so, maybe the idea for the fake downtown ypsilanti isn’t so dead after all

I wrote something here a few months ago about the desire of several folks in the surrounding Township to create a sterile, new downtown Ypsilanti. At the time, I believe I said that it was a completely asinine idea to build a new, faux-historic town center just a few miles away from an real-live historic downtown. The ensuing conversation was joined by two folks from our Planning Department, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Vosburg. Here’s what they had to say.

First, Mr. Murphy:

(P)lanning isn’t necessarily about the near future. If they want to do something like this, better that they begin thinking about it now – really, down markets are the best time to do your planning, since you don’t have a lot of development popping up mid-process.

But on that note, I have to wonder if it’s way too late for Ypsi Twp to build a “town center”. Building a solid town center either involves rehabilitating a place that’s already got the bones for it, or else doing it in a cornfield, where there’s nothing in the way (Cherry Hill Village). I don’t really see how anything remotely walkable and human scale can be shoehorned in around the existing Whittaker Road built form. (Though, on the other hand, the typical new building is built with the expectation that it’ll be economically worthless in about 15 years, so it’s not as if a town center form can be built over time.)

I also have to wonder if they’ve got the density of rooftops to make it work. If they’re thinking “town center” in the sense of Chelsea or Dexter or Saline or Ypsi, they need to put a lot more houses a lot closer together and make it a lot more walkable and bikeable. Without residential density surrounding it, I don’t know if they can hope for anything more than the Whole Foods on Washtenaw – just a prettier strip mall.

I would agree with the sentiment, in general, that Michigan has perfectly good town centers, and, specifically, that Ypsi has a perfectly good one. Building a new one just a few miles down the road seems redundant.

But consider: Michigan’s municipal government structure forces the development chase. Ypsilanti Township *has to* try to attract more development, just like Ypsi City does, and just like every other city and township around. If Ypsi Twp is going to fight for more development, wouldn’t we rather it be something human-scaled and walkable, rather than soulless and dangerous big box strips? (Maybe with dense, pedestrian-centric areas on both sides of I-94, we’ll finally have the critical mass to make a safe crossing.)

If we have to work within the constraints of artificially and inefficiently fragmented local government, I’d at least prefer a dinky town center in every township to continuous sprawl.

Second, Mr. Vosburg:

At a Twp. meeting a few weeks back the Supervisor and Treasuer both said they didn’t want to see the “town center”, nor did they want to see an area of denser housing that was proposed elsewhere in the Twp. The Twp. Planner said he’d take it back to the drawing board.

So it seems the fake downtown is dead, or at least on it’s last legs. The fake downtown was just going to be a commercial area that wasn’t so strip-mally, parking-out-frontish looking. It would be no where near what a real downtown would be.

Either way I don’t see it being a threat to Ypsi’s two real downtowns. People still prefer real downtowns and housing trends are moving towards people living in real neighborhoods too.

So, I kind of thought that the idea was dead…. Until I read today’s “Ann Arbor News”. Here’s a clip:

Ypsilanti Township wants to have a downtown – not a collection of businesses that evolve haphazardly over the years, but an organized place of its own making and design that would include mixed development, shops, pedestrian paths and flexible zoning.

The township’s Board of Trustees adopted a new master plan recently that includes a town center district bounded on the north by I-94, on the south by the Ypsilanti District Library, on the west by the Washtenaw Business Park and on the east by Ford Lake…

The township owns about 130 acres along Whittaker Road and it plans to either sell or develop 26 acres along the busy street to become the heart of the town center district, Lawson said.

Township Supervisor Ruth Ann Jamnick said the town center district is a great concept that would create synergy around the township’s Civic Center and commercial development south of I-94. It could be an opportunity to link the city of Ypsilanti’s water front with Ford Lake via non-motorized paths and connect the town center district and downtown Ypsilanti, she said…

Nearly a quarter of Ypsilanti Township’s 32 square miles has been developed. Ford Lake and I-94 separate older neighborhoods to the north and newer subdivisions to the south, the site of the most recent growth. With about 53,000 residents, Ypsilanti Township is the largest township in Washtenaw County.

Jamnick said the township is expected to be built out in 2030 and its population will reach 73,000. So the town center district could become a hub, she said, and the entire area and any business that comes to the township would benefit.

Or, here’s another idea — why not invest in the downtown Ypsilanti we already have?

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  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Given the state of the local economy, it’s hard to imagine someone wanting to take on this project anytime soon. Maybe if they built the downtown on more of theme, like a little France or little Italy or something they’d fill a niche and get some investors.

    I was thinking they could just do a Michigan theme and incorporate mini-replicas of existing downtowns, a Ypsi water tower, Michigan Theater, Chelsea clock tower, Guardian Building, etc. That way, as old downtowns continue to decay they’ll be preserved in miniature.

    Of course, they may be just thinking of someone more along the lines of the new downtown in in Scio Twp.

  2. KT
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I volunteer to start giving lifts over there every morning to our bottle collectors and panhandlers.

  3. egpenet
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    And it will look like every other exit off of I-94 … unless there are clear signage, you won’t know whether you just got off on Belleville Road, Rawsonville Road, Wayne Road or wherever … or anywhere along I-96 … or along US-23 … all the same, same, same … all the usual gas stations, chain foods … all built to be removed and totally rebuilt within fifteen years. And without a car … you’re nowhere.

  4. Katy
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the sentiment that if they’re going to grow, we might as well cooperate and encourage them to do so as Murph suggests (non big box, etc). However, I can’t help but being pissed. The words fucking ridiculous come to mind. You flee the city to create your own sterile one? give me a fucking break. So much more to be said on the topic, but… lack of sleep and a bit of anger are clouding my brain at the moment.
    This article came up at the 2020 meeting last night. Despite a few scoffs at the idea, the overall group opinion was in line with Murph’s sentiments.

  5. Scott Brown
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Great article,Mark! I know I’m gonna get crucified for saying this but,I must say it. Ypsilanti will ALWAYS be compared to Ann Arbor. It will ALWAYS be found wanting. NOW, what does A2 NOT have? The answer is smut. People love art culture and music. A2 has it in spades. But Ypsi’ has a couple strip clubs, a couple of intimate apparal shops and an adult bookstore.Why not group these attractions into a district? The ideas put forth by responsible community groups seem to ignore the simple fact that people do love sex and sexual themed establishments and night clubs. The area should go with it’s strengths not try to erase them! I recently kept company with a young lady who graduated from EMU, she is now an assistant planner with a county in Florida. She is very smart and she was the one who proffered this notion. It won’t require huge construction projects or bond sales or tax increases. It will require good planning and zoning restrictions! Ann Arbor is where people go for art festivals , football games and culture. Why can’t Ypsi’ be the place for Ann Arborites to go for rocknroll, nudity and raw culture! I am serious.

  6. Katy
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps that’s what the township can put in their new downtown.

  7. dirtgrain
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    How did they get the new library out there? Was that solely with township funding? My initial reaction when I saw its locations was, “What the crap? It’s in the middle of nowhere. Kids can’t even ride their bikes there (safely).” Did they always have a plan of building a city around it?

  8. amused1
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I’ll preface this by admitting that I’ve never been inside the Vu.

    I spend a lot of time downtown and I’ve never seen clients from the Vu causing trouble. The sidewalks outside the Vu are always clean and clear. No trash, no snow, no muss, no fuss. IMHO other businesses in town could learn a few things from the Vu. Does that mean I want Ypsi to become the “adult” entertainment center of SE Mi? Not really. It does mean I’m a bit bored with the Vu bashing.

    The entertainment options for aging boomers is growing ever more limited. As the music, entertainment and fashion industries continue to focus on the tweens and under 25ers there will be a growing need for grown-up entertainment. I’d love to see Ypsi lead the way in providing venues that accomodate the underserved boomer population.

  9. John on Forest
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I think we should pay really really close attention to what the township is doing on this project. I mean REALLY close attention. We should look at every site plan. We should pour over the zoning and rezoning they’ve done. We should scrutinize every proposal by every developer that shows interest.

    And then, we should invite every single one of those developers over to look at Water Street and any and all other real estate inside the city.

    My very strong sense is that the City of Ypsilanti should look for all opportunities in regionalization and cooperation with neighboring communities. But lets be VERY clear on this point: We also have to keep a keen sense of competitiveness. If the city doesn’t step forward with every foot it has to compete for development and economic expansion. Then all that development WILL go out into the township.

  10. Posted November 20, 2007 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I think Scott has a point. A2 has some fun entertainment options, but a lot of it’s music and cultural establishments are a bit “highbrow.” Sweetwaters, The Ark, The Blind Pig and all are great, but sometimes I just want some grit, you know? Ypsilanti on the other hand has the Ugly Mug, the Elbow Room, and events like the shadow art fair.

    And if they’re planning on building it off I-94, it’s a good sign the developers are looking to put up another “lifestyle center.” Prepare for a P.F. Chang’s, Bravo!, Starbucks and all the rest.

  11. John on Forest
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Let me say what I just said, again.

    This is not a time for hand wringing over the “town center” in the township. This is not a time for “tsk tsking” the township.

    This announcement by the township is a call for action in the City of Ypsilanti!! Organize a posse and lets mount up before our future is walked right past us as we sit in our rockers on our front porches.

    …and what did Ruth Ann Jamnick mean when she talked about “linking up the City of Ypsilanti’s water front?” Am I missing something here? Is she proposing cooperation with the city that will benefit the city? Or is she trying to claim something of the city’s for the township?

  12. Posted November 20, 2007 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    The town center concept is part of a community design movement known as New Urbanism, which promotes the development of mixed-use areas comparable to downtowns. Nearly 106 similar New Urbanism projects were completed by communities across the country in 2004.

    This is where I disagree with some of my colleagues in the planning profession: I think the “New Urbanism” brand has totally failed at changing the discourse around our built landscape, assuming it ever had meaning to begin with. The New Urbanists I know like to talk about reinvestment in traditional downtowns and older communities, but the term just keeps getting applied to these whole cloth fabrications. (And no surprise, as the folks who invented the “movement” were Duany, Plater, Zyberk, the firm that built Seaside, FL, the “real” town where The Truman Show was filmed…)

    Larry Merrill, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association, said residential growth is dispersed throughout townships, and the town center district will give residents a sense of place. “It’s a specific segment of the downtown image,” he said.

    “A specific segment of the downtown image.” That’s really what New Urbanism in practice tends to be about – cherry-picking a romanticized small-town idyllism from existing communities from which to construct these dressed-up subdivisions.

    Sorry, folks – just a little bit of intra-professional cattiness…

    And, p.s., Mark, BVos is not part of the planning department, or even the City government – he works for the DDAs, which are separate entities.

  13. mark
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    First, yes, I know that Brian is with the DDAs, and it occurred to me when I wrote that bit that it was likely wrong, but then it also occurred to me that this was just a blog, and, as such, was supposed to be wrong on occasion. My apologies to Mr. Vosburg and/or the rest of the planning department – whomever was more offended by the suggestion that they sit together.

    Second, yes, to the idea of a red light district. This was a favorite meme back in the days when the Cherry’s ran they Ypsilanti blogosphere. They were very much of the opinion that all the so-called “bad”? things be together. It would, in their opinion, as I recall, be easier to police, more attractive to outsiders, etc. I, for what it’s worth, agree. Some part of me doesn’t like walking by the Vu with my daughter, knowing that one day she’ll hear what goes on in there, but I guess that’s life. We’ll deal with it. The bottom line is that it’s legal, and it seems well run and taken care of (at least from where I stand — outside). In the 15 years I’ve been living off and on in Ypsi, I don’t remember any significant disturbances there. A lot of lonely guys probably ejaculate on themselves, but there are worse things than that… Speaking of which, what’s all this I hear about a group of kids in the lovely, safe town of Canton cutting the head off of a friend? Makes Ypsi seem tame.

    Third, yes, it’s a wake up call. And, yes, we need to get out shit together. This is competitive, and we need to have a strategy.

  14. amused1
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, seems an earlier comment went astray. John on Forest…. The city of Ypsi extends south of Hamilton & 94 to the area where the Huron River opens up and becomes Ford Lake. This property is contiguous with the planned development in the township. I suspect that’s what Ruth Ann was talking about.

    At this point I have to ask if it’s resonable to expect a developer to revamp existing properties when there are acres of open land just minutes away? Chains like consistant space – the same display windows, floor plans, sign packages, etc. from store to store, town to town. It’s easier for them to maintain 100 X style stores rather than 10 Xs, 50 Ys and 40 Zs. Having to redesign their “plan-o-grams” and other elements for non-conforming stores is an ongoing expense they prefer to avoid. So, the city would have to make the existing spaces attractive through incentives or other means or focus on businesses with more flexible models.

  15. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 10:33 pm | Permalink


    I’m curious where you’d put the red light district and what existing/future local businesses you’d be willing to sacrifice to see it succeed? The Rocket? Gordon’s? Bombadill’s? Downtown Library? Luwak?

    Ypsi is a small town. Where are you going to isolate the sex shops so residents, prospective EMU parents, and visitors feel comfortable taking their kids? You’ll find me more comfortable with grit than a lot of folk, but I have, in my mind at least, a line between grit and smut. I’m not walking my daughter through a red-light district to buy a hot chocolate.

    My first home was in Detroit, so I’m a little touchy. I got a bit sick of hearing suburbanites decrying the state of the city when “they” (or their neighbors) owned the abandoned buildings and strip clubs, and “they” drove to the city to torch their vehicles (over the lease millage), buy drugs and sex. I’m a buy local guy. If our surrounding towns have an appetite for sex and the amenities they should be able to buy it in their neighborhoods, next to the places their daughters play.

    I have very little interest in living in the place where UM frat boys come to jack.

  16. mark
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    What if I promise to keep the red light district off of East Cross?

    Seriously, it’s not something that I’d push for. I wasn’t really advocating that we do it. Like you, I don’t see how it would work within the given realities of Ypsi today. I was just saying that I can see how it might make sense. It seems to work fairly well, or at least it did, in the Latin Quarter in New Orleans.

