Tag Archives: Washtenaw County

Breaking news re: 2011 Washtenaw Co. redistricting

Just read on the Chronicle that County Commissioner Leah Gunn has decided not to seek re-election.  The newly redrawn county commission map would have put her and freshman Commissioner Yousef Rabhi in the same district.  They’re both Democrats.  Like Commission Chair Conan Smith, I am impressed by her incredible graciousness in making this choice.

I am reminded of Jack Lessenberry’s Metro Times column earlier this week, where he noted a likely outcome of this year’s state-level redistricting would be to put Gary Peters & Sandy Levin in the same district, and calls on Congressman Levin, who is nearly 80, to retire.   While I think he’s jumping the gun a little — can we at least wait til the map is drawn and released before calling for Levin’s retirement?–  if they do indeed end up in the same district, I too hope Congressman Levin displays the same prudence and humility we saw last night from Leah Gunn.

Changing how we get around

Some good news from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority:  gas prices appear to be motivating more commuters to take the bus. The Chronicle reports:

(R)idership has increased in the last month slightly compared to last year, and cost per service hour is better than what has been budgeted…

The Chronicle’s story includes a cool map comparing Washtenaw County’s transit-oriented planning scenario with the sprawl scenario.

AATA’s go!pass has also seen an uptick in use:

In March 2011, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (TheRide) reports that 62,019 rides were taken using the go!pass. This ridership is a 26 percent increase over March 2010 and sets a monthly record for go!pass use. This increase is also significantly higher than the increase in overall bus ridership that the TheRide is currently experiencing.

According to data collected from the new swipeable go!passes, the increase in go!pass ridership is due in part to more people using go!passes as well as a higher average ridership per pass. In March 2011, a total of 2,515 people used a go!pass. All of these numbers reflect increases over previous months where swipe data is available. A total of 493 downtown organizations offer go!passes to their employees, which is also the highest number of organizations since the go!pass program began in 2000.

I can personally attest that the #4 bus has been plenty packed the last few times I’ve rode it home.  Luckily I pick it up toward the beginning of its eastbound trip, so I’m able to snag a seat rather than having to stand.  As soon as we have a day that’s not A) rainy or B) freezing, I hope to be able to switch back over to biking to and from work.  Last Saturday was especially beautiful, so instead of navigating the hellish congestion of Arborland Mall by car, I biked over to Hiller’s to pick up some sundries.

It will also be interesting to see if the rising price of gas starts to impact home prices in our area.  Consider an observation that real estate expert (and member of the UM faculty) Christopher Leinberger has repeatedly made about the national housing market:

The mortgage collapse took place on the auto-dominated suburban fringe while walkable urban housing, whether in the city or the suburbs, pretty much held its value.

I imagine it will take several months to really manifest itself, but I would not be surprised to see housing start to appreciate in a few key areas:  near the university and other major employers (most notably St. Joseph Mercy) and along the core bus routes.

Over in Detroit, of course, pockets of growth have already emerged in Midtown, New Center, and other neighborhoods closer to downtown.  These happen to be areas that host or adjoin large centers of employment, including the Federal Building, GM headquarters, Cadillac Place, and lots of hospitals.  For the small numbers of employees who are new or weighing a move, will higher gas prices nudge the cost-benefit ratio for a few more of them, to rent or buy closer to work instead of commuting in from the suburbs?   Will they make it more attractive to price-sensitive students at Wayne State, CCS or UDM to move to these areas to be closer to campus?  The short-term effects, if any, will be small.  But I can see them reinforcing other factors that are helping stabilize this particular cluster of neighborhoods, in a way you don’t see in parts of town with fewer employers.

In Oakland and Macomb Counties, I think this could help stabilize the population loss in the inner ring suburbs.  Bus service tends to be strongest on the mile roads and along major north-south arteries (Woodward, Gratiot, Schoenherr, etc.)  Again, in the short term the effect will be small, but bus access will start to slowly become a consideration for home buyers in a way it wasn’t before.

