Ann Arbor City Council meeting (March 1, 2010) Part 2: Editor’s note: The major themes of the council meeting – the 3% budget directive, a ban on use of cell phones while driving, and a planned unit development called The Moravian – are covered in Part 1 of the March 1, 2010 meeting meeting report.
The council scrapped the city’s existing bicycle registration program at its Monday night meeting, but gave an assurance to a representative of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition that it would soon be replaced with something better.
Mayor John Hieftje used his communications time to rebut criticism of the planned Fuller Road Station – both with respect to its funding and its siting. While he assured critics that funding for the project would not come from the general fund, he allowed that he did not know how the project would be paid for.
And Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reiterated enthusiasm for Ann Arbor’s response to a request for information by Google about a local fiber-optic network. He had also introduced the topic at a recent council meeting focusing on the budget.
The city administrator’s report to the council included updates on construction projects.
The city also continued a monthly recognition of its parks volunteers with a mayoral proclamation honoring Praveena and Madhan Ramaswami for their efforts to improve Bromley Park by organizing biannual events to remove invasive plants, plant flowers, and clean up the park.
Elimination of Bicycle Registration Program
The council had given initial approval of the measure at its previous meeting, which eliminates the city’s bicycle registration system.
At a February meeting of the council – in the context of discussions on a possible revision to the registration program, as well as a revision to all the city’s ordinances on bicycling – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had reported that the registration program had in recent years, not resulted in the return of stolen bicycles to their owners. The return of stolen bicycles to their owners is an often-cited benefit of the program.
Specifically, Hohnke had said that from September of 2007 to the present, 39 stolen bikes had been recovered and returned to their owners – but in none of those cases had the bicycle registration program been instrumental. The return of those bicycles had been the result of regular police work.
The revisions the council had considered – but postponed and ultimately tabled – involved fee structure and the map that’s provided with registration.
On Monday’s council agenda was the second reading of the ordinance revision, with its related public hearing.
Public Hearing on Bicycle Registration
At the public hearing, Larry Deck, a board member of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, was the only person who spoke. He said that in January, the WBWC had suggested revisions to the program, but the group had not suggested its elimination. He asked for more time for discussion, because bicycle registration had a number of benefits. The WBWC was having a board meeting on March 4 and wanted to discuss the matter. Deck asked the council to defer action until April and to identify relevant city staff and others in the community to continue the discussion on bicycle registration.
Council Deliberations on Bicycle Registration
Hohnke began council’s deliberations by indicating that he was amenable to postponing the resolution at the WBWC’s request but hesitated to make that motion – in deference to Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who had sponsored the resolution, but who was not at the council table. Higgins was present at the meeting, but had left the table at the conclusion of Deck’s speaking turn at the public hearing, to engage Deck in a private conversation in the hallway outside the council chambers.
Responding to Hohnke’s suggestion to postpone, city administrator Roger Fraser told the council that the city essentially had an ordinance on the books that it was not enforcing, which put the city in a state of legal limbo. He suggested going forward with eliminating the registration system, with all of its records, and having a discussion with the WBWC about a future ordinance.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) countered Fraser’s idea that it put the city in a state of legal limbo, saying that even if that were the case, it seemed fairly benign. She was in favor of putting it off, pending the outcome of whatever conversations Higgins was having in the hallway.
Higgins returned to the table and reported that the WBWC had some ideas about a new replacement ordinance and would work over the next 2-3 months on that. She stated that in that context, she believed the WBWC was okay with the program’s elimination. Deck was called to the podium and confirmed: If the intent was to eliminate the registration program but replace it with something better, then the WBWC was okay with that.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to eliminate the city’s bicycle registration program.
