Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Sept. 20, 2009): It’s a caucus worth attending when the editor of The Ann Arbor Observer gives the assembly a personal glimpse into a recent spate of break-ins on the northwest side of the city: burglars of a neighboring property left something interesting behind in his backyard.
But the city council’s Sunday night caucus again found Mayor John Hieftje offering what’s become a customary explanation to the public for the absence of the majority of council members: many of them have family obligations, and it’s not a required meeting of council.
So along with Hieftje, it was only Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 2 Ward 5) who heard brief remarks from residents and the development team on the subject of the Near North affordable housing development on North Main Street. The City Place development team – which is bringing its “matter of right” proposal for housing on South Fifth Avenue back to council – also made themselves available for questions from councilmembers.
Council received an update from Alan Haber, who reported that a group of citizens had met and resolved to respond to the city’s request for proposals for development on top of the underground parking structure to be built along Fifth Avenue.
Finally, the council had no further updates on the communication the city clerk has received from her counterpart with the county, to the effect that revisions to the charter amendment ballot language they approved at their last meeting could not be accommodated – they missed the Aug. 25 deadline.
Near North is an affordable housing project of around 40 units proposed for North Main Street. The nonprofit Avalon Housing and the developer Three Oaks are working on the project together. The project is a planned unit development (PUD), which by definition asks for a rezoning of the property to accommodate the project. As a PUD, it is evaluated by the city council in terms of whether its public benefit is adequate to justify the rezoning that is requested. It therefore differs from the City Place project coming before the council at Monday’s meeting as well – City Place is a “matter of right” proposal, which does not ask for a rezoning of the property.
Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks Group, together with Michael Appel, executive director of Avalon Housing, attended the caucus along with other members of the development team. At Briere’s request, Godfrey gave a brief synopsis of the design changes that had been undertaken. There are nine changes, Godfrey said, including an elimination of the fifth floor and more separation between the two buildings. He described how the collaboration between the design team’s architect, Damian Farrell, and Peter Pollack, a local architect who’d worked with the neighborhood group, had resulted in a design with “more horizontal feel.” The horizontal feel had been achieved, he said, by making the living rooms back-to-back.
There would be a side agreement, Godfrey reported, with the North Central Property Owners Association concerning the retail space designed for the structure.
John Hilton, whose house abuts the proposed development, reported that the neighborhood group, while not happy, was still “accepting of the outcome.”
Two members of the public expressed their continued concerns about the project, however. One cited the removal of the houses and the sacrifice of open space, and another criticized the $250,000 construction cost for each unit.
The City Place project on South Fifth Avenue has a long history. The proposal coming before city council on Monday is a “matter of right” project with 24 total units, each with six bedrooms. There are two buildings, separated by a parking lot. Currently there are seven houses standing on the parcels where the project is proposed. Here’s a timeline of the project:
- Jan. 15, 2008: Conditional rezoning – Ann Arbor Planning Commission recommended denial.
YES: None. NO: Bonnie Bona, Craig Borum, Jean Carlberg, Ron Emaus, Joan Lowenstein, Eric Mahler, Ethel Potts, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal.
- May 20, 2008: PUD (planned unit development) – Planning Commission recommended denial.
YES: Emaus. NO: Bona, Borum, Carlberg, Lowenstein, Mahler, Potts, Westphal. ABSENT: Pratt.
- Sept. 4, 2008: PUD – Ann Arbor Planning Commission recommended denial.
YES: Borum, Lowenstein. NO: Bona, Carlberg, Potts, Pratt, Westphal, Woods.
- Dec. 15, 2009 2008: City Council rejects resolution to establish a Historic District Study Committee for Germantown.
- Jan. 5, 2009: PUD – City Council denied on a unanimous 0-10 vote.
NO: John Hieftje, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin. ABSENT: Sandi Smith.
- April 21, 2009: MOR (matter of right) – Planning Commission recommends approval on 6-3 vote.
YES: Bona, Carlberg, Derezinski, Mahler, Westphal, Woods. NO: Potts, Borum, Pratt.
- June 1, 2009: MOR – City Council postponed it due to inconsistencies in drawings provided on website. [Errors attributed to city staff.]
- June 15, 2009: MOR – City Council sent it back to Planning Commission due to technical errors with drawings provided at the Planning Commission April meeting. [Errors attributed to city staff.]
- July 7, 2009: MOR – Planning Commission recommended denial on 5-1 vote to approve (needed 6).
- July 20, 2009: MOR – City Council postpones until January 2010, to give the developer the opportunity to pursue a revised PUD. A condition was that the developer could bring back the matter of right project with 35-days notice.
- Aug. 9, 2009: City Council establishes a Historic District Study Committee and moratorium on demolition for two-block area, including proposed site of City Place.
- Aug. 17, 2009: City Council revises language of moratorium to include all forms of work, including demolition.
Developer Alex de Parry and attorney Scott Munzel attended caucus and made themselves available to answer questions. Councilmembers Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Leigh Greden (Ward 3), and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) were quoted in a Sept. 18 AnnArbor.com article as professing confusion about why the project was being brought back before them. So Munzel was there to provide any clarification that councilmembers might be seeking.