I expect to be posting a bit less frequently in the next week or two as I try to stay on top of my life outside of cyberspace, so to tide you over here are a few older posts that I think are worth revisiting:

Check them out.

Pittsfield Township Master Plan

Pittsfield Township has a draft of their newly overhauled master plan posted on the web.  As I live just north of the border between Ann Arbor and the township, their planning and zoning has a big impact on me, so I decided to check it out.  I browsed through it fairly quickly, but it’s a surprisingly enlightened document.

Part of the context for the revision is the township’s rapid (for Michigan) population growth:

(T)here was a tremendous increase when the population more than doubled between 1980 and 2000 going from 12,986 to 30,167.
Between 2000 and 2010 Pittsfield Township’s population grew to 34,663.

Interestingly, they used personas, which was not a practice I realized was common outside of human-computer interaction.

The proposal for future density.

Slide 33: They want to dramatically boost the amount of mixed use development along Carpenter as far south as Ellsworth, and also at Ann Arbor-Saline & Lohr; and they want to zone State south of the airport as a business district.

The proposed adjustments to the existing business districts are interesting:

It is intended that as these areas evolve, they will become more pedestrian-friendly, have access to transit, and linkages within its open space areas. These areas are intended to evolve with a mixture of uses designed at the human scale along the major road frontages in order to accommodate pedestrians and the use of transit. Along interior roadways and drives, buildings will be designed with open spaces and larger setback areas. Much of this area is currently designed to accommodate vehicles and will therefore need to retrofit with pedestrian facilities…
Parking should be located in parking garages or in the side or rear yards.

Then there are the proposed “core nodes”:

Six areas of the Township were identified as prime locations for development or redevelopment as dense, mixed-use development nodes. These areas were selected through the community survey we conducted; respondents were asked to pick from a list of areas within the Township that might be good candidates for denser development. These areas are ideal because they are areas along existing and proposed transportation routes, areas with existing infrastructure, and areas that may provide new amenities for existing developments or benefit from new amenities. Respondents identified the following six locations as nodes for dense and mixed-use development: Washtenaw Avenue, the intersection of Carpenter & Packard Roads, Platt & Michigan Avenue to US-23, the intersection of State & Textile Roads, the intersection of State Street & Ellsworth Road, and the Ann-Arbor-Saline Road area.

The township’s proposed “core node” areas.

An overwhelming majority of respondents, over 70%, expressed a desire to see AATA services expanded within Pittsfield. Interestingly, there was not much interest in increasing the frequency of existing services.

The township’s transit plan

Establishing an identity of its own, distinct from Ann Arbor, seems to be a big concern for the planners:

“When asked where you live, only 20.6% of residents say  Pittsfield, while 51% say Ann Arbor.”

The document itself  – nearly 300 pages — is very nicely designed with plenty of eye candy, and in general seems to reflect a lot of current best practices in planning.  If you’re planning-minded or just happen, like me, to live near or even in Pittsfield, take a look.  I’m eager to hear other people’s thoughts.

(Update on) Countywide transit — DOA?

One of my commenters justifiably took me to task after my initial post on the Washtenaw County Commission meeting:

I find it pretty disappointing that you’re going to write off an extensive process just because of one rocky meeting…

We already have countywide transit – it’s just not very functional in most of the outlying areas. Nobody’s suggesting that transit in rural Sylvan Township will involve plunking bus stops on corners – but maybe senior citizens will be able to get to their doctors appointments with a little less difficulty…

(Y)ou misunderstand what’s proposed. Transit takes a lot of forms, including rural door-to-door paratransit, which a lot of people in those remote townships want to make sure they have access to.