    And, yeah, it kind of sucks that Ann Arbor forced out their red light district several decades ago and forced all of that business to Ypsi. And, like you point out, it’s often these same upstanding citizens that cruise through Ypsi looking for meth and prostitutes. So, I’m right there with you on that. I wasn’t suggesting, as Ed has done in the past, that we legalize prostitution. I would draw the line at what’s legal, and I would increase enforcement. All I was saying was that it would be a good thing perhaps if all of these legal adult entertainment businesses were closer together so that they could be better monitored, etc. But, you’re right, it would have to be in someone’s backyard.

    Maybe we could put them all at the base of the new nuclear power plant we’re building on Water Street.

  17. Posted November 20, 2007 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    It was written:
    >> BVos is not part of the planning department, or even the City government –
    >> he works for the DDAs, which are separate entities.

    FYI, BVOS is a paid city employee and gets his check from the same place that murph does. BVOS is paid with city tax dollars and he is a city planner involved in planning and economic development in the City of Ypsilanti and specifically the two DDA districts.

    BVOS attends weekly City Department head meetings at City Hall which are also attended by the head of planning. BVOS serves two masters, the DDA board appointed by the Mayor and Council and the City Manager. BVOS is hired and fired by the DDA Board just as the City Clerk is hired and fired by the City Council yet the City Clerk works for the City Manager.

    The DDA director is not unlike the position of City Clerk and I don’t think anyone is arguing the City Clerk is not a City employee. There is a similar position at the Housing Commission but I don’t know if the Housing Director attends weekly department head meetings.

    I believe the planning department has 3 employees. The DDA director is one of 4 (and maybe soon 5) full time planners that all work at the City paid for by the taxpayers of this city.

    Plus, don’t forget the interns that work at the DDA and the Planning Department too. I think there is usually one and up to three interns at any one time. Plus the planning department has a 1/2 time secretary whose salary is over $50,000 a year so that secretary even at half time is nearly what an entry level secretary would be at full time, so you should really call that another full time position.

    So 4 planners, could soon be 5, plus the equivalent salary of a full-time staff person plus 1 to 3 interns.

    That is a lot of planning staff all on the taxpayer credit card. That doesn’t include those in the building department which also serve in a planning capacity and in some communities they are a combined planning and building department.

    Speaking of planning, did you see where the planning commission is meeting on Wednesday night, the night before Thanksgiving, Yep, they are meeting at 7:30p at City Hall. Sort of reminds me when they schedule those early morning City Council sessions at 7:30a hoping no one will bother showing up. Or scheduling interviews for the City Clerk position on Halloween night (did that in 2006).

    There was this whole uproar in 2005 when they scheduled a planning commission meeting on Dec 21 the same week as Christmas, and even when several Planning Commission members said they couldn’t make it because of family commitments and job requirements, they still held the meeting and then had to cancel when they failed to get a quorum.

    Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up, no one would believe you if you did.


    – Steve

  18. Posted November 20, 2007 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Ol’ E,

    >> I’m curious where you’d put the red light district and what existing/future local
    >> businesses you’d be willing to sacrifice to see it succeed?

    We already have a red light district, in fact we have two, it is Miles Street/E. Michigan on the east side and North and South Washington in the downtown area.


    – Steve

  19. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Like nuclear power plants, they do end up being in someone’s backyard. Having lived in that backyard, I can assure you, the folks who are trapped there from poverty don’t enjoy the activities being in their kid’s backyard any more than the commuter customers would enjoy it in theirs. Reality is, businesses that are on the edge of legal limits attract a fair number of clients willing to cross those limits. I’m simply tired of these businesses, who cater to commuter clients, being located in the poor’s backyard. The poor may be resigned to it, but that’s a long shot from liking it.

    Practically speaking, it’s worth noting that Deja Vu contributes about $8,000 annually in taxes. Not much more than me.

    And, New Orlean’s did manage to create a nostalgic smut district where retirees could wander through blushing and nudging each other, but feeling safe (the Epcot of smut). I think you’d be hard pressed to find a city the size of Ypsi where folks felt similarly at ease with the red lights and accompanying industries, and you’ll find even fewer inclined to raise families in them.

    Let’s keep the grit. I’ll sock the occasional frat boy in the face to do that. But let’s not suck their cocks.

  20. mark
    Posted November 20, 2007 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    “Ypsilanti – Let’s Not Suck Their Cocks”

    Now there’s a motto I think we can all get behind.

  21. BVos
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 12:05 am | Permalink


    I’m not offended, hopefully the Planning Dept. won’t be either. It’s a common thing that we both hear.

    Hey Steve,

    Just a few points of clarification: I’m an employee of the YDDA and DTDDA, not the City. My bosses are the DDA board members. The City Manager is not my boss, nor is City Council. The mayor sits on both DDA board, so he is just one of 19 bosses I have.

    I attend dept. head meetings as my schedule allows, as does the head of the Housing Commission. It’s a courtesy that the City extends to us and benefits everyone.

    My salary does technically come through city tax revenues, but through an operating millage and TIF revenues. These are tax revenues that have been separated from the City’s general fund and are funding sources that the DDA boards, not Council, have budgeting approval over.

    The city does handle payroll, HR and finance for the DDAs since there isn’t much extra they have to do to take on those duties. The revenue to pay for the three above items comes from the DDAs, not the city.

    I’m the only employee of the DDAs. All interns I have are volunteers due to budget cutbacks. The City will be going to volunteer interns starting July 1st of 2008 as well. The DDA will be getting a planner that will split time evenly between the City and DDA. However the DDA is only paying $10,000 over two years for this full-time planner and the City paying $5,000 over two years with the County and MSU Extension picking up the rest of the tab. That’s incredibly efficient use of tax payer money in my opinion.

    I’m not going to debate the value of planners on this blog. That’s a discussion all by itself.

  22. BVos
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    I’ll restate that I don’t see this neo-downtown in the Twp being a major threat to downtown (MI Ave) or Depot Town. But I do see it as potentially being a serious concern for Water St.

  23. amused1
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Since I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person I checked out the planning commission to see what they were up to. Here’s what I found on the city website, “regular meetings of the planning commission are to be held on the third Wednesday of each month except when such a day falls on a legal holiday”. It says that the policy was adopted in 03 and revised in 05.

    As much as I love conspiracies and uproars, and I do love em, I’m struggling with the image of a bunch of volunteers back in 03 or 05 sitting down with their 10 year calendars so they could pick a day of the week where once every 4 or 5 years they could screw the residents by having a meeting the night before a major holiday.

    So here’s my conspiracy theory: no matter what happens there will always be people who for the sake of personal agenda, snarkiness or excrement stirring will find fault. Hold a meeting at an inconvenient but regularly scheduled time and there’ll be complaints. Cancel a regularly scheduled meeting because it’s inconvenient and there’ll be complaints. Personally, I found the April Fool’s Water Street gas/oil strike conspiracy of a couple years ago far more amusing.

    As I sit at home tonight snug and warm and surfing sites in search of a warehouse full of alien artifacts in the desert while my bread dough proofs I’ll think about those poor slobs attending their meeting. Well, for a few seconds anyway. Maybe.

    This posting brought to you by the run-on sentence conspiracy committee. (Tell you where and when we meet? Are you nuts?)

  24. Posted November 21, 2007 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    To John on Forest – …and what did Ruth Ann Jamnick mean when she talked about “linking up the City of Ypsilanti’s water front?” … Is she proposing cooperation with the city that will benefit the city?

    There are fairly long-standing plans to bridge I-94 – somehow – between the river and Huron Street for ped/bike traffic. (A collaborative City/Twp/County/MDOT study in about 2004 identified about half a dozen options; now we just need about a million dollars to implement one.) Personally, I think this would benefit the city, particularly those residents closest to the Huron Street freeway overpass.

    As the Ypsilanti Healthy Food Access Initiative studied recently, there are a large number of Ypsi residents who don’t have access to a car, so, even though they’re spitting distance from the Kroger on the far side of the freeway, they physically can’t get there to buy food. (Not to mention, say, access to the jobs in the newly developed big- and little-boxes down there.) Without a car, and without bus service south of the freeway, and no safe pedestrian crossing of the freeway, the grocery store may as well be in France.

    So, while the most visible benefit (and probably what the Twp’s most interested in) of linking up the City’s downtowns and riverfront parks with the Township’s new downtown and riverfront parks may be the improved recreational access, I think it would also be economically good for those neighborhood residents of the City.

  25. amused1
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I’m having a vision of the emblem discussed in a different thread (the tower with the shovel and gun) with “Let’s Not Suck Their Cocks” in lovely script on a scrolly banner arching over the top of the tower and “Shoveling Our Own Carci Since 1858” along the bottom . I’m seeing a HUGE market for them at the Shadow Art Fair. Any chance Linettte has some spare time to knock out a nice design?

  26. Suzie
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    “no safe pedestrian crossing of the freeway”
    I agree. I tried it once, to get to North Bay Park for a scenic fitness loop without, ahem, driving there. I got halfway across and then actually turned back, because it felt like I was risking my life.

  27. Suzie
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    (Hey, interesting- I tried to say that it felt like I was playing r-u-s-s-i-a-n r-o-u-l-e-t-t-e, but that was apparently considered comment spam, and it wouldn’t go through.)

  28. todd
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    “I’ll restate that I don’t see this neo-downtown in the Twp being a major threat to downtown (MI Ave) or Depot Town. But I do see it as potentially being a serious concern for Water St.”

    I see it as a huge threat to all three.

  29. Posted November 21, 2007 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I was interested by the article in yesterday’s Echo on BW3’s moving to the Twp.

    But quite a few students were disappointed by the move and are not sure they will continue to go to Buffalo Wild Wings.

    “I probably won’t go there anymore because it’s too far for me and I don’t have a car,” Dan Lyons said. “I’m upset because I really liked going there on Fridays.”

    Starting in early December, Buffalo Wild Wings will be providing a special limousine shuttle service to EMU students.

    Maybe this is the time for the in-town bars and restaurants to ramp up a campus-targeted, “We’re within stumbling distance,” marketing campaign. (That’s not meant to advocate excessive drinking – just to recognize the reality that alternatives to driving, whether limo or walking-distance proximity, are Good Things for many of the people leaving a BW3.)

  30. Posted November 21, 2007 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I guess I’ll have to reprint the bumper stickers I had screened in 2002:

    Strip Clubs Not Strip Malls

    One out of 2 ain’t too bad. But I will not be re-upping the domain until Washington St. is Austin’s 6th St. (with more hookers and less cocaine than today).

  31. dirtgrain
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Amused1 said: “So here’s my conspiracy theory: no matter what happens there will always be people who for the sake of personal agenda, snarkiness or excrement stirring will find fault. Hold a meeting at an inconvenient but regularly scheduled time and there’ll be complaints. Cancel a regularly scheduled meeting because it’s inconvenient and there’ll be complaints. Personally, I found the April Fool’s Water Street gas/oil strike conspiracy of a couple years ago far more amusing.”

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  32. dirtgrain
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Ol’ East Cross said: “I’m curious where you’d put the red light district and what existing/future local businesses you’d be willing to sacrifice to see it succeed? The Rocket? Gordon’s? Bombadill’s? Downtown Library? Luwak?

    Ypsi is a small town.”

    What, all that talk about brining business to Ypsilanti, and now we find that we have no room for them? Sheesh.

  33. amused1
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Brining business? Hmm, does someone have turkey on his mind? Salt licks for Ypsi!

  34. Posted November 21, 2007 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Or, here’s another idea – why not invest in the downtown Ypsilanti we already have?

    One reason is because Ypsilanti’s downtown is in a giant historic district and there is a cost associated with complying with the rules. If you’ve ever watched the Ann Arbor Historic Commission meetings on cable you know why many people don’t want to buy or rehab property in a Historic District.

    I know the folks who fought for the historic designations had good intentions but it raises the bar higher than some want to jump.

  35. Posted November 21, 2007 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Somehow, they pull off cafe’s next to sex shops, in the historic districts of Europe. I know we’re not Europeans, but we aren’t stupid either. Are we?

    Let the Townshit have their fake Canton, then relax the historic preservation codes for downtown and watch the striation begin.

    A majority of whites with kids would rather go to New Orleans than downtown Ypsi right now, and no-kidding young people with money would rather be Osmonds than be seen in a Twshp McMansion.

  36. Kirk
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Someone asked why the library is in the township. It is the Ypsilanti District Library, not the Ypsilanti City Library. The district includes all of Ypsilanti Township (population around 49K) and all of the City of Ypsilanti (population around 22K). The library millage is paid by all residents of the district so it makes as much sense to be in the township as the city.

  37. Posted November 21, 2007 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Steven – I’ll admit that I was a non-fan of preservationists when I was watching A2 historic district commission meetings, too. For the typical business opening up in downtown Ypsi’s historic district, though, the incremental cost of compliance is about $25 to get lights and signs approved, and an hour spent showing up to the meeting. It costs more to get the contractor who’s going to be doing your interior work to pick up the phone.

    If you can find me a business that the $25 historic district procedural premium is going to push over the edge, I’ll find you somebody who *really* needs to rethink their business plan.

    Leighton, I expect you’ve at least vicarious contact with Ypsi’s HDC. Does HF have any tales of woe stemming from that process?

    I’m certainly no fan of counter-productive regulations or process, but I sincerely believe the historic district is not what’s keeping downtown storefronts vacant, and I’d be happy to hear from any business owner who has gone through the process and wants to discuss otherwise with me. (I’ve talked to one or two, but they didn’t want to discuss – just scream. I consider them outliers.)

  38. Posted November 21, 2007 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Also, I’ll point out that Liquid Swords, the /tattoo shop/ next to the /strip club/, has a red light over their front door. I’d say that right there constitutes a red light district. :)

  39. egpenet
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Steven (Visitor):

    Ha, ha, ha. Re-use and rehab is actually more fun and results in a better long term value for the owner-occupier than McMansion or stripmall construction. It’s not for everyone. But it’s not prohibitive. Restrictive, yes, and we choose it to be that way so standards are maintained within reason. Aadaptive ree-use is also more creative and challenges architects and designers to be inventive. The Thompson black in depot Town will be a great examplee, when completed, of great sacrifice and effort, blended with HDC flexibility, and architectural (structural) creativity.

