Fenced eyesores, compliments of the City of Ann Arbor

I beat up on Tom Whitaker a couple of months ago for a comment he made on the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s website.  So I think it’s only fair to recognize a really good comment he made this week at another story on the Chronicle:

Whitaker writes of the city of Ann Arbor’s development permits:

Ask the planning department for their spreadsheet that documents submitted projects, their approval status, and the time it took them to get through the process. The data may surprise you. It did when I saw it about a year and a half ago. The vast majority of stalled projects in Ann Arbor were not those that could not make it through the process. The stalled projects were those that were approved, but could not be financed. State law enables the City to require a performance guarantee of developers, but the City has not enforced this. The result? Existing housing and businesses were taken out and replaced with vacant lots with much lower property taxes.

Broadway Village is probably the best example of out-of-town developers coming in, demanding public money and special zoning, promising the moon, and not delivering. There is a fenced vacant lot (still contaminated) at Maiden Lane and Broadway to commemorate this for us all. Several businesses, with their jobs and tax revenues, are no longer there.

Board ups can be found at Main and Catherine (former Greek church), site of the failed Gallery project, as well as Main and Summit, where several affordable houses have been boarded up for years–one recently burned. Glen and Ann is another vacant lot close to downtown, where businesses and houses once stood, paying taxes and providing jobs and housing. Now it is a fenced eyesore with the out-of-state developer/owner paying only minimal property taxes for vacant land. That project (Glen Ann Place) was granted approval by City Council instead of Council backing up the Historic District Commission in court. The developer was just granted an extension to keep his vacant lot for a couple more years. There are several more examples.

I’d wondered in my post Wednesday how Broadway Village had ended up growing weeds for the past several years; as I learned from Whitaker, we have the City to blame, in part, for it.

About these ads

9 responses to “Fenced eyesores, compliments of the City of Ann Arbor

  1. “as I learned from Whitaker, we have the City to blame, in part, for it. ”

    In what way?

  2. Did you read it? ‘State law enables the City to require a performance guarantee of developers, but the City has not enforced this. The result? Existing housing and businesses were taken out and replaced with vacant lots with much lower property taxes.’

  3. I did read that, but I’m not sure how that addresses the problem in question. Specifically, I’m wondering about the link from performance bond -> projects not stalling post-approval.

    Generally (in my experience, at least), performance bonds are used by cities for very specific pieces of a development, either due to the nature of that piece or the timing. If a project requires installing new stormwater infrastructure or making changes to a roadway, the developer is often required to put up a performance bond to ensure these “public” pieces of the project are delivered properly. If a project is completed in November, but for some landscaping, or a parking area that can’t be paved until the asphalt plants re-open in the spring, a performance bond might be used to allow the developer to open their 98%-done project to tenants but make sure these pieces don’t fall off the developer’s radar.

    If the idea is to require a performance bond against the value of the entire development, rather than for specific, relatively smaller pieces of it, this would seem to add a significant cost of doing business to a project. If the goal is to price smaller, local developers out of the construction market, and cause larger developers (the Freeds and McKinleys) to cut corners elsewhere in their projects to cover this cost, maybe it’s a good idea. But I don’t agree with those goals.

  4. I’m also skeptical of some of the specific examples offered. These examples seem selectively described in order to maximize the accusatory-value of them.

    Glen and Ann is another vacant lot close to downtown, where businesses and houses once stood, paying taxes and providing jobs and housing.

    I used to pass this site daily. If I recall, there were two neglected student rental houses, a shabby gas station mostly used to store towed cars, and maybe a pizza place on the site? Not a dramatic loss of jobs/residents/tax revenue that might be read into the OP–and, as far as eyesores, I think the “after” is perhaps more attractive than the “before”.

    The developer [of Glen Ann] was just granted an extension to keep his vacant lot for a couple more years.

    The extension was of the PUD site plan, I believe. The alternative to the extension would be to have the site plan expire, and have a vacant lot without even plans in place for it.

    Board ups can be found at Main and Catherine (former Greek church), site of the failed Gallery project,

    Didn’t the church make the decision move out to a new-build, larger facility in Scio Township some years before the developers took a stab at the site? I’d say that was the reason for the empty/boarded status of the site, rather than the evil, evil developers.

  5. Lower Town I think involved some overly starry-eyed thinking by all involved, but I lived up the hill from it, off Broadway, beginning in 1999, and it was, like Glen-Ann, no gem even before the development stalled out. We actually felt it was an improvement when they renovated the strip along Plymouth, moved all the remaining businesses into it, and tore down the rest of the buildings. (Admittedly, the charm of having the eyesores torn down only lasts as long as the people who remember what they looked like pre-demolition.)

    Yes, we definitely need to understand both the public risks and benefits of development projects, especially when we’re being asked for public financing. It’s every bit as dangerous, though, to evaluate current proposals based on an overly romanticized version of the pre-development past as it is to evaluate them based on an overly-generous idea of the end product.

    All that said, I agree with your original original post–Lower Town would be a great location for a Barracuda-driven development, especially since it’s just 2 blocks from their current site. (I also agree with assertions on AA.com, Facebook, and elsewhere that Barracuda would be a great piece of Ypsi’s Water Street site.)

    • Once again, Murph, some excellent and very thorough counter-points.

      It is invaluable to me to have a commenter with an actual planning background to help compensate for my lack of such experience.

      Let me know if you’d have any interest in guest-posting sometime.

      • You should ask me and Tom to guest post on the same issue, so that you can do a blind point-counterpoint. Might be an interesting contrast :)

      • Good idea. I’ll have to cyber-stalk him to identify one you guys will likely disagree on. County-wide transit might be a good one, but let me know if you have any other suggestions.

  6. I would love to see a Murph v. Tom debate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s