Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2009): The word “public” covered much of the ground of this past Monday’s meeting: public art, public land, public input.
The council got an annual report from the Public Art Commission highlighted by a reminder that Herbert Dreiseitl will be visiting Ann Arbor on July 20 to introduce plans for the storm water art he’s been commissioned to design for the new municipal center. The designs have not yet been accepted.
The council also heard a report from the Greenbelt Advisory Commission on a slight strategy shift in the use of $10 million of public money so far to protect 1,321 acres of land. The council also approved a resolution to preserve the First & William parking lot as public land.
The discussion of another parcel of public land, the library lot, led to long deliberations on the wording of a resolution to establish an RFP (request for proposals) process for development of the site – below which an underground parking structure is planned. At issue was the timing of the RFP and the explicit inclusion of a public participation component in the process. The deliberations provided some insight into how councilmembers work together when the outcome of their conversations at the table is not scripted or pre-planned.
Planning in the sense of “land use” was also a topic addressed in multiple agenda items by the council. Councilmembers passed a resolution establishing a study committee to review the R4C and the R2A residential zoning districts – a bid by the Ward 3 council contingent to eliminate R2A from the purview of the committee got no support from others.
Having received a recommendation from the Downtown Development Authority board on the A2D2 zoning package that they wanted to examine more closely, the council postponed for two weeks the first reading of the A2D2 zoning package. The site plan for Walgreen on Jackson Road, near Maple Road, was approved with permits contingent on an easement for ingress and egress.
The November city council campaign in Ward 4 began to take shape when independent candidate Hatim Elhady took a turn at public commentary, and he took the occasion to ask some questions of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), the incumbent he’s challenging.
Site Development Committee and RFP for the Library Lot
The planned underground parking garage along Fifth Avenue has generated discussion about the “What goes on top?” question. In March, the DDA passed a resolution in support of making DDA resources available for facilitating a public process. From The Chronicle’s meeting report:
Community Vision for 300 Block of South Fifth Avenue: What Goes on Top? [Sandi] Smith introduced the resolution, which states support of a process to develop a community vision for the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue. She said that it was prompted by the dialogue about the undergound parking garage, which had prompted the frequent question from residents: What goes on top? The idea, said Smith, was to begin a community conversation that was vague, free from preconception, and not steering towards some pre-set notion.
[John] Hieftje said he was happy to begin the discusison and that the reason it hasn’t come before is that it’s not a good economic environment to start a project. People needed to understand, he said, that it would be a few years before that climate would change.
[John] Mouat said it was an interesting urban planning exercise involving potentially a lot of different groups. “Are we really prepared to take it on?” he wondered.
John Splitt stressed that the DDA would just be offering resources: “We’re not trying to steer it into any direction; we’re there to help.” [Jennifer] Hall said she supported it, and pointed out that the discussion would include the whole block, not just the library lot. “Somebody needs to get out the door,” she said. “It should have been done ages ago.”
Public Commentary on Library Lot Site Development
Alan Haber: Haber began, “By the time questions get here, the fix is in and the deal is done and this is ceremonial democracy so that the people will think that we had something to do with this.” Haber sketched a scene of an America that is owned by banks, and the local landscape dominated physically by the “elite monumentalism” of the university. He gave the newly renovated Michigan Stadium as an example. He expressed the hope that sometimes people can actually change their minds and let the people’s voices come in. Haber proposed that the council dedicate the parcel as public land, dedicated to the culture of peace and nonviolence for the children of the world. “Build a park on the Commons, on the public land. Build it all-season, make it solar, geothermal, a place for community, embrace the vision of The Commons, a place for people to come together to sustain themselves and each other.”
Hatim Elhady: [Councilmember Marcia Higgins will be unchallenged in her August Democratic primary, but will face Hatim Elhady, who's running as an independent, in the fall.] Elhady began with a point blank question: “I would like to ask councilmember Higgins just what the rush is to build atop a nonexistent parking lot a project threatened with a lawsuit from an environmental group – when the Stadium bridge has gone unrepaired since you and George W. Bush were elected into office?”
