Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 1, 2010) Part II: In the first part of our report from Monday’s meeting, we covered the transportation and budget topics. This second part reports on land issues and other miscellaneous topics addressed at the meeting.
In its main land use business, the council approved a resolution to start a process for redeveloping the city-owned 415 W. Washington parcel. The resolution calls for the arts and greenway communities to lead fundraising and development of a vision for the parcel’s use. The site, across from the YMCA, is currently providing revenue to the city as a surface parking lot. It was previously the city’s maintenance yard.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) convinced her colleagues to add language that would make any future use of the parcel cost-neutral with respect to the general fund. But a bid by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to add a “citizens committee” to the mix was rejected.
And while council approved several deals under the city’s greenbelt program, it postponed consideration of another – in the area of the Bluffs park and the Black Elks lodge on Sunset. The postponement was prompted by concern from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) that the property’s appraised value seemed too high.
The council also extended an emergency moratorium on demolition and other work in a historic district study area south of William along Fourth and Fifth avenues, and adjusted permissible on-street parking locations along Baldwin Avenue in the Burns Park neighborhood.
415 W. Washington Resolution
Several people spoke on the topic of the council’s resolution on 415 W. Washington during public commentary, before the council deliberated. The resolution called for creating a community process to develop a vision for the parcel, to be led by the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy and the Arts Alliance.
Public Comment on 415 W. Washington
Margaret Wong: Wong spoke on behalf of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy board. She said that the creation of a greenway park and art center on the 415 W. Washington parcel would result in a “true public benefit.” She said the conservancy would step up as a young nonprofit and participate in the process that the council’s resolution would create. She stressed that the process should be open to all and not just some. She also suggested that the goal of the process should not just be a report by 2011, but rather the goal should be to have artists actually installed there, working and performing in the space by March of 2011. In a year’s time, she suggested, the community have something real to show off.
Ray Fullerton: Fullerton spoke as a board member of the Greenway Conservancy and agreed with Wong that they needed to speed up the time frame. They had already spent five years on this, he said. He gave an example of Seoul, Korea where they had ripped up expressways and created a greenway in the city, which now enjoyed 40,000 visitors a day. He suggested that the next site they should look at was 721 N. Main, another city-owned maintenance facility.
Tamara Real: Real spoke as president of the Arts Alliance and supported the resolution on the 415 W. Washington parcel. She stated that there is a great need for a facility like that. Based on a survey that had been conducted after the Tech Center was demolished [on the site of what is now the Ann Arbor YMCA], it was found that 50,000 square feet of artist space was needed. Based on a 2008 study, she said, there are at least 1,000 artists in Ann Arbor. But she cautioned that Ann Arbor is losing its cultural vitality, as younger artists are moving away. She pointed to the Ann Arbor Comic Opera Guild, which performs in Canton because there is no suitable performance facility for them here. In contrast to Wong and Fullerton, Real thinks the time frame of producing a report in a year is realistic.
Lou Glorie: Glorie said it is important to make Ann Arbor more welcoming to artists. She pointed to a lack of space for artists and asked that the 415 W. Washington space be considered for studios. She also alluded to the possibility of a sculpture park. However, she advised the council that the resolution could be tightened up a bit, suggesting it should say that the process would be open to the whole community. She described how such a process usually worked, where perhaps 40 people would show up initially, and then it would melt down to a much smaller number. She suggested that some teeth be put in the resolution beyond some vague wishes to find money, and that the Downtown Development Authority be asked explicitly to invest in the process.
Connie Cronenwett: Cronenwett spoke on behalf of the Ann Arbor Women Artists, which has 230 members and has existed since 1951, she said. She emphasized the lack of primary exhibit space for artists. Her group puts on three juried shows per year, she told the council, using venues like the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, the Mallets Creek Branch of the AADL, the University Michigan hospital, and the UM Power Center. But none of those venues were primary exhibit spaces, she said. With respect to the 415 W. Washington building – which the resolution calls for possibly rehabilitating – she said she did not want to wait 10-15 years. If the rehabilitation of the building is not possible, or if it was too costly, she said they needed to think about achieving primary exhibit space now, and suggested looking at the city-owned Library Lot site for that purpose.
