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'Central Park' plan proposed

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'Central Park' plan proposed

Ann Arbor Sierra Club pitches city greenway

Monday, October 18, 2004

BY TOM GANTERT

News Staff Reporter

The local chapter of the Sierra Club is pushing a new proposal to create a three-mile-long green space trail along the Allen Creek corridor - a sort of "Central Park" that would cut through the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. It would include bike and foot paths from Bandemer Park to the Michigan Stadium.

The Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group backed the plan for the greenway in its latest newsletter, which was mailed to 3,000 city dues-paying members Friday.

Doug Cowherd, co-chairman of the Sierra group, said he expects a battle with developers and their political allies if the city is to realize the full-scale vision, dubbed the Ann Arbor Greenway.

"It could well be the biggest battle between developers and Ann Arbor residents that we've seen," said Cowherd, who was involved in the successful public campaign in 2003 to create a fund to purchase land to create a greenbelt around the city....

"If the people who live in Ann Arbor know what's at stake here, they can prevent this (trail) idea from being quietly killed in the back rooms of city hall."

Mayor John Hieftje said the greenway concept has a lot of merit but needs to be thoroughly discussed by all residents.

"Residents of any area need a place where they can go to experience the outdoors," Hieftje said. "This has to be a long-term vision."

Republican City Council Member Mike Reid said it was a "reasonable assumption" that there would be a mix of parks and development as opposed to a full-blown greenway.

"I don't think you can be opposed to creating more green space in the downtown area," Reid said. "Whether it is a continuous Central Park type thoroughfare, I kind of doubt that is a realistic vision."

Ann Arbor developer Ed Shaffran said the idea will bump heads with the city's plan to lure more residents downtown. Shaffran doesn't see dedicating so much space downtown to parks as being compatible with the city's goal to bring 1,500 residences or about 3,000 people downtown by 2020.

Cowherd said the key to his vision is a flat parking lot at First and William streets. Cowherd believes the city should turn it, as well as the city's parks garage at 415 W. Washington St. and the fleet maintenance facility at 721 N. Main St., into parks. The parks garage and the fleet maintenance facility are expected to be moved to a new building in Pittsfield Township within two years.

The Downtown Development Authority has plans to build a new parking structure at First and William, which would be key to the city's plans to build more residential units downtown.

Shaffran said there wouldn't be much interest in building at 415 W. Washington St. or 721 N. Main St. because both properties could be affected by flooding during strong rains.

But Shaffran said a parking structure on First and William is vital. "Bottom line is, we need parking," Shaffran said. "If you want to kill the downtown, do away with parking."

Cowherd said he's seen no evidence that there is a shortage of parking in downtown. He said parking structures have room.

Shaffran said there would be an economic loss to the city in taxes by choosing parks over development.

Shaffran thinks a smaller-scale version of the greenway is what will eventually happen.

"Isn't life about compromise?" Shaffran said.

Cowherd fears his vision will be twisted to spruce up bigger developments to make it easier to get approval of residents. He said no elected official "has yet supported the full-scale greenway after many years of discussion."

"I'm concerned people who say they support the greenway concept are actually trying to turn it into a concrete path between the tall buildings they want to put everywhere downtown," Cowherd said. "This will make their projects more attractive, but it won't create the linear Central Park that would be a tremendous benefit to Ann Arbor residents."

Tom Gantert can be reached at [email protected] or (734) 994-6701.

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A central park is a VERY bad idea. We have enough parks. The overcrowding issue needs to be resolved by developing high density housing on what empty lots we have left.

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FYI, there's been some interesting discussion on this issue at the following sites:

Ann Arbor is Overrated

and

Arbor Update

Probably the best discussions of Ann Arbor planning issues on the web are to be found at those sites... we could always use some more urbanists weighing-in over there. Enjoy.

Brandon

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Thanks for the links. I will be sure to check them out.

I think that this greenway is completely unnecessary. The city is already getting a greenbelt, so why does it need a greenway, especially through downtown? They should use the space downtown for higher densities. Or they could always have a compromise, with a small pocket park, and have the rest of the area devoted to higher densities.

BTW, welcome to the forum, Brandon!

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