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Posted on Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Connecting William Street plan becomes official Ann Arbor planning document amid controversy

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to make the Connecting William Street plan an official city planning document.

As a resource document supporting the city's Master Plan, the lengthy report produced by the Downtown Development Authority and its consultants, which recommends strategies for improving the William Street corridor and redeveloping five city-owned properties downtown, is now among the official documents city planners will rely on in the course of their work.

"As staff, we would reference that when we provide our staff recommendations to you," Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager, told commissioners. "As we meet with developers or others who might be interested in a site, it would be something that we bring forward."


A map of the Connecting William Street study area and the five city-owned properties recommended for redevelopment.

Ann Arbor DDA

Rampson said the city's planning staff thought it made sense to make the plan an official resource document, rather than an amendment to the city's Downtown Plan.

"In reviewing the Connecting William Street plan, planning staff feels there is a lot of very valuable information in that plan that supports not just the development or potential development of these five sites, but also development throughout the downtown," she said.

But in a matter of minutes after the vote Tuesday night, after a handful of citizens objected and called the commission's action "regrettable" and "potentially dangerous," Commissioner Wendy Woods had a change of heart and called for a reconsideration.

Sabra Briere, who serves on both the City Council and Planning Commission, joined Woods, suggesting Tuesday's public hearing on the plan wasn't well publicized by the city and she wanted to give more residents an opportunity to chime in before a final decision was made.

"I'm really concerned that we're accepting this document as a reference point for future planning, primarily because the council as a whole really was, at best, lukewarm to it," Briere said. "I'm not certain that I could go back to the council and get their agreement that this should be used as a document for reference for this body, and I'd like to be able to do that."

Briere and Woods were outnumbered, though. Chairman Kirk Westphal, who served on the committee that helped craft the plan, said he felt comfortable with the public process that took place over the last year, and the other commissioners sided with him.

The City Council in April 2011 directed the DDA to take responsibility for facilitating a new process for redeveloping five city-owned properties, including the Library Lot on Fifth Avenue, the Y Lot at Fifth and William, the first floor of the Fourth and William parking garage, the Palio Lot at Main and William, and the Kline Lot at Ashley and William.


Sabra Briere said the City Council's reaction to the Connecting William Street plan was lukewarm at best.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Briere noted the City Council voted Monday night to hire a broker with the purpose of putting the Y Lot up for sale in a manner inconsistent with the Connecting William Street plan's recommendations.

"As we talk about this, we have to think about how much this document should govern future decisions for these sites," she said, "because the City Council may decide to sell these sites rather than plan them themselves, and that's especially true when it comes to the old Y Lot."

Tuesday night's discussion surrounding the plan — at some points contentious — lasted two and a half hours, with five residents showing up to speak out against it. Residents and even some commissioners acknowledged they weren't sure there was going to be a public hearing before Tuesday, and they guessed more people might have come to speak had they known about it.

The residents who did show up heavily criticized the DDA and its $100,000 planning process that led to the creation of the Connecting William Street plan.

Will Hathaway, a representative of the Library Green Conservancy, a grass-roots group pushing for a downtown central park on the Library Lot, said his group found the process frustrating.

"It was difficult to feel as if you were being heard or taken seriously," he said. "It seemed like the process was, in fact, preordained, like it was supposed to wind up where it did."

Hathaway and others argued it seemed the fix was in from the start for a recommendation of dense development without serious consideration given to downtown open space.

"This report is the product of a fundamentally flawed process," said Jack Eaton, a longtime community activist who wants to see more open space downtown. "The DDA is obstinate in its refusal to include parkland and open space uses as considered appropriate for these five parcels, even though there was broad public support expressed in open-ended questions for those uses."

Hathaway said he thinks the only reason there's some consideration of open space in the DDA's plan is because his group wouldn't go away.

"We had to really make ourselves a nuisance, instead of just participating, because there wasn't really a good faith effort, I feel, to welcome public input," he said.

Alan Haber, another longtime community activist, said he questioned the DDA's presumption that there should be a profit-making building on every lot.


Alan Haber, a longtime community activist, said he questioned the DDA's presumption that there should be a profit-making building on every lot.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Haber, who is leading the push for an outdoor ice rink on the Library Lot, told he's still drafting a proposal to give to the DDA. He expects the issue to go before the DDA's Partnerships Committee at 9 a.m. March 13, and possibly before the full board on April 3.

Haber also is working with a handful of council members to put a resolution supporting the ice rink proposal on the council's March 18 agenda, and he's hopeful it will have majority support.