John D’Addona: Speaking at the end of the meeting during unreserved public commentary time, he expressed concern that adequate attention hadn’t been paid to the environmental problems at the 415 W. Washington parcel. He noted that there were three large underground storage tanks, on which proper due diligence would need to be done. He reminded the council not to forget about those problems: “You might decide what you want to do, and find you can’t do what you want.”
Council Deliberations on 415 W. Washington
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) led off council deliberations on the 415 W. Washington resolution by describing Allen Creek as one of the most significant topographical features of the city – but one that was largely hidden. He described the resolution as another step forward in the creation of a greenway along the creek’s path.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) said that she looked at the resolution from the point view of the art component. She reported that her daughter had previously rehearsed with the Young People’s Theater at the old Tech Center. When the Tech Center had been demolished and replaced with the new YMCA building, the Young People’s Theater had needed to move out to the townships to rehearse.
In his comments, mayor John Hieftje cited the greenway task force report from 2007 that had made three different recommendations for the site. He described the RFP (request for proposals) process that had followed from the greenway task force’s report as “long forgotten now, I believe.”
Based on the council deliberations at the Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 caucus and during council’s Monday night meeting, it’s probably fair to characterize the substance of the RFP committee’s work as “forgotten.” But the committee concluded its work just about one year ago. In fact, local developer Peter Allen gave the council a presentation at their Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009 caucus on his group’s proposal in response to the city’s request.
The greenway task force’s report included the following alternative recommendations for 415 W. Washington: (a) open space and a community art park, (b) a community building and, (c) new housing and additional open space. The (b) alternative mentioned the arts community specifically, but was not limited to that nonprofit sector. From the report:
Another rationale for maintaining the current structure has been provided by a variety of artists, artist organizations and other non-proﬁt entities such as Kiwanis, many of which have expressed a desire to maintain the building for use by their respective organizations.
The city’s subsequent RFP included a range of site objectives, but did not specify any one of the three recommended greenway task force alternatives for the site. The RFP site objectives, in excerpted form, are these:
- Beneficial use of the site. … Preference will be given to proposals that incorporate a use (or uses) that provides a publicly available service to the community, for instance, building space that may be used for public meetings and civic or cultural events. Additional consideration will be given for the development of dwelling units affordable to downtown workers earning between 60% and 80% of Area Median Income (AMI), as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Public greenway linkage. The floodway portion of the site should be reserved in some manner as open space for the Allen Creek Greenway. … The proposal should include provisions for long- term maintenance of the public elements by the applicant.
- Flood risk mitigation. A successful proposal will employ the best management practices identified in the City of Ann Arbor Flood Mitigation Plan. …
- Environmental benefits. The development proposal should incorporate to the greatest extent possible environmentally sensitive design and energy efficiency features that follow Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Preference will be given to proposals that reuse or rehabilitate existing structures, consistent with historic district standards. …
- Historic preservation. The project design must respect the historic character of the surrounding neighborhood and comply with the Old West Side historic district regulations. …
- Financial return. The proposal must provide a positive financial return to the City. …
The three proposals received by the city, in severely abbreviated form, were as follows:
After meeting seven times from May to December 2008 to review and evaluate the proposals, the RFP committee offered praise for all three proposals but did not designate any one of the three a recommended choice. From the committee report:
Notwithstanding these positive elements, the Committee finds that no single proposal is able to satisfy all of the site objectives and requirements of the RFP on its own merits. This evaluation is described in the findings below, followed by recommendations for the next steps in the site redevelopment process.
The RFP committee then kicked the process back to council by asking council to refine the RFP and allow opportunity until mid-March 2009 for revision to the proposals:
City council should further clarify its vision for the intended uses of the site and revise the site objectives in the RFP accordingly. The Committee recommends that city council include the following elements in its vision for the site:
- A publicly-owned greenway along the existing floodway
- Renovation of the 415 W. Washington office building for an arts and/or civic use.
- Removal of the garages behind the office building.
