ANN ARBOR – Longtime resident Eric Lipson is running for mayor against incumbent Christopher Taylor in the November general election.
A native of Detroit, Lipson is an attorney. He previously ran several nonprofits, including Recycle Ann Arbor’s Reuse Center and the Inter-Cooperative Council student housing cooperative at the University of Michigan.
The former Ann Arbor planning commissioner also owns NewHouse Research and Design, which builds and ships portable shelters for disaster relief, temporary housing and storage called DecaDomes. Lipson has sent his DecaDomes around the world, including Haiti and Bangladesh.
Lipson attended University of Michigan Law School and his wife, Lorene Sterner, is a staff member at the University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Their three children have attended Ann Arbor Public Schools, and went on to study at U-M and Washtenaw Community College.
The following interview was conducted via email.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
I decided to run for mayor of Ann Arbor because I have a different vision for the future of the city in which citizens, not developers, land speculators and big donors determine the future shape of our city. The revision to the Comprehensive Land-Use Plan is scheduled for the upcoming year.
Why are we hurrying to give land speculators gifts rather than hear what the people want in terms of density, height, and affordability?
The perfect example of the wrong path we are on is the upzoning of the area around State and Eisenhower where one of the biggest donors to the mayor controls 20% of the property that was just up-zoned to allow higher density building with no commensurate public benefits required or incentivized.
The current mayor talks a good game about sustainability and climate change, but then turns around and votes to give huge benefits to his largest donors with no actual incentives for affordability or sustainability. Land speculators are the only ones benefiting from these massive up-zonings. Other communities that tried upzoning have found no benefits to affordability but only increased gentrification and congestion.
Now the Mayor is pushing to upzone the West Stadium Blvd. corridor using the same model used at State and Eisenhower. The two areas are very different. West stadium is surrounded by neighborhoods.
Suggestions made by the neighbors and planning staff to the proposed rezoning were totally ignored. As mayor, I would make sure we listen to our citizens, plan first and build later, not the other way around. Nine planning commissioners appointed by the mayor should not determine the future shape of our city. A robust Comprehensive Plan Revision process will help ensure that.
What do you feel are the biggest issues that Ann Arbor residents face right now?
Affordability is a huge issue. I would use funds from the Michigan State Housing Development Administration (which just allocated $50 million to help folks in the “missing middle” attain home ownership).
Housing Cooperatives such as Colonial Square, Arrowwood and University Townhouses have proven themselves as avenues to home ownership, diversity and affordability. We should also use the Affordable Housing millage on public sites to build low income housing.
Preserving what we value is also important. Supporting small businesses and neighborhoods is crucial. Again, controlling development is the solution. Otherwise, we will continue to lose those unique small businesses and neighborhoods as we did at South University.
What are some problems that the city will need to tackle in the next few years?
Controlling development, as mentioned above. We must also do everything in our power to contain and remediate the threat to our drinking water and public health posed by the toxic 1-4 Dioxane plume creeping under the city.
Pursuing the EPA Superfund status is essential because, unlike Michigan law that does not require remediation, but only mitigation, the EPA can force the polluter to pay and actually clean up the site.
The current responsible party, Danaher Corporation, is a multi-billion dollar corporation that has been doing nothing but stalling. The current mayor has done little but encourage more fruitless litigation, from which, coincidentally, his law firm profits by representing Scio Township. The entire lawsuit was just reversed by the Court of Appeals, leaving us back at zero on the litigation front.
We must do everything we can to speed EPA Superfund status and actually clean up the site as best we can, after 30 years of inaction. The current mayor opposed this because he feared effects on property values. In reality, property values surrounding Superfund sites rebound because people know the problem is being tackled, not ignored.
We also need to stop decimating the last parcels of sensitive properties with significant woodlands and landmark trees within the city. We just lost 700 trees to the bulldozer as Toll Brothers clearcut Concord Pines for another luxury subdivision. The voters of Ann Arbor chose to fund a millage to preserve these parcels within the city as well as on the fringes. The current administration has, instead, allowed those precious properties to be developed with more single family luxury homes.
I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. But I feel like the current administration is too beholden to development interests and land speculators and is not aligned with the Democratic values I hold dear.
How do you think Ann Arbor can get closer to its carbon neutrality goals?
Once again, we need to incentivize all new housing and building to incorporate sustainability goals such as electric heating. The current administration talks about this, but is only asking homeowners to retrofit their homes and pay more taxes. Then they turn around and approve sprawling luxury developments with no such energy efficiency standards. These will haunt us for the next 50 years.
We need to stop just talking and expedite these goals. On a positive note, there are many things we can also do to encourage carbon neutrality such as encouraging better insulation in homes, energy efficient appliances, better public transportation and more compact development that still provides green space, not just concrete.