Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 15, 2009): The council covered a lot of ground at its Monday night meeting, much of it related to streets and transportation. Besides dealing with a raft of garden-variety street closings that generated some unexpected “controversy,” the council put in place a plan to delay the installation of some parking meters in near downtown neighborhoods, launched a safety campaign, and funded a bike path, pedestrian amenities and the city’s portion of a north-south connector feasibility study.
But it wasn’t the bike path that drew more than 20 people to speak at a public hearing. That turnout was for the adoption of the Downtown Plan. It was ultimately adopted as amended by the city’s planning commission so that the D2 buffer in the South University area is a small area in the southeast corner.
The expected vote on the City Place project along Fifth Avenue was delayed again after additional technical errors by planning staff were discovered related to the planning commission’s April meeting. That project will now start over with the planning commission public hearing.
Audience members who waited until the end of the long meeting heard Mayor John Hieftje appoint a subcommittee of councilmembers to meet with the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee to discuss the parking agreement between the city and the DDA. In the discussion after the jump, we provide a record produced in the preliminary response to a Chronicle FOIA, which dates the renegotiation of the parking agreement to as early as September 2008 and connects it to discussions between the mayor and a candidate for the DDA board, Keith Orr, who was eventually appointed to the board. The record shows that his appointment was not contingent on a commitment to a particular vote on the parking agreement.
Development – Downtown Plan
More than 20 people spoke at the public hearing on the adoption of the Downtown Plan. Readers interested in details of their comments can view the video of Monday’s meeting here.
Downtown Plan Background
In broad strokes, what’s at issue are two kinds of policy: zoning ordinances and planning documents. Ideally they should support each other and not be in conflict. The Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) process was an effort to revise both the zoning ordinances and planning documents to bring them up to date to reflect the goals for future development, and to make them compatible.
The city’s planning commission recommended a set of new zoning ordinances and sent those to the city council for final approval this spring. The council made its own revisions to the zoning ordinances that had been recommended by planning commission. The city council has the legal authority to adopt those ordinances as amended with no further input from the planning commission. While council has completed the preliminary step (the “first reading”) for approval of the zoning ordinances, the final step (“second reading”) is not scheduled until July.
Earlier in the spring, planning commission also sent to the city council its recommendation for a new Downtown Plan, which was considered by the city council after it had undertaken changes to the zoning ordinances recommended by the planning commission. The Downtown Plan that had then come from planning commission – while consistent with the planning commission’s recommended zoning ordinances – was inconsistent with the changes that city council had made. But council does not have the legal authority to amend the Downtown Plan and adopt the plan as amended. Instead, council must vote the plan up or down – the two bodies (planning commission and city council) must adopt the same plan. Council and commission have equal status in this case.
So when the Downtown Plan first came before the city council several weeks ago, it was rejected and sent back to the planning commission.
Planning commission then reconsidered its Downtown Plan in light of city council’s zoning changes and revised the plan – but a major inconsistency remained between the version of the Downtown Plan presented to the city council this past Monday (June 15, 2009) and the zoning ordinance package that, procedurally speaking, is between its preliminary and final approval by the city council.
At its June 15 meeting, then, the city council faced essentially two alternatives: (i) insist upon a Downtown Plan that was exactly consistent with the zoning ordinances it wanted to pass and send it back to planning commission, or (ii) accept the Downtown Plan, together with the implication that council would need to revise the zoning ordinances to be consistent with that Downtown Plan.
Previous Chronicle coverage of the interplay between planning commission and city council can be found here. One key issue is the setting of the D1/D2 boundary in the South University area: planning commission recommended a very small D2 buffer area in the southeast corner, whereas council had seen fit to assign the D2 zoning designation to the southern half of South University.
Downtown Plan: Deliberations
Councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) opened deliberations by suggesting the addition of a resolved clause, which would direct staff to revise the zoning map in accordance with the revised Downtown Plan that planning commission had forwarded to the council. Otherwise put, the resolved clause would take the council down path (ii) above.
The resolved clause also stipulated that on July 6 the zoning ordinance revisions would be brought back before the council for an additional first reading. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), an attorney himself, asked if that point had been reviewed by the city attorney, and Higgins clarified that the decision had come directly from the city attorney’s office.
At issue legally would have been whether these new changes to the zoning ordinances – which were procedurally between their preliminary and final passage – were substantial enough to require starting the process over with a first reading. In the view of the city attorney, they were substantial enough to restart the process.
Councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that he was against accepting the Downtown Plan as is. He acknowledged that with respect to the Downtown Plan, planning commission and the city council were on an equal level. Specifically, it was not up to city council to amend and then adopt a plan, but rather they needed to accept or reject the plan as a whole.
Taylor noted that city council had undertaken a specific action to designate South University areas outside of the Downtown Development Authority district as D2 zoning and that within a short time following that decision the planning commission had contravened it. He allowed that the planning commission had a right to vote its conscience on the matter. He contended that though the two bodies on this question were co-equals, that elected officials had some incremental measure of preference. The fact that planning commission had not respected council’s decision reflected a “failure of process,” he said, and he continued by stating that planning commission should have respected the decision of the “electeds.”
Speaking by phone the following day with The Chronicle, Taylor clarified that the distinction he was drawing between the two bodies did not have to do with the status of planning commission as volunteer public servants versus the paid public servants on council but rather was rooted specifically in the more direct connection – via election – of the council with the community. Asked by The Chronicle if he’d reflected on the fact that the three-year appointments of planning commissioners gave that body a greater buffer against “political fads” than council enjoyed [councilmembers are elected to two-year terms], Taylor said that in this case he gave priority to direct democracy as opposed to checks-and-balances.
[Editorial aside: In considering the priority assigned to the two different bodies, it's worth factoring into the mix the presumably greater expertise in subject matter that planning commissioners have for a planning exercise as compared to councilmembers – which is not to suggest that all planning commissioners are architects or urban planners by trade. They're not.]
Higgins, for her part, said that she supported the Downtown Plan. For her, the critical point was that changing the lower half of the South University area to D2 zoning would amount to “down zoning.”
Leigh Greden (Ward 3) noted that the city council did not have the legal authority to amend and adopt the plan. To send the Downtown Plan back to planning commission would delay a plan that had several significant improvements over the current plan, including a height limit, said Greden. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) echoed the same sentiments as Greden, adding that it was important to retain the D1 zoning designation along East Huron Street for the technical reason that to make it D2 would result in existing properties’ nonconformance.
Margie Teal (Ward 4) said she shared Taylor’s perspective and was disappointed about the redesignation of most of South University as a D1 area but thought that she would probably vote for it for the good of getting it in place. She was not convinced, she said, about having D1 zoning outside the Downtown Development Authority district.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she had gone to the planning commission meeting and watched that body decide as it went through its revisions to the Downtown Plan. She said it was not any easier for that body than it was for the city council. She commended Taylor for saying that what council had marked as D2 should stay as D2. She said that the question to ask was whether that area should be a buffer or whether it should be built to a maximum 150-foot height limit. She was not comfortable with the idea that the document could become a ping-pong ball, she said. However, she did not support the Downtown Plan’s adoption.
Outcome: The city council adopted the revised Downtown Plan as put forward by the planning commission, with Taylor and Briere dissenting.
Development – City Place
City Place had been postponed already from the last council meeting due to errors in the online documentation.
City Place Public Hearing
Jim Mogensen: This is a “by right” project, he began, which he characterized as meaning that everybody basically has to say this is the way it has to be. He said that the project reflected a “community failure.” The way the project had evolved came from the playbook of the developer, he added, and it was the same narrative that had been told in connection with the 828 Greene Street development. Mogensen said he didn’t understand why the proposal for the Germantown study committee did not happen at the same time that 828 Greene Street had been proposed. He acknowledged that there was a plan to look at the R4C (multi-family dwelling) zoning, but noted it would be an effort complicated by the fact that there was a need to have multi-family zoning so that students would be able to live there. An additional constraint is that it wasn’t desirable to undertake zoning that amounted to a “property taking.”
Tom Luczak: Luczak said he appreciated the fact that city council had seen fit to reexamine R4C zoning in detail. But suggested the following analogy for not deciding to put a moratorium on development in R4C zoning districts: It would be like conducting a study to see if you should close the horse barn and having Secretariat [Triple Crown winner] run out of the barn during the study period. He contended there were many gray areas in the zoning code, among them the definition of roof height.
Alex de Parry: De Parry introduced himself as the project owner and noted that he had the entire development team with him if council had any questions. He told the city council that they had before them a project that meets the zoning and code requirements of the city of Ann Arbor and cited its conformance with the following chapters: 55, 57, 59, 62, 63, 105. He described the project as using the latest in energy technology. He said that the 24 six-bedroom units each would be equipped with a kitchen, living room, dining room and that, contrary to rumor, bedrooms would not be equipped with a kitchen. De Parry pointed to three other projects that had used the same interpretations of terms like “dormer,” “ridge height,” and “window wells”: 133 Hill Street, 922 Church Street and 818 Forest.
