As Election Day approaches in Ann Arbor, development of the Library Lot on Fifth Avenue across from the Ann Arbor District Library remains up for debate.
Many City Councilmembers are in favor of allowing Chicago-based real estate firm Core Spaces to develop a 17-story high-rise called the Collective on Fifth Avenue, while residents have expressed desires for an urban park and commons area. The Collective would host 200 to 500 units, 43 workforce housing units, and hotel and office space.
City Council sold the property to Core Spaces in 2017.
Citizens will be asked if a section should be added to the city charter stating the Library Lot must remain in public ownership and developed as a “Center of the City” lot. The question, known as Proposal A, was put on the ballot after a citizen-led petition gathered more than 5,000 signatures to place it on the November ballot.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor urged residents in a letter posted to Twitter on Sunday to vote “no” because of a loss of tax revenue and affordable housing.
“If City Proposal A passes, we will lose hundreds of units of new, permanent affordable housing; miss out on millions of dollars of tax revenue to support basic city services; and be forced to either raise taxes or re-allocate millions of parks dollars to build and operate a failed park in the middle of our downtown,” Taylor wrote. “The passage of City Proposal A will sentence the Library Lot to remain what it is today: desolate and uninviting.”
Councilmember Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, said she believes the city has enough tax revenue without new developments and thinks Taylor is stressing the issue tax revenue loss to fit his agenda.
“The city does have a lot of tax revenue,” Bannister said. “It seems a bit disingenuous that when it’s something that the mayor supports, he asks for money for it. But, when it’s something he doesn’t support, he brings up this idea that we don’t have the money. These things are invaluable to the economic vitality and it’s an economic engine to have an upbeat, positive, inviting ‘Center of the City.’”
Taylor criticized the proposal for a lacking a payment plan for the development of the urban park and commons.
“It proposes to obligate the city without any kind of proposal on how to pay for it to reserve the land for an urban park and commons,” Taylor said. “A park at that location will be a failure … Urban parks in order to be successful have to have organic activity.”
Bannister is one of three councilmembers viewed as an opposition member of Taylor’s eight-councilmember majority and urges voters to say “yes,” to Proposal A.
“We’re representatives of democracy,” Bannister said. “As I hike around the ward and the city and also for my own campaign … I’m continuing to amplify the voices of the residents as best I can and am firmly supporting this urban park and ‘Center of the City’.”
According to Taylor, passage of Proposal A would also cost money the city can use to pay off the repurchase of the “Y lot.” On May 1, the council voted to repurchase the property at 350 S. Fifth Ave. for $4.2 million from real estate developer Dennis Dahlmann. The repurchase came after Dahlmann failed to develop the property into commercial developments and affordable housing.
Taylor also explained the 43 units that would be developed at 150 percent of fair market rent were designed to be workforce housing units instead of affordable housing units.
“150 percent of fair market rent is going to be below market rent because fair market rent is a figure derived by HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) in order to key a number of things, one of which is Section 8 vouchers,” Taylor said. “These are going to be apartments in a location where rents can be quite high, there’s going to be 43 units available in this building for people that otherwise couldn’t afford it.”
In an open letter addressed to Taylor, Ann Arbor resident Mary Hathaway criticized Taylor’s critique of losing affordable housing by addressing the financing of the project.
“We all want more, truly affordable housing,” Hathaway wrote in her letter. “You and others on Council set a goal of creating over 3,000 new units of affordable housing by 2035. The question is, what’s the best way to achieve that goal? Your answer is to sell public land to Core Spaces, a Chicago developer specializing in luxury student apartments, and allocate $5 million to the housing trust fund. Does $5 million really buy 200 to 500 new units of affordable housing? … Most people have no idea how you will leverage $5 million to create 500 units. Do you?”
Hathaway said the council should look at the Library Lot as an opportunity to build relationships and neighborhoods.
“By retaining public land at the center of the city, we can take a more holistic approach to planning for development on the Library Block,” Hathaway wrote. “Rather than looking at a parcel in isolation and insisting on maximum development of a 17-story tower (or one even taller than that), we should look for an integrative approach that strengthens the relationships between the neighboring structures and welcomes pedestrian movement.”
Taylor also mentioned the contract requires Core Spaces to have a 12,000-square foot public plaza that could be used for events.
Taylor believes passing Proposal A will raise similar issues associated with Liberty Plaza such as drug use and violence.
“Liberty Plaza does not meet our aspirations and if Proposal A passes, I’m very much concerned that a park at that location would replicate the failures of Liberty Plaza,” Taylor said.
Bannister and fellow Councilmember Sumi Kaliasapathy, D-Ward 1, sued Taylor and City Clerk Jackie Beaudry in June over the development contract for allegedly signing a contract without the council's approval.
Both Taylor and Bannister declined to comment on the status of the lawsuit because it is currently in litigation.