Councilmembers Eaton, Bannister, Smith discuss the next steps on Prop A

Monday, December 10, 2018 - 10:17pm

Prop A calls for the city charter to be amended to require the currently public-owned Library Lot to remain in public hands and to be developed into a city park.

Prop A calls for the city charter to be amended to require the currently public-owned Library Lot to remain in public hands and to be developed into a city park. Buy this photo
Alexandria Pompei/Daily

On Nov. 6, in conjunction with the midterm elections, Ann Arbor residents voted in favor of Proposal A. Prop A called for the city charter to be amended to require the currently public-owned Library Lot to remain in public hands and to be developed into a city park.

Previously, the City Council had already voted to sell the Library Lot to real estate developer Core Spaces for $10 million. $5 million of the proceeds from the sale would have been dedicated to affordable housing efforts in the city.

Core Spaces had planned to use the Library Lot to build a 17-story high-rise with a hotel, apartments, office and retail space. Additionally, they had planned to build a plaza that would be slightly bigger than Liberty Plaza.

Mayor Christopher Taylor, who had the support of the Downtown Development Authority, the Washtenaw Housing Alliance and the Ann Arbor District Library for the sale, had been against the passage of Prop A. 

But a number of community leaders, including the incoming majority in the City Council, have rallied against this development and pushed for the passage of Prop A. Councilmembers Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, and Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, both advocated for Prop A.

Bannister, who had filed a separate lawsuit against the city regarding the sale of the Library Lot, said the Core Spaces development is a luxury development when the city needs more affordable housing.

“It’s sort of common sense that building more luxury housing is not getting us anywhere near growing our affordability,” Bannister said. “We, unfortunately, take down a lot of out single-housing homes and then put up more luxurious multi-home units, and then those apartments are displaced.”

Bannister expressed willingness to withdraw her lawsuit because Prop A covers a lot of its points.

“(My lawyer’s) direction for the settlement suggestion was that Proposal A has overcome the lawsuit on whether the contract was valid,” Bannister said. “It’s fairly simple that the Proposal A has overcome and remedied the lawsuit.”

Bannister also said she would be willing to move past any previous disagreements on Prop A.

“Whether you disagreed before the vote, now is the time when people have to forget about the way who voted which way back then, and stress about how people go forward,” Bannister said.

Eaton, who previously ran an unsuccessful primary campaign to challenge Taylor earlier this year, highlighted the other developments moving forward in the city.

“We do have other things in the works,” Eaton said. “We’re looking at how to develop the Y Lot. We should be able to leverage the property we have to develop affordable housing… The fact that we didn't build that one building is not going to have an impact on affordability in general.”

Regarding Core Spaces’s ability to take legal action against the city for nulling the previous sale agreement, Eaton expressed little concern.

Section 16 says the city can walk away from the deal if legislation is passed against it,” Eaton said. “Proposal A is that legislation. If there isn’t a valid contract, they don’t have grounds for suit. Even if they were to file suit, they have minimum damages.”

Alternatively, Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, expressed his continued opposition to Prop A. For Smith, his opposition for Prop A was based in the benefits that the city would reap from the Core Spaces development.

“We would be getting $5 million for affordable housing, we have no money for that right now,” Smith said. “We would be getting a 1,200 square foot plaza.”

Smith also focused on the financial side of Prop A, bringing up the potential tax revenue that the city was losing by passing the proposition and the park’s over $10 million price tag.

“I think we lose out as a community and as a downtown in $2 million per year in tax revenue,” Smith said. “We still have a structural deficit of 1 to 3 percent every year… I’d be stunned if there was funding for the park in the next year’s budget. If the Prop A people are honest, and if they look at the price per square foot for the park, the price is extraordinary.”