Toward a Collaborative Relationship with the University of Michigan
The City of Ann Arbor is fortunate to have the University of Michigan in our midst. The challenge for collaboration with the University of Michigan is identifying mutual areas of interest. I have had a few meetings with Jim Kosteva, Director of Community Relations at the University of Michigan and he has helped me to understand the University's perspective. He identifies Education, Research, and Healthcare as the University’s priorities. One of the reasons it is difficult for the City to collaborate with U of M is that there are few areas of mutual interest. Regular communications do occur at the functional level; between the AAPS and DPS, and between our respective transportation and construction divisions. But I sense that the tone of these communications is typically reactive and defensive, with both parties protecting their turf, so to speak.
On the one hand, Ann Arbor needs to appreciate that the presence of the University of Michigan in our city creates goodwill among property owners. For example, during the boom years of 2001 to 2008, Ann Arbor property values increased generously by 42.9%, compared to other Michigan cities such as Farmington Hills (25.3%), Livonia (23%), and Kalamazoo (29.6%). During the bust years between 2008 and 2011, Ann Arbor seems protected with property values falling only 5.4% compared to Farmington Hills (25.5%), Livonia (19%) and Kalamazoo (6%). What's more, the University added close to 9000 jobs between 2001 an 2011.
But that's not to say that the City should be at the University's mercy in collaboration. We need to recognize that our goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The University's recent installation of a solar array at the North Campus Research Center (NCRC) along Plymouth Road has challenged the tenacity of the "town gown" relationship. The installation involved removing a landscaped berm that had been specifically designed with input from the neighboring residential community. But the removal of the berm and the installation of the solar panels took place without any dialogue with the residents. In fact, the City's zoning laws would have required these meetings, as well as the situation of the panels father away from the sidewalk. But as a Public University, the University of Michigan is not required to abide by City Zoning laws.
Below are two articles from recent press about the installation.
I am cautiously optimistic on the future the City's relationship with the University. On Friday, February 1st, Jim Kosteva, members of the University's Planning and Sustainability offices, and representatives from DTE met with City Administrators, Neighborhood Association leaders, and your Council Members Jane Lumm and Sally Petersen. Jim Kosteva led off the meeting with an apology and regretfulness for not meeting with residents sooner explaining that the University considered this a "utility" installation, and that he didn't realize the extent of the visual impact on the neighborhoods. He affirmed the University's commitment to listening and being open for feedback. The University of Michigan anticipates another installation for solar panels along Fuller Road, and plans for a neighborhood meeting are underway. This is one step forward toward the creation of a more collaborative relationship with the University of Michigan.