Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Guest Opinion: Put the Library Lot back on the ballot in 2023

Editor's note: This is a guest opinion by Daniel Adams. If you're interested in sharing an opinion, reach out to damn.arbor@gmail.com or drop us a DM on twitter. In a recent guest opinion, Dan summarized the history of the Library Lot leading up to the 2018 election, and argued that the subsequent failure of Library Green's private fundraising campaign all but requires--given the enormous annual public cost of maintaining the status quo--the city to pursue the repeal or amendment of the language that Proposal A added to the City Charter at the earliest possible opportunity. Below you will find Dan's email to #a2Council proposing one possible way to execute that change to the Charter, and urging City Council to put amendment or repeal language in front of voters in 2023.

2022 Peace Day Celebration on the Library Lot, Sept. 21. Photo Via @violinmonster

 Mayor Taylor and Council Members:

I have attached the draft Council resolution that I discussed during my public comment last night. As I mentioned, this resolution is not a "straight repeal" of the Charter language; instead, it replaces the current sale prohibition with a commitment to invest the proceeds generated by any sale or lease of the development rights in the Library Lot to support two policy objectives that I believe to have broad support among the electorate: the city's affordable housing fund and debt repayment. While less "clean" than a straight repeal, codifying these funding commitments into the Charter will help win support for the initiative and undo the damage that Proposal A has done to the city, which is what matters.

This document was intended as a thought starter; I have no particular expertise in municipal law, ballot initiative language, or drafting Council resolutions. So I apologize to the City Attorney in advance for any technical, clerical, or legal errors in the document, and I suspect there may be a few. I hope that it is helpful to you.

The ultimate form and structure of the resolution is not important. What is important, in my opinion, is tackling this problem--the cash burn, demands on staff time, massive opportunity costs, and wasted capital investments created by Proposal A--as soon as politically practicable, preferably in 2023. Some Council--this one, another one in five years, or further into the future--will have to deal with the problem that Alan Haber, Will Hathaway, and a few other folks created for the city. The sooner we deal with it, the better. But whenever it is on the ballot, it will have financial, political, and other support from me and others in the community who share my views on the imperative to make the best possible use of city-owned real estate to make housing more affordable and meet other resident needs.

At the end of the resolution, there is a paragraph that suspends the Council of the Commons and staff support for Library Green. Even if the Council decides to take no action on the charter language, Council should consider suspending these activities, which have outlived their usefulness, do not appear to be serving their intended purpose of providing actionable advice to Council, and are unnecessarily burdening staff with support work in service of a dead-in-the-water project.

This is not a criticism of the serious-minded professionals--I'm thinking specifically here of Mr. Zemke, Council Members Briggs and Cornell, and others--who have dutifully and in good faith served Council on this body and worked to make it as effective as possible, under very difficult circumstances. But with Library Green's leadership usually lacking any progress to report on the substantive work of creating a park, there is very little to discuss and no advice to provide to Council, beyond tasking staff--as they did most recently in November--with projects intended to "activate" a parking lot. This is reflected in the Council's minutes, which are cursory and devoid of action items, decisions, deadlines, and the other indicia of a body performing important work for the Council and the city.

Library Green should be provided with a space in City Hall, if it so wishes, to continue to meet and discuss any topic relating to planning and activating the Library Lot. It can contact Council, at any time, the way I have here, if it has progress to report or requests to make. But special access to Council and staff time should be reserved for projects that demonstrate promise and potential to advance city policy goals and help residents. Library Green, absent a material change in its fundraising progress, is not a worthy investment of these valuable city resources.

Please contact me if you have any questions. Thank you, as always, for your public service.