Murph is absolutely right.  I tend to be a pessimist,  and that was reflected in my first reaction to the coverage of this particular meeting, which was disappointment.  One of the joys of blogging is you sometimes say things that other people call you out on, and you then have to respond like a grown up and say, ‘Well, I might have been a little wrong…’

Murph cites the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s report of the meeting, which came out after I first posted, and as usual is far more detailed than AnnArbor.com’s story.  It turns out Alicia Ping was actually there, and her comments seemed pretty neutral.  Moreover, three out of the four commissioners representing Ann Arbor were absent as well, making this a tougher crowd than usual. Virtually all the theatrics came from Prater & Judge, who more than anything seemed miffed AATA hadn’t consulted them before this point:

When Blackmore pointed out that none of the communities they’ve talked with have had a problem with the board composition, Judge replied that if the county board has a problem, it won’t move forward.

Prater said he was “flabbergasted” that the plan had been developed without bringing it to the county board for feedback. He asked whether Blackmore had discussed this with any of the commissioners. Yes, Blackmore said – with board chair Conan Smith, Yousef Rabhi, who chairs the board’s working sessions, and former commissioner Jeff Irwin, who now serves in the state House of Representatives. [All three are from Ann Arbor.]

And the pièce de résistance of paranoia:

“What do you mean, ‘we’?” Prater asked. “Are you in on this?”

Clearly it’s a learning experience for AATA staffers, who are going to have to get used to dealing with an entirely new animal — the county commissioners from outside Ann Arbor & Ypsi, some of whom jealously guard their districts’ autonomy and distinct identities in true southeast Michigan fashion.

Having said that, I think the first thing that comes to mind for most residents, like me, is not senior paratransit but buses, bus shelters, bus drivers, and other infrastructure.   If AATA is going to be able to sell this to voters in rural areas, it really needs to tailor its message accordingly.  Take the remarks of Commissioner Dan Smith:

Dan Smith told his colleagues that he’s enjoyed using public transportation, especially in Europe. But this is Washtenaw County, not a major European metro area. This country – and especially southeast Michigan – has built a society based on roads and cars, he said. There might be external factors that will change this situation, like rising gas prices. But in Europe, public transportation is integrated into society in a way that it’s not in America.

Setting aside Smith’s problematic interpretation of public transit (buses use roads too, correct?), his comments illustrate how most people just are not making the connection between AATA and “getting seniors to their doctors’ appointments.”

AATA needs to assume it is facing an uphill battle, and it should prepare for some pretty close votes both before the county commission and countywide voters.  The fact is that the majority of voters in the county do not reside in the core service areas of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

AATA should be very careful about when the millage is put on the ballot.   If possible, it needs to be put to a vote in November 2012, when turnout is higher among students and minorities who are more supportive of transit.  Voters in February (or May? I’m not sure what time of year these things are scheduled in Washtenaw County) are going to be significantly older, whiter, richer, more rural, and more hostile to transit.

And I presume AATA learned its lesson about the local politics it is wading into.   It absolutely can not afford to neglect to bring officials from the townships into the heart of the conversation, starting immediately.  However excessive the histrionics of Commissioners Judge & Prater at this meeting, it can not allow the planning to be seen as occurring within a close-knit group of leaders from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.   Creation of this authority will demand early, active, and consistent buy-in from leaders in outlying areas.

On a side note, a commenter (Jack Eaton) on the Chronicle’s coverage provides an interesting addendum to my comment about SMART:

Not mentioned in the article, Act 204 of 1967, MCL 124.401 to 124.425. Section five of Act 204 provided that “The southeastern Michigan transportation authority which shall include the counties of Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne is established, but a county choosing not to participate in the authority may withdraw by a resolution of withdrawal . . .” Washtenaw County elected to withdraw from that regional transit system.

Countywide transit DOA

A week or two back, Paul Krugman shared a titillating anecdote:

(I)t is my civic duty to report that yesterday, as I got off Amtrak 161 from Trenton to Washington — having spent 2 1/2 hours being made more amenable to collectivism, not to mention finishing another chapter for 3rd edition — I saw George Will leaving the business class car.

