Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Planning Students Sponsored Candidates Forum Summary, 10/28/04

30. October 2004

My notes from Thursday night’s forum. Notes are close to comprehensive, but shouldn’t be considered an accurate transcript—don’t try to directly quote candidates off of this.


birkett (lib)
carlberg (dem-incumbant)
reichardt (green)
smith (dem-incumbant)
kolb (dem)


governor’s land use leadership council—come up with recs, but avoid a “no-growth” stance.

losing farmland 10 acre/hour, developed land expanding 8x as fast as population

looking at ways that state’s actions influence growth. transportation highest influence—highways lead to growth, transportation leads growth.

no top-down mandate approach that can work in michigan.


shoo-in for county commission so can pretend he’s already making decisions.

“joint municipal planning act” to enable cooperation between local governments.

implementation all happens locally.

cities with vibrant urban fabric due to citizens getting involved—get involved and do something! washtenaw can do better than most places due to our energy.

county deals with “arcane” details of planning—drain commission and whatnot. handles road network outside of cities.


Kennelly: michigan is so fragmented—is anything being done at State level to do that? can or should anything be done?

Kolb: comes from local gov, so strong supporter of local autonomy. different things work in different communities. don’t want to put value judgements on forms of development that will force some communities to conform to others. at State level, want to enable and support cooperation and regional planning, but not force it. Statutory authorization of joint planning has been the big step towards encouraging regionalism, and now the state is working on incentives.

Smith: ask that of the city councilmembers; regionalism starts at the local government level. some things need to stay local, in order to protect the local character, such as design issues; others, like air or water pollution, or transportation, can be addressed at a higher level.

Norton: cities say “we’re not interested in growth management; we don’t have any farmland,” while townships say, “we need growth, not growth management!” do we need to get rid of townships to enable growth management?

Kolb: getting rid of local governments doesn’t necessarily make things any better. Pennsylvania has more local governments than Michigan, but they’re doing good things. What matters is that local planning not operate in a vacuum, that local planners and commissioners talk to their neighbors and look at what other cities and townships are doing, to get the ideas and connections that are needed. (have? or talking about?) a requirement that local governments have an “open space” provision, so that developers can come in and build the same number of units, but clustered on a small portion of the land. Some cities are interested in preservation—Ann Arbor passed the greenbelt 2-1; the Twin Cities are doing revenue sharing, which is still a ways off for Michigan, but is feasible. Everybody in Michigan is concerned about disappearing farmland, and wants to find ways to preserve it.

Smith: townships bring a very close relationship between citizens and local government, and can allow very hands-on planning. economic/tax structure prioritizes greenfield development. Cities are facing enormous budgetary burdens; city of Taylor had to sell 2/3 of the city-held land in order to balance the budget. Cities need to get things built, or they lose revenue and die. Need to change underlying structures in order to allow urban infill rather than greenfield development.

Kolb: how do we work with communities to help them implement their ideas? a lot of townships/small cities don’t have the resources/expertise to implement their ideas; they need help to implement regional ideas.

Me: since DDOT/SMART merger fell through, SEMCOG’s Speedlink plan seems to be sitting on the shelf, and the Ann Arbor/Detroit Rail Plan is operating in stealth mode, what’s the status of high-quality inter-city transit in SEMi?

Kolb: Give us two years and get Johnson out of the Senate. There’s a big divide on whether we need transit or not, which is amazing, because in Michigan, you just can’t get around without a car. Hard to get transit through the legislative budgeting process; the House can put budgets together, but the Senate will rip them apart. For the next two years, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee is totally against transit. What we can do now is put together small pieces of a system, Ann Arbor to the airport, the airport to Detroit, and slowly piece things together.

Smith: the Ann Arbor to Detroit Rail project has been moving forward, the federal highway admin. just held hearings in the area last week; ann arbor hearing was well attended.

