Unscripted: Historic District, Immigration

Historic district rejected; support for immigrant rights passed

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (July 6, 2010) Part 1: At its Tuesday night meeting, the city council rejected a recommendation to establish a historic district on Fourth and Fifth avenues south of William Street and north of Packard. The absence at the meeting of Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who was expected to support the district, did not have an impact on the outcome of the 4-6 vote.

Sabra Briere and Carsten Hohnke

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) confer during a brief break at the city council meeting. After the break, Hohnke withdrew his motion that would have asked the council to consider the Heritage Row project for a third time in total, and for the second time at their July 6 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Rejection of the district then set off a series of parliamentary procedures by the council. The actions were prompted by concern that without the protection afforded by the historic district, seven houses would be demolished through construction of an already-approved matter-of-right project (MOR), City Place.

So the council brought back for reconsideration a different project on the same site – Heritage Row, which the council had rejected at its previous meeting. A key feature of the Heritage Row project, which includes three new apartment buildings, is that it would also retain the seven houses.

The vote on the reconsideration of Heritage Row failed. That resulted in an attempt by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) to have the council reconsider the historic district, which the council had just rejected. Hohnke’s council colleagues weren’t interested in revisiting the issue.

So Hohnke then began the parliamentary procedure to reconsider the Heritage Row project – for the second time that evening and for the third time total. The move required another rule suspension – this one concerning the number of times a question could be considered.

After a brief recess, however – during which Hohnke was apparently persuaded that developer Alex de Parry would not actually follow through and build the City Place MOR project – Hohnke withdrew his motion. A comment from Ann Arbor resident Ethel Potts, who attended the council meeting and who has witnessed more than four decades of city politics, summarized the sentiments of many in the audience: “As weird goes, this was pretty weird.”

A moratorium on demolition, which covers the area considered by the historic district study committee, will remain in place through Aug. 6. The council meets on Aug. 5, after the primary elections on Aug. 3.

In other business, the city council approved a resolution opposing legislation recently enacted by the state of Arizona that requires local law enforcement officials to investigate a person’s immigration status, when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully.

The council transacted a range of other business and communications as well. Those issues are covered in Part 2 of the July 6 meeting report. Part 1 focuses on the Arizona immigration law and the historic district.

Immigration Status: Against Arizona Senate Bill 1070

Before the council was a resolution sponsored by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) that expressed opposition to a recent law enacted in the state of Arizona that requires local law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully. [draft of resolution] Briere had announced at the council’s previous meeting that she would bring a resolution like this forward.

When the council approved the evening’s agenda, Margie Teall (Ward 4) proposed moving the item up so that it could be considered immediately following the public commentary at the start of the meeting, to accommodate those who were attending the meeting just for that item. That agenda change was approved with dissent from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Higgins left the table during public commentary, and did not return until well after the vote on the immigration law had been taken.

One of the themes that emerged during the public comment period was that racial profiling already exists in the Ann Arbor community – which led the council to ask chief of police Barnett Jones to address the issue from the podium.

Councilmembers also stressed that the resolution had not used city staff resources, a theme that echoed sentiments expressed at a recent candidate forum held in Ward 1, when incumbent Sandi Smith and challenger Sumi Kailasapathy were asked if they felt it was appropriate for the city council to address national-level issues.

Immigration Status: Public Comment

Introducing herself as a recent graduate of Huron High School and a community organizer for a Washtenaw County worker center was Jasmine Franco. She described her own background, beginning with her parents’ arrival in the U.S. from Guatemala in the 1990s. Two years after that, she was born in Chicago. She lived in Ann Arbor for 10 years with her family until her mother was sent back to Guatemala. In 2008, she said, her Michigan ID expired. Despite her U.S. citizenship and her possession of a valid birth certificate, a Social Security number and a U.S. passport, she was denied the right to a Michigan ID. The reason, she had been told, was that several undocumented immigrants had used her home address for Michigan IDs.

Franco was then given a case number and an agent, who told her that to get any form of ID, he had to visit her home and see her documents in person, to validate her citizenship and residency. For over two years, Franco said, she tried to arrange a home visit, but the agent refused to return her calls. When she complained, she said, she was told that her agent had been laid off. She was assigned a new agent, who continued to ignore her requests. It was only after the intervention of Pastor Melanie Carey, a woman with whom Franco was living, that Franco said she was able to get her Michigan driver’s license.

The agent never met with her in her home to verify her citizenship or residency  – all it took was for Carey to tell the agent over the phone that Franco was a citizen living in her home. Two weeks later the agent delivered the ID into Carey’s hands, without Franco needing to be present. Franco contended that her experience was not unique. If Arizona-style legislation passes in Michigan, she warned, countless citizens will be denied their rights. The resolution before the city council, Franco said, sends a clear message to the rest of the country: We will not tolerate Arizona-style legislation. She urged support of the resolution.

Blaine Coleman began by addressing the council in Spanish, and then provided a translation: Remember that Arizona has been occupied since 1848 – like Palestine is occupied today. He said he was glad that city councils were condemning the government of Arizona for passing such a blatantly racist law that can only result in racial profiling against anyone who the government decides looks like they’re not a citizen. He asked the city council: How could they be so brave in condemning Arizona for that law it had enacted, and “enforce such silence” when it comes to racial profiling against Palestinians? How is it, Coleman asked, that it’s only for one night that the Ann Arbor city council stands against racism and only against Arizona, but never against Israel, or against the U.S. government for the murder of Iraqis and Afghans? Coleman then concluded his remarks by repeating the question five times: How much is an Arab’s life worth to you?

Mozhgan Savabiesfahani told the council it was hard for her to believe that they were against racism – she’s been coming to the council for five to six years to speak about racism in Israel, but the council had never acknowledged her existence. That, she concluded, is racist. She showed the council a flier she’d brought that presented research concluding that the U.S. bombing in Fallujah had a negative effect on infant mortality and increased cancer rates. Councilmembers had refused to accept the flier from her, she reported. “You want to tell me you’re not racist?” She concluded her remarks by saying, “Boycott Israel!”

Speaking on behalf of Michigan Peaceworks and its immigrant rights task force was Max Heirich. He began by framing the question as one of opportunity: What is the opportunity represented by the resolution? It’s relevant to Ann Arbor, he said, because 160 area families had been disrupted by Homeland Security actions – parents have been separated from children, children have been put in foster care, he said. Law enforcement actions are proceeding without search warrants, he said, similar to what would happen if Michigan were to enact laws being introduced in the legislature now, which are similar to laws already enacted in Arizona. Taking a stand in Ann Arbor could be a model for other cities, he said. He reminded the council that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Various immigrants have faced oppression at different points in the country’s history, he said. The resolution is an opportunity to do something positive, instead of simply saying, “Isn’t it too bad.”

Mary Anne Perrone began by addressing the council in Spanish, then translating her remarks: She came to speak to the mayor and the city council with a deep conviction, asking them to vote in favor of the resolution. She’s lived in Ann Arbor for over 20 years, she said, and is a member of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and also the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. She said that although she is a U.S. citizen – the granddaughter of immigrants – if she were in Arizona and she had spoken in her adopted language of Spanish, that could form the basis of a suspicion that she is not here in the U.S. lawfully.

Law enforcement officers could then ask her to produce documents and to detain her. It’s important, Perrone said, that cities like Ann Arbor raise their voices as a conscience for the nation and to make clear that using intolerance and discrimination is not the way that we want our government to operate. In Ann Arbor, Perrone said, we care about art, we care about parks, we care about rivers, and we care about people’s human rights.

Deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Mary Bejian, appeared in order to give the ACLU’s official endorsement of the resolution. She emphasized that it’s not just that Arizona’s legislation – as well as the pending legislation in Michigan – gives the police the right to ask people to prove their lawful residence, but rather it actually requires them to do that. Law enforcement officers face penalties if they’re found to be negligent. The U.S. Department of Justice, Bejian reported, had filed suit this week against the state of Arizona regarding the legislation – the ACLU and a number of other organizations had already filed suit back in May.

Mary Bejian

Mary Bejian, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Bejian said they were confident that the law will be shown to be unconstitutional – the law invites and compels racial profiling. The notion of “reasonable suspicion,” she said, is a vague legal concept. What other possible criteria would law enforcement officers use, other than the color of one’s skin, whether someone speaks English with an accent or a foreign language? Supporters of the law are not able to offer any other criteria that would constitute reasonable suspicion, other than looking or sounding foreign, she said.

Bejian pointed out that the law enforcement community was not happy with the legislation, either. The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has gone on record against it. Locally, she said, law enforcement officials have said that local law enforcement should not be doing the job of federal immigration agents. For one thing, she said, they are not trained to do that job. There are also no local resources to do this kind of work, she said.

Vivianne Schnitzer told the council she’d lived for 10 years in Ann Arbor among the diverse population of residents. She said she considers Ann Arbor to be an enlightened city. The city’s humanity and solidarity are now being tested, she said. Tonight, she suggested, we could choose one path or the other, and it would have profound implications for our children and grandchildren. One day they will ask us: “What did you do that day?” We have to reject the politics of fear and chose the politics of reason, she said.

Laura Sanders introduced herself as an Ann Arbor resident, local therapist, and instructor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. She told the council she was representing the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. They’d documented over 160 cases of raids, detainments and deportations of immigrants, many of which included participation of local law enforcement in addition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Those cases showed that racial profiling is already playing a major role in traffic stops that are resulting in deportations of innocent and hard-working immigrants, she said.

There’s not any admission by officers, Sanders said, that the reason they’ve stopped people is they’re brown-skinned, or they speak with a thick accent, or that they’re wearing their hats to the side, or because they’re driving a car with a decal of a foreign flag. They’re then interrogated about their immigration status and arrested for offenses for which white people would simply be ticketed.

Laura Sanders Immigration Rights

Laura Sanders spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

Sanders then ticked through a list of actual of traffic stop offenses for which immigrants have been arrested in the community: cracked windshield, rosary hanging off rear-view mirror, low air in tires, crooked license plate, malfunctioning tail light, failure to use blinker turning from private driveway onto street, expired license plate, driving on expired license, possessing expired license sitting in passenger seat, broken headlight, making a wrong turn, failing to change lanes when passing a car pulled over by the police, failing to wear a seat belt, making a fast stop. There’s already a racial-profiling problem, she contended. It’s important to take a proactive step against it, she said. She asked everyone attending in support of the resolution to stand, and an estimated 50 people rose from their seats.

Samantha Narawski introduced herself as a University of Michigan student working with a group called One Michigan, a statewide organization made up of undocumented and documented youth who were fighting for immigrant rights and the Dream Act. She explained how the Arizona legislation had affected a member of the Ann Arbor community – a co-founder of One Michigan, Mohammad Abdollahi. He’d lived in Arizona for a month, organized there, and participated in a sit-in.

Abdollahi came to Ann Arbor as a three-year-old from Iran, when his father was working on his doctorate at the University of Michigan. An attorney had failed to inform the family about a $20 fee change and that had resulted in the family being undocumented, Narawski explained. Abdollahi grew up volunteering at the Ozone House and cheering on the Huron High School River Rats. He didn’t know what it meant, she explained, until his friends started applying to colleges and he couldn’t because he didn’t have a Social Security number.

Abdollahi attended Washtenaw Community College and earned enough credits to transfer to Eastern Michigan University. At the admissions office at EMU, they told him he was the kind of student they wanted there. But a few minutes later, she continued, the admissions officer’s supervisor retracted the offer of admission, saying that they had missed the fact that he’d checked the box indicating he was not a citizen.

He searched out resources online, Narawski said, and headed to Arizona with three undocumented students to participate in a sit-in. They asked that the Dream Act be enacted, which would allow undocumented students to receive citizenship. She asked the council to stand with Abdollahi and oppose the Arizona legislation, as he had done. “Do it for Mohammad and the immigrant community here.”

Immigration Status: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who drafted the resolution that was also sponsored by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), began by thanking Margie Teall (Ward 4) for moving the item forward on the agenda.

Briere ticked off various groups who had come to this county to escape religious persecution, to seek economic opportunity, or political freedom. Her own ancestors arrived before immigration was an issue – to leave the Old World behind and to find new opportunity. The men had fought in every war, including the American Revolution. The women had done what women always did – ran the farms, businesses, the home, sacrificing for freedom or just keeping their heads down. Each generation defines freedom for itself, she continued, but also fights to defend that freedom. In that spirit, seven years ago the council had passed a resolution protesting the erosion of civil liberties under the U.S. Patriot Act, Briere said. [Excerpted minutes from the July 7, 2003 Ann Arbor city council meeting.]

Stereotyping of the sort that is encouraged by the Arizona legislation, Briere said, is at its very heart against American principles. The U.S. attorney general had filed suit that day against the state of Arizona, Briere said, and a broad variety of academic organizations spoke against the Arizona bill immediately after it was passed. City councils and city governments “from Arizona to Minneapolis” have voted their opposition to the legislation. She asked her colleagues to support the attorney general’s position that immigration enforcement is properly the purview of the federal government, not the state. She asked the council to support the Obama administration to address the problems with the immigration law.

During public commentary on the subject, the speakers’ comments were met with audience applause, and the pattern continued after Briere’s remarks. Mayor John Hieftje admonished the audience that “we don’t have applause for a councilmember statement.”

Now you say that!” quipped Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who was next to speak. She thanked Briere for doing “the heavy lifting” on the resolution. It had been simply reviewed briefly by the city attorney’s office, and she stressed that very few city resources had been used to accomplish the resolution. Why would Ann Arbor take on something like this? Smith’s answer: “This is what Ann Arbor does.” And the council would finish their entire agenda, Smith said, no matter how late they needed to stay.

Michigan as a state had become known as an unfriendly place, Smith cautioned. Passing Arizona-style legislation in Michigan would contribute further to that. The language of Arizona’s legislation – “without a warrant,” for example – was frightening to her, she said. She encouraged the council to support the resolution.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) echoed the sentiments of Smith and Briere, and stressed that although it might not appear that it had to do with Ann Arbor or its operation, it’s sometimes important to make a symbolic statement and to share that statement with other cities. In the past, she said, Ann Arbor had sometimes raised its voice as a beacon to other communities and the city can be proud of that.

In response to a constituent question she’d received that day, Teall explained that any councilmember can place a resolution on the agenda. She also stressed that no other business was being delayed or postponed or otherwise neglected, due to the vote on the immigration resolution.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) echoed the comments of Teall, noting that the council had a long agenda that night. But the council had spoken out on other issues like this, giving as an example a resolution that he’d sponsored recognizing a veterans group and a peace group who were working together on a water project in Iraq. Things like that deserve recognition and the council’s impetus behind it. If you look around at the make-up of the council, he said, you heard some curious names like “Derezinski,” “Rapundalo,” “Hohnke” and “Hieftje.” Those are names from other countries, Derezinski said. It’s an immigrant nation, and we’re all immigrants, he said. It’s a positive thing that new people are constantly coming into the country, he said: “They will save us, when our blood gets old and tired.”

Hieftje expressed his agreement with the resolution and thanked Smith and Briere for their work on it.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) indicated that he was greatly troubled by elements of the Arizona legislation – “they are vile at best,” he said. He said he abhorred the thought of immigrants being pulled aside because of the color of their skin or for other reasons. He noted that he was a landed immigrant himself and except for the color of his skin, he could be pulled over – he noted he had a foreign flag on the back of his car. [Rapundalo has dual Candadian-U.S. citizenship.] He said he wholeheartedly supports the idea that immigration is a federal matter – just as Briere had asked the council to support the U.S. attorney general’s position on that. However, for that reason, he said that he regrettably could not support the resolution.

Rapundalo said he would be consistent with his position on similar issues in the past – it’s not an issue for the Ann Arbor city council at the moment. When there is a piece of legislation that has a direct impact on local citizens, he said, he’d be more than happy to consider it then. He’d received many emails from supporters of the resolution, but also many messages asking why the city council was not focusing more on local issues. He allowed that his colleagues were correct in saying that they would finish the agenda that night, despite their consideration of the resolution. But he said that there were more pressing issues – roads and budgets, for example.

Responding to Rapundalo’s remarks, Hieftje noted that the council had passed resolutions previously concerning the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. He contended that it was rare that the Ann Arbor city council took up such resolutions, and said he felt it did not take time away from other important business that came before the council. He disagreed with the idea that it was an action that was inappropriate for the Ann Arbor city council.

Responding to the remarks of Laura Sanders during public commentary that racial profiling was already happening in the Ann Arbor community, Hieftje said that Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones and Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton would like to know about those issues.

Outcome: The resolution opposing the Arizona law on how local law enforcement officers are to handle possible immigration violations was approved, with dissent from Rapundalo. Marcia Higgins was not at the table when the vote was taken.

Immigration Status: Response from Police Chief

After the vote was taken, chief of police Barnett Jones was asked to the podium by Sabra Briere to respond to the issue concerning the number of people who had been arrested during ICE raids.


Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) talk with Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones, right.

Jones indicated that he didn’t know where Laura Sanders had gotten her numbers from: “Her figures are her figures,” he said. He asked that he be forwarded any statistics that are relevant to the city of Ann Arbor. He said he thought that the bulk of Sanders’ figures came from outside the city. He indicated that he’d met with Sanders and her group and had worked with her. He described the relationship of the Ann Arbor police with the undocumented community as “wonderful.” There’s a council resolution that addresses how local law enforcement is supposed to handle situations like these.

From the council’s 2003 resolution cited earlier by Briere:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council, as a matter of public policy, directs the Ann Arbor Chief of Police, to the extent permitted by law, to:

  1. Continue to limit local enforcement actions with respect to immigration matters to penal violations of federal immigration law (as opposed to administrative violations) except in cases where the Chief of Police determines there is a legitimate public safety concern and in such public safety instances, to report the situation to the City Council no later than 60 days after the incident.
  2. Continue to refrain from covert surveillance of and/or collection and maintenance of information on individuals or groups based on their participation in activities protected by the First Amendment, such as political advocacy or the practice of a religion, without a particularized suspicion of unlawful activity.
  3. Affirm the existing practice, as required by Michigan state law, of providing simultaneous notice of the execution of a state court search warrant to any resident of the City of Ann Arbor whose property is the subject of such a warrant, except in cases of anticipatory search warrants.
  4. Report to the City Council any request made by federal authorities for the Ann Arbor Police Department to participate in any activity under the USA Patriot Act, to the extent the Chief of Police has knowledge of such request.
  5. Refrain from participating in informational interviews conducted by federal authorities similar to those conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in early 2002 in Ann Arbor of individuals not suspected of criminal activity, unless the interviewee has specifically requested the presence of an AAPD official;
    RESOLVED, That the City Administrator be directed to seek semi-annually, by form letter, from federal authorities the following information on behalf of the residents of the City of Ann Arbor:
  6. The names of all residents of the City of Ann Arbor who have been arrested or otherwise detained by federal authorities as a result of terrorism investigations since September 11, 2001; the location of each detainee; the circumstances that led to each detention; the charges, if any, lodges against each detainee; the name of counsel, if any, representing each detainee;
  7. The number of search warrants that have been executed in the City of Ann Arbor without notice to the subject of the warrant pursuant to Section 213 of the USA PATRIOT Act;
  8. The extent of electronic surveillance carried out in the City of Ann Arbor under powers granted in the USA PATRIOT Act;
  9. The extent to which federal authorities are monitoring political meetings, religious gatherings or other activities protected by the First Amendment within the City of Ann Arbor;
  10. The number of times education records have been obtained from public schools and institutions of higher learning in the City of Ann Arbor under Section 507 of the USA PATRIOT Act;
  11. The number of times library records have been obtained from libraries in the City of Ann Arbor under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act;
  12. The number of times that records of the books purchased by store patrons have been obtained from bookstores in the City of Ann Arbor under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act;

Jones said that he was appalled that Sanders’ presentation made it sound like the Ann Arbor police department is out looking for undocumented immigrants and that they’re using racial profiling to effect those arrests. “This is a professional law enforcement agency, with professional men and women, [...] who know what the rules are [...],” Jones said. He said that he figured there were some of those men and women in uniform who may have been watching the city council proceedings on television, who might have been a little upset by Sanders’ statements. [City council meetings are broadcast live on Community Television Network.]

He concluded by stressing that he felt that most of the stats Sanders had cited related to incidents outside of Ann Arbor and that he’d asked her to provide any specific information about problems inside the city – as she’d done in the past.

He concluded by saying, “And I will calm down now!”

Fourth/Fifth Avenue Historic District

Before the council for its second and final reading was a proposal to accept the recommendation of a study committee that had been established on Aug. 6 last year, to create a local historic district along Fourth and Fifth avenues south of William Street and north of Packard. Detailed background can be found in previous Chronicle coverage: “The Constitution of Historic Districts” and “S. Fifth Avenue: Historic District, Development.”

The proposed district was controversial for some who oppose the creation of any district at all in the general area, as well as for some neighbors living south of Packard Street, who objected to the way the proposed boundaries were drawn. Many residents living in the 500 blocks of Fourth and Fifth avenues, south of Packard just north of Madison, wanted to be included in a historic district as well.

Historic District: Public Hearing

Identifying himself as the only resident member of the historic district study committee was Tom Whitaker. He asked for the council’s support of the study committee’s recommendation to create a historic district. He said that state officials who had reviewed a preliminary version of the report had called it “exemplary.” The committee had adopted the recommendation to create the district unanimously, he said, just as they had recommended that the council have an additional area studied, which includes the block south of Packard Street, where many residents support the establishment of a historic district.

Whitaker said he didn’t agree with the attempts by some of those residents to “sabotage” the creation of a smaller district. The boundaries recommended by the report, he said, would withstand any of the “baseless” challenges that had been made. Rejecting the district wouldn’t be fair to the owners of individual properties that had previously been part of a citywide district that had been ruled legally invalid by the 2001 Draprop decision – they’d been waiting to have their properties reinstated. It also wouldn’t be fair, he said, to the property owners in the neighborhood who had seen three development proposals for the neighborhood in the last few years, all of which were counter to the city’s master planning and zoning, he contended.

A historic district would not mean the end of improvements in the area, Whitaker said, as the experience of other historic districts showed – neighborhoods stabilize and property values rise under historic designation, he said. Liberty Lofts was built in a historic district, he pointed out, and the new CVS on State Street is being built in a historic district. The Zingerman’s Deli expansion is likely to be approved in a historic district, he said. In addition, he continued, large numbers of smaller homeowner projects are routinely completed in historic districts with a high percentage requiring only staff approval. Those requiring approval from the historic district commission have an approval percentage better than 90%, he said. The older neighborhoods, as well as the historic neighborhoods, are what define Ann Arbor to visitors and what attract people to live here and to stay here. If the council chose not to support the historic district, then Whitaker asked that they explain what they’d done to help resolve the conflict. “None of you can afford to sit back any longer and watch this neighborhood being torn apart,” he warned.

Kristi Gilbert introduced herself as a member of the study committee and urged the council to vote for the district. She said that she would defer to Whitaker and others like him who are more skilled in making the arguments for a historic district. She noted that they are not just passionate about historic preservation, but are equally concerned about sustainability, a dense urban environment and economic vitality. All of these things can happen together, she said, and that had happened in Ann Arbor over the last 30 years with its 14 historic districts, many of which are in the downtown core.

Gilbert referred to the Michigan Historic Preservation Network conference recently, when mayor John Hieftje had bragged about the 14 historic districts and why they make Ann Arbor so beautiful. There’s some good modern architecture in Ann Arbor, she said, but the majority of it doesn’t help define the identity or brand of Ann Arbor.

Tom Luczak introduced himself as a resident of the proposed historic district and urged the council to support the recommendation in the study committee’s report. He allowed that it is council’s judgment call as to whether they value having the houses of the neighborhood preserved, but he noted that they are under tremendous development pressure. He contended that a number of people who are supportive of a district were not there that evening, but that they would be around in early August. [The primary election will be held on Aug. 3 – several councilmembers are running for reelection.]

Luczak reminded councilmembers that many of them had placed importance on process with respect to the city planning commission’s recommendation. So if they wanted to respect process, he contended, then they should support the recommendation of the committee. If the historic district is not approved, he asked, what would be his motivation not to sell his house to a developer? He called the argument that the boundaries are wrong a “red herring.” He said he supported the idea of expanding the district later, but asked the council not to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Claudius Vincenz, who lives south of Packard Street, an area not included in the study committee’s recommended district, showed the council a poster of Gottfried Maedel who used to live in Vincenz’s house. The German past of the block, he said, was not included in the study committee’s report. He said he agreed with Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who had called the exercise a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

However, Vincenz said, it would not have been a self-fulfilling prophecy if the committee had used their expertise to write a report that was consistent with the Secretary of the Interior guidelines, which it was not, he contended. The area of greatest concentration of historical value, he said, was actually south of the proposed area. He contended that the committee had suppressed evidence of many German founders of Ann Arbor who had lived south of the proposed area.

The most blatant omission, Vincenz said, was the last remaining residence of Raoul Wallenberg, who had stepped forward during World War II and saved thousands of Jews from the gas chambers. He called the resolution suggesting the council study the area south of Packard evidence that the committee knew something was not quite right, characterizing it as a way of saying, “We wash our hands in innocence.”

Ellen Thackery, who is the Michigan Historic Preservation Network field representative, asked the council to pass the resolution establishing a historic district. She reminded them that the neighborhood is in the city’s central area, and the central area plan recognizes that the neighborhood is integral to the city. One of the most effective means of preserving the character of the area, she said, is a historic district. Historic districts have been upheld at the U.S. Supreme Court level, she said, citing the Penn Central case.

Likely responding to a letter conveyed a few weeks ago to the city council by attorney Peter Webster, which argues that a local historic district creates a preservation easement, Thackery said that historic districts do not create an easement. Historic preservation easements, she said, are donated by a property owner and can be donated by any owner of a historic property. They can be donated on National Register properties, properties with state markers, or properties in local historic districts or properties without such a designation. Such easements are perpetual and run with the land. That contrasts with local historic districts, she said, which have a legal process for establishment, for their amendment, and their dissolution.

Piotr Michalowski told the council that he’d written to them on many occasions and did not want to repeat himself. Instead, he said, he wanted to remind the council what the purpose of a historic district is: to manage change. It doesn’t stop any change, but rather manages it, and that’s all they were asking for. He contended that the reason there is pressure for development in that neighborhood is because land is cheaper than it is downtown. It was not simply the recent developments that had been proposed in the neighborhood, like City Place and Heritage Row, but also other proposed developments that could come very soon, if a historic district is not established.

Scott Munzel introduced himself as legal counsel for the Fifth Avenue Limited Partnership, the owner of the Heritage Row project. He criticized the proposed district as both bad law and bad public policy. First, he said, the recommended district as described in the report does not meet the requirements described in the statutes, which require that the buildings be related by archeology, architecture, history, engineering, or culture. The “broad net” that is cast in the study report does not meet those criteria, he said.


Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), left, chats with local attorney Scott Munzel during a break. Behind them, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) talks with Sandi Smith (Ward 1).

By the study committee’s standard, Munzel said, every building that is near the downtown or the University of Michigan would qualify as historic and should be included in a historic district. Munzel cited the Draprop case, in which an Ann Arbor historic district had been invalidated, and said that based on that case, the proposed historic district could be invalidated on the same reasoning. Secondly, he said, the district may violate equal protection requirements in that it treats similarly situated landowners differently.