(Will, for those of you blessed or wise enough not to have read his work, frequently rails — pun intended — against fuel-efficient travel in general, and public transportation in particular.)

Shifting focus from the East Coast Acela back to Michigan, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority presented its proposal to make itself a countywide service, funded by a countywide millage, to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners last Thursday.  Only 6 of the 11 commissioners were present, and it was a tough crowd, to say the least.  As Ryan Stanton reported, Commissioners Kristin Judge & Wes Prater objected particularly strenuously.  I’m guessing at the very minimum, other the other out-country commissioners, including Alicia Ping & Rob Turner, would join them in opposition.

The sooner AATA recognizes a countywide system is not going to happen, the sooner they can start focusing on improvements that actually have a chance.  To take one example, AATA could still partner with interested municipalities, say, contracting separately with, say, Dexter, Chelsea and Saline, without asking all voters from even the most remote and rural townships to pay for transit they themselves will never use.

For another, it could free up resources to partner with UM on improvements for the areas with by far the highest transit ridership, those that adjoin or service the U’s two campuses as well as the Medical Center.  The U is already leading the way with big improvements in Blue Bus service for Medical Center and North Campus Research Complex commuters.  The North-South Connector, which I’ve previously written about, seems to me by far the closest to fruition of any rapid transit plans in the region.  The “lifeline” service for seniors, people with disabilities, and others who can not drive could and should be coordinated in partnership with the UM Health System.

Has AATA considered approaching SMART to supplement service in the much denser eastern part of the county?  A partnership with SMART would have the benefit of establishing bus transit between Wayne, Washtenaw & conceivably even Oakland Counties, for which I would imagine there would be at least some demand from commuters.  AATA already provides commuter service to and from Canton; I could foresee plenty of interest from Belleville & Detroit as well, and as gas prices rise, from other parts of Wayne County.

In closing, a couple of other transit links of particular interest:

Since January 2010, the Central Ohio Transit Authority has been hedging against spikes in fuel costs by buying and selling contracts for heating oil. Historically, prices of the two products rise and fall in tandem, which means that as COTA spends more on fuel, it earns more on heating oil.

A 2008 change in state law allowed government entities in Ohio to get into the fuel hedging game, which is used by airlines and other big buyers of fuel to reduce the impact of rising oil prices. Bus systems in Cleveland and Cincinnati also hedge against rising fuel costs.

There is also news on Detroit rail, which I’ll address in another post.

Critical capacity

Last week, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATAannounced three distinct potential strategies for its transit master plan (TMP).  Last I checked, 66% of voters in an online poll conducted by AnnArbor.com favoured the most comprehensive ‘smart growth’ approach.  This is one of those reminders of what I love about Ann Arbor:  in this case, its voters’ generally enlightened attitude toward public transit.

Which, the TransportPolitic’s Yonah Freemark suggested last week, correlates both with its density and its voting patterns:

It is only in the densest sections of the country that transit (or affordable housing, for instance) is even an issue — which is why it appears to be mostly of concern to the Democratic Party. Republicans in the House for the most part do not have to answer to voters who are interested in improved public transportation… It’s hard to know how to reverse this problem.

Well, I have an idea how to reverse it and involves which party you vote for, but Mark Brewer isn’t paying me to shill, so I’ll just point out this great diagram Yonah featured in his post:

Regardless of whether you share my political leanings, let’s admit auto-centric sprawl ain’t free, folks.  In a recent story, Detroit Free Press commuting columnist Matt Helms quotes Monica Ware, the spokeswoman for the County Road Association of Michigan:

Local roads will bear the brunt of the decline in road funding, Ware said. Some rural outstate counties have returned to gravel asphalt roads they can’t afford to maintain.

And the blizzard hurtling toward my cosy condo even as I sit writing these words is going to extract its own pound of flesh from the public fisc.