Amber Miller, the DDA's planning and research specialist, appeared before the commission Tuesday night to give a report on the Connecting William Street plan. Briere asked Miller to explain the DDA's recommendation for a building on every one of the five parcels.

"I think it came from the goal of wanting to increase the activity downtown and providing more space for people to have opportunities to live downtown, work downtown and engage in activities downtown," Miller said, adding the pace at which such development happens will be driven by the City Council, which ultimately gets to decide when and how to sell the properties.

Executive Director Susan Pollay said the DDA stands ready to help the City Council wherever it sees the next phase going.

"If they choose to pursue a brokered sale of land, we're there to help," she said. "If they pursue the way we've set out, which is an RFQ/RFP, we're there to help."

In addition to residential and commercial uses, the Connecting William Street plan includes the suggestion of a cultural use such as a theater, museum, performance venue or gallery.

Commissioner Bonnie Bona said the city should have more discussion about that concept because she doesn't expect it's anything developers will take on without some incentives.

Commissioner Ken Clein, an architect by trade, wondered if there was enough room to have vibrant sidewalks along William Street if the buildings are being built right up to the property line. Miller said an expansion of the sidewalk, narrowing the street width, is contemplated.

Multiple commissioners said they think it would be beneficial to have more discussion about open space in the downtown, and they're looking forward to hearing a report back from the city's Park Advisory Commission, which is actively studying the issue right now.

Clein said he's not a proponent of a central park, but he does think there is room for more open space downtown, and he likes the DDA's idea of having it privately held and privately maintained.

"There can be nice public space amenities and open space amenities and it doesn't always have to be a huge park," he said.

Clein commented specifically on the Palio Lot, a site Mayor John Hieftje has suggested might make for a good plaza space.

"I have a concern about the D1 zoning of the property," Clein said. "If that could be built at eight stories, even at five stories, it seems to be quite a harsh change."

Commissioner Eric Mahler also chimed in on the open space debate, saying it seems the same ideas keep getting recycled.

"If we keep with the privatization of these open spaces as this recommends, I think you're going to have some real challenges in keeping it constantly active," he said.

"In my private conversation with other members of the planning staff, they've stressed to me that any open space in the downtown has to be very meticulously planned," he added, "and you're not going to get that kind of meticulous planning if it's privately owned."

The DDA's plan includes small pockets of open space mixed with new development, as well as a plaza on a corner of the Library Lot, but Woods asked why there wasn't more open space.

"It just seems like there are opportunities to really try and have some win-win scenarios," she said, giving her opinion that having small pockets of open space "just irritates people."

Pollay said the plan wasn't intended to get too granular, but rather suggest ideas that could be rendered as actual projects come forward.

Woods stressed the importance of open spaces.

"As I'm looking at these plans, they're talking about more people, more people, more people, and it's therefore incumbent upon us to find open spaces or green spaces for those folks," she said.

Bringing up the fact that the University of Michigan has been taking property off the city's tax rolls, Bona suggested the city should be careful about doing the same by creating more parkland.

"We have a flood plan that has a huge number of properties in the floodway, and if over time those actually were not built on, we're talking about a lot of city property that would no longer be taxable," she said. "One of the nice things about that is some of that is in the Allen Creek Greenway, which may be a plan we have, but I think we need to be sure we think about parkland in the whole city context."

Bona said it's easy to pick any site in Ann Arbor and say: Wouldn't it be nice if there were a park there? But she said the city can't have parkland everywhere.

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, Mar 7, 2013 : 2:53 p.m.

If the "plaza" was next to Palio, and Palio opened on it, I would feel like it belonged to Palio. That spot doesn't feel central, and looks out at a gas station and parking lot. A plaza or space over the library lot with food/coffee carts would be much more welcoming.

tom kundrat

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 8:42 p.m.

I am just wondering what type of construction is taking place on the south side of east washtenaw across from Whole Foods and what types of businesses are going in there. thanks


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

Another congestive city idea called Arbor Hills Crossing. Working very hard to zip my unliked witticisms aka sarcasm regarding A2 development - If you read the news you'll know... If that doesn't work type "Arbor Hills Crossing" into the Search box above.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 7:38 p.m.

Please fix our roads first.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

It's a downtown city area. If you want parks, there's parks all over town. I go downtown to shop and eat, not for a park.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:23 p.m.

