Petition to halt library lot sale rejected for lack of signatures

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 6:20pm

A petition demanding to halt the sale of a city-owned parking lot to a private developer did not have enough certifiable signatures to be placed on November’s general election ballot, the City Clerk’s Office ruled Friday.

The petition was filed June 6 by the Ann Arbor Committee for the Community Commons, a citizen group that aims to build a civic center commons on the Fifth Avenue library parking lot. The parking lot, which is located in a coveted area of downtown, has been a matter of intense debate between residents who feel the downtown area needs more high-rise buildings to grow further and those who are satisfied with the existing state of low-rise shops.

According to City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry, the petition fell short of the required 4,616 signatures — 5 percent of registered voters — required after accounting for circulator errors, duplicate or incomplete signatures, and signatures from people who are registered outside city limits. Approximately 5,700 signatures were initially submitted, by the group’s estimate.

The petitioners have until August 2 to collect additional signatures, though the city’s legal team is unsure whether supplemental petitions are allowed under the Home Rule City Act, which regulates how petitions are filed.

Alan Haber, the leader of the petition, said there are several routes he can go if the city attorney instructs the clerk to not accept additional signatures.

The first is to discuss and negotiate with the city to validate the petition. In the event that fails, Haber said, he will appeal to the 22nd Circuit Court and seek an injunction to halt any city action on the parking lot until the court rules. If the court recognizes the validity of the petition, the question will most likely be put on the spring 2017 regular election ballot.

Another strategy is to ask City Council to recognize the petition on its own initiative before the November 8 election. Haber said that City Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) is ready to introduce a resolution to do that at the August 4 meeting, which Eaton confirmed to the Daily in a phone interview.

Haber said he can also challenge some of the disqualified signatures to ascertain that a signature is from a registered voter from Ann Arbor.

Frank Wilhelme, a member of Haber’s group, showed optimism in this strategy succeeding, pointing out a discrepancy between state and city petition practices.

“A day or two ago, I saw some e-mail conversation about how state law allows one valid signature but Ann Arbor practice is to rule invalid the initial signature and any duplicates,” he said. “If we can prevail on this question, we would pick up 233 or so signatures.”

In a Facebook post on Tuesday for the Ann Arbor Committee for the Community Commons, Haber emphasized the library lot petition is of paramount importance for democracy in Ann Arbor.

“Many people have cooperated in moving forward this effort to do democracy in Ann Arbor,” Haber wrote. “Be part of the ‘we’ who are trying to in-source sovereignty — its (sic) ours, the public’s — We have the right to vote on keeping it for a public purpose, or selling it.”

Haber has previously criticized City Council’s perceived inclination for increased development, calling it corrupt for ignoring residents’ voices. His tone was still acerbic on Tuesday.

“Sometimes it seems they would sell their mother if the price was right, and not even notice they were doing it, and they are trying to do that right now, not noticing what never-to-be center of community they are selling away,…” he wrote in his Facebook post. “This citizen initiative is the alternative to 17 floor luxury hotel/condo development, Chicago style, or its successor waiting to buy it out from under us.” (sic)