John Floyd: Floyd said that the decision not to do a study on the question of whether a historic district should be established in the area was a failure of process, “a grand mistake.” He suggested that it was an opportunity to run the government in a more straightforward way, and not just use process when it meets a predetermined end.
Scott Munzel: Munzel is legal counsel on the project. He noted that the homes slated for demolition are older, and are divided into rentals, and represented quite an investment to maintain. He said that it was not a realistic option for owner-occupiers to purchase them and rehabilitate them. He continued by saying that the law is very clear for site plan approval, noting that city council’s role is very limited. He said that the Central Area Plan is not legally relevant – though he noted that the project in many ways does, in fact, meet the goals of the Central Area Plan. He allowed that the buildings are old and attractive, but concluded that the decision is straightforward.
Fred Beal: Beal introduced himself as a member of the Downtown Residential Task Force. He described the project as beneficial because it increases density in an edge area. He said it should be approved because it meets zoning and that he’d like to see more of this kind of project.
Brad Moore: Moore is the architect on the City Place project. He stressed that the interpretation of the code of the city of Ann Arbor had been the same for this project as for every other project examined by the planning staff and the planning commission. That included setbacks, reach height, unit size, sized bedrooms, etc.
Yousef Rabhi: Rabhi said that as a student at the University of Michigan and a future lifelong resident of the city of Ann Arbor, he wanted to live in a city of cultural significance.
Ray Detter: Detter noted that city council was considering the Downtown Plan that evening and that he did not see how tearing down the seven historic houses was consistent with the Downtown Plan or the Central Area Plan. About the proposed building, Detter said, “It’s a dog,” from a design point of view. The problem in this case, Detter said, had resulted from planning documents that were inconsistent with zoning documents.
Lou Glorie: Glorie sketched out an analogy with a medical procedure – a needle biopsy, in which “needle” is a euphemism for a much larger implement. The point of comparison was “public process,” [echoing a sentiment from John Floyd, an earlier speaker]. Glorie characterized the public process as consisting of a conversation that began with the chamber of commerce, developers, councilmembers and ultimately was controlled by those parties. She suggested that urban sprawl had been replaced by the desire to pack 1,000 more souls into the downtown of some city. “Concrete is the new green,” she concluded.
City Place Deliberations
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began deliberations on the City Place site plan approval by indicating to his colleagues that he had brought information to the city attorney’s office concerning a possible conflict of interest on his part with respect to the City Place project. He stated that councilmembers had the analysis provided by the city attorney’s office and indicated he was prepared to accept their recommendation, if any, on the topic. [Council rules require members to vote on any resolution before them, unless their colleagues request by a majority vote that a councilmember recuse himself/herself.] No one moved that Hohnke should recuse himself.
Instead of deliberating on the resolution before them, a completely different resolution was substituted – and that resolution called for the site plan to be returned to the planning commission to be reconsidered. Kevin McDonald, senior assistant city attorney, clarified for councilmembers that the parliamentary mechanism by which the substitution would be achieved was the same as that used for an amendment. In this case, however, the “amendment” to the resolution replaced the existing language in its entirety with new language.
The reason cited for the return of the site plan to planning commission was errors in the documentation provided by planning staff in connection with the commission’s April meeting on the plan. This marked the second council meeting in a row at which a vote was expected on the site plan by council, but did not happen. Two weeks ago, council delayed the decision for two weeks due to errors in the documentation provided online for council’s meeting that week.
The expected time frame for reconsideration of the site plan by the planning commission is for a new public hearing and recommendation to be made at the planning commission’s July 7, 2009 meeting. Assuming the planning commission makes the same recommendation as before, it would come before the city council on July 20, 2009.
Taylor asked what the affects of the substitution resolution would be on the public hearing that had just been held. Hieftje clarified that there would be another public hearing, assuming that planning commission again recommended that the site plan come to city council. Rapundalo asked whether this procedural development had been discussed with the petitioner. Hieftje indicated he was not sure, but assumed that the petitioner was learning of the situation in the same way that he himself was. Higgins had indicated she was sending to all of her colleagues an email with the replacement language.
