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Ann Arbor Without Plans? It Has Them By The Pound

Ann Arbor Without Plans? It Has Them By The Pound image Ann Arbor Without Plans? It Has Them By The Pound image
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(ÏHIRD OF A SERIES) If one element had to be extracted from current annexation debate and controversy as being a key ingrediënt it would doubtless be planning. It is true Ann Arbor is currertly devoid of a general development plan - or master plan - but it cannot be said the city does not have its share of plans. As former City Councilman Robert P. Weeks once illustrated in the council chambers, Ann Arbor has more than seven poiyids of plans. Many Iay dormant on the shelf, e i t h e r waiting for impleTffffltálioh'Tvhich may or may nor e v e r c ome or already outdated. The city's general development plan has long been in the w o r k s , and i t now appears it will be ready for public review and debate early next spring. But as Planning Director Michael R. Prochaska points out, the plan will not be_a "cookie cutter" wherein évêry piece of land in the city H sojnp outside the city will be stamped with a land use for all to see and rely ugon. Many of the myriad of plans lying on_Jjie. shelf will be a p"árt aTthis general development plan. Whether they ever come to fruition is a question which must be answered by the council - and the taxpayer. Plans are relatively inexpensive, implementation is not. If there are so many plans existí' ng for the future development of the city, then I why the distrust of planning which has become more marked in recent years? Some citizens have the impression that the city's Planning Department - and therefore the plans - are controlled to a large extent by the administration. City Administrator Guy C. Larcom Jr. would be the first to chuckle at such a suggestion At the recent retreat held by the council and Planning Commission, Larcom war calling for some input into the planning by the administration. Ann Arbor's Planning Commission, and thus its I ning Department, is largely autonomous from the rest of the city administration. It is true city departments have a great deal of technical input intti 1 bc various plans, but the may well be following a policy established years ago - before the present planning staff and its ideas were even withiri the City Hall confines. As Larcom points out, there mty be millions of dollars involved in these projects and a reversal would have to take into account the dollars which - by and large - may have been wasted. An example of this is the Packard - to - Beakes bypass route which was approved by a past council, along with the voters via a bond issue, but has recently come into disrepute. Many thousands of dollars have already been sunk into that project and abandonment now could mean a loss of these dollars. It would at least lead to some loss of fa;th by those who had pledgcd added millage for this and other road projects. One concept which evolved from the retreat may lead to a lessening of the suspicion with which planning, and the administration, is viewed. It was generally agreed t o undertake a program of an annual public review of the general development plan, with citizens béng allowed to particípate in the decisión making process. And the Planning Commission has appointed a special committee t o investigate methods of bringing more citizen participation into city government and the planning process. For many citizens, however, planning only becomes an important process when an "objectionable" project arises in their own neighborhood. Then the citizens flock to the Planning Commission and City Council to voice their concerns. Af ter the issue fades away, so do the citizens. This is not true of all citizens, of course, for there are many who have a continuing interest to make sure the plans are the best for the city - from their viewpoint - and to prod the administration with rapid-fire questioning. There is a point at hand now where these citizens' views and those o f the administration part company. City officials are attempting to free the council and commission of some of the more routine technical matters. Citizens view this as a power play by the administration. This issue bas come to a head over the proposed subdivision-control and land-use amendments. Many citizens wno become embroiled in a controvery over annexations, or zonings, I want the land left as it is - vacant, and possibly part of their backyard or vista. City officials say the council should consider annexations and zonings on the value to the city as a vvhole, not simply with respect to parochial issues. The Ann Arbor council's decisions on annexations and zonings, along with the electorates' decisions, w e i g h heavily on the issue of tax base. Vacant land is a very low tax source, and low-density or low-cost housing projects - as pointed up by planning studies - do not pay their way. City Assessor Wayne Johnson points out that roughly 44 per cent of the city's taxes are paid by homeowners. This figure is closer to 20 per cent in cities such as Flint and Pontiac