By Seth Kinker,

The City of Chelsea welcomed Julia Upfal, the new Community Development Director, at their
June 3 city council meeting which was also her first day.

“I’m just really happy to be here,” said Upfal an Ann Arbor native, when introduced at the Jun. 3 city council meeting. “I’m really excited to get my feet wet and I’m looking forward to the work I’ll get to do here.”

After settling in, Upfal sat down with The Sun Times on June 11 to talk about what got her into community development and what brought her to Chelsea.


Upfal graduated from Wayne State in 2012 with a degree in Urban Studies and Affairs. The following fall, she attended the University of Michigan for her Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning, Economic Development.

“As an undergrad I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go into,” said Upfal. “I saw urban studies as encompassing everything I was interested in. Sociology, economics, and policy. It put it all together in a way I could visualize it contextually and have a tangible impact with the work I was doing.”

“Then, I focused on economic and community development,” added Upfal. “Things like economic mobility and creating new opportunities in a community have always been a priority for me, that’s why I pursued those.”

Following graduation in 2015, she took a job in Green Bay as a Business Development Specialist.

“(There were) a lot of interesting projects to work on,” said Upfal of her time in Green Bay. “A really large vacant site they needed to redevelop. A lot of brownsfield and contamination issues we needed to address. There were areas of town that were going
through significant changes that needed to be addressed through a planning mechanism. It was an exciting time to come on board and participate in those different projects.”

In the fall of 2016, Upfal took a job with Ann Arbor Spark as a Business Development Manager to be closer to home and work on a community she felt more connected to.

Earlier this spring, Upfal saw the Community Development Director position posted by the city. Upfal was familiar with Chelsea being from nearby Ann Arbor.

“I’ve always visited Chelsea for its destination places,” said Upfal. “Purple Rose Theatre, Common Grill, things like that were always something cool to escape to. Chelsea is a historic community with a lot to offer and coming out here to visit was something I enjoyed, I’m glad I finally get to work here.”

Upfal saw another opportunity to continue to work with something that she was passionate about. With SPARK and their role in driving industries, creating demands for other jobs in the community, Upfal’s focus was in Livingston County with manufacturing.

“I’m a lot more interested in downtown development,” said Upfal. “Transforming eyesores into things people can really enjoy. Making the community have a better quality of life. Most of my projects in spark were out at the industrial parks so I’m really
glad I get to come back downtown and focus on projects I’m a little bit more passionate about.

“There’s a lot in Chelsea that’s exciting,” added Upfal. “A lot of opportunities to do planning and community development work. It seems like a community that’s invigorated to work on those kinds of projects too, a lot of collaboration. That’s always something you look for when you look for a job like this.”

Upfal said looking at the zoning ordinance would be a big priority in her first year and helping to make sure the master plan is adopted.

“They’ve been working on that for a long time, so making sure that goes through,” said Upfal of the city and its master plan. “Then addressing some of the issues, Federal Screw is a priority. Getting that redeveloped one day, finding a development partner that

Beyond that, Upfal said she just wants to keep making sure the zoning department runs smoothly and is a seamless and transparent process for all parties.