    The HDC honors ALL properties in the area, from our earliest examples to modern buildings and new constrction potential. We honor all periods of architecture, all appropriate landscapes, all natural boundaries (ie. Huron River), all archeological features … and we following the guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior. It benefits us all, dear Steven.

  40. egpenet
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    By the way …

    The library IS downtown … has been for years.

    The new building out in the township was needed to help introduce folks in the township, who had not been in town for some time, to the concepts of: 1) what is a book, 2) reading words on a page vs. Fox television crawlers, and 3) the civilizing pleasures of the written word.

  41. John on Forest
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    The Historic District has not been an impediment to development and siting of businesses in Depot Town.

    By the way, there is a brand new development in Beavercreek (aka Kettering, aka Centerville) Ohio. It is layed out in about a 3 block by 3 block, or maybe 4×4 area. The buildings are brand new; but the architecture would fit in Depot Town. The first floor of the buildings are businesses – mostly retail stores – and the upper stories are loft apartments/condos. Someone from the Water Street planning department should take a road trip down to look at it and get the name of the developer.

  42. dirtgrain
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Kirk said: “The library millage is paid by all residents of the district so it makes as much sense to be in the township as the city.”

    Was that the reasoning behind picking its location? By the way, there is plenty of Ypsilanti Township on this side of I-94. It seems like some people think Ypsilanti Township is all on the other side of I-94, off of Whitaker Road. Judging by this map, it doesn’t intuitively make sense as a location:
    Although, that map doesn’t show how the population is spread out. That’s an interesting fact to go looking for: how much of Ypsilanti Township’s population is on the other side of I-94?

    I’m foggy on the details, but I think that the reasoning behind building the new (state of the art) library was presented as being that our downtown library was too small (and generally not nifty enough?). I believe it was presented as a necessary update to overcome inadequacies (I’ll have to go to the library and dig up some articles on it). That seemed fine to me at the time, as I love books.

    But I didn’t realize where the new library would be located. It doesn’t make sense to me. How is its location in relation to Ypsilanti schools? Is it relatively equidistant?

  43. Posted November 21, 2007 at 3:46 pm | Permalink


    I wasn’t arguing adaptive re-use. Inferring that I was is a red herring. Re-use is what older towns with aging buildings need.

    I was simply pointing out that Historical Districts tend to add another layer of applications, meetings, and restrictions upon developers (or re-developers).

    If developers must get approval from the planning commission AND a committee of women in hats, they might not be so apt to bite. There’s nothing like finding out you have to spend 20-40% more on “historically accurate” windows and facade improvements only after you’ve purchased the property.

    Maybe, in effect, there are no added restrictions in Ypsilanti (which I don’t really believe), there is that perception which is also a barrier to entry.

    Hamtramck rolled all their “historical-ish” rules right into the Zoning Ordinance making sure there’s a single process for developers.

    eg, when you say:

    it’s not for everyone. But it’s not prohibitive. Restrictive, yes, and we choose it to be that way so standards are maintained within reason.

    You’re saying it’s exclusive (not for everyone and “restrictive”) and at the same time that it’s not prohibitive. Do you see the irony in this?

    I’m not saying Ypsilanti should change their rules but instead supplying answers to the question of why developers aren’t as keen to rehab the properties there.

    The more “restrictive” the rules, the higher the cost (perceived or real) for developers. Like any market, adding trade controls (taxes or subsidies), causes surpluses or shortages.

  44. John on Forest
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    The new library was sited where it is because the township donated the land for it!

    And then the township had the nerve to ask, nearly insist, the Library District to put into their yearly budget a line item for subsidizing AATA service to the new library. I don’t remember the outcome of that. I hope that item is not in the library budget. I think the library district stood it’s ground and told the township to subsidize the AATA itself. Of course the township’s agenda there was to get AATA service down to the southern most end of it’s new town center, and not have to pay for it.

  45. Posted November 21, 2007 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Murph, I understand the application fee for lights and signs is $25 but that’s assuming their proposed lights and signs conform to the Ordinance.

    A good example is a business that maybe has 3 other locations, all with the same sign. If that sign doesn’t conform to Ypsilanti’s idea of “historical”, then the business has to make a special sign for their Ypsilanti location.

    Hamtramck has a stupid sign ordinance in that a fast-food place had to get a zoning variance to include “burgers fries shakes” on their sign. Of course they use the sign at every one of their locations.

  46. John on Forest
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Steven, the cost of real estate in downtown Ypsilanti, including the cost of being in the historic district, has NOT been the impediment to businesses moving in.

    Developers have cited reasons such as lack of foot traffic, the presence of the Vu, perceived or real crime, and lack of parking.

    I think some of these problems are becoming less so as new businesses, such as The Rocket, locate in downtown. What is really needed is a critical mass. If a few more empty store fronts become occupied with quality business that attract people to downtown I think it will create a snowball effect. Water Street was supposed to become that critical mass that catalized a revitalization of downtown. It can still happen and must be made to happen.

  47. John on Forest
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 4:04 pm | Permalink


    Again, the only reason McDonalds doesn’t have a store in downtown Ypsilanti is lack of foot traffic. The only time McDonalds locates itself anywhere except near an interstate exit, is when substantial traffic through the area exists. McDonalds needs a site with parking and a drivethrough, except when pedestrian traffic is heavy and constant. I’ve seen McDonalds in locations like that AND conforming to the architectural theme of the location too, including signage.

    The Histroric District is not the impediment!

  48. Posted November 21, 2007 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    … the cost of real estate in downtown Ypsilanti, including the cost of being in the historic district, has NOT been the impediment to businesses moving in.

    Proving something isn’t true can be pretty difficult. Just because you can cite other reasons doesn’t mean that the added costs of historically-conforming redevelopment don’t factor in the equation. Not every business is going to tell the city why the don’t develop there.

    You’re right to get a McDonald’s without a drive through or parking lot you’d need more foot traffic than Hamtramck, which is difficult to imagine.

    I think the “crime” and the “Vu” are excuses.

  49. Posted November 21, 2007 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Regarding Liquid Swordz. the City Planning Department recommended that the planning commission deny their application to locate in the Downtown. The former mayor also spoke out against Liquid Swordz and then worked hard to get support from DDA members and other downtown business and property owners to oppose their move to the downtown.

    Regarding BVOS. The Mayor recommends and the City Council approves all board members on the DDA. DDA long term Tax Increment Finance plans must be approved by the City Council. Bonding by the DDA is approved by the City Council with the city pledging the full faith and credit of the city to repay the bonds. The budget for the DDA is approved by the City Council. The DDA director even appears before the City Council to present the annual budget just like every other department manager.

    The City also performs all financial management of the DDA including the issuance of contracts and checks by the DDA. The City through the City’s approved outside auditor/contractor audits the accounts of the DDA and the DDA pays a portion of that audit fee just like every other department at City Hall.

    All money from the DDA is a result of TIF money and a special 2 mill assessment to all property in the Downtown Development district.

    The DDA is taxpayer funded, city managed with complete and final oversight by the Mayor and City Council. The DDA is a creature of the state but it’s funding and oversight comes from the City and City Council. Moreover, if there was no DDA, the money currently going to the DDA would go into the City’s general fund. (there is a small portion of funding coming from schools and elsewhere for the very first bonded project back in the early 90’s but that funding source is no longer allowed under state law for any recent projects like the dumpsters. Up until very recently the DDA directors position even received direct funding from the City’s general fund and would work on special projects under the direction of the planning director and City Manager.

    The DDA director, office, and all other expenses is paid for by taxpayer dollars and the department is functionally run like any other department at City Hall and all expenditures, budget plans and power is derived from the City Council with the ultimate authority being the Mayor and Council.

    You can try to cry out that the DDA isn’t a city department and that director isn’t another city planner, but that dog don’t hunt. The DDA gets it funding just like every other city department from City taxpayers, it functionally works like every other city department including finance, budgeting, oversight, HR and much more, and the DDA gets it sole authority from City Council. The DDA’s mission is economic development and planning.

    To argue that the DDA board hires the director and therefore does not make the DDA a City department is absurd. The City Council, by choice, delegates the hiring/firing authority of the director the Board. A board appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of Council. That is it. All other plans, budgets, expenditures, borrowing, and much more requires Council approval. The City Council could just as easily make a resolution that the Council must hire and fire the DDA director just like they currently do for the City Clerk. The Clerk is a City employee and so is the DDA director. Delegating the hiring authority of one employee does not mean the DDA is no longer a city department and somehow not subject to the oversight and control of the City Council.

    See you all tonight at the Planning Commission meeting.

    Happy Thanksgiving and Cheers!

    – Steve

  50. amused1
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Steven makes some valid points. Developers tend to take the path of least resistance. Large retail spaces aren’t call “big box” for nothing. A nice big open square is easy to fixture, merchandise and sign. Is it creative? Nope. Is it beautiful? Nope. Is it easy to maintain 100s of these boxes across the country? Oh Yeah! *That’s* the appeal of McRetail spaces for chains.

    The $25 sign application isn’t the issue. Even the cap expense of conforming windows or whatever is a one time write off. The issue, and expense, comes from having to tailor every single “square” promotional program to fit a couple “round” stores. The issue comes from having to adapt, and monitor, merchandising layouts for 2 or 3 stores out of dozens of stores. Employees have to deal with where to put the merchandise for table X when there is no table X. It seems like no big deal but you’d be surprised.

    I’d put my efforts and money toward researching smaller companies who work with unique spaces.

    Please note that I’m not advocating big box, McRetail. I just think we have to recognize the existing mindset of the typical developer and large retail company.

  51. amused1
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Me thinks it’s time for some folks to put down the axe and pick up the plow shear.

  52. egpenet
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Permalink


    It’s self-restrictive in that it’s not for everyone. Not all people like to mess with an older structure, whether it’s from the 1800’s or the 1950’s. Each style and period has its quirks.

    It’s prohibitive in that there are clear do’s and don’ts. But those are also, actaully, common sense and BEST for the structure and for longterm preservation.

    And THAT’S the whole key … longterm preservation. After the strip malls in the township have been bulldozed and rebuilt … god willing and the creek don’t rise, knock on wood three times, we’ll still have our downtown … and that may very well be in your lifetime, Steven!

    Restrictive … prohibitive … not contradictions at all.

    And as real estate agents keep telling me, even in this market, they’d rather list a building in the Historic District, anytime.

    For some buyers (though not all) there’s value in them’there bricks and mortar.

    Also, there is no secret about Ypsi’s Historic District or the HDC processes. Folks are always saying to us, we didn’t know we were in the district. Sure!

    It is ALSO true that adaptive re-use and the sources for appropriate materials are not taught in design and architecture schools. Very few builders and architects want to deal with older buildings … out of ignorance. And that’s where the HDC shines with resources, procedures and materials.

    I invite you to sit in and observe. Come up after the meeting and I’ll buy you a beer for your perseverence.

  53. Posted November 21, 2007 at 5:17 pm | Permalink


    If that sign doesn’t conform to Ypsilanti’s idea of “historical”, then the business has to make a special sign for their Ypsilanti location. . . .Not every business is going to tell the city why the don’t develop there.

    I can see two cases here for the Historic District pushing away businesses.

    1) The business has their signs rejected by the HDC, and decides to give up and look somewhere else. This would be very easy to prove – find one example of a business that applied, was rejected, and left. (I can’t think of one, but Steve’s got a longer local memory than me – maybe he’s got one for us?)

    2) The business sees that the location is in a historic district, and doesn’t even bother trying. In order to address this, though, you’d have to get rid of the historic district altogether – because even if the HDC were pretty open-minded on signage*, the mere existence of it will have the chilling effect you’re talking about.

    These are the businesses you’re saying we can’t prove the District didn’t scare off, but consider that the only remedy is to get rid of the District entirely. Setting aside whether that’s desirable, do you think that’s politically possible in Ypsilanti?

    *Consider that Ypsi’s historic district contains a KFC, Honda dealership, Dairy Queen, Liberty Tax Service, H&R Block, Buffalo Wild Wings (until recently), and Quiznos (until a year ago) – all of which have/had pretty standard corporate signs. (The DQ’s signs might pre-date the District?) I’m going to present these as an argument that excessive “historic” nitpicking on signs is not a big deterrent.

    Please note: I’m not trying to claim that Ypsi is a heavenly oasis of development ease in which absolutely nothing needs to be changed, at all, ever. But if we spend bunches of energy saying that the HDC denying people’s signs is the problem, and that’s not the problem, we don’t get any closer to Making It Better. Gotta solve the right problems to make a difference.

  54. Posted November 21, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink


    I agree with much of what you’ve said in your last comment and despise McStrip-malls as much as you do, maybe even more.

    And yes, long-term preservation is the ultimate goal.

    It’s simply my opinion that the bar is a smidge too high and that those buildings may fall in before they’re re-habbed. I, of course, hope I’m wrong but I often wonder if holding out for the ideal is the best course for preservation in every case. At what point to you settle with a shrinking population and lethargic economy?

    I look at the buildings in Hamtramck’s business district and then Ypsilanti’s and it’s clear which ones are more affected by entropy. It begs the question, what’s different in these two markets?

    Have a great holiday everybody.

  55. Posted November 21, 2007 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Murph, I don’t have any examples regarding anybody being scared off because of a sign. It was really an example of problems that but business at odds with historical preservation.

    Ypsilantians can effectively explain to me how their Historical District is different but I’m not sure it’s as easy to put it on the radar of those with capital improvement dollars.

    Finally, I don’t know that there’s any precedent for shrinking a historic district. It seems like there’s a better likelihood of losing the historic buildings (to fire or neglect) before the district.

  56. Posted November 21, 2007 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    The stories I could (and won’t) tell about rehab-ing a building downtown to conform with multiple regimes…
    Just let me say I can see why so few have tried lately and how one, slightly-relaxed regimen might get locals to try again.

    There are design schools that specialize in historic preservation (in Planning, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture), but (surprise!) none are in the Midwest.

    I’m still a huge proponent of an entertainment district on Washington St. It’s virtually a fact on the ground now- despite allied forces against it. Sometimes things just happen organically, no matter how much people try to steer a freighter through a historically-correct keyhole.

    If the choice must be made between absolute historic accuracy and collapsing buildings, trees might be organically growing through floors.

