Ann Arbor City Council Caucus (Dec. 20, 2009): On the night before council’s Monday meeting, it was a quiet caucus, attended by a perfect balance of three councilmembers and three residents. The meeting had more the flavor of a chat in someone’s living room.
But residents still stirred the pot – on the issue of extended hours of parking enforcement as well as development proposals for the Library Lot.
The parking issue is part of a more complex resolution that the council will consider on Monday night, but possibly postpone, based on comments at caucus made by Mayor John Hieftje. A separate, but related item on the agenda calls for the purchase of parking equipment for installation on Wall Street at a cost of $87,000.
Receiving no discussion at the caucus was the second reading of the resolution that would reduce the Percent For Art program to a Half-Percent for Art program for the next three years. The resolution passed on its first reading at the council’s previous meeting.
Also receiving no discussion was the first project to be funded through the city’s public art program – a sculpture by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl proposed for for installation outside the new municipal center currently under construction. Council had been expected to have the approval of the Dreiseitl project on its agenda in November, but that expectation then shifted to the Dec. 7 council meeting. It was further shifted to the meeting on Monday, Dec. 21. And now it appears that the Dreiseitl vote will not be taken until sometime in 2010. [Update: The Dreiseitl project was added to the agenda at just after 11 a.m. Dec. 21, 2009.]
Extended Parking Hours
Bob Snyder, president of the South University Neighborhood Association, appeared at the caucus to convey his opposition to the installation of parking meters in neighborhoods near downtown. That meter installation is connected to a revenue generation plan that was a part of the FY 2010 budget adopted by city council in May 2009. Monday’s agenda item approving purchase of some parking equipment is part of that plan.
At the caucus, Mayor John Hieftje contended that the parking meter installation, which the council had approved and adopted, had caused the council to “scratch our heads” about how much sense it made.
Councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who will not attend the council’s Monday meeting due to travel plans, reminded caucus attendees that the purchase of the parking equipment has been on the agenda at two previous meetings and that the council had postponed its consideration, because Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had indicated she’d be bringing a more comprehensive alternative. Smith has now done that in the form of the Monday resolution, which would provide revenues from the Fifth and William surface parking lot to the city, extend meter enforcement to 10 p.m., and discontinue the city’s plan to install additional meters. [Chronicle coverage: "City-DDA Parking Deal Possible"]
Snyder did not weigh in for extended meter enforcement hours, even though the issue has been framed by the council resolution as trading longer enforcement hours for installation of additional meters – which Snyder opposes. Said Snyder: “There’s nothing better for dessert than a $20 ticket!”
When Hieftje suggested that one obstacle to implementing extended enforcement hours was staff to enforce the meters, Snyder quipped: “I could use a part-time job.”
Hieftje revealed at caucus that the South University Area Association State Street Area Association, a merchant group, had sent an email saying that they were “not opposed” to the extended meter enforcement.
But the mayor also indicated that email communications he’d received in general were overwhelmingly against the extended meter enforcement, and hinted that council would not act Monday on the question.
A question about “bagged meters” and enforcement hours was raised by Nancy and Harvey Kaplan, the other two residents at caucus: Does the reservation of the space afforded to the purchaser of the meter bags extend 24/7 or does it end with meter enforcement? [The orange bags, which are placed over the meter heads and indicate that parkers will be towed, are administered by the Downtown Development Authority. Typical uses include special event street closures, or construction sites where contractors need guaranteed space for unloading materials.]
The Kaplans’ question couldn’t be answered by Hieftje, Briere, or Mike Anglin (Ward 5). [The Chronicle will try to follow up on that as resources allow.]
Library Lot RFP
The majority of the discussion at caucus dwelt on an issue that is not on the council’s Monday agenda: the recent decision of the Library Lot RFP (Request for Proposals) review committee to eliminate two of the six proposals. [Chronicle coverage: "Two Library Lot Proposals Eliminated"]
Nancy Kaplan lamented the fact that the two proposals that called for a majority of the space above the underground parking garage to be open space had been eliminated from further consideration. She called the committee’s intention to now hire a consultant to evaluate further the remaining four proposals “backwards” – the consultant should evaluate all of the proposals, she contended.
Kaplan wondered if Hieftje, as the mayor, could exert some pressure on the committee to consider the open space proposals and “show some leadership.” Hieftje responded by saying that he did not want to tell the committee how to go about its work, but that the council could choose to consider all of the proposals. In this the mayor was repeating a sentiment he’d expressed at the council’s Nov. 15, 2009 caucus. At Sunday’s caucus, he suggested that there were three votes on council in favor of hearing the open space proposals in the room right then – Briere and Anglin did not disagree.
Hieftje’s main concern about a predominantly park use of the space was related to maintenance and security – not just balanced against existing parks, but also against the future parks planned in connection with the greenway. He wondered if the maintenance commitment to a centrally-located park would put off the city’s ability to develop a greenway [along Allen Creek] for another 20 years.
Hieftje expressed his fondness of the idea of an ice-skating rink – included in one of the open space proposals for the lot – and recounted the experience of his youth in Ann Arbor skating on the ad hoc outdoor rinks formed by the city in various parks. But he expressed reservations about the amount of city investment required for the ice-rink proposal, which was made by Dahlmann Apartments Ltd. Dahlmann offered $2.5 million for construction, but did not identify funds for ongoing maintenance.
With respect to the need for maintenance, Briere pointed out that most of the maintenance for New York’s Central Park is paid for by a nonprofit group [Central Park Conservancy]. She suggested that a similar effort – perhaps coordinated through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation – might allay some concerns about future funding for upkeep and maintenance.
Regarding one of the other six proposals – for a conference center – Briere wondered whether the conference center proposal actually reflected a future where travel budgets would be curtailed and “virtual conferences” would be more common. Resident Harvey Kaplan also wondered if the newly acquired Pfizer space by the University of Michigan might be better suited for adaptation to a conference center-type use. Hieftje noted that there was a huge dining facility on the Pfizer property.
Anglin said he’d like to see an analysis of the financial benefit that the open space proposals would bring, something he felt had not been given due attention.