You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials propose new fund to tear down blighted properties

By Ryan J. Stanton

Mayor John Hieftje says he and other Ann Arbor officials have been frustrated "for a very long time" with abandoned and boarded-up properties in the city.

Now there might be a solution.

Hieftje announced Monday night he and Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, are planning to bring forward a resolution in January to tackle the issue.

"We met today with building staff, our city administrator, our city attorney, and looked at some solutions," Hieftje said. "And one problem is that we need a fund if we are going to take action on some of these properties to tear them down."


One of the boarded-up houses on Main Street just north of downtown Ann Arbor where a developer plans a new affordable housing project called Near North.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Hieftje didn't offer specifics, but he said the city is expecting an influx of cash next October related to the old Michigan Inn property on Jackson Avenue.

He said the resolution coming to council will ask to use general fund money to front-load a new fund to address some of the dilapidated properties in the city. He said those blighted structures, in some cases, are diminishing property values in certain neighborhoods.

The goal would be to repay the general fund with money that is coming in October, Hieftje told council members.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, asked if there would be a mechanism to continue to put money into the fund in the future.

"We hope to establish that," Hieftje said.

"This would get us started," he added. "And we've established that we could pretty easily have the funding for the first eight or 10 problem properties, which would go a very long ways."

Concerns about community blight and boarded-up houses also came up at an Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting earlier this year.

Hieftje said Ann Arbor is fortunate as a community that it's not overwhelmed by dilapidated housing, as some places are. Kunselman represents the 3rd Ward, where officials and a building owner recently sorted out red tape over a house on Pinecrest that was destroyed by fire in 2008 but remains standing.

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.



Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 1:54 a.m.

The Georgetown Mall Property has been a Disgrace to the neighboorhood since Krogers moved out. The Electric has been disconnected and with the light off and colder temperatures Crime is sure to increase. Answers to questions about Liability Insurance, Chronic unpaid Taxes and Ordinance Violations remain. It is absurd to expect the taxpayers to fund this owner, for anything.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 7:09 p.m.

I'm living next to what I hope will not turn out to be abandoned blight called Georgetown Mall. The developer said work would begin last fall but it's sitting there a dark and forlorn place. Maybe the developer is waiting for this resolution to pass?


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 10:48 p.m.

The former greek church on Main St. is starting to look like the set for Dr. Frankenstein's evil laboratory.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 10:11 p.m.

the north main properties belonging to the avalon project, i feel, have been left to blight and as attractive nuisances for our neighborhood purposely because so many in this area have actively opposed the building of the expensive halfway housing with supersize liquor store in the ground floor. i.e., after it is built we will stand up and cheer because at least the blight is gone. the chicago company owner of the greek church has also let it go with no consequences right along with the owners of the house on the corner of kingsley. they all need heavy fines levied and code strictly enforced at all levels. but it won't happen because this is ann arbor and our neighborhood is not burns park.

Ellis Sams

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:31 p.m.

To review: On Sunday the Dot Com runs a story about an Ann Arbor woman who has lived next to a burned out house for three year, because the case slipped through the crack. On Monday the mayor and a council member suggest using a windfall to address several blighted properties. Another council member wonders whether the city could have an ongoing fund to continue this, presumably from some new tax assessment. In summary, the mayor and council want tax payers to correct problems caused by a few negligent property owners. What kind of a message are we sending? The city should do the right thing and devote the windfall to funding public art projects. This is Ann Arbor, after all.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:20 p.m.

Wait a second ... aren't many of you posters the same people who suggested our homeless move to Florida rather than addressing our community's issues here with constructive feedback ? I'll take you up on that approach. So, how about those of you that are unhappy to be around blighted properties just move to Florida .... or better yet Boulder, CO? I hear they have marvelous pedestrian crossing ordinances there. If you're not happy there, how about Venice, CA - they have a well deserved reputation for terrific city art programs. LoL.

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:13 p.m.

Hey, how about an art project? While these buildings sit and rot, maybe council along with the ann arbor art task force could paint the houses akin to the Detroit Heidelberg project?

Frustrated in A2

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.

