.

Tom Teague

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 2:11 p.m.

Glad I'm wrong. Thanks tos.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 1:58 p.m.

@Tom Teague: That's an incorrect reading re: eminent domain condemnation proceedings. How'd you come up with that interpretation?

Tom Teague

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 : 2:13 p.m.

@Ryan - I just spent an exciting lunch reading the Michigan Corridor Improvement Authority act and I'm hoping that you could clear something up for me: Is my reading correct that, once established, the Corridor Improvement Authority could independently exercise Eminent Domain without authorization from any of the four municipalities?

Tom Teague

Wed, Dec 22, 2010 : 8:40 a.m.

An opportunity to agree with ERMG, Vivienne Armentrout AND AlphaAlpha on the same post feels like hitting the trifecta, and I don't want to pass it up. I won't disagree that Washtenaw Avenue needs some improvements in looks and traffic flow. But those should be carried out in the smallest increments possible - improved signaling and timing for the traffic, sidewalk maintenance, a new AATA stop, plantings, and civic muscle brought on the owners of derelict buildings. Then evaluate to determine whether something more is needed. As Vivienne Armentrout points out, the website is full of grand Haussmannian vision but contains few specifics. The unintended consequence could easily be government selection of which businesses survive and which don't when special taxes, loss of business due to road closures and higher rents drive marginally profitable shops out of the area. There will be public meetings that we should attend. We should also request other meetings as specifics unfold and decision points near. The debacle unfolding in Sylvan Township, while not a perfect analogy to this initiative, does demonstrate that taxpayers can be left holding a very expensive bag when civic projects go south. Finally, missing from this article is some statement of enthusiastic support from the affected businesses. I wonder whether an enterprising reporter might make some calls and find out whether that support exists.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 11:53 p.m.

If this does go forward, they should look to the state(MDOT) and try and transform the US-23 interchange to resemble the one north at M-59/Us 23 and to the east on I-94 at Telegraph. That would allow foot/bike traffic to cross that area safely. I am not sure how feasible it is with the intersection of Carpenter/Washtenaw so close, but it really seems to work well at both of those other locations. I also think there should a contiguous path between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, dedicated to one side of the road. This is one of the busiest sections of roadway in the county and it would be nice if it entire length could be traversed safely on foot, bike or even a motorized wheelchair. The best way to come into town is Westbound M-14 to Main street. Great to se the city scape.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 11:30 p.m.

Collaboration is a means, not the end. Shouldn't Derezinski wait to see if anything is actually accomplished before he proclaims it "one of the best examples of collaboration that has come our way in a long time(?)"


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 9:08 p.m.

"It is time to end the mindless practice of creating unaccountable authorities. We have elected people to office with the expectation that they will represent our interests concerning issues such as these. It's time for them to start doing their jobs rather than hide behind these authorities." Spot on, Edward. Speaking of them doing their job: "I think that leaving it to the property owners alone will end up nowhere slowly" Leaving it up to the property owners 'alone'? Alone? Alone is: no zoning, no planning commissions, no outside input. And that is so not what we have had for more than '32 years'. Various governmental units have had very significant input into very many decisions along 'that horrible avenue'. As Edward stated: "It's time for them to start doing their jobs rather than hide behind these authorities."

Bob Martel

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 7:46 p.m.

I share Edward R Murrow's Ghost's skepticism re: yet "another government authority." However, I think that leaving it to the property owners alone will end up nowhere slowly (just look at the progress during the last 32 years since I first drove down that horrible avenue.) We will need some government "seed money" to organize these owners to get started. Not sure how best to do this. I just know that something needs to be done. CIA sounds kind of like a DDA, which has some baggage in this community, apparently. Yet, our downtown looks pretty good comparatively.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 7:40 p.m.

