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Feb 08

Democracy In Action, Or How I Won The War

Comments (0) 12:00 AM posted by admin |

The big debate over downzoning in Ypsilanti has come and gone. At stake was determining how Ypsilanti will look in thirty years. It’s an important topic and it brought out over 100 concerned citizens from all parts of the City. The Mayor had mobilized her people. The MidTown Neighborhood Association had mobilized their people. It was go time.

When it came time for the public hearing, supporters of the Mayor (made up predominantly of people who didn’t live in the affected area) rose up and told tales of a darker Ypsilanti. An Ypsilanti before downzoning. An Ypsilanti full of half-way houses. These people said that MidTown is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Ypsilanti. They said that MidTown is unattractive too. They said single-family homes increase property values. They provide a more stable community. They said the percentage of renters (67%, second only to East Lansing) is too high. We need to attract people willing to buy homes and put down roots. They said out-of-town landlords thumb their noses at adhering to ordinances. They collect their money from Ypsilanti and carry it back to Plymouth, Ann Arbor, and Canton to spend there. They said that in order to survive, Ypsilanti NEEDS downzoing.

Supporters of the MidTown Neighborhood Association (made up predominantly of people actually live and own property in the affected area) gave passionate speeches about how much they love their neighborhood. They told stories about being landlords since the sixties. They talked about how much money they’ve poured into their properties to keep them looking nice. They challenged the notion that they allow garbage to fill the yards and cars to be parked on the front lawns. They said the fact that Ypsilanti was a college town was the reason they moved here to start families. They said density creates a vibrant community. They talked about having restoring their properties and having been on the Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation‘s annual Homes Tour. They said that in order to survive, Ypsilanti NEEDS downzoing.

The only thing they added was in the case of a disaster, they wanted the right to rebuild their homes exactly as they stand. Their message was to strike a requirement for a special use permit from the text amendment.

The language was acrimonious. The rhetoric was canned. The people were mean. The scene was awkward. … And everyone basically agreed!

Can you image what’s going to happen when a bunch of citizens who disagree with each other get into a room together?

The public hearing portion of the evening lasted until 10:30PM. It was probably the endless agreeing that made everone too sluggish to fight in the aisles.

Council’s discussion of the proposed ordinance was disorganized too. There was over an hour of debate of what the zoning designation Residential Commercial was. There was a vote to table the ordinance. (It failed. Councilmembers Richardson, Swanson, and Filipiak voted in favor of tabling.) There was a motion to vote (it received no second). The City’s legal counsel didn’t know Robert’s Rules of Order well enough to advise the Council on the process of recinding a motion (he had to return to City Hall to retrieve a copy of the rules). The City’s legal counsel also couldn’t say whether or not Council was revising the ordinance so much that it would be forced to go back to the Planning Commission and cause the process to start all over again. The meeting was extended until midnight, and extended until 12:30AM, and then until 12:45AM.

The end result was that Council voted to approve all but two areas of the downzoning (they asked for more research on creating a Residential Office designation on North Washington Street as well as more research on the aforementioned Residential Commercial). The other bit of business was that the text amendment was removed from the proposed ordinance and will be read on first reading as its own proposed ordinance on February 21st.

The end result of this marathon meeting was win-win for the City. There’s still going to be a fight, but there are now two weeks for everyone to iron out their differences.

The Mayor is fond of saying that in a democracy, we are the government. By some bizarre stroke of luck, that’s exactly what happened.

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