(Kolb has to leave for an event against proposal 2)

Kolb: we need to work on making our communities into places where people can raise families, and want to live. People work in urban areas, but don’t want to live there. Ann Arbor is an example of a city with good schools, good parks, good neighborhoods, and it didn’t just happen—local officials made decisions, and 20 or 30 years down the road, we see the results of those
Reichardt: chair of green party michigan for the last five years, working in property administration in Ann Arbor (odd working for landholders when one is a die-hard socialist). See the biggest problem in A2 as lack of affordable housing. Build mixed-use-ground floor retail, second floor office, housing above. Provide more housing, bigger customer base for retail, utilize public transit system, reduce drivingreduce air pollution. Ann Arbor has a problem that the largest landowner in town pays no property taxes, so city has to provide services that it’s not getting paid for. University pays a flat rate for water services that was set in the 1970s-the University needs to start contributing more to the city than it does. AATA may stop hemmhoraging money with the latest infusion of cash from the federal government due to carrying students, and be on stronger footing to approach regional transit. Ann Arbor needs to encompass a variety of people and give lower-income people a way to live in the city, rather than pushing them out.

Carlberg: Incumbant and sits on the Planning Commission. Ann Arbor is so successful that it’s suffering from high demand for housing, and running out of housing and space. Under current plans, have space for about 1000 more housing units—not nearly enough for projected growth. Need to look to density to provide the housing to fit the demand. When the Greenbelt was proposed, there was a strong consensus on the Greenbelt, but the community is divided on density. The process to get even one high-rise planned and built is difficult. Likes the fact that the city is full of people on weekend evenings, but wishes more of them lived here and were part of the city all of the time. Cool Cities process heard people say they don’t want featureless apartments; they want buildings with common space and character. Hard to get affordable housing downtown, as cost of getting land and building is so high. Had two projects recently, one of which went well, the other did not. Need to go out and find developers who are willing to try to build affordable housing, since locals aren’t.

Birkett: Most familiar with Libertarians will think they’re hostile to planning, and devoted to privatization. Birkett’s not here to defend Libertarian philosophy, and does believe that planning and public acts are useful. Privatization is, in general, a good policy, but public utilities can be desirable in some cases. We need to stop using eminent domain to buy farmland and promote development. Development relies on eminent domain to take land and build infrastructure to support that development.

Question: What do candidates think about instant-runoff voting?

Birkett: good.
Reichardt: good.
Carlberg: good. most useful at local level.
Smith: good. preferential voting elected his grandfather as first black mayor in A2!

Levine: what’s the libertarian party’s view and birkett’s view of “good ‘ol zoning”? what prevents me from knocking down my house and building a high-rise?

Birkett: you don’t have an absolute right to use your property if it affects your neighbors. high-rise buildings create shade and wind and affect their neighbords. likes human scale of ann arbor; where property is built to the sidewalk/property line, might want to limit to four or five stories. not absolutely opposed to regulation to protect neighbors.

Carlberg: we have neighborhoods that have been stable for 50 years; how are we willing to change those neighborhoods slightly to increase density? Burns Park has duplexes and other multi-family homes, and you wouldn’t even know it, but proposing those in other neighborhoods would get you lynched. abusive landlords have poisoned the well in some neighborhoods.

Reichardt: north main condos got shot down not necessarily because of the size, but because of the architecture-a glass and steel edifice in the middle of an early twentieth century neighborhood. we have some neighborhoods, most notably the OFW, which are very strongly NIMBY and will veto anything that’s proposed. it’s important that students get involved. OFW likes to draw lines between “permanent residents” and “transient residents”. students are here for four or five years-that’s as much tenure as most american families have. students need to get involved, go to meetings, speak in favor of good plans.

Norton: you’re painting a bleak picture of affordable housing in ann arbor—is there hope?

B: want to minimize use of subsidy in affordable housing, but not sure unsubsidized is possible, because of cost.

C: takes land, money, and a willing developer—land is extremely limited in Ann Arbor, and very expensive. City does subsidize very low income housing, because otherwise it just wouldn’t be built. City doesn’t have the money to subsidize much workforce housing. Affordable housing would have to be a community value high enough that people are willing to provide it, and we’re not there yet.

