Supporters and opponents debated the merits of Proposal A, a ballot measure that could throw a wrench in plans to build a17-story high-rise on the lot adjacent to the Ann Arbor District Library, at a forum Thursday hosted by the League of Women Voters. More than 75 people were in attendance.
Proposal A would require the lot, known as the Library Lot, to remain city-owned land in perpetuity and be developed as an urban park and civic center commons.
Will Hathaway, an Ann Arbor Central Park Ballot Committee member, spoke in favor of the proposal. He called on Ann Arbor to retain the Library Lot in order to make the land into a public park, and said the lot is the best candidate for Ann Arbor’s public square.
“Ann Arbor’s downtown lacks public open space — it has not been a priority since Liberty Plaza first opened in 1977, over 40 years ago,” Hathaway said. “Even though the downtown population has increased, the amount of public open space has remained static.”
Hathaway said the lot, if Proposal A passes, could be “Ann Arbor’s own Diag.”
In April 2017, City Council voted in favor of selling the Library Lot to Chicago developer Core Spaces, and more than a year later, the city signed a purchase agreement for $10 million to allow the developer to build a 17-story high-rise that would include a hotel, apartments, office and retail space and an outdoor plaza.
City Councilmembers Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, and Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, then sued the city of Ann Arbor, Mayor Christopher Taylor and City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry, accusing them of violating Ann Arbor’s charter when they signed a development contract without consulting City Council first. The lawsuit is ongoing.
If Proposal A passes, it will halt the development proposed by Core Spaces.
Jessica Letaw, a board member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and member of Yes In My BackYard, spoke on the panel against Proposal A. She clarified votes on Proposal A would not directly alter the development proposal.
“The decision is not ‘Is this a park or is it a building?’ or ‘Is it a great park or a great building?’” Letaw said. “It is, ‘Do we hold this land in public for perpetuity as an urban park and civic center commons?’ That’s the question on the ballot.”
Letaw said any development on the land would have to include 12,000 square feet of space treated as a public plaza, in accordance with a resolution passed by City Council in 2014.
“We are here because for the last decade and a half, Ann Arbor residents and city staff and city elected officials have consistently said, ‘We know Ann Arbor is growing, we care very deeply about open space,’” Letaw said. “Part of the analysis of the Library Lot is that any sale of that land is required to donate 50 percent of the proceeds the Affordable Housing Fund, so we’re using the public process to express our values as a community.”
During a question-and-answer session, Ann Arbor resident Vince Caruso spoke in favor of Proposal A and emphasized the need for more open space in the city.
“I think Ann Arbor needs a green space in our downtown,” Caruso said. “We need a green space where people can sit, meet their friends, not have to spend money … We have all these people moving downtown. They need a place to take their grandkids, to take their kids. It’s not so much fun to play in the streets in the downtown, I’ll tell you that.”
In a statement, the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees recently announced its opposition to Proposal A “due to its potential negative lasting effect on the future of the downtown library.”
Linh Song, vice president of the AADL Board of Trustees, spoke against Proposal A. Song said both sides agreed on the need for more public space, but argued the library itself functioned as a type of public square.
“This is something that we agree on,” she said. “There is a need for that space. What I don’t agree on is that there should be a duplicate of it. If you’re talking about the Library Lot becoming another building, another civic commons, the challenge to the community is that if we’re voting for that, it means we’re funding it.”