Ann Arbor City Council Meeting, Part II (May 4, 2009): This article continues coverage begun here.
Transportation: Connector Study
Before council was a study for a proposed north-south connector along the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors. Four different entities are partnering on the feasibility study: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and the city of Ann Arbor. The study proposal has been in the works since at least the fall of 2008. Discussion over the months among the various partners has centered around total cost and the share to be paid by each partner.
The initial proposal, based on a cost estimate by city staff of $250,000, had the AATA paying $100,000 and the other three partners equal $50,000 shares.When the $250,000 estimate proved dramatically low upon sending the proposal out to bid, a revised proposal with a total cost of $640,000 called for the four partners to share equally in $160,000 shares. The DDA’s discussions of the issue reflected the view that the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor and the AATA were essentially all the same source – Ann Arbor taxpayers – so should not be considered separate partners in the financial equation. Further, the primary beneficiary was seen to be UM, for connecting its north campus area with its central campus.
The proposal before council on Monday night specified the following financial arrangement: city of Ann Arbor, $80,000; AATA, $320,000; UM, $160,000; DDA, $80,000.
At council’s Monday meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who also serves on the DDA board, suggested a postponement until the DDA had a chance to vote on the new proposal.
Transportation: Plan Update
Before council was a resolution to adopt the city’s transportation plan update.
Jim Mogensen: At the public hearing on the transportation plan update, Mogensen noted that he was the only member to weigh in at the planning commission’s public hearing on the transportation plan update. He said that wasn’t too surprising, but also said that transportation is a big issue in Ann Arbor. Every controversy in Ann Arbor has something to do with the word “park,” he said: parking structure, parking meters, Parke-Davis. [Parke-Davis was acquired by Warner-Lambert in 1970, which in turn was bought by Pfizer in 2000.] Mogensen said that the transportation plan update was basically saying that the population in Ann Arbor wasn’t going to increase, but there were a number of employment generators which were going to need ways to bring workers into the city. The plan talks about connectors from Canton, and Chelsea and Ypsilanti Township. Somebody has to pay for it, he said. As an example, he asked council to look at their DS-7 agenda item, which had to do with the funding strategy for a north-south connector study. He noted that the University of Michigan is among the entities involved [UM, AATA, DDA, city of Ann Arbor], adding that UM doesn’t “contribute,” but rather “invests in an outcome.” He pointed out that when UM invested in the M-Ride program [sponsoring fares for UM affiliates so that they board buses simply by displaying their M-Cards] it became harder and harder for other people to use the bus. For the route that he uses along Plymouth, Mogensen said, he can’t use the bus unless he modifies his travel schedule around the heavier commuting times. The people who are going to pay for the enhanced transit, he said, would not be the people in the townships or the outlying areas, but rather the taxpayers in the urban areas.
Thomas Partridge: Partridge said he supported the city’s planning for integrated county regional transportation plan, providing connectors to townships within the county and throughout the region. He noted, however, that despite the fact that transportation planning has been going on for decades, there’s been a dearth of issues on the ballot. No amount of money will create a system, he said, unless there’s a coordinated region-wide plan. To do that, he said, we needed an elected transportation authority, not an appointed one. [The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board is appointed by the mayor of the city of Ann Arbor.]
LuAnne Bullington: She identified herself as a Ward 3 resident and a member of the local advisory committee of the AATA. Bullington spoke to the issue of gaps in the sidewalk system. Ann Arbor has great bike paths, she said, but where we’re falling down is in sidewalk gaps. Where Ferdon crosses into Burns Park, she said there are whole blocks without a sidewalk. Students at Pattengill Elementary School and Tappen Middle School can’t walk to school, she said, even though they’re in the heart of the city. She said she would like to see part of the plan update include a non-motorized plan. She noted that it’s not easy for a wheelchair to cross a grassy stretch where there’s no sidewalks. She suggested that when Stephen Rapundalo’s (Ward 2) basement flooded, the city installed sump pumps for people, and that we might take a similar approach to sidewalks.
Council Deliberations on the Transportation Plan Update: Council deliberations centered around the revisions suggested by planning commission and the comments on the plan by the city’s environmental commission. The planning commission’s recommendation, which included their amendments, was attached to the council agenda. The environmental commission’s report, however, was not. Councilmember Margie Teall indicated that the environmental commission’s commentary should have been included as an H-Item (in the city clerk’s report of communications) so she had emailed it to councilmembers.
[Editorial Aside: There's no internet access provided to the public in council chambers. Access to the internet in chambers can be achieved by using a wireless card (a USB device that affords access via a cell phone carrier like AT&T or Verizon). There's a single power outlet for any members of the media or public who'd like to use a laptop computer to document or follow council proceedings. The result is that access to the environmental commission's commentary, which council had before it and was discussing, was not easily accessible to members of the public and the media who attended the meeting.]
The planning commission’s commentary is here. The environmental commission’s commentary is here. At issue was whether the environmental commission’s commentary was reflected in the plan and what the implications were for sending the transportation plan update back to planning commission for incorporation of those comments.
There was a fair amount of discussion about possibly postponing the adoption of the plan, which ultimately did not lead to postponement.
Salient in transportation program manager Eli Cooper’s description of the transportation plan was the process by which SEMCOG – the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments – dis-aggregates regional estimates of growth in jobs and population. The initial estimates by SEMCOG showed little growth in jobs or population for the Ann Arbor area. Local municipalities have the opportunity to “appeal” SEMCOG’s analysis, which the city of Ann Arbor did. The successful case was made to SEMCOG that health care and higher education would be tremendous growth areas in the economy, areas that would have an impact on Ann Arbor jobs (through the University of Michigan). As a consequence, the SEMCOG projections from 2005 to 2035 show job growth of 18,000. Cooper said that a corresponding case made to SEMCOG for population growth was not successful.