R: it’s a question of finding a developer who’s willing to take a lower margin for a little while, who’s willing to look to the long-term. just a matter of the city finding willing developers and supporting them in that effort. city may have to defy “the fabled market principles”. hard to come by money to do that.

S: might have to do some regulation; adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance and require new developments have a certain amount of affordable housing. the leadership of ann arbor cares about affordable housing.

R: nobody who owns property in ann arbor is going to go broke; developers complain about costs, but reichardt knows how much money the developers make, and they can afford to do it.

C: we have had developers who went broke and who were unable to finish the developments, and the infrastructure the developer was going to provide didn’t get built. rental housing is different; the developer can take a longer-range view because the property will continue to bring in money. not just the will, but having the opportunities.

B: we shouldn’t discount market forces’ ability to keep price down—more housing will mean lower prices, as the market keeps prices down. wants to challenge the notion that there’s a right to affordable housing everywhere. affordable housing is mainly in older buildings in older neighborhoods; people who want affordable housing in ann arbor should look to ypsilanti.

Brandon: about NIMBYism, right now my neighborhood, the OWS, is having a meeting on the proposed greenway, which would block plans to build a parking structure and develop some of those sites. what do you think about this?

S: i’m on record as supporting it. but I don’t think there’s anything that’s preventing that space from being multi-use; we’ve looked at the possibility of a north-south commuter railway. worth taking a look at how we can open that up.

R: as a green, I’m in favor of it. this focuses on opening up allen creek and freeing it from the storm drain. european towns have very integrated green space, and it doesn’t preclude development around that. perhaps the best way to approach it would be to produce two large buildings at each end to serve as monuments—tie the development into the green space and develop them together. ann arbor doesn’t have as much park space as we think.

C: a complicated issue. allen creek is in a pipe for a reason-it used to flood constantly. unlikely to bring it out of the pipe for that reason. buildings in the area would be decimated, county drain commissioner is against it. greenway is a nice idea, but probably unfeasible. dda has been asked to consider it; it’s probably a good place to put parking, because it’s in a floodplain and nothing else can be built there. open to seeing what possibilities are. am told that site (first and william) is highly contaminated; if that’s so, we can’t uncap it, because that contamination would wash out through the system. have to provide some parking, so that people can come downtownhave to look at whether we need more parking, and where to put it. putting it inside/under buildings sends price up tremendously. might be other spaces in allen park corridor that could be turned into parks, but probably not that site. also, allen creek runs past the backs of lots of ugly industrial buildings-not an attractive route for a greenway. what would we have to give up for a greenway?

B: agrees with carlberg on some of her points. also, open waterways in cities often smell and are breeding grounds for mosquitos. do we want that?

Me: how is the “cool cities” approach being approached in the cities of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, as opposed to how it’s being approached in Ann Arbor, or in Ypsi? or is “cool cities” not being pursued at all?

S: ann arbor cool cities ideas ran up against some changes at the state level—state talked about new ideas for attracting young people, but all money went to pre-existing projects. conan recommended ypsi’s projects for cool cities money, and has taken some heat for that. cities should be more open in their zoning to create more mixed-use areas that people can live and do business in an affordable way. more flexible zoning is highest on task force’s list. meeting on november 9th at chamber of commerce for people who want to work on projects. grants coming down from state(?) for affordable housing in college towns sometime in the future.

R: cool cities is falling under the old republican idea of “unfunded mandate”. $100k grants won’t go very far; state’s plan is more PR than substance. how are we really going to implement a program that targets young people? in many parts of society, young people don’t have the money to move into really good neighborhoods. CC program is trying to create an atmosphere that develops naturally; unfortunately that atmosphere develops less rapidly in today’s economic climate. right idea in principle, but the way governor is promoting it is more flash than reality.

