Blog: Anya Dale

Anya Dale loves her job but wishes she could do it in jeans. She is a Planner with Washtenaw County Office of Strategic Planning, serves on the city's Environmental Commission and chairs the Transportation Committee. She also knows how to care for African fruit bats. Anya will be writing about  A2's downtown, plans for the Huron River and the Washtenaw Ave portal.

Anya Dale Post 4: Washtenaw Avenue

Last week an Action Team of more than twenty leaders from local government, business, public interest groups and community service associations met to evaluate the potential of Washtenaw Avenue to be redeveloped from an auto-oriented suburban commercial throughway to a compact, mixed use transit corridor and to encourage community and stakeholder collaboration on future development, land use planning and transportation investment decisions.

This team will help the goal of smart growth materialize by creating and adopting action steps for regional coordination of investment in non-motorized infrastructure and public transit, and sensible use of public-private resources to accommodate growth sustainably in order to stimulate the economy while better responding to changing environmental and social challenges.

At this first meeting Washtenaw County staff presented a Redevelopment Opportunity map with vacant and otherwise underutilized parcels and buildings identified. The remainder of the time was dedicated to a work session in which challenges and incremental steps to move from the existing conditions to the uber-sustainable Transit Oriented Development model were identified.

One of the unmistakable barriers are the complication of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts in Michigan due to home-rule planning and zoning policies.  Additionally, Michigan does not have much experience retrofitting an auto-dominated suburban corridor for mixed use and fixed transit service across four municipalities. However, these challenges are also why this project is an opportunity to implement a new vision for this area.

Steps to get to this new vision were separated into three categories: Transportation, Land Use/Zoning and Market. Potential improvements to transportation along the corridor ranged from generally increasing non-motorized access and competitiveness of transit service through continuous sidewalks, and safe pedestrian crossings to more specific actions such as acquiring right of way for future transit improvements. A common theme was better integration of transit stops with commercial centers, and more frequent and/or express service with feeder buses connecting from significant destinations and employers near the corridor. Ideas for long-term improvements were Bus Rapid Transit, dedicated lanes and even fixed rail service along the corridor.

Land Use and Zoning largely focused on the need for the multiple jurisdictions along the corridor to coordinate for consistent plans, zoning, and review processes, as well as to modernize their zoning ordinances to reduced setbacks, allow greater height and re-examine parking requirements.  One recommended method of doing this included the communities creating and adopting a common overlay or corridor redevelopment district. Incentives to increase the variety of housing options and incorporate more mixed use with residential elements were also discussed.

Finally, steps to encourage supportive market conditions were charted, such as identifying priority redevelopment sites and coordinating marketing efforts.  Encouraging developer investment in transportation improvements, providing incentives for transit supportive land uses and creating a centralized financial resources toolbox to highlight opportunities for economic development and other available funding resources were among the results of the brainstorming session.

While complete consensus on details in the real world is near impossible, one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that old strategies don’t work any more. With this in mind, future meetings will use the knowledge and expertise around the table to refine the steps, identify the information and resources needed, and use this foundation to develop an action plan that will get us moving in the right direction. The wide representation on this group also creates an opportunity for greater prioritization of resources and an ability to leverage outside resources such as grants.

As results from the workshops are compiled and completed they will be posted on the group website: This project will also be taken out to nearby neighborhoods and other groups for input at various points in the process. In the meantime, share your thoughts with me. What are your concerns for Washtenaw Avenue and the region?  What are the improvements you would like to see for the corridor? What needs to change to make these improvements more feasible?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion more formally, contact me at