The resolution passed by the city council on July 20 provided an opportunity for the matter of right project to be brought back before the council with 35-days notification. As the notification letter dated Aug. 20, 2009 from the developer’s legal counsel states, the point of bringing the project back is to exhaust “administrative remedies.”
Councilmembers at caucus did not have any questions for Munzel or de Parry.
Library Lot Request for Proposals
Alan Haber reported that a gathering of residents had determined to offer a proposal in response to the city’s RFP (request for proposals) for development on top of the underground parking garage to be built at what’s known as the Library Lot. Their concept was to retain public ownership of the land as a commons. The citizen-owners of the place would determine the function of the space, he said. Haber reported that the basic concept involved a mixture of art and something park-like, so he anticipated that the public art commission and the park advisory commission would be asked to play a role.
Ballot Proposal Language
The city council passed a resolution at its Aug. 17 meeting that placed a charter amendment on the ballot that would allow it to publish its newly passed ordinances on its own website or any other means the city council determined was adequate – as opposed to current requirements that stipulate publication in a newspaper. Then at its Sept. 8 meeting, council approved a revision to the ballot language. Attached to the city clerk’s report of communications on council’s Monday agenda is a letter from Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum, which states that the ballot language revision could not be accommodated, because it came after the statutory deadline of Aug. 25.
It’s The Chronicle’s understanding that the county clerk’s office may offer the city the possibility of changing the ballot language, if the city accepts the legal responsibility for any litigation that might result.
Sabra Briere reminded caucus attendees of the fact that a neighborhood meeting would be held to discuss a spate of recent break-ins on the west side of the city and to advise residents on ways to “harden their houses.” The meeting will be held Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 5-7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Community Center, 625 N. Main Street.
On the subject of measures one could take not to broadcast to everyone that one was away for an extended period, Peter Pollack pointed out that some things – like stopping one’s mail and suspending a newspaper subscription – were within one’s control. Other things were not: for example, door hangers left by advertisers, and copies of the A2Journal, which are thrown onto people’s lawns on a non-subscription basis.
John Hilton, editor of the Ann Arbor Observer, advised Bill Godfrey that one of Godfrey’s properties near Hilton’s house had been broken into. Hilton had noticed the break-in because the burglar had left behind a guitar in his backyard.
The Email Resolution
Though not specifically addressed at caucus, on the city council’s agenda for Monday will be a resolution sponsored by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asking for publication of past council emails and for communications during future meetings to be made available two weeks after meetings take place.
There’s been considerable back-and-forth discussion about the nature of the language of the resolution. As of Monday morning, it’s The Chronicle’s understanding that Mike Anglin (Ward 5) will propose the following language as a replacement for the resolution that is currently on the agenda:
Resolution to Disclose Council Electronic Communications without Charge to the Public
Whereas, on September 8, 2009, City Council amended its rules to place limitations on electronic communications during Council meetings, and the routine disclosure of such communications in the future will help the public monitor compliance with the amended rules; and
Whereas, over the past several months a large volume of Council electronic communications has been disclosed to the public in response to a variety of Freedom of Information Act requests, and therefore has already been subject to deletions by the staff authorized by that Act; and
Whereas, it is in the public interest to disclose all electronic communications to and/or from Council members during Council meetings for as far back as records of these communications still exist; and
Whereas, many members of the community want to view these electronic communications and rapid disclosure of all the electronic communications will help restore public confidence in City Government; and
Whereas, the disclosure of such communications should be done in an orderly way so as to minimize staff time and costs; and
Whereas, it is more cost-effective that the disclosure of such communications be done systematically, rather than in response to Freedom of Information Act requests that may be made by the public in the future;
RESOLVED, that effective immediately, the City Clerk shall append copies of all electronic communications defined as public records under the Freedom of Information Act sent to and/or from members of Council during a City Council meeting, with deletions authorized by that Act, to the official minutes of that meeting when published on the City’s website.
RESOLVED, that by November 1, 2009, the City shall post on its website copies of all electronic communications to and/or from Council members that have already been disclosed to the public in response to Freedom of Information Act requests made on or after March 27, 2009 to this date.
RESOLVED, that by December 1, 2009, the City shall post on its website copies of all electronic communications to and/or from Council members during Council meetings, with deletions authorized by that Act, from January 1, 2008 to this date that have not already been disclosed as above.
RESOLVED, that by January 1, 2010, the City shall post on its website copies of all electronic communications to and/or from Council members during Council meetings, with deletions authorized by that Act, from January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2007 that have not already been disclosed as above.
RESOLVED, that by the first day of each succeeding month, the same procedure shall be followed for each prior calendar year of such electronic communications until all such communications have been disclosed.
RESOLVED: That City Council directs the City Administrator to provide an explanation of the basis under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act or other statute for the determination that the electronic communication or a portion thereof, is exempt from disclosure, including the statutory provision authorizing the withholding information from the public. If the City Administrator determines that the contents of an electronic communication, in whole or in part, is subject to a disclosure exemption under the Act, the email, including the header information, will be included in the materials disclosed with the exempt portions redacted.