Fuller Road Station
Fuller Road Station is a cooperative venture between the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor to construct a 1,100-space parking deck near the UM medical campus. From previous Chronicle reporting ["Work Session: Trains, Trash and Taxes"]:
In broad summary strokes, the Fuller Road Station project is proposed for a three-acre site – currently a surface parking lot – owned by the city of Ann Arbor, nestled just south of Fuller Road and north of East Medical Center Drive and the railroad tracks. It’s billed as a way to link automobiles, east-west commuter rail (demonstration due in October 2010), the north-south Plymouth-State Street corridor (study underway funded by AATA, UM, the city of Ann Arbor, and the Ann Arbor DDA), buses, and bicycle traffic via the Border-to-Border trail.
There was not an agenda item related to Fuller Road Station, but it has been the topic of much community discussion.
Public Comment on Fuller Road Station
During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Nancy Shiffler stressed that SEMCOG‘s approach in exploring the east-west commuter rail option, which would link Ann Arbor to Detroit, was to use as much existing infrastructure as possible. [There is an active Amtrak station on Depot Street, near the planned Fuller Road Station site.] The idea, she said, was to use that existing infrastructure to assess whether the initiative warranted full support – that assessment would come in 2013, she said.
The Fuller Road Station, Shiffler pointed out, might include a commuter rail station in a second phase. For now it was planned largely as a parking structure with completion in 2012, with UM paying for and using 78% of the spaces. Shiffler raised several concerns about the lease arrangement for the new structure as well as the “permanent re-purposing” of the land, which is designated as parkland by the city.
Shiffler also stated that she assumed the city would be paying for the project out of its general fund.
Also at the start of the meeting, James D’Amour weighed in on Fuller Road Station. He told the council that he was there wearing two hats – one as a member of the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley Group executive committee and the other as an individual. [D'Amour has previously addressed the council on the topic of Fuller Road Station.] He said he was there to reiterate concerns about the planned station. While the Huron Valley Group supported public-private efforts for mass transit, including the east-west rail, they had concerns about process.
D’Amour characterized the public process as “after-the-fact” consultation. The planned station also entailed removal of parkland. Of the more than 1,000 parking spaces, he pointed out, only about 200 related to mass transit.
On a personal note, he said that the idea of applying “green architecture” to the Fuller Road Station was like putting lipstick on a pig. The city’s cost for the project would be several million dollars, he pointed out, at a time when the city was talking about cutting recreation programs like Mack Pool and the Ann Arbor Senior Center, and laying off police officers and firefighters.
Mayor’s Rebuttal on Fuller Road Station
Mayor John Hieftje used his time for communications to respond to criticism of the Fuller Road Station that the council had heard during public commentary.
He prompted city administrator Roger Fraser to speak to the issue of how the city’s portion of the project would be funded, by asking Fraser if it was the plan to use money from the general fund. Fraser’s answer: “No, sir.” Hieftje allowed, however, that the financing plan had not yet been formulated.
Addressing the issue of the land’s status as parkland, Hieftje pointed out that the parcel had been obtained as an easement in a land swap deal with the University of Michigan, motivated by a desire to preserve some Bur Oak trees. A condition on the swap, he said, was that the city would lease the land back to the university.
Hieftje laid out a case of that location as the best possible place for a transit station, noting that the university’s health system employs 17,000 workers. He allowed that it was a parking structure that was planned, but contended that it went beyond that – it also has a bus station, he said. It would be a whole new hub for the city’s bus system, he said. Hieftje also noted that it was located in the corridor being studied for a north-south connector, from Ann Arbor to Howell.
The current Amtrak station, Hieftje stated, would not work for commuter rail. If the second phase of the Fuller Road Station were eventually to be built, Hieftje indicated that there would also be a bike station with a repair facility and a place for cyclists to take showers. He concluded by saying, “If you are a believer in mass transit, there’s no better place for it than on this site.”
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) pointed out that construction of the parking structure at the Fuller Road site relieved the pressure the university felt to build two parking structures on Wall Street in order to meet its parking demands. [The planned Wall Street structures were not embraced by the neighbors along the street.]
