Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 7, 2010): Speculation that the vote on the Heritage Row project would be delayed was borne out on Monday night. Without discussion, the council postponed votes on the development’s rezoning and site plan until June 21.
Councilmembers were also informed that a protest petition had been filed on Heritage Row Monday afternoon, which – once validated – would bump the requirement for approval from a simple six-vote majority to eight out of 11 council votes. Petition filers have calculated that they’ve collected signatures from 51% of adjoining property owners, weighted by land area. That exceeds the 20% required for a successful petition, but as of late Wednesday, the city had not completed its verification process for the signatures. [Update: Early Thursday afternoon, the city confirmed the 20% threshold had been met.]
In other business, the council approved increases in water and sewer rates and gave initial approval to changes in the city code language on the placement of recycling carts.
A wording change in the list of permissible uses for public land was also given initial approval, but not without discussion. Thematically related to land use was a presentation during the meeting’s concluding public commentary in response to a request for proposals (RFP) for the privatization of the city-owned Huron Hills golf course.
Also receiving discussion was an item pulled out of the consent agenda that authorized $75,000 for Ann Arbor SPARK, for economic development.
Criticism during public commentary on the appointment and nomination process used by the mayor to fill seats on boards and commissions stirred mayor John Hieftje to defend shielding individual members of those bodies from public demands.
Public commentary also elicited from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 1) an update on the development of the Library Lot – he chairs the committee charged with overseeing the RFP process.
Heritage Row is a residential project proposed for South Fifth Avenue just south of William Street. In its current form it includes 79 units – 12 efficiencies, 9 1-bedroom, 43 2-bedroom, 14 3-bedroom, and 1 5-bedroom apartment. Those units will be distributed over seven renovated existing houses and three buildings to be constructed behind the existing houses. [Additional Chronicle coverage: "Heritage Row Moves to City Council"]
Heritage Row is a planned unit development (PUD), which would require a rezoning of the property. That’s because, as proposed, the project does not conform to the existing R4C zoning on the land.
The project has a history stretching back over two years, when it was called City Place. In January 2009 the city council considered a different version PUD, consisting of a single building that would have replaced the seven houses. Subsequently, a matter-of-right version of the project has been proposed and approved. The city also has established an historic district study area that includes the site of Heritage Row. [See Chronicle coverage: "S. Fifth Avenue: Historic District, Development"]
Events of the last two weeks have a certain déjà vu flavor with respect to the project’s long history. A procedural error on the city’s part involving proper publication of the public hearing notice for the site plan led in part to the council’s decision to postpone both votes on Monday night – for the site plan and for the rezoning. [See Chronicle coverage: "Heritage Row Vote Likely Delayed"] That was reminiscent of a procedural error last year that led the city council to remand a matter-of-right version of City Place back to the planning commission.
On Monday, the council learned that a protest petition had been filed about Heritage Row – by Tom Whitaker, who is former president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association. The petition had been filed around 3 p.m. the afternoon of the meeting.
That recalled the late-hour submission of a protest petition in January 2009, which came the Friday before the Monday meeting. From The Chronicle’s report of the Jan. 3, 2009 meeting:
[Kevin] McDonald said the protest petition had been received late Friday, then turned over to planning and development services on Monday (the day of the meeting). The calculations of area were done by a planner working with a GIS specialist. It’s a calculation made complex because public area must be subtracted. Names of owners on the petition were compared with names in the assessor’s system. McDonald indicated that 24% of the area was covered, and thus met the requirement of at least 20%. [Mayor John] Hieftje elicited from McDonald an assessment of the late-hour submission of the protest as not unusual.
As of late Wednesday, the city had not yet verified the petition submitted Monday afternoon on Heritage Row.
That meant there were two reasons for postponing the vote on the project. First, there had been a public noticing issue with the site plan public hearing, so the site plan vote needed to be postponed – and that is intimately related to the rezoning issue. Another reason for postponing was the still-uncertain status of the petition’s validation.
Heritage Row: Protest Petition
The impact of a protest petition is that it bumps the required majority for city council approval from six votes to eight. A recent vote on The Moravian – a PUD in the same neighborhood – failed when it had six votes, but not the eight required for approval. [See Chronicle coverage: "Six Vote Majority Leaves The Moravian Short"]
On the protest petition, Chapter 55 Article XI, Section 5:107 (5) of the city code specifies that:
(5) A protest against any proposed amendment to this chapter may be presented in writing to the City Clerk at or before the public hearing thereon. Such protest shall be duly signed by the owners of at least 20% of the area of land included in the proposed change, or the owners of at least 20% of the area of land included within an area extending outward 100 feet from any point on the boundary of the land included in the proposed change, excluding any other publicly owned land. Following the filing of a valid protest petition, adoption of an amendment to this chapter shall require at least 8 affirmative votes of the Council at the second reading on the ordinance.