Elhady noted that there were emails from the mayor and other councilmembers to constituents saying there were no plans to build anything on top of the library lot and that it could be years before anything is built, but that soon after the emails were sent it had been declared there must be something built. He focused on two clauses in the resolution. [The first of these was eventually taken up during council deliberations by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).] The first clause that Elhady highlighted specifies that the the site must bring financial return to the city. The second says that the city administration shall incorporate a design committee with residents. From that Elhady reasoned that residents can have whatever they want – as long as it brings revenue. This immediately tosses out the idea, he contended, that a park should be made with swings in it. The citizens of Ann Arbor deserve honest and open answers to their questions and an inclusive and thoroughly deliberate discussion about what gets built in their city before council votes to issue RFPs, he concluded.
Deliberations by Council on the Library Lot Process
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) introduced the resolution by acknowledging that it had morphed a little bit based on input from the public and from the council. At the immediately previous council meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had moved successfully for a postponement of the resolution to establish a committee on site development of the library lot.
The general context described by Smith in which the resolution was being brought forward was one in which the council had received an unsolicited proposal from a developer. Drawings had been provided to councilmembers at their January 2009 budget retreat. The idea, said Smith, was to throw the door open wide to any and all other proposals to see what they get.
Mike Anglin then offered amendments to the resolution, couching them in terms of the council’s commitment to public participation in development decisions. He said that the same requirement for public participation should apply to city projects as well as private developments. Anglin circulated printed copies of the amendment language to all of his council colleagues. Anglin noted that there was a feeling in the community that the space itself was very special and that it has the potential to become something spectacular. Anglin’s amendment:
RESOLVED: That the city conduct a series of public meetings to determine citizen opinion on the desired use of the site before the RFP is prepared.
Anglin’s amendment also proposed to strike the date-related resolved clauses specifying an RFP issuance on Aug. 3 and a 60-day time frame for submissions.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) began deliberations on the amendment by saying that he appreciated Anglin’s motives, saying that they were “well served.” But he reminded his colleagues that this was an RFP process and that removing the dates reflected a non-standard way of moving forward. Having dates certain ensured that everyone had the same amount of time to respond to the proposal, Rapundalo said. He echoed Smith’s view that the process really did open the door wide to anything and everything that someone might propose. He said that once the RFP process was finished that it was reasonable to expect that there would be some kind of public review of proposals. He characterized the RFP processes that he’d been a part of over the years as “very deliberate.” Rapundalo concluded that he would not be supporting the amendment.
Anglin then challenged his fellow councilmembers to describe what the public input to date had been on the subject. A longish pause ensued.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) responded to Anglin by saying that the community had been talking about the downtown for six years. Over the years, she said, they’d talked about what might happen to the parcel if it were ever developed: There’d been ideas about selling the parcel, and they’d heard from groups about making it into a park; they’d heard a proposal to put an ice rink there; and it’d had been discussed as a possible location for the municipal center. During that whole period, Higgins said, they’d heard many different ideas about what should happen on the lot.
What they had not yet heard, she allowed, was council saying that they would like to hear from everybody, and that’s what this RFP process was about.
[Analysis: Here Higgins acknowledged that there'd been a lot of talk by a lot of people, but never a specific directed process meant to achieve some specific design proposal. It could have been used as a common ground gambit, but was mostly missed in subsequent deliberations by Anglin, Rapundalo and Leigh Greden. Higgins' characterization allowed that there'd been a lot of discussion up to now (which occupied subsequent focus by Greden and Rapundalo) but none as specifically directed and as wide open as this one they were about to contemplate – the only part that Anglin focused on.]
“We are not saying that it is a done deal,” Higgins stressed. She allowed that people had heard there was a group who had convinced the council that the parcel should be used for a conference center. She’d also heard from greenway advocates that the parcel could become another park area. She’d heard the mayor advocate for a very long time that he would like to see an ice skating rink downtown as a part of any project that might be done there.
Part of this proposed process, Higgins emphasized, was to say that there were no particular criteria that they were looking for. She said she was hoping for lots of different ideas to be proposed. The proposals would all go forward for review by the committee, she said, which would include citizens. That, she declared, would start the public process. She concluded that it was the most wide-open RFP process that she had ever seen the city council do.
Higgins said that if, after 60 days, the city administrator reported that they had received no proposals, then the council could easily extend the time frame.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) weighed in by saying that it was not a question of whether to have public participation but rather when. Once council had a series of proposals, he said – with different themes and with different uses for that property – then it was appropriate to have public input as to which one might be picked. Restricting the process of beginning, he said, would simply choke off the flow of potential alternatives. He stressed that council should wait and see what proposals they received, noting that the public input on the proposals was going to be incredible in any case. “It’s a question of what you choose from,” Derezinski concluded.