- Construction of a new multi-family or live-work residential building at the southwest corner of the site
- Pedestrian and vehicle connections to both Liberty and Washington streets
City council should provide each of the three proposers an opportunity to amend their proposal to respond to the revised site objectives and to provide for collaboration between the parties. The charge of the advisory committee should be extended to review the amended proposals and make its recommendation to city council by March 16, 2009.
Membership on the RFP review committee was as follows: Christine Brummer (Old West Side Association), Chris Easthope (then city council member), Sue McCormick (director of public services with the city of Ann Arbor), John Mouat (Downtown Development Authority board member), and Scott Rosencrans (city’s park advisory commission).
The city council’s current path for moving forward on the 415 W. Washington proposal could fairly be described as taking the concept from the Ann Arbor Art Center’s proposal in response to the RFP and starting a community-based process to explore its realization.
Not a part of the current discussion seems to be the possibility of residential uses on the site, which a year ago were pointed to as providing “eyes on the park” 24-7 to help address concerns about security.
Also not included in the current discussion seems to be the idea of a transit station use, which would theoretically serve the proposed WALLY north-south commuter rail. The future of WALLY seems somewhat bleak – although at the council’s Monday meeting councilmembers heard from SEMCOG (the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) that six railroad cars were being refurbished for WALLY.
More Council Deliberations on 415 W. Washington
Mayor John Hieftje then read aloud for a few minutes from the greenway task force report, and said that they needed to respect the work of the task force, which had lasted for over a year. He said that the city had tried to take action but there wasn’t a good result. They had tried for the third option for the site recommended by the greenway task force, he contended, but that hadn’t worked out. He said he felt it was worth it now, though, to take a shot with this resolution to develop the second option [alternative B], a process he described as “a beginning point.”
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) expressed thanks to the 415 W. Washington RFP committee, which she said had spent a great deal of time and worked very hard, although nothing had come to fruition. She said that the failure of any proposal to move forward was perhaps a mark of the times or a mark of a flawed RFP process, but certainly not a reflection on committee members.
Briere noted that the 415 W. Washington building is protected as part of the Old West Side historic district. She said that in discussion with both her artist friends and other friends who are involved in the greenway effort, they felt like the resolution provided some needed momentum. “It’s a win for us,” Briere said. She allowed that there was not a commitment of money in the resolution, but said that now was not the time for that.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who was a member of the greenway task force, recalled how there were many challenges and problems involved with crossing streets and how the route of the greenway is very difficult to lay on top of the fabric of the Old West Side – still, she understood the vision. That vision, she said, is still 30-50 years off. [Other members of the greenway task force were: Linda Berauer, Jean Carlberg, James D’Amour, Larissa Larsen, Barbara Murphy, Peter Osler, Peter Pollack and Margaret Wong.]
Smith compared the parks to be established along the route of the greenway to pearls on a string, and suggested that this was one of the first pearls. Smith noted a bit of irony in the fact that one of the strategies the city is at least putting on the table to contend with the current budget difficulties is the sale of parkland. Sale of the land would reduce maintenance costs in the parks system.
So it was a natural question to ask whether now was the time to add an additional park facility, Smith said. Still, she said, she supported the resolution and wanted to add a “resolved” clause stating that in any eventual proposal there would be a goal that it be revenue neutral for the city’s general fund. Smith’s amendment was accepted by her colleagues on the council.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) drew out the fact that currently the parcel is a parking lot and is generating revenue to the general fund.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) then made a bid to amend the resolution in a way that was substantial enough that his council colleagues described it as a “substitute resolution” rather than an amendment. Anglin’s proposal for a different resolution was driven by concerns about inclusiveness, and he expressed concern that some in the community did not share the vision and that those individuals needed to be included as well. Anglin’s resolution called specifically for the creation of a “citizens committee” and asked for $50,000 of support from the DDA.
Hieftje was the first to respond to Anglin’s proposal by saying that he objected to the fact that Anglin would eliminate the explicit mention of the Arts Alliance and the Greenway Conservancy in the resolution. He also worried that a citizens committee – that allowed any resident of Ann Arbor who wanted to participate to be on the committee – could wind up with 100 people. Such a large group was not consistent with the kind of shortened time frame that some of the public speakers called for, he said.