Heritage Row: What Lies Ahead
The decision on Heritage Row, now projected for June 21, 2010, would overlap with the first reading before the city council of a proposed historic district, tentatively scheduled for the same meeting.
If the council approves the Heritage Row PUD, it’s also possible that the historic district would be approved, and that the Heritage Row project would not pass muster with the city’s historic district commission – although developer Alex de Parry has said that he thinks the project would meet historic restoration standards. [See Chronicle coverage: "Fifth Avenue Project to Meet Historic Standards"]
If the council rejects the Heritage Row PUD and also declines to establish the area as an historic district, then the matter-of-right version of the project that has already won council approval remains a possibility.
The Chronicle asked Whitaker in a phone interview whether he thought it wasn’t somewhat of a risk to file the protest petition, thus helping to defeat the Heritage Row PUD, when the historic district is also not certain, and the matter-of-right project was already approved for the R4C zoning. But Whitaker was still sanguine, pointing to the possibility of zoning reform for R4C – reforms that would address the definition of setbacks for properties without perfectly uniform edges and the definition of a dormer.
Those specific reforms would have an impact on the matter-of-right City Place project already approved. Whitaker contends the reforms could still be enacted and would apply to the City Place matter-of-right project, and at The Chronicle’s request he emailed a description of a case supporting his contention:
A Michigan case that affirms this is Belvidere Township v. Heinze, 241 Mich.App. 324, 615 N.W. 2d 250 (2000). In that case a hog farmer planned and spent a considerable sum in preparing (designs, permits, estimates, access road, etc,) to build a consolidated animal feeding operation, but in the meantime, the township changed the zoning ordinance. He had not put a substantial amount of money into actual construction of the feeding operation itself and the court held that he did not have vested rights and the new zoning would apply, so, no CAFO.
Heritage Row: Public Hearings
Ethel Potts stated that she did not think the council could approve the rezoning, citing the Chapter 55 requirement in the city code that there be a compelling justification for the requested departure from the existing zoning.
In this case, Potts said, the departures were an increase in height, a decrease in the setbacks, an increase in the density, and a request to put aside parking requirements. Against that, she questioned what the public benefit was. She asked the council to state their compelling justifications before voting, which was something that the planning commission had not done, and it left everyone “mystified,” she said.
Potts spoke at both the PUD rezoning hearing as well as the site plan hearing. She allowed that a PUD can deviate from the existing zoning, but that the amount of deviation proposed by Heritage Row was unacceptable – there would be only a 15-foot setback instead of the big backyards currently behind the houses, she said. She cautioned the council against being fooled by the new name and proposal to renovate the old houses. They would be lined up in a rigid row like a “pseudo-historic theme park,” she said.
Adam de Angeli introduced himself as a resident of 427 S. Fifth, one of the houses that is slated to be renovated as part of the project. During the construction, he said, he would not be able to live there, so the project would effectively put him out of his home. However, he noted that there was nothing in the lease that said he could live there as long as he liked. It was the landlord’s property, he said, and he did not see a reasonable cause to prevent the landlord from developing his property.
Joan Lowenstein – a former city councilmember, former planning commissioner, and current member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board – told the council that she did not think that leaving the property the way it currently is would improve the city. As a planning commissioner, she allowed, she had voted against an earlier version of the project, saying that it “would break [her] heart” to see the houses lost.
But the current proposal, Lowenstein said, would restore the houses and take off the additions that had been made over the years. She said the new construction would provide more places for people to live, provide public space that didn’t now exist, add to the amount of affordable housing available and improve the streetscape.
There were a few minor changes, she said, that needed to be made to the city’s zoning to accommodate the project. The idea that a single family would come and purchase one of the houses for half a million dollars and invest another half million to fix it up so that a family could live there was, she said, a “fiction.” She characterized the new building proposed for construction behind the seven houses as within the character of the neighborhood.
Piotr Michalowski told the council he lived one block away from the proposed project. He said he’d spoken many times before about the project – on the first occasion he’d talked about the fact that the whole point centered around where the project is proposed and how that related to plans like the city’s Central Area Plan. Plans such as those, he said, had been subject to substantial public interaction. Speaking from a “moral point of view,” he said, those plans are the basis for “what we’re supposed to do.” The project, he said, breaks the pact between the government and the area residents. He allowed that the changes between earlier versions of the project and the current version represented tremendous progress, but it was still too massive and did not work.
Nick Collins introduced himself as a resident of one of the houses on Fifth Avenue that is part of the project site: 433 S. Fifth Ave., the Herbert Slauson house. Collins noted that he’d attended Slauson Middle School. He commended the developer, Alex de Parry, for his efforts to include restoration of the seven houses in the current plan. However, he urged the council to reject the proposal, saying that the PUD option should be reserved for extraordinary situations. If the council was considering an historic district designation, why would it grant the PUD rezoning? Collins told the council that they needed to have the rezoning debate out in the open instead of letting it be fought out between neighborhoods and developers.
