Meeting Watch: Council Caucus (30 Nov. 2008)

City Apartments, City Place, human rights, animal control

Six councilmembers braved the frozen slurry coating the streets and still falling from the sky on Sunday to hear a preview of two planning-related agenda items from interested parties: City Apartments site plan, and City Place PUD rezoning petition. They also heard commentary from the public on a third agenda item: the $411,003 amendment to the contract with the architect for the new police-courts facility. In addition, they received a request for recognition of an upcoming vigil for human rights. Among themselves, councilmembers also discussed the protocol for proclamations, and the need to give due attention to the funding of an animal control officer as budget discussions begin in the new year.

City Apartments

Jon Frank, vice president of development for Village Green, appeared at caucus to address any concerns council might have about the project, which includes 156 dwelling units and 244 public parking spaces. The project’s site plan is on council’s agenda for Monday, as is the second reading for the PUD. The project does not include retail. In response to councilmember Carsten Hohnke’s question about why it did not include a wider variety of uses, Frank noted that retail was not a part of the RFP. Frank stressed that Village Green was in this project for the long haul, just like they were with all of their projects, pointing out that they were still managing 50-year-old deals. On the idea that they would be looking for a purchaser for the project once it was built, he said categorically, “We don’t sell anything. Ever.”

Frank cited the long history of the project and the participation of various community constituencies like the Main Street Area Association, the DDA, and the Old West Side Association in making revisions to the plan along the way.

However, Frank acknowledged that he and Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home & Garden (located across the alley from the City Apartments location), had been going back and forth on a set of four issues that Hodesh had identified: (i) trash pickup: how will its timely removal after setting out be assured? (ii) snow removal: who will take responsibility for snow removal in what will become a pedestrian thoroughfare? (iii) lighting: is there adequate lighting to ensure public safety? (iv) traffic in the alley: how will apartment move-in and move-out events be coordinated, given other alley-users’ interests?

Hodesh addressed caucus as well on Sunday evening, taking care to stress that he supported the project, felt that it would be a benefit to the neighborhood, and in fact had sold the city some land to facilitate the development of the project. However, he also stressed that he’d raised the four issues over the last two years, so his concerns couldn’t be considered coming “at the eleventh hour.” Yet to date, he felt like he’d been speaking to a blank wall.

Based on the two men’s separate remarks, and queries from councilmember Tony Derezinski – “Let’s cut to the chase: Has it been resolved? If not, why not?” – it seems as if Hodesh and Frank have a basic understanding on the first three issues, with Hodesh keen to see those understandings put into writing. For example, on the lighting issue, Frank indicated at caucus that if council wanted six lights instead of three, that he’d be happy to put in six lights – something that Hodesh said he’d love to see built into the construction agreement.

With respect to the alley, which at 16 feet wide is too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic, there is a fundamental disagreement on the principle of what a public alley is for. Frank sees it as fundamentally a public resource that can and should be used for loading and unloading: “That’s what public alleys are for.” For his part, Hodesh sees it as an aggressive use of public space that puts an undue burden on the alleyway.

As possible alternatives to move-ins and move-outs blocking the alley, Hodesh has suggested a dedicated unloading and loading zone on First Street, or a revision to the City Apartments building design that would make it 2 feet narrower, making the alley 2 feet wider, or 18 feet wide. That would be wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor sought clarification on the options that two simultaneous alley users might have to avoid conflict. If the alley were blocked by a truck for example, could a second truck that needed to get to a location in the alley beyond the blockage simply drive to the other end of the alley and back up, or is that impractical? Answer: impractical and not in keeping with the one-way stipulation. In response to a question from Taylor, both Hodesh and Frank said that they’d prefer the one-way direction of the alley be south-to-north which is uphill, and would result in trucks unloading their cargo downhill, which is easier.

Hodesh and Frank had been in frequent conversation in recent weeks, and left caucus talking together.

City Place

The first reading of the City Place PUD is on council’s Monday meeting agenda. Alex de Parry, the project’s developer, brought to caucus the plans for the R4-C “by right” project, not the 168-bedroom PUD project, which had been rejected by planning commission at its Sept. 4, 2008 meeting by a vote of 7-2. [Note: It's a developer's option to bring a proposal before council without planning commission's recommendation.] De Parry gave the specifications of the “by right” project as 144 bedrooms split between two buildings containing 24 units each, stressing that it’s a much simpler project to execute and that it also makes economic sense. The focus on the “by right” project led councilmember Marcia Higgins to ask, “Are you pulling the PUD?”

De Parry said that they were not pulling the PUD, he was simply presenting the “back-up plan.” In response to councilmember Hohnke’s question about whether the “by right” proposal had been submitted to planning commission, de Parry said that they had only had a pre-submittal meeting with staff. This prompted councilmember Sabra Briere to wonder if this had triggered the recently passed citizen participation ordinance, which requires notification of neighbors of projects planned in their neighborhoods. Based on representations made at caucus, it’s not clear to The Chronicle whether the ordinance should have been triggered by the meeting de Parry described. But in any case, de Parry said there had been no notifications sent.

