Ann Arbor City Council members passed a resolution Monday night granting official council dedication to the establishment of an urban park near the Ann Arbor District Library.
However, councilmembers and community members debated many concerns with the resolution, including a lack of organization and financial planning, safety and patrol questions and inconclusiveness as to whether the property would be publicly or privately owned and developed.
Josie Parker, the Ann Arbor District Library Director who represented its board, opposed the creation of a park near the library due to safety concerns as well as issues surrounding the financial and organizational aspects of the potential park. According to Parker, Ann Arbor Police are already called to the library every third day due to drunk and disorderly conduct of individuals in the area — an issue worsened due to the extreme conditions this winter.
“It takes a tremendous amount of planning and organization and thought to manage a public space,” Parker said. “The safety concerns are real. It isn’t about making a problem worse; it’s about acknowledging a reality. We’re not saying no park, we are saying take the time to plan it given the context of the reality of what is happening.”
Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) disagreed, saying he hopes to bring this space back to its former use as an open plaza, and saw the AADL board’s concerns to be fear-mongering without significant base.
“The bad behavior that they are talking about is not related to this plaza,” Kunselman said. “We are not going to resolve bad behavior just by design.”
Some public speakers and council members called on the failure of Liberty Plaza — a public space located on Liberty Street with a reputation of holding individuals who engage in public intoxication. Those in opposition to the resolution urged council members to ensure they have the resources and planning in place to manage a new park and ensure its success.
Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4), who voted for the resolution, discussed the broadness of the resolution in terms of their plan to turn over the space to the park advisory committee.
“During the formulation of the various versions of the resolution, some of these concerns are really fiction,” Eaton said. “They just don’t want a park downtown, and it’s really unfortunate.”
Eaton also addressed another detail surrounding the creation of the park, urging the council to ensure this park is publicly owned, rather than controlled by a private developer — a measure called for by the city’s Parks Advisory Commission.
“A private owner is a repudiation of the very nature of this public space,” Eaton said. “I ask that we simply draw these lines, send it back to PAC and ask for their input on what the appropriate use of this space is, and I think that is a very simple thing. “
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) spoke of the potential for creativity in this space. Though she said she does not support moving Sonic Lunch, an outdoor summer concert series at Liberty Park, to the possible 5th Avenue park, the loose nature of this resolution leaves room for input from PAC and other needs that may arise.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje was not in support of the resolution, saying council members are attempting to create a new park in the hopes of escaping the problems of Liberty Plaza instead of facing the issues at hand.
Councilmembers Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) and Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) voted against the resolution. Councilmember Sally Hart Petersen (D–Ward 2) was not present.