ICYMTOOEFS (In case you missed the onslaught of emails from Schlissel): Next Tuesday, Nov. 6, is Election Day! There will be federal, state and local elections with state and local propositions on the ballot. While you’re most likely aware of the contentious Michigan gubernatorial race, and hopefully who is running for U.S. Representative in your district (Debbie Dingell if you’re voting in Ann Arbor!), ballot propositions will be incredibly important this year in Michigan.
Marijuana legalization, gerrymandering and automatic voter registration are all on the statewide ballot, so make sure to do your research and make a plan to vote. For voters in Ann Arbor, there will also be three citywide ballot proposals regarding a parking lot, filling vacancies on Ann Arbor City Council and park maintenance taxes. While these seem incredibly dull in comparison to weed and gerrymandering, they will have an effect on our local community and we should pay attention.
For now, let’s pay attention to Proposal A, or its long-form name: “Charter Amendment for the City-Owned Public Land Bounded by Fifth Avenue, and William, Division, and Liberty Streets to be Designated, in Perpetuity, as an Urban Park and Civic Center Commons to be Known as the “Center of the City,” by Amending the Ann Arbor City Charter Adding a New Section 1.4 to Chapter 1 of the Charter.” We’ll just call it Prop A. The result of Prop A will be incredibly important to affordable housing in Ann Arbor.
Prop A is the culmination of longstanding contention over the fate of the “Library Lot.” The Library Lot is the area above the underground parking lot near the Ann Arbor Public Library. If you can’t visualize this block of unused space, go get the best Mexican food in Ann Arbor at Chela’s and then walk to your left as you’re leaving and you’ll see.
According to the Ann Arbor Central Park Ballot Committee, this is the last free public space available for a public city center. The Central Park Ballot Committee is the group responsible for getting Prop A on the ballot this year. Mayor Christopher Taylor and the majority of City Council disapprove of the idea to make the space into a public urban park and have already authorized the sale of the space to Chicago-based developer Core Spaces for $10 million to build a high-rise. Then two councilmembers sued the mayor and city clerk for this decision. Ultimately, the Central Park Ballot Committee was able to come up with enough signatures to let voters decide. Thus, Prop A was born.
Personally, I am sick of high-rise construction in Ann Arbor. I can’t keep track of 411 vs. Six11 vs. Hub Ann Arbor vs. The Yard, and so on. Why can’t their names be more distinct? Why would anyone pay more than $1,000 per month to live on South Main Street? I don’t know! Anyway — when I first heard of Prop A, I was all for a park if it meant one fewer of these buildings. And in my opinion, I think that’s how the committee wants the issue to look — as if it is a choice between an enhanced community center or selling out our city to a corporation. That is so far from the whole story, though.
The park would cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and it would mean losing out on the initial $10 million from Core Spaces and up to $2 million in taxes from them each year. This is money that has been pledged toward worthy causes — money that would enhance the Ann Arbor community in much more substantial ways than another urban park. An estimated $5 million of the revenue from the development would go toward affordable housing projects in Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor is a city of students, academics and families. Ann Arbor is an incredibly expensive city to live in — especially considering the proportion of residents who are students without a significant income. Public parks may or may not create community, but there is no community of Ann Arbor without its people. Continuing to force students to commute to school from further away than their richer peers or to be stuck in overpriced housing with failing appliances and negligent landlords is the true deterioration of the Ann Arbor community. To invest millions of dollars into affordable housing would make a dent in the overwhelming problem that is affordability in this city.
Vote “NO” on Proposal A Tuesday. Public parks are nice — that’s why the Chicago developer has pledged to build a public park at no cost to the city on the land that it will hopefully purchase, in addition to a multi-use high-rise. By voting no, we get that park, millions of dollars toward affordable housing, education and infrastructure, and the only price to pay is coping with a little more construction.
Margot Libertini can be reached at email@example.com.