Amendment to Agreement with Architects for Police-Courts

Stew Nelson addressed the caucusing councilmembers briefly, asking them to consider delaying the increase of $411,003 in the agreement with Quinn Evans, the architects for the project, until after the fixed bids had come back in January 2009. Asked Nelson, “Why not just wait until you see what the cost of the building is going to be?”

The total of $411,003 is accounted for as follows:

  • $54,068 extra work for site plan. From the administrative memo: “We did not initially anticipate the requirement to produce a full, official Site Plan submission for review and approval by the Planning Commission, so the costs associated with this were not included in the original agreement with Quinn Evans.”
  • $212,790 for audio visual, telecommunications, building security. From the administrative memo: “Audiovisual, telecommunications, and building security systems are needed in the finished project. Since we could not accurately determine the scope of what would be needed at the beginning of the project, these design services were not included in the original agreement with Quinn Evans.”
  • $144,145 documentation of LEED Gold certification. From the administrative memo: “During the schematic design phase, the project management team decided to seek LEED Gold certification for this project … Accomplishing these goals requires additional architectural design work, a more detailed energy analysis of the building envelope and its various systems, …” (The DDA has granted $200,000 for this purpose.)

Human Rights Vigil Dec. 10

Alan Haber appeared at caucus to ask that council to pass a resolution calling attention to the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10. Haber’s draft resolution, which he read to councilmembers at caucus, included the announcement of a candelight vigil to be held at Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ann Arbor on Dec. 10 starting at 5 p.m. The vigil will be followed with a teach-in at 7 p.m. in the Anderson Room at the UM Student Union on State Street.

Councilmember Mike Anglin queried councilmember (and mayor pro tem) Higgins as to the procedure for putting a resolution on the agenda. Higgins said it was straightforward: any councilmember could formulate a resolution and have it placed on the agenda. However, Higgins cautioned that in the last few years, council had sought to step away from resolutions regarding international affairs, seeking to keep its focus local.

Haber countered that it was useful to apply international standards in reference to local situations. Higgins suggested that the announcement of the vigil and the awareness of the issue might be handled in the communications from council section of the following night’s council meeting. Councilmember Briere was supportive of the idea of the vigil and the teach-in, and inquired if Haber had obtained a parade permit. Haber said it would be mostly standing as opposed to marching, but that someone was following up on the permit question.

Proclamation Protocol

Councilmember Anglin floated the idea that all councilmembers sign a proclamation recognizing AIDS awareness week, as opposed to having just the mayor as the single signatory. Anglin said that he felt that it would be more reflective of the really wide base of community support enjoyed by the effort. The idea met with little support from his colleagues, although they were very supportive of the specific proclamation. Councilmember Briere said that she felt such proclamations were important – she walked past some every day. The additional signatures, she felt, would make it more visually stunning, but would not make it more meaningful. Anglin was content to withdraw the suggestion.

Animal Control

Councilmember Briere rallied her colleagues to begin thinking about the budget and how it relates to animal control officers (the city of Ann Arbor no longer has an animal control officer): “Someday soon we need to talk about animal control officers. I get about as many emails on animal issues as I do about snow removal.” Councilmember Derezinski allowed that he’d received a complaint about a rooster crowing. This prompted councilmember Higgins to wonder how anyone had had time to get a whole chicken coop up and running since the time chicken permits became available for application late this past summer.

Derezinski raised the issue of deer and the possible need to cull the herd. Higgins expressed some skepticism that they were actually a problem, asking if anyone had heard of someone hitting a deer in the city. She said she thought people basically enjoyed looking at them. She said she was not in favor of killing them. Briere said she didn’t want to kill them, either. Derezinski said he wasn’t necessarily in favor of killing them, but thought there were other options like tranquilizing them and relocating them.

Related to animals, Anglin said that he’d received two complaints about dead animals in the road, which he’d forwarded to city administrator Roger Fraser. This led to light-hearted speculation about whether Fraser had personally scooped up the animals. Even while joining in the joking banter, Briere kicked out of the topic by stressing that animal control is important and that council should begin to think about the budget decisions that would be necessary to support animal control.

This led Higgins to note it as an item for council’s upcoming budget retreat, scheduled for Jan. 10 at the Wheeler Center starting at 8 a.m. Based on last year’s meeting, Higgins said, it could last until 4:30 p.m.

Present: Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Christopher Taylor, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin.


  1. December 2, 2008 at 12:38 pm | permalink

    Dear Dave,

    We learned today that there had been 15 car-deer accidents so far this year.
    Although we don’t hear as much about these accidents as we do about those caused by unsalted streets, they are an issue. I hate to see the deer die because we haven’t thought through our development plans — and the deer are in our yards because we’re destroying their habitats with development.
    The Humane Society does not deal with this issue, and unfortunately, neither does any other entity. I love living amid the wildlife, but I didn’t exactly choose to live in the exurbs. And the deer didn’t exactly choose to live with the cars. There has to be a better solution than moving them into someone else’s backyard (Tony’s solution) or killing them.

    Birth control was my suggestion, but there hasn’t been any serious work done on this .


  2. By Dave Askins
    December 3, 2008 at 11:12 am | permalink

    Ann Arbor hosted a group of visitors from Chapel Hill a few months ago. They’ve got deer issues, too.