City Council discusses short-term use of Library Lot

Monday, December 16, 2019 - 11:17pm

Ann Arbor City Council members listen to citizens of Ann Arbor at the last Ann Arbor City Council meeting of 2019 Monday evening.

Ann Arbor City Council members listen to citizens of Ann Arbor at the last Ann Arbor City Council meeting of 2019 Monday evening. Buy this photo
Olivia Cell/Daily

During the last Ann Arbor City Council meeting of 2019 on Monday evening, councilmembers discussed a resolution addressing the short-term use of the library lot property and an Ann Arbor resident announced her candidacy for City Council.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a local environmental toxicologist, declared her candidacy for the Ward 4 seat in 2020. If elected, Savabieasfahani said she will advocate for the immediate cleanup of the Gelman Dioxane plume as well as PFAS contamination in Ann Arbor.

“We have a larger plume now than we have ever had, and you are getting around to spending more money on expensive lawyers’ fees and endless litigation and years and years of our lives spent waiting for a cleanup of this massive dioxane contamination,” Savabieasfahani said. “I have advocated and I will continue to advocate for immediate cleanup of this toxic plume.”

Savabieasfahani will be challenging councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, who was first elected to City Council in 2013 and plans to run again in 2020. Ann Arbor resident Jen Eyer, a former journalist for MLive and the Ann Arbor News, announced in August that she will also be running for the Ward 4 seat.

Later in the meeting, Councilmembers discussed a resolution that would support the interim use and long term planning for the Center of the City/Library Lot property. Councilmembers Eaton and Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, sponsored the resolution.

In November 2019, Ann Arbor community members voted in approval of Proposal A, which designated the Library Lot between Fifth Avenue and Division Street as a space for the construction of a new community commons, which would be known as the “Center of the City.” City Council established a task force designated to oversee the design of the park in April 2019.

The resolution looked to temporarily use the street-level surface of the Library Lane parking structure and Liberty Plaza as parking, using the revenue to help fund the Center of the City improvements. According to the resolution, the Downtown Development Authority determined the surface parking had a daily value of $875, six days a week.

Eaton said the resolution was postponed so the Center of the City task force could look at the resolution, to which he said they had no opposition.

While Hayner and Lumm expressed support of passing the resolution, Grand said she would not vote in favor of the resolution. She said she found several parts of the resolution problematic and would not support it until the private groups supporting the project provided funds for it.

“Those who are in favor of Proposal A made it very clear … that this would be a mainly privately funded project,” Grand said. “What I’ve seen so far is a group that’s largely raised money just to pass Proposal A and is now pretending that that was never said and not coming forward with any money raised.” 

Grand also expressed concern with allocating the daily $875 to the Center of the City project, which would add up to $273,000 yearly. 

“I do have very serious concerns with this $273,000 a year in parking revenues being earmarked to pay for something that we don’t even have a plan for and that is based on broken promises,” Grand said. 

Taylor agreed with Grand, saying money from the DDA goes directly to the city’s general fund and that the city cannot have them direct money to the project. He suggested an amendment that nothing in the resolution would direct the City Administrator to take any action that would add expenses of more than $25,000. 

Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, said he thought it was a good idea to use the site for an intermediate purpose. However, he said he would vote against the resolution as he did not want to support allocating money to a plan that he said was not yet established.

“I want the DDA laser-focused on addressing the affordable housing crisis and addressing a climate crisis,” Ackerman said. “I want our general fund to be stable and resilient should economic hardship reach us, because the general fund is responsible for our safety services, for our 2,200 acres of park around the city… It’s all of these things that make our community so much greater outside of the downtown.”

After deliberation, the resolution passed by a 7-4 vote.

Multiple Ann Arbor residents, including Ann Arbor resident David Silkworth, expressed concern over a resolution to approve a master plan to guide development in Ann Arbor. Two additional residents asked to table the resolution until a later meeting.

“This will be a process extending over the next two to four years, so I would like to urge all of you to not rush to approve this tonight,” Silkworth said. “Instead, I ask that you postpone this resolution until all of this can be worked out in greater detail, and I ask that you not approve a final contract until it contains the level of detail needed to ensure that all of the diverse voices within our community are included.”

Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, agreed with the residents that though a lot of work had been put into the master plan, more time should be taken to review recommendations from community members.

“As many of you noted, this master plan update is one of the most important things that will happen in our city,” Lumm said. “The actions and direction of the update will likely dramatically impact what Ann Arbor is years from now — its feel, its character, its vibrancy in the downtown and in our neighborhoods.”

Lumm recommended a work session based around the master plan as well as the creation of a steering committee to oversee the project.

Eaton agreed with Lumm, asking to postpone the decision on the master plan until the first meeting in February. 

“The process of redesigning our master plan is going to be a long process,” Eaton said. “This resolution says it could be two years with the possibility of a two-year extension … I believe that we have to begin on the right foot to make sure that we have a process and a plan in place to make sure that what we do for the next two to four years produces the best product.”

The item was tabled for a later City Council meeting.

Councilmembers also discussed a resolution to approve the purchase of a conservation easement on property in Northfield Township to encourage land preservation. Lumm and Eaton both said they would not support the resolution due to poor leverage of Ann Arbor tax dollars. However, Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, said the Greenbelt Advisory Commission had heard from community members that they would like the commission to support small farmers and local foods. 

“These properties, because they are small in size, don’t qualify for the same kinds of federal matching funds … but they do provide opportunities for new farmers to be able to get into agriculture, and typically those are practices that we do support,” Grand said. “Those farms are more likely to be organic practices, sustainable practices, compared to large farms.”

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor agreed with Grand and said he values local agriculture.

“I think it’s important, for the reasons identified by Councilmember Grand, to support local farm culture,” Taylor said. “I know residents appreciate it when they know that their food is grown nearby, and we’re doing what we can to help make that happen and make that something that future Ann Arborites will be able to enjoy for years to come.”

Councilmembers passed the resolution.

The council then passed a resolution that states Ann Arbor’s consent to refugee settlement and a resolution to endorse the creation of a statewide crosswalk law. Another resolution that was passed supported expanding the city’s tree protection to include heritage trees.