Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Aug. 17, 2009): When Jim Kosteva appears at an Ann Arbor city council meeting, it usually means that there’s a city-university issue before the body – Kosteva is the university’s director of community relations.
Was it the report from city staff on the status of the East Stadium Boulevard Bridge replacement that had brought Kosteva to council’s chambers? There’ll be easements required from the university to complete that $22 million project.
But no, Kosteva was not there to hand over a giant fake check symbolizing a university contribution to reconstruction of the bridges.
However, he was there to affirm the university’s support for a different project – called FITS. University support will come to the tune of $327,733 out of a total project budget of $541,717 – for the site investigation, project definition and development of conceptual plans for the Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station (FITS). The station will be nestled between Fuller Road and East Medical Center Drive, just east of Fuller & Maiden Lane, near the university’s massive medical campus.
In other business, the city council put a charter amendment on the November ballot that would relax current charter requirements regarding publication of ordinances passed by the council. The Chronicle’s coverage of that charter amendment takes the form of a column published earlier this week.
The council also revisited a resolution it had passed at its previous meeting to establish a historic district study committee, along with a moratorium on demolition within the district. That moratorium was expanded Monday night to include all “work.”
And finally, as had been suggested at the council’s Aug. 16 Sunday caucus, councilmembers indicated that they’d be considering rules changes at their Sept. 8 meeting. In connection with that discussion, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) indicated he’d be calling for the city to make available all city council emails dating back to the year 2000.
East Stadium Bridges
Homayoon Pirooz, project management manager with the city of Ann Arbor, gave city councilmembers an update on the status of the bridges over East Stadium Boulevard. [Additional background in previous coverage by The Chronicle on the East Stadium bridges.]
Pirooz began with some background. The 13 bridges in Ann Arbor get biannual inspections and are given a Federal Sufficiency Rating (FSR), which is a 1-100 scale. There are two bridges at State & Stadium – one that spans State Street and one that spans the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks just to the west of State Street. The bridge over the railroad tracks was built in 1928 and is considered functionally obsolete. Its FSR is 61.5.
The bridge over State Street was built in 1917. In addition to being functionally obsolete, it currently has an FSR of 2 out of 100 after holding steady at 21-22 for a number of years. The deterioration, Pirooz said, had been rapid and had dropped to 2 six or seven months ago.
Funding for such bridge reconstruction projects, Pirooz explained, is typically accomplished through a combination of state, federal and local funds. To illustrate how a funding mix can work, Pirooz broke down the Broadway bridges project this way: Out of a total project budget of $31 million, $18 million had come from a combination of state and federal grants, while $13 million had come from Ann Arbor funds.
For the Stadium bridges, the cost of the basic bridge construction project is around $22 million, Pirooz said. The current plan is focused on bridge reconstruction, as contrasted with what had been a more ambitious road construction project explored two years ago, which would have included non-motorized amenities along the Main Street corridor to the west of the Stadium bridges.
In 2006, the city had applied for and been awarded $766,000 from the Michigan Local Bridge Program, but the city allowed the award to expire a year later, because the amount did not go far enough towards funding the project – the alternative to expiration would have been to spend the MLBP money towards bridge reconstruction.
In 2006 the city also paid $1,249,467 to Northwest Consultants Inc. (NCI) for preliminary design engineering for the bigger bridge project that included bridge replacement, a transmission water main, storm sewer, and a South Main non-motorized path.
In September and October of 2007, two public meetings were held on the topic of the larger-scope project, and there was considerable resistance from members of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club to the installation of the non-motorized path along the club’s property – it was not clear that there was room to install the paths without jeopardizing a row of trees, among other concerns. Asked to comment later in the meeting by Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Sue McCormick, the city’s director of public services, explained that no consensus had been reached as a result of those public engagement meetings.