From Veracity's expose Part I above - "When the DDA can no longer avoid insolvency then it will be disbanded and the City will have to pay for the DDA's existing financial obligations." According to yesterday's A2com piece When the note on the Y lot comes due in December The City will have to pay $2.075M. The DDA must pay $1.425M Will that amount force the DDA to disband this year? If so, what becomes of the Planning Commission's DDA "plans" (not that a reconsideration seems likely to void them. Just curious.).


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:10 p.m.

Hey anything that makes money is good, unless our taxes are not lowered as a result. I waited two years for the city to "fix" South Main between Main and Briarwood. The road is still unsafe, and there are exactly three public parking spots and two spots a mile apart to cross the street. Unfortunately the city does not promote employees based on their skills, they are given cost of living raises while they stagnate.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

Either you are for it or you are against it, which is why you vote "yes" or "no". There is no "maybe" vote. If you want to vote "maybe", abstain with your explaination for doing so. Otherwise, accept the responsibility of your decision.

Scott Reed

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

I went to the DDA public meetings, and I support this plan. Green space is also nice, but I think it is much more critical at this stage to increase the number of people and businesses in the walkable downtown area. I think the people who are pushing so hard for an open green lot somewhere in this area should instead push for narrowing and closing roads as a means to establish public open spaces. What if we just closed a section of road downtown or a four-way intersection and turned it into a public plaza?

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 8:39 p.m.

Scott, I was referring to closing just intersections. How do you imagine that working?

Scott Reed

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 7:44 p.m.

I have thought this through. More roads only yields more traffic. It is a very counter-intuitive result that seems to infuriate drivers, but that doesn't make it untrue. Temporary closures are not sufficient; the city should move more aggressively to narrow and close streets.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

"but I think it is much more critical at this stage to increase the number of people and businesses in the walkable downtown area" That is happening. It's been underway since Corner House Lofts was built in 2003. Followed by Zaragon, Liberty Lofts, Zaragon II, 411 Lofts, and now 601 Forest, The Varsity and City Apartments (Village Green). No doubt I'm forgetting some. The Pizza House proposal was just approved. Meanwhile, demand on West Park appears to be increasing. This is a planning effort. Planning for open space downtown now is very appropriate, as PAC has recommended. Narrowing roads has also been underway and doesn't increase open space—sidewalks don't qualify as such. Permanent closure of streets (not intersections—how do you imagine that would work, exactly? have you thought it through?) has been considered and widely rejected. Temporary closures for events have been successful and sufficient.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

I believe there should have been a more holistic planning effort done for these blocks--especially Fourth and Fifth Avenues between Liberty and William, however it is clear that the DDA was not the correct entity to undertake it. They freely admit they approached this task solely from the viewpoint of maximizing commercial development. They say it's up to others, like the Parks Advisory Commission to consider other elements that might be in the public interest. The mayor and city council of five years ago missed an incredible opportunity. At that time, the bottom had fallen out of the real estate market so there was no development pressure, the Library Lot structure was just a gleam in the DDA's eyes, the AATA was just starting to pursue the idea of replacing the Blake Transit Center, the Library Board had just put building plans on hold, and the YMCA building was still standing. The downtown plan and zoning had not yet been finalized. What a perfect time it would have been to direct City planning staff to undertake a comprehensive micro-plan of this area---a collaborative effort between the City, Library, AATA, DDA, and even the Feds. That plan could have been much broader in scope, considering all opportunities to make this a walkable, efficient civic hub with pedestrian connections. Potential uses for the top of the parking structure could have been proposed and vetted by the public, with footings customized to suit instead of being speculatively built for any possible scenario. Construction schedules could have been coordinated to minimize disruptions. Now we have a DDA plan that no one but the DDA and planning commission likes, a parking structure with $5 million speculative footings and a failed RFP, and a failed library bond. The Y lot is about to be sold (after another failed RFP) and the transit center is being built without any idea what might happen next door. Fifth Avenue is less walkable than ever.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

This is a silly waste of time, since this will never happen, and everyone knows it.The whole DDA and most of the Planning Commission should move to Southfield or some similar horrid concrete mess if that is what they like; why work so hard to ruin this city as well.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

I think Mr. Hathaway expressed it best: Will Hathaway, a representative of the Library Green Conservancy: "It was difficult to feel as if you were being heard or taken seriously," he said. "It seemed like the process was, in fact, preordained, like it was supposed to wind up where it did." Ann Arbor is about who you know: THe DDA is a tax shelter for wealthy downtown merchants that truly run our city and funnel parking and other revenues directly into their "downtown development" coffers, while the Mayor and City Council to their part to lend an heir of legitimacy to the whole process. Ann Arbore needs to balance the CASH COW building mentality with the QUALITY OF LIVING standards that make Ann Arbor unique.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:11 p.m.