Derezinski, who is the city council’s representative to planning commission, said this was simply a technical glitch, and that there had been a thorough discussion and deliberation on the site plan at the planning commission’s meeting in April. He described the return of the matter to the planning commission as simply exercising caution and making sure that every aspect of due process was respected.
Higgins took care to point out that the decision to return the product to the planning commission was in no way a negative reflection on the developer and that there had been no error on his part.
Outcome: The decision to return the site plan to planning commission passed unanimously.
Development – What Goes On Top?
The city council entertained a resolution that established a site development committee to initiate a search for a private development partner for the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure site.
It was a resolution brought by councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1). At the previous council meeting, she had alerted her colleagues of her intention to bring the resolution. At that meeting she described her intention to call for a request for qualifications (RFQ). However, on Monday she indicated that she had rethought that intention, saying it was to be the purview of the committee to determine the best way to engage the community in a process. The idea was that representatives from planning commission, the Downtown Development Authority, downtown residents, and city council could use the short-lived committee to determine whether it would be best to issue an RFP (request for proposal) or an RFQ.
Higgins moved to postpone the decision until the council’s July 1, 2009 meeting, saying that she wanted to have more dialogue about what other things they’d like to see. She said she’d like to have the resolutions reflect a “council view” instead of a “councilmember’s view.” Smith asked Higgins for a better idea of the process that they could expect over the next two weeks. Higgins offered only that she just wanted to have some more dialogue.
Hieftje said to Smith that to him it sounded like Higgins wanted to have coffee with Smith. Councilmember Margie Teall (Ward 4) alluded to her work on the Downtown Development Authority partnerships committee, which had made an offer help with community dialogue on the parcel’s development.
Outcome: The resolution was postponed, with dissent from Smith.
Development – Design Guidelines
Council considered a professional services agreement with Winter & Company for the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown design guidelines revision project in the amount of $34,230. Higgins reported that the A2D2 steering committee had had a phone call with Bruce Race, the consultant who is helping with work on the design guidelines. She indicated that there would likely be a joint September working session with city council and planning commission to address the design guidelines project. That project is part of the zoning and planning effort, and is seen by many in the community as crucial to its success.
Outcome: The resolution was passed unanimously.
Parking Meters: Public Commentary
Several people spoke during public commentary reserved time (at the start of the council meeting) on the topic of the installation of parking meters in residential neighborhoods near downtown Ann Arbor. The meters were proposed as a part of the FY 2010 budget that the city council recently adopted. City officials hope the meters will generate an additional $380,000 per year in revenue. The meters in question should not be confused with the E-Park stations currently being rolled out by the DDA inside the downtown area.
Gwen Nystuen: Speaking for the North Burns Park Association Advisory Board, she said that they supported the resolution to place only a limited number of parking meters in specific areas. She said that the board objected to the fact that there had been no public hearing on the proposal to introduce parking meters into residential neighborhoods near downtown. She noted that the Burns Park Association had had residential parking permits for over three years now, and it had improved the ambiance of the neighborhood. The introduction of such permits, she said, made the neighborhood more pleasant to be in – it was nice not to be a part of the parking lot. She said they didn’t support any kind of parking meters – not 21st-century, not streamlined, not blue, not gold, not digital parking meters.
John Hilton: Hilton spoke representing the North Central Property Owners Association. He reflected on the fact that 25 years ago city council had come up with the idea of a residential parking permit system in response to a situation in his neighborhood. He expressed his thanks to Sandi Smith, who had worked hard on the resolutions.
Bob Snyder: Snyder spoke representing the South University Neighborhood Association. Snyder said that he was speaking against the introduction of parking meters in residential neighborhoods and hoped to derail further attempts to install such meters. He asked to see a map of the precise locations of the proposed meters. Snyder criticized the proposed introduction of parking meters into residential neighborhoods as having the sole purpose of generating an extra $380,000 of revenue. He noted that eight different neighborhood associations are against “planting” parking meters in residential neighborhoods. The next step, he said, is to fast-track residential parking permits in those areas that do not currently have them.
Ann Schriber: Ann Schriber spoke representing the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association, consisting of 150 households. She summarized the meetings that the neighborhood association had had, and reported that the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association strongly opposes the addition of such parking meters. They want to be informed in advance of such proposals, she said. She concluded that residential parking permit programs work and they don’t want to see them changed.
Parking Meters: Deliberations on 415 W. Washington
How are parking rates at 415 W. Washington related to the installation of parking meters elsewhere?
