After a lengthy public hearing and discussion Tuesday evening, Ann Arbor City Council approved an ordinance to establish new zoning boundaries that will increase high-density and mixed-use development along transit corridors.
The ordinance encourages more downtown-style development in areas that utilize the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Councilmembers say this ordinance would support affordable housing options and more sustainable forms of development.
Ann Arbor resident Jamie Magiera said he believes the proposed transit corridors would contribute to affordable housing by relieving Ann Arbor families of some transit costs.
“We know that nearly 20% of a family’s budget is transportation,” Magiera said. “You decrease that amount, that frees up money for housing, it frees up money for services, it frees up time for people to be able to participate in the community.”
Ann Arbor resident Lynn Borset, however, raised concerns that the ordinance does not contain specific requirements to increase affordable housing and improve sustainability.
“We are opening the door for developers to come in without ensuring that we are going to get some benefit from what happens here,” Borset said. “If we want to achieve certain goals with this change, we need to include those specific things in the ordinance, and that has not happened here.”
Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, said the process to reverse the housing crisis is inherently tied to building more housing units in areas where rent and transportation costs are at a minimum.
“Development of housing units in Ann Arbor is at a historic low,” Disch said. “Our housing crisis is a supply crisis. We want more units in a part of town where the rents will be lower and where people will not have to drive to their jobs, so that they may reduce their transportation costs, which is, as one of the callers pointed out, one third of a typical household budget, the second largest piece next to rent or mortgage.”
While Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, agreed to the efforts put forth by the ordinance, he echoed concerns with the lack of incentives to build affordable housing and sustainable options. Hayner proposed a motion to refer the ordinance back to the Planning Commission for further consideration, which ultimately failed.
“These are good goals here. We have the proper goals here, but it’s a poor approach to it,” Hayner said. “The fact that (the) Planning Commission didn’t put in specific incentives in response to Council’s request for such tells me that they have other things in mind here, that there’s some wishful thinking going on.”
Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, said if these actions aren’t specified in the ordinance, it would be ‘irresponsible’ to assume they would be implemented. Griswold further noted that this ordinance would not be a benefit for the community but rather a “return on investment” for wealthy landowners.
“It’s irresponsible to pass a policy that we know staff can not implement simply based on wishful thinking,” Griswold said. “If we can’t put equity affordability, sustainability and especially stormwater management into our transit corridor plan, why would we expect it to get done?”
Councilmember Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, countered, saying doing nothing is not going to move the city forward with its goals of providing housing and addressing the climate crisis.
“There’s not one solution that’s going to fix these problems, but it is going to be a compilation of policies and transportation and land use policies that we put together that are going to help us make progress on these challenging problems,” Briggs said. “There’s plenty of buy-in for this. We see it in our plans, we have to take steps. We can block everything because it’s not perfect, but that’s just being obstructionist.”
The ordinance ultimately passed 9-3, with council members Ramlawi, Hayner and Griswold opposing.
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