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Planner Says Townships Can't Handle Urban Government

Planner Says Townships Can't Handle Urban Government image Planner Says Townships Can't Handle Urban Government image
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(FOURTH OF A SERIES) There is a stretch of Washtenaw Ave. east of Ann Arbor's city limits which is a virtual potpourri of eating establishments. Packed into about a one-mile section of highway in Ypsilanti Township are some 14 buildings providing an assortment of restaurants, drive-ins and other eating-drinking establishments. Proponents of an aggressive annexation policy on the part of Ann Arbor point to developments such as this as notable examples of what can happen when land is put to intense use outside the controls of city government. Ypsilanti Township, which did its duty during the Second World War to build needed materials, was shunned by the core city of Ypsilanti following that con, flict and the township has proceeded on its own urbanization program. "The has to place controls on land," says Planning Director Michael R. Prochaska, "the townships aren't equipped to handle urban government. You can see examples in every township around Ann Arbor." Ypsilanti Township is the envy of some of its neighboring townships because it has the needed commodities for urbanization - water and sewer. A few years ago Ypsilanti Township officials embarked on a program of extending its sewer lines into other townships desirous of urbanization. Pittsfield Township to date is the chief beneficiary of this policy, but other townships have united in the Huron Utilities Authority which not only promises to extend Ypsilanti Township's sewer lines but to also provide a mechanism for the necessary bonding for the expenses of these projects. "You can say township attitudes are changing, but it's simply not true," Prochaska says regarding claims that township officials are interested only in maintaining a wide-open rural-type environment. "It (a township) is a rural form of government and can'l meet urban demands. If the area wants to grow in the best way, annexation must take place," the planning directos said. Ann Arbor officials are not and have not, been working un der the assumption the city will maintain the status quo in area or population. City Administra tor Guy C. Larcom Jr. points out many of the city programs are working toward a popula tion of 130,000 to 150,000 by the end of this decade. eral development plan, expected to be completed and ready Eor public review néxt spriñg, is founded on the district center concept. (In simple terms, this concept involves the creation of commercial centers surrounded by residential development in outlying areas.) The district center concept, Prochaska says, calis for expansión. This expansión does not necessarily have to be the physical boundaries of the city, but it must at least be a population expansión. Prochaska said the district center concept could be applied within the existing city boundaries but says it will work best with an enlargement of the city's area. Without land expansión, Prochaska says, the district center concept would at best be a mutation. "If the city grew, the corporate limits would not have to be expanded indefinitely, especially if there was cooperation between the city and surrounding townships. Under the district center concept, you can define the ends of the corporation limits." Prochaska told the Planning Commission and City Council at its retreat that once committed o the district center concept ;he city cannot back away from t. He said if the decisión is to be not to expand the governing body should let the Planning Department know this five or six years in advance. It is possible to aim to a point ■ n time when there will be no ; more growth, Prochaska says. 3ut city officials, and a maority of councilmen and planiers, believe the city is f ar from that point right now. Most persons are unwilling to specify how large the city idealy should be. Larcom says in terms of service the city limits can expand as long as the city can do the better job. But he also foresees the city entering an era wherein there will be little expansión of city boundaries. What this means, he says, i is that the city will not have the necessary land for public housing, parks, parking, and other amenities expected by city residents. He also tosses out another reminder: "We have to raise enough money to reach the lofty goals that are set." Larcom says citizens may have to make some sacrifices to the environment to achieve the desired ends. City officials hammer relentlessly at the point Ann Arbor has the means- given citizen support - of r e a c h i n g these "lofty goals" whereas the townships- even given citizen support - do not. "Thecityisheretcjrovide ervices, and this is not limited ;o the people already living ïere," Prochaska says. "To provide these servicces, annexation must take place, we must pro'ide the land upon which to grow." Some citizens opposing annexations and f u r t h e r city growth look fondly at the "new ;own" concept. "This has hit he nation like the great panacea to all problems," Prochasca said. "It has been in existence since the 1920s. It has never worked. It won't work." He pointed to the "new towns" which developed around London, England. "People are still attracted to the core city and the new towns do not provide the wide range of services and activities people want." Prochaska questioned whether "new towns" around Ann Ar3or would simply be "bedroom communities" for the central city. "The answer is that they will, and the city will still have :o provide services for people ;iving there- at a higher tax cost to the city residents." He termed Ann Arbor the "mother community" of Washtenaw County. The smaller towns will expand, he added, but it will be a different type of expansión. "They will be subcenters to the city of Ann Arbor." They will be largely dependent upon Ann Arbor, he adds. F o r years, many citizens viewed the freeways enguliing the city as its "natural" boundaries. "It is annoying to talk as if the freeways are boundaries," Prochaska said. (Ann Arbor has already gone beyond the freeway system, to an extent, in its expansión.) Prochaska said he would "hate to see the freeways become determining factors" on the city's size. He says this would be "giving up to highway technicians." "There is no 'good size' for a community," Prochaska adds. 