If parking meters were not to be installed in all the areas planned by city staff as a part of the FY 2010 budget plan, then the revenue shortfall needs to be addressed. And part of the strategy for addressing that shortfall is – in cooperation with the Downtown Development Authority – to raise the parking rates on the surface lot.
Smith introduced a resolution to approve the extension of the temporary use of the 415 W. Washington parking lot as a parking lot. She noted that when the fees were set up in that parking lot, they were not set at a market rate. Her resolution raised the monthly fee from $40 to $80 a month. Smith noted that this was still quite competitive with the surface lot at First & William, which charges $105 a month. Part of the rationale for extending the use of the parcel as a surface parking lot is that redevelopment of the parcel at 415 W. Washington is not going as fast as previously hoped. At the July 1 meeting of the Downtown Development Authority, the board will be asked to approve their side agreement, Smith said. In broad summary, the increase in revenue from the higher rates would go to the city instead of the DDA. [Smith also serves on the DDA board].
Briere noted that on May 18 the idea of installing parking meters in neighborhoods near downtown was not something that council had really been prepared to deal with. She commended Smith for trying to solve the problem very creatively and in a very rapid way. Briere noted that the work is not finished and that it was really a stopgap that didn’t solve the problem permanently. Briere noted that it had been Smith plus herself and the two council representatives from the Fifth Ward, Carsten Hohnke and Mike Anglin, who had worked together on the resolution.
Hohnke said that although he had concerns that introducing parking meters were inherently a sign of commercial activity, he felt it was a necessary revenue solution in an extremely tight budget year. The resolutions, he said, are limited in timeframe. We’re not leaving a potential gap, he said, because the default plan remains for parking meters to be installed if no alternative revenues can be found. [See moratorium below.] He pointed out that it would be important to monitor what happens on Washington Street as the prices on the 415 W. Washington lot were brought into alignment with other parking in the DDA system. He said it might be possible that as prices are raised, motorists would seek more economical free parking out on the street, which could add to the traffic challenges around the new YMCA, located at 400 W. Washington.
Anglin noted that Ward 5 and Ward 1 representatives had worked together on the problem and had had some community meetings on the issue. He noted that it dismayed him a bit that downtown neighborhoods might have such meters installed. Councilmember Leigh Greden (Ward 3) thanked Smith for her hard work. He said that a key point about the plan was that this particular parking lot was never included in the parking agreement with the DDA, and they had never gotten around to closing a loophole. It was not a final solution, he allowed, but it was a step forward to finding a solution.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.
Parking Meters: Deliberations on Installation
Council also contemplated a resolution to begin the installation of some of the parking meters. Smith explained that the spaces along Depot Street were selected in part due to the possible east-west commuter rail that might be developed.
- East Madison (18 spaces)
- Depot Street west of Broadway (16 spaces)
- Depot Street in front of Gandy Dancer (5 spaces)
- Depot Street Lot (20 spaces)
- Wall Street (115 spaces)
- Broadway (4 spaces)
The plan applies a moratorium to all the proposed meter installations except those listed above, but the moratorium ends on Oct. 5, 2009. The upshot of the plan is that by Oct. 5, which is a council meeting date, there would need to be an alternative plan in place to replace any shortfall against the $380,000 in the budget.
Rapundalo suggested that Upland – in the commercial district on the east side of the street – is an area with free parking that would be a good place to think about introducing parking meters.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.
DDA and City of Ann Arbor Parking Agreement
In his communications to council, Hieftje appointed councilmembers Teall, Greden, and Hohnke to work with the “mutually beneficial committee” of the Downtown Development Authority to talk about the parking agreement between the DDA and the city. The appointment of the council subcommittee came subsequent to the challenge from DDA board chair, Jennifer S. Hall, at the DDA board’s last meeting, for council to finally seat its own committee, in light of the fact that she had removed herself from the DDA’s committee – her presence on the DDA’s subcommittee had been cited by the mayor as an obstacle to the city council’s appointment of its own committee.
Related to that upcoming discussion of the parking agreement is an email sent on Sept. 22, 2008, from Keith Orr, who was subsequently appointed by Hieftje to the DDA board to replace Dave Devarti. The email was included in a preliminary batch of records provided to The Chronicle under a FOIA request.