Of course, when AATA followed up this week with cost estimates for the TMP alternatives, there was the usual shrieking from the anti-transit crowd about the long-term cost of the proposals (which range in the hundreds of millions of dollars over thirty years).   But I was impressed by the effective and articulate defense both AATA and transit supporters have mustered in response.  Consider remarks from Michael Benham, special assistant for strategic planning at the AATA, who

acknowledged that some people are opposed to investing such a significant amount of money in public transportation. But he pointed to other major investments with similar price tags, such as Ford Field in Detroit, or a $413 million Michigan Department of Transportation proposal to add one lane to a stretch of U.S. 23 between Interstate 96 and M-14.

I am going to have to memorize that number next time somebody complains about the cost of public transit.  There were more great talking points from a reader commenting on the story:

This is not about today but, rather, what we want our region to look like in 30 to 50 years. A 21st century system of public transit will be needed if we’re serious about continued growth and prosperity. The autocentric society that we have built in the last century is not sustainable in the future.

For little more than the cost of adding one lane to US23, which only aggravates the urban sprawl phenomenon, we could have a first-rate transportation alternative.

As usual, for a deeper level of detail we must turn to the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  In its typically exhaustive coverage of the January 20 meeting of the AATA board, the Chronicle quoted Benham’s subsequent press briefing:

(Even the) Smart Growth scenario is projected to increase public transit mode share to 12.2%…While the different scenarios show a substantial increases in mode share, they’re still relatively small percentage…

In an interview with the Chronicle (cited in the Chronicle’s coverage of the January 20 meeting of the AATA board), Ann Arbor city transportation program manager Eli Cooper

responded to that observation by describing the role of public transit as skimming enough volume off the passenger vehicle traffic flow to keep traffic flowing smoothly. So he’s not trying to get everyone out of their cars and onto the bus – he’s just trying to make sure the option is available. Skimming a lane’s worth of traffic off of existing roadways by building transit, he said, works out to be cheaper than building an extra lane of road.

As the Chronicle reported, another major topic at the January 20 meeting was a feasibility study of UM’s proposed north-south connector (see the map above).  The board heard from project consultant Richard Nau:

(T)he question of study scope could be seen as partly dependent on the composition of the group of funding partners. With UM shouldering a quarter of the funding cost, their primary interest may have been studying the corridors where UM has the greatest transportation need (i.e. the Plymouth & State Street corridors)…

One of the key findings of the connector feasibility study was the documentation of the sheer volume of UM-related traffic in the Plymouth-State corridor, specifically along Fuller Road. The UM blue bus system for the corridor operates at “critical capacity,” Nau told the board during his presentation. That means buses run every two-three minutes during peak periods – from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. People have to stand while riding. In raw numbers, that means 30,700 riders per day, or 2,100 per hour. During 15-minute peak periods the blue bus system along that stretch of road carries 780 riders. The absolute peak number of buses per hour is 60 – one a minute.

In later questioning from Roger Kerson, Nau said they’d observed UM bus operations. People are left standing because the buses are packed full. The UM system adds extra buses as needed. The system is at capacity, as far as how many buses they can stack behind each other at bus stops.

In a separate phone interview with The Chronicle, Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, put it this way: More people travel along Fuller Road in buses than in cars – the total number of vehicles [cars and buses] is in the low 20,000s, but the total number of bus riders is more than 30,000, he said.

I will attest from my own personal experience over the past two and a half years at the U that this is ABSOLUTELY TRUE.  It is insane, and must be seen and experienced to believe.  If you are both lucky and aggressive enough to be able to shove and claw your way onto a Blue Bus headed for North Campus during business hours on a weekday, you feel like you are taking a bus in Mumbai, jammed between hoards of sweaty, stinky, coughing, sneezing students.  The situation is to the point that I predict UM will go ahead and build a high-capacity rail or streetcar link within the next decade, with or without AATA’s involvement.

