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Posted on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Parcel-by-parcel plan for downtown city properties awaits Ann Arbor City Council and DDA approval

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor City Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, is asking his colleagues to consider a tentative deal he helped broker between the city and the DDA regarding how to handle development of city-owned land downtown.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Members of the Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor City Council have reached a tentative deal on how to handle future development of city properties downtown.

Council Member Christopher Taylor, who helped broker the deal, said a resolution is expected to be voted on by both bodies in January. If the DDA is receptive of the plan at its meeting on Jan. 5, the City Council will be asked to approve it on Jan. 18.

The resolution lays out a new process that includes a shift of responsibilities from the city to the DDA regarding how requests for proposals — or RFPs — are handled for properties owned by the city.

"Our goal is to have the public conversation — the council conversation — begin about this plan," said Taylor, who publicly released copies of the resolution earlier this week.

Under the proposal, the DDA would take the lead and work to create site-specific plans for city-owned parcels and put them together in a broader parcel-by-parcel strategy plan.

"The DDA is uniquely structured to develop an overarching strategy to develop city-owned downtown properties, to facilitate the process of writing/distributing effective RFPs and RFQs to solicit developer proposals, and to facilitate bringing to City Council proposed development projects on city-owned properties," the resolution states.

Multiple city RFP processes in recent years have stalled. Knowing that, the proposed resolution states that if the City Council decides not to approve a development site plan for any reason other than it not complying with the city's zoning regulations, the city must reimburse the DDA for costs of going through the RFP process.

The resolution is sponsored by Taylor and fellow Council Members Margie Teall and Carsten Hohnke, all of whom sit on the City Council's Mutually Beneficial Committee. The three of them have been in negotiations with the DDA's Mutually Beneficial Committee for several months to find a way to keep downtown parking system revenues flowing to the city.

The parcel-by-parcel plan, which the DDA is particularly interested in, is the first proposal to come out of those discussions. A second proposal also is expected that includes a series of amendments to the current parking agreement.

Taylor said it had long been the intention to bring the two proposals forward together as one plan, but officials decided to bring the parcel-by-parcel plan forward first. "It is, we believe, ready for consideration, so why hold off on a good thing?" he said.

Another reason for bringing it forward first, he said, is because it's what the DDA wants. And committing to the parcel-by-parcel plan is a good-faith gesture by the city as it asks the DDA to agree to certain financial terms in the tentative parking agreement.


DDA board member Roger Hewitt speaks before the Ann Arbor City Council last month.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Both proposals are mutually beneficial, according to Taylor.

"The parcel-by-parcel plan process will, I believe, energize DDA members and provide tangible benefits to Ann Arbor by speeding the utilization of city-owned parcels downtown. This is in everyone's interest," he said.

"Amendments to the parking agreement will give the DDA greater authority over the fact-based decisions that go into managing a parking system for a vital downtown, while at the same time giving the city a more predictable revenue stream. This, too, is in everyone's interest."

The parking agreement is expected to be a new 10-year contract starting July 1. In the first two years, the city would be paid 16 percent of gross parking system revenues. In the last eight years, the city would be paid 17.5 percent.

Records obtained by show the total transfer is estimated to be about $2.6 million in 2011-12, $2.8 million in 2012-13, $3.2 million in 2013-14 and approaching $4 million by 2020.

The DDA's fund balance would dip below $2 million in the next two years based on those funding assumptions, records show.

That means that in 2012-13, the DDA's cash reserves would fall below 10 percent of the DDA's budget. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that an entity's unreserved fund balance should equal at least 10 percent of its annual budgeted expenditures.

Taylor acknowledged the DDA would be letting its fund balance drop to a level that arguably would make some people uncomfortable. But the dip below 10 percent is only expected to last for one year before the fund balance builds up again.

Taylor also noted the numbers are conservative and don't factor in revenue from additional parking meters or the taxes the DDA might collect from two new developments — Zaragon Place 2 and 601 Forest, both student high-rise apartments near the University of Michigan.

Taylor said the funding assumptions also do not include the possibility of an extension of nighttime parking meter enforcement hours, which could bring in $600,000 to $800,000 a year in extra revenue if two more hours of enforcement are added.

The DDA was created by the City Council in 1982 with the mission to undertake public improvements to strengthen the downtown area and attract new private investments. In 2003, the City Council extended the DDA’s tax-increment financing authority until 2033.

The DDA now collects nearly $3.9 million a year in local taxes. Its current annual parking revenue is about $15.2 million, while total income is about $21.2 million.