Daniel Adams

Proposed Resolution:

Resolution to Order Election and to Determine Ballot Question for Charter Amendment Amending Section 1.4 of the City Charter (7 Votes Required) 

Whereas, the Ann Arbor housing market is increasingly unaffordable due to decades of restrictive land-use policy that has constrained the development of a wide diversity of market-rate and affordable housing options, especially in Ann Arbor’s downtown core; Whereas, Ann Arbor’s housing affordability crisis has altered the racial and economic demographics of many Ann Arbor residential neighborhoods (Resolution R-20-439, adopted on November 16, 2020);

Whereas, a growing body of academic research demonstrates that (1) achieving housing affordability requires an expansion of both subsidized and market-rate housing, (2) legal constraints on new market-rate housing supply increase demand for legacy housing stock, driving up housing costs throughout the market, and (3) greater supply and diversity of housing stock is essential to overcoming historical inequality and racial disparity in housing (Source: Op-Ed: For climate and affordability, reform zoning);

Whereas, even with recent increases to the annual rate of new housing production, new housing is not being built in Ann Arbor at a rate sufficient to address decades of underproduction and keep up with year-over-year increases in demand (Source: Up For Growth);

Whereas, despite the successful passage of the 2020 Affordable Housing Millage and several other notable affordable housing initiatives in 2021, Ann Arbor continues to fall short of meeting its 2015 goal of creating 140 new affordable housing units each year;

Whereas, on November 4th, 2019, Ann Arbor City Council unanimously voted to declare a climate emergency and set the goal of becoming carbon neutral, as an entire community, by the year 2030, and directed staff to create what ultimately became the A2ZERO Carbon Neutrality Plan;

Whereas, the ambitious objectives contemplated by A2ZERO, the recently approved Community Climate Action Millage, and other climate related city initiatives require that the city strategically leverage its assets, especially city-owned real estate, to create more diversity of dense housing in the downtown core, generate tax revenue to fund decarbonization initiatives, and create residential density sufficient to sustain continued investments in public transportation and multimodal transportation infrastructure;

Whereas, several prior city studies, including the Library Lot Task Force Report dated January 11, 1989 and Calthorpe Associates Recommended Vision and Policy Framework for Downtown Ann Arbor dated February 17, 2006, recommended that the City sell the development rights in the city-owned municipal surface parking lot located at 319 S. Fifth Ave adjacent to the downtown Ann Arbor District Library (the “Library Lot”) to create a mixed-use residential building;

Whereas, the Downtown Development Authority estimates that it cost approximately $15,000,000 dollars to design and reinforce the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure to support the future construction of a mixed-use building on the Library Lot;

Whereas, a November 2018 City Charter amendment prohibits the city from selling or leasing the development rights to the Library Lot;

Whereas, Library Green, the group that campaigned to pass the 2018 ballot initiative, committed that they would conduct private fundraising and complete a municipal park on the Library Lot by the city’s bicentennial in 2024;

Whereas, as of October 2022, Library Green, through its representatives on the City’s Council of the Commons advisory body, reported having raised $70,000, which is a fraction of the amount required to design, create, and maintain a municipal park on the Library Lot;

Whereas, in 2013, the City’s Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) evaluated the use of City land for downtown parks and concluded: “Existing downtown parks are not currently utilized to their potential. Given the limits of current parks funding, the development of new parks should not be approved without an identified funding source for capital development, ongoing maintenance, and programming”;

Whereas, no funding source has been identified to provide capital development, ongoing maintenance, and programming funding for a municipal park on the Library Lot;

Whereas, in the 2022 public survey (the “PROS Survey”) that supported the January 2023 revisions to the 2023-2027 Parks and Recreation Open Space Plan (the “PROS Plan”), Ann Arbor residents indicated that their highest funding priority in Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation system is improvements to existing parks and the Border to Border trail;

Whereas, “Support for developing new downtown park at Liberty Plaza and Library Lane parking lot” was one of only two funding options out of 13 potential parks and recreation funding priorities in the PROS Survey to fail to gain a majority of support from survey respondents;

Whereas, the PROS Plan adopted on January 9, 2023 by the City Council into the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan states that there is “lower [public] support for developing a new downtown park at the ‘Center of the City’ site which includes Liberty Plaza and the parking lot site known as the ‘Library Lane Lot.’;”