Kunselman said he appreciated Anglin’s passion for citizen involvement and wanted to try to retain something of Anglin’s resolution in whatever they passed. But Kunselman expressed no enthusiasm for trying to wordsmith at the table on this question.
Briere addressed Anglin’s concern for citizen involvement by saying that his idea of the citizens committee reflected the idea that citizens should play an integral role – and that role was played by the citizen involvement in the two organizations that the resolution named. Smith said her basic concern was that community partners like the Arts Alliance and Greenway Conservancy be identified, so the process could start at that level.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) described the request for money from the DDA as “far premature.” Spending money, he said, was not the first step. The first step was to involve a process, determine how much money was needed, and then talk about where to go get the money. A totally unstructured citizens committee did not appeal at all Rapundalo.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) affirmed his support of the idea that the collective wisdom of citizens should always be harnessed if possible. But he echoed sentiments made earlier by Briere in saying that the organizations identified in the resolution are themselves made up of citizens.
Outcome: The vote on Anglin’s amendment got no votes except from Anglin. The resolution itself was unanimously approved.
Land Acquisition: Greenbelt
Also on the council’s Feb. 1 agenda were approvals of several greenbelt related items: (i) a participation agreement for purchase of development rights on Zeeb Farm, (ii) a grant application for purchase of development rights on the G. Whitney Property, and (iii) a grant application for the purchase of development rights on the Honke Family LLC Property. These were approved with little discussion.
Another greenbelt item was postponed, however. The postponed item was the purchase of 0.58 acres of land at 220 Sunset St. for $381,170. The property is currently owned by James L. Crawford Lodge No. 322 of Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOEW) – the Black Elks.
In the summer of 2007, the city council had rejected a development proposal by the Black Elks that would have put housing on the site, and that called for construction of a new lodge. From a June 19, 2007 Ann Arbor News article by Tom Gantert:
The Avery House/Elks Lodge development was a 37-unit condo building that would stand 53 feet, 7 inches high in a neighborhood of mostly one- and two-story homes. The developer was to demolish the old, deteriorating Elks lodge off Sunset Road and replace it with a new one, key to the Elks staying on the site.
But the council was swayed by dozens of concerned residents who said the project would ruin their neighborhood.
Mayor John Hieftje said when neighborhoods come forward with overwhelming opposition, the council has to listen. The only people that spoke in favor of the project were either members of the development team or the Elks lodge.
At Monday’s meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) led off discussion by asking Jayne Miller, community services area administrator, to explain the rationale for the acquisition. Miller described how it would help access to Bluffs Nature Area. Addressing the concern that it would increase maintenance costs by adding yet another park to the system, Miller described any investment as limited – it would consist mainly of chip paths so that people could get into the area. Miller told Smith that she did not know how the cash would affect the Black Elks’ specific ability to refurbish their lodge.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she was struggling with the amount of money that was being spent for half an acre. Miller explained that for all greenbelt properties there is due diligence done and appraisals made of fair market value. Those appraisals had to be made within 12 months of purchase, Miller said. Higgins noted that even within the last 12 months there is bound to have been a great deal of fluctuation. Miller did not have the exact date on the appraisal. The greenbelt acquisition was postponed.
Outcome: The council postponed consideration of the purchase of property from the Black Elks, pending clarification on the appraisal.
Historic District Study and Parking
In other business, the council extended a moratorium on demolition and other work in a study area for a proposed historic district south of William Street along Fourth and Fifth avenues. Such moratoria can only be passed six months at a time, even though the period of study was planned for one year. So the extension of the moratorium was not unexpected.
There had been hope expressed by some residents south of the study area that this area would also be included in the recommended scope for a historic district. However, current indications from the committee are that this additional area will not be included.
Also, new parking regulations were approved by the council for Baldwin Avenue, which runs north-south just east of Burns Park. The regulations restrict on-street parking to just one side or the other – the side where parking is allowed was determined through resident input.
