The Politics of A2 Parks: Mayor John and the Dame of North Campus
First a joke (well, it’s actually not funny): So what do you give the University President who has everything? You give her a public park for her to build her parking garage on!
Next, a name: Doug Cowherd. Do you know it? You should.
Doug Cowherd is the long-time co-Chair of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club. He represents about 2,500 members, about 1,000 of whom reside in Ann Arbor. That’s a lot of green power, as it were. Cowherd is a tall man with wire-rim glasses. He speaks precisely, quietly and slowly, measuring every word. It doesn’t take a lot to realize quickly that Doug Cowherd is as careful as he is calculating. Above all, Doug Cowherd, it is said, hates to lose a political battle.
That’s a bad trait for any general. It is said that President Lincoln fired General George McClellan for having just the same trait: McClellan would not go to battle unless he was assured of a victory.
A quick look at the Huron Valley Sierra Club’s Local Issues page will give you an oversight of the battles Cowherd and his Sierra Club members have taken on. There was the 2004 Greenbelt Proposal. There was also the 2003 Ann Arbor Township Proposal B for Land Preservation.
What I’m wondering is whether the local Sierra Club will finally get green and get involved in any substantive way to thwart the City Council’s current plan to use parkland for the The Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station project parking garage. Yes, the Mayor has proposed giving away our parkland to the University of Michigan. FITS is a joint venture between the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor that would include 900 parking spaces in a multi-level structure, across from Fuller Pool (tip o’ the keyboard to SBean).
At a recent October Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (PAC) meeting, PAC commissioners questioned Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation manager, about FITS. There was a question about the classification of the city-owned land being used: In the city’s master plan, the space where city and university officials want to locate the parking deck is designated as parkland. However here in Ann Arbor, parkland is classified under the category of “public land.” Public land, my fellow politicos, thanks to a convenient loophole in the zoning laws, can include transportation uses.
Enter the local Sierra Club. Will Doug Cowherd and his forces step up to stop the give-away by City Council of public city parkland to the University of Michigan? Will the Sierra Club rally to force City Council to amend the zoning law that allows “transportation” uses of public property designated as “parkland?” This parking deck on city parkland is being built in place of the two parking decks the University proposed building in the middle of the First Ward Wall Street neighborhood last year. Wall Street neighbors rallied to fight the project and the University with little help from Mayor Hieftje and First Ward Council members. Here was the extent of help the Wall Street neighbors got. In July of 2008, the Mayor and First Ward City Council member Sabra Briere put forth the ballsy, “Resolution Calling for Increased Cooperation between the City and the University of Michigan in Planning for Redevelopment of the Wall Street Area.” You go, Girls! Right over to Dr. Mary Sue Coleman to trade fist bumps and lip gloss with the U of M Prez. Needless to say, Mary Sue Coleman responded to the resolution with swift action. I don’t know exactly which recycling bin she put it in, but that woman would never have just thrown away a piece of paper from our Mayor and Council. She probably had someone do it for her. Maybe the Dean of the School of Natural Resources, or the VP of Pacifying Ann Arbor City Council.
The gesture of giving away public land to the University reminds me of Queen Victoria’s gift of Mount Kilimanjaro to her grandson, the future Kaiser Wilhelm. Alas, the sun never seems to set on the crooked dealings of the Mayor John who would be King and his merry band of Eight. They who seek use a zoning loophole to give away the parkland of the people to a Dame who owns 800 acres of land we all know as the Dutchy of North Campus.
Will the local Sierra Club and Doug Cowherd play a starring role in this MGM classic, or is all of Ann Arbor watching the opening scenes of Fuller Park Gone With The Wind?
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