With all that high-priced government talent at its disposal, the committee would do well to have someone actually read Act 280. There is no need to amend the act regarding the composition of CIA boards of directors. This is not to be a joint authority with a single board of directors, because the statute does not authorize joint authorities. What it DOES authorize is an interlocal agreement between or among municipalities, each of which has established ITS OWN AUTHORITY, providing for the joint operation and administration of those INDIVIDUAL authorities. See MCL 125.2876 (5). There is no requirement or authorization in PA 280 for a single board consisting of the four chief executives and a maximum of 5 additional members to preside over the joint operations. Given that each municipality (Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Pittsfield and Ypsilanti Townships) forms its own authority, each also must comply INDIVIDUALLY with the requirements to form an authority board of directors. That means EACH authority has a board of directors consisting of the chief executive of the municipality, plus an ADDITIONAL 5-9 people appointed by the chief executive and approved by the governing body (i.e., city council) for a total of 6-10 members. See MCL 125.2878 (1) (A)n authority shall be under the supervision and control of a board consisting of the chief executive officer of the municipality or his or her assignee AND not less than 5 or more than 9 members as determined by the governing body of the municipality. Members shall be appointed by the chief executive officer of the municipality, subject to approval by the governing body of the municipality. (emphasis mine) Further, the requirement that one member be a resident from within a mile of the development area border may be fulfilled by another member. If a member who has an ownership or business interest in a CIA property (or for that matter, the chief executive of the municipality) also lives in or within a mile of the development area, the one-member residency requirement is fulfilled; the requirement need not be fulfilled by a member separate and distinct from any other member. The relative voting power of the participants in the interlocal agreement must be established in that agreement. The municipalities may wish to come up with some sort of super board as part of the interlocal agreement, but an amendment to PA 280 is not required to do it.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 5:48 p.m.

Mumbambu, Esq: I do not wish my tax dollars to be used on speculative development offered at this time by those wanting to change Washtenaw Avenue. The informative material available does not provide feasibility determinations for either commercial or residential construction. If Costco wanted to build on the vacant land and raze the abandoned buildings the enterprise value for such development can be estimated. As it is, the preliminary plans do not identify specific businesses that will occupy any commercial buildings. Similarly no one has established a need for residential building along Washtenaw Avenue. For all anyone knows residential and commercial facilities could remain mostly unoccupied, ending with bankruptcy. Ann Arbor is familiar with such failures. Bottom line: wishful thinking does not justify speculating with tax payer money.

Steve Pierce

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 5:25 p.m.

Well if they use the TIF revenue as wisely as Farmer/Schreiber used the TIF money for Water Street, we have nothing to worry about. - Steve

Dog Guy

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 4:36 p.m.

To please the mayor and council, the "cia" must be in favor of reducing Washtenaw Ave. to two lanes of traffic and four bicycle lanes. Better yet, recommend one lane of traffic outbound.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

I looked at the website. It has a number of positive visions but few answers to the questions that I'm really curious about. Here are just a couple: 1. I assume that the authority would be composed of appointees from each of the 4 local governments. Would those governments also support the administrative costs, especially in startup, on an equal basis? And has any effort been made to estimate administrative and startup costs? 2. How much of the TIF revenue would be assigned to administrative costs? Also, what unit of government would be in charge of assessments of improved property? Would each segment be assessed by the individual unit of government in which it resides? (I'm guessing this is so.) If so, then are the TIF funds from within that section based on the millage rate of that municipality? In that case, the tax contribution is very uneven, with millage rates starting at the highest in Ypsilanti City, through Ann Arbor City, to Pittsfield Township and then Ypsilanti Township. (I haven't looked them up lately so don't have exact figures.) 3. It is clear that transportation is a big focus. "These areas represent potential nodes of dense development at transit stops if express bus or fixed transit with fewer stops and faster travel times replaces the current bus system. This corridor provides an opportunity as a potential fixed rail in the future, especially because of its connection of major destinations and dense populations." The objectives seem to emulate those being discussed for a county-wide transportation system. The consultants who recently reported on the Transit Master Plan did not seem to characterize this as at a high enough use to support rail. Perhaps the hope is to build density high enough to support it. Anyway, how would the project coordinate with a county-wide transit authority? What if that authority does not gain funding (a millage) and therefore does not materialize? 4. What is the TIF revenue used for? Is it to be used to support private development (by making grants) or could it be used for transit and related infrastructure projects? Final comment: I find the term "Talent centers" to be off-putting. It embeds too many assumptions and projects an outcome it cannot promise.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 3:33 p.m.

