With city elections in less than a week, Ann Arbor environmental and housing groups are stepping up their debate over Proposal B, which aims to preserve the city’s open spaces.

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to approve the Greenbelt proposal, as it sometimes called. The ballot proposal recommends taking two-thirds of funds raised from a 30-year, 0.5-mil property tax to buy and maintain 18,000 acres of land in and around Ann Arbor.

A mil is $1 per year for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. In Ann Arbor, the average property tax homeowners pay is between $45 and $50.

“The state of Michigan is using land eight times faster than the population is growing,” said Mayor John Hieftje, a major supporter of the greenbelt proposal.

University students have also been participating in the debate over Proposal B and many support the initiative.

Carolyn Hwang, a representative for Students for Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, said environmental groups on campus have been building awareness of and support for the Greenbelt proposal throughout the semester.

“As a third-year student, I’ve seen Ann Arbor changing rapidly in my few years here,” Hwang said.

She said Proposal B affects the campus community because parks in Ann Arbor “provide a refuge for students away from the traffic and hustle and bustle of Central Campus.”

“As students of the University of Michigan, we become citizens of Ann Arbor and … just a few hundred students could make or break this vote,” she added.

But Jeff Fisher, public affairs director of the Washtenaw County Home Builders Association, opposes Proposal B because of the effects it will have on housing costs.

“The city did not take the opportunity to research the issue and because there was no discussion, it’s an example of poor public policy,” Fisher said.

Fisher, who is also the campaign coordinator for the Washtenaw Citizens for Smart Growth, the coalition opposing Proposal B, said he believes the Greenbelt proposal will increase the cost of housing, which could negatively impact students.

“After November 4, we’re willing to go back to the table and work out a proposal that is balanced, that provides diverse housing, that protects parks and preserves open spaces,” Fisher said.

Hieftje said urban sprawl is the No. 1 threat to the watershed of the Huron River, the main source of drinking water for Ann Arbor residents.

In a few years, urban sprawl spreading from the east will surround the city, he said, making it vital to preserve patches of rural landscape.

The city would buy some of the land and develop parks.

For other parcels, it would only buy the development rights, allowing farmers to keep their land but preventing it from being developed.

Homeowners already pay a 0.5 mill tax, part of which allows the city to maintain bicycle and hiking paths around the city, but Proposal B would prolong the tax for a 30-year period. “Proposal B doesn’t take a single cent away from parks, but instead will add to them,” Hieftje said.

Students for PIRGIM, the Environmental Justice Group, and other environment-friendly organizations have been working with the Environmental Issues Commission of the Michigan Students Assembly on the Greenbelt proposal.

Ellen Kolasky, who is a co-chair of the MSA commission, responded to the concerns about housing. She said that legislation similar to the Ann Arbor Greenbelt proposal has been passed in other cities, including Boulder, Colo.

While the average housing price in Boulder has increased by 106 percent, she noted that the average housing price in Denver, a city without a greenbelt plan, also increased by 103 percent.

Kolasky, an LSA junior, said Proposal B is not anti-development and preserves the quality of life for Ann Arbor residents.

“(The Greenbelt proposal) offers environmental protection and benefits everyone, regardless of class and both students and non-students alike,” Kolasky said.

MSA passed a resolution to support Proposal B at its meeting last night, after Hieftje spoke in its favor. MSA will hold a teach-in at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Michigan Union Ballroom to educate students about Proposal B and to garner its support.

– Daily Staff Reporter Kristin Ostby contributed to this report.

 

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