I too would like to see property owners pay to have these eyesores torn down. Unlike Detroit I didn't think there were that many abandoned properties in A2 where the city had to start a fund to demolish these buildings. Seems like once again there are better things that could be done with that money.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials propose new fund to tear down blighted properties and replace them with apartments like on South 5th ave. They were so &quot;blighted&quot;. Ann Arbor voted nicest place for students with money who only plan to live there four years or maybe two more. Remember this: <a href=""></a>


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Students pay for nice housing with actual &quot;money&quot; as in &quot;cash&quot;. You might have heard of it? They don't get State aid to pay for housing. So what is the beef if they choose to live in nice accommodations ?

hut hut

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.

Those homes on S 5th Ave were occupied housing at one time. Most of the buildings in question here are abandoned and can be deemed dangerous or hazardous. Different issue. Unfortunately the internal operations got so screwed up during Fraser's tenure, nobody knows how to do anything like this. Fraser's reorg of the Building dept was geared towards accommodating development and developers not toward providing basic services for the public including developers and contractors. It turned out bad for everyone.

hut hut

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

Even if only one abandoned building comes down, no matter how much $$ is spent, Hieftje will play this up big time for his next election. If nothing happens (again) someone else, probably a front line employee, will get the blame or the issue will be swept under the rug. Wait and see.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

This seems like a reasonable solution to fix the problem.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:04 p.m.

I hope you are saying that with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek.

Barbara E. O'Donnell

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

Two fallen down houses accross street from me, have been going down to looking slum like for eleven (11) years. Owner should be held in account for keeping property up to code -- OOOOPPPPSSS -- There is no code in Ann Arbor for property to be kept up , grounds as well . It's like watching a bad play !!!!


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:36 p.m.

I'm sure someone would buy the properties, tear them down and build something much better on them... but there are only so many people who can deal with city planners endlessly telling them &quot;Nein!&quot; until their lawyers force the bureaucrats to back off, and besides that property taxes here are insane. Instead we get the same bureaucrats rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of using taxpayer money on a new do-gooder project. Oh boy, meetings!

Dog Guy

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

Another tax to increase foreclosures, homelessness, and abandoned houses! Another leaky bucket watering gardens owned by the mayor's friends! Another shell game: which bucket is the money under? Money is fungible and morphs from a sewer to a sidewalk to a study to a shaft.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

The blighted homes are on main street, there is about 8 of them...I walked buy them everyday on the way to work. <a href=""></a> Why not get the company how is about to put up a 15 million dollar apartment complex to get rid of them sooner than later? That just seems like common sense.

hut hut

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3 p.m.

This is not the first attempt that the City has made with this issue. Some years (decades) ago, Council directed the Building Department to develop an abandoned building program to get rid of the most common eyesores around town. This scenario has occurred more than once! The effort was NEVER fully supported by Council (other than saying yes it's good), the City Attorney's office (hide it until people stop squawking), local Judges AND the Washtenaw County Clerks office who hold the deed records of all properties. Front line employees were tasked with the effort with no support or direction from those listed above. The effort stalled and now we're getting back on the merry go round. Council NEVER follows up and practices oversight and when things fall apart, who gets blamed? Front line employees, of course. Administrators and Managers are never held accountable for their lack of leadership. The real problem in City Hall is a LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY at the highest levels. Front line employees take the brunt of criticism, cuts and job loss, but NOBODY at the top positions in City HAll is EVER held accountable!


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

Here's an idea that could help defray costs.Allow contractors to go in these house and strip them first.There is a lot ( I think ) of nice wood and fixtures in them.There's a place on Michigan ave in downtown Ypsi that specializes in that stuff

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

I hope the fund will be used for actual abandoned properties (and cost of demolition should definitely be billed to the property owner) rather than for structures such as shown in the article, which are the responsibility of a developer (hello, Avalon). North Main is a particularly sad area, with the chain of ruined houses from the Avalon project and the hulk that used to be a lovely Greek Orthodox church - all the result of development projects that have not made it off the ground. I would hate to see this fund turned into another means of supporting developers. There is still a housing rehabilitation program at the county level. I think homeowners have to apply, while we are talking about abandoned properties.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:22 p.m.

My comments are pointed to the fact there is money somewhere that should be coming in and or should have been earmarked for housing. Demolition was and is an eligible item. The whole concept behind the loans and deferred loans was to keep money coming in assuming federal, state and local support for housing went away. Which it has. Where is the money? What is it being used for?