"Residents and even some commissioners acknowledged they weren't sure there was going to be a public hearing before Tuesday, and they guessed more people might have come to speak had they known about it." I appreciate Wendy's motion to reconsider (and the her experience-based knowledge that it was an option). The public process leading up to this point served a very different purpose from the public input required at this point where a final proposal is being considered. I don't think it would be inappropriate for city council to send this back to the commission for another public hearing.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

I left open the possibility that council could take some other appropriate action (through its own public hearing process, for example), but if David Cahill's comment about a bylaws violation is correct, sending it back to the commission would be the only appropriate option. (That's if the commission doesn't act to correct the situation itself before council has the opportunity.)


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

HAY - Leave the Kline lot alone. The surface parking it provides is desperately needed for downtown Ann Arbor and it also provides substantial income every year. I have teen age daughters that frequent downtown Ann Arbor often, I don't want them parking in the parking structures, especially at night. There have been numerous rapes and assaults within these parking structures, there not safe. I myself have been accosted several times by members of our ever growing homeless population within the confines of theses parking structures. Efforts by AADA and City Council to "densify" downtown Ann Arbor are too much. I have "out of town" friends that resist coming to downtown Ann Arbor because of "parking hassles" Don't make it worse be eliminating much needed and utilized surface parking.

David Cahill

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:46 p.m.

It appears that the Commission violated Article X of its bylaws by considering and taking action on a resolution that was not posted on last Friday's agenda. If so, then the vote by the Commission was not authorized, and the resolution was not legally adopted. Citizens are entitled to rely on the Friday agenda. This kind of foul-up is what results when the bylaws are violated.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:56 p.m.

Yes, when deciding what meetings to devote our precious time to attend, it is critical that the community knows what topics are to be discussed.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 7:51 p.m.



Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

Debate is very healthy and this is a town with lots of views. But at some point the leaders have to lead. Voting for it and then expressing regret minutes afterward is unbelievably weak leadership.

John Floyd

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:20 p.m.

We elect, well, elected representatives. Not "Leaders". The job of a representative is to represent. When representatives don't represent, you have something besides democracy. Our Fearless "Leaders" could always try to SELL their ideas to the public....


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

It's neither weak nor strong - it's unethical and why intelligent people absolutely despise forked-tongue politicians today. The other voters are too busy trying to manage their own business. Despicable Reps from both parties will promise anything. Then give to the public only what will save election face at the very last minute of the eleventh hour - after already casting several "mistake" votes of course. The solution is electronic plebescite. If voters have to study every issue and then corral their politicians into common sense only to get "mistaken" leadership people might as well just do the voting themselves. If you want something done right ... Anyone know if there exists a tabulated summary of votes on each topic by each politician? I think Briere (among others) does this regularly. Same thing with the Art Commission.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

Steve - On the contrary, only weak leaders change their minds minutes later on a topic this important based on a couple of people complaining to them. I guess the answer is their view is primarily based on whomever last told them what to think. Listening to input and then making up your mind based on thoughtful reflection is a terrific thing in a leader. But voting yes, hearing someone doesn't like it, and then changing your mind? Weak.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:13 p.m.

On the contrary, it's exceptionally strong leadership. Only followers don't change their minds.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

Jack Eaton, Will Hathaway, and Alan Haber are simply anti-development and will oppose any new development. If they love parks so much, they should focus on any of the more than 150 existing parks and try to make them better instead of trying to create a new and more expensive park downtown, only a few yards from another existing park, Liberty Plaza. They seem oblivious to the myriad articles about how Ann Arbor is becoming a mecca for high-tech businesses with needs for downtown office space and housing.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

No, thank you Mr. Eaton for speaking up for yourself (I am not a very elloquent spokesman for others - tried to help some pre-tea independent guy named Ross Perot once and we all know what happened there. Well, at least I tried). Anyway technically you are correct but I still say only 10 votes because I am certain that in not voting for the other runner they would have only voted for you. They will all want to next time.

Jack Eaton

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:15 p.m.

