At Monday evening’s City Council meeting, the council received a $450,000 check from the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor for construction of a new Universal Access Playground at Gallup Park. Council members also voted on rezoning of an area on Packard Street, which was highly contended by community members.
Before the meeting’s agenda was set into motion, Jason Frenzel (D–Ward 1) took an oath of office and was fornally sworn in to replace Sabra Briere, who officially resigned from the council on December 5 following her announcement of her intention to resign last month. At the last Council meeting Frenzel was selected by council to fill a vacant seat created by Briere’s resignation.
The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, an organization dedicated to establishing ethics and giving back to the community, began the meeting by presenting a check worth $450,000 to the city. The donation will go to the construction of a new Universal Access Playground, a playground accessible for people of all abilities.
In an interview Collyer A. Smith, Rotary Club of Ann Arbor president, explained that the park would include features and surfaces enjoyable for those who are fully independent as well as for those with mobility, sensory and visual impairments.
“The surface is strong enough so that mobility devices can move around yet soft enough that kids being kids can fall, trip and they’re not going hurt themselves,” Smith said. “It’s going to have different structures for different types of disabilities. Obviously with wheelchairs that’s one thing but also for autism we have different places where they can go and just be by themselves.”
Smith’s larger hope is that the Universal Access Playground will enable disabled and non-disabled children to play together to lower the stigma of disabilities.
“The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor celebrated their 100 years — our centennial in 2016 — and five years ago we were looking at something that we could provide the community that would be lasting, sustainable and something unique,” Smith said.
The Universal Access Playground has now received a million dollars in funding, from the Rotary Club’s donation, from grants and from the city for the park, which will be located near the intersection of Huron Parkway and Geddes Avenue. Construction is expected to begin in 2017.
Following the donation from the Rotary Club, the council moved on to a zoning issue at the 2800 block of Packard Street. Several community members attended the meeting to advocate for the zoning to remain as is. However, the new zoning proposal would allow for larger homes to be built in a denser manner, with smaller buffers between the houses and roads. This contrasts the existing ranch-style homes with smaller square footage.
In addition to citing flooding and more traffic as grievances against the development, resident Lisa Moss summarized the neighborhood’s concerns with the denser and more populous development that looms across the street.
“I have fears of privacy and pollution, both noise and light pollution,” she said. “We live more so on the outskirts; the reason I chose it was simply because it was away from most people, we’re not downtown for a reason and this is going to bring the downtown feel.”
Jan Taylor, another resident of the 2800 Packard St. neighborhood expressed that she — along with many others — felt misrepresented by her council members, particularly Julie Grand (D–Ward 3) and Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3) after they voted in favor of the resolution, allowing for the land to be rezoned.
“Tonight was the first time they talked about it being McMansions in there; they have never brought that dialogue into this vote before,” Taylor said. “We didn’t get to respond to it, it’s just more shape shifting of the plan. Since they keep changing what they’re saying, I’m not sure you can account to anything they say.”
Councilman Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4), who historically has voted against development, voted against the rezoning, though for slightly different reasoning than the neighbors. Eaton cited his belief that buying a house in Ann Arbor should come with predictable zoning.