C: $100k isn’t enough for anything in ann arbor, and we’re seen as cool enough already that we won’t even get that. we need to look at density, and what do we put where. on ??? we’re going to have a meeting to look at the downtown residential task force’s results; meeting is open at DTE center on William and Main. are looking at more flexible zoning downtown—mixed-use by right, to provide opportunity for whatever people might want to do there.

B: interesting to use the adjective “cool”; codeword for “desirable”. ought to make cities more desirable for all ages, but young people are an easy target, as they’re more mobile.

Norton: City of A2 recently radically reformed its planning department, and got rid of its planning director. what’s the effect of this restructuring?

S: “Hey, I’m with the County, man!”

C: it’s a work in progress; we have somebody who is a planner, and who is very familiar with construction needs. in the past, planning has been very divorced from construction, so things get through phase one and fail in phase two. nobody’s been taking responsibility for inconsistancies. now those functions are together, and those inconsistancies are going to be found out so that we can fix them. we have needed to do this for a long time, to work out the bugs in the system. the planning commission still functions the same way it always did. the “director of planning and building services” still reports to the commission.

R: a good friend works in the planning department, and feels that change only exacerbated the problem. planners are now playing second fiddle, and feel like commission doesn’t listen to the staff, and generally feel cut out of the process. feel as though planning director kept the planners in the game; these days, planning department is high on the list for cutbacks.

B: not really familiar with the changes.

S: County went through same process; combined planning and environment to build cross-jurisdictional teams. process of evolution in city government is necessary for improvement, and we need to decompartmentalize planning, because everything is so connected. we used to have a county planning commission; now we have a planning advisory board, which is essentially powerless, but we’re still experimenting with the planning process. this is not an intent to get professional planners out of the process.

Question: we’ve talked a lot about NIMBYism and community opposition. who’s caving, if that’s a fair way to put it, and what is role of political figures as leader?

S: a political leader’s job is to go out and engage the people. sometimes the people are passionate, and it’s worth listening, because sometimes they make good points. the problem is when political figures get more interested in keeping their jobs than in doing the right things. if i do something unpopular, people will vote me out, and I hope that people will prevent me with competition in two years so that people can vote me out if they want to. carlberg has stood up for things that the community is really freaked out about. downtown density is the biggest NIMBY issue right now, but jean has stood up for it.

R: greens like to think we’re unique in emphasizing participatory process. ann arbor benefits from having people who are dedicated to principle, regardless of party labels. greens are dedicated to four ideals—if that means we don’t win offices because we’re not willing to “cave”, so be it. who’s caving on the city council? don’t know, because not privy to inner workings; can only look at councilmembers’ actions and public statements. have disagreed with things carlberg has done, things easthope has done, things hieftje has done.

C: have i caved under pressure? yes. have I stood up under pressure? yes. depends on whether it’s a core principle, and how certain she is she can carry through, and whether anybody else is standing up for it. can almost always see pros and cons of things, and can look to see whether there’s support on the city council for it—if the city council isn’t going to pass it by any means, no point in fighting for it. i think i have a pretty secure seat; people feel able to tell me they disapprove of what i’m doing (or approve of what I’m doing) and still support me generally. i want to make sure that I win at the council table when i bring things to the table.

B: there are ways of comprimising without betraying your principles. NIMBYism especially high for group homes, but these people have to be live somewhere.

Dan: yes or no to city council candidates, will you support couch porch ban?

No, no, no.

Closing statements:

B: anybody who values freedom should be opposed to eminent domain and taxation—those are my primary goals.

C: these are exciting times for the city; over the next year, we’re going to look at issues of density, transit to adjoining twps, etc. community is about to make major investment in development—people should come participate in the process.

R: for affordable housing. for having university play ball a little more nicely. for having a different voice on city council that’s currently dominated by one political party.

S: city has a 20-page book of boards and commissions; county has one half as thick—plenty of opportunity to get involve. 1/3 to 1/2 of commissions are directly involved in planning issues; if you’re interested, talk to me and we can find you a place to get involved.