Leigh Greden (Ward 3) said he agreed with the idea of some additional public process associated with the site, and that the question was when and in what form. He allowed that he did not know if he had a position on the “when” question– is it after the bids come in, or is it earlier in the process?
Greden said he wanted to point out that there had been extensive public process already to date on this particular site. Greden appealed to the historical record of a resolution passed in November of 2007 in which council had talked about the development of the area above what could eventually become the future underground parking garage.
The language of that resolution, which authorized the DDA to design and construct the underground parking garage, was quoted subsequently in deliberations by Stephen Rapundalo:
… Whereas, The land above an underground parking garage on the South Fifth Avenue lot could be used in the near future to support new residential, retail, and/or office development and open space for public use, thus increasing the number of downtown residents, employees, and visitors, increasing the tax base, creating jobs, and enhancing the experience of being downtown; and …
… Be it further resolved … the underground parking garage shall be designed to support above ground, in the short-term, surface public parking, and in the long-term, development which could include, but is not limited to, a residential, retail, and/or office building(s) and a public plaza;
Citizens had come and spoken at public comment on that, Greden said. In the process of the DDA designing the garage, Greden noted that the DDA had coordinated public activities to help design the underground garage itself and also to explore the question of what might go above the site. A second resolution, Greden said, had been passed in early 2008 that shows similar conversations were conducted.
While he agreed with the idea that there should be additional public input, Greden said that the language of the amendment was “too vague.” “Public meetings – what does that mean? How many?” he asked. Greden also allowed that the dates and times proposed in the original resolution (Aug. 3 and 60 days) might be too strict, but agreed with Rapundalo that there should be dates of some kind. He said he’d be open to an amendment of the dates but would not support eliminating them completely. He concluded that he would not support the amendment as written.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said that over the years there had been a significant amount of input from the public that had been specific to the site. However, he felt that some additional public input would be useful. Having no deadline, he cautioned, was not constructive for the process. Hohnke wanted to know what was meant by having “a financial return to the city,” but he was advised by Mayor John Hieftje that he needed to focus the amendment – which did not include that phrase.
Anglin, advised by Hieftje that this would be his last speaking turn without a suspension of council rules, contended that there had been no public input specifically on the library lot. The DDA, he said, had done “invite only” meetings. He then said he believed that the financing was not yet in place for what was to go below or on top, saying that it was not a done deal. And he then introduced a phrase that caused momentary confusion by saying that he would be calling for a “voice vote” on the issue – subsequently Hieftje would clarify that the intended term was “roll call vote.”
Anglin then admonished his colleagues that voting no on the amendment meant that they didn’t want the public to say anything more about this. Zeroing in on a previous mention of public process on the library lot as having begun with the Calthorpe process, Anglin declared: “And this nonsense of saying that we started this at Calthorpe, that is erroneous.” Anglin then contended that the cost of the underground parking structure was 25% greater than it needed to be, because the city council had already planned to put something on top of it. “The public has not been consulted. So tell the public that you don’t want them to vote on something that is so important to them.”
Anglin said that he was certainly happy to change the dates and that conversation could happen once it was determined there would be public input.
If Anglin had been blunt, then Rapundalo was equally so: “With all due respect to councilmember Anglin, I think a lot of what you allude to is, quite frankly, in your own words, ‘nonsense.’” Rapundalo stated that the Calthorpe process had been fully open to anybody and everybody and not limited to select groups. He noted the example that Greden had previously cited was a resolution that passed on the public record. Based on that resolution, Rapundalo concluded: “We are in no way limiting what could be there.”
Rapundalo related the timing of the solicitation of public input to having something specific for the public to evaluate: “I don’t have a problem going out to the public for their input. I’d like to have something in hand, and right now we have nothing.” Rapundalo reiterated that timelines are fairly standard for RFPs, then concluded with: “If you’re not up to speed on this, go back and do some homework on what has transpired at this body for years on end.”
Higgins then asked the city administrator, Roger Fraser, if the timelines were too restrictive. Fraser replied that he had provided input on the resolution and that he felt that it was doable to prepare the RFP by Aug. 3. Fraser characterized the 60 days as “tight but doable.”
