Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Jan. 17, 2010): Conversation among councilmembers and residents on Sunday night yielded some additional historical insight into development plans for the Library Lot above the underground parking garage, which is currently beginning construction.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) revealed that when city administrator Roger Fraser mentioned an unsolicited development proposal at the city council budget retreat in January 2009, he had acted against the advice of members of the council’s budget and labor committee. The committee had become aware of the proposal’s existence prior to the retreat, Rapundalo reported, and when they did, “We said that should be put away on a shelf somewhere. … (but) Roger chose to mention it at the retreat.” Rapundalo also added that while some councilmembers had seen the unsolicited proposal, he had not.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) recalled a phase in the community conversation about the future of the city-owned Library Lot that predated the January 2009 budget retreat. It was a time when the discussion centered on leaving the top of the parking structure as a temporary surface parking lot while its eventual, more permanent fate was considered – still a possibility, based on Sunday’s caucus discussion.
Besides the Library Lot, residents who attended caucus touched on other issues – the city council’s role in city governance, and the capital improvements plan for the year, which is on the council’s Tuesday night meeting agenda. Council is meeting on Tuesday, rather than its usual Monday schedule, because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Remarks by Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) about the history of the discussion surrounding the Library Lot’s future came in the context of a conversation with resident Bob Snyder.
Snyder began by saying he was happy that two previously eliminated proposals had been re-included in the interview process. [Chronicle coverage: "Library Lot Math: 6 – 2 + 2 = 6"] He suggested that the two proposals envisioning the parcel as primarily open space were a “sentimental favorite.” That was due, he said, to the sense that the city needed to have a “heart, a center.”
The University of Michigan Diag, Snyder continued, is not such a center. Even as a three-time graduate of UM, he said, he did not feel that the Diag was the heart of the city for him as a townie. The downtown, he concluded, needs to have something worth coming to.
Snyder contemplated the possibility that none of the six proposals would be accepted.
At that, Briere noted that when the concept for the underground parking garage was initially approved, the plan had been that nothing would be built initially. Instead, it would be a surface parking lot with a plaza and a cut-through street – having a surface parking lot was intended to prevent people from thinking it would be a park. The idea was that Ann Arbor would, she said, “sit on it for a while.” Briere and Rapudalo would later identify late 2007 as the relevant timeframe for that concept.
So the question Briere then put to Snyder was this: If the request for proposals (RFP) review committee were to accept none of the proposals, and the space were made into a surface parking lot until such time as something else could be built, how would people feel? Snyder said that for his part, he’d feel “disappointed.” He suggested that instead of surface parking, the area should be planted in prairie grass so that the space at least felt like it was alive.
Then Rapundalo followed up with Snyder on a suggestion Snyder had made about the proposals being considered based on “softer” criteria. How fair is it, wondered Rapundalo, and how can the committee do its job, if the responses to the RFP did not include the minimum baseline of requested information? [Rapundalo chairs the RFP review committee.]
The two proposals that had been initially eliminated, continued Rapundalo, had not talked at all about costs in their responses – what would the construction, concrete and steel costs for what they were proposing. “How can I stack that up against the other four?” he asked.
Rapundalo said, “Dahlmann, at least, should have been able to crank that out. I don’t know why he didn’t. I guess I will have a chance to ask him on Tuesday!” [Dahlmann Apts Ltd. is one of the two open space proposals now being considered. Interviews for those two proposals are scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 19 starting at 1 p.m. at the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.]
Rapundalo also clarified how the RFP process had worked so far. The first step he characterized as an evaluation of the administrative requirements: Was there text in all of the right places? All six of the proposals that had met the deadline also met the administrative requirements, he said.
The second step, he continued, was to evaluate the text in each of the sections of the proposal. The minimum requirement, he said, was for there to be some cost estimates – which the two open space proposals were completely lacking. After this week’s interviews, Rapundalo concluded, the scoring metric would be applied, including the 10% weighting of the financial return to the city.
In describing the proposal from Valiant Partners – which had been presented to Fraser in advance of the RFP process – Snyder alluded at one point during the caucus conversation to a “presentation” that had been made at last year’s budget retreat by that developer.
Both Briere and Rapundalo clarified that there’d been no presentation, but rather that the city administrator, Roger Fraser, had made councilmembers aware of the unsolicited proposal and offered to show it to them. From The Chronicle’s retreat coverage:
The second idea Fraser asked council to reflect on is one also associated by many community members with [Jesse] Bernstein: the idea of a downtown conference center. Holding a large manila envelope, Fraser said that he had conceptual drawings that had been developed by someone interested in seeing the parcel developed – it would sit on top of the proposed Fifth Avenue underground parking garage. He said he had permission from the proposer to show councilmembers the conceptual drawings. For The Chronicle, Fraser declined to identify the parties who had conveyed the drawings beyond saying that it was a developer in New York who had local ties. He said if the idea received traction on council, then the developer might be inclined to disseminate the drawings more widely.