StraightTalk, I am not anti-development. I am anti-dumb development, such as student housing on the west edge of town, massive buildings in flood prone areas, massive towers on the edge of historic districts. Density alone does not create a liveable community. We also need to concentrate on the quality of life features in our downtown, including parks and open space. The DDA was given the simple task of finding out what residents wanted done with five City-owned properties. The DDA created an artificially narrow scope of inquiry that considered only choices of dense, denser, or densest development. When they presented their recommendations to City Council, there was a palpable lack of interest by Council members. The Planning Commission's reception of this document as a planning resource recognizes the lack of support for incorporating any of the recommendations into the downtown plan but ignores the flaws in the document. LXIX, thank you for your supportive comments. After the recount, I actually lost by 20 votes. But, yes, I will run again in the not too distant future.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

Nice try. Shame about the facts. Meet these park flowers. 1. Jack Eaton nearly won the 4th ward vote. Only 10 votes shy. Jack's name recognition is growing, and his "sustainability" positions are being heard by more of the "becoming a mecca" public current representatives have failed to work with and are rapidly losing. Jack will very likely win his next candidacy. 2. Like Blimpy Burgers, Alan Haber is an Ann Arbor icon from way back that careless newbie developers would like the public to belittle. Good luck. He went to UM and was the first president of the SDS. A national organization that has had a far greater reach in Democratic politics than any Ann Arbor Council to date. 3. Will Hathaway is Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. Perhaps voters have heard of that name before. His resume spans many high-level political and University activities. 4. Liberty Plaza will be integrated into the Library lot space when high tech workers and local residents are actually accomodated by planners who listen. 5. Business actually minds their bottom line and prefers attractive and cheap. Nothing downtown will ever meet that requirement. There has actually been a net loss of other office renters since Barracuda relocated with their tax subsidy. 6. Read the comments below the myriad of articles. 7. There is too much housing already. Downtown is way overpopulated.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

Well there it be, proof of the corrupted system downtown. After the City Council gets rid of the DDA they can start their spring cleaning over at the Planning Commission. Maybe send them on a field trip to Mexico CIty. Reimbursements can be made later - if they ever get back. Bureaucractic insensitivity, inefficiency, and lack of common sense is how unions, Congress, and the DoD ultimately lost their public support. Like needing ten different job specialist to screw in a light bulb. Only to read last month's citizen memo requiring LED lights be used, afterwards. Yesterday Brian123 made a practical suggestion - Swap 413 E.Huron with the City Y lot. [ ann-arbor-hiring-broker-for-sale-of-prime- piece-of-city-owned-real-estate-downtown ] Regardless of your take on the idea, property swaps are real events that owners find may find mutally advantageous to do. To look into such matters requires a creative planning process rather than sitting as a fat rubber DDA density stamp. An organization that truly wants to do what is best for Ann Arbor listens to and interacts with the public. Beyond Woods, if this is what the planning commission recommends then it should be darn clear they are not listening nor acting in the best interest of the community. Time for the entire DDA to DDDepart. The Planning Commission must be renewed soon thereafter. Ms. Briere, start with Kirk Westphal.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

"Will Hathaway, a representative of the Library Green Conservancy, a grass-roots group pushing for a downtown central park on the Library Lot, said his group found the process frustrating." How do they plan to keep the homeless from camping out in this park, drinking alcohol, harassing people and panhandling there? The homeless hang out in droves in the library next door. Does anyone really think the homeless will not go to the park and continue their bad behavior, scaring away families and others who would want to enjoy the park without harassment?


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

BOO! It's the homeless argument, again. Sorry, you can't scare us with the specter of homeless people lawfully using our public spaces.

Scott Reed

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

Parks and libraries are public resources. That means EVERYBODY can use them, even people who do not currently have homes. We are all one job loss or medical emergency away from that situation. Nobody wants to be homeless; it is not a "bad behavior" but an unfortunate circumstances. Bigotry and self-righteousness however, are most certainly bad behaviors and should be discouraged.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Clein said he's not a proponent of a central park, but he does think there is room for more open space downtown, and he likes the DDA's idea of having it privately held and privately maintained. "There can be nice public space amenities and open space amenities and it doesn't always have to be a huge park," he said. ********** As long as there is way to keep the homeless from camping out in the park, drinking alcohol and harassing prople, and panhandling in the park, I'm all for it. Good luck enforcing this. Take a look at Liberty Plaza.

John Floyd

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:14 p.m.