Margie Teall (Ward 4) reported that at the last partnerships committee meeting of the DDA there had been discussion of putting the RFP out more widely, possibly on a national level. A longer timeframe, she said, might allow for something like that.
Greden analyzed Anglin’s reference to a roll call vote as an implication that councilmembers should be ashamed to vote no on the amendment. Greden said that he thought the amendment was a “poor proposal.” “It’s vague,” he said. Anglin’s proposal didn’t have any parameters for time, Greden said, but he allowed that Aug. 3 and 60 days were probably too strict – he would entertain some alternative proposal. He said he agreed that a proposal for some kind of specific public process might be useful before the RFP is issued – that was a fair debate, he allowed. Because the amendment lacked sufficient detail, he said, “I look forward to casting my vote on the record against this amendment and would happily entertain any alternatives that someone else at the table has to address those issues.”
[Link to a column: "How a Skilled Politician Plays Chess"]
Councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) identified the points of commonality around the table, focusing on the willingness of several people to discuss different dates as well as an agreement that there should be a public process. Councilmembers then thrashed through amendments to Anglin’s amendment at the level of wording differences like “determining public opinion” versus “soliciting public opinion.” There was constructive input from many around the table. One example was from Higgins, who warned that the explicit inclusion of a provision for public input might imply that the usual practice was not to have public input. The final draft reconstructed by The Chronicle:
RESOLVED: That the committee conduct a public meeting to solicit public input, consistent with usual practice.
At this point, the Aug. 3 date had been left intact, and the 60-day window was extended to 90 days.
The roll call vote on Anglin’s amended amendment resulted in unanimous approval.
Greden then proposed delaying the date for issuance of the RFP by a month. Subsequent deliberations, which included an invitation by Smith to Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, to offer her perspective, resulted in an Aug. 14 date for the issuance of the RFP.
Hohnke then returned to the issue of the phrasing “financial return to the city.” He asked if the intention was that it required there to be a profit or rather that any proposal be at least revenue neutral. Higgins indicated that a proposal yielding profit was fine but that a revenue-neutral proposal would also be fine.
In summing up the deliberations, Hieftje said that a challenge facing the city council was the question of when public input should be solicited. On the one hand, he said, council strived to get public input as early as possible. On the other hand, in his experience, the public generally wanted something to react to, and that without something concrete for the public to consider, there was the risk that some members of the public would feel like their time is being wasted.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously as amended.
Planning: A2D2 Rezoning Package
Public Commentary on A2D2 Rezoning
Bruce Thomson: Thomson owns property on the north side of East Huron Street. He noted that it had long been zoned as C2AR, so the idea that it was being “changed” to D1 was not accurate, he said. He noted that the currently proposed zoning as a part of A2D2 included a height limit that was 30 feet lower than the rest of downtown [150 compared to 180 feet], plus had a requirement of increased setbacks. He said he felt the proposal was a good compromise and reflected some good hard work. [Thomson's remarks came in the context of a relatively recent effort by residents of nearby tall buildings to see Thomson's property zoned D2 under the new ordinance, which would limit future building heights to 60 feet.]
Jerald Lax: Lax introduced himself as Thomson’s attorney and offered comment on a communication from a Michigan Department of Transportation employee that had been sent to the city related to the proposed D1 zoning on Huron Street. He cautioned that the letter had been elicited by the residents of a nearby tall building who did not wish to see another tall building built on Thompson’s property. He noted that the zoning designation that had been in place for decades – C2AR – allowed for unlimited height. He also noted that the property already had curb cuts.
John Etter: Etter said that he was the one who had provided information to MDOT and it had come as a surprise to him that MDOT had not been consulted in the context of the rezoning effort in Ann Arbor.
Bob Snyder: Snyder reminded councilmembers that they had received communications from a variety of sources and neighborhood groups recently on the subject of the A2D2 zoning ordinance that was on their agenda. He said there was overall support for the effort, which had included a lot of hard effort over several years. However, Snyder reported a certain anxiety over last-minute compromises that might take place without going back the citizens. He stressed that after five years of involvement in public process, the groups he’s involved with generally approved of the Downtown Plan, the Central Area Plan, and the DDA Renewal Plan of 2003. They supported the new zoning ordinances, but only in the context of the Downtown Plan plus a context-based design process. “Consistency is what we looking for,” he said. Snyder was critical of a last-minute attempt to increase the mass of buildings in the downtown.