Veracity. You say "The proposal is a "Trojan Horse" intended to obtain tax payer dollars to assist funding private development." and I'm the one who is making unsubstantiated claims? :) I'm offering a different way to look at what Washtenaw Avenue can become, and I am excited about the prospects of four communities working together to develop it into a better place for everyone. You ask:What type of "high capacity" public transportation do you foresee for Washtenaw Avenue? That is for the public, and hopefully a combination of public and private investment to determine. Perhaps there is enough existing capacity. Perhaps funds could be used to make public transportation travel times faster and more attractive along the corridor. Those are the decisions that will be made by the proposed authority, with the input of the public. I absolutely think people will walk from a residential development at Platt and Washtenaw "all the way to Huron Parkway". What is that, 1000 feet? I'd love to be able to do that and think many others would. Even if demand is low now, we are selling ourselves short by not planning for the future and putting in place a framework and infrastrucutre that will allow places to be built where people want to live in them. There is definitely a chicken and egg issue and I applaud this group of elected officials for being forward thinking, learning from other communities, planning ahead and willing to do anything different from the status quo- the overwhelming majority of us believe the area is not functing correctly. Investment is needed to create the infrastructure this area requires for businesses and private investment to thrive. The fact that the money captured will be invested back into the area makes a lot of sense.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 3:05 p.m.

Mumbambu, Esq: You try to refute the facts that I present against present concepts for improving the Washtenaw corridor by making statements which are not substantiated. What type of "high capacity" public transportation do you foresee for Washtenaw Avenue? Buses are already operating along Washtenaw Avenue between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Proponents for corridor improvement have often quoted an (outdated) study that established that more than 700 passengers are transported along Washtenaw Avenue daily. The count does not seem large and I doubt that many carry packages with purchases from stores along the corridor. Furthermore, many bus riders will need other transportation to get them to and from bus stops to their homes. Also, most traffic along Washtenaw Avenue may be created by commuters who have no intention of visiting businesses along the way, especially during rush hours when usage is the heaviest. Commuter traffic will not be reduced by increasing local public transportation. New residential development along Washtenaw Avenue will increase traffic as residents drive to and from their homes. It is unlikely that many residents at the projected Platt Road and Washtenaw Avenue development will want to walk all the way east to Huron Parkway and then cross Washtenaw Avenue to visit the shopping area on the north side of the street. Would many want to return by foot the same way carrying packages from Whole Foods or Barnes and Noble? And during Ann Arbor's coldest months fewer people will want to be outdoors for extended periods of time. With this recession many recent residential projects have difficulty maintaining occupancy. What demand is there for new residential construction along a busy Washtenaw Avenue? Additional sidewalks are not really needed. A sidewalk already exists on the south side of Washtenaw Avenue between Stadium Boulevard and Huron Parkway. Another sidewalk exists on the north side of Washtenaw Avenue from Huron Parkway to the main entrance to Arborland Mall. The US 23 overpass prevents constructing a sidewalk or bike pathway from the Arborland Mall area to Carpenter Road and into Ypsilanti. What type of new commercial development is planned that will entice more shoppers to the area? Whole Foods and three other restaurants already exist at Huron Parkway and Washtenaw Avenue. More restaurants and shops exist on both sides of Washtenaw Avenue proceeding east from Huron Parkway. Most needs of Ann Arbor citizens can be met by all the various shops and stores present along the corridor. The vacant land and buildings near Platt Road and Washtenaw Avenue should be developed either privately or transformed into a park by the city. It would be contiguous with the County Farm Park.

Bob Martel

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.

I applaud any effort to improve the Washtenaw Avenue corridor. When I first arrived in Ann Arbor in August 1978, my ride from the airport got off US 23 at Washtenaw and proceeded up that horrible avenue. I remember that my first impression of Ann Arbor was one of terrible disappointment until the bus turned north at the Stadium/Washtenaw split. Sadly, Ann Arbor does not do much better from most of the other out of town approaches. Just think of Briarwood, North Main, Jackson Road, etc... It's about time we give this town some "curb appeal!" How many people formed a bad first impression of our community on those awful drives, and then turned around and left?


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 11:03 a.m.

Communities working together to improve the business climate is a good idea. The reimaging of the the Washtenaw Corridor will improve safety and traffic flow. Well planned shopping corridors are more likely to succeed than the hodge-podge conglomeration of mini-malls and fast food joints that litter the current strip. Thank goodness someone is investing the time and effort to try to come up with a better idea. To the nay-sayers I say, "Present something positive to improve the situation, instead of bad-mouthing new ideas."


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 10:34 a.m.

