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Posted on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

Deal with DDA would relieve Ann Arbor council from making tough decisions on parking

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor City Council members won't have to make tough decisions about downtown parking under a proposed agreement with the DDA. From left to right, Mayor John Hieftje and Council Members Sandi Smith, Margie Teall, Carsten Hohnke, Tony Derezinski and Christopher Taylor are sworn into office on Monday following their re-election victories.

Ryan J. Stanton |

(This story has been updated with comments from Mayor John Hieftje.)

Ann Arbor City Council members could be protected against the political ramifications of having to make tough decisions about downtown parking under a new agreement with the Downtown Development Authority.

The proposed deal between the city and the DDA includes a broad transfer of duties from the city to the DDA. It would leave decisions like whether to extend parking meter enforcement hours later into the evening or whether to increase parking rates in the hands of the DDA.

"All of you here have to run for office every couple of years. There is no reason why any of you should have to run for office on the question of whether parking is $1.50 an hour or $1.75 an hour," DDA Chairwoman Joan Lowenstein told council members Monday night, explaining decisions like that wouldn't have to pass through their hands any longer.

"You are elected to make broad policy decisions and have a broad policy agenda," she said. "And what we're suggesting here is that we take over what are some of the managerial parts of this whole process so that we can, in effect, shield you from having to do that."

Lowenstein was joined by DDA board member Roger Hewitt and Executive Director Susan Pollay in making Monday's presentation to the City Council. The nine-page report offers a glimpse into the ongoing "mutually beneficial discussions" between the city and the DDA.

Hewitt said the DDA isn't necessarily committed to extending parking meter enforcement hours to any specific time, but it's a general idea being seriously considered.

The DDA's governing board voted 11-0 in April to endorse a new parking demand management plan. One of the recommendations of the plan is to extend enforcement of on-street parking meters to 9 p.m., a proposal that has angered some business owners and residents.

Currently, on-street parking meters operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The plan recommends that meter operations be shifted to run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The City Council has held off on acting on that proposal for more than seven months. If the new agreement goes through, the council would altogether avoid having to make a decision on extending the meter hours — the DDA could unilaterally do so.

"With these agreements in place, we would be putting a lot of those parking demand management concepts into practice," Hewitt said. "Extending the meters into the evening is something we're going to look at seriously."

Mayor John Hieftje said while it may be true that if the City Council accepts the proposal the DDA would be making more of the tough decisions related to parking, he and Council Member Sandi Smith would not be shielded. They still would be voting members of the DDA.

Among the other highlights of Monday's report is that the DDA no longer would transfer funds to the city from several different "pots." Rather, for the first two years of a proposed 10-year contract starting July 1, the city would be paid 16 percent of gross parking system revenues. In the last eight years of the contract, the city would be paid 17.5 percent.

The city currently is paid just under $3 million a year by the DDA, including $2 million in so-called "rent" from the current parking agreement, $100,000 from the old Y parking lot plus the net from the 415. W. Washington lot, and then $800,000 that goes to the city's street funds to pay for paving of on-street parking spaces and plowing snow.


DDA Executive Director Susan Pollay addresses the Ann Arbor City Council during Monday's working session on the parking agreement.

Ryan J. Stanton | Ann

Hewitt said he expects a final deal to be reached between the city and the DDA by the end of January or early February. Discussions have been ongoing for several months.

"I think we're pretty close. I think we've got a framework of an agreement, and I think City Council reacted positively," Hewitt said.

Gross parking revenues from downtown meters, surface parking lots and structures are on an upward trend, primarily due to a rate increase put in place to help finance construction of a new underground parking structure being built on South Fifth Avenue.

Overall system revenues totaled $14.6 million in 2009-10. For the current fiscal year, they're projected to come in at $15.2 million, increasing to more than $16 million in coming years.

Hewitt said the DDA is projecting a jump of about $1.3 million in fiscal year 2012-13 when the new parking structure comes on line, which he called a conservative estimate.

Sixteen percent of $16 million — close to what the city could be paid — comes out to $2.56 million, which is a decrease from the amount the city now collects. However, if the DDA's projections for future years are accurate, that could quickly grow to more than $3 million.

"As the system grows and expands, we both benefit from this," Hewitt said.

