Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 2, 2010): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board voted to approve three years worth of funding for the getDowntown program and the go!pass bus passes, which getDowntown administers for downtown employees.
The program is currently in a transition year as the four-way partnership that supports it was reduced to three partners when the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce dropped out last year, citing financial pressures. That leaves the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, and the Ann Arbor DDA as getDowntown funding partners.
In other business, the board approved the application of LEED certification for its underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue, currently under construction.
The board began a discussion on a payment-in-lieu program for required onsite parking (PILOP) for downtown developments.
The board also heard a pitch from Tamara Real for additional support for a web portal currently under development by the Arts Alliance.
The main item reported out of the transportation committee from John Mouat was a resolution on the board’s agenda that called for three years of funding for getDowntown and the go!pass program – $445,672 for FY 2011; $488,054 for FY 2012; and $540,060 for FY 2013. The two-person getDowntown program staff consists of director Nancy Shore and employee services coordinator Moira Brannigan.
The go!pass is a bus pass, administered by the getDowntown program, that downtown employers can purchase for their employees for $5 a year. The go!pass allows the holder of the pass to ride all AATA buses without paying a fare upon boarding. The DDA pays the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority the cost of the rides. The bulk of the three-year funding request approved on Wednesday goes to the bus passes:
Request 2010-2011 2011-2012 2012-2013 DDA go!pass $378,684 $438,566 $475,572 DDA getDowntown $66,988 $49,488 $64,488 Total Request $445,672 $488,054 $540,060
Mouat noted that the getDowntown program was now a decade old, and was thus well-established. There were plans to implement a swipeable go!pass, he said.
[Last year, the AATA installed fare boxes that are capable of processing swipeable cards. The University of Michigan MCards, which allow UM affiliates to ride AATA buses without paying a fare on boarding, already make use of the technology. Rides taken with go!pass cards are tracked as the MCards were previously – bus drivers manually record the ride in a particular category with a manual button press. Swiping cards allows the ride to be associated with a particular rider. It would eliminate the need to re-issue cards every year.]
Mouat drew the board’s attention to the graph showing go!pass usage over the years, which he quipped showed that their use had literally gone “off the charts”:
The number of passes issued this year stands at 6,333, with 467 companies participating. Last year there were a total of 456,547 rides taken with the go!pass.
During deliberations, Jennifer S. Hall said she was glad to see the getDowntown program put on a three-year funding plan, because it added stability to the program.
Russ Collins noted that the 10 years of the program’s existence was actually something of concern to him. “We have a transportation authority [AATA],” he said, and he wondered why there was such reliance on the DDA. Leah Gunn’s explanation was that the program had started as a federal grant and that when it ran out, the DDA had taken up the slack. When Nancy Shore had come on board, Gunn said, the program had really taken off. Gunn stated that she did not think they were going to get money from the AATA for the program.
In terms of the overall budget, Mouat said, the dollar amounts were not all that large:
Roger Hewitt called getDowntown a “great program” and said he supported it. But he wondered how many go!pass users would ride the bus anyway. He raised the question of whether the go!pass was shifting habits or if it amounted to a subsidy. He said he was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of a three-year commitment without some idea of the numbers.
Hewitt was making a familiar point. Back on Nov. 26, 2008 at the innaugural meeting of the DDA’s newly formed transportation committee, Hewitt had asked the same question. From Chronicle coverage of that meeting:
Those two programs (a bus pass program for downtown workers and downtown circulator buses) had been identified at the DDA annual retreat as part of an outcomes analysis of current transportation investments that needed to be undertaken. At the committee meeting, Hewitt said he wanted to know what the DDA’s funding of the go!pass program was actually accomplishing: subsidizing people who would ride the bus anyway (something he said he was not necessarily against), or causing people to ride the bus instead of driving their cars.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, Nancy Shore told Hewitt that more than half of go!pass users had indicated in a survey that they thought they used the bus more as a result of the pass.
Hewitt came back around to the idea that he did not think it was necessarily bad if they were subsidizing bus use, but he thought the DDA needed to understand how much the subsidy was.
Hall observed that the amount of money for getDowntown is relatively small. The AATA, she said, is the transit authority and their job is to provide the buses and the drivers. The job of the DDA, she said, is to help market transportation – the DDA was not taking the place of the transportation authority, she said.
Keith Orr commented that it was not just a matter of how many people used the cards – there were some people who couldn’t get to work without the go!pass, he said.
Collins noted that the $5 charge to employers for each card had never been increased. He said it could be doubled and the cost would still be nominal. He’d like to see some strategies explored to start the program towards sustainability.
John Splitt suggested it would be possible to gather more data once the swipeable card was put in place.
Mayor John Hieftje noted that the AATA was investing in the downtown area by using federal funds to help rebuild the Blake Transit Center.
Outcome: The three-year funding plan for getDowntown and the go!pass was unanimously approved.
LEED Certification for Parking Structure
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building certification program. Before the board at its June 2 meeting was a resolution authorizing the Christman Company, which is the construction manager for the underground Fifth Avenue parking garage, to apply to the U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for LEED certification at the Silver level. Among the elements to be cited in the application:
- Reuse of mass excavation materials as part of the structural concrete mix
- Concrete and reinforcing steel will have substantial recycled material content
- Recharging stations for electric vehicles – as well as extensive conduit runs to accommodate future electric car demand increases
- LED lighting, including use of motion-detector technology for low demand time periods
- Natural ventilation (where possible)
- 100% of storm water from the site will have total dissolved solids removed, far exceeding requirements
John Mouat, an architect, said he thought it was great for the parking garage to be constructed as sustainably as possible, but that he did not feel the LEED program was designed to accommodate parking structures. His concern, he said, was from the technical perspective of the LEED program.
Jennifer S. Hall indicated that if a parking structure was going to be built, then it might as well be built sustainably.
Outcome: The resolution to authorize application for LEED certification for the underground parking structure was approved, with dissent from Mouat and Collins.
Parking as a topic took up a fair chunk of the June 2 meeting. It followed board members out of the offices at the conclusion of the meeting as well, as this vignette illustrates.
After the regular meeting of the DDA board, Joan Lowenstein was standing on the sidewalk outside the Fifth Avenue office building where the DDA is housed, when a car traveling south braked to a halt, earning the driver an angry honk from the trailing traffic: “Excuse me, is there a car park around here?”came the question from the British-accented female passenger.
Lowenstein did not explain that here in America we don’t call them “car parks.” Instead, mindful of the waiting cars behind, Lowenstein gave super-efficient directions: At that intersection, turn right, you’ll see it.
Parking: Monthly Parking Report
In reviewing the monthly parking report from April 2010 compared to April 2009, Roger Hewitt noted that revenue was up 9.5%, which he attributed largely to the rate increases. Hourly patrons were down a “minuscule” amount, he said. Jennifer S. Hall was curious to know if future reports could include the revenue numbers with the average ticket price for hourly patrons separated out, to get some idea of what was going on with that.
At the board’s April 2010 meeting, representatives from a startup company, ParkingCarma, had pitched the idea of an online reservation system for the city’s parking system. They’d been invited back to a subsequent operations committee meeting. However, at Wednesday’s board meeting, Roger Hewitt indicated that the committee had opted not to go forward with that system at this time. He cited the company’s lack of experience in implementing their program in a municipal parking system for use with daily operations.
Hewitt said there was a potential public relations issue as well, with a system possibly indicated as full, but with visible empty spaces due to the fact that they were reserved.
Payment in Lieu of Parking (PILOP)
The draft resolution on payments in lieu of parking arose out of a request from Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city of Ann Arbor, for the DDA to weigh in on the issue. Last year’s passage of the A2D2 rezoning of the downtown area included a provision that allowed for developers to make a payment instead of actually constructing required parking on site. The relevant part of the city code comes from Chapter 59 [emphasis added]:
5:169. Special parking districts. Lots located in the D1 or D2 downtown zoning districts are considered a special parking district and are subject to the following standards:(1) No off-street motor vehicle parking is required in the special parking district for structures which do not exceed the normal maximum permitted usable floor area or for structures zoned PUD with usable floor area which does not exceed 300 percent of the lot area. Structures which exceed the normal maximum usable floor area by providing floor area premiums, or PUD-zoned structures that exceed 300 percent of lot area, shall provide parking spaces for the usable floor area in excess of the normal maximum permitted. This parking shall be provided at a rate of 1 off-street parking space for each 1,000 square feet of usable floor area. Each parking space reserved, signed and enforced for a car-sharing service may count as four (4) required motor vehicle parking spaces.[...](3) The required bicycle or motor vehicle parking shall be provided on-site, off-site as described in this section, or by the payment of a contribution in lieu of required parking consistent with the formula adopted by City Council, or any combination thereof, consistent with the requirements of this section. The per-space payment shall be that required by Council resolution at the time of payment.
