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Posted on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor launches South State Street corridor plan with staff instead of consultant

By Ryan J. Stanton

A year-long study of the South State Street corridor in Ann Arbor is officially under way, City Planner Jill Thacher announced Tuesday night at a Planning Commission meeting.

But instead of hiring a consultant to help develop a comprehensive corridor plan, as was the idea back in April, the study is being done in house now.

Planning Manager Wendy Rampson said earlier this year about $150,000 was available for the corridor study project. She said at Tuesday's meeting that money has reverted back to the general fund due to concerns expressed by members of the Ann Arbor City Council.


Ann Arbor Planning Manager Wendy Rampson

File photo |

"We heard informally from members of council they were concerned about spending the money for the consultant, so we've gone back and looked at the scope and are working to do this all with in-house staff," she said. "We just have decided not to request the funding."

Part of the thinking behind the corridor study is that State Street’s relationship with I-94 presents opportunities for an improved "urban gateway into the city."

The study area is defined as the 2.15-mile stretch of State Street from Stimson south to Ellsworth, an automobile-oriented thoroughfare with mixed office, retail, research and limited industrial uses, as well as a small number of residential properties.

City planning officials say a master plan for the corridor is needed to address a range of issues, including future growth demands and the ability of the corridor to accommodate that growth, as well as the merits of introducing land uses not currently found along the corridor.

A draft request for proposals the city previously planned to send out to consulting firms made note of the "vast future potential" of the corridor, which serves a key role in connecting downtown and the University of Michigan to I-94 and Pittsfield Township.

Ann Arbor officials say recent area, height and placement amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance allow new opportunities to expand or redevelop at higher densities.

The planning process is expected to include conversations with various stakeholders, including businesses along State Street, and the public in order to develop a shared vision of the corridor's future. Community meetings plus up to 25 targeted individual or small group interviews are planned to help gather public opinion.

The timeline laid out by Thacher shows the community input phase runs now through February, after which the city's planning staff will analyze the data collected and draft the corridor plan by next August. Public hearings and approvals by the Planning Commission and City Council are expected to follow, with implementation of the plan by the end of 2012.

Thacher said she's not expecting to get strong neighborhood input since State Street is not a residential corridor. She said there's one apartment complex and a few rental houses.

"There's a business community certainly," she said, "and we will be seeking their input heavily, but in order to reach the broader community we're going to see what we can come up with."

A preliminary list of stakeholders the city plans to interview includes the University of Michigan, which owns several properties along the corridor, including tennis courts and a commuter parking lot surrounding Edwards Brothers and Wolverine Towers at State and Eisenhower, and leases several sites around the Briarwood Mall area. Any effort to connect Oakbrook Drive to State Street will depend on the cooperation of the university, Thacher said.

Hidden Valley Club Apartments, the main residential presence in the area, also is on the stakeholder list, as is the Michigan Department of Transportation, which controls the interchange at State and I-94. Thacher said a new association of businesses between I-94 and Ellsworth, known as the Southside Business District, also will be consulted.

The city also plans to reach out to McMullen Properties, which owns several office complexes in the area, including the Eisenhower Commerce Center and the Atrium Office Center. Other stakeholders include Briarwood Mall, Edwards Brothers, the Produce Station and the Ann Arbor Commerce Bank building at State and Eisenhower.

Thacher said the city's transportation program coordinator is interested in helping to apply for transportation enhancement funding for aesthetic and environmental improvements along the corridor. There's also talk of tapping into the Elizabeth Dean Fund for median landscaping.

Thacher said Jerry Hancock, the city's stormwater and floodplain coordinator, is available to help develop recommendations for improved stormwater management, and Troy Baughman, a systems planning engineer, has developed a model to examine the capacity of the sanitary sewers along the corridor given different development scenarios.

Rampson said it's too early in the process to say whether the city might establish a corridor improvement authority, like the one being considered for Washtenaw Avenue, to use tax-increment financing to incentivize redevelopment along the corridor.

The city already has focused on traffic issues from I-94 to Ellsworth in the past year in conjunction with Pittsfield Township. They're collaborating with the Washtenaw County Road Commission on an effort to build a roundabout at State and Ellsworth as Costco plans to build a new store on Ellsworth in the township.

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 e-mail newsletters.


Not a valid excuse for a newspaper

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 9:16 p.m.