If it is privately owned, the owner can determine who gets to use it, and have the A2 police clear out banned people. Just like the U does with campus, and at least one of the down town churches do. If an open space were publicly owned, you could not prevent "undesireables" from using it.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

In response to questions from Commissioner Tony Derezinski, the DDA's Amber Miller talked about the problems with Liberty Plaza and made some comments about the DDA's view of the appropriate size of individual open spaces downtown. Here's what she said Tuesday night: "What we've heard about Liberty Plaza is there are a couple things that make it not very welcoming and don't naturally activate the site, primarily the fact that it's not wrapped by building frontage. You have the sides of two buildings — the side of the SPARK building and the side of the Kempf House museum — and what we've heard is the importance of having an active use spill out onto the plaza to naturally have people filling the plaza space. And something else that's come up through this process is the benefit of keeping plaza space sized about the size of Liberty Plaza, Sculpture Plaza or what we're showing here on the Library Lot. And the reason that's a benefit is that it forces people close to one another, and then you get that energy and that interaction and that feeling of vibrancy from the space." Miller also noted Liberty Plaza has its high moments when it's being activated by a private event (think Sonic Lunch), "but we don't have the budget to keep it that active and that programmed every day, which is one of the reasons that we're calling out having the private development community step up and be minimally a partner or manager of open space."


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

In response to Mr. Whitaker: Liberty Plaza will not be a vital space unless significant foot traffic is drawn through, which can only really happen if a regular retail land use abuts it. SPARK can try all they want: they are an office that only has a limited amount of people entering and exiting the building (and therefore walking through public space) per hour. All they could do is plan some events, and as witnessed the plaza will be occupied then, and empty before and after. The real issue lies with the poor design of the space generating a chicken-and-egg situation: the plaza is too quiet because it has no activating tenants, but these tenants are reluctant to locate on a plaza that is too quiet. I think that a lot of the issues with a downtown green space to rest can be alleviated by properly redesigning Liberty Plaza to include the needs of all residents and visitors downtown. An active lining land use (cafe/store) would be a crucial element in any new vision.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 6:58 p.m.

Interesting to hear an expert say that one of the reasons Liberty Plaza isn't successful is that SPARK is not an active adjacent use. Back when there was a newspaper/bookstore on the lower level, and a restaurant on the upper level, there was a lot of foot traffic, from early morning until late night. Now we have a government-funded economic development entity occupying the space and it's a dead zone, and Liberty Plaza is routinely scorned by the same officials who annually vote to hand SPARK money skimmed off the public schools. Maybe SPARK could use some of the millions they collect from the State, county and city to actually help the community by being "a partner or manager" in developing more active uses for their own space, and in turn, positively impacting Liberty Plaza.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

I continue to wonder what possibilities might have been considered if the library, the transit center, and Liberty Plaza had been included in the parcels considered. The location of Liberty Plaza will continue to limit its functionality due to the small amount of pass-through foot traffic.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

Miller also took an opportunity to explain the name of the plan Tuesday night after one commissioner asked what Connecting William Street meant: "I think it primarily came from the idea that this space is really the hole in between Main Street, which is very vibrant, and the State Street and campus area, and so connecting those two ends of William Street."


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

Is there any chance we'll get to vote on this someday? Because I doubt the citizens of the City of Ann Arbor really want this "Connecting William Street" thing to happen. Better yet, can we vote on disbanding the DDA?


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

If only that were true.

Basic Bob

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

You need to speak with your city council representative or the mayor. They vote on your behalf.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

UNJUSTIFIED BUT NOT UNEXPECTED Part 2 New construction on four of the five properties included in the Connecting Williams Street plan are profitable parking facilities. These parking lots are often heavily used by citizens visiting the downtown. Any construction will eliminate available parking and the revenue that it produces. The loss of parking availability may hamper the success of any new residential or office construction. Including parking within the new construction will be very expensive and likely require subsidies from the DDA. Ultimately a bond issue or millage will be required so that Ann Arbor taxpayers can pay for the inclusive parking. The highrise construction suggested for the four lots will alter the appearance of downtown as illustrated in many of Ryan Stanton's articles reporting on the Connecting Williams Street plan. Twelve and fourteen story buildings constructed in the Kline lot will dominate Main Street from Williams Street north to Liberty Street. Looking west from the east side of Main Street, the three story historic buildings housing prominent restaurants and The Ark will be dwarfed by the giant structures and the scene will appear congested. The amount of sunshine that showers the east side of Main Street will be restricted to the early afternoon hours as well. As new highrise construction downtown continues, Ann Arbor is losing its quaint and charming character that is so valued by its longtime residents. Once these structures are built they will permanently imprint Ann Arbors appearance even if they all end up in bankruptcy. They can not be quickly torn down and removed like tents after the Art Fair. They will remain, like the former hotel at 101 S. Fourth, as white elephants, testimonial to the poor judgement of a small band of appointed officials to the DDA and the Ann Arbor Planning Commission.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 6:12 a.m.