Three Percent for Symbolism
On the subject of the symbolic 3% give-back to the city from their salaries, which some councilmembers had promised at their last meeting, Stephen Rapundalo reminded his colleagues that he had said he would “consider it.” Now that he had considered it and discussed it with the “boss at home,” he said he had decided to make a 3% contribution back to the city on a quarterly basis.
Marcia Higgins also announced that she would be joining other councilmembers and making a 3% contribution back to the city from her paycheck.
Other Council Communications
Stephen Rapundalo indicated that he and his Ward 2 colleague, Tony Derezinski, would be bringing to council a proposed ordinance that would ban use of cell phones and texting devices while driving.
Derezinski said that his remarks at a previous council meeting on deer-car interactions and possible plans to cull the herd had generated a great number of e-mails and phone calls. He felt the interest that had been generated merited some looking into. In response to city administrator Roger Fraser’s previous comment that the 30 deer-car incidents a year are really not that high, comparatively speaking, Derezinski contended that there were a lot of things that have not yet been reported. Derezinski allowed that he knew the topic was controversial, but remarked, “That’s why we get the big bucks.” [It's not completely clear whether the pun was intended.]
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) thanked the city administrator for providing a tour of the construction at the new municipal center, which will house the 15th District Court and the Ann Arbor Police Department. He said he was proud of the way the money is being spent.
Other Public Commentary
Crosswalks and Ordinary Process
Kathy Griswold: In public commentary time available at the conclusion of the meeting, Kathy Griswold alluded to her 15 years of service on the transportation and safety committee – a joint committee of the city and the Ann Arbor public schools. She urged that a meeting be finalized that is supposed to deal with the King Elementary School mid-block crosswalk. [Griswold has advocated on multiple occasions at council meetings and caucus for moving the mid-block crossing to the nearby four-way stop intersection.] She described how there are many incidents that are handled efficiently and appropriately concerning the crosswalk. For example, a driver had been speeding down the street and disregarded an adult crossing guard. The transportation and safety committee had contacted the police department and officer Clock had handled it appropriately, she reported.
These kinds of incidents, Griswold said, get handled all the time, without involvement of the city administrator. The effort to move the crosswalk from its mid-block location to a four-way stop intersection had now taken a two-year effort and it was “mind-boggling to understand why it’s taking so long.” Griswold read from a series of e-mails she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which supported her contention that the city administrator was involved in the process concerning the crosswalk.
Chuck Ream: Ream spoke to the council about therapeutic cannabis. He reminded them that in 2004, more than 74% of Ann Arbor voters had voted for medical marijuana. He described it not as a victory or a mandate but as “clear marching orders.” He suggested that six centers be established as dispensaries and noted that the city charter already enabled it. He said that he had a formal legal opinion written by a lawyer that stated it was legal. He had a draft law that they could adopt, he said. Ream suggested that establishing six large centers that would be well run was a better alternative to dispensaries showing up on every street corner.
Libby Hunter: For her turn at public commentary reserved time, Hunter sang a tune to the melody of “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” that included the lyric “Roger [Fraser] makes the money go away.”
Serving the Underserved
Thomas Partridge: Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw Democrat who was there to represent those who are underserved – seniors and disabled people, lower income and unemployed individuals. He called for the need to respect these groups and suggested that instead of simply being willing to accommodate disabled people’s needs in addressing the council, that they should have a permanent area established for their use. He alluded to the 50th anniversary of the sit-in at the Woolworth coffee counter during the country’s civil rights demonstrations. He stated that past progress was good, but they could not rest on that.
Blaine Coleman: Coleman asked that the CTN camera operator focus on his sign, which read “Boycott Israel.” He told the council that he had asked for years for a boycott against Israel, which he described as the most openly racist country in the world. He criticized the council’s choice of Neil Elyakin as an appointee to the city’s human rights commission, because of Elyakin’s affiliation with Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces. Coleman alluded to the fact that Elyakin was in attendance at the council meeting. Coleman then told the council that they would eventually pass a resolution to boycott Israel in the same way that they had eventually passed a resolution to divest from South Africa. Coleman compared the situation to the passage of a local anti-discrimination housing law in 1963 which white Realtors “went crazy opposing,” but that had eventually been passed.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Next council meeting: Tues. Feb. 16, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]