Some residents of Ann Arbor’s Lower Town neighborhood, located across the Huron River from the University Hospital, are fighting a University proposal to build two freestanding parking structures near the University’s Medical Campus.
The proposed site of the two structures, which will include 40,000 square feet of office space and possibly a new transit center, is near the Kellogg Eye Center between Wall Street and Maiden Lane.
Conceptual plans, the first step toward approval, are expected to be presented to the University Board of Regents during the board’s next meeting Sept. 18.
The structures are a component of the University Health System’s 2005 “Master Plan,” which lays out the Health System’s potential expansion for the next several decades.
Residents opposing the structures say increased vehicle traffic resulting from the buildings will negatively impact the surrounding environment and the health of nearby residents.
The residents also say the structures will “deaden” the atmosphere of the Lower Town neighborhood, stunt economic development in the area and violate the city’s Northeast Area Plan — a set of goals, land-use recommendations and objectives for the area surrounding the proposed site.
“We are told what they’re going to do — we are not consulted at all,” said Eliana Moya-Raggio, a resident of the area and a Spanish lecturer emeritus in the Residential College. “I don’t think they know the concept of dialogue.”
Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, said residents of the Wall Street and Maiden Lane area have been informed about the University’s intentions through several neighborhood meetings held since the Master Plan’s release.
“In that plan, the University mentions our anticipated need for some more parking structures to meet the ongoing needs of the Medical Center, both of the Central Medical Center, he said.
Kosteva said the suggestions from those neighborhood meetings have been incorporated into the construction plans for the two parking structures.
These modifications include the incorporation of an office building into the structure, a more visually appealing architectural design for the structures and the addition of the proposed transit center, he said. He said University planners “do not anticipate any significant environmental problems.”
So far, the city government has sided with the residents opposing the new structures.
In June, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed a resolution stating that Mayor John Hieftje and the City Council “request the President and Regents of the University of Michigan pause in moving forward with plans for the Wall Street area and engage in a planning process with the City at the highest level.”
“The objective of this process,” the resolution continues, “will be to merge the goals of the University with those of the City while at the same time addressing the needs of the residents who live in the Wall Street area.”
Nearby residents say they have received no response to the resolution from the University.
To support the proposal, Kosteva referred to the city’s Northeast Area Plan. Chapter 8 of the plan, which focuses on Lower Town, says appropriate uses for the Wall Street area include “structured parking.”
Many residents, however, claim that “structured parking” to underground parking, not freestanding, above-ground structures.
In a broader sense, the Northeast Area Plan illustrates why relations between Lower Town residents and the University have frayed in recent years.
In an area hoping to revitalize around its historic homes, the plan says that the University “has removed numerous old homes” which “have been replaced with surface parking lots to serve the university medical facilities in the area.”
Those opposing the structures have suggested that the existing surface parking lots be converted into freestanding structures to abate the need for new lots in the Wall Street-Maiden Lane area.