Meeting Watch: City Council (1 Dec 2008)

Two developments and the skatepark move forward

City Council’s meeting Monday evening yielded few surprises, with council giving final approval to the City Apartments PUD and its site plan, and moving the City Place PUD along to a second reading (with some reluctance). And after hearing a progress report on the police-courts project, council approved an amendment to the architect’s agreement in the amount of $411,003. Also, with no discussion of what the fund agreement is, council passed a memorandum of intent and fund agreement for development of a skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park.

Public Commentary

Tom Partridge: The meeting was bookended, as it often is, with commentary from Tom Partridge. In his turn at the beginning of the meeting he reiterated a challenge he’d made at the last council meeting: for city council to pass a resolution addressed to state- and national-level elected representatives to “protect and save existing jobs in Michigan,” arguing that the economy of Michigan, the midwest, and the entire nation hangs in the balance. Partridge also called on citizens to write, email, call, and demonstrate, saying that the future of the nation is at stake.

In his second turn at the end of the meeting, Partridge responded to news from city administrator Roger Fraser that at next Monday’s (Dec. 8) working session, there would be possible approaches introduced for building 100 units of affordable housing to replace the units that were lost when the YMCA building at the corner of Fifth and William was purchased by the city of Ann Arbor some five years ago. Soon thereafter the building suffered failure in its mechanical systems that required relocation of its residents. Saying that the election of Barack Obama heralded a time of change comparable to that ushered in by Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, Partridge said that council had been sidestepping its responsibility to those less fortunate, and that the 100 units of affordable housing that were to be replaced were not enough.

Andrea Clyne: Clyne updated council on the result of a teen summer program at the Community Action Network that had a focus on developing entrepreneurial skills: production of a calendar featuring local politicians and their pets. Clyne presented councilmembers with calendars and stressed that sale of the calendars is a fundraiser for CAN, a nonprofit that provides support services for local public housing communities, as well as the Humane Society of Huron Valley. Note: Current councilmember Stephen Rapundalo and Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje are included in the calendar.

Henry Herskovitz: Herskovitz organized his comments by sharing some recent stories from the news, some less recent history, and a Christmas wish. The recent news stories included food trucks and a boat turned away from Gaza by Israeli military, the closure of half the bakeries in Gaza, and the suggestion of a Likud Party member that Palestinean prisoners be used as shields. Herskovitz said the U.S. was responsible for the situation in Gaza: “It is a crime to starve children. And yet, we do it.” The historical perspective introduced by Herskovitz was that outlined in the book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe, with Herskovitz highlighting the book’s indictment of David Ben-Gurion. The Christmas wish that Herskovitz expressed was that somehow the content of Pappe’s book would reach the minds of everyone listening. It was further his wish that this might allow them, when they heard a person say that Israel was attacked as soon as statehood was declared, to tell that person they were wrong.

City Apartments

Jon Frank, vice president of development for Village Green, spoke to council about the project to be built on the southeast corner of First and Washington Streets. He reiterated many of the same themes from the previous night’s caucus and the Nov. 6 city council meeting. These included a focus on the involvement of the community in the design process: the DDA, the Old West Side Association, the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council. Ray Detter, of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, spoke in favor of the project, citing the fact that it met all the requirements of the RFP, increased public parking capacity (a total of 244 spaces) and increased the diversity of housing with 10 percent of the housing units for people earning 50-80% of the annual median income.

Tom Partridge spoke at the public hearings both for the PUD and the site plan, criticizing the 10 percent affordable housing as too low and the 50-80% of AMI figure as too high. He called on council to become an example for other city councils across the country by building into the city charter a requirement that any rezoning (as with the PUD) include a requirement for affordable housing and to establish accessibility requirements for residents with physical challenges.

Barabara Hall, of the Old West Side Association board, spoke in support of the project, confirming the claim of Jon Frank that Village Green had worked constructively with the community. She alluded to a letter of support from the Old West Side Association.

Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home & Garden, which is situated across the alley from the proposed City Apartments project, began his comments by saying, “I come as a friend!” He said that in the last 24 hours, a lot of issues had come together. The four issues he’d identified had been, he felt, largely resolved: (i) snow removal had been addressed with Mike Bergren, assistant field operations manager with the city of Ann Arbor, who has elevated the alley to the first of three levels of priority assigned to streets for snow clearing, (ii) the DDA, via its executive director, Susan Pollay (also in attendance at the council meeting), would assure the adequacy of the lighting in the alley as a pedestrian walkway, (iii) traffic would be addressed by moving the loading and unloading signage to the south end of the structure, and (iv) he was content with the four-hour window for trash pick up. Based on conversation with councilmember Christopher Taylor after the meeting, The Chronicle understands that this four-hour window was a part of the construction agreement. We were not successful in locating the electronic version of that document on the city’s website.

On this last point about trash pickup, Frank had expressed some dissatisfaction, saying that this window was a requirement not imposed anywhere else in the city.

Council’s deliberations were mostly congratulatory for the long and hard effort of collaboration that had resulted in the final plan. Councilmember Sabra Briere said that even though she’d not been a part of the effort, which she described as “amazing,” she’d observed it closely and would be supporting it. Councilmember Margie Teall said that she’d seen the project from the perspective of someone who had been involved and that she was impressed with the willingness of the developer to work cooperatively with the community as well as the track record of the developer elsewhere in the country.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, commending the co-working that the developer had done with the community. He proposed two amendments to the development agreement that would address the concerns of Hodesh with respect to the traffic and the lighting. The first amendment would move signage from the north end of the alley to the south. The second one addressed the lighting issues. Both amendments passed unanimously, with councilmember Leigh Greden first confirming that both Hodesh and Frank were amenable to them.

Outcome: passed unanimously

City Place

This was the first reading for the PUD rezoning after it had failed to win the recommendation of the planning commission. Councilmember Carsten Hohnke noted that the City Place development offered some of the same kind of benefits that City Apartments did, but with a key difference: the location of City Place along South Fifth Avenue falls outside the core of downtown.

Hohnke said he felt that the public benefit from the project did not rise to the level that would justify the granting of the PUD re-zoning, but that he wanted to hear from the public, so was willing to move it along to a second reading and public hearing, though he had “significant reservations.”

Councilmember Briere echoed the sentiments of Hohnke and made a point of complimenting the city staff who had prepared the packet, because the write-up on the history of the project and the history of the area made very clear what she was looking at. She expressed the same significant reservations as Hohnke.

Outcome: passed unanimously to second reading

Police-Courts Facility

At the beginning of the meeting, council received a briefing from Kenneth Clein of the Quinn Evans design team on the status of the police-courts project, also known as the municipal center. It’s currently in a phase where bid packages are being developed, with the first of them being issued the following day (Dec. 2). Pending council approval, construction on the project is due to start in March 2009, with a closed building shell for the new addition due by November 2009. Clein walked council through several drawings of the project, including highlights of the north and south courtyard areas.

Council later considered an amendment to the agreement with Quinn Evans in the amount of $411,003.

Councilmember Briere had questions for Bill Wheeler – who is major projects manager for the city of Ann Arbor – related to the $212,790 specified in the amendment for audio visual, telecommunications, and building security.

Where will the audio visual equipment go and what is its scope? Wheeler gave as an example police interview rooms where there is a need to have equipment to fully document conversations, as well as courtrooms where there is a need to have adequate AV support to display evidence such as video shot from a dashboard camera of a police vehicle. Briere got clarification from Wheeler that the dollars for building security were for the Larcom rennovation as well as for the new addition. Councilmember Teall got clarification from Wheeler that the building security included such items as door locks and video monitoring.

Briere noted that the drawings for the public meeting space that would also be the new council meeting space seemed “fully realized.” She asked what would happen if council did not appropriate the money for the additional public meeting area. Wheeler said that the money had already been appropriated and that it was simply a question of whether the guaranteed maximum price of the building – which would be determined when bids came back in January 2009 – is low enough for the city to afford it. If it is low enough, Wheeler, said, then it will become a reality.

This prompted councilmember Greden to clarify that the authorization for construction of the public meeting room, as well as the main part of the new addition, would still need council authorization to move forward. Wheeler acknowledged this was the case, and that the intent was to bring the resolution before council on Feb. 2, 2009 to authorize the construction.

Greden also emphasized that the amendment to the agreement with the architect that council was considering that night did not represent an increase in the size of the project budget and that the funds for that had already been appropriated. Greden also responded to councilmember Mike Anglin’s fiscal concerns that the $144,145 for LEED certification might simply buy the building a plaque to attest to building features that the city was going to implement anyway. Greden stressed that “our friends at the DDA” would be funding that. The substantive part of Anglin’s concern (what does the LEED certification actually buy?) had been addressed by Wheeler, who said the measurement study to confirm that the building was actually using energy in the way that was intended could last a year after completion of construction.