Council Deliberations on A2D2
In response to the question raised during public commentary, Wendy Rampson, the city’s interim director for planning services, was asked to explain what the nature of the consultation had been with MDOT. Rampson noted that the communication conveyed to city council had come via MDOT’s Brighton service area. She noted that in addition to the Brighton office, the city of Ann Arbor dealt with MDOT via the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS). She indicated that she had given a presentation to that group in December of 2008 and in January of this year.
Rampson noted that the current zoning is similar to the zoning that is now proposed. She indicated that traffic would be addressed on a site-by-site basis.
The effort to increase building mass – to which Bob Snyder had referred in his public commentary – was rooted in a resolution passed by the DDA at its June 3 meeting. In relevant part, that resolution reads:
Given that City Council has resolved to impose building height limits in D1 and D2, the DDA respectfully recommends that if 33% or more of a floor of structured parking required by the zoning ordinance is being constructed within a development, the remaining parking needed to complete a floor of parking should not be calculated as part of the building’s FAR.
- We recommend that the ratio for residential premiums be restored to a 1 to 1 proportion as is current zoning.
- Now that a height limit has been established in the D1, we recommend that the by right zoning in the D1 be increased to 500%.
- Further, to increase the community benefits of new buildings, we recommend that the FAR with
premiums be increased to 900%, and with affordable housing to 1,100%.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated he didn’t have enough information on the interpretation of the suggestions that had been made by the DDA regarding building mass. He therefore asked for a two-week postponement in order to query staff. After confirming that the postponement would be to a date certain in two weeks, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said that council would still be able to take care of rezoning in time for the Sept. 14 joint working session with the planning commission on design guidelines.
Outcome: The first reading of the A2D2 zoning ordinance package was postponed until the July 20, 2009 meeting.
More Planning: R4C/R2 Zoning District Study Committee
As an amendment to the resolution to appoint an R4C and R2A zoning district study advisory committee, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) moved that the R2A district be eliminated from consideration, saying that it unnecessarily burdened the committee members and city staff.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who serves as city council’s representative to the planning commmission, appealed to a resolution from October 15, 2007 that specifically referenced the need to review both the R2A and the R4C districts. The idea, he said, was to do the review comprehensively: “Here’s the thing: Get it done!”
Higgins elicited from Jayne Miller, director of community services for the city, some of the rationale for consideration of the two districts together. First, these two districts represented the last classifications that planning staff needed to review in order to complete their comprehensive look at zoning for the whole city. R4C is more dense than R2A – R4C is multi-family housing, which also includes group housing, she explained. R2A is single- and two-family dwellings.
The idea, Miller said, was not to replace one zoning district with the other. The idea was that they should be considered together because there are many places, especially in the central area, where the two zoning classifications abutted each other. Higgins concluded that it would not be prudent to look at the zoning classifications separately, given their close geographic proximity, especially in this area.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he could appreciate the view of geographic primacy, but he felt that the designations were sufficiently distinct that they could be teased apart analytically. Sabra Briere acknowledged that it was important to analyze the two districts separately. But she noted that she herself lived in an R2A district, whereas her neighbors lived in R4C. She noted that her street was not unique in that the two districts were interwoven. She concluded the two kinds of district should both be within the purview of the study committee.
Outcome: The resolution to appoint the review committee passed with dissent from both Ward 3 councilmembers, Greden and Taylor.
More and More Planning: Possible Moratorium in R4C
During Mike Anglin’s (Ward 5) communications to council, he announced that he would be bringing forward at the council’s next meeting, on July 20, a resolution to establish a moratorium on all demolitions, rezoning, and all new developments that require site plan approval within the R4C and R2A districts, effective immediately.
Anglin indicated that the city attorney’s office was working on the language of such a resolution. The moratorium, said Anglin, would extend for a period of six months in conjunction with the study and possible revision of zoning ordinances pertaining to those districts. Anglin said that one of the goals was to bring the zoning ordinances in line with the Central Area Plan, which was adopted in 1992.
It was supposed to be ready in draft form by Thursday (July 9). In his report to the planning commission on Tuesday, July 6, Tony Derezinski – the council’s representative to that body – alerted the planning commission to Anglin’s intended resolution, concluding: “I don’t know how much support he’ll get.”
