Public Commentary Reserved Time
Tom Partridge. Partridge described himself as a “proud and determined Democrat,” stressing the importance of electing Democrats in general and specifically Mark Schauer to replace Tim Wahlberg in the 7th Congressional District. He said that he is running as a write-candidate for state representative in the 52nd District because he’s not convinced that any of the other candidates, including the incumbent Democrat, are running on truly progressive platforms.
Jim Mogensen. Mogensen reiterated his remarks made at the previous night’s caucus about student occupancy at The Courtyards. The situation is reflected in a document that was included in the “communications to council” section of the agenda packet, which is a letter from the University of Michigan to the developer.
The Courtyards is a residential development at Plymouth and Broadway, which required an easement through university property for access. The condition the university placed on the granting of the easement was that 70% of the residents must at all times be UM students. Mogensen pointed out that if the percentage of students fell below 70%, The Courtyards could not legally discriminate against non-students in order to meet the 70% threshold. But if The Courtyards did not discriminate against non-students in order to meet the 70% threshold, they risked losing the easement. Without the easement, there was not the necessary access into and out of the site to ensure public safety. Said Mogensen, the university is effectively using its considerable economic and political clout to have other parties violate our city’s non-discrimination ordinances on its behalf.
Mogensen stressed that the university’s requirement on the developer’s property puts it at odds with the city’s non-discrimination ordinance contained in Chapter 112:
9:155. Other prohibited practices.
(5) No person shall conspire with, assist, coerce or request another person to discriminate in any manner prohibited by this chapter.
Mogensen concluded: “Laws apply when it is convenient for the university.”
Henry Herskovitz. Herskovitz noted the passing last month of the 5-year milestone for vigils held by demonstrators outside the Beth Israel synagogue. He characterized the invasion of Iraq as not a war for oil, but rather a war for Israel that was prosecuted at the urging of supporters of Israel. Herksovitz described the origin of the vigils as resulting from the travels in 2002 by some members of the group to Palestine, where they observed “apartheid conditions” and their return to find that their witness was not welcomed by the Jewish community in Ann Arbor. Herskovitz concluded by saying that the ratio of dead Palestineans to dead Israelis is 48 to 1.
Michael Benson. Benson, treasurer of the Michigan Student assembly, reported a successful homecoming with the theme, “Go Blue, Live Green,” which included a voter registration drive that culminated in the registration of over 350 new voters on the last day it was possible, thanking the city clerk’s office for the use of drop boxes. Benson thanked council for last year’s street closure for homecoming as well as the 650 reusable water bottles this year. Benson then presented T-shirts in an assortment of sizes as well as pens as a token of appreciation.
John Floyd. Floyd, who is a Republican candidate for city council’s Ward 5 seat, outlined the effect of new development on tax revenue, contrasting the impact on revenue of a homeowner putting an addition on their home in a residential area, with the impact of any improvement to property inside the district of the Downtown Development Authority. While all of the the additional tax revenue generated from the increased value of the improved home accrues to the general fund of the city, the same increment in tax revenue for an improvement inside the downtown district is captured by the DDA, instead of going to the general fund. On a scenario where downtown improvements are undertaken to increase downtown population – by 5,000 or 10,000 or 15,000, or 20,000 additional residents – who, asked Floyd, pays for the additional city services that all those people need (police, street repair, solid waste, elections, etc.)? Floyd’s answer: all the people who don’t live in downtown.
601 S. Forest Site Plan
Developer Dan Ketelaar presented at the start of the meeting a revised site plan, in conceptual form, that is reduced from the 25-story proposal previously submitted.
Conceptual drawings of the revision depict a reduced frontage along South University and an overall reduction in height to 14 stories (12 stories above a base of two stories). In terms of feet above grade, the change reflects a reduction from 263 feet 4 inches to 162 feet 8 inches. In what appeared to be an intended laugh line, Ketelaar said he assumed that with the height reduction all those who previously opposed the plan would jump on board and support it fully. There was no audible laughter. At the podium, Ketelaar offered no further details, but made himself available for any questions from councilmembers. Councilmembers had no questions for Ketelaar. Conceptual drawings of the revisions are available here.