  57. egpenet
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 7:19 pm | Permalink


    Entertainment north and south of Michigan Ave. on Washington … yes!

    Boutiques, galleries and other little places along N. Huron … yes!

    Retail and office and residential (upstairs) along Michigan … yes!

  58. egpenet
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 7:23 pm | Permalink


    The issue isn’t the deteriorating buildings per se … it’s the selfish attitudes of the owners of those buildings that ignores the decay … and a self-compromised city building department that is loathe to condemn a [rivately owned structure (unless it is a hazard) when the city itself carries more dilapidated real estate on its books at the moment (ie. Water Street).

  59. Posted November 21, 2007 at 9:09 pm | Permalink


    Certainly, the less regulation, the easier it is to open up a business – I’m comfortable admitting that my entire profession grew out of a desire to make it harder to start up certain businesses in certain places.

    But, absent Ypsi’s preservationist community, Depot Town would have been razed wholesale for a shopping mall, and the block of Mich Ave where VG Kids and Fast Eddie’s are would be a copy of the Key Bank Building block. So I can understand why the district was set up, and I doubt it’ll ever go away. So,

    Ypsilantians can effectively explain to me how their Historical District is different but I’m not sure it’s as easy to put it on the radar of those with capital improvement dollars.

    yep, that’s the question. How do you get the people who are reasonably scared of historic districts from their run-ins with “women in hats” HDCs, and convince them that any given HDC is not one of those?

    (There are, notably, developers who will only work on historic properties, as they like the tax credits that come with them, just like there are developers who will only work on brownfields, and complain that given sites are, “a great location, but not dirty enough!” to make a good project. But we can assume those people are experienced at sniffing out “women in hats” and figuring out how to work with or despite them.)

  60. Posted November 21, 2007 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Here is just one example of the many barriers that keep development from occurring in Ypsilanti. Because of recent rule changes at the City, if the exact same project of the lofts at 200 W Michigan were proposed, same everything, density, use, configuration, it would cost the developer an additional $20,000 in new fees to the city for the project. But no new services provided by the City, it simply a one-time fee that is tacked on to projects like the lofts that goes to the city coffers. These new fees were approved by the previous council and it was a unanimous vote to increase these one time fees for new projects. These new fees have nothing to do with building inspections, plan reviews, it is simply a fee charged to projects that run afoul of zoning rules and regulations. Which every building in the B3 downtown district runs afoul of the current zoning regulations.

    This is just one example, there are many more.

    The Eastern Leadership Group has had several meetings in the past month and at that meetings were business folks, developers, retailers, realtors, and elected officials including the Mayor of Ypsilanti and the City Manager. They all told the City of Ypsilanti, the city needs to streamline and improve the processes for buildings, planning and permitting, and reduce the time and expense of an ever more difficult and ever increasing layer of rules, regulations and ordinances that are are barriers to new development.

    Gobble, gobble!

    – Steve

  61. John on Forest
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 10:06 pm | Permalink


    Your bias against historic districting is very strong. So strong in fact that I think you let that bias cloud your vision of reality. Perhaps not though.

    What is needed here is imperical evidence that the Ypsilanti Historic District is the reason that business has been slow to come to Michigan Avenue. I don’t see it. If you have specific examples of specific businesses that have pulled out of or by passed Ypsi because of it, bring them forward and shine the light on it. Maybe you could dig up the history on why Old Navy decided not to locate downtown?

    Like I said above, Depot Town is a shining example of a successful, thriving business district in Ypsilanti; and, it is IN the Historic District. New businesses, including a chain (Jimmy Johns) have continued to repopulate Cross Street between Depot Town and the water tower.

    I’m not tied to the HDC. If evidence against it could be presented I might be persuaded to change my mind about it. But most of the other posts on this thread, except yours, Steven, have recounted many positive results from the HDC in Ypsilanti.

    Like Murph said above, we need to know with certainty what the real root cause for the lack of investment in down town is, and then attack that root cause. Let’s not presume it’s the HDC when it might be something else.

  62. John on Forest
    Posted November 21, 2007 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Pierce:

    “if the exact same project of the lofts at 200 W Michigan were proposed”

    Proposed where instead of 200 W Michigan?

    “it would cost the developer an additional $20,000 in new fees”

    An additional $20,000 compared to what?

    “it is simply a fee charged to projects that run afoul of zoning rules”

    Well, if they run afoul of zoning rules, shouldn’t there be some sort of fine/fee? Or are you saying they should be able to run afoul of the zoning rules and get away with it scott free?

    I’m not aguing with you; I’m just trying to understand what you just said. Perhaps I’ll argue with you when I do understand what you said. Perhaps I won’t.

  63. Posted November 22, 2007 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    Built in the exact same location today, those same lofts would cost $20,000 more than it would have just three years ago because the city has raised the fees.

    >> Well, if they run afoul of zoning rules, shouldn’t there be some sort of fine/fee?

    What great logic, if they run afoul of the zoning law they should have to pay a penalty. That sort of logic got us into this mess to begin with. Maybe it is the zoning rule that is broken and a process that is so dogmatic and inflexible to recognize the rules for a parking lot at Walgreens can’t be applied to a downtown building built in 1879.

    Folks wanted to know the barriers to redeveloping the downtown. This is just one of many and yet this is one barrier that is entirely controlled by the City and City Council.

    This new fee is is simply a fee in lieu of parking. These buildings were here LONG before the zoning rules, but the new parking rules passed by council require off street parking spaces for each apartment. (Remember when Penn Place apartments were built the city waived the parking requirements and rules and did not make them pay the fee.)

    These buildings downtown are zero lot, meaning the building is the same size as the lot. So the city came up with a fee, in the case of the Kresge lofts, today that fee would be $20,000 paid to the city. But this doesn’t pay for spaces somewhere else, it doesn’t encourage the city to pay or maintain city parking lots. They cut all that funding and service. They city even cut street sweeping in downtown and is now threatening to cut the plowing of city parking lots.

    So what does the $20,000 buy? Nothing. It is just a tax levied on businesses by the City to do nothing.

    There are more barriers just like this that are keeping old buildings in our downtown from being rehabbed and until someone does something about this fees and outrageous demands made by the city and the planning department these buildings will stand vacant.

    Even the County just this past week told the City manager and Mayor it needs to do something about the the City’s building, permitting, and planning processes. The folks at Spark have said the same thing and so has the Chamber of Commerce. Each time they have relayed specific instances of business that have been put through the ringer or have refused to locate here because of the city policies.

    Old Navy was never going to locate here, I went and asked them. The space they looked at, the Smith furniture building was not big enough, did not have adequate parking and was not on a major street.

    Specific examples of businesses that didn’t locate in downtown Ypsi because of the problems at City Hall. Borders for one. Another was a proposed dinner theatre that was denied by the City. The building had modern up to code sprinklers on the basement and first floor, but the city said the upper two floors must be sprinklered before the theatre restaurant could locate on the first floor. That killed the deal.

    Or the day care center that wanted to open on Pearl across from the AATA center. Denied because there wasn’t room for a play ground area outside or off-street drop off area for patrons. According to the city planner these were required zoning rules, many implemented within the last 6 years that prevented these businesses from locating here.

    You know if they can figure out how to build a day care center in Urban New York City, don’t you think a City like Ypsilanti could figure out how to permit a day care facility in the downtown area. It would have been perfect.

    Parents on their way to work can drop off their kids, jump on the bus and go to work in A2. Others could ride to work on the bus with their kids. Drop them off and then go to work downtown. They could even visit their kids during lunch. But the plan was torpedoed by the planning department because the “rule book” the planners built wouldn’t permit a day care center in the downtown district.

    There are plenty more stories like this. Until we address these problems, we can’t fix the other problems.

    At the planning commission tonight, the planing commission ordered the Historical Museum to reduce their parking from 11 to 10 spaces. Remember they bought the building from the city to privatize the museum and relieve the city from having to do maintenance on the building. The city turns right around after the purchase and the planning department sends the museum a letter that the use is a non-conforming use and that as a non-conforming use the plan was to eliminate the use in the district and not allow new development. No fooling they read the letter the city planning department sent the Museum shortly after they bought the building from the City.

    The City built the parking lot with eleven spaces but once the society got the building the City insisted they reduce parking to 10 and build a island and plant a tree.

    No consideration that the average age of the society members is over 68. The city’ solution is for them to park across the street in the church parking lot and walk across the three busy lanes of Huron and dodge traffic that should be going 30MPH but averages a stunning 44 miles an hour on that stretch.

    Only two planning commission thought the request by the city was unreasonable including commissioner Gary Clark but he was shouted down by others including former city planner Brett Lenart who said he wanted to see more trees along Huron.

    This is a non-profit board that put in $200,000 of renovations in just the past year and is building a world class museum and history center of the City. No other community in the 5 county area has such a facility and resource center. And yet because of the planning rules and ordinances, simply because the Society added a new entrance, stairs and elevator to the new archives facility in the basement, that allowed the planning department to reset the clock and demand changes in the parking lot configuration when all the they want to do was repave the parking lot that is there. (sigh)

    Another business in the city wanted to repave their parking lot and the City planning department required the planting of over 100 new trees. Then required islands and underground sprinkler systems. The final cost, over $90,000 above the cost of repaving and restriping the lot. They said forget it.


    – Steve

  64. Andy C
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    I would be nice to let the city organically grow. What the city wants and what the city needs is two different things. A few years ago things where looking up with HF and the 555 in town. These are the things that bring in the young people.

    When the Tech Center in Ann arbor was shut down there was a lot of talk about where the areas musicians and artists should move to. Many came to Ypsi and left with the 555. Those folks would be around 30 now and if Ypsi was friendly to them when they where younger they may have settled here.

    The ban on flying in Ypsi is also ridiculous. Without at least having a marquee or two in town, it look like nothing is happening around here. If any places are going to pull new people into town it’s gonna be the Ugly Mug, The Elbow Room, the Dreamland Theater, SAF, VG Kids. This is what keeps the kids in town.

    A city full of strip joints in a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. A city full of antique shops just says old and lame. So don’t fight it, let the kids and artist have the city for now you can make it quaint and historic when the yuppies follow.

  65. mark
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I assume you mean “flyering” Andy, right?

    Although I do also like the tag line for Ypsi – “no flying, but lots of brining”

    Too much to comment on right now. I just wanted to stop in and say hello. I hope you’re all enjoying a wonderful holiday.

    May all your axes be dull, and plowshares sharp in the coming year.

  66. Posted November 22, 2007 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I believe the $20,000 that Steve is referring to is the “fee in lieu of parking” option that the city’s zoning ordinance allows to development in downtown and Depot Town.

    As Steve notes, these areas were originally built, a century ago, without much in the way of parking, because, well, people didn’t have cars to park. Everybody worked and shopped in Ypsi (or else hopped the interurban to A2).

    Parking is generally required by zoning (I’m speaking nationally, not in Ypsi at this point) because otherwise people are worried that commuters, shoppers, and apartment residents will clog up the on-street parking for blocks around.

    In downtown Ypsi and Depot Town, the regular rules for parking for businesses are waived. The assumption made is that these areas are well enough served by biking, walking, transit, and public parking lots that a developer or business owner who chooses not to provide dedicated parking for his tenants or customers doesn’t have to.

    New residential units in the downtown/Depot Town areas, however, are still required to bring parking with them. But, again, Ypsi’s zoning ordinance offers up flexibility in the form of a “fee in lieu of parking” provision, allowing residential developers to buy their way out of even the remaining parking requirement, with the fee held against future public transportation improvements in the surrounding area.

    Ypsi is the only place I’ve ever seen such a simple cash-out option for parking, though it’s recommended as “best practice” by people like Don Shoup, the world’s biggest parking economics nerd. And, considering that the averaged costs of constructing and maintaining a surface parking lot are around $500/space, not including land costs, Ypsi’s fee-in-lieu of only $600/space is dirt cheap – a payback period of only 1 year is pretty good.

    Personally, I think the downtown/Depot Town parking rules are about the most amazingly forward-thinking piece of Ypsi’s zoning ordinance. If I were to target the zoning rules, I’d look at reducing the required number of parking spaces in every /other/ district (Ann Arbor recently converted their “minimum parking spaces” requirement to a “maximum parking spaces” requirement), and perhaps adding in a provision for “non-motorized transportation improvements in lieu of parking” (as in, add a certain number of covered bicycle parking spaces, and you can reduce your car parking requirement). Also, streamline the shared-use parking – a multi-use development that has different activity cycles can double-count parking spaces for, say, office users during the day and residential users at night. (Though we don’t have enough mixed-use development, aside from the areas already noted where parking requirements are waived, to make this item have much benefit.)

    Now, whether these changes would turn downtown Ypsi into urban New York City, as Steve draws the comparison? Probably not.

  67. Dr Cherry
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Your bias against historic districting is very strong. So strong in fact that I think you let that bias cloud your vision of reality.

    Like I said above, Depot Town is a shining example of a successful, thriving business district …

    Yes, my vision of reality must be clouded. Stay the course. I’m sure everything will work itself out.

  68. John on Forest
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Wow. Let me work backward on this.

    First, I don’t want to live in NYC; nor, in a duplicate of NYC here in Ypsilanti Michigan.

    HF and 555? I don’t know what those things are.

    So, Steve, are you saying the city should not have the $600/parking space buy out option and instead insist that the parking spaces are provided?

    Murph: The ideas of multi-use parking and bicycle-in-lew of car spaces are great ideas. It sounds to me like the zoning rules need some beefing up to make them even more progressive. :)

    Hmmm, I wonder if Old Navy would have come here if they’d been able to pay for in-lew-of-parking fees. OH! Wait, they wanted more parking, didn’t they? How many businesses will probably build/locate in the new township “town center” because they can build huge parking spaces around their businesses and they don’t have that option in the City – not because of zoning rules; but because of real estate realities.

    Steve, I think you might be right that a dose of reasonableness thinking on the zoning commission might be a good thing. We need to be innovative with regards to how to accomodate businesses in our built up town. BUT, I don’t agree with the idea that businesses should be able to just come in and do what they want, the way they want to do it.