Tom Petiet wondered how many times he needed to appear to speak against this proposal. The citizenry, he said, kept getting beat on until they were tired. The number of units proposed in the project, he said, had not changed from the first proposals and he contended that they would be student rentals. The neighborhood, like the Old West Side historic district, he said, was worth preserving.
Kathy Boris urged the council to vote against the proposal. A PUD should be the exception, not the rule, she said. She asked the council to uphold the social compact.
Christine Crockett said that several weeks ago she’d been a guest at the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council to hear a presentation on Zaragon Place 2 – it would be a high rise and she was delighted to see it. It was the right project in the right place, she said. [The proposed 14-story apartment building would be located at the southeast corner of Thompson and William, next to Cottage Inn.] The Heritage Row project, said Crockett, would destroy seven of the most historic homes in Ann Arbor. If the city needed more density – and she believed there was a demand – then density should be put into the newly defined D1 areas.
Kim Kachadoorian cited the goals of the city’s Central Area Plan in arguing against the Heritage Row project. One of the goals, she said, was to protect houses from conversion to business use. It was a largely intact neighborhood, she said.
Deanna Relyea said she appreciated the gradual changing of the project from the original proposal, but concluded that it was “not there, yet.” She contended that the massiveness of the buildings behind the houses to be renovated canceled out the benefit of the renovation. She also asked that the project be postponed until a decision on the recommended historic district is voted on.
Bill Kreighbaum said there was a compelling public interest in higher density. The location was within walking distance to the University of Michigan campus as well as downtown, he said, and would allow a 2-3 car household to get by with 1-2 cars. It would help provide a critical mass for improved public transportation, he said.
Jim Mogensen described the city as being in a battle that was larger than the project. On one extreme was a view – the Libertarian view – that took as a premise that there shouldn’t be zoning at all and that it would all work itself out. He noted that there would be a final meeting of the R4C/R2A review committee, and the decision on a recommended historic district in the area would be made, but as the debate over what happens in the neighborhoods downtown continued, projects happened in the meantime. A PUD was a way to negotiate the view on each side of the spectrum, he said. He was concerned about the debate taking place through a PUD.
Susan Whitaker, alluding to Joan Lowenstein’s description of a family purchasing a house in the neighborhood in order to live in it as a “fiction,” introduced herself as a “fiction” who lived with her school-aged children on Fifth Avenue. She then cited various sections of the Downtown Plan adopted last year by the city council, including “[p. 24] improve downtown’s appeal as a residential location by protecting the stability of its adjacent residential neighborhoods edges.” She concluded by saying, “Zoning matters. Please don’t throw it out.” She added that the residents of the neighborhood are opposed to the project – council could see that from the petition that had been signed.
Outcome: With no discussion, the council voted to postpone the votes on the Heritage Row site plan and rezoning until June 21, 2010. The council received advice from legal counsel during a closed session, added to the agenda in a slot before the public hearings, which was presumably about the Heritage Row project.
Water/Sewer Rate Increase
To illustrate the increase for water and sewer rates, here’s the proposed changes for the Residential 1 rate. A unit is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons:
UNITS $Old $New 1-7 1.14 1.23 8-28 2.43 2.53 29-45 3.99 4.23 over 45 5.75 6.10
From the city code:
(5) “Residential 1 rate” shall mean the rate applied to the domestic meter usage for residential customers where 4 or fewer dwelling units are served off of the same meter.
(6) “Residential 2 rate” shall mean the rate applied to the domestic meter usage for residential customers with both a domestic and a water only meter where 4 or fewer dwelling units are served off of the same meter.
Water/Sewer Public Commentary
Thomas Partridge spoke against the water and sewer rate increases.
Jim Mogensen referenced the cover memo accompanying the resolution that increased water and sewer rates. He noted that we are “not out of the woods yet” but that the city now had better plans. He observed that one effect of less consumption was a greater need to raise rates. He noted that one approach was to wait until everything fell apart and then try to fix it, citing the approach that had been taken with the city’s parking structures. He reminded council that the University of Michigan recently had to “help us out” with work done in connection with the Central Campus Transit Center on North University by giving the city a “gift” [$450,000] to do work related to utilities and street repair that the city would ordinarily have paid for.
Water/Sewer Council Deliberations
Before the council approved the rate increases, mayor John Hieftje asked Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, to comment. She described how they planned by looking six years out, but focused on the first three years. The idea was to “levelize” rate increases – to smooth them out so that increases were smaller in any given year. The strategy also allowed the city to develop a reserve to help fund major infrastructure projects. As examples, she gave the solids handling facility at the wastewater treatment plant, which was nearly complete – a $42 million investment. Half of the liquid processing plant would also be reconstructed, she said, with $28 million to be spent next year on the $70 million project.