Outcome: passed with one vote against, from Briere, who did not request a roll call vote


The council chambers were almost at capacity due to the large number of supporters of the skatepark proposed for Veterans Park. Trevor Staples and Dug Song, of the Skatepark Action Committee, had front row seats and allowed The Chronicle to squeeze in amongst them because we arrived only minutes before the meeting started. Council passed the memorandum of intent and fund agreement for development of the park. The memorandum does not seem to be included in the electronic council packet available online or anywhere else on the city’s website, but we’re working on tracking that down.

Outcome: passed unanimously without discussion

Continued Financing of Old YMCA Property

The item on the agenda was to approve a continued financing of the property on the corner of Fifth and William through interest-only payments. The Bank of Ann Arbor, which will provide the financing, was one of two out of seven institutions that reponded to the request for bids. The other one was Chase Equipment Leasing, whose bid of a 6.14% interest rate did not compare favorably with the 3.89% offered by the Bank of Ann Arbor.

In deliberations, councilmember Sandi Smith said that she would support the continued financing of the property, because they had no other choice, but that she urged her colleagues to begin thinking of master planning the area so that the city could divest itself of the property as soon as possible. Smith noted that given the $5,000 cost of supporting a homeless person, the interest-only payments could be used to support 27 people. The math goes like this: ($3,500,000)*(.0389)/5,000.

Although Smith introduced her comments by acknowledging that the situation had a long history, predating the service on council of many who were currently at the table, Hieftje began his turn by reminding Smith that she was “not here” when the decision was made to acquire the property, and pointing out that it was only her second council meeting.

Hieftje then said that it was widely acknowledged that the property was worth more than the city had paid for it, and that it would be better to sell it in a more favorable real estate market. Councilmember Greden echoed the mayor’s sentiments, saying that master planning would be difficult now, when it was hard to imagine what might be possible given a different economic climate. Greden also pointed out that the city was getting a very favorable interest rate from the Bank of Ann Arbor.

Hieftje said he was reluctant to part with the property until some arrangement had been made to replace the 100 affordable housing units formerly at the site – either at the same location or some other location. And he indicated that “very soon” there would be a proposal along those lines coming forward.

Outcome: passed unanimously

Main Street Lane Closures

Jim Kosteva from UM thanked council for granting intermittent closures of the eastern-most northbound lane on Main Street between Keech and Stadium. The closures – to allow installation of pre-cast arches on Michigan Stadium – will occur over the next three weeks no earlier than 9 a.m. and no later than 3 p.m., he said, to avoid disrupting rush hour traffic. Councilmember Marcia Higgins expressed hope that the university could figure out a better way to move trucks in and out of the area without backing up – which causes extra noise due to warning beeps that the trucks emit when backing. This will be important to the neighborhood, especially if the city grants a pending request from UM to permanently close that lane in 2010, from March until Art Fairs, held in July.


The proposal to replace the 100 units of affordable housing at the old YMCA site, to which Hieftje had alluded earlier, took a slightly more concrete form when city administrator Roger Fraser announced that the Dec. 8 council work session would include such a proposal. Also on the agenda will be a discussion of the financials from the past golf season.

Councilmember Hohnke shared with the community the information that Alan Haber had conveyed at caucus the previous evening about an event to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A candelight vigil will 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 Tony Derezinski congratulated Hohnke on the birth of his first child, a boy, Oscar. In response to Hieftje’s light-hearted expression of surprise that Hohnke was even at the council meeting, Hohnke joked that his wife had asked him to get out of the house.

Editorial aside: The Chronicle echoes Derezinski’s well wishes for Carsten and his family.

Present: Sandi Smith, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Leigh Greden (arrived around 8 p.m.), Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje.

Absent: Stephen Rapundalo

Next meeting: Monday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave.

One Comment

  1. By Stew Nelson
    December 4, 2008 at 2:48 pm | permalink

    It was poor form for the Mayor to “remind” Sandi Smith that she was only at her second meeting. Is there some mandatory probation period where new council members must “be seen” and not heard” that I don’t know about?