Downtown Ann Arbor may be home to three high-rise buildings as a part of a plan to invigorate the area and integrate it with a new system of parks and green spaces, if the city’s Downtown Development Authority gets its way.
DDA proposed the estimated $22 million plan to the Ann Arbor City Council last night, where it met opposition from some residents. The plan calls for the destruction of three parking areas: the parking lot at First and William Street as well as the Klein’s Lot on Ashley Street and a parking deck at First and Washington streets. The 450 total parking spaces from the three parking areas would be replaced by a single 500-space parking garage built on top of the parking lot at First and William Street.The First and Washington parking garage would be transformed into affordable housing units, intended for people who work downtown. Retail shops, offices and some housing would rest atop the site of the Klein’s Lot and be served by an underground parking facility. In addition to the three new buildings, the DDA project would demolish the city’s large park maintenance facility on 415 Washington St. and replace it with one of the largest parks for the proposed Allen Creek Greenway park system. The large park maintenance facility currently in place will be moved to Superior Township.“We’re proposing to put in the first piece to the Greenway,” DDA Chair Fred Beal said. The Greenway, a long-standing idea most recently proposed by the Huron Valley chapter of the Sierra Club of Michigan, would connect various parks and recreation areas and be situated between the business district and residential areas west of downtown.The developments next to the Greenway will also be an attempt to revitalize the ailing Ashley commercial district and keep residents living downtown as the city grows, instead of having them move away to the fringes of Ann Arbor and contribute to urban sprawl. Despite the proposal, some Ann Arbor residents opposed it at the City Council meeting. Many of whom said they were worried that the new structures would occupy too much space in the area of the proposed Greenway.Residents also said they felt that smaller parking areas would act as better parking areas than one large garage in the park system.“It basically comes down to their vision of the Greenway (versus) the DDA’s vision of the Greenway,” said Mike Forgacs, an architect who opposed DDA’s plan on the grounds that the new garage would severely disrupt an existing rainwater diversion channel that runs below the site.“The DDA plan does not represent good near- and long-term planning and design,” Forgacs said, adding that building on top of the 80-year-old channel would limit its capacity to drain water, leading to flooding. Instead of the garage, Forgacs said smaller parking locations could be created and existing structures modified.But Beal said the drain was among the first considerations when the proposal to build the garage was created. DDA’s plan would divert the drain out from underneath the garage, and Beal said the group is actively discussing how the drain should be updated if it is moved.He added that everything DDA has proposed was done in the consideration of the community’s concerns.The City Council is currently gathering proposals on how the Greenway should be created, but will not make a decision anytime soon. Beal said he would like to know the council’s verdict soon so that DDA does not waste time and money on a plan that will not be implemented.“It’s the very beginning phase,” Councilwoman Marcia Higgins (D-Fourth Ward) said. “I know we have residents that have been upset because there hasn’t been a process, but now is when this process begins.”Higgins said the council is occupied with preparing next year’s budget and dealing with a projected $3.2 million shortfall. The council is going over the budget with a “fine-toothed comb” to find a way of shrinking the shortfall before they must approve it by May 31.“We’re embroiled in the budget,” Higgins said. “I don’t know where we’ll place that as a priority as we get into the city budget.” Today the Ann Arbor District Library will host a town hall meeting to discuss the Greenway at 7:00 p.m.