In future years, she said, they were projecting increases in rates of 3-3.5%.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated that he’d done research on utility rate increases in other cities and that in communities like Sterling Heights, Lansing and Grand Rapids they were looking at increases of 6% to 10% this year. He concluded that it demonstrated the rate increases in Ann Arbor were having the desired effect.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked for information on citizens’ conservation efforts through rain barrels and other measures. McCormick indicated that she’d assemble some data.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the increases in water and sewer rates.
Ann Arbor SPARK Allocation
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked that a $75,000 allocation for Ann Arbor SPARK, which is an organization that does economic development work, be pulled out of the consent agenda.
She stated that she didn’t think that $75,000 reflected enough energy directed to economic development. She asked Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) to provide some comment – he recently served on SPARK’s executive committee.
Hohnke indicated that he no longer served on the executive committee.
[The recent round of new executive committee appointments for Ann Arbor SPARK, announced in late May, included: Elliot Forsyth, senior vice president at ProQuest; Jan Garfinkle, managing director for Arboretum Ventures; Leigh R. Greden, former Ann Arbor city councilmember and attorney for Miller Canfield, but now executive director of government and community relations for Eastern Michigan University; Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County administrator; Michael Staebler, an attorney with Pepper Hamilton LLP; and Maria Thompson, former president of A123’s Ann Arbor operations.]
New members to the Ann Arbor SPARK board of directors are EMU president Susan Martin and Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje.
Hohnke suggested that people who had more experience with the local development finance authority (LDFA) might be better able to comment. It was an allusion to Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who serves as the city council representative to the LDFA and currently chairs that body. The LDFA is a tax increment finance district created as a Michigan SmartZone. It contracts with SPARK to operate a business accelerator. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Budget Round 5: Economic Development"]
Rapundalo began his remarks by stating that the $75,000 the council was authorizing was not a membership fee. It was likely an allusion to the cover memo accompanying the resolution which indicates: “Funding for this contract is included in the city-wide membership account in the approved FY 2010/11 budget.” The funding source is likely a legacy of the previous entity with which SPARK merged – the Washtenaw Development Council – a membership-based organization to which the city belonged.
Rapundalo noted that historically the amount of funding that had been allocated to SPARK was $50,000. The ostensible purpose of the funding, he said, was to help in the promotion of the city in SPARK’s recruitment efforts and with some aspects of the business accelerator. He indicated that other support came from Washtenaw County and from the University of Michigan.
Smith expressed an interest in continuing the dialog about economic development and increasing the amount of support.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had a number of questions about SPARK. Was the funding an extra incentive to give extra attention to Ann Arbor? Had other communities in the Ann Arbor area given extra? He asked for a reminder of what the projected deficit was for next fiscal year. Could the city afford the extra $25,000?
Hieftje responded to Kunselman’s question about the deficit by saying that the city had just recently balanced its budget.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated that the additional $25,000 was based on the idea that SPARK would leverage the entire southeast Michigan region and that several other communities contributed to SPARK’s funding as well. Some of the money went to “overhead,” not specific activities, she said. The money Ann Arbor gave, she continued, did not give Ann Arbor any more leverage than any other group. The idea, she said, is that what’s good for the county is good for the city. She concluded that Ann Arbor had gotten a return on its $75,000 investment.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the $75,000 allocation to Ann Arbor SPARK.
Recycling Code Revision
Before the council were amendments to the city code that are being enacted in anticipation of the city’s conversion to single-stream recycling in July – two separate small totes will be replaced with a single 64-gallon cart. Some examples of changes [italics indicates new language, while a strike-through indicates that the language will be deleted from the code]:
The weight of the recyclables inside the recycling curbcarts must not exceed 224 pounds for a 64 gallon curbcart or pro-rated amount for a different sized container.
Recyclable containers and bundles must not exceed 50 pounds.
Upon lease signing, property managers must provide new residents with recycling educational materials and show them where recycling containers are located at rental properties. Property managers must also provide annual reminders to all tenants about recycling. Recycling educational materials are available free of charge by contacting the city’s recycling contractor, Recycle Ann Arbor, at 734-662-6288 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that under the section on points of collection, the city could refuse collection if snow was not cleared to provide access. She got clarification that residents were not expected to shovel the city streets in order to provide access – the reference was to access points on private streets or in multi-family complexes.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know who had reviewed the code changes. Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste coordinator, told Kunselman there was no longer a solid waste commission, but that it had been reviewed by the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association as well as the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and the city attorney’s office.
Kunselman asked if the actual weight limits could be included as part of the ordinance instead of requiring someone to perform the calculations for the pro-rated limits – “that’s a lot of math,” he said.
He also wondered if the trucks were actually capable of lifting some of the larger containers if they were loaded to the maximum pro-rated amount. McMurtrie indicated that the truck arms could lift the containers.
Kunselman questioned whether it was appropriate to revoke a certificate of occupancy – as allowed in the code – if the requirements of the code were not met. He also questioned whether the educational requirement on landlords should be included in a piece of legislation. McMurtrie indicated that the rationale for including the educational requirement was to encourage as much compliance as possible. Kunselman agreed with McMurtrie on the goal of compliance and the role of education, but still wondered whether it should be legislated – “How do you enforce that?” he asked.