At Sunday’s caucus, Rapundalo seemed to express some frustration that Fraser had taken that path. Rapundalo served then, as now, on the budget and labor committee, which is now simply the budget committee. And he reported at caucus that when the committee had learned of the unsolicited proposal’s existence, some committee members had told Fraser the proposal should be “put away on a shelf somewhere.” Instead, Rapundalo said, Fraser had introduced the topic at the January 2009 budget retreat.
Following up by email with Rapundalo after the caucus, The Chronicle asked for some additional clarification about his caucus remarks. In responding, Rapundalo put the timeframe of receipt by Fraser of the unsolicited proposal in late 2008 – Fraser then apprised the budget and labor committee of the report’s existence. The budget and labor committee, wrote Rapundalo, indicated that “we did not wish to have the matter come forward as it was going to take the focus away from budget discussions and other matters.”
When Fraser had introduced the topic at the budget retreat, Rapundalo wrote, “We were displeased because it countermanded our express direction to the contrary.”
In his emailed response to The Chronicle, Rapundalo noted that some councilmembers had seen the unsolicited proposal – he cited Sabra Briere and Sandi Smith as specific examples – but he had not. He’d not been offered to look at the proposal, nor did he wish to, he wrote. And that, he added, put him in a position now – as part of the RFP review committee – to help evaluate the proposals objectively based on their merits.
In his caucus comments about the Library Lot proposals, Rapundalo also stressed that he did not see the choice as between some big building and open space – open space had been part of the RFP. Briere concurred, saying that by open space the RFP did not mean “a pocket park in front of somebody’s building.”
Rapundalo also clarified that questions by the public for the proposers during the interview process could be submitted via email in advance [firstname.lastname@example.org] or on 3 x 5 index cards at the interviews. They would try to get through as many of the questions as possible, he said.
All interviews and an open house will be held at the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The interview times for the Library Lot proposals are:
- Tues., Jan. 19: 1 p.m. Dahlmann Apts Ltd.
- Tues., Jan. 19: 2:45 p.m. Ann Arbor Community Commons
- Wed., Jan. 20: 9 a.m. Jarratt Architecture
- Wed., Jan. 20: 10:45 a.m. Acquest Realty Advisors
- Wed., Jan. 20: 12:45 p.m. Valiant Partners LLC
- Wed., Jan. 20: 2:30 p.m. Beztak Companies
- Wed., Jan. 20: 6-8 p.m. Public open house
Briere remarked that the Library Lot RFP process had been much more open than the last one [for 415 W. Washington], which earned a “Thank you!” from Rapundalo. [Link to city website with .pdf files of all six proposals.]
City Administrator and the City Council
Prior to Stephen Rapundalo’s (Ward 2) remarks about the city administrator’s choice at last year’s budget retreat to introduce the topic of the unsolicited proposal, resident Kathy Griswold had addressed the caucus on the topic of city governance.
Griswold contended that the city council was not holding city administrator Roger Fraser accountable. Instead, she said, the council was doing the work of city staff. The council was allowing Fraser to re-direct their conversation.
As an example, she cited the conversation at the last council meeting on the topic of problems with deer-car interactions, which Rapundalo had raised, along with Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). Fraser had compared the 30 incidents per year in Ann Arbor to the 150 incidents per year in a similar-sized community in Minnesota where he’d previously worked – suggesting that he didn’t think there would be a herd-culling program in the offing.
Rapundalo responded to Griswold by saying he’d interpreted the conversation at the council table differently. He said that he and Derezinski had heard from a constituent who was interested in seeing the city hire someone to cull the deer herd, and that Rapundalo thought it unlikely that that would happen in Ann Arbor.
Griswold allowed that in her remarks about the need to hold the city administrator accountable, she was perhaps “preaching to the choir.” [The caucus choir on Sunday was Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).]
Capital Improvements Plan
Resident Ethel Potts addressed the caucus, urging them to actually read through and consider the capital improvements plan (CIP), which is on the council’s Tuesday meeting agenda. She asked them to make sure that they could stand behind all of the line items in the plan.
Potts told councilmembers that the solid waste capital improvements associated with single-stream recycling had been like a “punch in the stomach” for her. She characterized the move to single-stream as a setback, saying that Ann Arbor residents were willing to separate their recycleables and that she’d need to resist her natural inclination to continue to do so.
Asked to clarify the status of items in the CIP, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said that it was a plan or a guide – a set of priorities – but was not authorization for the expenditures listed. That would need to come separately from the council. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) confirmed that the CIP is a wish-list as opposed to authorization.
Briere noted that some items appear in the plan year after year and are not implemented – bridge repair, for example. [Items in the plan are categorized as desireable, important, or urgent.] The total funding specified for all of the “funded” projects for the plan, which covers 2011-2016, is $162 million.