Downtown businesses, nonprofit agency suing city of Ann Arbor over parking garage project
Two downtown businesses are suing the city of Ann Arbor, claiming construction of an underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue would have a devastating impact on their businesses and the surrounding environment.
The Herb David Guitar Studio, 302 E. Liberty St., and Jerusalem Garden, 307 S. Fifth Ave., joined together as co-plaintiffs in a 28-page lawsuit filed Monday in Washtenaw County Circuit Court.
The Detroit-based nonprofit Great Lakes Environmental Law Center also is listed as a plaintiff.
The lawsuit also alleges violations of the Open Meetings Act because City Council members discussed postponing the project over e-mail.
City Administrator Roger Fraser declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by AnnArbor.com this morning. The city attorney could not be reached.
Bonds for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage were issued Aug. 5, Tom Crawford, the city's chief financial officer, said at a meeting last week.
The city approved an underground parking garage in February for 677 spaces to be built under the surface parking lot north of the Ann Arbor District Library downtown. The garage would extend four stories underground and require excavation of a significant percentage of the city block.
“The excavation for this project is massive and will include the removal of tens of thousands of cubic yards of material,” the lawsuit reads. “The excavation is likely to extend at least 50 feet beneath the ground, creating a huge crater in the middle of downtown Ann Arbor.”
The plaintiffs claim the garage - located in the middle of a historic district designated by the Ann Arbor Historic Commission - is being designed to support future development above ground that may include a structure as high as 24 stories.
“The construction is anticipated to last approximately two years,” the lawsuit states. “Due to the enormity of the project, neighboring property owners will essentially lose the use of their properties due to the heavy construction activities.”
The plaintiffs claim the construction activities - which include heavy equipment moving thousands of cubic yards of soil and pilings being driven deep into the ground - will cause “strong damaging vibrations to surrounding historic buildings, huge dust clouds and deafening noise levels.”
The plaintiffs also claim that city engineers advised a resident on Division Street to move “because the noise and vibrations from construction activities would make it essentially uninhabitable” and told the Herb David Guitar Studio that the shop would “vibrate for a year.”
“Mr. David has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years carefully renovating his studio in compliance with the strict construction standards of the Ann Arbor Historic Commission,” reads the lawsuit filed by Ann Arbor attorney Bruce T. Wallace.
“The manufacture and restoration of musical instruments is an extremely delicate, precise process which requires a quiet, pristine working environment. The quality of the craftsmanship would be significantly impacted by dust and vibration from construction of the parking garage,” it says.
The plaintiffs claim the 47-year-old guitar studio derives a significant portion of its business from providing music lessons onsite, and it would be extremely difficult to do so with the noise of construction next door.
Jerusalem Garden's claims are similar. The restaurant has operated on Fifth Avenue for the last 22 years and has spent more than $100,000 in renovations since 2006, its owners claim in the lawsuit.
The outdoor patio where many of its customers dine is just a few feet from the proposed construction site. The restaurant claims it has been told by the city it will lose utility service at various times during construction and the sidewalk in front of the restaurant will be torn up.
The vibration, dust and noise from construction of the parking garage will make the Jerusalem Garden patio “essentially unusable” and “will result in significantly fewer customers visiting the restaurant and a substantial loss of revenue for Jerusalem Garden,” the lawsuit claims.
Other claims in the lawsuit allege the city violated the state's Open Meetings Act when City Council members, at a meeting on Feb. 17, traded e-mails with each other that discussed whether they supported postponement of the project until the environmental impact could be determined.
“It was determined through this private e-mail discussion which City Council members opposed postponement and which members supported postponement and what would be the likely result of a vote on the matter,” the lawsuit states. “Having made these determinations in private, a motion for postponement was never brought or publicly discussed and voted on by the full City Council in open as required by the Open Meetings Act.”
The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center is joining the lawsuit with a claim that the city violated the Freedom of Information Act when, in response to a FOIA request filed by the agency in March, the city refused to provide the e-mails between council members regarding the parking garage. As a result, the plaintiffs claim they didn't become aware of the e-mails until about July 9.
The plaintiffs' attorney says the lawsuit is being brought against the city in part through the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, claiming the proposed parking garage is likely to “pollute, impair or destroy” the environment. The plaintiffs are seeking an order from the court declaring that the city violated state laws and failed to consider reasonable alternatives to the parking garage before approving its construction. They also want the court to agree that the project's potential environmental impacts and interference with area businesses calls for further study of alternatives.
If construction moves forward, the plaintiffs are asking that the court award damages for any harm done to their businesses.
They're also seeking an order to stop City Council members from engaging in any further private e-mail discussions during public meetings regarding the parking garage.
Ryan Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at (734) 623-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.