Ann Arbor residents oppose downtown developments

Monday, November 20, 2017 - 11:06pm

After continued resistance from Ann Arbor residents, as well as several council members, City Council moved to once again postpone a decision on downtown developments.

Many residents came to argue against several zoning changes on Broadway Street, seeking to defend the beauty and history of their town, and arguing for commercial rather than residential developments. With a zoning change, residents feared a high-rise would overcome the charm and integrity of their city.                         

“What do residents get with this development? Nothing,” said Mary Underwood, a resident of Ann Arbor since 1974. “People who have to live beside it need benefits too. It should not just be for U of M students and employees. We want these areas developed, but we want to go about it in the right way for future generations. Ann Arbor is not a cookie-cutter place, and we’re proud of that.”

One resident, Angela Baker, expressed concern for parking issues in her own neighborhood.

“How much more do we have to bend before we break,” Baker asked. With plans for new developments, residents continued to express concerns about traffic, parking and how to keep Ann Arbor a dense city with close commercial retail shops.

The zoning changes — particularly the brownfield site plan — can alleviate environmental issues years in the making. Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, argued the zoning change and proposed development could solve a $5 million issue of water contamination.

Ackerman argued the developments could meet the rising housing demand, stressing the necessity for more affordable and readily available housing.  

“We have a huge demand,” Ackerman said, referencing the rise in the undergraduate population at the University of Michigan by 5,000 students in the past few years.

Ackerman also noted 55 percent of people in Ann Arbor are renters.  

“Are they attractive? No,” Ackerman said about residential buildings. “But are they housing people? Yes.”

The decision to postpone the decision and the idea of a change in zoning itself was a controversial topic among the council members. Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, and Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, argued against the postponement and the project itself, saying the only reason to postpone would be to avoid the controversy, not for the developers to make any changes to their plans.

“It’s the wrong direction for the opportunity that we have here as stewards of the future of our city,” Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, said amid cheers from the crowd against the development.

Ultimately, the council decided to postpone the decision once again in hopes of a compromise with developers. Ron Mucha, a developer from Morningside, said the company would take the next two weeks to revise the site conditions by modifying the architectural expression, building materials and zoning conditions.   

“We owe it to ourselves and the community to see,” stated Mayor Christopher Taylor in support of the postponement.

Amid the controversy regarding downtown development, council members glossed over a water treatment plan in response to a recent water line rupture. Members were hopeful for a repair by Tuesday, but discussed plans to alert the community and implement plans for voluntary water restrictions during the repair, as well as future ideas about a building a new water line further down the road.