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SG-W:/ Lower Town

There will be an important meeting in Ann Arbor this Saturday that you may
want to attend.  Please read on to find out more about the Ann Arbor
Planning Department's scheduled workshop on "Lower Town."

I know that a lot of people on this list share my disappointment that
Washtenaw County's first major "New Urbanist" development proposal -- the
NewMarket project in Pittsfield Township -- was a poorly conceived project
in a location with delicate and important natural features.  While we
greatly respect the principles of mixed-use pedestrian-friendly
development, we believe that project is wrongly placed.

But discussions have just begun about a smaller New Urbanist style
development in a good place for it -- just north of downtown Ann Arbor.
While these discussions are at a very early stage, I think
environmentalists should get behind an emerging proposal to build a mixed
use neighborhood in the historic Ann Arbor area known as Lower Town.

Lower Town is bounded by Maiden Lane, Broadway, and the Huron River.  It is
one of Ann Arbor's oldest residential neighborhoods, dating back to the
1830s.  It's now littered with vacant parcels and parking lots.  The
University of Michigan has purchased several parcels there, and now owns a
major part of the neighborhood.  While U-M has no definite plans yet, they
intend to develop this land into labs, offices, and parking facilities for
their new Life Sciences Initiative.

I suspect that, if left to its own devices, the University would develop
Lower Town much like it has developed its medical campus, notable for
institutional buildings and the conspicuous absence of housing and retail
stores.  In other words, Lower Town would become a place to work, but not a
place to live.

The Ecology Center's Urban Environment Alliance is suggesting an
alternative vision.  We think that Lower Town should be rebuilt with taller
(perhaps 5- to 8-story) mixed use buildings that house offices, labs,
storefronts, restaurants, and residences.  These buildings would be related
to a "Town Center" development to the north of Maiden Lane and along
Broadway.  Residents, walkers and bicyclists could reach the Farmers Market
area and downtown by the new pedestrian walkways and lighting that is
scheduled to be built along the new Broadway bridges.

No new roads would need to built;  no new water or sewer lines laid.  No
valuable natural features would be disturbed.  Most of the land is this
neighborhood is already covered, so the Huron River would suffer no new
additional polluted stormwater from an increase in impervious surfaces.
Some residents might work nearby, so they could realistically walk or bike
to their jobs.

Of course, the City has no legal authority over the University's
development plans.  But we think that the University may now be willing to
collaborate with the City on these sorts of matters.  We also think that
the University can be persuaded that a partnership with the City, private
developers, environmentalists, and neighborhood groups -- to develop Lower
Town along the lines I've described -- is in their own self-interest.

This Saturday, April 28, the Ann Arbor Planning Department is holding a
workshop about Lower Town, from 1:30 - 4:30 p.m., at Northside Elementary
School, 912 Barton Drive.  There will be brief presentations and an
opportunity for public input and discussions.  If you're interested in this
issue, I strongly urge you to attend.  Decisions about this neighborhood
are on a fast track, and you could have real influence over what gets

Please contact me for more information.

Mike Garfield

Mike Garfield
Ecology Center
117 N. Division
Ann Arbor, MI  48104
(734) 761-3186 ext. 104
(734) 663-2414 (fax)

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