I too would like to see a bike-friendly zone, including safe passage over the expressway, along this stretch of State Street. It would also help to reduce car congestion downtown if more commuters were able to cycle in safely.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 4:27 p.m.

I don't understand why money is being spent to update this area. The roads are in good condition. There are tons of other areas in the city that need repaving. Why is the money not being spent on them? This to me is another example of money being spent on frills while basic and needed infrastructure work is neglected.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

They need to work with M-Dot on this one. I-94 should be widened to three lanes between M-14 and US 23.


Thu, Oct 13, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

They have talked about that one for years and still nothing. I really don't see how it is going to happen since they are going to have to widen bridges and walkways.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 3:11 p.m.

I keep hearing rumblings of round abouts at the I 94 and State area. Any luck on that happening? Might be a nice idea since I think it is way too busy at certain times just to get into that area.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

One year is overly optimistic. How about they finish the R4C/R2A study implemented in March of 2009 first? ... Or how about the ZORO project (a reorganization of the City Code), implemented in December 2009, that was supposed to be completed last Winter? While we're at it, how about working to make the zoning consistent with the master plan for the Central Area that was adopted way back in 1992? Zoning must be consistent with the master plan per State law, but apparently this is not a priority of the City's. ...Or making the zoning consistent with the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act of 2006 or the Michigan Planning Enabling Act of 2008? ...Or correcting/clarifying items that lead staff to make poor interpretations that result in bad projects being approved? I'm all for good planning, but the City should finish what they've already started, or fix what is clearly broken before launching into something new.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

Go Wendy! Having faith in your own employees is a wonderful concept.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

I commute through here everyday, so am happy to hear that they want to improve traffic flow. It would also be nice to see it pedestrian and bike friendly. There are many people who walk and ride through this corridor and it isn't very easy to navigate South of Eisenhower.

Ron Granger

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

They need a bicycle and pedestrian plan to connect these areas. I saw no mention of that in th earticle. Was it mentioned at the meeting? How many people must die trying to cross over I-94 on State Street?


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

I've worked in the State St-I94 area for over a decade, and haven't heard of any deaths. I can't even think of any injuries. Could you elaborate?


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

I am delighted that both Ann Arbor and Pittsfield township are finally getting round to redeveloping this area of town. In addition to transparency, and stakeholder consultation during this whole process I think the most important thing is for The City and Pittsfield to work together. We really don't need more lanes of traffic, more concrete, and more strip malls without careful consideration of how this is going to look in 30 years time. This is the area that visitors often first see on visiting our city, it is the drive that students with their parents first take. First impressions last. Another feature that has to be incorporated is some form of sustainable transport. In 2012 there has to be some kind of accommodation for people that may want to visit the area on a bicycle, or even walk around the area. Having to get in a motor vehicle to cross a road is surely so 1980s...! Please Ann Arbor and Pittsfield, work together to make this area great. Here is a link to the Pittsfield master plan:- <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> It shows some great ideas for the State Street corridor.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:23 p.m.

Considering a South State Street Corridor plan is premature. Economists consider a double-dip recession as a possibility and Michigan continues to lose jobs rather than gaining. Even Michigan economists have revised their job growth estimates downwards and a jobless recovery is expected to continue. Speculative commercial development should be discouraged until our record commercial property vacancy rate improves. Furthermore, population and income growth for Ann Arbor is expected to be flat over the next five years, so consumer demand will not increase. Before considering commercial or residential development plans, the future direction of population and job growth should be clearly established and no such certainty exists at this time.

David Cahill

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

I'm delighted with the decision to do this in-house! Money for consultants is often wasted.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

We have a city council, a planning department, zoning people, why don't they come up with a plan? It sounds like we need some leadership and set some priorities. Vote In November to end this Leadership VOID!


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

Automobile oriented thoroughfares are about moving traffic through an area quickly. They encourage high speeds. (How fast does traffic move in those 35-40 mph zones on Huron Pkwy?) They do not encourage people to stop at the businesses along the way. They do not encourage pedestrian or bus traffic. They take away the things that make a city a community.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

I'll agree that they &quot;encourage high speeds&quot; -- relative to walking and busses. My point exactly. And it's more like they take away the things that make a very small community an actual city.

