City Council talks development plans, equitable community engagement project

Tuesday, February 2, 2021 - 1:20am

Ann Arbor City Council talks development plans and equitable community engagement project.

Ann Arbor City Council talks development plans and equitable community engagement project. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Shannon Stocking

Ann Arbor’s City Council convened virtually Monday evening to discuss various land acquisition and development proposals, including the purchase of land on Cardinal Avenue, a new development proposal at 2111 Packard and a resolution for equitable community engagement. 

Councilmembers debated an item on the consent agenda, which involves the city acquiring a plot of land on Cardinal Avenue on the southeast side of Ann Arbor. Usually items on the consent agenda are voted all at once, though when councilmembers feel a need to discuss a particular item, it is pulled for discussion.

The proposition approves the city to purchase this plot of land for $1,507,500.00. Councilmembers discussed whether or not this plot of land should be turned into a natural area or used for a housing settlement. The motion was approved to purchase the land with a vote of 10-1.

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said he supports the conversion of this land for housing purposes. He said he has a hard time justifying the preservation of unused land and said the property would be best put to use for residential housing purposes. 

“I’d rather perhaps get some housing built here,” Ramlawi said. “And I know that’s going to be upsetting here for a lot of people who care about our natural environment, but at some point you begin to have to weigh out the cost of (preserving the natural environment) versus providing homes and reaching our neutrality goals in ways of having our residents live within our community instead of commuting. I really have a hard time with this.” 

Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, suggested that more time should be spent thinking about ways to maximize the land. He emphasized that the city should move forward in acquiring the land, but should spend more time debating its uses.

“I think it’s time we start considering the best way to maximize our city dollars to meet our many city goals that we have, and we know that affordable housing is one of them and we know that park land preservation is one of them and so on and so on,” Hayner said. “So I suggest we put this aside for a couple weeks and ponder the matter of ‘Could this be put to better use?’”

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, sided with keeping the land as a park due to the fact that land developers have tried to use the parcel for development projects and failed in the past. She said the land could be bought by using park land acquisition funds, which would mean it could only be made into a park. 

“Evaluating (the land) on the merits of park land, looking at it from that perspective, I come down on the side of supporting (the Park Advisory Commission's) decision,” Grand said. “Because I’m looking (at) it not as a ‘what if,’ having seen a few developments over the years fail at this site.”

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, the council opened up discussion for the proposed development of 2111 Packard Street. This development consists of plans to build 72 apartment units but also allows room for street-front businesses. The site for the proposed 2111 Packard building is currently a parking lot. 

Ken Garber, a resident of Ann Arbor’s Second Ward, spoke in support of the development at 2111 Packard Street. He said the new development would increase access to bike and bus lanes, increasing the city’s sustainability efforts. Garber supported the building’s use of solar panels and the use of electric heating to cut carbon dioxide emissions. 

In June 2020, City Council announced its plan to make Ann Arbor carbon neutral by 2030. The sustainability initiatives of 2111 Packard Street, such as its use of sustainable energy sources, is a step in the right direction for Ann Arbor’s climate goals, Garber said. 

“I’ve done the calculations and this will save 550 metric tons of CO2 a year from entering the atmosphere via natural gas combustion,” Garber said. 

The Daily was not able to independently verify Garber’s calculations, which he said would assume that one day the energy sources used to power this development will be renewable. 

Ann Arbor resident Kate McCune praised the development, calling it a "great project." McCune said though she supports the project, she hopes city officials take into account the potential increase in car traffic in nearby neighborhoods if new businesses and housing options are built in this lot. 

“When the traffic study was done, it only studied Packard traffic from Hewitt to Stadium,” McCune said. “The neighborhood is concerned about traffic during drive times that would push through that neighborhood rather than on Packard, and in fact the traffic study did show that there is going to be some drive time, wait time and slow time … We don’t want to lose our walkable neighborhood.” 

The council voted to unanimously approve the development of 2111 Packard Street. 

Councilmembers then discussed a resolution in support of an equitable Community Engagement Policy, which aims to increase transparency and include Ann Arbor residents who feel excluded from public processes in local governance. The resolution was sponsored by Councilmembers Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, and Jen Eyer, D-Ward 4. 

Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, said she believes that the language used in the resolution is not strong enough and also lacks mention of systemic injustices. Song cited other communities' approaches to this topic, such as the Grand Rapids Office of Equity and Engagement’s, which focuses specifically on analyzing budget items for disparities. 

Councilmember Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, said she thinks the conversation on the resolution begins with defining what equity means. There needs to be serious discussion about what disadvantage means and how that will shape this resolution, Briggs said. 

Grand believed that there was too much of a divide among the councilmembers on the specificity of the language in the resolution, and that there should be a stronger consensus on the next steps forward regarding the issue. 

“I’m just not hearing a lot of consensus around something I think is important for us to have consensus on,” Grand said. “And maybe something to work on this in the future would make more sense.”  

The resolution passed unanimously in support of an Equitable Community Engagement Policy. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ann Arbor resident Kate McCune opposes the development of 2111 Packard Street. McCune supports this project. 

Daily Staff Reporters Shannon Stocking and Julia Forrest can be reached at sstockin@umich.edu and juforres@umich.edu


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