Even More Planning: Preserving First & William as Open Space
Public Commentary on First & William
Margaret Wong: Wong said that although she was affiliated with the Greenway Conservancy and the Friends of The Greenway, she was there to speak as a citizen. She said that she was encouraged by the resolution on the council’s agenda that would establish the First & William parking lot as open space, but noted that it was just the first step. She noted that there were specific concrete actions that need to be completed, which included seeking funds for the remediation, revising the mutually beneficial parking agreement with the DDA, and rezoning the land. She noted, however, that there was a crucial need to classify the parcel as parkland. She encouraged council to expedite all of these concrete steps.
Rita Mitchell: Mitchell said that she’d been working with Margaret Wong on the Greenway for a long time and she welcomed Mayor Hieftje and councilmember Hohnke to the effort. Mitchell echoed Wong’s sentiment that it is a first step. She noted the benefits deriving from turning the parcel into a park: flood risk mediation, and improvement of water quality. She stressed the need to make sure that this parcel becomes the first in a chain and to make sure that it is more than just a green space on a piece of paper.
Council Deliberations on First & William
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began deliberations with a friendly amendment of the resolution he co-sponsored with John Hieftje, which confirmed Margaret Wong’s view – reported previously in The Chronicle’s analysis and expressed during public commentary – that the Park Advisory Commission needed to designate the parcel as parkland in its Parks, Recreation & Open Space (PROS) plan. The amendment directed the commission to add the parcel to its PROS plan.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.
Yep, More Planning: Walgreen Site Plan Approval
Dave Prueter: Prueter, with Agree Realty, appeared at the podium to indicate that he was present and available to answer any questions along with Marc Levy, the owner of the property.
John Lagos: Lagos, who is an adjoining property owner, asked the council to maintain the requirement that an easement be granted to allow ingress and egress. The easement, he said, should be granted prior to the issuance of any permits.
Thomas Partridge: Partridge told the council that any site plan should require the consideration of access for people with disabilities. In particular he cited the need to require access to public transportation riders. He cited the case of the recent eviction of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority from the Arborland shopping plaza as an example illustrating why a necessary requirement of any site plan should include such access.
During deliberations, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) clarified with staff that the easements mentioned by Lagos were in place to be granted in a manner that seemed acceptable to all sides.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.
Fee Adjustments for Historic District Commission
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave the background for the resolution, which included the fact that application fees for a historic district permit had increased from $50 to $500 as a part of the recently passed budget by the city council. Briere noted that the fee increase had not been a part of the budget book circulated to councilmembers. Instead, she said that it had been provided in a packet that had been sent the day before they had voted.
The resolution changed the rules so that all application fees would be $40 until September, and directed city staff to develop a sliding fee schedule. Briere noted that it made little sense to charge a $500 application fee to someone who wanted to install a new door that might cost $100-$150. The fee schedule, Briere said, should not encourage residents to avoid going before the Historic District Commission.
Outcome: Passed unanimously.
Revised Park Advisory Commission Bylaws
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) thanked the city attorney’s office, in particular Kevin McDonald, for assistance in “getting into the weeds” with the review of PAC bylaws. There was a brief discussion about the fact that city council representatives to the Park Advisory Commission were non-voting members. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) noted that a similar situation applied in the case of the housing commission and the cable commission. Anglin said that he was surprised at the last Park Advisory Commission meeting that some members said they did not want councilmembers to have a vote on the commission.
Outcome: Passed unanimously.
Greenbelt Advisory Commission
Laura Rubin, who is chair of the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, gave a presentation outlining progress to date on land protection activity and provided an update on some changes in their strategic plan. Rubin said that 12 deals had been closed that protected 1,321 acres of land. The city itself, she said, had invested around $10 million, which had been matched by almost $9 million – in federal funds, funds from surrounding townships that had also passed a similar greenbelt millage, Washtenaw County, as well as landowner donations.
She reported the fund balance at around $6 million. Each year the millage generates around $1 million, she said. The focus to date on land protection had been in the area north of the city. Rubin, who is also executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, said that no land had yet been acquired on the Huron River itself, but that land on its tributaries had been protected with millage funds.
