Concerns over Ypsi Water Street Project

May 26, 2003 by  
Filed under News

Dear Friends,

We, a group of Ypsilanti residents from the Historic South Side Neighborhood, over the last 15 months have been expressing our concerns about the proposed Water Street project. We are united in our interest to see the project built as a success for our community, but we remain concerned that the project, as currently designed, is not the best we can do for Ypsilanti.

We wish to emphasize that we are not opposed to the redevelopment of Water Street and the hoped-for revitalization of Downtown. Most of us live within blocks of the project and intend to remain in our homes for the foreseeable future. Our concerns are about project details – details that are very important to the success of the project and the future of our city.

· The anticipated cost to the City is too high. As we understand it, the City will spend approximately $5-7 million to acquire the properties in the redevelopment district. The City intends to sell the land to the developer for approximately $2 million. To a developer, the land should be worth $8-30 million, depending on the stage of redevelopment the property is in when it is sold to a builder. Recent discoveries about soils and flood plain conditions may decrease the development value of the land. Regardless of the value of the land, the fact remains that the City will be selling the land for less than we are paying for it. Consequently, the City will need to borrow money to subsidize the loss.

· Taxpayers pay Water Street services. The acquisition and development costs will be paid through Tax Increment Financing, meaning that additional tax revenues in the project area will be directed to repay the City’s cost of development. This also means that there will be no additional tax revenue to pay for added police, fire, public works, assessment, recreation, etc., until the development costs are paid off. The costs of all of these city services will necessarily increase as over 800 homes are built. It may be up to 30 years before the development debt is paid and Water Street tax increases are available for the general fund budget.

· The density of the project as proposed is too high. As first conceived, Water Street was to be approximately 400 units on 38 acres, including green spaces and a city park. For financial reasons, the number of units increased to almost 900, and is now expected to be 847. The density will be over 20 units per acre, which is significantly higher than any neighborhood in Ypsilanti. By comparison, Stadium Meadows, the most recent condominium development in the city, is approximately 12 units per acre. The proposed Water Street density, along with narrow streets and limited parking, will mean living in very close quarters.

· The proposed units will be substantially smaller than originally proposed. Over 60% of the units will be less than 1005 square feet. A balance of housing opportunities creates a healthy community. However, Ypsilanti does not have a shortage of small starter homes and already provides the bulk of Washtenaw County’s affordable housing.

· The proposed bylaws have provisions that protect the developer, not the residents. The litigation section of the proposed Water Street Condominium Association bylaws requires the association to detail its entire litigation strategy, produce a resume of the attorney proposed to represent the association and detail the proposed litigation budget prior to initiating any litigation except enforcement of the bylaws. While the developer’s attorney has agreed to discuss these provisions, the practical effect of the provisions as written is that the homeowners’ association will never be able to sue the builder/developer if a dispute arises over the quality of the construction. As written, this bylaw cannot be amended without permission of the developer.

· The Water Street Project is untested. We believe that, as a community, we need to consider what this development will look like 10, 20 and even 30 years down the road. Longterm successful projects similar in density to the proposed Water Street development do not exist in Southeastern Michigan. Our own neighborhood went from being a showplace to being an area shunned by realtors in just a few short years. A look at some of the grand old neighborhoods of Detroit shows what can happen when things (and tastes) change.

· Future citizens need your input now. If the Water Street Project was a private development funded with private funds, our opinions may be different, but Water Street has been initiated with your tax dollars, will be funded with your tax dollars and will be supported with your tax dollars. While there have been concerns that raising these issues will result in another “black eye” for Ypsilanti, we believe we have the right and the obligation as citizens to bring these concerns forward. If our community decides after careful consideration that our concerns warrant further discussion and join us in urging the city to reconsider the details of this development, Ypsilanti will benefit. If our community decides after careful consideration that we are mistaken in our concerns, there will be no negative effect on Ypsilanti’s image.

· Ypsilanti deserves better. Again, none of us wants to stop the revitalization of our downtown and our city. However, it appears that Water Street, which should be the means to reach our goal of revitalization, has become the goal itself.

We are happy to meet with your neighborhood group to discuss these concerns. Please feel free to contact any of us for additional information or to arrange a meeting. We can also be reached by email, our address is [email protected].

Amy and Robert Doyle
Steven Jentzen
Maggie Brandt and Steven R. Pierce
Maura and Christian Overland
Beth and Jim Fink