Tony Dearing

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

A comment was removed because of personal attacks.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

&quot;an automobile-oriented thoroughfare&quot; Yes, it's called a STREET. We LIKE automobile-oriented thoroughfares because they are good for getting between places in reasonable periods of time.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Hey Brad, I think Lolly was trying to express what this street doesn't have, rather than what it does. When you talk about &quot;we&quot; do you mean you and your ma and pa? I might suggest that that particular automobile-orientate thoroughfare is not great for getting places in reasonable periods of time. We can do better.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

Some thoroughfares are more pedestrian oriented. Even deer often travel on their own thoroughfares. She is trying to describe the nature of the street, which has a dearth of sidewalks and no parking along it.

John Alan

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 11:37 a.m.

It is all about &quot;roundabout&quot;!!! Let's add more dsaster like the ones in Geddes Rd. and US 23 or the one in Brighton near Costco...... Not many people that use those and are happy about them...... But let's do it anyway... it sounds good, it looks good, so it must be good.... evcenthough is nothing but a disaster for most motorists.


Thu, Oct 13, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

The round about they built up in Brighton is a nightmare. Very disorganized. You really have to read the signs less you end up on the highway again. I think the most dangerous one is the one up by Skyline HS. Maple Miller area. Holey moley people. Slow down. I heard the first month they opened it there were a lot of accidents and one that went flying over the circle not around it. I know the person who designed the one up in Brighton. Her memorial is off 96. She loved them and fought for them. She worked for MDOT. Nice lady. Wish she was here for me to ask about the round about by the airport.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 4:51 p.m.

I love the roundabouts at Geddies and US23. For some reason the Cosco one seems a little more complicated, probably due to all the frontage roads. But, where to you get your data from? There are NO backups at US23/Geddies any more. There are NO traffic lights to contend with. It is great. As an added bonus, you can do some limit handling testing with your ride if nobody is around. Good stuff.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

I am not anti-roundabout, and have a lot of experience using them, but I don't believe that they are right for every location. John is spot-on about the one near the Costco in Brighton, which is a huge mess. (There are actually much better, albeit unprintable, descriptions.) I find that I really do limit trips to Costco and the surrounding stores to avoid the confusing multiple roundabouts at that exit.

Jimmy McNulty

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:36 p.m.

I have to disagree 100% with your comments regarding the roundabouts. I was not a big fan until I saw the results. The one on Geddes &amp; Superior roads and the ones @Geddes &amp; US23 eliminate much traffic back-up and dangerous left turns.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 12:21 p.m.

Yea let's go back to stand still traffic on geddes with people trying to pass on the shoulder while someone spends 3 minutes trying to turn left onto the freeway.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 11:20 a.m.

I think it's great to see an effort to try to do this with in-house staff. I agree with Mort, let them try to do this. Why does everyone want government agencies to hire consultants. It really bugged me when I was a 'government' employee and made me feel as if I was not trusted, not allowed to think, and often wasted tens of thousands of dollars. Keep in mind, that these government employees have to spend time talking and coaching the consultants anyway, so it's not as if it's a work deferral, it's just a shift. If the skill set exists, let them do it If the desire and interest exists, let them do it If they fail, then them be responsible If they succeed, let them enjoy the success


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 10:54 a.m.

we hire people to do a job and talk to people. why hire them and then bid it out for someone else to do the job. we should do a lot of this ourselves. first good thing i heard in a long time. why waste money we do not have. like the 750k art project.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 10:52 a.m.

This is troubling, first the dispensary/co-op - tree city on state st. was given the thumbs down for rezoning by The heijfte block on council.... now we have terms like &quot;stakeholders&quot; from Jill Thatcher the author of numerous nine page reports citing violations on what type of fence is &quot;historic&quot;. It makes sense to have Thachter and Rampson take on the project since it was the same set of Heijfte stakeholders who gave us A2D2. They don't need consultants to do the same thing again (see &quot;25 select individuals&quot;) I am sure Joan and her bag of stones...can round up the smartest people in town and arrange everything behind the scenes. Hopefully I can catch it on the blogs before it is all done!! Ever wonder why the entire old west side is under the strictest historic guidelines in the country? See Brownfield credits for 415 W. Washington) but they don't exist anymore nor do the historic credits that would have incentivized the project. Oh what to do now John? I am sure Wendy and Jill will spend the money on awards for the stakeholders and all the heijfte appointees and donors (see &quot;select 25 individuals&quot;). OMG... :0 This is not worth ranting about because it is the same old thing, us simple folk just are'nt smart enough to really understand what is going on.


Wed, Oct 12, 2011 : 3:37 p.m.

One thing is certain. I'm not smart enough to really understand your rant.