Mayor John Hieftje offered that there were other requirements on landlords that they provide educational information, which Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office confirmed. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) gave another example: the federal requirement that information on lead-based paint be provided.
Outcome: The amendments to the city code on recycling carts were approved on first reading. The city council will need to approve them on second reading in order for them to take effect.
Permissible Uses of Public Land
Before the council was a change to the list of designated uses for land zoned as public land (PL). The planning commission had considered and unanimously recommended the change at its May 4, 2010 meeting. It’s been the subject of conversation in the community over the last couple of months in connection with the proposed Fuller Road Station – the project that prompted the desire to change the possible uses in the PL designation. The proposed change would replace “municipal airport” with “transportation facilities.”
5:10.13. PL public land district.
(1) Intent. This district is designed to classify publicly-owned uses and land and permit the normal principal and incidental uses required to carry out governmental functions and services.
(2) Permitted principal uses.
(a) Outdoor public recreational uses, such as: playgrounds, playfields, golf courses, boating areas, fishing sites, camping sites, parkways and parks. No structure shall be erected or maintained upon dedicated park land which is not customarily incidental to the principal use of the land.
(b) Natural open space, such as: conservation lands, wildlife sanctuaries, forest preserves.
(c) Developed open space, such as: arboreta, botanical and zoological gardens.
(d) Educational services, such as: public primary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education.
(e) Cultural services, such as: museums and art galleries.
(f) Public-service institutions, such as: hospitals, sanatoria, homes for the elderly, children’s homes and correctional institutions.
(g) Essential services, buildings containing essential services and electrical substations.
(h) Municipal airports Transportation facilities.
(i) Civic center.
(j) Government offices and courts.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know why the change was a replacement of one term with another – why not add a term instead? Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, indicated that adding a list of possible facilities would possibly be seen as exhaustive. Higgins got confirmation that the impetus for the change was one project – Fuller Road Station.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it was an interesting question as to whether parking structures were transportation facilities. Rampson commented that before the A2D2 initiative, which rezoned downtown Ann Arbor, parking lots and structures were zoned P for parking district. They’ve moved away from that approach, she said, and the result of the A2D2 process was to zone those areas either D1 or PL in order to reflect the expectation that their use could be multi-faceted.
Briere asked about the park-and-ride lots, which were simple parking not associated with any use. Rampson explained that the new park-and-ride lots were located in the public right of way and were zoned PL.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted to know if “transportation facility” had an established definition. Rampson indicated that it was not listed out separately and defined in the code, but rather it was taken to be what is commonly understood by a reasonable person. Taylor got confirmation from Rampson that within the industry it’s an established and understood term.
Higgins indicated that while she’d support the change at its first reading, she’d prefer to see the word “airport” included in the language. Margie Teall (Ward 4) concurred with Higgins on leaving in the word “airport.” Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said that Rampson had accurately depicted the rationale from the planning commission’s discussion – Derezinski is the council’s representative on the planning commission. He urged the council to go along with the change.
Kunselman suggested that the language be made parallel with the “such as” language in other possible uses for PL. He wondered if that change would be significant enough to require a second first reading. Kevin McDonald from the city attorney’s office indicated he didn’t think it would require an additional reading – it would amount to an explication of what a particular term meant.
Outcome: On first reading, the council unanimously approved the wording change for possible PL uses. Approval at a second reading will be required for final approval.
Also related to public land was some public commentary made near the end of the meeting.
The city is currently working on a request for proposals to privatize certain operations at Huron Hills golf course. The city council gave its tacit approval for the city to develop an RFP at a meeting it held earlier in the year on Feb. 8 devoted to the topic of the city’s budget.
On Monday during public commentary general time at the conclusion of the meeting, three people spoke about the issue.
Leslie Morris, who served on the Ann Arbor city council in the late 1970s and early 1980s, addressed the council about the possibility of privatizing part of Huron Hills. She began by noting that Ann Arbor likes parks and that was demonstrated by the passage of every parks-related millage since 1966.
Morris concluded by stating that residents did not want the city to sell parks, lease parks, or to use parks for opportunities for someone else’s private business development. She cautioned that any attempt to privatize operations at Huron Hills would be met with opposition from the community, and hinted that some community support for a possible future income tax ballot proposal would be contingent on the city not pursuing privatization at Huron Hills. [.pdf of Morris' complete statement]
Myra Larson was next up to address the council on the topic of the golf courses. Larson is professor emerita at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. She referred the council to an Other Voices piece she’d written for The Ann Arbor News about Huron Hills – “Huron Hills site is valuable even if no one is golfing there,” which is available through the Ann Arbor District Library’s online archives of News articles. [Registration is required, but it is free.] At Monday’s meeting, Larson hit some of the same themes as in that piece, which included the line: “To alter the environment of the Huron Hills site in any manner will have a very direct and negative impact on the river and the green infrastructure of our city.” On Monday, she noted that in 2003 the voters of Ann Arbor had voted to tax themselves for the greenbelt millage – why not have green space in the city as well? She noted that the 90-year-old course had been designed by Thomas Bendelow, who was the “Johnny Appleseed of golf.”