The public hearing on 601 S. Forest will be continued on Oct. 20. Those who spoke at the hearing on Oct. 6 will not be able to speak again at the continuation. They included the following:
Karen Sidney. Sidney said that while she doesn’t live near the 601 S. Forest project, she judged her Ward 5 councilmembers by their performance on all projects, and she criticized Ward 5 councilmember Chris Easthope for helping push through the zoning change (inclusion of the parcel in a downtown zone) that allowed the parcel to be developed under the floor-area ratios that had resulted in a 25-story “matter of right” project. Sidney’s main focus, however, was her objection to funding of the project through brownfield credits, which she characterized as a way for developers to get taxpayers to provide the risk capital, which in this case she projected could be around $9-10 million.
Stewart Nelson. Nelson echoed Sidney’s objections to funding the project through brownfield credits, after first expressing his appreciation to councilmember Stephen Rapundalo for helping achieve a good compromise, as it seemed to set aside the threat of litigation, and he characterized the reduced project as a “handsome building.” Nelson expressed his skepticism that the reduced version of the project was motivated by taking to heart the feedback from the community or “civic pride,” and suggested it had more to do with current financial conditions. Nelson stressed that brownfield credits are designed to give incentive to developers to develop blighted and polluted parcels instead of building out in a cornfield somewhere, and that it was appropriate to grant such credits when the parcel would not otherwise be attractive to any developer – which he did not believe was the case here.
Brian Russell. Russell, who is listed as a “Campus Legend” in the UM online directory, stated that he had lived off campus on State Street for three years. He noted the recent zoning change to the Burns Park area as reflective of community sentiment against student encroachment into neighborhoods and said that the 601 S. Forest project would mitigate against such encroachment by providing an alternative to the substandard housing alternatives near single-family neighborhoods. Compared to other Big Ten institutions, Russell characterized some UM off-campus housing options as “slum housing.” He stated that the improvement of student housing is the responsibility of both city council and student government, and suggested that current student government might not necessarily be mindful of the support among many students for the project.
Jim Mogensen. Mogensen’s theme was process – the process that a project typically goes through, from a meeting between developers and planning staff, to planning commission, to council, to first reading and second reading. Noting that with the 601 S. Forest project a substantial revision had been introduced, Mogensen framed the current challenge as how “to integrate it back into the process.” While conceding that starting from the very beginning was probably not necessary, he stressed that citizens have a right to have the process be an orderly one, so that everyone knows what is going on.
Arvind Sohoni. Sohoni, vice president of the University of Michigan Student Assembly, first apologized for being underdressed after attending the Bruce Springsteen concert in Ypsilanti just prior. Sohoni said that, contrary to the statement by Brian Russell, an earlier speaker, the MSA was actively engaged on the 601 S. Forest issue. He related how the MSA had devoted an entire meeting to the project (consulting with a member of city council) even while planning for homecoming weekend. Sohoni said he appreciated compromise on both sides that resulted in the revised proposal and said it reflected solid stewardship of the community. Sohoni concluded by stressing to members of council that students are their constituents as well, and that while some conceptions of students might be true – they’re transient and fairly lazy – it’s not true that they just don’t care. They simply don’t necessarily know the avenues of conveying their concerns – which he described as part of his job to address.
Result: Postponed to Oct. 20 meeting with public hearing to be continued.
African American Cultural and Historical Museum PUD Rezoning
At the public hearing, Tom Partridge commended the planning commission for its role in pushing the proposal for the museum forward, but called upon the commission and council to explore the rezoning of properties adjacent to it, and the requirement that those parcels, as well as other parcels across the city, provide affordable housing. Architect Dick Mitchell, of Mitchell & Mouat Architects, made himself and other members of the design team, plus representatives of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum, available for any questions.
Result: The PUD rezoning was approved unanimously.
Ordinance on Private Street Standards and Accessibility
During the public hearing, Mark Davis, speaking on behalf of the Arbor Hills Condominium Association, expressed concern that the new regulations on how lots can be divided and the required dimensions of private streets that give access to the new lots would cause established communities to be non-conforming. Davis asked how an existing community within the city would be protected.
