Though the acronym “A2D2” sounds more like a rip-off of a certain Star Wars robot, it’s actually a proposal to regulate city buildings. A2D2 means Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown, a development and zoning plan currently working its way through City Council after several years of discussion in the Ann Arbor Planning Commission. The A2D2 plan includes a slew of suggested regulations but two proposals stand out as especially noteworthy. For students, the proposals will affect the housing market in Ann Arbor and determine city rules regarding environmentally sensible buildings. As City Council and Ann Arbor residents discuss the A2D2 plan, they should include proposals that support an environmentally friendly, socio-economically diverse city.
Last Monday, the Ann Arbor City Council held an open meeting to hear public feedback on A2D2. This was just the first in a series of City Council meetings that will determine the final version of the plan. A2D2 aims to divide Ann Arbor into two zones — the core and the interface, which would each be subject to different rules. Some of the issues addressed in A2D2 are parking limitations, use guidelines and flood mitigation plans, but the two most intensely discussed issues are height caps and environmental regulations for buildings.
Much of the argument seems to center on how high the cap should be. City residents often argue that height caps protect Ann Arbor’s aesthetic quality. But this argument doesn’t hold up against the pressing need to expand the city — and building “up” is the most reasonable practice. Taller buildings are the best way to combat urban sprawl, preventing further stratification of socio-economic classes. When downtown housing is limited, it becomes more expensive. Those who can’t afford to live downtown get pushed to the outskirts of the city.
For students, taller buildings mean more affordable housing options closer to campus and the heart of the city. Housing prices decrease as more options become available. Having close, dense housing available in the downtown and campus areas at reasonable prices allow students and Ann Arbor residents to live closer together, encouraging the diverse atmosphere on which the University prides itself. Because of these obvious benefits, City Council should not give in to the demands to implement restrictive height caps. Instead, the debate should focus on where to draw the lines that separate the two zones.
Another important aspect of the A2D2 plan involves creating incentives for builders to make their projects eco-friendly. Currently, A2D2 requires buildings to include environmentally sound features approved by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program for them to receive certain insurance premiums. Students at the University — and residents of Ann Arbor — are dedicated to an environmentally friendly city. This regulation will ensure that businesses are making environmental responsibility a top priority, too. Creating environmentally friendly buildings should be among City Council’s top priorities.
City Council must stick to the guiding principle of fostering a socio-economically diverse and environmentally friendly downtown to make A2D2 a fitting plan for the city. While provisions like the environmental incentives will be good for the city, City Council should adjust its attitude toward height caps before approving A2D2.