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

I agree with some of the earlier comments: The owners, NOT the taxpayer should be paying to tear these buildings down. There is always an owner. If the property has been foreclosed, that owner would be he bank or some similar entity. Why is it always the taxpayer that has to foot the bill? Why to our City 'leaders' constantly rush to fill some imaginary void without considering all the options. We are broke in this city and running at a deficit for the first time in as long as this 50+ year old resident can remember precisely because City Council feels the need to 'fix' everything that is or is not broken. The 'crosswalk strobe lights' are another example. $81,000 because council dlesn't think we know how to cross a street or that drivers don't know how to yield to a pedestrian. My guess is there will be as many crosswalk altercations with or without the strobes. Stop spending this city into the red!

hut hut

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

Folks, the real sticking point in this matter is the City Attorney's office. They REFUSE to prosecute these issues to the fullest extent of the law. They go after the low hanging fruit, but when the going gets tough they sweep it under the rug (I love mixed metaphors) Rumor has it that Postema is going to run for a judgeship. Good. At least that's one way to get the deadbeat out of City Hall. Clean house in the attorney's office. Get them to work for the people and not the bureaucracy and we'll all be better off. It's either that or privatize the entire operation.

hut hut

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

We have a reactionary council and Mayor. This has been a seemingly intractable problem for decades because of the lack of leadership in City Hall bureaucracy and elected officials. Let's wait and see how far this effort goes because every time this was attempted in the past it was NEVER supported by the City Attorney's office, Judges, or Council. Not only will we pay for the cleanup we will pay for expensive staff time (attorneys ain't cheap) when indeed they should have tackled and eliminated this problems many many years ago. Let's throw money at the problem and make it go away. There are owners of these properties. They should be tracked down and dealt with within the legal system. The legal system is supposed to support the efforts of the public in dealing with scofflaws, not make it easy for people to evade the system. Why should taxpayers have to pay to clean up the messes of these scofflaws? This is no different that making polluters pay to clean up their mess. But, ah, we know who holds the cards in these matters... the politically well connected, that's who!

The Picker

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Hundred dollars, Hundred dolllars, do I hear Two Hundred dollars, going once, going twice, SOLD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Marshall Applewhite

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

It's about time the little shack on the corner of Summit and Main is removed. That is a complete eyesore, and happens to reside in the most &quot;up and coming&quot; neighborhood of Ann Arbor. Considering that it's been there for like 20 years now abandoned, its time for the city to take action.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

It's all part of the game of &quot;Downtown Development Chicken&quot; that developers and the City play. The photo caption for this story sets the stage for the game: &quot;One of the boarded-up houses on Main Street just north of downtown Ann Arbor where a developer plans a new affordable housing project called Near North.&quot; The game itself goes like this: 1. Developer buys visible property and presents development plan to Council. 2. Council says no flat out, or asks for major, expensive changes to the plan. 3. Developer balks and lets the visible property rot to put pressure on the City to approve the project. 4. Council digs in its heels. 5. Everyone sits back and waits to see who cracks first. If the developer goes bankrupt (which they're willing to do), the City automatically wins, but it can't do anything with the property because there are no city ordinances in place to deal with blight. (It's as if blight is a completely foreign phenomenon in Ann Arbor.) If the City caves in, then everyone loses. Remember the giant hole on Main Street near William that eventually became Ashley Mews? That took Downtown Development Chicken to a whole new level of brinksmanship because it introduced the &quot;Gas Station of Damocles&quot; strategy, which was both novel in the history of the game and represented a very creative use of the downtown surroundings.

The Picker

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:03 p.m.

Try 40 years !

Jerome Blue

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

No tax money for this! Force the owners to do it or they lose the property.

The Picker

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

Here's an inexpensive solution. Auction off these properties with the requirement to restore or demo. Smart, simple, and taxpayer friendly ! It seems some people in this town get special dispensation on the blight rules (ie. N. Main, the decades old gas station @ Summit, Spring St. near Knights ect. ect. ) As we all know, everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 6:25 p.m.

The house in the picture is one &quot;where a developer plans a new affordable housing project called Near North.&quot; Developers rule in Ann Arbor, so forget about restoring or demo there.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:23 p.m.