The changes also would assure the DDA of a minimum parking enforcement level, with the DDA given authority to provide direction. A supervisor from Community Standards, the city department in charge of parking enforcement, would attend DDA Operations Committee meetings and help establish a set of enforcement benchmarks.

The DDA's role as parking manager would take place within a new parking district encompassing the DDA’s current meters, lots and structures, plus other near-downtown areas where the land uses are commercial, university or medical in nature.

As managers of the parking system, the DDA would set parking rates as it sees fit. The DDA would no longer be required to present its proposed parking rate changes to the City Council.

Hewitt said the DDA is interested in setting different parking rates based on geographic location, time of day, and even which level a vehicle is parked on in a structure.

"Certainly we would be having different parking rates on street meters depending on how much usage," he said. "Essentially we're trying to match parking rate and demand."

Hewitt said parking enforcement, including Community Standards officers who write tickets, would remain under the city, but the DDA would have some control.

"The DDA would be able to direct a certain number of hours of Community Standards and parking enforcement to specific time areas and specific geographic areas," he said. "This would certainly not be all of the Community Standards time, but a portion of it, so that we can target the enforcement to achieve our parking demand management goals."

The tentative deal has been hashed out by a select group of DDA officials and City Council representatives, including Council Members Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, and Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward.

Taylor said the transfer of duties to the DDA properly depoliticizes questions surrounding downtown parking management that should not be political.

"The DDA has built up over the years a great deal of expertise in parking," he said. "And questions of the time of parking enforcement and the rates for parking enforcement are properly apolitical. They are questions of what is best to activate the downtown, and that is something the DDA has been studying for years."

Taylor said he understands concerns some might have about the responsiveness of the DDA to community concerns, but it is the DDA's goal to activate downtown, "and if what they're doing doesn't work, I have every belief they'll be nimble in their response."

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



Sat, Nov 20, 2010 : 8:35 a.m.

I agree that we mostly get the government we vote into power, however, in our last election we were NOT offered a real choice for Mayor Hieftje's job. As such, he was not voted in but his opponent was voted against. Like all politicians when elected this way, they think they have a mandate when they don't really. I am appalled that the DDA & Council can deny us our political control by fiat in this way. This kind of transfer of OUR rights to approve or disapprove by vote is dictatorship by committee! And we all know that if the council doesn't have to be responsible to us or make hard decisions, they certainly wont reduce their pay to reflect that they do less "work"!!!


Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : 8:26 p.m.

"You were elected to make difficult and potentially unpopular decisions. If you are unwilling to do so, RESIGN!!!" I appreciate the sentiment, but, like the saying goes, let's be careful what we wish for. Unfortunately, we do NOT have qualified people "waiting in the wings" to run for council seats. (And yes, you have to wait in line for that "D" after your name.) You think it will get better if people resign from council? How many people do you know who are willing to run? We can gripe all we want about fulfilling some ideal about the democratic process, but the closer you get to the process as it stands in Ann Arbor, the more you want to take power away from our Council because the democratic process blows here. IMHO, there are some council people who are very good and take a lot of heat (and gain a lot of respect for it, I think). But there are just enough petty-politicking nincompoops in the bunch who totally screw up major decisions and make you want to strip them of as much decision making power as possible. Don't take my word for it: just watch how many wonderful choices we get in our primaries next year.


Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

Nice. One fact missing though: everybody needs to remember that each and every DDA council serves solely at the leisure of the mayor, John Hieftje. Yep. This is just another way to get Hieftje's bidding done without him having to answer to the paying public. My guess is Hieftje will never leave the mayor office until he has convinced the U to give him a tenured position. So, since he is just a real estate agent, sit back citizens and try to enjoy the ride 'cause it is gonna be a long and expensive one.


Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : 12:24 a.m.

Let's start a recall drive to have Ms Loewenstein and the whole DDA responsible for these horrible decisions recalled... Power to the People in this democracy! Viva la... oh wait. she wasn't elected. Nevermind.


Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : midnight

"This is a banner day: I find myself in agreement with both David Cahill and Ghost regarding the same article. " Agreed Mr. Landes. And, for the Ultimate in CYA Protection Planning, DDA can hire consultants to make 'recommendations' on 'tough' decisions. Then DDA can then blame the consultant for unpopular decisions, yet take credit any popular decisions. Everyone is golden; everyone is protected. Maybe Cheney = Lowenstein's idol?