Steve - I am surprised that you believe that a decrease in citizen visits to restaurants, shops and theaters due to lack of available parking is acceptable and should not be a concern. Local business owners who are effected may disagree with you, as well as disgruntled citizens wishing to visit Main Street without having to park a half mile or further away. You are correct that taxpayers are not required to cover the cost of parking. The new expenses associated with servicing the bonds issued to pay for the Library Lane parking structure as well as the Village Green City Apartments parking structure and for a computerization loan from Republic Parking are not covered by parking fee and TIF revenues. Therefore, the DDA must raid its reserve fund to balance its budget. Soon the fund will be depleted and the DDA will face insolvency and probable disbandment. This expected sequence of financial deterioration is the motivation for the DDA's desperate effort to raise TIF revenue by encouraging the construction of massive and expensive construction justifying high TIF payments. Hopefully you are saddened, as I am, by the DDA's encouragement of new construction based on the need for revenue rather than for the need of services or residential units. Eventually the taxpayer may have to pay for parking in the form of a new millage or income tax if the City can not pay for the DDA's obligations out of its general fund.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

So if demand decreases, less supply will be sufficient. The contention about taxpayers somehow being required to cover the cost of parking doesn't hold water.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:07 p.m.

Steve Bean -- Ann Arbor citizens are already complaining about recent increases in parking fees. Raising the fees further may only discourage more citizens from visiting downtown. Also increasing the cost of parking will not increase the number of parking spaces proximate to Main Street. Thank you for correcting my spelling, and for reading my comment.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

"Ultimately a bond issue or millage will be required so that Ann Arbor taxpayers can pay for the inclusive parking." If parking supply is decreased, the price could be increased as long as demand remains, so I don't think the economics supports your contention. It's William Street, not Williams Street.

Jack Eaton

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 1:57 p.m.

Making the DDA recommendations "a resource document" to be "among the official documents city planners will rely on in the course of their work" will only serve to encourage developers to pursue plans that will not receive public support or majority support on Council. As we discuss the "expectations" of the 413 E. Huron developers, we need to recognize that actions such as the Panning Commission's reliance on the DDA recommendations send the wrong message to land owners and developers. Developers receive a mixed message when our planners have an agenda that is at odds with the wishes of residents. The DDA recommendations merely endorse the maximum possible use for each of these publicly owned properties. Density alone does not create a liveable community. We need to pay attention to the quality of life that will exist in the densely developed downtown or it will fail like the urban planning housing projects of the 1960s failed.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

UNJUSTIFIED BUT NOT UNEXPECTED Part 1 The Ann Arbor Planning Commission's formal acceptance of the Connecting Williams Street plan as the City's official planning document is not surprising but is disappointing. The DDA provides the primary motivation for high density development on four of the five public properties discussed. Large highrise developments are needed to provide new sources of TIF revenue in the DDA's desperate effort to find more revenue to offset its perennial deficit spending. The DDA has raided its reserve fund in order to balance its budgets in recent years but the reserve fund will be exhausted in the next year or two. When the DDA can no longer avoid insolvency then it will be disbanded and the City will have to pay for the DDA's existing financial obligations. Unfortunately, the DDA has not identified specific uses for any of the proposed highrise buildings but suggests possible office, manufacturing and residential uses. Thus, any construction on these sites will be entirely speculative without a guarantee of any form of occupancy or generation of revenue that could be applied to TIF payments. Some time ago I queried City Council members for their opinions about what business or services are missing from downtown that would be fulfilled by new construction. No one produced any ideas. Meanwhile, SEMCOG does not foresee significant population growth for Ann Arbor in the next ten years and significant new job formation can not be expected either. Therefore, Ann Arbor is missing the two factors that would justify high density construction and would assure financial success. Without financial success the DDA will not realize TIF revenue from the new construction.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

Two different governmental bodies disagreeing. Healthy democracy.

mike gatti

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

You accepted this document? No you didn't! That's it I guess everything is written in stone. Oh well I guess that's the last we'll hear on this issue.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

Overall, I'm ok with the plan. It seems like a good and efficient usage of the space, appropriate for the location.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Veracity, I think we can only wait and see what the market will tell us. Developers will need to purchase land or go through an RFP process: they are on the hook for making things work, not the city per se. Let's hope that any developments (whatever they may be) happen sooner rather than later, I think we can all agree that the current sites are a blight to their surroundings. IMO, the worst that can happen is that the city cannot sell the land, or that the RFP receives no proper proposals. In which case... we will maintain the status quo (and admittedly have lost $100k in the process).


