At a special work session on Monday, Ann Arbor City Council decided to postpone a vote on a $4.2 million repurchase. After a nearly three-hour closed session, the council moved to postpone all decisions regarding the purchase of the lot on 350 S Fifth Avenue to a future meeting on May 1 at 5 p.m.
The former YMCA lot next to the Blake Transit Center has been the source of conflict between several councilmembers, as well as the cause of an ongoing litigation between the property’s current owner, Dennis Dahlmann, and the city. The repurchase of the land is the result of a four-year contract with Dahlmann stipulating if the property had not passed the planning stages and met the city’s approval within four years, the city could repurchase the land for $4.2 million or at market price.
When the resolution to repurchase the land was first brought forward on April 2, Councilmembers Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4; Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1; and Annie Bannister, D-Ward 1, were the only members to vote against the purchase. The resolution needed eight votes to pass, thus, the resolution was postponed to the next council meeting. At the most recent council meeting, the resolution was once again postponed.
Since the meeting, Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, and Mayor Christopher Taylor developed a new resolution. Their resolution states the city would use the lot to create quality affordable housing in downtown Ann Arbor for the local workforce. Under their vision, the city would maintain ownership of the land, while the developer would offer a variety of unit types and rent levels. Furthermore, the developer would maximize the number of affordable and workforce units with a maximum of 150 percent of fair-market rent as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The developer would also accept Housing Choice Vouchers and would dedicate 50 percent of the ground floor to active and or public use. With these stipulations in place, if the city could not reach an agreement for affordable housing with a developer within four years the resolution would expire and council could sell the land, under the further stipulation: at least 50 percent of the proceeds from the sale or lease go into the city’s affordable housing fund.
Following the release of Ackerman and Taylor’s resolution, at the special work session April 23 many Ann Arbor residents were hopeful the repurchase would go through. About 20 residents came out to the session to support the repurchase. Many residents toted signs saying things like, “Housing, not more yoga studios or luxury apts.,” or “Council please stand up for our ability to live here.” The signs were provided by local Pioneer High School senior Amary Zhou-Kourvo.
“People want, need and demand affordable housing,” Zhou-Kourvo said during a public comment.
During his public comment Zhou-Kourvo also addressed speculation regarding the objectivity of several councilmembers due to donations from Dahlmann to the campaigns of Eaton, Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2.
“Since I have full faith in the transparency of several of you who I have had interactions with, I am in good faith ignoring mentions of donations by Dahlmann to campaigns of three of you because I know who you are and I believe I know you and I know where at the end of the day your interests really are,” Zhou-Kourvo said.
Several residents expressed their disbelief with the council’s hesitancy to repurchase the land. Aubrey Patiño, executive director of Avalon Housing, said to walk away from the opportunity to create more affordable housing within Ann Arbor is inconceivable.
“To walk away from this opportunity would be negligible,” Patiño said. “Without affordable housing people have nowhere to go.”
Concerns regarding the gentrification of Ann Arbor have been a popular source of discussion in many council meetings. Ann Arbor resident Andrew Stumpff argued if the council could not make this effort to pursue affordable housing, Ann Arbor would continue to diverge from its roots.
“We are seeing the gentrification of Ann Arbor,” Stumpff said. “If we do nothing, eventually we will not be in the Ann Arbor we remember but in Birmingham or Bloomfield Hills. With all respect to Birmingham it does not reflect, I think, Ann Arbor values.”