Rampson had asked the DDA to provide a recommendation on the formula for the payment in lieu.
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Brad Mikus cautioned board members to look seriously at the payment in lieu of parking (PILOP) draft recommendation, which suggests that a $30 surcharge be placed on monthly permits that would be purchased by developers. Mikus suggested that the $30 surcharge would not be nearly adequate to cover the actual cost of constructing parking spaces elsewhere. If the payments in lieu of parking were not adequate to allow construction of spaces, he said, the system would wind up being a subsidy for developers.
During the board discussion on the draft resolution – no decision was made on it – Roger Hewitt described the surcharge as similar to the arrangement that is already in place with Corner House Lofts, at 205 S. State St. Leah Gunn described it as a very complex issue.
Jennifer S. Hall compared the PILOP to the city’s previous experience with similar programs for affordable housing. Allowing developers to pay into a fund out of which construction would be paid for allowed the benefit of aggregation – building all of the affordable housing in one place. However, she noted that the formula for the affordable housing payments in lieu were a “good deal” for developers who chose to pay rather than build on site, and the resulting funds were not adequate to actually construct affordable housing units. What do you do if you have to build the parking? she wondered.
Russ Collins noted that developers can build anywhere outside of downtown. He shared with the board how he’d recently been standing in the Kmart parking lot out by Maple road. “It was monstrously ugly,” he said. He continued:
But it’s exactly what people want. They want parking. And they don’t care about downtown. And it’s sad. And I’m not saying everybody, but a whole bunch of people. And part of me wanted to just take pictures or film this panning across this acres and acres of asphalt, sitting outside of a 1960s mall, and saying what we’re trying to do downtown is try to create something on a human scale. And we as a DDA, we know that, but we need to think three-dimensionally.
And there’s a whole bunch of people that really just want acres of parking with no vegetation … the only way it looks halfway decent is if you’re driving past it as 40 miles an hour. But that’s how so much of our built environment exists … I think we sometimes get obsessed about what we want to do here, but we’ve got to add that third dimension that there’s a whole bunch, a majority of the population, that really only cares about where they need to park their cars – not the human space, not the walkable environment, not a convenient place for people who are a little disadvantaged to be able to live and thrive. …
It’s so easy to get focused on the narrow dynamics of an exciting downtown, but that’s not what we live in – we live in a suburban environment where we have to remember that most people really don’t care about the downtown. They care about the convenience of their automobile. And that makes it a very complicated calculus. … We need to to preach the virtue of human scale downtowns and walkable environments, of preserving a built environment that’s designed for human beings, not for machines.
Joan Lowenstein brought the discussion back down to the PILOP issue by noting that in most cases the situations they were talking about would be residential or office uses, and “not where people go to get giant bags of kitty litter.” But she said she agreed that it was important to keep that context in mind.
Lowenstein also responded to Hall’s comments about the problems with the affordable housing payment-in-lieu formula, saying that after Hall’s service on the planning commission, the formula had changed. She described it as fairly elaborate. She felt like something could be worked out for parking as well. Lowenstein suggested it was important to make it “a tiny bit punitive” so that you get meaningful dollars out of it, but not so punitive that developers prefer instead to build in the townships.
Lowenstein said she was glad that Rampson had asked the DDA to weigh in on the issue.
Mayor John Hieftje confirmed that the affordable housing payment-in-lieu formula had been changed because it was felt that the amount was not enough. He also countered Collins’ contention that what people want is parking by suggesting that “it’s what’s there for them.” Addressing that issue was why DDAs were created, he said.
Arts Alliance Web Portal
During public commentary, Tamara Real, president of the Arts Alliance, addressed the board to give them an update on the development of a website, a3arts.org, that is meant to be a one-stop online venue for all things art and culture in Washtenaw County. Real had addressed the board at its Oct. 7, 2009 meeting asking for funding. That request was remanded to the partnerships committee, which eventually suggested that a reduced amount of funding be allocated – up to $10,000 – instead of the $25,000 the alliance had requested.
From The Chronicle’s Dec. 2, 2009 DDA board meeting report:
As for the Arts Alliance request for $25,000 to build a web portal – as part of a $50,000 total budget – [Sandi] Smith said that the partnerships committee had recommended to the alliance that it provide a clearer idea of what the portal would do. If the alliance needed some start-up money to get started so that the idea could be clearer, the committee had suggested to the alliance that the executive director of the DDA had discretionary use of amounts up to $10,000, which they might pursue.