Under the parcel-by-parcel agreement, the DDA would write and distribute RFPs based on City Council-approved plans, provide recommendations to council for developer selections and facilitate negotiations for purchase and development agreements.

The proposed resolution lays out a four-phase process by which the DDA would assess potential downtown development sites and build an overall downtown development strategy. The DDA would hire one or more real estate consultants to provide parcel-specific information, as well as data regarding broader market conditions. Public input also is a major component of the plan.

The agreement states the DDA would be able to use incentives, such as parking, affordable housing, pedestrian improvements and use of tax-increment financing on specific projects.

Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager, said the intention behind the parcel-by-parcel plan is to increase activity and investment downtown. She said the city's Downtown Plan recommends development of Area Urban Design Plans for specific areas.

"So that's consistent with what the Master Plan intended," she said. "This process also includes some role for planning commissioners to participate in the development of the plans and also in the review of any proposals that would come in for individual properties."

DDA Chairwoman Joan Lowenstein told council members last month that the tentative parking agreement changes, in part, would shield council members from having to make decisions about downtown parking rates and enforcement.

Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, said this week he hopes the public doesn't think that means council members won't be responsive to citizens concerned about parking issues.

"I would urge citizens not to have interpreted it that way, but rather that if you have concerns of any kind to bring them to your council members," he said. "I'm sure all of us are very eager to hear from the public regardless of what issue it is."

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


Tue, Dec 28, 2010 : 5:26 p.m.

It seems that plans to build a hotel/conference center on top of the new 5th & Division Street underground parking garage, next to the downtown Library, would cancel out all efforts to reduce parking congestion in downtown Ann Arbor. (which was the original intent of building the new parking structure). Out of town crowds coming into Ann Arbor to use the hotel/conferance center would fill up the new Library lot parking structure on week-ends and at peak hours during the week, when parking spaces are in high demand. This, of course, would require the building of an additional multi-million dollar parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor to reduce the NEW CONGESTION caused by users of the new hotel/conferance center. Anyone who works, lives or shops in downtown Ann Arbor can tell you that it's often difficult to find a parking space in the evening and at mid-afternoon, when almost all city parking structures fill up. The traffic back-ups created by people driving around town trying to find an open meter or parking space can turn a normally 5 minutes trip across town into a 20 minute ordeal. Finding a parking spot on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings in Ann Arbor, can be a nightmare, especially when events are happening downtown. The Maynard Parking structure near Borders bookstore is often backed up/congested and cars must wait in long lines on the Thompson Street exit ramp as well as the Maynard exit lanes to exit the parking structure. Any profits gained by building a hotel/conference center downtown, on top of the new Library lot underground parking structure, would be totally erased by the need to build more parking, to relieve the ADDITIONAL parking congestion, that the conferance center would bring into downtown. The standard that is not be considered here is the quality of life in downtown Ann Arbor, it seems that the space would better be utilized as greenspace or public community area with public art and landscaping for people to relax and enjoy their lunch hours/evenings or bring their children to play.


Mon, Dec 27, 2010 : 10:42 a.m.

Enough of this madness. The day is getting closer when bugjuice bails on Tree Town.


Sat, Dec 25, 2010 : 10:59 p.m.

Lou: it's even funkier than that. As proposed, the agreement has the dda get paid for work on any deal that goes south for any reason other than a zoning issue. So, the city is now reverse-incentivized to support the tax~paying, voting population in a situation where the zoning works, but the community is unified against a project. If the city backs the populace against the wishes of the dda on a project that fits within zoning rules, council now votes its stance on the project knowing it pays if it sides with its populace against anpet project of the dda that the community dislikes. Good times.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 4:04 p.m.

I hope that Mike Anglin gets a primary opponent next time around. He's ineffective and getting sucked into the political black hole where you hear nothing but your own voice and the others that tell you you're a great guy.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 3:28 p.m.

Wow! This news tidbit didn't stay on the "front page" for about a day. It garnered all of less than 10 comments on a topic that affects every the wallet of every taxpayer and resident in Ann Arbor particularly those who live close to downtown. I guess that's long enough to qualify for openness, transparency and seeking public discussion. Move along... Nothing to see here.


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

This will only make the process murkier and unwieldy with all the committees, studies, groups, meetings, etc... Then when everyone becomes disenchanted and exhausted, the serious players will be left at the table to make all the decisions. It's Calthorpe and all the other studies once more rejiggered to get the results that the DDA wants. All the studies, reports and anecdotes will once more end up being massaged to suit those who not only have the most to gain but have the most time and money to devote to the cumbersome process. They hope that they can wear down the opposition so their vision will survive. It's death by committee. Death by bureaucratic "process". We've see this before.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 1:51 p.m.

