In an effort to curb continuing concern over urban sprawl, Mayor John Heiftje recently proposed the institution of a special millage on property in Ann Arbor. The money raised from the fee, an expected $30 million, would be used to buy up development rights and property around Ann Arbor, establishing a 30 mile “greenbelt” of non-development.

J. Brady McCollough
Thirteen-year-old Jordan Niemann, of Canton, searches for frogs with two of his friends in the ponds of Arbor Creek subdivision off Waters Road. Urban sprawl is sending new subdivisions and neighborhoods into previously rural areas. Ann Arbor City Mayor

“As I go around and talk to people as we all do when campaigning, … urban sprawl is what people identify as one of the top concerns,” said Ann Arbor City Councilwoman Wendy Ann Woods (D-Ward 5). “People see it as an environmental problem.”

Woods added that initiatives like Hieftje’s are what will eventually solve Ann Arbor’s parking and traffic problems. Public services are more efficient with a society that lives in tighter quarters, she said.

“Modern cities have to be more densely populated to provide a more efficient use of services,” she said. “This will just make it so the city can purchase land that needs to be protected.”

But there is some dissent on the city council. Concerns have been voiced over the possible rise in cost of real estate and the possibility of having more densely populated housing in the future.

Councilwoman Marcia Higgins (R-Ward 4) said she isn’t bothered by the idea of a greenbelt, but is concerned over the way the plan is executed.

“I don’t want to come across as a naysayer,” she said. “In theory, I don’t have a problem with it, but it depends on how the details are worked out.”

Higgins added that she is nervous about who will pick the council that determines how the raised money is allocated, what property is purchased and the way it’s gone about.

“I’m also concerned about eminent domain. What if people don’t want to sell their property but we need it?” she said.

While she certainly has her reservations, Higgins said she truly believes this bill has possibilities.

“Bottom line for me is that anyone who accepts this bill wholeheartedly isn’t asking enough questions,” she said.

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