Councilmember Rapundalo asked for explanation regarding Davis’ concern from the city attorney’s office and it was clarified that the provisions governing Arbor Hills in particular would be those associated with its status as a PUD. In general, existing private streets are grandfathered in, but if someone were to undertake lot divisions on an existing private street, the lot divisions would have to meet the new code.
After clarifications by councilmembers Sabra Briere and Stephen Kunselman, Kunselman characterized it as a good ordinance that had been a long time coming and that it was important for the creation of orderly development of property divisions.
Result: Unanimously approved.
Liquor License for the Blue Tractor
Councilmember Rapundalo asked that the request for a liquor license and dance permit be separated out from the consent agenda and when it was so separated, then asked for a postponement on the grounds that it had just landed on the doorstep of the liquor committee. He also described how every application was being given appropriate scrutiny in light of the new redevelopment licenses that have been added to the “portfolio” to make sure everything is evaluated in a uniform manner. The liquor committee is leading up to a new component in its work to perform annual reviews that align with the state-mandated annual review.
Ordinance Prohibiting Plastic Carry Out Bags
After a postponement from the July 21 agenda, Rapundalo asked for a further postponement to the first meeting in March 2009 in order to give adequate opportunity for outreach to the retail community. Rapundalo said he hoped for an informal, ad hoc kind of outreach that could solicit the desired input rather than formalizing it as a taskforce.
Fire Protection Grant Program
Councilmember Leigh Greden explained that the Fire Protection Grant Program is the means by which the state of Michigan compensates municipalities for the fire protection they’re required to provide to state institutions in their midst. Examples of such institutions are state parks, prisons, and universities like UM. Historically, the state has never funded the program at 100%. The resolution before council called on the state to provide full compensation to municipalities.
Result: Passed unanimously.
Purchase of Ice Control Salt
This item, which authorized purchase of salt from North American Salt Company ($211,800) and Morton International, Inc. ($155,200), resulted in more discussion among councilmembers than might have been expected. Councilmember Greden invited Sue McCormick to the podium to explain that Ann Arbor is avoiding what other cities in Michigan have faced: running out of salt, and paying exorbitant prices. Councilmember Easthope, who is leaving council in November after eight years of service, said that he would miss the angry phone calls about lack of plowing. He suggested that the 4-inch rule – where streets are only plowed if snow accumulates more than 4 inches – might not be the best thing. McCormick said the problem was not with the rule, but that it required looking at the long-range forecast. A single snowfall with a warming trend behind it is one thing, but when you have a few inches and choose not to plow, it gets pounded down to ice, doesn’t thaw and the next snowfall collects on that – you can’t go back and change your mind and plow it off.
Result: Passed unanimously.
Cable Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals Appointments
Anthony Ramirez, who is replacing R. Thomas Bray, was appointed to the Cable Communications Commission.
Jean Carlberg, who is replacing Ron Emaus, was appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Carlberg currently serves on the planning commission and formerly served on city council.
City Place PUD Rezoning
This item, concerning a project that developer Alex de Parry is bringing forward to city council despite a 2-6 planning commission vote against it, was stricken from the agenda. Newcombe Clark, who was originally signed up to address the project during public commentary, did not appear.
Communications from Council
Easthope reported that the free breath tests offered by the Arrive Alive Foundation on Main Street after the Michigan-Wisconsin football game resulted in 300-400 breath tests. Easthope reported that some people changed their mind about driving home as a result of taking the test.
Rapundalo expressed his thanks to Sgt. Fox of the Ann Arbor Police Department for his time in allowing him to ride along on “party patrol” on a couple of recent Saturday evenings and said that the AAPD was doing a magnificent job in making sure our young folks are going about their evenings in a respectful and mature way.
Margie Teall alerted council colleagues to the resolution at the upcoming Oct. 20 council meeting to appoint Valerie Strassberg in a one-step process to serve on the environmental commission.
Present: Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, Chris Easthope, Leigh Greden, John Hieftje, Marcia Higgins, Stephen Kunselman, Joan Lowenstein, Stephen Rapundalo, Ron Suarez, Margie Teall.
Next meeting: Monday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave.