Archive for June, 2010

A2: Food

Mae’s Food Blog reports from Saturday’s Ann Arbor Farmers Market, with photos of her purchases of cherries, potatoes and sugar peas: “The potatoes were dug yesterday, and the farmer said it’s only the second time he’s harvested them this year – so they are NEW potatoes!” [Source]

A2: Real Estate

A New York Times article on real estate in New Haven, Conn. features two recently transplanted Ann Arborites – Kirsten Levinsohn, former head of the Leslie Science & Nature Center, and her husband Jim Levinsohn, who recently became director of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale. The article reports on their attempt to buy a house there, and quotes Jim Levinsohn: “We were kind of amazed to put an offer in a little bit above asking price and not get it. In the market I was coming from – Ann Arbor – that was unheard of.” [Source]

Column: Book Fare

Arthur Nusbaum raised the curtain on his second act – Third Mind Books – in January. With an inventory of more than 500 items, the online bookstore devoted to the work and legacy of the Beat Generation shares office space with Nusbaum’s once-primary gig: he’s president of Ann Arbor’s Steppingstone Properties Ltd.

Arthur Nusbaum

William S. Burroughs looms large for Arthur Nusbaum – in this case, literally. The portrait of this Beat Generation iconoclast hangs in the lobby of Nusbaum's Third Mind Books and Steppingstone Properties.

A real estate guy with a thing for William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and the rest of that reckless crew? Incongruous, on the face of it. But a closer look reveals a certain ironic harmony.

“I used to be an activist,” says Nusbaum. No surprise there – this is a fellow whose dazzling energy will find an outlet.

Born in Detroit, he grew up in the suburbs, attended the University of Michigan and returned to Ann Arbor for good in the early 1990s as the concept of New Urbanism was gathering steam in Ann Arbor and across the country. Those principles resonated with him, and as he made the connection between his own business and the intensifying local efforts to rein in suburban sprawl, Nusbaum says, “real estate became more meaningful for me. And that’s reflected in buildings like this.”

He’s speaking from his second-floor suite of offices in Ashley Square, at 123 N. Ashley St. The building – Nusbaum believes it was an auto showroom in its original incarnation – was rehabbed in the 1980s and purchased in the late 1990s by Nusbaum, who relocated Steppingstone there in 2000.

“To make a long story short, that’s the direction I took for the last decade and a half in my business,’’ he says. [Full Story]

Library Feels Impact of Construction Project

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (June 21, 2010): Construction in the area surrounding the downtown library came up in a couple of ways during the library board’s June meeting held this week.

Construction along Fifth Avenue in Ann Arbor

The view from the entrance of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, looking west. In the foreground is construction from the Fifth Avenue streetscape project. Across the street is a city-owned surface lot that will be closed when the AATA rebuilds the Blake Transit Center, seen to the right.

Vibrations from work on the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, just to the north of the library building, have caused problems with the building’s HVAC system – the library temporarily lost air-conditioning as a result. In a related move, the library board voted to award a contract for HVAC maintenance and repair to Pace Mechanical, despite arguments that it should go to a local company.

And in her director’s report, Josie Parker noted that a public parking lot used by library patrons will close as early as next spring, due to the rebuilding of the AATA’s Blake Transit Center. The city-owned surface lot is located at the northwest corner of Fifth and William, directly across from the library.

The Chronicle followed up with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which oversees management of the surface lot for the city, for more details on possible contingencies for patron parking, as well as other access issues that could arise when Fifth Avenue along that block is closed for at least a year, starting Aug. 1.
[Full Story]

Main Street

Full Moon bar, “closed for spring cleaning” now has signs posted for an auction June 29 of its contents. Methinks reopening won’t.

UM: China

A group of UM faculty and administrators, including president Mary Sue Coleman, are traveling to China this week, and Jefferson Porter, associate vice president for development, is keeping a blog about the trip. From the June 24 entry, as the group departs on the 15.5 hour flight to Hong Kong: “Veterans of the China itinerary, the fact that this is a new nonstop flight has us recalculating Ambien dosages.” [Source]

Fifth & William

What looks like power washing on the walls of The Pit, aka the underground parking structure under construction along South Fifth Avenue. [photo]

Briarwood Mall

Very long line at the Apple store waiting for the iPhone4.

In the Archives: Golden Age of Oysters

Editor’s note: For this installment of Laura Bien’s bi-weekly local history column she takes the Gulf oil spill as an opportunity to drill down into the local area history of oysters.

Detroit oyster packers and restaurants advertised in Ypsilanti papers.

The nation-wide restaurant chain Red Lobster is pulling oysters from its menu. So are other seafood restaurants around the country.

The nation’s oldest continually-operating oyster-shucking company, New Orleans’s P&J’s, has shut down. Nearby is French Quarter neighbor Antoine’s, New Orleans’ oldest restaurant that allegedly invented the sumptuous dish Oysters Rockefeller. The restaurant has kept the recipe secret to this day.

Less occult is that restaurants around the country who rely on Gulf oysters are in trouble. According to NOAA, the Gulf supplied around 67% percent of the nation’s oysters.

Closer to home and over 150 years ago, oysters came from a different coast. Packed in barrels and whisked from New York and Chesapeake Bay to Washtenaw on trains, oysters were a popular area food. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Planning with the PROS

Ann Arbor’s master plan for parks gets updated every five years, a massive undertaking that takes about a year to complete. City parks planner Amy Kuras outlined the process at an October 2009 meeting of the park advisory commission, noting that she’d be seeking input from a variety of groups and the general public on the Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan.

Forest Hill Cemetery

Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor. Planning commissioners pointed to cemeteries and the University of Michigan campus as adding to the downtown greenspace, in addition to city-owned parks. The discussion prompted one commissioner to quip: "Bring a basket to the casket!"

One of those focus groups took place at a working session for planning commissioners earlier this month, where Kuras asked for feedback on a range of topics, including the possibility of changing zoning to better protect parkland – an issue raised during debate about the proposed Fuller Road Station.

Also discussed were the role of parks and open space in the downtown area, and whether the city should acquire land for an Allen Creek greenway. And commissioners weighed in on the city’s practice of asking developers to contribute land or cash in lieu of land for parks – developers of Zaragon Place 2 will likely be paying the city $48,000 for that purpose, for example.

The nearly two-hour discussion touched on a whole host of other topics as well: How far should the city go in crafting public/private partnerships, like putting cell phone towers in parks? Beyond a traditional playground, how can the city become more kid-friendly – with amenities like fountains, or objects to climb on? Are pedestrian malls really an awful idea?

The city is soliciting more general public input on the PROS plan in several ways: via an online survey, email that can be sent to, and a series of public meetings. The next meeting is set for Tuesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm Barn, 2781 Packard Road. The current 232-page PROS plan (a 10MB .pdf file) can be downloaded from the city’s website. [Full Story]

The Constitution of Historic Districts

At a recent forum hosted by the Ann Arbor city Democratic party for candidates of the 52nd and 53rd District state House races, the topic of the state’s constitution arose in the form of an audience question. Did the candidates favor holding a convention to rework the state’s document of basic law?

The state’s constitution also came up in a recent letter conveyed to the city of Ann Arbor by an attorney for Alex de Parry, the developer of a proposed project called Heritage Row along Fifth Avenue south of William Street. The project was voted down at the Ann Arbor city council’s June 21 meeting on a 7-4 vote in favor, thus failing to meet the eight-vote majority required. [Chronicle coverage of that meeting is forthcoming.]

The main focus of the letter, sent to the city by de Parry’s legal counsel the same day as the council met to vote on Heritage Row, is not that project per se, but rather the historic district that the council may decide to establish at its next meeting on July 6. The recommended historic district, which includes the parcels that were to be used to build Heritage Row, received its initial consideration by the council at their June 21 meeting.

While its more customary for councilmembers to vote for a proposal at its first reading, even if they’re against it, three councilmembers at the June 21 meeting chose to oppose the establishment of the district already at its first reading. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 2 Ward 4) all voted against the historic district.

None of the three cited the specific issues raised in the letter from de Parry’s legal counsel as reasons for voting against the district – Derezinski had voted at the council’s Aug. 6, 2009 meeting against establishing a committee to study the question. And Rapundalo had supported a postponement of that vote.

But for the final vote on July 6, the points raised in the letter from de Parry’s legal counsel may well factor explicitly into the council’s deliberations. The legal reasoning in the letter leads to the conclusion that the way local historic districts are set up in Michigan potentially violates the state’s constitution. And if the reasoning in the letter stands legal scrutiny, it could change the way any future historic districts in the state of Michigan are established. [Full Story]

UM: Medical Licensing

The New York Times reports that the UM Medical School has decided to eliminate commercial financing, beginning next January, for postgraduate medical education – the nation’s first medical school to make that move. That means the university won’t take funding from drug and device makers for courses that doctors need to renew their medical license. The article interviews Paul Lichter, director of the UM Kellogg Eye Center, which eliminated the practice decades ago: “This can be done. It’s what we are used to that makes it difficult to change.” [Source]

Ypsi: News Source

The Ypsilanti Citizen, an online local news source launched in November 2008, has ceased publication, according to a notice from its founders, Dan DuChene and Christine Laughren: “Although we have seen continual growth, it has not achieved sustainable profit margins that would allow us to rely on the Citizen as a sole source of income. In addition, recent developments in both of our personal lives has created a situation where we find it difficult to effectively run the business. We feel deep remorse for having to make this decision and we know it will upset our readers, advertisers and stakeholders. We thank everyone who made us a part of their lives and we are sorry we cannot continue.” [Source]

Ann & Main

We’ve seen better days: Broken sunglasses on the sidewalk. [photo]

A2 Farmers Market

New vendor at the Wednesday market – David Klingenberger of The Brinery, selling organic, locally grown fermented vegetables, including some kind of a beet and turnip sauerkraut. Motto: “Stimulating your inner economy.” [photo]

A2: Help for Dundee

The Detroit News reports on efforts to help victims of the recent tornado that struck the Dundee area. As part of that, employees from Comcast’s Ann Arbor operation packaged 12,000 meals on Tuesday. Local Comcast spokeswoman Maria Holmes said the workers offered similar help to Haiti earthquake victims in April, packaging 40,000 meals for that relief effort. [Source]

A2: Bacon

The Washington Post profiles Zingerman’s Camp Bacon, held earlier this month in Ann Arbor and bringing together “luminaries of the bacon world, plus new, rising stars.” The article quotes Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig: “It’s a thinking person’s bacon camp. I want to get people off the ‘I love bacon’ thing: ‘Give me any and give me more.’ I want them to know the differences between them and how to use them.” [Source]

Column: A Pitch for Absentee Voting

Primary elections in Michigan fall on Tuesday, Aug. 3 this year. That’s also the day the Detroit Tigers start a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Here’s a suggestion for Ann Arbor city voters: Don’t plan to go the polls. Instead, plan to take the whole day off and go to the ball game. You can still vote, vote, vote for your home team – you’ll just need do it with an absentee ballot.

Absentee voter applications are not printed on baseballs. This is just someone's execution of the concept that "Every article should have art!"

Now, you don’t have to go to the game in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. But just to be clear, if you do plan to make a whole day event out of your visit to Detroit to watch the game, that will absolutely qualify you for an absentee ballot. If you expect to be out of town, that’s a legally valid reason for voting absentee.

Maybe some of you would even like to make the short drive in to the ballpark after a Monday night stay at the Westin Book Cadillac – from what I understand, it’s a pleasant place to spend the night, even if you’re not a Washtenaw Communty College trustee.

What about you Chronicle readers who aren’t baseball fans? If you want to vote absentee, the current election law specifies a limited set of other reasons you can use, which include being older than 60, being in jail, or having religious beliefs that prevent attending the polls.

The topic came up a bit more than a week ago, when the Ann Arbor city Democrats hosted a forum for candidates contesting the Democratic primaries for Michigan’s 52nd and 53rd district state House seats. Jeff Irwin, who along with Ned Staebler is running for the 53rd District seat, threw out an idea for a tweak in Michigan’s election laws.

Irwin said he’d like to see “on-demand absentee” voting – citizens would be able to obtain an absentee ballot and avoid the lines at the polls for any or no reason at all. It’s not some new screwball idea – it’s been around a while and enjoys a lot of support, from Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum, among others.

For the time being, though, the application for an absentee ballot requires that voters commit, you know, really commit – just like the guy on the mound has to commit to delivering the ball to the plate after starting in that direction – to at least one of the allowable reasons under the state statute. Through June 17, according to the first Absent Voter report sent out last week via email by the city clerk, over 1,800 Ann Arborites have already committed to one of those reasons. [Full Story]

UM Raises Tuition 1.5%, Budget Grows 6.75%

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (June 17, 2010): Budget presentations dominated the June meeting, the time of year when regents are asked to approve what have become inevitable tuition hikes for the university.

Teresa Sullivan, Phil Hanlon

University of Michigan provost Teresa Sullivan, left, and vice provost Phil Hanlon brief the media about tuition rates immediately prior to the regents meeting on June 17. Hanlon will become provost when Sullivan leaves at the end of the month for her new post as University of Virginia president. (Photos by the writer.)

This year, with two regents dissenting, a tuition increase of 1.5% for in-state undergraduates was approved for the Ann Arbor campus. UM executives noted that it’s the lowest rate increase in 26 years – but if their projections for state appropriations prove too optimistic, they cautioned that they might need to return to request raising tuition later in the fiscal year.

University officials say they’re buffering the tuition increase by substantially adding to the amount of financial aid available to students – $126 million, up $8.3 million from the current year. They’re also launching a new “economic hardship” program, adding $500 in financial aid per year for up to four years for qualified students.

Tuition makes up a large portion of the general fund operating budget. For the Ann Arbor campus, a budget of $1.55 billion in FY 2011, which begins July 1, marks a 6.75% increase from FY 2010.

Regents also approved the FY2011 budget for the UM Hospitals and Health Centers – revenues are projected to top $2 billion for the first time during this year, with a $66 million operating surplus.

And UM athletic director Dave Brandon gave a briefing on the athletic department budget, though it doesn’t require regental approval. Projected revenues of $105 million includes $38.19 million from ticket sales, while the budgeted $100.3 million in expenses includes a $9.22 million debt service payment for Michigan Stadium renovations.

In addition to budgets, regents approved several construction projects, including a $56 million renovation of Alice Lloyd Hall and a $1.6 million repair of Burton Memorial Tower, which will close the landmark site – and silence its carillon – for about a year, starting in August. [Full Story]

Ellsworth Road

On Ellsworth Road between Hewitt and Golfside this morning there’s a huge pool of water, presumably coming out of sewer drains.

A2: Female Pilots

A USA Today report on female pilots in the 34th annual all-female Air Race Classic features Ann Arbor patent attorney Kelly Burris, who won last year’s race. She calls the experience “pure joy, excitement and happiness.” [Source]