Outcome: The transportation plan was adopted unanimously.
Transportation: East Stadium Bridge
Arnold Goetzke: Speaking during public commentary, Goetzke said that after he’d left the previous council meeting at which he spoke on the East Stadium bridge, he’d been provided with a study talking about why the bridge was needed and analyzing the no-bridge option. He said that the hypothetical costs for the no-bridge option were questionable. As one example, he cited $7.4 million of present net worth for adding a stoplight at Stadium Boulevard [calculated over the 75-year study period based on accidents at a signalized intersection]. He noted that there were potentially stoplights that could eliminated: Stimpson & State; Industrial & Stimpson; Stadium & Industrial. A fourth stoplight, at Granger & Packard, also had some potential to be eliminated if an at-grade crossing were established at Stadium & State, where there’s now a bridge. He concluded that the study had done a good job focusing on the negative. Another example he cited was the $14.8 million cost because of the extra fuel consumption while vehicles idled at the State & Stadium intersection. Motorists cut through the Burns Park area at Golden and Park, where there are two one-way streets, he said, which could be eliminated. There would be gas savings, he said, by not having to take a left onto Stimpson, and a left onto Industrial, and a left onto Stadium, when motorists get onto Stadium Boulevard from State Street. Goetzke mentioned a website he would be creating to lay out further details of the problems with the study and its conclusion against a no-bridge option.
Before council was a resolution to approve submission of an application under the State of Michigan Local Bridge Program. City engineer Michael Nearing was on hand Monday night to provide an update on the status of the bridge, which continues to be monitored. While the bridge has stabilized, he said, its poor condition [2 on a 100-point scale] could mean that it could require closure with very little notice. The city is developing traffic rerouting plans for that eventuality, which will also have to be put into place when reconstruction begins.
Outcome: The resolution to ask for funding was approved.
Transportation and Planning: Airport Runway
Andrew McGill: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, McGill said he was there to ensure that council did not make a misinformed vote to extend the primary runway at the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. He was there, he said, representing several hundred well-organized citizens who were concerned about the safety of such an extension. McGill stated that he loved the airport and, in fact, learned to fly there. He said he did not believe that council said to themselves before the meeting, “How can I make some lousy decisions tonight.” [Later during council communications, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) would clarify that there would be no vote on the airport that night or anytime soon.] In that light, McGill said that he and his colleagues would begin appearing to make clear how council had been mislead by airport authorities. Based on material they’d obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, he continued, council would become conviced that the current proposal to extend the runway is dangerous, deficient and would have “precarious budgetary implications” because of the airport’s declining use. The environmental assessment began today [May 4, 2009], he said, and after the current budgetary issues are resolved they’d be hapy to meet with council. He noted that similar proposals have been rejected on four attempts over the last 30 years. Free federal dollars today, he warned, carried with them the unspoken pricetag of committment to operate the airport for 20 years, regardless of its worth.
Planning: R4C Moratorium
Tom Whitaker: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, Whitaker introduced himself as the president of Germantown Neighborhood Association. He began by stating: “Ann Arbor’s zoning ordinance is a mess.” He identified R4C districts as a particular concern. He described his role and that of other members of the association as “citizen zoning administrators,” who had identified places in the ordinance where developers had exploited the code. There are missing definitions for “dormer,” “roof,” “kitchen” and “common facilities.” He also called attention to definitions that exist but contradict each other. As an example, he gave “required setback” versus “required open space.” He concluded by calling for a moratorium on construction in R4C zoning districts until the problems with the zoning ordinance could be addressed.
[Subsequent to Monday's council meeting, Whitaker has circulated an email identifying a missed point in the due process for the site plan review of a recent project brought "by right" under R4C zoning recommended by planning commission: City Place. The requirement identified by Whitaker that was missed involves the necessity of providing site plans in a location at city hall that is accessible to the public 24/7 for a full week in advance of a plan's review by planning commission or council. In the current configuration of the Larcom Building – changed due to construction – the table with the drawings for site plans is located just to the left of the Ann Street entrance.]
Thomas Partridge: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, Partridge introduced himself as a Democrat of Scio Township and member of the local advisory committee to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He addressed council on the subject on the need for a master plan for Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to end discrimination in the area of housing, healthcare, transportation, and education. He contended there isn’t affordable public or private transportation, housing, healthcare, or education in the city or the region. Even though the county is blessed with two of the most prominent, prestigious universities in the state [University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University], he said that the region was behind the times in requesting funding to provide for tuition and living expenses on campus. He called on the council to carry out the Michigan Promise for an undergraduate or graduate degree or a profession degree for anyone who was willing to work for it. He called on council to move from the status quo to work on progressive reforms.
Resolution: New Liquor Code
For several months now, on most occasions when a liquor license award or transfer has come before council, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) has indicated that a complete overhaul of the city’s liquor code would be forthcoming. On Monday night it came forth.
The idea is to repeal the entire old chapter on liquor in the city code and replace it with a new one. Rapundalo described the key elements of the new code as providing for an annual review process, clarifying standards for application, and giving the liquor committee greater ability to track on- and off-premises violations.
Outcome: The new code passed unanimously on its first reading. All ordinance changes require two readings before council.
Present: Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje
Next Council Meeting: Monday, May 18, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]