|The Library Lot|
I am against Ann Arbor City Proposition A. I encourage you, gentle reader, to vote "No" on Proposition A, if you are registered to vote in Ann Arbor. I support the City's effort to sell the development rights above the Library Lot parking structure. And I generally support the Core Spaces proposal to develop the site. In this article, I will briefly outline why I am opposed to City Proposition A, as well as why I support development on that site.
Proposition A would add an amendment to the Ann Arbor City Charter that would designate all city-owned public land on the block with the Downtown Library to "be retained in public ownership, in perpetuity, and developed as an urban park and civic center commons, known as the ‘Center of the City.’”
There are three main reasons I am opposed to Proposition A, and why I support development on the Library Lot. This first is because I support the construction of more housing in Ann Arbor. The second two reasons have to do with decisions we made as a community in the past.
Ann Arbor needs more housing. The rate of new housing construction, both single and multi-family, is lower now than it was in the early 2000s . The job market in Ann Arbor is strong. U of M alone has added 10,000 jobs in the last 10 years. Between 70,000 and 80,000 people commute into Ann Arbor every day for work. There are more students living here too. Enrollment at U of M is up about by about 6,000 students in the last 10 years. There are a lot more people vying for housing in Ann Arbor at a time when the rate of housing construction has decreased. We see the effects of this in dramatically increasing rents, home sale prices, and clogged roads during commutes. More housing in Ann Arbor will help reduce the increases in rent and home prices, and congestion. The Core Spaces building alone will not solve these problems — no single project will — but it will contribute to making these situations better.
There are two decisions we, as a community, made in the past that lead to my support of development on the Library Lot and opposition to Proposition A. First is the Greenbelt. In 2003 we approved the Greenbelt millage. Ann Arbor voters made the decision to buy conservation easements in the townships around the city in an attempt to limit sprawl. Implicit in this decision was that Ann Arbor would increase in density as the city’s ability to increase in area became constrained. If we limit sprawl and stymie density increases, what we achieve is driving up housing costs and making Ann Arbor a less diverse and accessible community.
The second decision we made was to invest our resources in building an underground parking structure that could support a tall building. Between 2009 and 2012 the City built the Library Lane, a 4 story, 738 space, underground parking structure. This cost $55 million, of which $15 million was to build a structure capable of supporting a tall building on top. Approximately $35 million of the total cost came through the sale of Build America Bonds. The plan was always to sell the development rights of the air above the Library Lot to a private company. I know that not everyone agreed with this decision, but nevertheless the decision was made to build an underground parking structure capable of supporting a large (17-18 story) building. If we do not go through with some construction on the site, we are being poor stewards of our resources, both physical and financial. We made the decision to put a lot of cement and steel into the ground in order to support a large building. We are wasting those resources if we don't use them. Also, the Core Spaces project will immediately recoup $10 million of the $15 million we invested in building the Library Lot. It will also generate an estimated $2 million per year in property and $200k per year in hotel taxes.
There are other reasons I do not support Proposition A, and reasons that I support the Core Spaces development. Here are the other reasons I don't support Proposition A:
- Groups whose opinions I value are opposed to Proposition A. The Ann Arbor District Library, the Washtenaw Housing Alliance,
and the Ann Arbor City Parks and Recreation Departmentare all opposed to it. [ED: I was unable to locate find a source for the previous statement regarding the position of the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Department. The strikethrough reflects the removal of this statement.]
- The group behind Proposition A wants a park on top of the Library Lot. This is not a great site for a park.
(This is the reason the Parks Department is opposed to the proposition.)First, it would be difficult to cultivate a large green space due to the extensive cement substructure at the site. More importantly, the proposed park site would be enclosed on three sides, which makes it a difficult site to make vibrant without extensive programming. (Core Spaces, on the other hand, has committed $25,000 yearly to such programming, with an additional $100,000 up front.
Here are other reasons I support development on the Library Lot:
- I support affordable housing. $5 million from the $10 million sale of the development rights to Core Spaces goes to Ann Arbor's Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
- I support more housing generally (see above). I do not believe building exclusively market rate housing will solve our housing problems. That said, it does have a role to play. Simply put, Ann Arbor needs more housing of all types.
- The Core Spaces proposal includes a 12,000 sq. ft. plaza, and funds for maintenance and programing. (Also, there is the possibility of a splash pad.) This is smaller than the park that the Proposition A supporters want at the site. However, unlike their proposal, the Core Spaces proposal has a concrete plan, and a funding mechanism. (And, maybe, a splash pad.)
So there you have it, gentle reader. These are the reasons I encourage you to vote "No" on Ann Arbor Proposal A, and why I support development on that site. I think going forward with development on the Library Lot is an important step forward for our community.
H/T: to AKGoodman, STrudeau for helping me trackdown data and CDzombak for editing.