Whereas, on April 1, 2019, City Council adopted Resolution R-19-138, which directed the City Administrator to collaborate with the Ann Arbor Housing Commission to provide coordinated analysis on the feasibility of 12 city-owned properties as potential locations for affordable housing;

Whereas, the sale or lease of the development rights on the Library Lot has the potential to generate millions of dollars in sale or lease proceeds, millions more in annual tax revenue to support city programs and services, and market rate and affordable housing units, as well as create an attractive urban plaza on the Library Lot at no cost to taxpayers;

Whereas, to ensure that any sale or lease of the development rights on the Library Lot provides appropriate benefit to city residents and supports the City’s affordable housing goals, the proceeds from any sale or lease of the development rights in the Library Lot must be allocated 50 percent to the City’s affordable housing fund and 50 percent to reducing city debt obligations;

Whereas, voter reconsideration of the 2018 Charter Amendment is appropriate in light of the demonstrated failure of private fundraising efforts, the likely costs to Ann Arbor taxpayers if the city assumes the financial burden creating of a new municipal park on the Library Lot, and the significant potential benefits of selling or leasing the development rights in the Library Lot;

RESOLVED, That an amendment to the City Charter amending section 1.4 of the Charter be placed on the ballot and submitted to the voters at the [DATE] city election.

RESOLVED, That the amendment shall replace the entirety of section 1.4 of the Charter with the following language:

Any sale or lease of the development rights above the city’s underground parking structure located at 319 S. Fifth Ave. shall: (a) include, as a condition of such sale or lease, a pledge by the purchaser or lessee to create, maintain, and preserve a 10-12,000 square foot plaza for the public’s use and enjoyment in a manner consistent with other Ann Arbor municipal parks; and (b) allocate 50 percent of the proceeds of such sale or lease to the city’s affordable housing fund and the remaining 50 percent of the proceeds to reduce outstanding city debt obligations. RESOLVED, That the amendment to the Charter shall appear on the ballot in the following form:



Currently section 1.4 of the City Charter prohibits the City from selling or leasing the rights to the City-owned public land bounded by Fifth Avenue, and William, Division and Liberty Streets, which includes the surface parking lot above the city’s underground parking structure located at 319 S. Fifth Ave (the “Library Lot”). This proposal, if adopted, would amend this section of the Charter to permit the city to sell or lease the development rights to the Library Lot provided that: (a) the purchaser or lessee agrees to create, maintain, and preserve a 10-12,000 square foot plaza for the public’s use and enjoyment in a manner consistent with other Ann Arbor municipal parks; and (b) the city allocates 50 percent of the proceeds from such sale or lease to the city’s affordable housing fund and the remaining 50 percent of the proceeds to reduce outstanding city debt obligations. Shall the proposal be adopted?

__ Yes __ No

RESOLVED, That the proposed Charter amendment and proposed ballot question shall be published in full not fewer than two times in the Washtenaw County Legal News;

RESOLVED, That _______, 2023 is designated as the day for holding an election on the proposed Charter amendment;

RESOLVED, That the City Clerk shall transmit a copy of the proposed amendment to the Attorney General and the Governor of Michigan and shall perform all other acts required by law for holding the election;

RESOLVED, That the City Clerk is directed to publish the proposed Charter amendment in full, together with the existing Charter provisions amended as required by law and in accordance with resolution of Council, post the proposed Charter amendment in full together with the existing Charter provisions to the City’s website;

RESOLVED, That if the amendment is adopted, it shall take effect on January 1, 2024;

RESOLVED, That pending the results of the proposed Charter amendment: (a) all further meetings and proceedings of the Council of the Commons are suspended; (b) the City Administrator shall not include any budget allocation for design or development work associated with improvements on the Library Lot in his proposed FY 2023 budget; and (c) the City Administrator shall direct staff to suspend all support activities associated with the Council of the Commons and the development of the Library Lot;

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