A woman in an orange jacket writes on a sticky note on a white piece of paper pinned to the wall.
An attendee writes on a sticky note at the Urban Planning Student Association’s Renter Workshop at the Liberty Annex Wednesday evening. Tess Crowley/Daily. Buy this photo.

The City of Ann Arbor’s Planning Commission is currently gathering input on its next Comprehensive Plan, which is intended to make the city more environmentally sustainable and affordable for residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The City uses their Comprehensive Plan to guide future initiatives to ensure they have a plan to meet long-term development and policy goals. 

Both townies and University of Michigan students have been encouraged to participate in “Phase 2” of the planning — the Inventory and Analysis phase — through a variety of public gatherings. DoGoodWork, a local non-profit, hosted a “House Party,” held last week, welcoming Ann Arbor stakeholders to share their ideas on the Comprehensive Plan process. The House Party was a weeklong series of events to gather ideas for the Planning Commission to consider in when drafting the new Comprehensive Plan.

The House Party began Sept. 12 and continued through Sept. 17. Events included conversations with city staff, surveys, open houses, seminars and social events geared toward the problems currently facing the Ann Arbor housing market. 

The Ann Arbor Master Plan primarily includes a Land Use Element document, which was approved by the City Council in 2009. In 2013, the City incorporated a Sustainability Framework into the Land Use Element, which has since been supplemented with the A2Zero Plan. The most recent addition to the Land Use Element was made earlier this year with the adoption of the Parks and Open Space Plan

Lisa Sauvé, Ann Arbor Planning Commission and Comprehensive Plan Committee member, is the founder of DoGoodWork and was the primary organizer of the House Party. Sauvé said updating the Master Plan has been in the works for a while, though pandemic-related budget cuts set the planning process back.

“Our Master Plan is almost 20 years old,” Sauvé said. “We tried to start that conference planning process in 2020. Really, the budgets got cut, a lot of things were canceled.”

Phase 2 began in September. By the time it is completed in March 2024, Sauvé said the city hopes to host formal workshops and town hall meetings with residents during the next phase of the plan, Phase 3. The Planning Commission hopes to have a draft of the final plan within a year.

Cities and townships must create and review comprehensive plans periodically per state law. Despite setbacks posed by COVID-19, Sauvé hopes the Comprehensive Plan will be ready for submission relatively soon. 

“We hope (the process) will be as fast as possible,” Sauvé said. “We really need a new vision.”

As the city moves forward with Phase 2, several consulting firms have been hired to assist in data collection, public outreach and planning. Interface Studio is the primary urban planning firm contracted by the city for the project, though they have hired a number of subcontractors, such as the Ann Arbor-based landscape architecture firm SmithGroup. The Michigan Daily spoke to Rachel Smith, a planner with SmithGroup, about the role of outside consultants in the development of the new Comprehensive Plan. 

“The city has already selected the consultants that are going to be working … (but) our role is still being determined,” Smith said. “We’re just kicking off.”

The prospect of a Comprehensive Plan comes amid both a severe student housing shortage at the University and calls to amend city and state housing policies to reflect the needs of low-income renters.

The House Party aims to incorporate student and tenant input into the Planning Commission’s new plan. Tahir Noronha and Jessica Hobbs, co-presidents of the University’s Urban Planning Student Association, led the House Party’s renter workshops on Wednesday evening at Taubman’s Liberty Research Annex. The open house consisted of three interactive visual activities, online surveys for participants to fill out and brainstorming boards placed around the room. Out of all 11 events comprising the House Party, Wednesday’s event was the only one that was student-led.

In an interview with The Daily, Noronha and Hobbs said they created the activities with students in mind, asking participants to reflect on their personal experiences living in Ann Arbor. One activity asked participants to mark their current location, desired neighborhood and undesired neighborhood on a wall-sized map. Noronha spoke to The Daily about UPSA’s hopes for the Comprehensive Plan. 

“The city acknowledges that the current Master Plan got disproportionate input from landlords and residents, and renters’ views are underrepresented,” Noronha said. “We realized that UPSA can play an important role in facilitating student participation in the Master Plan. Having pro-renter housing policies enshrined in the plan can benefit the student community and the city for a long time.”

Suave also spoke about collaborating with UPSA and the importance of student involvement in the comprehensive planning process. 

“(Wednesday) evening, what we’re talking about is helping students facilitate an engagement session from (the University),” Sauvé said. “I really wanted to make sure that the student voice was elevated because the city is only going to thrive if we have that diversity of generations of thought, instead of just the long term residents.” 

Friday incorporated an annual event known as Ann Arbor Park(ing) Day into the House Party, and featured a variety of U-M and community organizations represented at tables downtown. Park(ing) Day was originally created in San Francisco in 2005 to highlight the amount of urban space occupied by cars and imagine alternative uses for parking spaces and lots. It has since expanded to cities worldwide, including Ann Arbor as of 2017.

This year, Ann Arbor’s Park(ing) Day took over several parallel parking spaces across five locations downtown. DoGoodWork, the University’s Urbanism Club and local creative studio Synecdoche hosted informational tables in some of the spots — including on campus in front of Angell Hall. Ypsilanti business Olympia Skate Shop occupied a parking space with a skateboard ramp while the Housing and Human Services Advisory Board used another one for yard games. LSA junior Karsten Van Fossan was volunteering at the Urbanism club’s table and spoke with The Daily about the club’s thoughts on the Comprehensive Plan and how it relates to issues of parking availability and vehicle density in the city.

“We would like to see the city continue to encourage safe streets and more pedestrian and bike infrastructure,” Van Fossan said. “We would also like incremental zoning reform, by which different areas are allowed to build one step higher. There’s an example of an entire block by the Ann Arbor News Building that’s just entirely parking. I look at that and I think, ‘Why are we creating this dead zone in the middle of what is otherwise a vibrant downtown?’”

According to Suave, participation, and in particular student participation, at the House Party exceeded what DoGoodWork anticipated. Suave said she hopes the amount of engagement throughout all of the House Party events reflects the city’s enthusiasm for the Comprehensive Plan going forward. 

“The engagement and the enthusiasm I’ve seen from every event so far is more than I expected, delightfully so,” Suave said. “Students have been able to actively engage in the community, instead of just an academic exercise. They are contributing something that is going to make an impact on the future vision of the city. And that’s kind of awesome.”

Daily Staff Reporter June Macdonald can be reached at junemac@umich.edu.