Then in early 2009, increased degradation was observed in the fifth beam (counting from the south) of the 15 box beams that support the East Stadium bridge over State Street. Up to that point, the degraded state of the bridge had been addressed by a series of weight limit reductions. However, in early 2009, traffic was reduced to two lanes, in order to lead vehicles over the north lanes of the bridge, away from the fifth beam. The city also prepared an emergency traffic control plan as a contingency if the bridge needed to be closed. [At an early February Sunday night city council caucus meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had expressed frustration that no plan for traffic rerouting had been developed at that point.]
In March 2009, the scope of the project was reduced to just the bridge reconstruction, with a directive to NCI to expedite the design. That design process is nearly complete.
Key dates on the project schedule shown by Pirooz include:
- August 2009 – complete design
- September-November 2009 – public involvement on design
- September 2009-October 2010 – complete construction plans, acquire easements, put out bids, relocate DTE energy lines, preconstruction
- November 2010 – start construction
- July 2012 – finish construction
The $22 million cost has nearly $3 million of contingencies built in, as well as a total as $2.2 million for design.
Pirooz highlighted the fact that the construction costs for the bridges themselves – at $1.9 million for the State Street bridge and $2.7 million for the railroad bridge – were only slightly more than the $4 million that would need to be spent on retaining walls alone.
Funding Prospects Now
At the state level, the Michigan Local Bridge Program – which had in 2006 granted $766,000 for the project, and which the city allowed to expire – has $8 million to distribute across the state. There are eight different projects that already have their applications in.
On the federal level, there are two possibilities. One is the 2009 Federal Highway Re-authorization bill. Out of that money, it’s possible to gain earmarked funds, and according to Pirooz, there is support among Michigan’s U.S. House and Senate delegations – specifically from Congressman John Dingell – for earmarking funds for Ann Arbor’s bridge project. A second federal opportunity comes from the 2009 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. TIGER is funded with $1.5 billion for projects across the country. There’s a Sept. 15, 2009 deadline for application on the TIGER grant.
Assessing probabilities of getting funding from each of these three sources, Pirooz said that the TIGER grant offered only a small chance, because of the intense nationwide competition. The upside on TIGER, however, is that if that grant came through, it would pay for the whole project.
Pirooz said that he thought chances were good that Ann Arbor could receive something along the lines of the same $766,000 it had previously been awarded by the Michigan Local Bridge Program, but pointed out that “our bridge is not the only bad bridge in the state.” He also thought chances were good that Ann Arbor could receive some earmarked money through the Federal Highway Re-authorization bill – the question was when that money might be available.
The best case scenario, according to Pirooz, is that there’ll be $22 million in state and federal grants with $2 million in design work paid for out of the street reconstruction millage funds – Ann Arbor has a dedicated street repair millage. That would have no negative impact of the street reconstruction program, Pirooz said.
The worst case scenario would see no state or federal money at all. In that case, $22 million would be taken from the street millage. The negative impact would be felt in two ways, said Pirooz. From 2010 through 2012, 29 street resurfacing or reconstruction projects would be eliminated. It would also mean an additional $3.5 million loss in revenue due to the inability to provide local matches for various surface transportation grants. As for when the city would have enough money to get back to repairing its streets after paying for the bridge on the worst case scenario, Pirooz said that those projects could resume in 2013 – if the street millage is renewed in 2011.
Pirooz guessed the funding picture would fall “somewhere in the middle” between the best- and worst-case scenarios.
Comments on Bridges from Councilmembers
Both Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) had praise for staff’s work on the issue – the bridge is located in their ward.
Assuring the public that the bridge was currently safe for travel, Teall said, “I will continue to use the Stadium bridges a lot.”
