The Ann Arbor City Council met at Larcom City Hall Monday evening to vote on the city’s proposed budget and millage rates for the 2024 fiscal year. The council also approved new funding for an unarmed mental health response team, advanced a development proposal for 721 S. Forest Ave. and responded to vandalism of Black Lives Matter mural at Wheeler Park.
Mayor Christopher Taylor began the meeting by reading a proclamation celebrating May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in Ann Arbor, in observance of the annual heritage month which takes place nationwide. Taylor highlighted the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders within the community.
“AAPIs are the fastest growing population in the state of Michigan … with Washtenaw County having one of the highest concentrations of growth,” Taylor said. “(AAPI people) have committed to community wellbeing, health and justice for all throughout their personal and professional work.”
Several council members expressed disappointment with the recent vandalism of the Black Lives Matter mural at Wheeler Park to read “all lives matter.”
Councilmember Cynthia Harrison, D-Ward 1, said she feels it is important to combat this vandalism to advance broader efforts toward racial justice in Ann Arbor.
“(The vandalism) dismisses the need for targeted efforts to address racial injustices and sidetracks conversations about the specific challenges faced by marginalized communities,” Harrison said. “The defacing of ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘all lives matter’ disregards the systemic issues that persist and contributes to the erasure of the experiences, voices and demands of the Black community.”
Councilmember Ayesha Ghazi-Edwin, D-Ward 3, encouraged residents to attend an “equity-focused coffee hour” organized in response to the vandalism at Wheeler Park on May 21. The event will take the form of a community listening session led by Ghazi-Edwin, Harrison and Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2.
Several community speakers expressed support for new social services in the FY 2024 budget aimed at combating housing insecurity, such as substance abuse programs, eviction protections and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s mental health hotline.
Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton spoke in favor of the planned mental wellness funding. While the County Sheriff currently offers a phone number for mental health response, the support for new social services comes amid calls directed at the council to separate unarmed crisis response from the police force entirely. Clayton said he believes the increased funding will improve overall public safety in Ann Arbor.
“You can’t have a safe community until you have a well community,” Clayton said.
Daniel Kelly, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, also spoke in favor of two amendments to the budget that would increase funding for equitable housing.
“(These amendments) will allow us to support some of the most vulnerable neighbors in our local community,” Kelly said. “This winter, we saw an increase of over 20% in those seeking overnight shelter, and now almost 70% of our guests have a disability … I appreciate that the amendment highlights utilizing a trauma-informed approach as well.”
Both amendments were passed unanimously.
Song praised the amendments, but said additional changes to housing policy are still necessary.
“I want to point out how the additional money to support our homelessness work is not in place of our housing work,” Song said. “Temporary housing is not the same as permanent housing and we still need to remain committed to providing housing accessibility across all incomes.”
Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, responded to public comments concerned with the sustainability of the proposed zoning change to accommodate a new development at 721 S. Forest Ave.
Disch said while the building does not meet all A2Zero climate standards, WDG Architecture and Subtext Development, the developers for the project, are prepared to purchase carbon offsets instead. Disch also outlined the affordability measures that will be taken by the developers.
“(Planned Unit Development) regulations require a minimum of 15% of the total units be dedicated as affordable or a contribution in lieu of units,” Disch said. “The petitioner has chosen to provide a cash in lieu payment of $4.7 million, which is $98,000 over the required amount … They’re also making a voluntary contribution of $50,000 to the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation.”
The council will vote on the proposal at a later meeting.
The council also discussed adding market-rate housing to the property surrounding City Hall. City Administrator Milton Dohoney initially proposed this development on April 19 as a way for the city to raise revenue.
Dohoney acknowledged the controversy of adding market-rate housing on city property.
“Admittedly, the use of the Kline Lot for market-rate versus affordable may get me uninvited to a Thanksgiving dinner table,” Dohoney said. “But the spot that we’re in, we simply … cannot afford to take all of our assets and do all these development deals with (the) private sector and others where the city gets no money.”
Councilmember Jenn Cornell, D-Ward 5, spoke in Dohoney’s defense. Cornell said she believes the city needs to facilitate development of all types of housing, including market-rate housing.
“I think that when we talk about housing, we need housing of all kinds in the city, and I think it’s entirely appropriate to consider market-rate housing for city-owned sites in tandem with city-owned sites for affordable housing,” Cornell said. “The either-or, or one versus another, it’s a false dichotomy that oversimplifies a complex problem.”
The meeting concluded by discussing ways the approved increased funds to the parks and recreation budget will be spent. The council selected Southeast Area Park as the future site of Bicentennial Park in preparation for the city’s bicentennial in 2024, shifting gears from a past proposal for Fuller Park.
Ghazi-Edwin said she is excited about bringing new recreational opportunities to the ward she represents.
“This amenity will be able to be enjoyed by a side of town that is more racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse,” Ghazi-Edwin said. “It’s also a side of town that has eight out of 12 Title 1 public schools, and it’s an area of town that deserves a need for patronage and economic development … It would be close to community social services such as (Community Action Network) and Mallets Creek Library, providing future opportunities for youth programs.”Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect comments on housing made by Councilmember Jenn Cornell.
Daily News Contributor June MacDonald can be reached at email@example.com.