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What do the neighborhoods want? Often, neighborhoods activists are characterized as being against everything. Nothing could be further from the truth. Residents in our diverse neighborhoods share a desire for a safe, well maintained community with a sustainable economy and a healthy environment.

In an odd opinion piece in the December 2011 issue of the Ann magazine, Joan Lowenstein attempted to paint many of us as the "antis" because she believes we are against all that is good and progressive in the Council majority's agenda. In October 2012, another supporter of the Council majority, Jeremy Peters, dismissed all of us as obstructionists. The Ann Magazine removed the Lowenstein article and Concentrate removed Mr. Peter's piece, but we have archived both. While Ms. Lowenstein was inartful in her expression of her view, and Mr. Peters was vague in dismissing all dissent, the idea that neighborhoods merely oppose everything is more common than we often acknowledge.

Lacking votes on Council, we are often forced to play defense. We try to protect our neighborhoods from projects that do not fit the master plan and are not really compliant with zoning requirements. We try to prevent foolish borrowing for unnecessary projects such as the police/courts building and underground parking lot. We try to protect our parks from private development (Huron Hills) and give-aways (Fuller Road - parking structure or Amtrak station). We opposed long-term subsidies for a downtown conference center. There had been so many bad ideas coming out of the pre2012 Council that at times we had time only to resist the really bad ideas. Those efforts result in the mistaken belief that we oppose everything.

Many neighborhood activists become involved after fighting some truly egregious project in their own areas. Once awakened, we see that the same disregard for existing residents is happening throughout the city. This coalition was formed with the goal of providing assistance to neighborhoods facing alone what most of us have already faced in our own corner of town. Even our Mayor became politically active after fighting an over-sized project in his old neighborhood.

The neighborhood viewpoint includes an affirmative view of the City's future. We want an Allen's Creek Greenway because it makes economic and environmental sense. We want downtown parks because that is a necessary part of a livable downtown. We want to rebuild our safety services because we cannot hope to draw new employers to a town that cannot protect its residents. We want public art to be funded in a manner that is unquestionably legal. We want transit that serves those who pay the taxes, not someone who lives in another county (ie. commuter rail).

A positive vision of our town's future includes protecting what is good and unique about our City. We must promote restoration over demolition. We should value financial responsibility over indebtedness. We need to aid our residents and local businesses over out of town developers and chain stores.

In matters of planning, we must advocate strong support for strict application of the zoning requirements. Where the zoning code fails to assist a neighborhood in protecting its character, the code must be changed to offer that protection (not changed to remove obstacles to developers). It is not NIMBYism to ask that the new development meet the recommendations of the master plan, adhere to the wetland restrictions and not negatively impact the existing neighbors. In fact, if developers knew that they would be held to the letter of the law, they would not spend their time and money trying to infiltrate the near downtown neighborhoods with projects that belong in D1 or D2 districts. It is the wink and the nod from Council (and staff) to developers that sets up the long, drawn out fights over projects like City Place.

We believe the neighborhood point of view is positive. Conversely, the Council majority has this overarching desire to change what it believes is wrong with our town. We want to build on what is good about Ann Arbor, while they wish to change Ann Arbor from a sleepy college town into a metropolis that will replace Detroit. It is their agenda that is anti-Ann Arbor, not ours. It is our job to make that case to the public.

A good discussion of the competing visions in local politics can be found in Vivienne Armentrout's blog posting The Council Party vs. the Ann Arbor Townies.

While this discussion speaks of the "Council Majority", it should be noted that our point of view is changing the composition of the Council. After the August 2012 primary election the local news noted that the previously overwhelming majority is now just a slight majority on Council.

After the August 2013 primary election, Ryan Stanton posted this article: Composition of Ann Arbor City Council continues to slowly change. Your voice and activism make a difference.

In 2014, using the talking points of the neighborhood friendly candidates, the well-connected were able to win the Mayoral election and a couple of Council seats. Rather than admitting that the City's financial constraints required Council to make hard choices between essential services and basic infrastructure or visionary plans for expensive projects (such as a $44 million train station) and subsidies to developers. 

In 2015, again claiming concern about roads and sewers, the insiders defeated two long-time neighborhood advocates. Those who truly care about protecting the character of our town and who understand that the government's first responsibility is health, safety and welfare, are again in the minority.

More from Ms. Lowenstein:
  • Lowenstein makes no secret of her disdain for the mayor's opponents: "Jack Eaton is wrong 100 percent of the time," she claims.
  • Kaplan is part of the Lumm-Anglin-Kailasapathy-Eaton, Pander-to-the-People coalition that is supporting Kunselman for Mayor. Similar to what is going on in the 1st Ward, Jane Lumm is not supporting her fellow councilmember Sally Petersen for Mayor. Petersen is not wedded to the old, so Lumm has jumped on the Kunselman bandwagon. Lummites may generally support Kaplan, but Petersen supporters may realize that her vision of the future is more closely matched with Westphal’s.