Ann Arbor residents to withhold University donations over transit center dispute

Friday, May 20, 2016 - 10:33am

The Northeast Ann Arbor Community Coalition, a group representing homeowners in northeast Ann Arbor, is calling for its members to cease donations to the University of Michigan, citing a continued distrust of the administration amid negotiations over the construction of a vehicle maintenance facility on North Campus.

The proposed facility — which would be adjacent to residential areas — was approved by the Board of Regents in 2014, but was met with fierce opposition from neighboring residents following a February Regents meeting

Opponents to the project cited concerns of air pollution, traffic congestion and the lack of opportunity for public input. Because the University is a state entity, it is exempt from many city zoning requirements and can essentially undertake new construction projects unilaterally.  This has caused numerous clashes between the University's desire for expansion and city residents in recent years.

In response to their protests, University president Mark Schlissel halted the project in March and promised to address community concerns. However, many residents are skeptical of the University's intentions. 

On Monday, the Northeast Ann Arbor Community Coalition called on its membership to stop donating to the University. According to the coalition’s internal surveys, 80 percent of its membership — about 600 households — donate to the University, many of them being either graduates or employees of the University.

Kate Delaney and Sandy Aldrich, co-presidents of the coalition, said that although they are pleased with Schlissel’s willingness to cooperate with the group and believe he is sincere, they feel the University officials they have been in contact with regarding the facility haven’t been fully transparent.

For example, Delaney and Aldrich said the University has published new information about the project without informing residents, despite assurances from University officials that nearby residents would be sent such updates in advance.

The two also said the University has incorrectly claimed that external analysts have assessed the environmental and traffic impact of the project, that misleading data has been reported, and also suggested the university has been working on a 2018 timeline for construction behind closed doors.

“We are very grateful for Schlissel’s outreach,” Aldrich said. “What we are not appreciative of is the University staff we’ve been working with who have not been transparent — who have not been partners with us to help resolve our input.”

“It isn’t that we want to undermine the University, but there’s a real problem with the way community voices are heard,” Delaney said, noting many of her neighbors are directly affiliated with the University. “We are members of the University community, so we also expect to be treated as members of that community.”

Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, said the University has taken the residents’ concerns seriously and is working to ensure they are fully informed of the potential environmental impacts of the construction. Kosteva also reiterated that the project remains halted despite neighbors’ concerns of a secret construction timeline.

“This is an extensive and deliberative process, and the University has taken their concerns seriously, as well as the request of the regents and president to reevaluate the proposal,” Kosteva said, noting he will be meeting with Coalition members again on May 24.