At their meeting Monday, Ann Arbor City Council heard from various community members and members of a recently formed grassroots coalition who oppose a planned deer cull, as well as approved the plans for a housing development.
The council voted in September to implement a program to control the deer population through hiring sharpshooters to kill 100 deer in city parks, sparking controversy among the Ann Arbor community. The cull is set to begin January 2016.
During Monday’s meeting, several community members as well as representatives from Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife in Nature spoke against the cull, urging City Council to reconsider the closing of parks. FAWNN also organized a protest in front of City Hall earlier in the evening.
Ann Arbor resident Rosalind Wares said closing the parks around her residence for the cull would make her feel unsafe.
“This plan is very poorly conceived — the people that put it together have no conception of people’s needs and what they do with the parks,” Wares said. “To have this for three months for four years is just inconceivable to me.”
Wares said she was insulted by the suggestion that residents use other open parks instead of the ones near their homes.
“You say it’s safe, and it most likely is safe,” Wares said. “But people don’t feel safe.”
Ann Arbor resident Shunah Sii Rose also spoke against limiting the access to city parks. Rose, who has lived in the city for 28 years, said she is concerned with maintaining safety in the parks given that they are funded partially by citizens’ taxes.
“I know that many citizens feel that they’re not being listened to on this issue,” Rose said. “We’re aware that a huge percentage of Ann Arbor residents come here and stay here due to the natural area.”
Another resident, Sarah Byers expressed conern about the logistics of the cull, such as what will happen to the meat from the deer killed.
In response to Byers, Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said the meet will be processed for free and donated to Food Gatherers.
“It will be clean and safe for consumption,” Briere said. “I am not embracing the idea but it won’t go to waste and it won’t be damaged and there is really a program for dealing with it.”
Ann Arbor resident Karen Freeland, who said she has lived in Ann Arbor for 20 years, told Council that if the decision to have a cull was made due to financial concerns she would personally fund a non-lethal method.
“There’s no harm in saying maybe we made a mistake,” Freeland said. “If you folks change the way that you’re going now, do you realize what heroes you’ll be in this town?”
During Monday’s meeting, Council approved a resolution to slightly change the parameters of the cull, keeping several parks previously slated for closure open.
After delaying the vote at their last meeting, City Council voted 8-2 in favor of zoning and site plans for the Nixon Farms Housing development. The project is slated to provide more than 472 new residences in the city.
Councilmembers Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) and Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) voted against approval. Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) was absent.
Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3) said if Council denied the project, they would be ignoring the growing demand for housing in the Ann Arbor area.
“If we want to continue to grow as an economic base, we should continue to grow and allow people to live here,” Ackerman said.
The residences, proposed by Toll Brothers, Inc., will be built on old farm properties along Nixon Road and north and south of Dhu Varren Road.
Four resolutions were on the table regarding the roughly 110-acre project. The property is divided into two factions of land — north Nixon Farms and south Nixon Farms — and zoning and site plans for both before the project could begin.
Though the project will require the allocation of some city funds to meet legal requirements for the residences under city code, Toll Brothers, Inc. has agreed to pay $1,025,460 to the city to cover the main cost — reconfiguring an intersection in the area. The cost of the reconfiguration is anticipated to climb to $2 million by 2017.
During public hearings on the issue, opinion was mixed, with several speakers expressing concerns about the ecological balance in the area, traffic problems and issues with conditional zoning and permitting.
Ann Arbor resident Jane Klingston spoke against the project, saying that City Council is still uninformed about the intricacies of the project. She said she thought the soil types on the site would be unable to sustain the proposed development.
A representative from Toll Brothers, Inc. said determining construction on a wetland site falls under the jurisdiction of the state. Regarding the storm water runoff, the representative added that Washtenaw County Resource Center has regulations to protect against flooding impact and water quality control so as not to impact properties downstream.
In response to concerns, Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2) said the council is not in charge of the type of petition they see or the validity of said petition. He added that the Toll Brothers project would have a significantly greater impact than losing the land to a third party.
“As I see it, the pros of this include a fixed site plan, the layout, this proposal is less than half the density the community said they wanted in the master plan, and there’s a contribution that will reduce the terrible intersection,” Westphal said. “The downside is that the site plan is set in stone.”