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At What Price Parking?

At What Price Parking? image At What Price Parking? image
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Agenda Publications
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University Terrace (UT) is a forty-year old apartment complex consisting of 9 buildings and 193 units inhabited by married and single students. Unfortunately, University Terrace lies on land adjacent to University Hospital and has been identified as a site for future Medical Campus expansion. Almost 100 units have already been lost. Back in the late 60's, two buildings were torn down to make room for the East Washington parking structure; more recently, two additional buildings were appropriated for use as office space by the Replacement Hospital Project. Now, despite a housing crisis so severe that many students are being forced out of the Ann Arbor area, residents have recently found out that the Hospital wants to tear down several of the remaining buildings to make room for an extension for the visitor's parking structure. There are no plans to replace these units with additional housing.

This was not the first time when UT residents had been placed in a position where they had to defend their community. Last May the Housing Office was informed, without prior warning or consultation, that virtually all of the parking at UT would be lost. Since married students are frequently dependent on having their own transportation, this meant that many families would be forced to look for another place to live. Residents organized and demanded that hospital planners guarantee parking for present and future residents, stating that if no agreement was reached, the hospital dedication would be picketed.

The hospital refused to negotiate; instead, a proposal was made, through the Housing Office, that would guarantee parking for current residents only. This offer was unacceptable because it did not protect the interests of future residents, a right that current residents felt uncomfortable giving away. On June 1, over 40 UT residents, supported by friends from the Tenants' Union and the Michigan Student Assembly, conducted a peaceful demonstration in front of the hospital on the day of the ceremony. This was done for three reasons: first, because the residents had previously agreed not to accept any offer which bargained away the rights of future neighbors; second, to protest the refusal of hospital planners to negotiate with them; and third, to draw attention to problems created by a shift in priorities which has seen student needs sacrificed in the scramble to maintain the prestige of the University at a time of decreased public support.

It is always an ugly thing when housing is torn down to build a parking facility; to do so during a housing crisis is completely unconscionable. How is it possible for the University, which is supposed to be a humanitarian institution, to be so insensitive of the rights and need of students and their families? A clue is given in the original 10 year plan, in which UT was identified as a site for future Medical Campus expansion. Nowhere in the entire 190 page document was there any consideration of the impact on the University community of tearing down UT. The closest thing to an admission that real people lived there was the single, terse comment: "Because of the limited site availability in this area of the Campus, medical use must take precedence over married housing accommodations. Elsewhere in the report, it is stated: "The cemetery, arboretum, valley and river ... are considered essential ingredients of community life. All are enthusiastically supported, represented, and protected by local residents ..."

Why are the cemetery, arboretum and river valley immune from the ravages of hospital expansion? Certainly not because of the concern of the planners for the interests of people and the environment. They have spared because there are concerned citizens willing to speak up and defend their interests and the interests of their community. Students, on the other hand, are here only for a few years and are usually too busy trying to get their degrees to worry about the future of their community - or so the University seems to think. Perhaps the most significant thing about the protest at University Terrace was not so much the demonstration itself but the fact that residents explicitly rejected attempts to buy them out with offers which bargained away the interests of their future neighbors.

Residents first became aware of plans to tear down UT last summer, when a report, prepared by JJ&R (Johnson, Johnson & Roy - the same land use consultants who prepared the Master Plan for Medical Campus Expansion in 1980), recommended University Terrace as a site for the expansion of hospital parking facilities. It should be noted this expansion is in no way a necessary solution to a "parking emergency" as originally claimed - by the time construction starts, the new Glen St. structure will have been completed and there may actually be a surplus of parking spaces in the Medical Campus area - rather, it is an attempt to meet projected needs that will not become critical until the 1990's. Furthermore, the report discussed two possible sites for new parking facilities: University Terrace and an area adjacent to the Children's Psychiatric Hospital (CPH). Both sites had advantages and disadvantages; the main reason for choosing the UT site seems to have been a desire to retain the CPH site for future development because of its more central location. Nowhere in the report was any consideration given to the impact of the destruction of UT upon the community.

In September, in a meeting with Vice President Brinkerhoff, assurances were given that this matter would not be brought before the regents before December, at the earliest. It was noteworthy that Mr. Brinkerhoff stated, during this meeting, that he was aware of the housing crisis, and in particular, he was aware that many students were being forced to move outside Ann Arbor and commute to classes. The response of the University was to plan the expansion of commuter parking lots. He was also aware that many working poor were being forced outside of the city; this was an especially grave concern, for the University was having a hard time recruiting clerical and maintenance staff. This, he said, was the reason that the University was encouraging the use of car pooling and, ultimately, planning additional parking facilities. In any case, residents assumed that there would be time to discuss the UT issue, and accordingly, planned to present their case before the regents during the public comments session on November 20.

Residents have decided to revive the University Terrace Solidarity Committee. Building captains and stairwell captains were appointed so that all residents could be quickly mobilized to respond to any eventuality, and individual residents volunteered to 'adopt' a regent prior to the Nov.20 meeting. Residents are going ahead with plans to present their case before the regents at this time.

Tearing down U. Terrace to build a parking structure which is not really needed when there are alternative sites available is bad enough. To do so during a housing crisis is an act of social contempt that staggers the imagination. Such an act by University planners would have been utterly unthinkable a few years ago; that it is possible today reflects badly, not only upon the University administration, but also upon students and other members of the University community for having allowed apathy to grow to the point where such abuses were possible. It may be too late to save UT, but residents are determined to make sure that University official will never again dare to treat the needs of the community in such an off-handed way.


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