Rubin said there had been a change in the commission’s approach due to the overall economy. Whereas the commission previously had a real sense of urgency with the need possibly to pay top dollar to protect land, the market has slowed so there’s less need to act quickly.
In terms of general strategy, Rubin reported that the commission was placing a new priority on local food markets. Previously, land parcels greater than 40 acres had enjoyed a higher score on the metric used by the commission to evaluate parcels. Now, however, Rubin said that the commission had lightened its emphasis on matching funds when it came to smaller parcels that could be used for growing local food.
Leigh Greden (Ward 3) confirmed with Rubin that the dollars invested by the city had so far been matched on a roughly 1-1 ratio with other funds. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Rubin to speak to the new strategy of a local food focus, asking if it was related to the scale or if the emphasis was on organic food production.
Rubin clarified that it is the scale of the operation that is at issue. She said the new strategy is intended to provide that parcels of 5-10 acres were also suitable candidates for protection under the greenbelt millage. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked Rubin to clarify how easements are being handled for the smaller parcels. Rubin clarified that some of the easement language is more restrictive for investments that are matched by federal grants.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted to know whether the new emphasis on local food production amounted to a material change in scoring outcomes for parcels. Rubin clarified that there are still many other factors in the scoring metric used to assess suitability of protecting a particular parcel. But she said that the 40-acre threshold used to get quite a bit of weight. Rubin allowed that it amounted to an expansion of eligible properties.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was curious about what Rubin had meant by “going it alone” in the case of protecting some of the smaller parcels. Rubin clarified that it might well be that the city of Ann Arbor could be the only purchaser of development rights for some of the smaller parcels. If a parcel is less than 40 acres, she said, then the federal government cannot be a partner.
Higgins noted that this represented a policy shift, saying that it had always been the intended policy that the city of Ann Arbor would never be the sole purchaser. She stated, “I’ll have a conversation with you off-line.” Higgins explained that she was not sure if there had been a public enough discussion on this shift in policy.
Public Art Commission Annual Report: Dreiseitl
Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, gave an annual report to the Ann Arbor city council during the agenda’s introductions section. Parker said that in the commission’s first year it had designated the new municipal center as the focus for public art projects and had convened a task force to identify such projects in connection with the center’s construction. That work had begun in August of 2008, she said.
In February of 2009 the commission had hired a half-time administrator, Parker reported. She noted that the DDA had set up its own Percent for Art program and that the Fourth & William parking structure addition had generated funds that could be spent on public art. The DDA had designated the Public Art Commission as the body to allocate those funds but had not included any funds for administration, Parker said. She characterized the coordination between the two bodies – the city’s public art commission and the DDA – as “still being determined.”
Parker said that one half-time person would be able to accomplish not more than one major project per year. She announced that on July 20 Herbert Dreiseitl would be visiting Ann Arbor and that from 4-5 p.m. on that day he’d be presenting proposed designs for the storm water art to be installed at the new municipal center. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) inquired of Parker where the commission was currently getting its administrative help.Parker said that 8% of the money generated through the Percent for Art program goes to fund administration. She said that the city attorney’s office had been very helpful with legal concerns and that Sue McCormick, who is director of public services with the city, had also provided support.
Any arrangement with the DDA, Parker said, still needed to be clarified. “The DDA has their own way of doing things,” she concluded.
Airport Runway Expansion
Since the beginning of the year, public commentary at most, if not all, Ann Arbor city council meetings has included remarks on the proposed runway expansion at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.
Kathe Wunderlich: Wunderlich spoke against the proposed runway extension at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. She said that she wanted to correct some errors that had appeared in an Ann Arbor News article about a plane that had landed on the Stonebridge golf course recently. She stressed that the runway would be lengthened by 950 feet and that planes taking off from an airport took off directly over Stonebridge. She warned that the citizens advisory committee appointed in connection with the environmental review was loaded with Ann Arbor citizens and was therefore biased. She told city council that they would be asked to approve the runway extension without a safety study by the city, the state, or the Federal Aviation Administration. She noted that the Willow Run airport is just 6 miles away.
Two concerns leftover from the adoption of the FY 2010 budget were addressed formally: a Senior Center task force was appointed, and a task force to create a self-sustaining financial plan for Mack Pool was created.
Finally, a liquor license for the new Tios location on Liberty Street was approved.
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 20, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]