The University is currently developing more specific plans for the recently acquired 16.7-acre Edwards Brothers Malloy property on South State Street, but the city might have a few things to say about their ambitions.
Ann Arbor’s Planning Commission drafted a resolution that was passed by city council Monday that includes suggestions to the University in their usage of the property. The Planning Commission and city council requests that the University act in accordance with the city’s master plan – specifically with the “South State Street Corridor Plan.”
The Ann Arbor City Council has had numerous discussions on the Edwards Brothers property. A 6-5 vote on Feb. 24 voted against implementing their right to purchase the site before the University, allowing the University to instead take possession of the property.
Some of those in favor of the purchase argued that if the University was allowed to purchase the land, future revenue from taxes would come off the books since the University does not have to pay taxes to the city of Ann Arbor and has autonomy from the city.
The city has always had somewhat of a tense relationship with the University due to this polarizing reality, and since the University does not have to play by the city’s rules or pay taxes as an autonomous unit, city officials’ suggestions to the University often fall on what they say are selectively deaf ears.
Monday’s resolution specifically urges the University to consider selling small parcels of the land for “complementary uses,” and asks that the University reflect on the idea of creating a possible “pedestrian and vehicular” connection between South Main and South State in harmony with the Oakbrook Drive extension plan.
Jim Kosteva, the University’s director for community relations, said in an e-mail the University plans to use the property to expand its athletic infrastructure.
Kosteva reiterated that the University would be more than happy to sit down and talk with city officials regarding the use of the land and would consider their concerns.
“We are always prepared to welcome any formal conversations on topics of interest to the City government,” Kosteva wrote. “We have already communicated our willingness to meet with city officials regarding their specific interests expressed in the resolution.”
Councilmember Sabra Briere, while noting that she does not harbor any bitterness towards the University, also said while University officials do engage in talks with city officials, the University almost always does what is best for itself and not necessarily for the city.
“They always sit down, but it’s not to negotiate,” Briere said.
Still, Briere said she does not expect the University to fully comply with the city’s resolution. Briere has been in conversation with Kosteva, who told her though the University would not satisfy all suggestions, they would make some concessions.
“He said of course they aren’t going to do any retail development close to the sidewalk or things that would make the pedestrian experience for walking along there better,” Briere said. “Although they might improve the sidewalk, what they really promised to do is keep the commuter lot open.”
However, Briere also said she was told the University might consider the Oakbrook connector between North Main Street and South State Street for pedestrian and bicycle passage, which she said would be a great thing for the city’s residents.
She added that she hopes one day the University sees that also considering the city’s interests is mutually beneficial.
“It’s unfortunate that the tension exists between the city and the University,” Briere said. “Designing to help Ann Arbor to be a better community is to their benefit.”
Over the past year, the city and the University have had similar encounters. On Nov. 7, the City Council formally asked the University to take down the new marquee board that was erected in front of the Big House. Some city councilmembers had fears that the board was distracting to drivers, but the University did not budge.