Ryan, when the DDA members ignore the processes and procedures, how are voters able to hold them accountable? They can't. Anybody who has ever been to a public hearing and presented an idea contrary to one held by the government body knows full well that that idea will be summarily ignored. Anglin's comments are testament to that. They're always eager to hear your concerns; doing anything about them is a different story. However, unlike the DDA, the council can be held accountable at the ballot box


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 1:42 p.m.

To quote Nancy Shore from Paula's opinion piece from Sept 9th as linked by Vivienne. "One point of clarification. The idea is the for DDA to take over the development of City owned surface parking lots downtown, not all City Owned land downtown." Wow, that change of direction only took a little more than three months. This is the slipperiest of slopes, folks. I know that irony is dead, so why not just deed the properties to the DDA right now and get it over with?


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 12:34 p.m.

Hey Ryan.I think you need to get a clue.First off why in god's name do we need a d.d.a anyway this is a college town. The So called Mayor has no clue what he is doing and why is he permited to be Mayor and on be on the D.D.A. Board anyway can you say conflict of interest. Someone needs to step and say enough of the ignorant behavior going on in. I can't believe the residents or ann arbor will not speak up about this and put a stop to it already.

lou glorie

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 9:51 a.m.

Ryan, why add another layer of bureaucracy for citizens to slog through? We have a Planning Commission which is supposed to be a citizen body charged with city planning. I cannot see any justification for this other than to take political heat away from council and mayor for poor planning and ugly buildings that every taxpayer of this city ends up paying for because the tif system and sundry other subsidies. The DDA has done some good things with the parking system, but has a lousy track record for meaningful citizen input. As an unelected body, it has no incentive to do improve.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 9:33 a.m.

@Lou It seems there's an attempt to make this a democratic process. Under the proposed process, the DDA would be charged with "building a parcel-by-parcel downtown development strategy based upon existing planning documents, the Calthorpe and A2D2 processes, future work sessions with City Council, and community meetings and input." Here are some of the bulleted points from the Visioning phase of the proposed process: Hold work session(s) with City Council and the City Planning Commission to prioritize Parcel development goals, such as purchase price maximization; catalyze growth and improvement in adjacent parcels; maximize pedestrian activity; or strong/iconic design characteristics Collate relevant data from Calthorpe/A2D2 public meetings and surveys to determine broad community vision Conduct public meetings to determine residents Parcel-level downtown vision Solicit UM, EMU, and other higher education faculty to authorize class participation in the visioning process Meeting(s) with UM Planning staff to maximize coordination Meetings with business and community leaders to obtain their analysis of downtowns strengths and weaknesses, its opportunities and inherent obstacles Research development plans and processes in comparable communities And from the Strategic Plan phase: Confirm the extent of community consensus for the Parcel-by-Parcel Plan through meetings and surveys Hold meetings with business and community stakeholders to determine professional assessment of the Parcel-by-Parcel Plan Revise the Parcel-by-Parcel Plan as needed Meet with Planning Commission and City Council Obtain Planning Commission and City Council approval of the Parcel-by- Parcel Plan, as an amendment to the Downtown Plan Lastly, the RFP process: Draft RFP with DDA real estate consultant and City Staff o Distribute RFP utilizing DDA real estate consultant to ensure wide distribution in, and coordination with, development community o Conduct pre-proposal meetings and tours of the Parcel Assemble an Advisory Committee consisting of DDA members, City Planning Commission members, community members, development professionals, City Staff, and City Council members Advisory Committee conducts Proposal review and developer interviews o Advisory Committee provides DDA with its recommendation o DDA reviews and considers Advisory Committee recommendation o Forward approved recommendation to City Council City Council reviews/decides upon DDA proposal recommendation o DDA consultant assists DDA as DDA and City Staff negotiate purchase and other project details City Council reviews and approves agreements to purchase and redevelop Parcel City Council reviews and approves the Parcel site plan and site plan development agreement, after receiving a recommendation from the City Planning Commission

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.

This is a good time to recall Paula Gardner's excellent column:

lou glorie

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 9:01 a.m.

Another example of council and mayor's low esteem for democratic process. Allowing a non-elected, unaccountable body take responsibility for shaping our downtown's future means it will be more difficult for citizens to weigh in on future development. Shaping the future of our city is the right and responsibility of citizens.