Stephen Landes

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:08 p.m.

This is a banner day: I find myself in agreement with both David Cahill and Ghost regarding the same article. That must mean City Council and the DDA have really messed this up. Parking rates and hours are a political issue that really does affect thousands of city residents and visitors. For City Council to hand over the authority to make these decisions to an unelected body not responsible to the voters is absolutely unacceptable.

Joe Dohm

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:52 p.m.

Vivienne Armentrout, thank you for your comment. I do not drive downtown often, so I may be mistaken, but I cannot comprehend why the most desirable parking (street level) is free after 6 PM, but the less desirable parking options are still just as expensive as they were during normal business hours. I agree with you that the first step is to extend parking hours for metered parking. I also wonder if it would be feasible to charge different rates at different times of day. My naive assumption is that this would be possible with the new electronic meters. This could help balance availability as demand changes in daytime and evening hours. Also, just to agree with everyone else, if this were the school playground we would all be calling the council "chicken".


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:40 p.m.

The caption of the swearing in picture above should be. "We swear to do nothing that will affect our electability and will let our appointed minions in the DDA take all the heat for bad decisions."


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 3:09 p.m.

Neither the DDA, nor any other appointed city entity, should make major decisions not later ratified by a vote of the elected city council. That's a core principle. The DDA is the 'dependent child' of city council, its 'parent' and creator. Like any child, it should always be required to ask permission from the parental units before venturing off. Any appropriate democratic process calls for that. To make a comparison relevant to the agenda for this past Monday night's council meeting, would it make sense for Ann Arbor's appointed Park Advisory Commission or Environmental Commission to be given unilateral authority in deciding the future of Argo Dam? By providing either of these commissions with a DDA-like means to siphon significant funding from public services and tax streams, I think that scenario would be possible. But I rather doubt most city residents would find such a process desirable to have. The city council's direct, 'parental' responsibility to approve major decisions made by the Downtown Development Authority shouldn't be circumvented.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 2:45 p.m.

This is just one more example of a situation where the two bodies (DDA and Council) which are supposed to be independent groups but in reality are one because of the overlap in members. As long as the mayor has the ability to appoint people he wants (i.e. puppets) the two are both doomed to failure. Let's wake up and let the DDA become a truly independent agency (with no council overlap) and let them do what the state charter says they should be doing. Until we do that, we are going to have more of these maneuvers that allow council to run for cover whenever they choose not to face a tough decision. I agree with almost everyone: Council is elected to make decisions, not avoid them.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 2:37 p.m.

@Vivienne When someone is brain dead the best thing to do is pull the plug!


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 2:32 p.m.

Council had no problem telling AZ what to do! OH YEA they are protected from AZ residents.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 1:53 p.m.

Thank goodness politics are being further removed from the DDA's business of parking. This is a BUSINESS, people! This is not about how much money we should give to human services, recycling, leaf pickup, or park mowing. Parking demand is a science, and it's one of the only ways our city makes ANY income from people who use our services but don't pay taxes here. Each time I see a council member delay long-overdue decisions or wet her finger to see where the wind is blowing, it makes me sick. As long as some of them continue their blatant "save my job at all costs" behavior, I'm all for stripping them of -- I mean, shielding them from -- important decisions about how the city can make money. Let them spend their time fussing over resolutions on religious tolerance and bird protection.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 1:48 p.m.

Joe dohm, your point is well-taken but the DDA is already doing what you suggest. See Parking in structures is $1.00/hour and elsewhere (street, surface lots) it is $1.20/hour. Also for the reasons you are mentioning, I have long supported the efforts to extend meter parking downtown into the evening. People get really bent out of shape at the prospect of paying a dollar or two for parking while they are consuming a $50 or more meal. Go figure.

Joe Dohm

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 1:02 p.m.