Jane Lumm was the third speaker to address the council about the golf courses. Lumm served on the city council in the mid- to late 1990s, and gave mayor John Hieftje the most serious challenge he’s faced in a November election – in 2004, gaining the endorsement of the now defunct Ann Arbor News.
Lumm offered some reasons why the privatization of Huron Hills didn’t make sense. The plan to increase revenues at both of the city’s golf courses – Leslie Park and Huron Hills – was working, she said, so she encouraged the city to “work the plan.” The total revenues for FY 2009 and 2010, she said, had exceeded their targets by over $100,000. Over the last three years, she added, Huron Hills had show 39% growth in revenues and Leslie had shown 37% growth. The total revenue from both courses for the FY 2011 budget, she noted, was $1.176 million.
Lumm objected to the portrayal in the community of golf courses costing the city a fortune, with Huron Hills as the main problem. On an operating basis, she said, Leslie showed a $98,000 surplus while Huron Hills showed a $10,000 loss. Only when the municipal service charges were factored in to compute the fully allocated costs, she continued, did the picture change to one where Leslie showed $220,000 and Huron Hills $250,000 worth of losses.
She asked the council not to place a “90-year-old jewel” at risk.
AATA Board Appointment
At their May 17 meeting, the council had confirmed the nomination of Anya Dale to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board to replace Paul Ajegba. Nominated, but not confirmed at that meeting, was Roger Kerson as a replacement for Ted Annis. The confirmation of Dale came with dissent from Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and the suggestion from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) that both nominees introduce themselves to the council.
AATA: Public Comment on Appointments
Tim Hull introduced himself as a resident of Ward 2. He stated that there needs to be adequate citizen representation on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, but that there seems to be no available contact information for board members. He asked how board members could represent the public interest if the public cannot contact them.
Hull characterized the process for making appointments as flawed and disorganized. Aside from occasional brief comments made at the council meetings, there was no information presented about the process or the appointees, he said. He stated that he agreed with Kunselman’s suggestion made at the previous meeting that nominees for board appointments introduce themselves to the council and take questions. He said that mayor John Hieftje’s response to Kunselman – that they should do things the way they’d always done it – was a poor reason to do things that way. Hull said he expected better from elected officials. He said that elected officials should represent us, not sit back and do what’s always been done.
AATA: Mayoral Comment and Confirmation
The council approved the nomination of Roger Kerson to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, to replace Ted Annis. That nomination had been placed before the council at its last meeting.
Annis was in the audience as part of a group that addressed the council on the topic of the possible privatization of some operations at the Huron Hills golf course. Annis himself did not speak during public commentary. Hieftje took the opportunity to thank Annis for the work he’d done on the AATA board, bringing his financial and management expertise to bear on the AATA.
Hieftje then responded to Tim Hull’s comments made at the start of the meeting by stating that all appointments are taken seriously. He said the reason that there is a period of time between nomination and confirmation was so that people could have a chance to read the resumes of nominees and give them a call.
Hieftje said that the city asked a lot of its board and commission members, and that they tried to shield them from being individually approached by the public. This was different from what was expected of city councilmembers, he said, who campaigned for the job.
Hieftje said it would be a burden if nominees had to appear before the council to answer questions, which could wind up being a “grilling.” These were not appointments to the Supreme Court, he said. The public should have to “go through the front office” for access to board and commission members, he said.
It was a good system that had been used for a very long time, Hieftje concluded, and until a better one came along, it would be the one that was used.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that people who wanted to serve on boards and commissions needed to apply in order to be considered.
Hieftje continued by saying that often people stopped by to talk to him during his office hours on Fridays when they picked up the application.
Later, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) thanked the mayor for nominating him to the planning commission back in 2004.
Outcome: The council unanimously confirmed the appointment of Roger Kerson to the AATA board.
Alan Haber said he wanted to continue to put before the council the issue of the Library Lot. The committee overseeing the request for proposals (RFP) process had received a variety of proposals, he said, but had not found any of them satisfactory. The committee was “just sitting on this,” he said, when they should report back to the council what they’d found. Many people were interested, he said, in a self-development process through some kind of community consortium – not in a commercial context, but in a human context. He noted that the construction currently underway on the underground parking garage is amazing and that there needed to be a viewing area so that people could see it.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) responded to Haber’s comments on the Library Lot by describing the process as being in a “holding pattern.” The committee had been prepared to engage a consultant to assist in the review of the two finalist proposals, and the potential consultant had been reviewed by city administrator Roger Fraser and executive director of the DDA Susan Pollay, but they’d stopped short of signing a contract with the consultant. An unanticipated change in personnel within the consultant’s organization had led them to re-evaluate the pool. Rapundalo said it was unfortunate that Fraser himself was not there at the meeting to provide more details.