"tax increment financing" merely creates another funding "bucket" that will take money that would otherwise be in the city's general fund. If you believe that reducing the number of lanes of traffic on Washtenaw avenue will improve traffic flow, I have a bridge for sale.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

I admit I don't understand the technical workings of a TIF, but assuming that it collects and distributes taxes equitably (without increasing them), then why not adopt it for the Washtenaw Corridor? Even if the TIF weren't established, the townships and cities would do well to work together for improvements to the strip. I enthusiastically second council member Smith's comments above, but I have to say that traveling by bus is reasonably fast (I commute from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor on the #4 bus, and it's almost as fast as driving.) In good weather I commute by bike, 7 miles each way, but I *don't* use Washtenaw due to the lack of safe sidewalks and off-street bike paths--I wouldn't advocate bike lanes for this type of thoroughfare. Considering the haphazard or nonexistent planning that has shaped this strip over the decades, any improvements would be welcome. We need consistent and safe access for motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Given safe sidewalks, more area residents would walk to whatever businesses were within walking distance. If more residential housing were developed along the corridor (hardly likely in the foreseeable future), its inhabitants would take advantage of good pedestrian and bike paths *if they exist*.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 10:06 a.m.

In these economic times, developers are looking for areas that have a functioning infrastructure, which is what the captured dollars are to be used for. The present city and DDA budgets are difficult to balance now. Everyone should become familiar with the Washtenaw corridor improvement proposal by examining the materials at the following site: The proposal is not a "Trojan Horse" intended to obtain tax payer dollars to assist funding private development. The plan will improve traffic flow and provide options to avoiding congestion along Washtenaw Avenue. Transforming Washtenaw Avenue could involve replacing a lane with high capacity public transportation, alleviateing congestion. Examples include a trolley system or median strip with trees but those details have not been worked out and will undoubtedly go through a public review process if they are proposed. Furthermore, several envisioned private investments along Washtenaw Avenue which would not be granted funding under the CIA in Ann Arbor (near the Washtenaw County Recreation Building and near Arborland), include new residential buildings which will reinvigorate the area with creative class people frequenting establishments on Washtenaw Avenue. I'm looking forward to an opportunity to walk to my favorite shops on Washtenaw instead of having to drive there and sit through the congestion. Land for commercial development has been available along Washtenaw Avenue for many years and empty buildings attest to the difficulty of sustaining businesses along a corridor where the only way to get around is the automobile. Adding sidewalks will improve future prospects of success and turn the area into a more user-friendly place to shop, work and socialize. Shoppers will be able to walk or cycle along the corridor. Crossing Washtenaw Avenue will become safer and easier, particularly at locations which have traffic lights. The Michigan Department of Transportation is already planning to install a path to connect pedestrians and cyclists across US-23. Developing the Washtenaw corridor will enhance the businesses in the four communities by creating a more desirable shopping experience. Let us allow Washtenaw corridor to be improved and provide a more pleasant experience for all those who are forced to use it in its present condition. Let's promote a well-designed corridor to private investers and foster a relationship to allow money made in this area to be spent in this area. I want this corridor to be planned to look more like Main Street in Royal Oak and less like Telegraph in Southfield.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 10:01 a.m.

Funny one Mr Mayor the Corridor does not work. Well either do you or the over paid city council.


Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

Everyone should become familiar with the Washtenaw corridor improvement proposal by examining the materials at the following site: The proposal is a "Trojan Horse" intended to obtain tax payer dollars to assist funding private development. The plan will not improve traffic flow and indeed may worsen congestion along Washtenaw Avenue. Designs for transforming Washtenaw Avenue will replace a lane with either a trolley system or median strip with trees. How will reducing the number of lanes improve traffic flow? Furthermore, several envisioned private developments along Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor (near the Washtenaw County Recreation Building and near Arborland) include new residential buildings which will increase traffic volume along Washtenaw Avenue. Land for commercial development has been available along Washtenaw Avenue for many years and empty buildings attest to difficulty of sustaining businesses along the corridor. Adding sidewalks will not improve future prospects of success. Shoppers will not walk or cycle the long stretches in order to shop and carry packages. Crossing Washtenaw Avenue will remain limited to the few street locations which have traffic lights. No pedestrian bridges or tunnels are planned for the corridor. Developing the Washtenaw corridor will not assure citizens of Ann Arbor better traffic flow or additional desirable shopping experiences. Developers know this and therefore are unwilling to develop available properties without putting Ann Arbor tax payers at risk with them. The present city and DDA budgets are difficult to balance now. Let us not allow Washtenaw corridor improvement to siphon valuable tax dollars away from more important and deserving initiatives.