While I don't support vesting the DDA with more authority, I do think that parking rates are too low. While spots in the garages are almost always available, spots on the street are almost always scarce. Rates should be set high on the street, so if I just need to run in to a store, I can do so quickly. Rates should be set low in the structure for people who are staying downtown for an extended period of time. Such an arrangement would benefit everyone. If you will be downtown less than an hour, park on the street. Spots are available since parking is so expensive and enforced until early evening. You may spend a few cents more than parking in a structure, but on such a short trip, the extra cost is worth the convenience. Almost all business other than boutiques and restaurants benefit because they are more accessible to customers. On the other hand, if you are staying all day, or for the evening, park in a structure or lot. This should be cheaper than on the street, and since you are staying for a long time, a five minute walk from your car to your destination isn't a big deal. Restaurants and bars benefit because coming downtown for the evening is now cheaper. This scheme also brings in more revenue for the city, while being greener because cars don't have to circle to find on-street parking. See for some information on similar issues in Seattle.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 11:15 a.m.

downtown parking should be NON PROFIT. Parking charges should only help cover the expenses for maintaining and operating the structures as well as well as putting some aside to build another structure down the road. Parking fees should not help to pay for ANY other things. The DDA is NOT friendly to businesses, if they were than they wouldn't try to raise the parking rate and extend the hours. Last year the week before Christmas they tried to push through doing just that, while retailers were busy trying to make holiday sales. The DDA is evil


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 11:14 a.m.

Ms. Loewenstein of the DDA is effectively coming up with a way to assure the City Council, the current incumbents, get to keep their jobs by not saddling them with any accountability for making what would be a disasterously unpopular move of raising parking rates and hours. Smacks of quid pro quo, I'll watch your back if you scratch mine -ism. Can we vote the DDA out? What a travesty!

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 10:54 a.m.

jcj, Council and the Mayor don't lose their brain cells after an election. They are using them. Unpopular decisions are frequently made just after elections, betting that they will be forgotten by the next one. Often these unpopular or controversial decisions are made during the lame duck meeting immediately after the election, but that was not necessary this time since all the current council was re-elected. I agree with the other commenters that Council should not be giving up their powers of decision on this or any other subject to an unelected body. What former CM Lowenstein is saying is that Council should be protected from any consequence of their actions. But it also will handicap them from setting the direction of our city. I don't agree that Council is only a broad policy-setting body. Our Council and Mayor have traditionally been partners (with the administration) in management of matters that affect our citizens. I would hate to see current or future councilmembers prohibited from carrying out this role.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 10:54 a.m.

The city owns the parking lots, why does the DDA have ANY authority over them. Why do they get the income? Who gave them the authority to have such control over the city's budget?


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 10:25 a.m.

In any other town this would not protect city council. But we are the San Francisco of the Midwest. And that is certainly nothing to hang our hat on! I have lived here over 50 years so it was not like this the first 20 years! But then nothing is like it was 30 years ago. This is progress?

David Cahill

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 10:18 a.m.

Setting the times, places, and rates for parking is inherently "political" because these things affect the lives (and livelihoods) of thousands of people.

Tom Wieder

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

This is a truly awful idea - moving more decisions further away from political accountability. Rather than giving the DDA more power and authority, we should be taking some of it away. I have never liked the idea of setting aside a portion of general tax revenues (as opposed to things like user fee revenues and voter-approved specific funds) and making certain city activities immune from regular debate and prioritizing. The results are things like the extravagant signage the DDA purchased in the last few years, which hardly seems like the best use of tax dollars, but that money was made unavailable for non-DDA uses that might be more important. The DDA was a reasonably good idea when downtown was seriously struggling many years ago. I think that it is now strong enough to compete on an equal, and unprotected, basis with other potential uses of city taxpayer dollars. That's the direction we should we moving, not giving the DDA policy authority, and removing the accountability, that should be the elected Council's.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:47 a.m.

When ever Democrats run a government, they set up little kingdoms in it so that they are not accountable yet can pull the strings of the unelected groups like the DDA. We elect a city council,make the tuff decisions instead of stupid one about texting while driving etc!


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:36 a.m.

Why is it 98% of the time the day after an election the elected official loses all of their brain cells?


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:24 a.m.

I am not in favor of the move but the city council is incapable of making decisions that might be unpopular. They have to suck it up and do what is best for the city and not just what will get them re-elected.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:16 a.m.

@Steve Bean You're right that it was a 10-year contract for $10 million and the city chose to take $2 million a year for the first five years, essentially tapping the contract dry five years early. Another $2 million was transferred into this year's city budget from the DDA, and now the city is negotiating with the DDA to keep funds flowing. We have reported that in detail in multiple stories. What we're saying in this story is that the city has been used to getting nearly $3 million each year from the DDA and that it looks like it will be getting a somewhat similar amount in future years under the revised contract.