Back when there was a Community Development Department Housing Rehabilitation program loans and deferred loans were provided to homeowners for the rehabilitation of their properties. The loans although low interest were to be paid back to the city and that money was to be used to re-fund housing rehab. Both the loans and deferred loans had due on sale clauses requiring repayment of some of the money if they were sold prior to a given time frame. There were several hundred homes in Ann Arbor rehabbed with millions of CDBG funds and all had some form of lien attached. What has become of this money? These programs were running from the late 70's through the late 90's when funds dried up and the city's CDBG program went away. There has to be money out there. Who is monitoring loan repayments? What about collection of funds when properties sell? These are funds that should be earmarked for this project. Unfortunately the city probably has no clue where the money is or has gone.

Jimmy McNulty

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

&quot;Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, asked if there would be a mechanism to continue to put money into the fund in the future.&quot; Mechanism = New Tax. Why can't politicians call it what it is?

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

I can't tell you how many times out of town visitors' drive by these ruins on the way to my house. So, logically when they arrive, the conversation usually starts with: &quot;Hey, I thought A2 was a prosperous city, so what's up with the seedy liquor store and burnt out houses along main street?&quot; Thanks, council for finally getting on the ball!

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:11 p.m.

Ah, I didn't realize that this was the zoned Ann Arbor Ghetto area. Very good. Well, it certainly looks authentic.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

No, that was German Town now called City Place. Ann Arbor needs at least one place to call blight. Right?

Seasoned Cit

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:56 p.m.

Hey.. isn't that a historic district !!

Brian Kuehn

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

Rather than create another fund or &quot;bucket&quot;, wouldn't it be better to just budget money to Planning &amp; Development or some other appropriate department for demolition &amp; cleanup? Why does everything need to be in a segregated fund? That seems to be one of our ongoing issues; no money is available for some immediate needs because dollars are tied up in another fund. We do not need a &quot;1% for Demolition&quot; bucket.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 12:43 p.m.

The city is the reason behind much of the blight that I see in Ann Arbor. Uncut grass, no trimming, flower beds not maintained, waste high weeds in many places on city property. Trash spewed and never picked up. Oh wait!! Those are things a &quot;BASIC&quot; city takes care of, not an EXCEPTIONAL creative city. Silly me for not remembering that Ann Arbor is above all that.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:10 p.m.

justcurious - That is part of the &quot;art&quot; in the city. Natural urban landscapes are what the Council is striving for.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

In addition to the &quot;FEMA trailer&quot;,how about that ugly fenced in property on Glen Ave. that was once Glen Towing? That fenced lot of weeds is a contaminated site that has looked bad for many years. Who owns that property? Can't the City make them do something?

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

That neighborhood is only historic in name only. Ha! Council really did a great job there and the Historic District Commission managed to get a street sign for the intersection of Ann and Glen.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

I'm pretty sure that the owners proposed an apartment building for that site, and it was rejected because it didn't fit into the historic character of the neighborhood.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

Why don't we require the owner's of the abandonded properties to tear them down? And if they won't, then the city can step in and have it done, billing the property owner or adding an assessment to the property tax. Why is Mayor Hieftje's first thought always that the taxpayers have to foot the bill. And dreaming about an influx of cash that might come in October, I can see that as the new battle cry, &quot;We can pay for this new program or that program with our influx of cash due in October!&quot;


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 9:07 p.m.

That's what the courts are for if the owners can't be located or aren't paying their taxes or are not taking care of their properties and they've become eye-sores or criminal locations, etc.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:07 p.m.

I'm guessing if the owner abandoned the building, they probably won't have the money to tear it down. You can put lein after lein on the property itself or other assets the owner has, but the real likelihood of collecting is low.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

Sometimes you can't get money from the owner or owners because sometimes these people do no live in the state. So squeezing money out of what does not exist is fruitless. Mayor Bing in Detroit is razzing buildings because either the owner does not want to get his head out of the sand to pay for it or because they can't find the owner. Or worse case? It is a burnt out shell. Ann Arbor needs to look at Mayor Bing and see how he gets 3,000 blights out of the Detroit area. Ypsilanti is doing a great of this as well.

Jerome Blue

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

You hit the nail on the head, cat.

5c0++ H4d13y

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1 p.m.

The city can just put a lien on the future sale of the property. No need for the tax payer to foot the bill year after year.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 11:50 a.m.

Gee if were talking about &quot; blighted &quot; propertys how about the Fema trailer called city hall with the tongue depressor in front...

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

Tongue depressor? Excellent metaphor.