In basic summary, the email is apparently a reply to a verbally conveyed question from Hieftje to Orr about whether he’d be willing to commit to a revision to the parking agreement between the city and the DDA in the context of a possible appointment to the DDA board. Orr wrote:
As far as funding issues we talked about, I certainly believe that city solvency is a critical issue … And I have a general understanding (as much as can be understood from A2 News, and other secondary sources), of the funding issue as it relates to parking issues. I am uncomfortable making a firm commitment to a vote on an issue of several million dollars/year without knowing the full context of the budget issues. I guess that is as close as I can come to making an absolute statement of how I feel on the issue. If those are acceptable parameters, I’ll be happy to fill out the application. If you need a more absolute commitment, I understand, and hope you understand my reluctance to commit beyond that statement.
Contacted via email by The Chronicle, Orr confirmed the basic summary of the message’s context, and added:
… my response remains the same. I am sympathetic to the city’s fiscal needs, and could not promise a particular vote. That was apparently acceptable since I did get appointed.
I remain committed to helping the city. Indeed, the budget passed by the DDA Board contains a line item of “Contingency – $2M”. Thus, the entire board is committed to some type of transfer of funds to the city. The vehicle for that transfer is up in the air. Fortunately the city has finally appointed folks to the “mutually beneficial” committee so talks can finally begin. … I am convinced that reasonable policy determined by intelligent folks will prevail.
The Chronicle has also learned that Newcombe Clark is expected to be appointed to the DDA board as a replacement for Rene Greff when her term expires next month.
LDFA and SPARK
Local Development Finance Authority Budget Amendment
City council considered a resolution to amend the SmartZone of the LDFA budget to increase the total by $25,000. Stephen Rapundalo, who is the city council representative to the LDFA board, explained that there had been a question about a line item in the previous budget providing funds to a private investor network to support the connection of investors with companies in need of venture capital.
Rapundalo reported that the city attorney’s office had done due diligence on the proposal and that it was clear from the state enabling legislation, together with the tax increment financing plan, that money from the LDFA cannot be used for third-party staffing. However, said Rapundalo, the necessity to connect investors with companies who need capital is a legitimate need. That’s why the dollars were reinstated to the budget – in order to realize the same goals but with a different means. How? Instead of allocating money to a private angel investment group, Ann Arbor SPARK should develop a program to connect angel investors with companies.
LDFA Budget Reaffirmation
An additional resolution was added at the council table to reaffirm the 2010 LDFA budget. Rapundalo explained that there had been a leftover question about where and how marketing dollars could be spent. He said that it was clear that marketing dollars could not be used outside of the jurisdiction and the TIF (tax increment financing) plan makes it clear that marketing dollars are to be spent within the jurisdiction.
Ann Arbor SPARK
Council considered a resolution to approve a contract with Ann Arbor SPARK for business support services in the amount of $75,000. As the “whereas” clauses in the resolution indicate, Ann Arbor SPARK is the entity that resulted from the merger of Washtenaw Development Council and SPARK. Historically the city of Ann Arbor had contributed $50,000 to the Washtenaw Development Council. Ann Arbor SPARK is funded partly through tax capture in a SmartZone, which geographically consists of the union of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority districts. In the next year, Ann Arbor SPARK will receive around $1 million in Ann Arbor property taxes, administered through the LDFA.
Deliberations by the Ann Arbor city council began with Higgins’ expression of support for the contract approval, saying that SPARK would leverage it well for the city of Ann Arbor. Hieftje added that when he was outside of Ann Arbor talking to people who have heard about Ann Arbor SPARK, they say they would like to have one too. He said he was sure it would make good use of these funds. Hohnke, who was recently appointed to the SPARK executive committee, did not offer any commentary at the table. Councilmembers had no questions for Michael Finney, CEO of SPARK, who had remained in attendance at the meeting up through the recess just before SPARK’s contract was considered.
Transportation: Non-motorized Safety Outreach
Council considered a resolution to support a nonmotorized safety education outreach campaign. It had been introduced at the previous council meeting by Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager.
The resolution did not allocate new funds, but provided guidance to staff on how to spend those funds – up to $10,000 for development and implementation of a non-motorized safety education outreach program. The money comes from the alternative transportation fund created from Act 51 funds directed to development of a safe system of on-road bicycle lanes.
The campaign itself, which has already been developed, will include brochures, radio spots, and video spots. Higgins noted that there had been an ongoing discussion about how to accomplish the educational component. She noted that deputy chief of police Greg O’Dell had previously worked with bicycling groups on the topic. She wanted to know if the city had ever heard back about how that worked. Hieftje noted that the previous effort had never actually been funded. He cited the statistic that at any given time, the majority of people on the road in Ann Arbor don’t actually live here. So the outreach campaign had a certain challenge in reaching the population. Signage would be key, he said. Higgins stressed that she felt it was important that education be provided for cyclists about their responsibility for using the road.