On Wednesday, Real showed the DDA board work that had been done on the website to date, stressing that a countywide survey had revealed 1,174 working artists in Washtenaw County. The website will include examples of artists’ work, a way to purchase their work, event listings, and a platform for artists to share resources like workspaces. The plan is to populate the website’s databases over the summer and to launch it sometime in the fall, she said. That was why they were asking the DDA for additional support, Real said.
Heritage Row, Zaragon Place 2
Ray Detter gave his report out from the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, which typically meets on the Tuesday evening before the Wednesday DDA board meetings. Detter said that the council had talked about a broad range of issues, including their commitment to residential development inside the DDA tax capture district. An example of a project the DCAC supported, he said, was Zaragon Place 2.
The previous evening, Detter reported, Alex de Parry had paid a visit to the DCAC to talk about the Heritage Row project, which is proposed for South Fifth Avenue just south of William Street. William is the boundary of the tax district. Detter said that the DCAC does not take positions on projects outside the downtown tax capture district. However, individuals had expressed opinions on the Heritage Row project. Many people were in favor of those aspects of the project that involved restoring the seven houses fronting Fifth Avenue. As for the three buildings proposed for construction behind the houses, Detter noted that the proposed setbacks would not meet the D1 zoning standard for the downtown area if the project were located there.
Retreat, Mutually Beneficial City-DDA Discussions
Roger Hewitt summarized the DDA retreat of eight board members the previous Friday as a “lively discussion.” He said there was unanimous support for the DDA taking responsibility for parking enforcement and virtually no support for the DDA taking responsibility for code enforcement. There was some support, he said, for the DDA providing services in the downtown area.
Hewitt also said there was broad support for the DDA taking responsibility for the development of city-owned surface parking lots, although there was a variation of opinion on what that meant.
Hewitt also reported Village Green’s City Apartments project as a retreat topic, with discussion centering on whether to go forward or to give up on the project – the city may grant an extension for the project’s site plan approval sometime in the next month. The DDA has a $9 million commitment to the project, which Newcombe Clark argued at the retreat should be given a sunset provision. Without an extension to the site plan approval by the city council, due to expire now on June 30, the project would effectively be dead.
The issue of downtown policing and “eyes on the street,” Hewitt said, would be discussed further by the partnerships committee. Over the last month, Newcombe Clark has brought back the issue of downtown beat cops as something the DDA might be interested in seeing restored as part of any agreement between the DDA and the city.
As part of the police department reorganization for the FY 2010 budget, bicycle-mounted dedicated beat patrols were phased out in favor of a strategy of having officers use their one-hour “out of car” time to park in the downtown and walk downtown. As the discussion has evolved over the last few weeks, Clark and Hewitt have expressed a consensus for the need for “eyes on the street,” with the idea that it’s now an open question whether those eyes are most cost effectively provided by sworn police officers.
Part of the partnerships committee discussion on downtown beat patrols will be informed by a collection of broader facts about the issue, including the perception of safety downtown. The DDA has created an online downtown safety survey to collect information about how safe people feel downtown.
Hewitt also announced that the city and the DDA’s respective “mutually beneficial” committees would meet, and that there would be proper notice given.
Jennifer S. Hall asked how it would be ensured that proper notice would be given. Russ Collins assured Hall that everyone was properly informed as to the meetings and that if the meetings were not properly noticed, “I will sit in the rain in West Park with a hairshirt on my back.”
Energy Grant Program
Russ Collins reported from the partnerships committee that all except for $18,000 had been spent on the DDA’s energy grant program, with that amount also expected to be paid out as well. The program helps pay for energy audits for downtown buildings and for a portion of the improvements undertaken as a result of the audits. Collins said the basic impact of the program was that it was successful in getting small businesses as well as large buildings to get audits and to follow through on improvements.
Russ Collins reported from the partnerships committee that Jeff Irwin – currently a Washtenaw County commissioner representing District 11 in Ann Arbor, and also a candidate for the District 53 state house seat in the Democratic primary – had paid a visit to the partnerships committee to pitch the idea of a bike hoop contest. The idea would be for the DDA to commission a funky bike hoop every year by issuing some kind of request for proposals asking an artist to design a functional and aesthetically pleasing bicycle hoop. The idea, Collins said, had been referred to the DDA’s transportation committee.
Present: Jennifer S. Hall, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat
Absent: Sandi Smith, Newcombe Clark, Gary Boren
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, July 7, 2010, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]