Teall got confirmation that there’d been communication with the University of Michigan and that they’re on the same page with respect to the bridge design. An easement will be required from UM.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked Pirooz to speak to the at-grade or “no-bridge” option that has some advocates in the community. The idea would be to eliminate the bridges and create a State & Stadium intersection, along with an at-grade rail crossing. Pirooz said there were three main reasons why that option was not feasible. First, Ann Arbor Railroad must give permission for an at-grade crossing of the railroad tracks – but Ann Arbor Railroad is against such a crossing. Second, in the city’s opinion the impact on the overall traffic and signaling system within a half-mile of the crossing would be negative – around 20,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. Finally, he said, safety was an issue – there’s not a high number of train-car crashes, but when they happen, they’re usually deadly.
Adding to Pirooz’s remarks, Michael Nearing – an engineer with the city – said that a no-bridge option is also complex and not cheap. “It’s more than just tearing down a bridge,” Nearing cautioned. He guessed it would be around a $10 million project, but had not run the numbers.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked why communication was not better with the railroad. Mayor John Hieftje said that when there’d been communication with them – in connection with the north-south commuter rail and the greenway – they seemed “cautious and wary.” McCormick said that the city did communicate with the railroad, but that they had categorically rejected the idea of an at-grade crossing.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) described a possible plan by the state legislature to change the way the gas tax was calculated to come up with additional money. [Currently, Michigan's gas tax is a per gallon rate, so revenues from it do not increase as gas prices increase. In fact, revenue tends to decrease as gas prices increase, if motorists drive less to save fuel costs. The proposal would tie the tax to the wholesale cost of gasoline.] Pirooz said that any additional funding would be helpful.
Higgins suggested constituents contact Congressman Dingell to encourage his support. Hieftje said that based on conversations he’d had with the congressman, Dingell was doing everything he could.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked for a clarification on what “somewhere in the middle” meant as far as funding scenarios. Based on the 42% of the Broadway bridges project that came from local funds, here’s how that math would work for the Stadium bridges project: .42 x $22 million = $9.2 million from local funds.
Anglin probably expressed the thoughts of many in the community on the funding prospects for the project when he said, “I hope the stars align.”
FITS (Fuller Intermodal Transit Station)
Before council began deliberations, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) acknowledged that the item considering an initial design and study phase for an intermodal transit station just south of Fuller Road and just north of East Medical Center Drive had been a last-minute addition to the agenda. He asked Sue McCormick, director of public services for the city, to give the council an overview. [A preliminary sketch of the station's concept was presented at a neighborhood meeting held in January 2009 at the Northside Grill.]
McCormick described the collaboration between the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan over the last several months to partner on a multimodal transportation facility on Fuller Road. She put the transportation station in the context of an expected demonstration service for east-west rail to start in October of 2010. The parcel, at the foot of the university hospital, is currently used for parking, she said. The location was within the corridor of analysis for the north-south connector study, McCormick explained.
[The north-south connector study for the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors got approval from the AATA as the final partner at the AATA's July board meeting. The other three partners are the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and the University of Michigan. Both the north-south connector and FITS were discussed at the July 16, 2009 UM Board of Regents meeting, in the context of the university's overall transportation plan.]
The reason for the late notice of the agenda addition, said McCormick, was that only that afternoon had the city received a written commitment from the university to shoulder 75% of the cost of the project’s preliminary phase. The city’s 25% share would go towards the environmental impact assessment, which would position the project to eventually apply for federal funding.
Invited to comment, Jim Kosteva, UM’s director of community relations, affirmed that “We’re pleased to be engaged.”
Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, described how the intermodal station would have various platforms on different levels to accommodate buses and rail-based transportation of different types, including high-speed trains – those capable of traveling faster than 100 mph.
The location, said Cooper, was within walking distance of 10,000 to 15,000 workers. Employees of the hospital could walk off their train right into the University of Michigan medical campus. Cooper cautioned that he was not suggesting that all of those workers would necessarily use the station.
Cooper also pointed out that the station is located where the Border-to-Border Trail emerges from the west.
Council Deliberations on FITS
Mayor John Hieftje, in expressing his support for the project, said that he had been involved since day one in making it happen.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked how the public would be engaged. Sue McCormick advised that during the initial phase, for which the council was approving funding that night, work would focus on site assessment, inventory and surveying, as well as program definition and concept planning. They’d been looking for a footprint that would fit onto the site, she said.