And it’s only going to get worse:

(A)dditional development is expected to occur in the area, based on increased employment. By 2035, said Nau, traffic volume is forecast to increase by 10% along Plymouth Road,  11% on Fuller Road and 10% on State Street… The Plymouth Road and State Street corridors are two of the heaviest used corridors in the AATA system. Plymouth Road has service every 15 minutes and serves 2,288 passengers per weekday. On State Street, AATA offers service every 7 minutes, with 2,771 average riders per weekday… With some frequency, passengers need to stand… (F)orecasts for the corridor… showed around 40,000 trips per day. Nau noted that many light rail systems operate at 20,000 trips per day in larger metro areas…

Nau recommends an end-to-end service through the entire corridor that can handle the demand and frequency requirements in the shoulders – bus rapid transit (BRT), streetcars, or existing buses. For the core, something higher capacity and higher frequency would be required – elevated rail, light rail, or bus rapid transit (BRT)…

As always, neither community members nor officials could pass up the opportunity to air town-gown tensions.  Take board member David Nacht’s argument, paraphrased by the Chronicle, that ‘If the transportation system that is built serves UM needs, then UM needs to share the burden.’  Talk like this conveniently ignores that the university contracts with AATA so that its faculty, staff and students can ride the bus free of fare.  Of course, the ride itself isn’t at all free — students pay for it through fees and faculty and staff pay for it through lower salaries  – but the effect is that AATA is able to offer vastly more service than it otherwise would because the university does everything in its power to get people to take the bus.

As with the TMP alternatives, the proposed connector is in no way imminent — indeed, this was just a very preliminary look for the board:

If the community is interested in moving ahead with a high-capacity transit option in the Plymouth-State corridor, Nau said, this feasibility study is only the first of a number of steps. Next would come an alternatives analysis, preliminary engineering, environmental review, final design and then construction. Those steps could take from 5 to 20 years to complete, he concluded…

I will close this entry with two other relevant recent links you should read and reflect upon wherever you spend the next 24 hours of Snowpocalypse holed up:

Brownfield redevelopment in Ann Arbor & Ypsi

(Apology in advance:  My references in this post are pretty much all from AnnArbor.com.  I try to cite a wider range of sources most of the time but the Ann Arbor Chronicle and other outlets don’t seem to have got around to reporting much on the stories in this post yet.  Just wanted to make clear I recognized I’m not exactly adhering to best practices in the following.)

Yes, Virginia, there IS blight in Ann Arbor.

Of course, there’s a vast and very prominent swath of it concentrated immediately south of University of Michigan’s Central Campus, known and loved by UM students and alumni as their very own housing ghetto.  In most Midwestern cities, the oldest housing stock is reserved for the poorest and generally allowed to go to hell.  In cities like Saginaw, Flint, Lansing, and of course Detroit these mostly nineteenth century homes are the epicenter of an ever-widening circle of blight, and eventually most are abandoned and razed.

There are exceptions to this rule:  Grand Rapids has generally done very well by its historic neighborhoods, most notably in Heritage Hill, where the gays and their fellow travelers have lavished love and attention on the neighborhood’s historic mansions.  My hometown, Bay City, has what I consider the next best preserved stock of nineteenth century housing in the entire state, and at fire sale prices might I add.

In Ann Arbor, a constant churn of students have filled the demand for the decrepit hulks that fill the student ghetto.  This demand has both helped to preserve the battered structures and to keep the price of real estate of any kind in the area head and shoulders beyond most any in the Midwest outside of Chicago, let alone Michigan.

Further out from the old core of the city, though, Ann Arbor has pockets of blight just like any other community:  parcels that, for whatever reason, the owners have allowed it to decline and to sit vacant.  One of the more notorious cases over the past decade has been the Georgetown Mall off Packard Road south of Stadium Blvd., where among an otherwise prosperous and stable single-family neighborhood sprawls a vacant shopping center, formerly anchored by a Kroger supermarket.

