Top 5: Positive developments for the Ann Arbor area during the 1st half of 2013
The year just passed the halfway mark, so we at AnnArbor.com thought it would be a good time to assess where this community stands
Washtenaw County is dealing with a number of ongoing issues; by the end of this year, our coverage will be reporting about more situations that will make this community angry, puzzled or worried.
But in the meantime, it’s summer. We just celebrated a national holiday. And - if the rain stops - we’re going to be able to enjoy the events and activities that help define this community.
So in that spirit, here are our Top 5: Positive developments for the Ann Arbor area during the 1st half of 2013
- The Ann Arbor Public Schools is getting serious about redistricting. After only receiving two bids from consulting firms, the district widened its search - a sign that AAPS will be tackling the tough issue in coming months. The district faces many challenges: Hiring a superintendent, cutting millions from its budget and maintaining enrollment are at the top of the list. No one doubts that reconfiguring or closing schools will be difficult. Yet moving forward lets the district assess its capacity and facilities spending; and it will remove questions for parents who’ve wondered for some time: Will my building close?
- Demolition removed two high-profile examples of blight. Georgetown Mall’s tenants left the property in 2009; the houses meant to make way for the unbuilt Near North project also were vacant for years. But over recent months, both the central Ann Arbor mall and the partial block along the North Main corridor were the sites of demo crews doing their work. The next steps for the properties are disparate: Georgetown awaits an approved development, North Main is now in the floodplain. Still, the demos represent wins for neighbors and the image of the city.
- Ypsilanti is ready to welcome the $12M Eastside Recreation Center. Washtenaw County wants to build a rec center on the vacant Water Street property, but whether that could happen without a fight appeared in doubt this spring. Some in the city started to raise questions about whether the center should be moved elsewhere on the property - or just plain elsewhere. A council vote in May put the uncertainty to rest: All of the city officials voiced approval for the plans as they were formed since 2011 - and outlined in a letter of intent in 2012. Now it looks like the residents of the east side of the county will be able to use the center starting in 2015.
- Knight's Restaurant will open downtown. We’re happy to see this Ann Arbor institution find the opportunity to expand. That it’s happening at the corner of East Liberty and Maynard in the former Borders flagship store is even better. Beyond the addition of Knight’s to the downtown restaurant scene, the redevelopment of the building into mixed-uses by a private investor is positive for the city and nearby merchants. The new office space has been leased and it’s likely that new retail tenants will be announced soon. By this time next year, the block could be as active as it was before the book chain closed.
- The city is taking another look at downtown zoning. We’re generally in favor of downtown development; and we look at consultant hiring warily. However, just like in our No. 1 example, we think hiring a consultant to look at downtown zoning - with an Oct. 1 deadline for completion - is a good step for the city. Downtown is changing rapidly, thanks in part to zoning changes over recent years. It seems like many in the city considered the zoning issue done, after a very public process in 2004. But the recent approval of 413 E. Huron high-rise raised many concerns about the process. Better to identify weakness in the zoning - or changes the majority in the city would want to see - quickly, before more building projects are proposed. Both property owners and residents deserve that.