Hohnke asked Cooper to explain how the various constituencies would be engaged through the campaign. Cooper cited the slogans themselves as reflective of targeting all users of the roadway, not just motorists: “Share the road” and “Same road same rules.” He described the brochure that had been developed as a tri-fold that when opened displayed a motorist on the left and a cyclist on the right.
Transportation: North-South Connector Feasibility
City council approved its $80,000 contribution to a north-south connector feasibility study. As transportation program manager Eli Cooper explained, the feasibility study would determine whether the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors could be enhanced as a “signature corridor” in terms of the transportation master plan update, using either existing buses, bus rapid transit, or streetcar systems.
Funding from the city of Ann Arbor apparently completed the funding authorization among the four partners in the feasibility study. Already authorized were the contributions from the DDA, AATA, and the University of Michigan. [However, at the AATA's Wednesday, June 17, 2009 board meeting, the board balked at the $320,000 portion it was asked to pay, postponing that final decision until August – the AATA board does not meet in the month of July.]
Outcome: The resolution authorizing $80,000 for the north-south connector study was passed unanimously.
Transportation: Pedestrian Safety Improvement Project
Briere indicated that she would be glad to see the countdown pedestrian walk signals installed in a few areas outside the downtown and suggested that people would come to appreciated them.
She was referring to countdown pedestrian signals at 12 locations and various crosswalk signing and pavement marking improvements encompassed by the project. The project will also include three pedestrian refuge islands to be constructed on South Main at Oakbrook, Packard at Woodmanor and Ellsworth.
The estimated cost of the project is $244,100, with $195,300 coming from a federal grant and $48,800 from the city. Construction is scheduled to begin in June 2009 and continue until September 2009.
Higgins expressed reservations about one of the pedestrian refuge islands.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.
Transportation: Bike Path
Council entertained a resolution to approve an amendment to the professional services agreement with Midwestern Consulting in the amount of $111,870 for a nonmotorized path along Washington Washtenaw Avenue, from Tuomy Road to Glenwood Road. The money would cover design. The city has been approved for a MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) Transportation Enhancement Grant of up to $538,527, plus an MDOT Surface Transportation Program grant of up to $460,000 for the construction of this project.
Outcome: The resolution passed with no discussion by the council.
Street closings on the agenda generated a bit of unexpected “controversy.” The Main Street Area Association had requested an East Washington Street closing for Oktoberfest on September 18-22, 2009. For the same days, a resolution to approve a West Washington Street closing was on the agenda, requested by Grizzly Peak Brewing Company and Blue Tractor. Rapundalo voted against both street closings, saying that it was a University of Michigan home football weekend and that safety services had not yet signed off on the idea.
For the street closing requested by Grizzly Peak and Blue Tractor, Taylor asked his colleagues to consider voting to require his recusal in light of the fact that his law firm does work for the parties involved. Apparently realizing that the same potential conflict of interest applied to himself with respect to a previous agenda item, Greden asked for a previously approved item to be reconsidered. That item involved a resolution to approve the temporary outdoor sales, service and consumption of alcoholic beverages during the 2009 Ann Arbor Art Fairs. Greden said that his law firm did work for the Red Hawk Bar and Grill, which was one of the parties that could potentially benefit from the outdoor sales.
In both cases, councilmembers asked for their recusal, and both measures passed. At issue was the potential for enhanced profits on the part of the parties benefiting from the resolutions passed.
Council considered a resolution to approve a contract with Huron Valley Ambulance for two years for a fire dispatching service [ $99,420 FY 2010 and $109,620 in FY 2011].
A representative from the fire department explained that the contract would provide that HVA handle dispatching for the city’s fire department. HVA already handles the dispatch for several other fire departments in the area, which would make it easier for the city of Ann Arbor to undertake mutual aid agreements with those departments. The new system would also reduce the use of fire trucks on medical emergency calls not involving fires, which would reduce the wear and tear on those trucks.
Outcome: The contract was approved unanimously.
Department of Justice Allocation
Jim Mogensen: During the public hearing on a Department of Justice grant, Mogensen noted that every year the Department of Justice appropriates grants. He encouraged councilmembers to ask the question, “So what strings are attached?” He observed that last year’s grants were used to purchase bicycles and shotguns. This year he said, it’s digital video recorders to be installed in patrol cars with the provision of up to 30-50 terabytes of storage. The grant also provided for mobile license plate readers, he said, at a cost of $20,000 apiece. He suggested reflection on the probability that all of this information would be collected, including face recognition software together with the driver license photos, so that one could imagine a protest taking place at the Federal Building and being able to identify people participating in the protest.