So it was big news when reports began surfacing that Georgetown’s owner was planning to redevelop the site.  Lazy blogger that I am, I’ll direct you to Ryan Stanton’s most recent update on the situation.

I often find the comments on AnnArbor.com’s posts valuable in gleaning popular sentiment and highlighting points of controversy, and those responding to Stanton’s update are no exception.  First let me emphasize that the type of Ann Arbor residents who make themselves heard on redevelopment proposals are NIMBY to the extreme.  Whether it be preserving an old building, holding on to every last inch of the city’s massive parkland, or ensuring a three-story building is not overshadowed by a five-story one, there will be a shrill pocket of citizens who will find a reason to oppose ANY project, no matter how shambolic the condition of the property to be redeveloped.  This has had the virtue of helping to maintain that price premium over its neighbors that I cited earlier;  it has kept the city’s population well below what it otherwise would have been; and it has contributed to the growth of surrounding communities like Dexter and Saline, while keeping Ypsilanti’s population from declining as rapidly as it might otherwise have.

Consequently, the response to the Georgetown situation is noteworthy:  cautious optimism and support from residents and other commenters, qualified by no small measure of scepticism.   One commenter captures why:

As the article points out, (Bloomfield Hills developer) Craig Schubiner is the owner of this mall. He has repeatedly announced plans for redevelopment, only to have something go awry. Why is this plan different? And for how many years have the taxes gone unpaid? Have there been any payments? How can we feel confident he will pay the back taxes?… The developer owned this property *while* it was becoming blighted and the parking lot was deteriorating. This was happening when Georgetown Mall still had active tenants. So, the developer himself caused all this blight by not maintaining his own property. And now it qualifies for redevelopment credits because it is blighted?

AnnArbor.com’s editorial today provides a bit more detail on Schubiner’s ‘checkered background with this particular property and others’:

In 2008, Schubiner proposed to revive the mall with a project called Georgetown Commons, a concept that would have included a 45,000-square-foot Kroger, a number of other retail shops and 150 apartments. Noting came of that plan. Meanwhile, his $2 billion Bloomfield Park project in Oakland County went belly-up in 2008 and is often pointed to as a poster child of failed real estate development in Michigan.

But the editorial board ultimately seems willing to give him more credit:

We recognize the severe hardships that many developers like Schubiner faced in the economic meltdown of 2008, and we would be glad to see him succeed with this new concept for the Georgetown Mall… Schubiner has demonstrated a willingness to listen to homeowners’ concerns about deterioration of the former strip mall after the Kroger store closed. Blighting conditions have been addressed as neighbors have pointed them out.

They also offer Schubiner some advice:

While city and state officials consider his proposal, Schubiner can help his own cause by listening to the input of neighbors and incorporating their concerns into his final designs. Their primary concerns seems to be whether the number of apartment units being proposed is appropriate, or too dense for the property. Planning standards can help answer that question…

(T)here also is the matter of $277,000 in back taxes owed on the property. New development of the land can’t begin until those taxes are paid. If the developer wants to demonstrate his good faith, as well as his financial ability to undertake a project of this scope, resolving the delinquent taxes would be an opportunity to do both.

Meanwhile, AnnArbor.com’s terrific business reporter Paula Gardner reports on more redevelopment news several miles to the east in Ypsilanti, on West Cross near Eastern Michigan University’s campus.  Gardner offers her personal take on why she thinks the purchase is a ‘game-changer’:

The buyer is O’Neal Inc., the Ann Arbor construction company that also redeveloped Kerrytown, creating a retail hub for that interesting, historical district on the north edge of Ann Arbor’s downtown…
The plan… suits the market: With so many students nearby, the updated apartments will elevate its portion of the student housing stock.
And giving retailers new, high-profile space to find their niche adjacent to the campus-oriented area adds a new element to the city’s commercial real estate market.
Lastly, the O’Neal company has both the capital and experience to make the project valuable and viable to their portfolio and the community. That can’t always be said about new projects…
Now, with O’Neal’s purchase in the mix, the building at 735 E. Cross stands ready to tip the entire corridor toward improvement.
That’s no small order for a street that for years has functioned well under its potential, considering its place next to one of the state’s largest universities.