Other Agenda Items
The council handled a variety of other items as a part of its agenda. They included the following:
Other: Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Legislation
The council considered a resolution urging the state senate to pass enabling legislation already approved by the state house that would allow residents to leverage their property tax bill in order to undertake energy improvements in their homes. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that the good thing about the initiative was that the improvements would stay with the property. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) praised the efforts of the city’s environmental coordinator, Matt Naud, to make sure that the city was ready to take advantage of the legislation when it passed. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Special District Might Fund Energy Program"]
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the resolution urging passage of PACE legislation.
Other: Near North Brownfield
Before the council was a resolution that amended the development agreement for the Near North project on North Main Street. The amendment, said Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), had come as a suggestion from the brownfield review committee. The city had an interest in seeing that the soil was actually cleaned up, and the amended agreement simply reflects that the developer will provide documentation that the clean up has taken place. Near North is an affordable housing complex being developed by the nonprofit Avalon Housing.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the resolution.
Other: Tiger 2 Application
Before the council was a resolution supporting the city’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) 2 grant application for the East Stadium bridges replacement project. Margie Teall (Ward 4) urged everyone to support the resolution, saying it was similar to the county’s resolution and would be provided as part of the application packet.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the resolution.
Other: Compost Carts
On the agenda was a $386,470 item that authorized purchase of 8,000 compost carts from Toter Inc. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wanted to know how many carts the city kept on hand as inventory. Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste coordinator, told her that the city typically purchases carts a truckload at a time, which corresponded to their on-hand inventory – about 500 carts, he said.
According to a memo accompanying the resolution, the city is switching vendors for the carts, due to some reported problems with wheels breaking and slippage in the automated arm for the carts from the previous vendor. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know what happens if there’s wheel breakage on a cart supplied by the previous vendor. McMurtrie explained that there’s a 10-year warranty provided by that vendor, Cascade Corporation.
The city is making the carts available at a cost of $25, which is less than the city’s cost for the carts, in order to encourage their use. The city is moving to a completely containerized approach to fall leaf collection.
Compost carts can be ordered online at www.a2gov.org/compost. They can also be purchased at the city’s customer service center, 220 E. Huron, or by calling 734-994-7336.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the resolution.
Other: Airport-Related Items
Three agenda items related to the airport. The main items were a $101,200 contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation for an airfield marking and signage project, as well as a mapping project. The $101,200 consists of $96,140 in federal funds, $2,530 in state funds and $2,530 in airport matching funds.
The other two items were part of the MDOT project – $54,190 for the airfield marking and signage, with a local share of $1,355. And the final item was $25,000 for the mapping project.
In response to a question from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), the airport manager, Matthew Kulhanek, confirmed that the agenda items would not result in anything resembling a runway expansion.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked about the “Exhibit A” referenced in a cover memo. Kulhanek said it included a boundary survey of the property – the airport was made up of several parcels, he said. Asked what future purpose the survey had, Kulhanek indicated that it would be used to satisfy MDOT and FAA requirements.
Outcome: All three airport-related items were unanimously approved.
Communications and Public Commentary
Beyond public commentary already mentioned, several other people, including some public officials, spoke on topics not necessarily on the agenda.
Comment: Couch Ban
Kim LeMasters addressed the council on the topic of a possible ban on porch couches. She introduced herself as the mother of Renden LeMasters, who had died in a house fire on South State street the day before Easter this year. The final report on the fire, she said, was not complete, but there were strong indications that it had started in a trash container, spread to a couch, and then caught the house on fire. She noted that previous attempts to pass an ordinance banning porch couches had met with opposition from the student community.
LeMasters said that if Renden were here, he’d advocate for such a ban. She said that she’d simply wanted to introduce herself to the council and asked for verification that some kind of ordinance had been drafted. She also inquired about a possible timeline for its consideration, then concluded by saying that she would be a strong and active voice for such an ordinance.
Comment/Communications: Heavy Rains
Mae Keller introduced herself as speaking on behalf of residents of Village Oaks Court and Chaucer Court, located off Ann Arbor-Saline Road. She related how stormwater flowing over land in the neighborhood had resulted in 70,000 gallons of water coming through an egress window in the basement of the home of Larry and Linda Fingerle, a torrent that had posed an immediate danger to life. She also described other damage to homes in the neighborhood. The Fingerles’ house had sustained $100,000 to $150,000 in damage, she said, which was not covered by insurance because it had not been a “flood.” The excessive overland flow of water, she said, was the result of a poorly designed stormwater sewer system. Improvements had been undertaken to the system, she said, but the area had not been tied into it. She concluded by saying that the neighborhood was willing to work with anyone who was willing to work with them.