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

Sorry, Kafkaland, but I can not agree with you until I am assured that any new business or residential construction will be adequately occupied and profitable. The fact that population and employment growth in Ann Arbor is expected to be slow in the next ten years is a head-wind for any developer. The DDA and Planning Commission plans is entirely speculative and falls into the category of a "Field of Dreams" based on the unwarranted premise that "if you build it they will come."


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

Are you kidding me?

Silly Sally

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:21 p.m.

Commissioner Ken Clein said, "I have a concern about the D1 zoning of the property," Clein said. "If that could be built at eight stories, even at five stories, it seems to be quite a harsh change." Oh, Really? In fact there used to be a YMCA building at this location until about 2005 or so, that was at least 6 stories tall, if not taller. The "harsh change" was tearing down the building. If there is anyplace in the city to build a high rise building, this is it. Far better here than tearing down historic homes to build a high rise, and then ruining the surrounding area for the neighbors. In this location, does a parking structure care? No. A bus terminal? No, the Library? No. Oh what silly "leaders" have.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:46 p.m.

The same Mr. Clein who raves about the development team for 413 Huron?

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

PhillyCheese is right. He was talking about the small Palio Lot. If a tall building goes up there, it will block the view from Palio's rooftop patio, which is a nice place to hang out in the summer. The mayor's idea is a plaza there that the restaurant could open up to and the patio could look down over.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:49 p.m.

I believe Mr. Clein was referring to the small "Palio" parking lot space at Main and William, not the larger "Y" lot on William between 4th and 5th Aves.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

The left hand knows exactly what the right hand is doing. Who is running this city? The mayor? Council? DDA? Planning commission? City staff? One thing is apparent: Most citizens don't know or care. From this comes great power.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.



Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

Good for them. It was a well-organized, thoughtful, and inclusive public process that resulted in reasonable conclusions. This is why there is a Planning Commission: it plans for the longer-term future. The City Council makes political decisions based on the moment.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

Read the comments by "Veracity" for real insight into what is happening. I am sure that with deeper contemplation you will no longer view the Connecting Williams Street plan favorably.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

I hope you are joking...or just clueless...


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

"Inclusive" in the sense that public input was asked for and ignored.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:53 a.m.

The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Who is running this city? The Council? The DDA? The Planning commission?

Steve Bean

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 5:18 a.m.

I think that people who take things personally and mischaracterize the thoughts of others are still worth talking to. :-) I used to think that if I ever wrote a book I'd title it "The Impossible Citizen" for the reasons you describe. No argument from me that it's simple or not time consuming. It just is what it is. Good night, Bud.

Steve Bean

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 5:09 a.m.

No presumption made. You clearly comment here regularly. Thanks for being an engaged citizen.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:41 p.m.

My son says I should save my breath responding to you; anyone who cannot recognize the difference between taking a minute or two to comment online and two or three hours to attend a meeting isn't worth talking to. I think he is right, good day, sir.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:11 p.m.

Don't presume to know what I do with my time. I am active in the civic community. I do speak with reps and the mayor. I can comment here any time I get a chance, but when meetings are held at 2 in the afternoon, or other times when only those who have monetized their participation in the process can afford to attend, it is hard. City employees, businesspersons with their fingers in the pie, and appointed and elected officials have to show up. Those of us whose only financial interest is property value or tax rates can find it difficult to make hours for participation.

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:53 p.m.

"along with the many other things I have to do, family, job, etc.?" Like commenting here? Where you put your time is your choice. You might start with a phone call to your city council reps or a meeting with the mayor during his office hours.


Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

Only in as much as residents are able to make time to participate and have themselves heard. The doings of the city press on, seven days a week. There were/are four critical planning meetings happening in the span of a few days. Observing isn't enough, you must participate to run things. Which ones should I attend, to help run this city, along with the many other things I have to do, family, job, etc.?

Steve Bean

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

If you're a resident, you are.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

"The Ann Arbor Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to make the Connecting William Street plan an official city planning document." So Woods and Briere were part of this unanimous vote? And then thought the vote was a bad idea after they voted yes?

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Glad I can help.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

Thanks Ryan for clarifying.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Mar 6, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

Yes. Briere actually hesitated to vote yes, and held up the first vote mid-vote to explain her hesitations, but then voted yes with the rest of the commission. After a few citizens spoke out afterward, Woods, who already wasn't 100% sold on the plan, called for a reconsideration and Briere supported her on that.