The Library Lot
The Library Lot must certainly be the most discussed and debated local political issue here in Ann Arbor. Even though it represents only one parcel of over 75,000 in the City it stirs emotion like little else. You are likely already aware that in April I voted to support moving forward the process of developing this parcel. Here you’ll can find the statement I made at the council table prior to the vote. I’ll be honest, it was a tough decision -- folks felt strongly about development and just as strongly about halting development. Well intentioned and thoughtful arguments were heard from all perspectives. Ultimately, I voted to take advantage of the opportunity that development brings our community - a tax base for the city and for our schools; workforce housing; opportunity for new neighbors and employees in our sought-after city; an activated street; and a commitment to the thoughtful compromise of an intentional, integrated public space.
That said -- there are questions that many of you have about the process and history of the parcel. I’d like to take the time to answer those clearly and directly.
No Development or Building Design Has Been Approved
Indeed, no specific site plan or architectural drawings have been submitted or reviewed by Planning Commission. City Council’s vote thus only approved the financial and parking aspects of the deal and allows CORE Spaces to submit building and site plans for review.
Why does this point matter?
Well, there's a huge difference between having an approved building plan and the right to submit an application. For those interested in the process yet to come, I’ll lay out the steps here:
CORE Spaces must submit site and building plans for review by the Design Review Board and Planning Commission.
Planning Commission will provide preliminary feedback based on our zoning and design guidelines.
CORE Spaces has volunteered to go back before the design review board for a second time to make sure that their designs are responding to City comments.
After their second trip before the Design Review Board, the project will then be reviewed by the Planning Commission and a public hearing will be scheduled.
Following a public hearing, the Planning Commission will provide a recommendation to City Council.
City Council will then schedule another public hearing prior to any vote to approve a site plan. Site Plan Approval would be the trigger to begin the development process.
There are many steps to go before we see any development on this parcel, with opportunities for the public to voice opinions along the way. The expectation is that this project, particularly the public space, must be exceptional to win site plan approval. My point is that the design of this project is not a done deal and you have an important voice in the upcoming design process!
The Parking Lease -- It is not a ‘Bad Deal’
The parking lease that is part of the purchase agreement includes the option for the developer to lease up to 361 spaces at 120% of market rates for up to 50 years. The City has been counseled by our bond attorney that this lease does not violate the terms of the bond funding that financed the construction of the underground parking structure. If this opinion changes, the deal will not go through. It's that simple.
Regarding the parking lease itself. The developer is paying 120% of market rate for the lease of these spaces. That's $26 million in current value. The replacement of those 361 spaces is estimated to be between $12-18 million in current value. That $8-14 million dollar net will allow the City to improve and expand our existing parking facilities.
The Citizen Referendum for a Park
Many of you are aware of the citizen initiative to place a referendum on the ballot to turn the library lot into a park.That ballot initiative did not collect the required number of legal signatures to qualify for either the May 2017 or August 2017 ballot. It's certainly disheartening for the organizers of that drive to have come up short - it's hard work to collect signatures. But in the wake of those signature shortages, I did not support council action to place the issue on the ballot - and my reason was fairly simple and straightforward - our City Charter assigns the responsibility for the sale of city owned land to City Council. This ensures that the city is making decisions that align with our city master plan, city recreation plan, our budget and capacity and are not taking on undue debt. A ballot initiative does not address capital financing necessary to design and build a public park, nor the longer term operation and maintenance necessary to successfully manage and maintain it into the future. I’m not at all comfortable setting a precedent for rejecting our Charter in this case.
That said -- Downtown green space is absolutely vital to maintaining a healthy community. Space that has ecological value (i.e. green infrastructure for stormwater infiltration, pollinator habitat, etc.); street trees to provide shade, cooling and character; edible landscape materials; and simple, beautiful pockets of nature that provide places for respite all enhance the quality of life for visitors, workers, and residents alike. I believe our city is actively planning for these spaces. Thanks to policies like the Green Streets policy and our urban forest plan, our future looks greener in all areas of Downtown and our neighborhoods.
And “So What?” You Ask
Setting policy and making decisions for a city of 120,000+ people is nuanced. It involves diving deeper than “17 stories high” or “12,000sf of public space”. It involves asking hard questions about what our community needs in order to remain a vibrant, accessible, affordable, diverse place to live. It means providing housing to meet the demands of a growing economy and diversifying demographics; it means funding basic city services while keeping taxes from skyrocketing; it means helping our public schools close the gap in funding. In this case that means I voted to move forward a process to develop the Library Lot because the result moves us closer to being a community that makes the commitment to providing for its citizens -- current and future.