From a parking lot to a commons park: the meaning behind Proposal A

The journey it took to get Proposal A on the ballot and what it means now that it has passed.

December 8, 2018

As the warm light coming from the lamps lit the dim room, Alan Haber talked about his long journey to get Proposal A on the ballot for the 2018 elections. To his surprise and many others, on Nov. 6, 2018, Proposal A passed with 53% of the vote.

This means the Library Lot — the lot above the underground parking lot between 5th Avenue and Division Street — is going to be an urban park and a civic center commons. However, many don’t believe the park is going to be built anytime soon and would have instead preferred the initial plan: a 17 story high rise.

Alan Haber and Odile Haber and others — thinking the center of the city shouldn’t be home to a 17 story high rise — began their journey by petitioning for the Proposal to be on the ballot, going person to person collecting signatures.

Initially, they attempted to get the proposal onto the 2016 ballot and eventually, they got their 4800 signatures and turned it in June 2016.

Unfortunately, they encountered a significant setback.

“[We] discovered that if anyone signed twice and we didn’t catch it and cross it off, then both signatures were void,” Haber said.

Because of this rule, they were short by around 400 signatures. However, since they turned in the petition earlier than the deadline, they figured they could get the signatures they lost in time for the deadline.

They collected 800 more signatures — more than they needed — but these new signatures could not be added to the previous signatures they turned in, because those 4800 signatures were dead once they turned them in.

Haber felt the process of the situation to be corrupt. However, he didn’t give up after that

“After some consideration, we said, ‘Well, we’ll just do it again and begin with our 804 new signatures and go for a year and see how we do.’,” Haber said.

In the end, they got enough signatures to put it on the 2018 ballot. And to their surprise, it passed. Their long journey finally got them to their goal.

“The common purpose for humanity must be the creation of a culture of peace and non-violence for the children, if we are to survive,” Haber said. “This is a part of the global struggle for the protection of the commons for those resources that are important for people’s social benefit. We’re all divided up into our neighborhoods, into our separate silos and identities. There’s got to be a place that is for everyone, and so the commons is really what this is about.”    

Many, however, don’t find Proposal A to be a sound proposal, including the mayor, Christopher Taylor. Before the proposal was on the ballot, the city had a deal with a private developer, CORE Spaces, that was going to construct a 17 story building on the Library Lot. But now Proposal A threatens that deal.

Taylor was looking forward to this deal, especially since $5 million of the $10 million that the city would have made would have gone towards the affordable housing fund. This means between 200 and 500 new affordable housing units would have been built.

Essentially, the vote came down to a choice between a park and affordable housing instead of, as Haber put it, “a choice between a big building and a community commons.” However, from Taylor’s perspective, things look different now that the proposal passed.   

“I think we had a real opportunity to do something really good for this city on a wide variety of measures,” Taylor said. “We had an opportunity to improve the downtown for everyone. I think we had the opportunity to put an incredibly important dent in our affordable housing needs. I think we had the opportunity to pay off the [YMCA] lot debt, which would have given us another opportunity to do something interesting and exciting and creative there without the major constraint of looking uphill at a $5 million debt. Right now, we’ve lost all that opportunity.”

According to a landscape architect for SmithGroupJJR — Oliver Kiley — the odds of a new park being built are low. He even posted on social media saying that if a park is ever built in the next 20 years, he’ll eat his shoe.

“Unless there’s some huge influx of money that could help build the park downtown, I don’t see how it’s going to get built anytime soon,” Kiley said. “The parks department doesn’t have the millions and millions of dollars that it would take to build a new facility [park] there right now.”

However, Haber believes it is possible. He wants to make clear that this proposal will not take money from the city budget, but instead thinks the park will be financed, designed and built by the community and public.

“There’s enough wealth and caring in Ann Arbor to do something beautiful,” Haber said.

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