Facing concerted community opposition, the University of Michigan announced Tuesday that it would be cancelling the construction of its controversial North Campus transportation maintenance center.
The facility was originally approved by the Board of Regents in 2014 and was intended to serve as a repair center for the University’s fleet of buses and other vehicles. However, as the project began to move forward in February, nearby residents openly opposed it amid concerns of air pollution and traffic congestion.
Under pressure from Ann Arbor homeowners’ associations and City Council members, University President Mark Schlissel postponed the project in March to negotiate with community stakeholders.
The Northeast Ann Arbor Community Coalition — which represents nearby residents opposed to the project and numbers about 600 households — has continued to protest the board’s meetings and recently called on its members to halt donations to the University, claiming the negotiation process continues to lack transparency.
This conflict is one of the latest between the University and city of Ann Arbor partially stemming from the University's ability to largely circumvent city zoning laws and public input processes when undertaking new construction because its status as a state entity.
Hank Baier, the University’s associate vice president for facilities and operations, said in a press release that the University made a mistake by not soliciting community input earlier in the project, but remained hopeful for the construction of a similar facility in the future.
"The project development team understands the importance of community engagement in selecting sites for University activities," Baier said. "In this case, we should have sought input from our neighbors earlier in the development process. Going forward, this will be our practice as we consider uses for this site as well as others."
The decision to cancel construction came as a surprise to local residents, who showed up to a meeting with University representatives on Tuesday evening expecting to learn about the expected environmental impacts of the planned facility. Instead, University representatives presented the residents with a press release announcing the cancellation of the project.
Jim Kosteva, University director of community relations, said the ultimate decision to cancel the project was made by University President Mark Schlissel and the team managing the project earlier this week.
Local residents have reacted positively to the decision to cancel construction, and many residents feel this will represent broader shift in how the University interacts with city residents. Sandy Aldrich, co-president of the Northeast Ann Arbor Community Coalition, said the University likely would not have been as receptive to community concerns before Schlissel became president.
“After speaking with many longtime Ann Arbor residents, they have indicated that, had this happened before (Schlissel’s) administration, that we would have gotten a much different response,” Aldrich said. “I do truly believe that President Schlissel is sincere in bringing a sense of partnership and openness to the University when dealing with the community.”
Aldrich also reaffirmed that, despite their efforts to protest the project, most city residents remain favorable of the University, as many of them are employees and graduates of it.
“By no means are we anti-University,” Aldrich said. “Because it helps the city as well when the University becomes greater and better.”