The conceptual plans would be ready sometime in an October time frame, added Eli Cooper. The environmental analysis would require about a year, and that process stipulates that public input is required, Cooper said. With respect to the environmental assessment, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked what level of assessment would be performed. Cooper said it would be a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) category 4(F) determination. The findings could be either that there would be no significant impact or that there would be a significant impact. In the latter case, mitigation could be required. Higgins asked if the city’s environmental coordinator, Matt Naud, would be involved, and McCormick confirmed that he would be briefed.
Smith asked that the staff think broadly about the station’s design, given that it might be the first vision of Ann Arbor people see as they arrive in the city. Comparing the current Amtrak station and the old train station that currently houses the Gandy Dancer restaurant, Smith suggested that the new station should be “a significant building.”
From UM’s Jim Kosteva, Smith wanted to know how the FITS project affected the university’s plans to construct parking structures on Wall Street. Kosteva said that the university was “pausing” those plans, which had been explained by Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, at a regents meeting earlier this summer. Kosteva cautioned that the Motts Children’s Hospital expansion would require more parking, and that the Wall Street site was being prepared for surface parking. It was the plans to build structures, Kosteva said, that had been paused.
Smith offered the suggestion that the word “road” be included in the acronym (Fuller Road Intermodal Transit Station) to make it somewhat more appealing: FRITS.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he was excited to see the project moving forward and applauded UM for their participation. He noted that the city’s contribution was to come partly from the street fund operating budget and he wanted to know what the impact on that would be. McCormick reported that the major streets fund balance was around $5 million and the roughly $50,000 to be appropriated from that fund would come from what was considered to be winter contingencies.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) sought clarification on when construction would start. Citing an in-service date of June 2012, Cooper said construction would begin in 2011.
Cooper allowed that Briere’s description of the time frame as “a short window” was a fair assessment. She concluded that “we’ll need a lot of publicity” and commended Cooper and the staff for “being brave enough to take this on.”
Outcome: The funds to begin the initial study phase and site assessment for FITS passed unanimously.
Historic District Study Committee
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) brought back a resolution for reconsideration – which the council had passed at its Aug. 6 meeting – that established a historic district study committee for a two-block area along Fifth Avenue south of William Street. Along with the study committee, the resolution had established a moratorium on demolition in the area. The resolution had been brought forward by Higgins and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) as a late addition to the agenda on the day of the meeting. This resolution to reconsider was also placed on the Aug. 17 agenda on the same day as the council meeting.
The resolution was brought back to be amended to expand the range of activities to which the moratorium applies. In relevant part, with additions in blue, the resolution reads:
RESOLVED, That the City Council declares an emergency moratorium on all construction, addition, alteration, repair, moving, excavation or demolition in the proposed South Fourth and Fifth Avenue Historic District, consistent with Chapter 103 Section 8:411 of Ann Arbor City Code for six months from August 6, 2009.
The reason for the revision was to make the language expressing the moratorium mirror exactly what is allowed by the Michigan Local Historic Districts Act, which gives the city council the authority to establish a moratorium on all “work.” And “work” is defined as “construction, addition, alteration, repair, moving, excavation or demolition.”
In deliberations, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said that the need to bring back the resolution to correct the language underscored what he’d said at the last council meeting about the importance of process. He’d asked for a postponement of 12 days – the time between the last council meeting and this one – and he hadn’t been granted it. “Nonetheless,” he said, “we decided to ram it through.” In the future, Derezinski said that consideration of resolutions on such short notice should be a rare occurrence.
Higgins, for her part, emphasized that the resolution had been prepared by planning staff and the attorney’s office and that accounted for its late addition to the agenda.
Outcome: The resolution passed with dissent from Smith and Derezinski, who had both voted against the resolution at the previous council meeting as well.
A2D2 and AHP
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) gave an update on the A2D2 rezoning project – the design guidelines had been given a new format, which would be shared sometime the first week of September. The issue could be coming before the city council at its second meeting in September or perhaps in October.
Higgins also updated other councilmembers on the Area Height and Placement project. She said that altogether over 100 people had attended the five meetings held in the different wards of the city. She reported that the AHP committee had decided there would be two additional community-wide meetings scheduled – one in small-group format and another in large-group format.
Council Rules and Open Meetings
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) introduced the topic of transparency, although he said that he had withdrawn a resolution that he’d intended to bring forward that evening. Instead, he said he’ll be bringing it forward at the council’s Sept. 8 meeting. As a preview, he read aloud some of its text. It calls for all emails sent at city council meetings from the year 2000 to the present to be made available to the city. It also calls for emails sent during council meetings to be attached to the minutes of meetings going forward. Anglin acknowledged that what he was suggesting would cost some money. But he asked, “What is the cost of a good democracy?”
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he appreciated the intent of Anglin’s resolution and wanted to get the city attorney’s input on it. He was interested in knowing what the cost of the proposal would be, in particular with respect to the retroactive proposal. “I’d hate to see the city put at fiscal risk,” he said. He also raised the question of scope: Would the proposal include emails sent from any private email accounts? Rapundalo said he’d have no objection to that, as he had nothing to hide.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) informed her colleagues that the rules committee had been working on various changes and that Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was putting the finishing touches on them. They would be available for perusal within the next couple of days, she said, and would come before council at its Sept. 8 meeting. Some of the issues that Anglin had raised, she said, would be addressed in the rules changes. Two readings at council would be required, she advised, because the changes could be substantive in nature.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the city council voted to go into closed session as required by the Open Meetings Act. They conducted the closed session in the usual location – the workroom adjoining council chambers. The workroom has two doors, one leading to council chambers and the other leading the outer hallway. At the conclusion of the closed session, the council is required to go back into open session to adjourn the council’s meeting.
What The Chronicle observed was that Mayor John Hieftje opened the door to the workroom, and – while standing in the doorframe with any councilmembers still in the workroom not visible to the public in council chambers – chaired the portion of the meeting that was meant to take the councilmembers out of closed session, through the motion to adjourn and the vote on adjournment.
When city attorney Stephen Postema emerged from the workroom and was asked by The Chronicle to account for how the council’s adjournment conformed with the Open Meetings Act, Postema seemed content that it was satisfied because the door to the workroom had been open.
Temporary Liquor Licenses
The council considered two temporary liquor licenses, one for the Kerrytown District for the Nash Bash Country Music Festival (Aug. 20, 2009), and a second one for the HomeGrown Festival (Sept. 12, 2009). Sandi Smith (Ward 1) offered the clarification that the HomeGrown Festival’s license was connected to a mayoral proclamation at the start of the meeting that recognized September as local food month.
Outcome: The liquor licenses were passed unanimously.
Rezoning to Parkland
The city has undertaken a systematic review of all parcels citywide that are used as parks and is formally designating their zoning as parkland. As city staff make their way through the process, periodically a raft of different parcels are brought before the city council to be rezoned all in one go.
Audience Member: Identifying himself as a longtime Ann Arbor resident, he said that he objected to tearing down nature areas for the sake of development and thus opposed the measure.
Thomas Partridge: Partridge suggested that a requirement of access to public transportation be a requirement in order to cement the status of the parcels as parkland. He also suggested a requirement that affordable housing be built adjacent to the land if not on the land.
Mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Leigh Greden (Ward 3) all commented at various points to clarify that the parcels were being rezoned to parkland. “To be very clear,” said Greden, “they’re being rezoned to parkland.” This was the exact opposite of development, Greden said.
Outcome: The parcels were unanimously rezoned to parkland.