Elizabeth Nelson

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:15 a.m.

Geez... I agree with other comments above... I'm amazed at the raw honesty in admitting the reason for the change: no attempt to even pretend that this is for the sake of efficiency/expertise/insert other valid reason, but just stating outright that the city council doesn't want to be blamed for unpopular decisions. So now residents won't be voting candidates up or down over parking charges and now, presumably, residents have NO influence (direct or indirect) over what those parking charges are... seriously?

Silly Sally

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:14 a.m.

"we take over what are some of the managerial parts of this whole process so that we can, in effect, shield you from having to do that." These politicians still are responsible, if Ann Arbor voters do not like new parking regulations, then those on the current council should be voted out. What wimpy politicians, afraid to stand up for their own beliefs and back their own policies. Cowards, who should go. Yesterday I was delayed when driving north on Division, since it is now only 2 lanes instead of three, and a second lane is closed for the city council's big dig money-hole [it next to eh library. But Heifte had his bicycle lanes, that I have never, ever seen used on Division. If the council doesn't want to make and stand by "hard decisions", they should not be in their current positions.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:13 a.m.

Looking for cover so the hard decisions can be made by others. Nice job.

Barbara C. Kramer

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

While understanding the Mayor's desire that council members not be elected or not elected on one issue, one hopes the voters have more depth in their decision making. I believe we elect officials to make tough decisions based on the will of their constituents. The DDA does a fine job, but its members are not elected and should not have final say.

Steve Bean

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 9 a.m.

The "rent" paid to the city by the DDA was $1 million per year, not $2 million. The confusion comes from the fact that the city chose to have the payments front-loaded over the first five years of the ten-year agreement. Not being clear about that is the beginning of revising history to suit the purposes of those in power.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 8:46 a.m.

Huron74 has it right -- we as a city asked for this at the polls a couple of weeks ago. Same deal with the re-election of Granholm 4 years ago. People here are clearly more concerned with voting brand names than actual substance.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 8:43 a.m.

The headline is probably the template for all the other "deals" to come: "Deal with (insert entity here) would relieve Ann Arbor council from making tough decisions on (insert issue here)..." Recent similar "deals": parking, downtown development, recycling, charitable fund distribution... etc? "Deals" in the works: Golf courses, non central "transit centers," composting operations... etc? Who wants to make tough decisions anyway? After all, we have 1% for art... The issue of how to use this money is tough enough, generating about all the controversy we can handle... : /


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

A modest proposal: let's take the next logical step and just dispense with elections completely. We already have a one-party Mayor & Council, and now they propose to transfer chunks of their authority to a non-elected body (the DDA). The quid pro quo? At least in part, continued general fund open access to the DDA's apparently overflowing cookie jar, a/k/a it's funds. Ex-Council member and president DDA chair Lowenstein is quoted as telling the Council: "You are elected to make broad policy decisions and have a broad policy agenda," she said. "And what we're suggesting here is that we take over what are some of the managerial parts of this whole process so that we can, in effect, shield you from having to do that." Well, IMHO the policy issue Council should be discussing is the potential conflict of interest inherent in having a majority of DDA board members, the people who allocate millions of dollars in tax revenues in the downtown area every year, being downtown business owners and professional people who have a very real and personal interest in how those funds are allocated.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

Ann Arbor elected these people by wide margins and in most cases unopposed as well. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken: "The people know what they want and they deserve to get it...good and hard." And now we are.


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 7:38 a.m.

Ryan, does this decision have any impact on decisions for what will be built on top of the library lot?


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 6:51 a.m.

Transferring more power to the DDA "shadow government"? Thanks, mayor. You should probably give them control over the city "art" as well. That is no reason why they should have to run on the question of wasting a million taxpayer dollars at a time when half the streets are rubble. They should be judged solely by the content of their resolutions. Clueless.

Ace Ventura

Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 6:37 a.m.

The mayor and the city council are the puppetmasters pulling the strings of the DDA and pretending like they had nothing to do with the decisions. We had term limits for local government. Why do people vote for these clowns?


Wed, Nov 17, 2010 : 6:25 a.m.

Why that only makes sense! They were not elected to make tough decisions only the easy ones! Put the tough decisions in the hands of those we have no control over! It is scary to see the logic of those with a little power1