    Ypsilanti has a character to it that most Ypsilantians love. The character of Ypsilanti is why people have come here in the first place. None of us want to live in Canton. If we did want to live in Canton, we would. So, true, we have to still be able to attract business development in our city; but not with blank checks to develop in anyway those businesses would like to develop.

  69. amused1
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Some of the replies above reminded me of a few things.

    A couple years ago I was up in TC for the film fest. At a cocktail party during the “where are you from?” chit chat I said “Ypsilanti”. One of the other guests went in to a long diatribe about how he’d never open a business in Ypsi. He detailed (over the course of several drinks) the problems he’d had trying to work with the city. Some months later I was attending another cocktail party (I swear, I don’t spend all my time working the cocktail circuit) and had a similar experience. So yeah, there appear to be issues on that front. But I think there’s another story here too.

    Earlier this year I had a visit from someone from my neighborhood assoc. who, in painstaking detail, described the inevitable horrors that would follow if “we allow the city” to give permission to a business person to open a resale shop on Washtenaw. She explained how the shop would bring all the wrong sorts of people to the area, that this shop would lower our property values, and built an image of broken furniture piled in front of the store due to after hours drop off. She went on to say that we’d never return Washtenaw to a residential street if we continued to let the city allow businesses to develop there. When she got to the “when I worked on the master plan…” part of her harangue her eyes started to glow with an almost demonic, or televangelistic, zeal.

    I stood there in my Value World purchased khakis biting my tongue and thinking, “I guess I’m the sort of person she’s worried about bringing down the property values.” It also occurred to me that there was now way in hades that Washtenaw was ever going to “return to residential”. I doubt that even NYC has 5 lane residential streets. She, and her posse of “hat ladies” continued their campaign to push the city to deny this business the chance to open on Washtenaw. They even went so far as to threaten city council with the classic “we elected you we can get you defeated” line.

    I’m happy to say I can walk to my local consignment shop rather than having to schlep myself over to VW. Oh, I still love VW and still shop there for there broader selection, but I shop down the street too.

    So what’s the point of all this typing? Well, I’m kinda waiting for the pies to finish up in the oven and the snow isn’t falling quite heavily enough to keep my attention. But also, I think there are a couple sides to the “it’s too difficult to do business in Ypsi” story.

    I think there’s a tug-of-war between those who seek to ease the way for development and those who take a more protectionist approach. I suspect this puts the city in the role of mediator with a compromise here, a compromise there and no one’s fully happy in the end.

    Developers don’t have to bother fighting the protectionist measures if they don’t want to. There’s always another site just a couple miles away, a site without the barriers. The protectionist measures are, well, protecting the neighborhoods because residents don’t necessarily have the option of going elsewhere. Their points, from each of their perspectives, are pretty equally valid.

    Warning… the gist of this email is bascially that nothing is black & white. Read on if you like, but I do go on and on and on.

    As far as Old Navy goes, I’m not surprised they never intended to open in town. I can’t really think of any sites in town that would fit their model. Borders? Same thing. Typically these “anchor” retail organizations lease space. They’re in the business of selling products, not investing in real estate. They look for leases on large locations with ample parking, high traffic numbers, “synergistic” retail neighbors, and in proximity to targeted demographic populations. For the most part these metrics can’t be changed through zoning.

    Like most built-out cities, Ypsi struggles with the first two considerations that most developers look at: the size of the space and parking. We’ve got what we’ve got. We can change some zoning rules and areas, condemn buildings and start to tear down for commercial rebuilding, or we preserve current buildings, green spaces, etc. or find some mix of the two.

    (Yum, the pies are out of the oven and cooling.)

    Michigan Ave. has some decent traffic numbers for developers but access to on street frontage is at a premium. Areas of Washtenaw Ave. have moderately acceptable traffic numbers, but those numbers begin to fall apart as you approach EMU. And again, commercial space on Washtenaw is at a premium. (And don’t forget those formidable “hat ladies” and the resale shop.)

    The demographic metric is what it is. If you fit you fit. If you don’t currently fit do you have good potential to develop into a good fit in a reasonable amount of time?

    Synergistic retail neighbors. (Me thinks it’s time for some sports metaphors.) New McRetail developments (let’s call them the ball club) have an open playing field. They pitch the concept and site (coaching and mgmt. staff) and see who swings. They can tinker and toy with their pitch until they get a hit. They can then build their team from that batter. Existing McRetail developments have a team in place and are looking at free agents. The free agents are looking for a team with a great bench.

    Developing synergistic retail in built-out towns like Ypsi is more like promoters putting together a successful pro-am golf tournament. The players come with differing levels of ability, expection and experience: big player to little player, “big box” to “hat lady”.

    I think we need to find or develop a great tourney promoter, cause the only baseball team I see in our future is the one that would play at Water Street (if the stadium idea ever becomes a reality).

    If you actually made it this far you really should reward yourself with a HUGE turkey (or tofurkey) dinner.

  70. John on Forest
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    By the way, when I visited “The Green” in Ohio (See my post up above, where I described it but forgot to give the name of it.), I was impressed with the presence of a parking garage as well as on street parking.

    If Water Street was developed in the way The Green was, I would worry that it would become a destination shopping spot in Ypsilanti and Depot Town and the rest of down town would suffer a loss of business.

    SO….I have this idea: Build the Water Street (WS) complex and provide lots of parking. Then, run a shuttle between WS, Depot Town, and Downtown, with stops at places like the corner brewery, the ugly mug and other Cross Street points. Use shuttles similar to those used in theme parks, like Disney, where a “train” of cars is pulled through the parking lot, collecting people and delivering them to the entrance and vise versa. In other words, make ALL of Ypsilanti a destination, parking friendly and pedestrian enabled. Heck, the shuttle could even collect people from the township “town center” and bring them to Depot Town, et al.

  71. egpenet
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Dr. Cherry and Murph:


    Steve, you are too alarmist.

    Just because Cinderella’s shoe doesn’t fit all doesn’t mean we allow the ugly step-sister to go without sprinklers on the second and third floors of her bordello.

    Many with new business ideas haven’t thought the whole thing through and really done their homework. Being shocked at the regulations is naievete not a blame to be heaped on the city.
    That’s why God made business plans. That’s why I write business plans … for people who want to exploree in detail the pits and falls of their ideas.

    There are a LOT of entrepreeneurs and buisnesses looking at Ypsilanti. A LOT. But not every business is approproiate, not every site fits the bill. And not every bill (of fare) fits the site. So the searches go on. What’s the right mix? We’ll see.

    The payment in lieu of parking could have been applied to the day care, perhaps. I don’t know the details. What other sites are available?

    There are layers of regulatory simplification that might be applied here, but we are protecting what we havee as we go into the future. And, admittedly, we appear to have folks around here in government and on commisions with a serious lack of good taste and vision.

    A key for me is the market (who we are, whatwe want, and what we’ll pay) .. with what some regard is good food, good entertainment, good coffee, good service, etc. … IMHO is still rather plebian. But it satisfies the majority. So, here we are.

    As an aside, I don’t think we could have a very good red light district here. Our prostitutes are too ugly, almost every one of them is on drugs, they dress poorly and their pimps are so low class that … well, I refer you to the above paragraph. So, here we are.

    We have a LOT of growing up to do. However, class is class. We either have it, or we do not. And, here we are.

    Happy Turkey Day.

  72. John on Forest
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 11:52 am | Permalink


    I’m on my way to the turkey right now!!

    But, yes, critcal mass of synergistic businesses is what Ypsilanti needs. WS is probably the best spot for it because of the contiguously availble real estate.

  73. egpenet
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Let’s take ANOTHER look at parking.

    This is OUR downtown. We are SO glued to our car keys! Writers here are tossing up New York, Cleveland, other cool downtowns with three and four-star restaurants, shopping, day care, etc.

    People WALK BLOCKS in those towns or grab a cab or a bus. When they go OUT of town they get their Morris Minor out of the garage and take off. Sure, many commute in cars, in the outskirts. But we have become so STUCK on cars that this parking thing is sort of silly. Am I guilty? Yes.

    What we need downtown, within WALKING distance for US who LIVE heree … is not some critical mass of synergistic shit … we neeeeeed places to shop that provide US with what we neeeeed and want, including entertainment, restaurants, etc. … rocks and crystals, art for sale, books and magazines, ciggies, milk and eggs, clothing, used furniture (OK), office supplies, services, on and on. We have a lot of that coming in. We have a good food store now, a drug store (that ia a bit wanting), ACE, shoe repair, brading of all sorts, BIGGIE’S (great catfish sanwich!) … and more on the way. VGkids with great Tees. Cards and gifts. Beautiful things for our homes … IN THE ATTIC, Materials, sheesh! Banks. Tax places (ugh!) And Depot Town! All within walking distance for most of us.

    If we would walk more … we’d see all there is. Be happy with what we havee. There’s more on the way. PARK IT!


  74. Posted November 22, 2007 at 1:17 pm | Permalink


    What was the City protecting by keeping a day care center off of Pearl St. and out of the downtown.

    BTW, it wasn’t payment in lieu of parking that kept the daycare out. I brought up PILP to show one of the barriers that today would prevent something that we all think is good and we need more. The Kresge lofts were the last project under the old PILP fees. Developers and Realtors are telling the City it is just these fees and many other what are keeping redevelopment from occurring inside the City.

    Someone asked for the specifics of a business discouraged from moving to Ypsilanti. Well here is one, there are many more.

    It was our zoning that said the Child Care was not permitted in the B3 district and the City was unwilling to be flexible in the zoning or suggest compromises without additional costs. For example, one requirement is the outside play area.

    Here are the rules
    (2) For each child or adult cared for, there shall be provided and maintained a minimum of 150 square feet of outdoor recreation area. Such space shall have a total minimum area of not less than 3,000 square feet, and shall be fenced and screened from any adjoining lot in any residential district.

    But in a downtown space that isn’t possible.

    But instead there is the entire Riverside Frog Island Park play area. Plus being right next to the bus station, anything in the city plus Ann Arbor is an easy ride. That is what we you do in Chicago and New York in urban centers, you don’t require outdoor play space in downtown Chicago. But those are the rules in Ypsi and the city too often hides behind those rules and can’t or won’t apply some common sense to seemingly intractable rules.

    We have lost the human element of compromise and good sense for the common good of the community. And when you need a variance or exception, you pay dearly in increased fees, and unbelievable hoops and barriers the city puts forward that all costs money.

    The Pearl St. building has been vacant for years and is challenging because most business don’t want to locate across from the AATA because of the chronic problems at that site and being right next to the Vu.

    The applicant had a business plan, 8 year history of successful business operation, already licensed by the State and very well capitalized.

    People always ask for specifics business that have been pushed out or discouraged from moving to Ypsilanti. Here is one. You have already heard about 555 and the downtown theatre. There are many many more.

    Instead of defending practices and policies that have failed to drive new businesses to our community. Lets figure out what is needed to bring about change.

    If the City is willing to throw out the parking rules when it came to Penn Place apartments, do the same for PILP in the downtown.

    People are telling the City what needs to change to make things better.

    Is anyone listening?


    – Steve

  75. egpenet
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I am listening, and I hear your Day Care example. I have no specific responsee to it.

    I still agtree with Murph that the PILP is a good solution for a developer in an area such as ours, especially, when, unlike NYC, there are NO parking garages in our neighborhoods to store our cars.

    My question remains: Is a handful of “men in vests and ladies in hats” making decisions for us? Seems so. I have written in this thread that we (our wants and needs) are NOT being well represented. Our lack of active participation in the process is part of it, but so is our own satisfaction with the “same old/same old.” Except when taxes are proposed.

    Will we ever make up our minds?

  76. John on Forest
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    A daycare right next to the Vu. Why didn’t I think of that??

    Steve, yes some flexibiblity in the rules could be needed. BUT, if every business idea that comes along is given exceptions, then why not just throw out the rules altogether and let them all do it the way they want to do it? Let’s zone the whole city a free for all.

    And, I asked for examples of the HDC causing businesses to abort and Ypsi attempt.

  77. Posted November 22, 2007 at 2:41 pm | Permalink


    Is there a public good from the $600 per bedroom fee. In the case of the 20 loft units which have multi-bedrooms, that cost comes out to $20,000 tax. For most developments it is about a 1% tax. When developments success are measured in a 1/10th of a percent, this tax is huge.

    Does the $20,000 go to buying or building more parking spaces downtown? No.

    Does it go to maintaining the city parking lots? No.

    Cleaning streets, picking up garbage? No.

    In fact the landlord or tenant still has to pay for parking in a city or private lot. The PILP doesn’t do anything to improve, maintain, or increase parking downtown.

    If the tenant doesn’t want to pay for parking, they can choose to go without a car and use public transportation. That is a good thing, right?

    The PILP is a penalty the City can assess and does assess by choice on developers wanting to building residential units downtown.

    If having people living downtown is a good thing, eliminating or reducing the PILP back to 2000 levels will encourage developments to move forward downtown.

    The City waived the parking regulations for Penn Place and the justification given by the city is the developer will not build if the City enforces the zoning regulations.

    Think about it, the City isn’t getting the fee right now, no one is building. So eliminating the fee means no difference for the city coffers for the PILP.

    But new development means lots of fees for building permits, and new tax revenue from personal and real property taxes.

    Now that is a good thing.


    – Steve

  78. amused1
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Ok, I’ve agreed that there seem to be barriers to development. Insurmountable? Likely not. Deterring? Likely.

    Addressing required outdoor play space for daycare. I feel comparable indoor space should be considered a good substitute. But saying that Huron is an unacceptable risk for seniors but an acceptable risk for preschools strikes me as a dog of the “don’t hunt” variety.

    As one who grew up in NYC I can pretty confidently say that comparing Ypsi to Manhattan is nowhere near comparing apples to apples. Or oranges, watermelon, kiwi, etc. for that matter.

    Got my fat clothes on and I’m ready for turkey.

  79. Posted November 22, 2007 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    John on Forest,

    I am not advocating to throw out the zoning and having a free-for-all. Lets not attack ideas with extremes like suggesting we throw out the zoning book.

    People have asked for specific example of how the City has discouraged rather than encouraged development. Folks have offered up concrete examples.

    The City has been challenged to look at ALL aspects of how they do business by the Eastern Leadership Group and see what can be improved to encourage rather than discourage development.

    The solution to encouraging development in our downtown and city at large is not more regulation and higher fees. It is also recognizing when the rules don’t make sense.

    Sometimes the right idea is to change the rule rather than dogmatic enforcement of the rule to the detriment of the community.

    We need to learn from the experience of the Day Care center on Pearl St. But to do that, there has to be an understanding of when things went wrong and then work to fix it. Watch, no one in the planning department thinks they did anything wrong when it came to the Day care center. They will defend their actions calling out how she was inexperienced, unrealistic, or how the rules must be enforced for everyone.

    Without a critical review of all decisions and processes, you can’t figure out how to fix it or improve. It isn’t about fixing blame or demonizing staff. It is pointing out when things went wrong and by talking about it, maybe we can improve.

    The role of our elected officials is to help bring some common sense and moderate flexibility to the bureaucracy and encourage the constant review and improvement of everything the City does.

    More ordinances wont solve problems but if you look at the last 5 years and compare it to the previous 10 years, there has been a doubling of new ordinances passed by the city in half the number of years.


    – Steve

  80. egpenet
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Here’s my vote …

    I’d like to seeeeee the upper stories filled with loft and other residential uses, as they were when shopkeepers had stores and lived up stairs. There aren’t that many units still available. And a PILT fee makes sense in several downtown locations where there is no parking available.

    High rises downtown like Ann Arbor? That’s not where we have wanted to go until now. Has it changed? Keeping Water Street devlopments in scale to the rest of Ypsilanti was the plan, or so I thought. Has it changed

    The parking that DOES exist (until a structure or two are built) are ideally “reserved” for employees and potential retail/service customers. As we in-fill, that may have to change. But to preserve our downtown scale and uses, as they are, the plan is what it is. Is it inflexible. Seems it IS inflexible at some addresses, as with the DayCare. Can it be framed as a “penalty” at other addresses that seems to discourage certian devlopment … yes.

    In order to clean up the hodge-podge that the downtown WAS … many new ordinances were passed. Are they still necessary or can we craft a more unified and comprehnsive plan? I think the latter.

    Ooops … yes, I’ll have some of that. Sorry, Steve. (I love blogging at the table.) Yes, dear. Gotta go, Steve.

    Cheers to you and yours.

  81. John on Forest
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m stuffed, but the old bird sure tasted good.

    Steve, I’m sorry if I was coming off as extremest or inflexible. That was not and is not my intent. I’m as interested as the rest of you in examining the rules, learning what is and is not working and changing things that don’t work.

    Without looking very carefully at the Daycare proposal, the existing rules for day cares, and examples of other daycares in similar locations, I can’t say whether it was a good idea to hold them to the zoning or not. On the pro side, setting a daycare near a transportation hub seems like a good idea. On the con side, setting a daycare near an adult entertainment venue seems like a bad idea. On the pro side, having a daycare in downtown Ypsilanti is a fantastic idea. On the con side, locating a daycare in a facility that has limited or no attached outdoor play space seems like a bad idea. So, while I accept your example of zoning rules that kept a business from locating downtown, I’m not prepared to declare those rules wrong or right.

    My point is that sometimes it might make sense to make exceptions to the rules. Other times it doesn’t make sense. Always, making exceptions sets up precident that has to be defended the next time someone else wants similar treatment in a dissimilar setting. Certainly, the difference between 10 parking spots and 11 at the historic muesem seems trivial to me.

    Oh, Steve, the PILP fee does go somewhere. Someone up above on this thread pointed out that it is a set aside for future public transportation. I have to agree with egpenet on this one. It’s a great encouragement for us to put our car keys back in our pockets and walk once in a while.

  82. Hillary
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    First, let me say how proud I am that our name is associated with red light districts. I love you guys, and I really do care about Ypsilanti.

    Your zoning ordinance stinks. You employ 6-8 people for administration. B3? We have I, C2, CBD, R, and RM (the rooming house district). Many commercial uses are acceptable in both the R and RM districts. We don’t have parking requirements. Residential developers always try to provide parking because it’s a selling point for their property, but that’s their business.

    “But, absent Ypsi’s preservationist community, Depot Town would have been razed wholesale for a shopping mall, and the block of Mich Ave where VG Kids and Fast Eddie’s are would be a copy of the Key Bank Building block.”

    Does your zoning ordinance actually allow this, or even worse, encourage it? The two strip malls we have were approved against the will of the citizens by the Emergency Financial Manager.

  83. Posted November 23, 2007 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Oh boy. I’m getting in on this one way too late. Haven’t had time to do more than skim some of the comments; others I’ve read in their entirety. For those who don’t know me, I’m Jennifer, owner of the former Henrietta Fahrenheit (HF), a retail store that was at 126 West Michigan Avenue (downtown).

    I’d like to comment on my own experiences:

    1. I had no problem with the Historic District Commission, even though they rejected my first sign application. Once I got over my disappointment, I redesigned my sign and felt that in the end, it was a much better design than the original one. It passed at the next meeting.

    2. I only needed one inspection before getting my C.O. This is because I am a list-maker, a rule-follower, and had a landlord who knew the process and made important, valuable suggestions (like getting the inspector out to the property PRE-rehab to let me know which things were of the greatest concern and to answer questions). E.G.P. suggests that up-front planning is key. He’s right!

    3. Getting a business open and running is very different than maintaining it or making it profitable. Despite all my up-front planning, PR for my own business and for Ypsilanti’s downtown, Henrietta Fahrenheit’s appeal to professionals and young people, it didn’t make it. There just weren’t enough of the HF customers to support the business. Not in Ypsilanti and not in Ann Arbor. (I thought moving my business to Ann Arbor, where most of its customers were coming from, would help, but it was a wash. Sales increased, but so did rent at the same rate). In the end, I was under-capitalized and lacking the critical mass you need in retail for quick turns. My products were too niche-oriented for this area.

    4. I will say that getting my space in Ypsilanti ready for business cost me 10x the amount it cost me to get the Ann Arbor space ready for business. Ten times the amount! Ypsilanti’s problems (in my opinion) are:

    A. Lack of move-in ready space. Paint and personal touches should be the responsibility of the renter, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Had I had a white box to move into (like I did in Ann Arbor), I would’ve had a lot more capital to work with.

    B. Excessively large space (I only needed about 500-800 sq. ft., but couldn’t find anything available that was less than 2,000 sq. ft.). Who can afford rent on all that space if they don’t need it?

    5. Depot Town is like a smaller Ann Arbor in that it’s an EATertainment district. Straight-up retail in Depot Town is just as difficult, despite the increased foot-traffic that the restaurants bring there. That part of town is difficult to find, difficult to navigate, and very, very small. Huron Street (again, as e.g.p. suggests) is the link between downtown and Depot Town and needs a good mix of retail, too.

    6. Someone asked me once, “What can I do to support your business if nothing there appeals to me?” My answer, “Shop the stores next to me and next to them. If they survive, my chances of surviving are better.” When I moved, the only two other young retailers on Michigan Avenue had already closed months before. (Young = not Puffer Reds, a successful business for at least 25 years.)

    7. I NEVER saw DejaVu as an impediment to my business. Its location (on a side street in an “entertainment district”) is semi-obscure, its hours didn’t really conflict with mine, and its management/personnel were nothing short of friendly and welcoming when I opened HF. I agree that using DejaVu as obstruction to business is too easy a cop-out.

    Thanks for your time and stamina in reading my long comment. I miss being downtown. I can’t afford to re-do it.


  84. egpenet
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 12:47 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for a real-time assessment. (You can see Jennifer’s goodies at the Shadow Art Fai.)

    Despite what Stevee’s facts may be, not all locations are suitable for every business. But as Jennifer points out:

    1 – Local building owners are being lazy and irresponsible by not providing “move-in-ready” facilities.

    2 – Spaces in many of these older buildings ARE too large for start-ups. I’ve writteen many times, suggesting that landlords or businesses offer entrepreneurs “boutique” spaces … go in together with compatible businesses. IDEA: Two or threeee businesses sharee … the same space … but possibly different times. A soup and sandwich place could be open for brunch/lunch … close at 4PM and the place re-open with business #2 … cafe/bookshop/music at 5PM. Or … mix art/retail/cafe … be inventive. Sharing means more risk for landlord, but so what?

    3 – Clearly, N. and S. Washington St. is the entertainment strip, criss-crossed with that southside block of Michigan Ave. Retail downtown, plsu some offices along Michigan. And retail/office going up N. Huron. The little shop spaces going up N. Huron are great incubator spaces. I wish there were more.

    4 – Plan, plan, plan … on paper. The less you have (as a business) to spend to start-up, the more you need to plan. If you partner or plan to share a space … put it on paper and make it legal. After 30 years in business in Detroit/Chicago and NYC … every corporate agency client I ever had is now out of business. NOTHING IS FOREVER.

  85. Hillary
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Lack of move-in ready space is one of the effects of a HDC. Repairs are left undone when they are too expensive to undertake and only get more expensive as time goes by. Also, following the guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior means that building methods of the past can’t be improved upon or repaired in a less-that-accurate way for monetary reasons. Code enforcement and rental inspections are better ways of addressing property issues.

  86. name
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    This is all moot.

    While Ypsi has been diddling around and not doing productive things, such as a forced rezoning and bulldozing of burn-out abandoned houses and bringing in real businesses, the township has finally got around to realizing that all those spanking new home N and S of us have people living there with both incomes and a clean background check- and nowhere outside of AA to spend it.

    Look for a real business development to happen soon that will make all this angst about what to do, totally moot. Congrats. Once again, the communities in Michigan with 30% minority presence manage to crap in their own well once again.

    This doesn’t happen elsewhere, and it doesn’t have to be like this. But it certainly is, and I don’t see any signs of it changing.

  87. name
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    oh and per Hillary’s post about code enforcement, we will have no money for code enforcement in Ypsi past july 2008 due to lack of funds. Unless something changes. why would something change?

    Go Ypsi.

  88. amused1
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Jennifer’s description of DT as an EATertainment area seems to be supported by the fact that Quinn’s Essentials is closing. The story was in the Monday Ann Arbor news cand can be found at:

    Quite a blow to retail in DT.

  89. John on Forest
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 3:29 pm | Permalink


    I just read the article and I’m not sure the closing of Quinn’s Essentials is an indictment of DT. It was a successful business and had experienced 5%-7% growth, year over year, per the article. From what I could gather from the article, Quinn’s is not closing for economic reasons; but for more personal reasons of the Stassels (more time for family).

    Jennifer, thanks for the insight you gave us on HF.

  90. amused1
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi John

    Yes, there were personal reasons, but the article also states that the gift show biz was much more lucrative for them. They said they could make “‘in two days (at a show) what we do in three weeks’ selling at the store.” So I kinda figure the rise in gift show sales had a lot to with the 5-7% annual increases.

  91. egpenet
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 6:38 pm | Permalink


    Crapola! Interior necessities like plumbing, etc. … paint ready walls … electrical … flooring … security … NONE of that is affected by HDC. We are STRICTLY interested in exterior, signage and what ever else we are chartered to do.

    Landlords who really want tenants should get their buildings ready, secure, up to code and ready for occupancy. The landlords may need to visit with us at the HDC, but the tenants should never have to worry about us, except for signage and signage lighting.

    You are full of very ripe polish sausage, my dear!

  92. Posted November 23, 2007 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    My notes from Historic Preservation courses in college are so old they are in the Smithsonian, so I may be wrong, but…

    If Ypsi is the proud host to one of the largest (“National”?) Historic Districts in the state, then don’t building and interior rehabs have to be done with familiarity of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and national historic preservation laws?

    And are these laws one or two too many pages for out of town landlords to give a crap about while they wait for the next real estate bubble?

  93. name
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    So, epg, seems that despite all the anti-Ypsi-city-gov’t propaganda (and general ill-will), Ypsi downtown is perhaps held back by: the ypsi down-town landowners, who expect their business tenants to do the work that they themselves are unwilling to do? See HF’s post about running a real business here. If a landlord isn’t willing to get a business property to “white box” state, how serious an owner are they? for example, we can look at the HF proptery— previously totally out of code, now fine- and no expense to the landlord. So it’s empty. why should the landlord care?

    Sounds like my post a couple up stating Ypsi is holding itself back has validity?

    Next we can start on all the landlords S of Cross Street who try to rent sh*tholes to criminals, and then blame the crime and empty (of respectable renters) rental properties on the city budget and poor law/crime enforcement.

    I’ll bet those same landlords are wetting themselves at the opportunity to avoid fixing up those crummy rentals, once ordinance enforcement is gone.

    Penny wise and pound foolish. Sums up Michigan in many way, let alone Ypsi.

  94. name
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Leighton, when I looked up the craphole properties in Ypsi that are dragging all of us down, I was amazed (and disappointed) that many of them are locally owned. The train station poster aside.

    If you know of main, neglected business properties owned by out-of-towners, don’t give them their wished-for privacy, name them.

  95. mark
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    FYI… I’ve started a new thread specifically on whether or not Ypsi is “business unfriendly.”

    As the last few comments here are directly in response to Jennifer’s comment – which I moved to the front page – I’m also going to copy those thoughts over there.

  96. Posted November 23, 2007 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Local or out-of-town slum lords are all the same if they can equally profit from neglect. Though I agree that the local cannibals are very disappointing.

    It’s been years since I cared, but I remember a good portion of our empty buildings were sat on by speculators from Oakland County’s highest order of moneyed scum.
    (The Smith Furniture building at 15 South Washington? well,… seem to protect the sellers’ identity from serfdom casually perusing listings.)

    I know people have earlier discussed fining or seizing the property of owners who wait for their empty / disintegrating buildings to appreciate. Ignoring the legality of such actions in the US of A, it’d be fun to open than can to see how edible the worms look now.

  97. Posted November 23, 2007 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Smith furniture is owned by a local Ypsilantian and former president of an Ypsi bank.

    You can find any owner of a building by going to the City’s website and clicking on the link of the Assessor on the right side. You can search by name or address.

    – Steve

  98. egpenet
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    It’s the building owners IMHO who are holding out for high sales prices.

    “Suprise! Suprise!” as Gomer Pyle would say. The real estate bubble has burst. Prices are in the toilet. And from the condition that several downtown buildings are in … none too soon. New owners are going to be faced with major roof and other structural problems.

    Worst examplee is the Thompson block … Mr. Kircher, who SHOULD be in jail (pending appeal) tried to blame the city and the HDC, but his properties suck big time from lack of maintenance. Thank heaven for Stuart Beal, the Mauers and others, who aree literally rescuing downtown from our old timey local landlords, who IMHO should be hog-tied and shot!

    Next time you’re down S. Washington, take a look at the exterior of the old Elbow Room. Same guy that owned the Starkweather Housee owns that place, and it has been restored inside … but the xterior is about ready to collapse! These local landlords suck!

    They are all hoping for a big kill. Like the folks that own the Smith Building.

    Greed, avarice, lust and … whatever. Sounds like one of the soliloquies of the Music Man.

    Ha, ha. These folks have waited toom long and are getting screwed by George Bush’s own political wastefullness. Laugh so hard it hurts!

    Fun part is that very serious and fine folks are bidding these buildings and are doing a very finee job getting them back in shape. We will very soon have another cool little spot at the old Elbow Room and more to come. Good riddance to old trashy owners.

    Welcome in the young and the new! Happy Thanksgiving!


  99. Posted November 23, 2007 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    What always amazes me are people complain about problem properties. Instead of complaining about them, get together 10 friends and buy one of these buildings. Then fix it up and open a business.

    I always like people that complain about a particular landlord but then never have done anything to research the owners or problems.

    Kresge was a perfect example. No one in the City from City planners, Chamber of Commerce to the Mayor had the story correct about Kresge.

    When I bought Kresge it was after my wife and I went to Madison and met the owners and stayed at his place over the weekend to get the full story. I asked why he hadn’t ever sold the building before. He said no one ever brought him a cash offer.

    Same goes with Smith furniture. Building is for sale, if you don’t like it sitting vacant, go buy it. You know if you have a car in your garage you never drive, there is no obligation that you must sell me the car. Your car, you can do what you want.

    The guy that owns Smith furniture takes care of the property. His sidewalks are plowed before almost any other sidewalk in the downtown. It is always clean and secure.

    Since we moved here in 1999, we have bought five properties, all but one of them distraught, vacant, needing huge maintenance and repairs. Two were off the tax rolls owned by non-profits. They are now back on the rolls and fully taxed. One had been vacant some 30 out of the last 35 years.

    It is easy to complain about a property, but if you want to solve the problem, go buy it. If you can’t afford it, then get a bunch of friends and neighbors together and create a partnership and buy it.

    The Elbow Room is for sale, someone should go buy it. What I find amazing is that people who scream the loudest that property owners have to fix up their properties or think they should be forced to sell their properties have rarely if ever owned a commercial property or business.

    In the Southside, some have decried that there is no grocery store. I said, why don’t we get together 20 investors and buy a building and get an operator.

    Well, when people are asked to invest their own money, all of sudden they want to know about return and investment risk.

    You want people to invest in your community, create a place where investors can make money.

    To restore a commercial building costs from $150 to $200 per square foot. After you are done, if you are in Ypsilanti, you might get $20sf for rent. In Ann arbor you can for sure get $25 to $30.

    So same investment, and yet rate of return of 25% to 50% greater for the same dollar investment.

    So how do we fix it. That is easy, come up with ways so the cost to redevelop is cheaper in Ypsi than A2.

    In the mean time, if you don’t think someone is doing what you would like done to a building, figure out how to buy it. Get the facts, meet the owner, and figure out a way to make the deal happen.

    Smith furniture is for sale right now. Last I heard, he hasn’t had one offer, so you won’t have to make a full price offer, but go look at the building. Then put together an investor group here in the City and go buy it.

    Yes it is hard, but it is supposed to be hard. If it was easy, it would have already been done. But for some it is easier to just complain about something then to go do something about it.


    – Steve

  100. egpenet
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Stevie: Right on … Elbow Room is being sold and has been renovated inside. Major outdoor work is in-process.

    Smith building is a great location … come’on folks.

    Renovation costs per square foot have a lot to do with conditio. As I posted above, owners have held on too long asking too much and have NOT maintained their properties … roofs, electrical, masonry … all major costs … and all way over and above what a “typical” building buyer would expect to find.

    Bottomline, shouldn’t cost any more than A2 … probably less if you don’t choose the top bidder. (Talk to me about rebuilding after our fire and I’ll show you how to save, while getting value and eye-appeal. Other secrets for owners includee possible grants, tax and investment credits and more.)

    Anyway, Steve is right … stop complaining and buy a building downtown.

  101. Posted November 24, 2007 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Steve, the garaged car analogy is, of course, not valid when using it to promote empty buildings on public streets. (A better analogy might be an unused 1975 Ford LTD sitting on the curb that gets waxed every week, though it might be hiding oil and coolant puddles).

    But you are right that people should get off their asses and try being their own masters instead of impotently shaking a fist at the lords.
    Of course, that’s just what some squatting building owners want us to do, so we’ll jack up the speculative value of their neighboring properties.
    Many have witnessed others who have tried. Those early pioneers are now in violent debt or have moved away, while the building owners reap the (unearned?) benefits.

    Not that lessons can’t be learned from those early pioneers…or today’s perceived successes in DT and downtown.

    (To feel like an old school townie, Google “The Green Room Ypsi” CO OP. Or watch “Gladiator”.)

  102. Hillary
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    egpenet: “what ever else we are chartered to do” includes preventing building owners from replacing their flat roof with one that is sloped, and prevents them from changing the size, quantity, and type of windows and doors. Facades aren’t there just for looks.

  103. Posted November 24, 2007 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I can’t think of one property owner in Ypsilanti that has reaped a vast fortune by keeping a vacant building.

    The car analogy is a good one because I wasn’t talking about a building that was dangerous or causing an environmental hazard. I was giving the example of the Smith furniture building owner who maintains his property, keeps the heat on, sweeps the sidewalk and is the first to plow the snow. He is under no obligation to give his building away, it is his building. I don’t think anyone is advocating throwing out the Constitution when it comes to the right to quietly enjoy your property without interference from the government.

    I don’t want the government deciding who gets to own buildings and forcing people to sell under-utilized buildings.

    I have heard others rail against Joe Lawrence for being too particular about who he rents to. His building, he should be allowed to rent to whomever he wants to. He was the one landlord that turned down renting to not one but three different tax places. Good for him.

    More than one person has complained about Jim Pate and Smith furniture. The building is for sale. Very well maintained, it is white box condition. Not one but two elevators, modern furnace/AC system perfectly maintained. Good roof and good structure. Cost $1.6 million. Yet people are screaming he is gouging people. So if you think it is too much, make him an offer. The last time I spoke with the Realtor, they said they haven’t received one offer, at any price!

    Oh yeah, to the people complaining about the $1.6 million price, that is less than $59 a square foot. For the condition, location, and size of the building, that is very good price. Hmmm, I wonder why no one has bought the building?

    Outside of Kircher, which is always fun to pick on him and he isn’t making any money from his properties, what landlord has been leaching off the community, making a fortune by holding on to their vacant building? Anyone?

    Speaking of Green Room, how many people bid on the building next door, the old adult bookstore. Was it 10, 5, maybe two. Nope, just one. That was it, one bid.

    All of these folks out there crying about all these vacant buildings and yet the City had just one bidder and it went for less than $100,000.

    I think folks like to just complain rather then actually do something about the problem.

    If there is a problem building or owner, lets put together a group and go do something about it. I am willing. Who is willing to put in their money? What should be the first project?

    As someone once said, “Get off the internet, I’ll see you in the streets!”

    – Steve

  104. egpenet
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Get out your checkbooks, people.

  105. Posted November 24, 2007 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    “I can’t think of one property owner in Ypsilanti that has reaped a vast fortune by keeping a vacant building.”

    You forgot to add the word “yet”. Speculation is a game of waiting. Games can have losers.

    Speaking of the Constitution, our Right Wing Supremes have decided on a constitutional couple of words: Eminent Domain. I don’t advocate it, but some might.

    The Smith Bldg. might be a moot point now, but as someone who walked next to that building every night 4 Winters ago, I can see that upkeep issues were addressed,… but only after complaints?

    “Who is willing to put in their money? What should be the first project?” ‘Get off the internet, I’ll see you in the streets!’ “
    “Get out your checkbooks, people.”
    After some rejected offers, we did. And now we’re paying the price.

    See Ya!

  106. Posted November 24, 2007 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    leighton wrote:
    >> After some rejected offers, we did. And now we’re paying the price.

    Not everyone knows the details. Can you tell us more.

    – Steve

  107. Posted November 24, 2007 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, the details are best kept private until the dust settles. Though I could offer $12k for the Smith Building.

  108. Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Leighton is probably respecting my privacy, since he knows how sensitive I am about it.

    Let’s just say for the money we sunk into downtown Ypsilanti via Henrietta Fahrenheit, we could’ve paid off our mortgage already. Twice.

    I wish I could open my checkbook. But I’ve done it one time already and can’t afford to do it again. I’ve had plenty of offers for free rent, partnerships, etc. I simply can’t do it.

    But I’m all for someone else putting their money where their mouth (or keyboard) is.

    P.S. If you want to talk to me about the realities of opening your business, I’m here for you. I meet with people on a REGULAR basis to discuss such things.

  109. Posted November 25, 2007 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    P.P.S. We didn’t invest in the downtown just through Henrietta Fahrenheit, although that storefront seems to get the attention. Our investment actually started long before that when Leighton began booking bands and running sound at the Elbow Room.

    Did you know that he booked the Elbow Room on a volunteer-basis for the first three years of his 8 year tenure? Did you know that he ran sound there nearly every night for at least two years for free? Did you know that he also invested *his own money* to upgrade the sound system and speakers? And stage? He added television screens to run video of and to record bands playing live.

    Was he stupid for investing his own time and money into a business that wasn’t his? Maybe. But there are ways to “own” something you believe in without buying buildings and renovating them. Go support, volunteer, be involved with a business you believe in. You can creatively invest in this community if you want to.

  110. Mark H.
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Hey Steve,

    You mention the US Constitution and the right to keep private property, in a comment above. Could you cite chapter and verse on where this is proclaimed a right in the constitution? I’m not trying to dispute you here, just curious as to what these widespread claims are actually based on. thanks!

  111. egpenet
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    In one of the early drafts by Jefferson, he wrote: “Life, Liberty and Property.” Franklin talked him out of that and into “Pursuit of Happiness.” Franklin’s thinking was “whatever turns you on … you go, girl!”

    Good luck in your search Steve.

  112. Posted November 27, 2007 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Mark H questioned my statement when I wrote:
    “I don’t think anyone is advocating throwing out the Constitution when it comes to the right to quietly enjoy your property without interference from the government.”

    Professor Mark H asked:
    “You mention the US Constitution and the right to keep private property, in a comment above. Could you cite chapter and verse on where this is proclaimed a right in the constitution?”

    Well there is amendment number 5 of the US Constitution
    “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    Some in the community, including a business owner in the downtown area, have argued before that owners of private property that is vacant should be forced to sell that property at a reasonable price so that others may use it. The way it was proposed is for the city to pass legislation to force people to sell their property if they kept it vacant.

    Seems like an ordinance forcing a private owner of a vacant property to sell their property to another private property owners is depriving them of their property.

    Moreover, if I remember correctly, there was a recent amendment to the State of Michigan constitution that the voters overwhelmingly endorsed that said a City couldn’t take property for a private purpose. This was in response to Kelo v City of New London case where the US Supreme Court said, absent state law prohibiting the taking of property for private purpose, the government could take private property and sell it to another private owner.

    The good voters of Michigan made sure that can’t happen. Had that law been in place in 2002, the City of Ypsilanti could never have embarked on buying all that Water Street property and we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today with planners speculating in real estate adventures with public money, crushing debt, and no prospects for a developer.


    – Steve

  113. egpenet
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    That STILL does not transdlate into a “constitutional right to own property.”

    I agree with the “taking” part, Steve.

    The courts, including local, state and federal courts protect private property from unjustified taking UNLESS there is a greater civic good involved … which was part of the legal figuring behind Water Street and the Thompson Block. Water Street property owners were fairly compensated. The Thompson Block was in court for a very long time until the court was satisfied that the prior owner had xclearly forefitted the property via neglect.

    No one, myself included, as much as we may scream and rant at downtown landlords, would want the city to use the courts to wrest property from the rightful owners. If the property is unsafe, is neglected or otherwise fits the dangerous/vacant/etc. ordinances we have on the books … then it’s padlocked until repaired and/or sold.

  114. Confused
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Just so we’re clear, Steve, in 2002 when the city set out to acquire the Water Street property for development you were a supporter of that move, correct?

  115. amused1
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    The final line of the original post mentioned supporting the downtown that’s already there. Maybe some of the posters who have blogs and sites could do a little supporting by promoting the shop ypsi campaign? I say this because I noticed that several active local sites haven’t mentioned it. Yet.

  116. egpenet
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Many of us “raving madmen” supported the Water Street project (and STILL DO!) and the bonded debt. What we didn’t know at the time is that the city planners had not fully investigated the site for contamination, hadn’t secured permission to remove the tracks, and hadn’t priced in the costs of doing buisness (ie., delays, demolition problems, contractual commitments for vendor withdrawal, etc., etc.)
    Nor had the city consulted with financial planners concerning the development timeline and what macro economic conditions were going to be in the County, the State or the Nation. These factors were not secrets, but they were not factored into the planning.

    One would assume they had been factored in. (Silly us. Silly us.)

    So, Confused … to answer for Steve and for all of us raving and ranting maniacs on this blog … we did, we do, we will support Water Street.

    As the guy I talked to Sunday who was fishing under the bridge … the city is getting “nibbles.” It will happen and in our lifetime.

  117. John on Forest
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 11:06 pm | Permalink


    I take back my post about concrete crushers (on the “is ypsi unfriendly to business” thread), if you’re serious about still supporting Water Street.

    I understand your frustration about the way Water Street has turned out to date. I don’t think there is a soul in Ypsilanti that is not frustrated by that situation, including everyone directly or indirectly involved in it. I certainly am frustrated about it.

    I don’t know if the extent of brownfield contamination could have been known up front, or maybe it could have. But certainly the demolition contractor should have recognized it sooner. There seems to have been a lack of knowlegable oversight on this issue by the city early on.

    The downturn in Michigan’s economy may have been foreseen as early as when Water Street was initiated, although the true extent of that downturn might not have been anticipated. The City of Ypsilanti is not the only entity that underestimated it. Clearly no one saw the impending build up and subsequent collapse of the housing market when Water Street was first begun. Our second developer backed out of the deal because he was able to see the inevitable collapse; but, that was long after the project was begun.

    I’m just saying that I think you are somewhat right in thinking the city could have done a better job planning the project; but, not all the problems that were encountered were foreseeable and I think you are placing a tad bit too much blame on the current city officials for things that were out of their control.

    Rather than cry in our spilt milk, though, we need to redouble our efforts to salvage the project and raise it from the ashes like Ypsilanti High School’s new mascot. If you have good ideas about it, bring them forward. If you feel like you’re not being listened to, I’ll be happy to try and persuade the right people to listen to them.

    I don’t think the current city council is as bad as you make it out to be. Everyone of them is interested in doing the right thing for the city. Some may not be as well equipped to do the job, as we’d like. But, asking them all to resign is not going to help. What they need is our support. Not back patting support; but, support in the form of good advice.

    The very best thing we can all do for our beloved city is to band together in unity and single minded purpose. Tearing down oneanother is not going to solve problems. Divisiveness within the city will only delay progress.

    I’m not saying to not be enthusiasitic putting forth your ideas. I’m not saying to not be voracious in the persuit of good solutions. I’m just saying to listen to other’s perspectives and temper your own with those perspectives.

    Will there be a charrette? I ask because I think peoples ideas need to be fleshed out, thought out, subject to critic, revised, restated…until sound plans of action exist.

  118. Posted November 27, 2007 at 11:25 pm | Permalink


    As far as I understand it, the City started working on acquiring the Water Street property in 2000 or even earlier with the purchase of the Arlens property. I moved here in July 1999. When I first came here I thought the Water Street project sounded like a good idea. When the former planner lied about how the density number were arrived at, that was in 2002, I and many others in the community started having very serious concerns about the project and the ever escalating costs. Many of us were shocked when we learned the developer, with the approval of the City staff, had planned to offer Water Street condos starting at $99,000.

    I remember when Doc Edmunds got in a fight with the planner over the question if Water Street was in the flood plain. The City planner said Doc Edmunds was wrong saying the FEMA maps showed it wasn’t a flood plain. The next week a picture was published showing a flood from the forties on Water Street.

    The planners came back later and said the maps were wrong.

    Many of us tried to get answers and offer suggestions over the next year but with little effect. It was in 2003 that a group of citizens wrote and published the often talked about Water Street letter to the then Mayor. No one from the City ever responded.

    Confused, now I have a question for you. Who are you?


    – Steve

  119. Posted November 28, 2007 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Ed wrote:
    That STILL does not transdlate into a “constitutional right to own property.”

    You are right, there is no constitutional right to own property. You have to buy it just like everyone else.

    However, the constitution does protect you if you own property and the government wants it.


    – Steve

  120. egpenet
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    That’s exactly what I said.

    “Taking” … the legal term … protects private ownership against other private and civic whims.

    I remaind all readers that while we have protected “rights” proscribed in the constitution and in our laws … we also have required “duties” … voting, paying just taxes, military service (when called), jury duty, plus the other “soft,” generally “being lawful” duties of citizenship.

    Participation in this debate about city finances is both our “right” and our “duty.”

  121. Robert II
    Posted December 5, 2007 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Looks like you’ve got the A2 News to join you on another one of your crusades.

    Ypsilanti, township need shared vision

    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    At a time when regional efforts should be a priority, Ypsilanti Township officials seem determined to go their own way. The latest example is a push to develop their own downtown.

    Say what?

    A master plan recently approved by the township board of trustees calls for a “town center” along the Huron Street/Whittaker Road corridor. Officials would like to include retail, commercial and residential development, along with parks, walking paths, the existing library, township offices and civic center.

    They’re taking a page from the so-called New Urbanism, a design concept which seeks to cluster development into a compact area and avoid the proliferation of suburban sprawl.

    But in terms of resource use, it seems downright wasteful to focus on the potential of New Urbanism when Old Urbanism is down the road a couple of miles, struggling to survive.

    That Old Urbanism, in this case, is the city of Ypsilanti.

    There’s much to link Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, beyond just a common name. But a history of power struggles between leaders of the two communities has kept them at odds. It’s a shame – and, we might add, ancient history – that Ypsilanti Township was rebuffed decades ago when it sought to merge with the city. Now the power has shifted, and the township has no interest in its weaker cousin.

    The township has a significantly larger population, tax base and land mass. They’ve had success in recruiting businesses, most notably in the sizable Washtenaw Business Park just south of I-94.

    In contrast, the city has made cuts in staff and services for several years to balance its budget. Roughly 37 percent of its land is owned by tax-exempt groups, including Eastern Michigan University. Its once strong manufacturing base has withered away. Some storefronts along the main stretch of Michigan Avenue have been empty for years. Even the Depot Town area, a small but bustling retail/restaurant district, is struggling. Just recently, an anchor retail store there – Quinn’s Essentials – announced plans to close next year.

    City leaders see promise in a regional approach, though that promise doesn’t seem to lie in Ypsilanti Township. The city, for example, has joined six other townships in Washtenaw County – but again, not Ypsilanti Township – in exploring the possibility of a regional police authority.

    Meanwhile, its most potentially powerful partnership – one that could help build traffic to the city’s businesses, or capitalize on existing infrastructure to attract more – lies dormant.

    There are some elements of Ypsilanti Township’s plan that do make sense. Building non-motorized paths to link the township’s Ford Lake with the city’s Huron River waterfront is smart, emphasizing a natural connection.

    Creating an artificial downtown would have ripple effects that, at least in the short term, could exacerbate Ypsilanti’s struggles. And it just doesn’t make sense for the city or the township to act in isolation. With a shared vision, both would be stronger.

    Unlike government officials, average residents don’t care about borders between municipalities (other than how it affects the taxes they pay, of course). It’s not uncommon for someone who lives in a township to identify with the adjacent city.

    So here’s a message for Ypsilanti Township: You already have a downtown. It’s called Ypsilanti.

  122. egpenet
    Posted December 5, 2007 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I propose to the City that it hurry and change the signs around town that say “Downtown Ypsilanti” with signs that read “Ypsilanti Town Center” and kill the idea once and for all.

  123. John on Forest
    Posted December 6, 2007 at 4:37 pm | Permalink


    I agree. I agree. I agree.

    I also think the city (and, what the hell, the township too in the spirit of regional cooperation) should look at what kinds of businesses were proposed in the “new town center” with the thinking that the township residents must have a need for those business in the real downtown. Then those businesses should be encouraged to locate in the “Ypsilanti Town Center” to serve both the township residents and presumably city residents too.

  124. egpenet
    Posted December 6, 2007 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    I don’t always … but I did my homework today … and spent two hours driving around (because it is totally inconvenient (and too cold) to walk around the ill-fated YTC on S. Huron.

    I had lunch at the Mexican Restaurant. I shopped at the Krogers, where I’ve shopped before, and have eaten at the Coney. (I noticed that Baker’s Square already bit the dust.)

    There isn’t much of anything we’d want downtown … although I miss BW3, which relocated just south of 94.

    I didn’t take good notes, however. (Didnt think there’d be a test!) Of the storefronts I saw, there were, perhaps, two or three that has an “experiential” focus … come in here and DO something that’s fun, or buy something from us you can DO something fun with. Those kinds of businesses, maybe.

    We need the retail basics … and we’re getting there … drug store, food to put in the fridge to use to make things to eat at a later time (eggs, milk, butter, bread, meats, veggies, etc.), pastries, some fun things to wear, some necessary things to wear … THAT sort of basic stuff. We don’t need high end boutiques, or furniture or appliances (the big box store stuff). Little box stores … decor, antiques, OK. And we’re almost there, in terms of filled up storefronts with THAT stuff.

    What we REALLY need are places to go, to browse, to learn, to experience, to have fun WITHOUT getting smashed. We need more variety. More ethnicity. A second African restaurant is opening up downtown. I wish the Tacqeria on Michigan would move into downtown. We need galleries. We need public art. We need some “invitations” or some “doors” or some “keys” to let us in on the HISTORY we live in. We need activities that attract crowds … so we can say to each other … “Let’s meet here again sometime.”

    One trend (I’m researching trends) other cities are considering is making stores and restaurants officially pet-friendly. THAT would bring more “walkers” downtown.

    Another trend is for businesses to leave some lights on 24/7 (low-e flourescents, preferrably) to give the downtown storefronts some life, evn if the place is NOT open. We invite all active business to BE open earlier and later. Hate to see so many roll-up the sidewalk before 9PM.

    It’s also hard to get something to eat downtown after a play at the RAC … not impossible … but inconcenient.

    Enough. G’night.

  125. John on Forest
    Posted December 6, 2007 at 8:27 pm | Permalink


    As for what is currently out on S. Huron over on the other side of I94, I don’t think those things are necessarily representative of what the township was envisioning with their “town center”. Included, yes, but I got the idea they wanted more, including some of the things you mentioned need to be (or are) in Downtown.

    I agree we need those things you talked about. I think they would be great.

    However, I disagree with you on the point of not needing some big box or perhaps medium sized box stores. OK, not necessarily chains. I think part of what Downtown needs to be a thriving attraction to retail shoppers is a variety of offerings that make it worth stopping to browse. A home goods store front. Electronic toys and appliances. Music and books. I’m thinking of a microcosm of a Briarwood Mall, perhaps. And again of course all the things you mentioned too.

  126. egpenet
    Posted December 7, 2007 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    REMINDER … Saturday, December 8, 2007 … 9AM-2PM (thereabouts) … begin the city’s budget planning and goal setting sessions at the Haab Clinic on N. Huron.

    Meetings will be held in the meeting room in the back, parking lot door.

    Dec. 8, Dec. 15 and Jan. 26. These are NOT charettes or open discussions with the public … but are open TO the public for observation.

    Those who no longer want to remain silent can picket on the public sidewalks along Huron and Pearl. There IS NO PERMIT for a demonstration, so you’re on your own. The action/inaction will be inside. Take your pick. But be civil in either case.

  127. Posted December 8, 2007 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    BVOS wrote earlier
    Just a few points of clarification: I’m an employee of the YDDA and DTDDA, not the City. My bosses are the DDA board members. The City Manager is not my boss, nor is City Council. The mayor sits on both DDA board, so he is just one of 19 bosses I have.

    Up on the City of Ypsilanti’s website is their 2007 Organization chart.

    The Chart is dated 2004 however that is not correct. BVOS did not work for the City in 2004.

    Moreover, if you look at the properties on the file, It was edited on Aug 2, 2007 by jasmith and the file name begins with 07 which is the general pattern the city uses to name files that were created in 2007.

    In this chart, it clearly shows that the DDA director does report to the City Manager.

    It is also interesting to note that the Housing Commission Director is no where on this chart.


    – Steve

  128. egpenet
    Posted December 8, 2007 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Business as usual.

    Lack of controls.

    No accountability.

    No repercussions.

    The price of failure to govern = higher taxes.

  129. John on Forest
    Posted December 8, 2007 at 11:27 am | Permalink


    So, Steve, did you send an email or make a telephone call to the appropriate city department (owner of the org chart) and point out the errors so they could fix it? What has been their response? Who is wrong, the org chart or BVOS?

  130. egpenet
    Posted December 8, 2007 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    What COULD be the BEST way for the City to communicate with the citizens … the website … is woefully lacking. No time, personnel, money.

    I venture that the organization chart is outta wack. The “outtawackness” points to the numbing issue of poor control, the who-shot-who(m) attitude and the lack of any repercussions for poor work.

    Missed today’s session at Haab Clinic because I had to work. How many times was it said … “Just four square miles!”?

  131. kate
    Posted March 3, 2008 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    dude, if you don’t have the balls to live in ypsitucky as is… if you want to come in to “a sterile” pleasantville then run away to hide in your cornfield’s at night then it’s time to get your priorities straight on what really matters to you. live in a place before you try to make decisions on what’s needed there. common sense people.

  132. egpenet
    Posted March 3, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    (De Niro looks into the mirror … )

    You talkin’ to me?

  133. Posted December 12, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I was just reminded of this this morning and got pissed off all over again. As no one is building anything in Michigan these days, I can’t imagine this idea is moving forward. But, I think that we should be proactive and take steps to preempt this, if we haven’t already done so. Because, once the economy turns around, you can bet they’ll bring the idea of a new downtown back up.

  134. utilinous
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I have been a visitor here for a while but thought it about time I made a contribution. Unfortunately, I’m not very smart, though. So, I’ll just say HELLO.

  135. Posted February 1, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    So, does anyone know where this stands now? Is the idea dead?

  136. What's In A Name
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    The idea is a zoning and master plan construct so it officially exists on paper. However the current financial markets as well as current condition of the commercial market in that area mean that the idea is dead for a while.

    It’s also dependent on the politics and staffing of the Twp. It’s worth noting that Dave Nicholson, the former Planning Director of the Twp., passed away a year or two ago after a valiant battle against cancer. I don’t know of anyone left in the Twp. who had the political connections and trust Dave had to get things like this through the Twp. elected and appointed officials. He was the person who wisely, from a planning standpoint, advocated for and achieved this zoning and master plan achievement.

    So between the current financing market and the planning environment, I’d say it’s dead since it won’t likely be picked back up again when the economy does recover, whenever that will be…

  137. Posted February 2, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the update, WAN. It’s appreciated.

  138. Chainsshamy
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Hey City Folk
    You can eat my boiled taint.

  139. Acco
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink


    I hope they have a TGI Fridays that looks like a fake City Hall!

  140. Cergorops
    Posted April 3, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I want a TGI Friday’s too, but I want it inside a Walmart.

  141. Diopcoisa
    Posted July 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Is the new downtown Ypsi ready yet? I’ve been waiting for what feels like years, in Howell.

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