At least one ward has the potential to be dominated by student voters in the upcoming Ann Arbor City Council elections.
Ann Arbor residents and students will vote for their city representation on Nov. 4, based on candidates’ wards. For the first time since 2001, the candidates will include University students, and a University alum is running as well.
Ann Arbor is divided into five wards, each represented by two councilpersons, but all University residence halls are located in the 4th Ward. This Ward, which includes parts of southwestern and south-central Ann Arbor, has the most candidates.
In addition to Republican incumbent Marcia Higgins, Green Party Member Scott Trudeau, College Libertarians Chair Dan Sheill and independent Jon Kinsey are running.
Most of the candidates for the 4th Ward seat have taken a position on the key issue on Tuesday’s ballot, Proposal B.
If passed, this Greenbelt proposal would prolong a 0.5-mil property tax for a period of 30 years and use the revenue raised to preserve open spaces in and around Ann Arbor amid urban sprawl.
But critics of Proposal B say the extended property tax could drive up housing costs in the city, which could negatively affect students.
Sheill, an LSA junior, said he plans to vote no on the proposal.
“I essentially feel that the Greenbelt will only encourage sprawl farther out into Washtenaw County, encouraging the development of even more roads into Ann Arbor. This will only create a ‘leapfrog effect’ for sprawl in the area,” Sheill said.
He also said he does not think that the money generated from students will really impact the proposal.
“I find it hard to believe that the Greenbelt will be benefited by students’ rent,” Sheill added.
But Trudeau, a University alum and technology manager at the Law School, supports Proposal B.
“I think that we need regional and state land use planning, but since there is no forthcoming legislation, the Greenbelt proposal is a good way to start preservation of lands from the ground up,” Trudeau said.
He added that he believes Ann Arbor and the surrounding area can take the first step in promoting land use planning in the state.
A senior manager of strategic initiatives at Borders, Kinsey said he has mixed feelings on the Greenbelt proposal. He said he considers himself a strong supporter of parks and open spaces in Ann Arbor.
“The proposal does not seem to be based on fact but rather seems to be a disingenuous and emotion petition,” he said.
Kinsey said Democratic Mayor John Hieftje has said “insignificant” amounts of land would be affected by the passage of Proposal B.
Based on these statements, he said, “the council shouldn’t squander this opportunity on insignificant amounts of land.”
“I would support going back to the table to work out a truly visionary proposal that balances environmental concerns and business interests,” Kinsey added.
Besides Proposal B, the candidates have tried to address other issues they believe concern students.
Sheill advocates of redistricting the wards to create one ward that includes most University students.
“There are no students on city council — that is a problem and it shows in the amount of attention the city council currently gives to our constituency because we do not vote as often as other demographics,” he said.
While Kinsey said he thinks the city is effective in maintaining a tolerant balance in relations between the Ann Arbor Police Department and the students, Trudeau said, “I would like to see an independent board set up to address complaints that students and also residents have of unfair violations.”
He said the police board should be separate from the AAPD and the court system and could address parking and minors in possession of alcohol violations, as well as other complaints.
In response to the city’s need to provide more affordable housing and renting options, Trudeau said, “I support more density but it has to be smart … the council has missed some opportunities of keeping rent and housing costs low.”
He suggested setting up accessory apartments or “granny flats” that lets homeowners create small apartments and rent them out, which would also supplement their own incomes.
Trudeau also said the city could build one-story buildings spanning several streets, rather than 10 or 50-story apartment buildings.
But Kinsey had another opinion on housing. “I think Ann Arbor is headed in the right direction … (housing is) affordable to people who live here.”
He added that the city has been set up to protect the renters’ rights but the free market affects rental prices.
Higgins was unavailable for comment.