Filling in for city administrator Roger Fraser for the evening was Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator. In her report, the recent heavy rains were a main topic. Depending on the specific area of the city, she said, up to 2.7 inches of rain had fallen. Just after midnight between Saturday and Sunday, she said, an inch of rain had fallen in a half hour. As of 4 p.m. on Monday, the city had received 42 calls with various issues – McCormick said each one would be investigated. There’d also been several reports of downed trees and limbs, as well as erosion along gravel roads.
Communication: Residential Parking Permits
In her communications time, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) told her colleagues that she and her Ward 1 colleague, Sabra Briere, would be bringing a proposal at the following meeting for a residential parking permit program for the Old Fourth Ward. [The program is meant, in part, to ensure that residents' street parking will not be taken up by residents of the University of Michigan North Quad dormitory, which is due to open this fall.]
Comment: Traffic Safety
Kathy Griswold noted that there was an item on the council’s consent agenda that addressed traffic calming. She said she supported traffic calming, because the goal of traffic calming measures is the safety of citizens. However, she said that the most cost effective measure that can be taken to improve safety – according to the book “Roadway Safety and Tort Liability”– was improving sightlines at intersections. She pointed out that traffic calming measures had been installed at the intersection at 7th & Washington, but that the sight distance at two of the four corners of the intersection is in violation of the city’s ordinances.
She told the council that in 2000 she was hired by the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) as a consultant to improve the safety of students while traveling to and from public school by doing a school walk zone analysis. She said that in response to a question from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) about the King Elementary School crosswalk – she’s advocated for moving that crosswalk from its mid-block location to a nearby intersection – she’d looked at the situation at Thurston Elementary. She reported that there was graffiti covering some of the signs there and that this needed to be addressed. She stated that the joint city/school transportation safety committee, on which she serves, would be meeting to update a safety plan, and she asked the council to support it when it came before them. She thanked the councilmembers who’d attended the previous night’s caucus meeting for their discussion on the issue.
Comment: Advocacy for Most Vulnerable
Tom Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw County Democratic candidate for the District 18 state senate seat. He said he was an advocate for all people of Washtenaw County – seniors, the disabled, and the economically challenged. They need representation that will protect them, who are the most vulnerable, he said. He called for affordable housing, public transportation, education and health care.
Comment: Palestine and Israel
Blaine Coleman began his remarks by asking the Community Television Network camera operator to focus on the sign he’d placed in front of the podium, which read “Ann Arbor hereby boycotts all products from Israel.” He stated that he was bringing the resolution printed on the sign before the council for consideration that night. The Ann Arbor boycott of Israeli products, he said, had been proposed back in 1984, so the council had had 26 years to think about it. A week ago, Coleman said, the Israel military had killed nine people on boarding a humanitarian aid boat headed for Gaza and had shot an American citizen in the head. That was the kind of state they were supporting, Coleman said, when mayor John Hieftje and councilmember Mike Anglin attend the “Celebrate Israel” event.
Coleman repeated the resolution on the sign and queried councilmembers individually on how they would vote, beginning on the right: “Sandi Smith, how do you vote?” He noted the lack of response of each councilmember – Smith, Briere, and Derezinski – before moving on to the next, reaching Rapundalo before his time was up.
[Editor's note: By custom, councilmembers do not respond to direct questions during public commentary. Doing so would likely violate the council rule against allotting speaking time to someone other than the person signed up to speak. However, councilmembers often do use their own communications time on the agenda to respond to public commentary.]
Mozhgan Savabiesfahani noted that she’d personally been appearing before the council since 2002, and that subsequently the state of Israel had committed various crimes, including the most recent case involving the killing of people aboard a humanitarian aid boat. The council had ignored her, she said, and concluded: “I hold you responsible. You are guilty.” She used the remainder of her three-minute speaking time to hold her sign aloft, which read “Boycott Israel.”
Comment: U.S. Census
Tarik Green addressed the council as a member of the U.S. Census. He indicated that as of May 27 on a national level, 75% of the survey was complete. As the work wrapped up, he asked that people cooperate with census workers when they knocked on the door – it would only take 10 minutes, he said. He asked that the community “look out for” the census workers’ safety and noted that all workers would be equipped with a badge with a logo, a flag, and a signature.
Communication: Good News
In the category of good news, Sue McCormick highlighted the city’s LED streetlight program, which is one of three U.S. nominees for the EnergyGlobe Awards.
The Veterans Memorial Park ice arena had also received two awards, she reported.
McCormick gave an update on the construction for the municipal building – they’re currently working on bathroom tile and plumbing, among other projects. Concrete barriers have been repositioned to accommodate the contractors who’ll be coming down Fifth Avenue in connection with the Fifth and Division streetscape improvements being done by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.
McCormick reported that the warm weather over the weekend had resulted in 4,000 visitors to the city’s public pools and 1,110 canoe rentals.
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: June 21, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]