The Department of Justice grant was for law enforcement policing equipment and technology for Ann Arbor police department’s Patrol Division. The $168,158 grant award requires no matching funds.
Senior Center Task Force
A resolution to establish a Senior Center Task Force was postponed, with councilmember Teall explaining that not all of the proposed task force members had been contacted. Higgins elicited the clarification from Teall that the appointment would be made by council as opposed to by the mayor.
Councilmember Taylor will be appointed to the Council Rules Committee, which was consistent with councilmember Briere’s report from the previous night’s caucus that some councilmembers are interested in exploring revisions to council rules to address, among other things, protocols for sending electronic mail.
Jim Mogensen: Mogensen spoke to councilmembers on the issue of electronic communications. He recalled an occasion on which the planning commission was conducting a work session and he was the only person in the audience. The planning commission had on that occasion received a presentation from an attorney in the city attorney’s office, and he said that they seemed to forget that he was still there in the room. He said that he learned all kinds of interesting things about ways people could use to get around the Freedom of Information Act. He suggested that some standards be put in place to address how electronic communications are used. He noted that physically there are rules about how documents can be submitted and when they can be submitted, and that standards needed to be developed for electronic documents as well. One of the ways that was discussed for getting around FOIA with the idea of using the email address of an employer if that employer was a law firm. The law firm’s email address, he said, was thought to convey the idea that its communication was protected from FOIA due to attorney-client privilege.
Phelps Connell: Phelps introduced himself as a resident who lived adjacent to the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. He said that when they had bought their house he had been assured that the airport would not be expanded. He allowed that he enjoyed living next to the airport and that it was fun to watch. As an example, he cited the Goodyear blimp, which had been moored at the airport this past weekend, as well as the occasional B-17 bomber. He said that safety is the stated reason for needing the runway extension, but noted that the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport is one of the safest airports. An expansion of the runway, he said, would mean that larger, faster and heavier airplanes would be using it and would put those aircraft 950 feet closer to homes in the area.
Henry Herskovitz: Herskovitz brought with him a photograph of himself taken with Bassem Abu Rahmah four years ago in the city of Bi’lin in Palestine. He said that every Friday they would go in protest near the Israeli wall that goes through Bi’lin. He reported that rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound grenades had been shot at them. Herskovitz said he was saddened to report that two months ago his friend had been hit in the chest with a tear gas canister and killed. He noted that the teargas canister had been paid for by “me and you,” which is to say U.S. taxpayers. Herskovitz stated that he did not care about the emails that councilmembers sent back and forth while speakers were addressing the city council. What he cared about, he said, was the abdication of a previous city council’s responsibility to uphold the U.S. Constitution five and a half years ago, when it had condemned the demonstrations held weekly outside of Temple Beth Israel in Ann Arbor. He called on the current city council to rescind the resolution passed in 2004 that had condemned the demonstrations.
Ed Fontanive: During public commentary reserve time, Fontanive spoke in favor of zoning East Huron Street as a D2 area instead of a D1 area. He noted that across the street are two old churches and a behind the area lay the Old Fourth Ward. He said that a 60-foot-tall building could be built under D2 zoning, which would help it blend better with the rest of downtown.
John Floyd: Floyd noted that last summer, the day after the primary election, Hieftje had been quoted in the Ann Arbor News as being pleased that the candidates had the same “shared high-level vision” for the future of Ann Arbor. Floyd asked what that vision was. He noted that the occasion of consideration of a Downtown Plan as council was undertaking that evening meant that it was an appropriate time to find out what the shared high-level vision was. [Rummaging through the Ann Arbor News archives of the Ann Arbor District Library turned up the quote from Hieftje that Floyd likely meant, in an Aug. 6, 2008 article by Tom Gantert: "We have elected five council members with a big-picture vision of the future of Ann Arbor. They have the ability to work together to see it through."]
Thomas Partridge: Partridge noted the continued need to address the serious issue of discrimination in Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, in southeast Michigan, the entire state, and in fact the whole nation. He called on all elected bodies to address this problem with respect to housing, public transportation, healthcare, and education.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, John Hieftje.
Next Council Meeting: Monday, July 6, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]