'You can íuncuon just as wen with a city of 100,000 people as one with four million people." He says this includes the ability to provide services and having a large degree of citizen participation. "There is no way to determine if growth is manageable or not," Prochaska holds. "I'm not willing to set any size limitation. You should maintain the ability for citizens to particípate and control their own destiny. If you can accomplish those few things, size is immaterial." Mayor Robert J. Harris says he leans to a community no larger than 250,000 population, a figure being bandied about by some political scientists as being a "good" size. "I don't buy this concept," Prochaska says. Cited most often by city officials as being the "natural boundaries" for Ann Arbor are the drainage basins surrounding the city- Fleming Creek, Traver Creek and Honey Creek being the major ones. Another concept which has been advanced as being a solution to the city's growth "problems" is the purchase by the city of huge tracts of township land. This could then be planned and sold to developers who would be bound by the plans. But the economics of the situation would tend to prohibit ;his. Mayor Harris comments that the city's taxes would have to be two or three times higher than now to make this feasible. Since this money is not available, Harris says the citizens 'must come to grips with the tact that in Ann Arbor either private enterprise builds most }f the residences out of selfish motives or the residences don't get built at all. Calling developsrs names doesn't change this fact." "This doesn't mean we should abandon the effort to regúlate ievelopers more and better," Harris said. "But it means the citizen must think development issues through and not stop the brain from working once he learns that developers favor annexation." Some citizens opposing annexation do not agree that citizen participation grows proportionately with the size of the city. "You lose feedback from the electorate as you grow larger," says former Councilman LeRoy A. Cappaert. "You do a less decent job of interacting with the public." He says these types of issues have not been considered. "There is something about numbers that bothers me, unless Communications are somehow built in." Cappaert says a larger city results in "depersonalization." If a city grows too fast, he s says, "you get to the point j where it will take 20 years to catch up with the services 1 essary for the increased 1 lation." "I don't know if the size of ! the city has anything to do with the efficiency of serving the city," said Dr. Theodore Beals, 1 "but I'd be awfully surprised if 1 it didn't. But he agrees -with Prochaska that the freeways are i not the boundaries for the city, i stating the drainage areas "may ; be best." A larger city, Cappaert adds, i may lead to the necessity of 1 changing the city's form of : ernment. (Ann Arbor is a city : manager government, but the 1 powers exerted by mayors over the years tends to dilute this. A political scientist might view : Ann Arbor as having a "strong mayor - council - city manager" form of government, and then raise his eyebrows). Dr. Beals says the city's 'hybrid" system "is not all that bad, it gives a lot of checks and balances - when it's working." Cappaert says a larger city might point to a pure strong mayor-council form of government, stating the city manager form- as the city expands- may tend to become too bureaucratie and unreasponsive to citizens. : County Planning Director Thomas Fegan says he does not : ;ee the possibüity of turning off 'rowth. "We like to talk of irban áreas, whether they be in ;he city or township." He says ;he issue of "new towns" is worth exploring, but does not ;ee this as a short-term solu;ion. There are too few "new :owns" to determine how effec;ive they have been, Fegan idds. "No real new town has ieveloped to capacity." Develjpment of a "new town" takes ï lot of money, he said. Fegan says the trend in the :ounty is toward urbanization, but he points out only some Eive per cent of the county is now urbanized. "It may take 10 to 20 years to get the next five per cent." "I think there is an ideal size for a city,, but I can't teil you what it is," Fegan says. "Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are growing together as one urban area. You can talk about boundaries and put up city limit signs, but it's all going to be one urbanized area." This f act, Fegan says, leads to the conclusión you must think more in terms of urban areas or regions rather than in terms of city limits. And he believes the County Planning Commission should play a strong roll in bringing the various units of government together for planning. i "It may take a long time, but people have to work together if you are really talking of comprehensive planning." Joint planning, F e g a n says, will doubtless lead to joint services. Speaking to the argument development occurs best within the city, Fegan says, "Governments are as different as individuals. The city is responsible for its citizens and has a view on how it should function. Townships also have a history, have character and have a feeling for what its citizens want. The city cannot force its wishes on the townships, and the townships cannot force their wishes on the city." "If there is good planning, it shouldn't make any difference where the development takes place," the county planning director said.