Public weighs in on Broadway development project at City Council

Ann Arbor City Council and Ann Arbor residents gather for the City Council meeting Monday in the council's chambers.

Ann Arbor City Council and Ann Arbor residents gather for the City Council meeting Monday in the council's chambers. Buy this photo
Arnold Zhou/Daily
Monday, December 4, 2017 - 9:19pm

City Council was rocked again Monday night as residents continued to show resistance against a $146 million development plan on Broadway Street, near the University of Michigan Hospital.

It was the culmination of yet another episode in the divisions that have characterized Ann Arbor politics in recent years. Though most council members agree increasing density and housing supply are crucial for the city’s development, some residents fear the character of their neighborhoods will be changed for the worse.

At contention was whether to switch the zoning designation of the Broadway site from Planned Unit Development to Campus Business Residential District, or C1A/R. Proponents of the switch, like Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, say C1A/R is will provide seamless integration for high-rises to the surrounding campus community.

“The campus has expanded pretty greatly over the last two decades. I think it’s disingenuous to say that the Medical Campus is not part of the University complex and therefore it shouldn’t count (under C1A/R),” Smith said.

However, the highrises Smith is envisioning under C1A/R is the exact type of situation many residents who live on or near Broadway Street would want to avoid. There have been numerous rounds of negotiations between the city, residents and Morningside — the developer that also owns the land — on what the final development will look like, some residents are still disgruntled. One resident said having a downtown-sized building in a quieter low-rise neighborhood would never be a prudent idea.

Another resident, Steve Kaplan, questioned the amount of commercial activity that a C1A/R designation would bring, arguing that businesses must gather around an area organically.

“We could build the hollow boxes on the street and then hope for another decade they would fill up with hat shops and bodegas,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to come.”

When a pro-development resident criticized those opposed to the development as not thinking about long-term benefits and called them “NIMBYs,” condemnation came quickly from all sides. Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, urged the man and others like him to stop and think about the lifetime impact a development like this would cast upon each resident.

“Coming from a Third-World country, this really bothers me because this is what the World Bank and IMF would tell Third-World people … ‘You’ll suffer in the short run, but your economy is going to grow so much you’ll be thankful for us,’” said Kailasapathy, who was a refugee from Sri Lanka.

NIMBY, or “Not In My BackYard,” is a pejorative term for people who oppose unpleasant projects in their own neighborhoods but will readily hand other neighborhoods the same burden.

That being said Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski, D-Ward 4, criticized opposition for not having a coherent alternative vision for what to do with the land.

“This inconsistency, this lack of a voice, I’m hearing many completely different things from even the residents makes me highly skeptical that there’s a possibility to have a coherent negotiating position,” Warpehoski said.

In the end, the motion to change the zoning passed, with Kailasapathy, Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1; Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2; and Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, dissenting. Mayor Chris Taylor praised the decision, saying it is a positive step toward creating a more walkable Ann Arbor.

“(Lower Town) is going to be a part of our town that will be changed substantially over the next couple of years, and I believe that these changes will ultimately be difficult but … I believe it will be better for community,” Taylor said.

Council also voted to approve the city’s winter 2018 deer management plan, which aims to kill 250 deer and sterilize does on a mass scale. The new plan has brought controversy as the city eliminated the rule in which a sharpshooter cannot shoot within a 450-foot radius of an occupied building or home.