Concerned citizens filled Larcom City Hall Monday night as the Ann Arbor City Council voted to authorize the sale of the Library Lot, a piece of real estate across from the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Fifth Avenue, to Chicago developer Core Spaces. Core Spaces, a firm centered around real estate management, is set to built a high-rise at the location.
The council’s decision concluded a decade-long struggle for the future of the Library Lot, which is currently a city-owned surface parking space. Public opinion has been divided between constructing a $10 million, 17-story, multipurpose high-rise — which is the current plan — and setting aside the land as a public common area with a few small-scale residential projects.
Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) said a new building would provide several benefits in the long run by contributing $5 million in revenue from the high rise to the Affordable Housing Fund, aiding the current housing shortage in Ann Arbor.
“If I vote no on this, would I be willing to sit on the phone Tuesday and call people on the Housing Commission, on the waitlist and say, ‘we’re down on money on affordable housing and I couldn’t help you guys’?” Warpehoski said. “I couldn’t imagine doing that.”
However, public polling has shown majority support for a public space. A 2013 Park Advisory Commission survey showed that 76.2 percent of respondents thought Ann Arbor would benefit from more downtown open spaces, like a park or town square, and 41.5 percent of respondents chose the Library Lot as the best place to build such a space.
Last year, the Ann Arbor Committee for the Community Commons delivered a petition to put the future of the lot to the November election ballot, but it fell just short of a few hundred signatures because of technical mistakes.
The crowd became increasingly restless as councilmembers urged compromise and attempted to quell concerns about floor-area ratio, as an Internal Revenue Service audit of the Build America Bonds was issued to create the parking space under the Library Lot, and other salient details.
The tension reached a tipping point when Councilmember Julie Grand (D–Ward 3) charged that anti-high rise advocates were ignoring the realities of compromise and resisting stubbornly against a democratically decided process.
"We have residents that are telling us that they want to be able to have the desirable amenities in the downtown, that they can drive to with no traffic, that they can have lower taxes and have parking for free at 7 p.m. on a Saturday,” Grand said. “I’m going to be the adult in the situation … Sometimes I feel like I’m getting asks from residents like I’m talking to my children.”
Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) urged for the vote to be postponed, arguing there is a false dichotomy between having a high-rise apartment building and having a public plaza, but there is a middle way.
“This should not be an all-or-nothing proposition,” Lumm said. “Our community owns the land. We’re not obligated to the highest use to maximize density. I believe our job is to find the right balance.”
However, representatives from Core Spaces retorted the company presented a diverse array of proposals in the initial planning stage that could qualify as middle ground, but the council rejected them. Councilmember Krapohl (D–Ward 4) added, even if there were to be a middle way, the discussion should have happened two years ago. The motion to postpone failed.
The resolution to authorize the sale of the Library Lot to Core Spaces passed 8-3, with Kailasapathy, Lumm and Eaton dissenting.
Alan Haber, one of the leaders of AACCC’s petition drive, said he plans to take the issue to court, as he was dissatisfied about how the council handled the count of his petition.
“Our petition has sufficient signatures of real, live people, and the time that we had legally provided, they rejected it,” Haber said. “This action should be overturned by the Court, saying we have a right to put this to a vote as to whether people actually want a park for everybody.”
In his closing statement before the vote, Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) said overall, the benefits outweigh the costs, and pleaded those opposed to recognize that Ann Arbor’s burgeoning economy will bring growing pains.
“This has been the most difficult decision to date during my council service,” Taylor said. “This is so because I love Ann Arbor the way it is, but part of our job, I believe, as elected officials, is to understand and face the fact that the world is changing and that Ann Arbor is not immune to it.”