Karen Sidney: Sidney criticized the city’s plan to rectify its budget situation by raising taxes and cutting fire and police staff. The focus, she said, needed to be on employee benefits like retirement and health care. She suggested bringing city benefits more in line with those of the University of Michigan. The cost of city benefits, she said, were currently around $25 million and would grow to $41.5 million in five years. She suggested a charter amendment needed to be placed before voters to change the membership of the retirement plan boards so that they would no longer be controlled by employees – a recommendation made by a 2005 blue ribbon committee that studied the issue. [Chapter 17 of the city's charter deals with the retirement system.]
Sightlines and Vegetation
Kathy Griswold: Griswold asked councilmembers for some specific revisions to Chapter 40 of the city code: “Trees and Other Vegetation.” She cited recommendations in “Roadway Safety and Tort Liability” from the Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company that stressed the need for adequate sightlines. She also warned councilmembers that once the city has been notified of a sightline issue, liability is attached. She said that she’d looked at the three cities that had achieved a Platinum designation from the League of American Bicyclists – Davis, Boulder, and Portland – and all had ordinances with well-defined regulations on sightlines. Among her specific recommendations for Ann Arbor: consolidate all ordinances related to sightlines, streamline the user-interface on the web for notifying the city of a complaint, launch an educational campaign and allow property owners to do trimming of lower branches of trees in the public right of way.
Musical Interlude on Bridges and Parking Garage
Libby Hunter: Hunter led off public commentary with a lyric sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Selected verses included: “Glory, glory, Hallelujah, Mayor Highrise wants to sock it to ya … He’s pouring $50 million down a big hole in the ground, while our bridge is falling down.” Her speaking turn is documented – in its full glory – here: link to YouTube.
Thomas Partridge: Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw County Democrat, who’d run for office in the last three years – to represent District 3 of Washtenaw County as a county commissioner, and to represent District 18 in the state Senate. He was there as a “uniter,” he said. He asked councilmembers to turn their backs on divisive voices that called on them to build walls between people. Instead, he said, they should back efforts to end discrimination in the area of housing, transportation, health care, and education. This, he said, goes to the core of who we are as Americans.
Mozhgan Savabiesfahani: Savabiesfahani segued into her remarks by saying that Partridge had asked a great question: “Who are we?” We are a country, she said, that currently occupies two other countries: Iraq and Afghanistan. We also occupy Palestine, she continued. What the U.S. is good at, she said, was developing new weapons and selling them to other people so that that they can kill each other. The U.S. is not well-liked in other places, but not on account of our democracy – that, she said was a blessing. “I can speak my mind without fear of being shot,” she said. She told the city council that she was there again to talk about boycotting Israel – which she said had destroyed Lebanon and continued to “choke Gaza.” She asked for a city-wide discussion of the issue of a boycott against Israel.
Blaine Coleman: Coleman began by describing the sign he was holding, which depicted an Israeli soldier pointing a gun at children. He continued by criticizing the $300 billion of U.S. aid to Israel as supporting the killing of Palestinians and Lebanese. He told the city council that they had the ability to consider a resolution, hold a public hearing, and vote on a measure that would enact a boycott of Israeli goods. He characterized both the U.S. and Israel as built on robbing people of color, saying that black America has been robbed for centuries. The $300 billion of aid that has been spent historically on aid to Israel, he said, should be spent to rebuild Detroit and other inner cities.
Henry Herskovitz: Herskovitz laid out what he described as the meticulous planning that went into Plan Dalet, documented in “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Ilan Pappe. Herskovitz presented the analysis in Pappe’s book, which he said counters the received notion that it was a way to shore up a fledgling Jewish state from attack in 1947-48. He described how detailed files were prepared on each of around 1,200 villages in Palestine, which included topographical information, sources of revenue, and a list of men aged 16-50. These lists, he said, were used for search-and-arrest operations and resulted in the systematic expulsion of non-Jews from Palestine
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Leigh Greden, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje.
Absent: Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Next council meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]