Ann Arbor City Council met Monday night to reject resolution (DC-3), which would have commissioned a report gathering information on 68 parcels of land near the intersection of State Street and Eisenhower Parkway by Briarwood Mall. According to the resolution, the report would include information on individuals with “an ownership interest in these sixty-eight parcels.”
Tuesday’s resolution comes while the city considers converting the suburban area currently dominated by spread-out offices into a higher-density development to complement the transit infrastructure in the area. DC-3 was sponsored by councilmembers Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, and Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1.
The City Planning Commission proposed the rezoning of the area to TC1 — a new zone for transit corridors — in July 2021 in hope of encouraging transit-oriented and mixed-use development near Briarwood. The TC1 aims to increase public transit use, which could help achieve the city’s sustainability and affordability goals.
During public comment, Ward 4 resident Ralph McKee criticized the TC1 proposal and said the city’s efforts would under-deliver.
“Most of you have expressed that TC1 will mean progress toward (affordability and sustainability),” McKee said. “I believe this to be mostly wishful thinking. What is clear, though, is the parcels rezoned will increase in value. Given the lack of requirements or incentives (for redevelopment), the owners are not asked or incentivized to provide anything in return.”
Ann Arbor resident Tom Stulberg took issue with what he perceived as a conflict of interest on the City Planning Commission..
“One of the first actions that this council took when the five new council members took office was to appoint to the City Planning Commission the current Director of Asset Management for a company that owns multiple properties of those 68 parcels that are getting rezoned by the city, whose value will be increased,” Stulberg said.
Wonwoo Lee is the Director of Asset Management for Oxford Companies, which owns most of the properties in the new TC1 zone at State and Eisenhower.
During the meeting, Hayner said he supported DC-3 because it both supported transparency and incentivized property owners’ own social responsibility.
“It would be nice to know who these owners are, and (with the resolution) we could do our own politicking in the community,” Hayner said. “We could say to whoever owns 14 of these properties, ‘How about considering your own goodwill of all the wealth we’re creating for you’ so that whatever building (they) put (up) there is carbon neutral if (they) plan to have them still standing in 2030.”
Griswold shared Hayner’s concerns, citing the failure of the State Street Corridor plan from 2013 as a call to action .
“One of the components of (the background on DC-3) was the State Street Corridor plan from 2013 …(which) encourages all new buildings to have solar rooftops and more electrical recharging stations,” Griswold said. “We are not even doing the very basic outline in the 2013 plan.”
Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, said she worried about the timeliness of DC-3, saying it could impede future development around Briarwood Mall.
“It’s relevant to understand the increase in value in these properties to understand what could have been and what wasn’t asked for.” Nelson said. “But it’s really too late, and I look forward to the redevelopment of South Street. It’s where it should happen.”
Hayner alleged the process was “out of the norm,” saying some steps typically followed for similar projects have been skipped in the TC1 rezoning.
Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, responded to criticism from Hayner about the rezoning process.
“(TC1) has been fairly popular with the public,” Grand said. “There has been some desire for some form of transit-oriented development for a long time. It didn’t just come out of nowhere, and it went through extensive review by the planning commission.”
Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, said she does not support DC-3 because she does not believe city staff should be sorting through information that is already open to the public.
“This effort won’t put to rest the idea that any or all of us are unethical in developing our policy priorities or encouraging dense development among transportation quarters depending on who owns these parcels, ” Song said. “I won’t be voting for this resolution. However, I encourage colleagues in the public to contact the state Attorney General’s office to properly investigate impropriety or undue influence on elected officials.”
The resolution ultimately failed 8-3, with only Hayner, Griswold and Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, voting in favor.
Correction 2/8/22: An earlier version of this article referred to Ann Arbor resident Tom Stumbler as Tom Stulberg. That version also said councilmember Disch voted in favor of the resolution; Councilmembers Hayner, Griswold and Ramlawi were the only council members to vote “yes.” This article has been updated.
Correction 2/9/22: A previous version of this article also said councilmember Song supported the intention of DC-3 but believed it to be unethical and some councilmembers own parcels. Song did not support the resolution and did not say councilmembers own parcels in the area.
Daily Staff Reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.