City administrator Roger Fraser said the expectation was that access to city parks would actually be improved – cars currently parked across Fuller Road from the planned station would be parked in the structure, and that would “free up land for that game of frisbee,” he concluded.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) raised a couple of questions with the mayor about the site. She reported that she’d learned from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who serves as one of the council’s representatives to the city’s park advisory commission, that the parcel is still in the PROS (Parks, Recreation and Open Space) plan. She inquired whether it would be reconsidered as parkland in a line of questioning that resulted in Hieftje ultimately saying, “That’s a better question for the city attorney than for me.”
Briere also noted that her understanding of the funding for the Fuller Road Station was “a little vague.” She wanted to know if the city anticipated getting revenue from parking fees for spots in the structure. Hieftje deferred the question, saying that the city could respond to that when the numbers are worked out a little better.
During his communications, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reiterated his enthusiasm for the idea of the city responding to a recent request for information issued nationwide by Google. The request involves the possibility of Google building a fiber network in a community on an experimental basis, which would provide Internet access to individual homes at speeds roughly 100-times what most people currently enjoy.
There will be a public hearing on the subject at the city council’s next meeting on March 15, 2010, Taylor said.
Taylor noted that there’d been singing during public commentary at the council in the past and that perhaps there would be singers at the public hearing on the possible Google fiber network.
The city is partnering with the University of Michigan in this effort, which is described on the A2Fiber website.
Ann Arbor Skatepark
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) announced that the latest effort at fundraising by the Skatepark Action Committee was an event, the Grinds of March, to be held on March 13 from noon-6 p.m. The event would include skating performances by national-level skaters, Hohnke said. As part of the fundraising effort, old hand-drawn posters that have appeared in Zingerman’s Deli windows over the years will be available for purchase.
[The Grinds of March is located at 704 Airport Blvd. in a warehouse where the Skatepark Action Committee has built a wooden skateboard ramp. The likes of Andy MacDonald will be skating the Grinds.]
Local: Food and Money
In her communications, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) alerted her colleagues to a local food summit, which would be held the following day, Tuesday, March 2.
Communications from the City Administrator
City administrator Roger Fraser reported that construction on the co-located 911 dispatch center in Fire Station #1 across the street from city hall was now complete, with operations on schedule to begin in May.
The fire station is directly across the street from the new municipal center (also known as the courts/police building), which is under construction at the corner of Huron and Fifth. Fraser reported that people would notice a sign of progress over the next few days: The external buck hoist, which is a lifting carriage used to get materials to the upper floors of a building, will be removed. That’s possible because permits have now been received for an elevator inside the building.
Asbestos abatement has concluded in the city hall basement, Fraser reported, so demolition of walls can proceed.
Fraser indicated that city staff had been really busy recently with snow removal during the period when 9.6 inches of snow fell, with 3-4 inches over the following days. He introduced the subject by deadpanning: “Some of you know we had a snowstorm …” Fraser said that it was the one major storm of the year, in contrast to previous years, when multiple major snowstorms hit the area.
Fraser also reported that there’d been interest expressed from a community in Australia in the city’s metering data for its water system.
Other Public Commentary
Alan Haber addressed the council on the topic of the development of the Library Lot. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Two Library Lot Proposals Eliminated"] Haber had helped put forward a proposal, the Ann Arbor Community Commons, that envisioned the use of the space as a community gathering place. Haber advocated for shifting bond money from paying for stronger foundations of the underground parking garage, which are needed to support development on top of the lot, to the construction of a park on the top. There was not need for the stronger foundations, he said, because they wanted the park to be there forever.
Haber contended that most people who are not developers want some kind of park there. He asked the council to lean on the Downtown Development Authority, which is building the underground parking structure, to provide the information on park maintenance costs that his group had been asking for.
Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw County Democrat who’d been a recent candidate for the county board of commissioners. He told the council that he’d come out in the cold to call on all parties to bring about equitable budget reforms for the city, the county, the region, the state and the entire nation. He called on people of all religions and races to work together to protect the rights of senior citizens and disabled people.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Next regular council meeting: Monday, March 15, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]