Ann Arborites are a gimlet-eyed bunch when it comes to development and redevelopment, so the general optimism greeting both these projects makes them stand out. (It’s a refreshing contrast to the rather desperate exuberance Detroiters exhibit with the slightest mention of any kind of development in their city, which more often than not fizzles before anything actually is brought to fruition.)

I’m especially heartened by the West Cross news, as I am whenever I hear about investment in Ypsi.  Gardner’s remark about functioning below its potential could just as well be applied to Ypsi in general, which in my view is by far the weakest of Michigan’s major college towns.  (As with Wayne State until very recently, Eastern was just a commuter school, its failure to boost its community compounded by poor management under some of its past presidents, and an underprivileged student population with lousy graduation rates).  It’s especially disappointing to me that Ypsi has so far failed to capitalize on one of its biggest assets, its building stock.  The heart of Ypsi is filled with some of the oldest surviving buildings in any Michigan city; you just don’t find that density of Greek and Gothic Revival homes north of the Ohio border.

I conjecture that the already high cost of housing in Ann Arbor has been held in check by Michigan’s depression since 2000, and as the rest of the region recovers in the 2010s that cost is going to spiral to new levels.  If that does happen, it could catalyze long-delayed gentrification in Ypsi, which is well-connected by bus service to central Ann Arbor and offers housing at a fraction of the rents.  It’s a city with a lot of troubles but excellent bones underneath it all, and if Ann Arbor’s prosperity eventually manages to spill over to the east, it could really begin to shine.

Contracting for police services in the Ann Arbor area

Last week’s county commission meetings regarding contracting for Washtenaw County (which includes Ann Arbor) sheriff’s deputies provided an interesting view into some of the issues surrounding coordination of services between different layers of local government.  As anybody familiar with the grim outlook for revenue sharing in the state of Michigan will attest, this is the kind of conversation we can expect to be having frequently all over the state in the coming years.

Moving Michigan: updates on federal funding for WALLY, Ann Arbor – Detroit rail

Some news this week on the Quixotic quest of Southeast Michigan transit planners for light and commuter rail.

First, the proposed commuter line to connect the teeming metropolis of Howell (population ~10,000) with the even more teeming Ann Arbor (population ~113,000), thirty miles away, was denied federal funding for the second time:

‘Michael Benham, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority strategic planner… said there are no pending grant requests for WALLY at this time, but “there are some sources of money (AATA) needs to investigate.”‘

This remark strikes me as similar to when I say I need to start eating more vegetables.   Can AATA quit wasting oxygen on this already?

In related news, Crain’s Detroit Business reports that next week we’ll find out if the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail project will get $200 million in Federal Rail Administration funding.  I remember in January of this year, when SEMCOG was saying the line could be up and running by year’s end; then, less than two months later, it backtracked and said it would instead run “only for special events beginning in October (2010).”  (It’s October, by the way, and I haven’t heard anything about these special events, presumably UM football games, or the special trains that are supposed to be serving them.)  Washtenaw County elected officials (namely County Commissioner/state rep-elect Jeff Irwin) responded by taking SEMCOG to the woodshed for failing to piece the necessary funding together on schedule.  Right now, I’m only slightly less jaded about the prospects for this commuter service than I am about WALLY.  Even if it gets federal funding, I don’t foresee the political will in the Michigan legislature to muster its share of the necessary dollars, since it hasn’t even managed to pass a budget on time for the past several years.

So as not to be a total Debbie Downer, I’ll close with some fun links: