I had an interesting meeting with developer Bill Kinley yesterday morning. We were supposed to be talking about the Riverside Arts Center. Bill is on the RAC board and he wanted to chat with me about a few of my recent posts. The meeting was amicable and the conversation was pretty freewheeling. By the end of it, we’d touched on just about every significant Ypsilanti development in the last 25 years, from the Exemplar plant to the Harriet Street government complex. Naturally, quite a bit of time was spent discussing the stalled development on Water Street and what our remaining alternatives are.
My concern, as I explained it to him, was that, given the fact that the bonds are coming due, we’d sell to the first person expressing interest, perhaps not making the best decision for the City in the long run. He drew a parallel to the Exemplar plant, which was built the last time the City had a large parcel to work with. In that case, it was 10.8 acres adjacent to the highway. There were competing plans for the property, but, for various reasons, we chose to cast our lot with Exemplar. While we picked up some jobs in the short term, the automotive manufacturing firm closed up shop soon afterward, leaving a vacant building on prime real estate. And, as a result of that decision, the front door to our community will, for the foreseeable future, be a loading dock. Kinley wasn’t saying this was a good or bad decision, just illustrating that you have to live with the ramifications of your decisions for decades. And, like me, I think he’s hoping that we do the right thing on Water Street.
He said that one option would be for the City to invest more in the parcel, laying out sewer and utilities, and thus making it more attractive to a developer, but he conceded that it wasn’t likely that such a thing would happen given the amount of debt we’d already incurred. The other option would be to subdivide the parcel, looking for different groups to take on the various elements. We discussed senior housing, retail, condos, and any number of other options. The one that most piqued my interest was cohousing.
I wasn’t aware of it prior to the meeting, but Kinley has been involved in all three of the intentional communities in Ann Arbor, beginning with Sunward. He wasn’t suggesting that such a thing would work on Water Street. In fact, he acknowledged that units in Ann Arbor were no longer moving like they once did. (He said that people still want to move into the developments, but that, in almost all cases, they can’t sell the homes they’re presently in.)
Lisa Bashert, as far as I know, was the first to suggest cohousing on the Water Street site. I remember her raising the possibility a few years ago during the planning of our YpsiVotes forum on downtown business. I liked the idea, and it’s always been on my list of things to pursue, but I’ve never made the time to really dig into it. I’m thinking that now might be the right time. Kinley gave me quite a bit of background on the cohousing movement, and pointed me toward several resources. He also said that he’d be willing to chat again about it. Given how bad the residential housing market is right now, I don’t think that he sees it as being a great idea for Ypsi, but I think he agrees that a downtown cohousing community would be incredibly attractive. (Most cohousing is suburban and somewhat isolated.) The big problem is, again, that people who wanted to live in such a place would generally have other homes that needed to be sold first. If that weren’t the case, I think I’d be closing down this blog and spending my time working on a business plan. I really think if we could bundle a 40-unit downtown cohousing development with something like a new Zingerman’s market/restaurant at the corner of River and Michigan Ave, that we might really be on to something.
I have more thoughts, but I need to crawl toward my elevated sleeping platform now…