with heavy industrial tax bases. And having the greatest impact on the city's growth is the University w h i c h is exempt f rom propertyMKS. It is estimated that eaBw student who comes he University generates the need for about two more persons in various service areas. Thus, the city's growth is tied closely to that of the U-M. A no-growth policy for the city would have to follow a no-growth policy on the part of the University. Johnson further notes that upwards of BOËerenJf the city's land is""in theuxexept status. This problem of obtaining a tax base has moved the Economie Development and Manpower Commission t o announce plans for a study of the general economie climate in Ann Arbor and vicinity, with an emphasis on the impact of city policy and law o n industry's willingness to locate here. Part of the "character" of Ann Arbor in the past has been an absence of industry. Without the rapid annexation of large tracts of land, this policy appears to be safely ensconced. Townships are drawing closer and closer to the point of Jjeisg-able to provide essential water and sewer servites7 andTFÍndustry in the future should choose to lócate in the Ann Arbor area it would doubtless choose the low- townships i f the neciHky services can be Without this industrial - or at least a higher density residential - tax base as a fores e e a b 1 e possibility, Ann Arbor has little else to do but go to the local income tax in an effort to meet the spiraling cost of government. And if the city is not given the opportunity to annex lands, it would at least 'have this mechanism of extracting paymake use of city services. "One of the basic principies is that a city must grow," says Prochaska. "It must expand to meet its needs. We must note the population change. Ann Arbor is not an isolated community, it is influenced by the things happening in Southeast Michigan. It is changing all the time. We can't isolate ourselves f rom what's going on around us. The city must be at fhe forefront of being able to grow and meet the needs of the citizens." Prochaska adds, "If the area wants to grow in the best way, annexation must take place." "Industry is lea ving because there is no land available. If you assume Ann Arbor cannot isolate itself, that the freeway system is not a Berlín wall, you must realize Ann Arbor will feel the effects of urban growth whether within or without the city limits." Prochaska said it is important where the corporate limits of the city He. He says some land should always be in the townships, while other lands should be in the city "and we should get it as f ast as possible." Commenting on the concept of a "breaüung spell" or a "stopping"oT"the clock" held b y iTrá'ñ'1y"'"'afrti-annexation proponents, Prochaska said, "It is an interesting idea, but it makes an acute situation more acute. It gives the mechanics f o r consensus growth to take place. However, w'hat, at the end of three years, says we can turn on a switch and start to move." "I doubt very much that we'll be able to do this. I doubt that this breathing spell relieves an already extreme situation for housing and land. You would be aceelerating an already difficult situation." Prochaska also asks why citizens believe the townships would be more willing three years from now to release the land. "Chances are they'd be less willing. They would have more of a tax base and will be close to providing needed services." "Ann Arbor is f ar behind the national averages for meeting the housing needs of low-income people. You don't solve the problem by saying let's wait. This policy has been tried. It doesn't solve the problems," the planning director said. Former councilman LeRoy A. Cappaert says it's a myth that "the bigger you are the better you are going to be." "Perhaps we should have a sister city relationship with Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester and Saline. City officials generally feel they don't know what they're doing, that they will dirty the land. Perhaps they know more of the ecology than we do," Cappaert says. He suggested aiding these smaller communlties by giving them funding for plann i n g , with no s t r i n g s attached. "We must think of what is important in Ann Arbor. We have to preserve what the people like here." Cappaert says if the city does not "take a breathing spell" Ann Arbor will become just like any other sprawling community. Both he and Prochaska agree the city should not become a bedroom community for Detroit. But they, along with many others, differ on the methods they believe necessary to avert this end. philosophy and concept of ï pknning is a product by and I large of the north side of the I third floor of City Hall-the I home of the Planning ■ ment. I As noted by Larcom at the I retreat, much of the citizen I belief that the administratipn I is "meddling" in the planning 1 process comes from the fact the administration is carrying out policies set by previous councils which have not been changed by newer councils over the years. Thus, when the administration moves forvvard with projects some citizens view as being contradictory to current planning coneepts, it