Along Jefferson Street to the east are examples of buildings that were excluded from the district, and Munzel noted that building south of Packard Street had been excluded. There is no rational basis he could see, on reading the report, for why those areas were excluded. He noted that the council had expressed concern through its earlier resolution on Arizona’s immigration law about violation of the U.S. Constitution, and he suggested that the historic district might violate the equal protection provisions of the Constitution.

Munzel also contended that establishing a historic district would amount to bad public policy. The role of the urban core is changing, he said. Environmental, social, and economic forces are pointing to the need for increased density. The area of the proposed district is surrounded on the north and west by the commercial core, on the east by the university and on the south by university and industrial uses, so it may be suitable for redevelopment proposals under the control of the city council. A historic district would put the decision on proposals, which could otherwise meet city goals, in the hands of the city’s historic district commission. It amounted to an abdication of council’s ability to control public policy. He reminded the council that everyone is free to preserve their own houses, without a historic district.

Much later in the public hearing, Thomas Partridge, like Munzel, also drew a connection to the discussion about the Arizona legislation on immigration. Partridge noted that the council had gone from talking about constitutional rights and human rights issues to talking about the selfish and restrictive attitudes of property owners. If the historic district were established, he asked, what will that mean for the immigrants coming to Ann Arbor seeking places to live? He concluded by saying there needs to be a compromise.

Jane Belanger introduced herself as the owner of two properties on South Fifth Avenue. She was one of the signers of a protest petition that was submitted to the city around 2 p.m. that day. She also told the council that she owned property in the Kerrytown area and lived in the Old West Side. She thus had some experience as an owner and investor in historic districts. She said she didn’t agree that her property values increased due to their historic designation – but rather due to the proximity to the university and to the downtown area. The properties are expensive to maintain, she said.

Belanger said the district had been proposed in order to block a specific development in the neighborhood. She said that people should take care of their houses, whether they are in a historic neighborhood or not, and that a historic neighborhood made it more difficult. She said she’d had positive encounters with the historic district commission for work she’d wanted to undertake, but that the process had taken longer than it would have otherwise.

Brad Mikus told the council that he thought the houses were old but not necessarily significant. He said it was bad public policy to use historic districts to stop development. But he also indicated that he thought the City Place matter-of-right development is a “turd.” No one likes it, he said, so whatever it takes to stop it is potentially a good idea.


Brad Mikus appealed to his smart phone to quote from the city's central area plan during the public hearing on the historic district.

Looking at the central area plan, Mikus said that the repeated goal and objective in the document is to “preserve” various aspects of the neighborhoods. From that he concluded that the zoning didn’t really match the master plan. He cited a passage from the Calthorpe report that seemed to indicate that removal of historic districts could facilitate new zoning. Running out of time, Mikus quickly concluded by saying he was in favor of establishing a historic district.

Betsy de Parry, who is Alex de Parry’s wife and part of the Heritage Row development team, reminded the council that the Heritage Row project had been rejected at the last council meeting. That project, she said, would have preserved seven houses on South Fifth Avenue. They were interested in preserving the houses, she said, but a historic district was not the way to do that. The study committee was formed hastily, she said, in order to stop the City Place matter-of-right project, which met existing zoning.

She contended that the council resolution establishing the committee contained an error when it claimed that the area included the most intact 19th century streetscape in the city – the 400 block of South Fifth Avenue. That block is actually interrupted by two parking lots and a large playground created by the demolition of early houses, she said. She pointed out that many of the owners of houses outside the recommended district want to be included in a district if one is established. But many of the owners of properties inside the proposed district are opposed to being included in the district, she said, which is demonstrated by the petitions that had been submitted that day. The creation of a district, she concluded, would be for the wrong reasons.

Ellen Ramsburgh, who is a historic district commissioner, told the council that she applauded the committee’s work and understood the conflicting views about the southern boundary. She suggested that the council appoint a study committee to study the expansion. She reminded the council that historic districts are a tool that can be used to manage development and to preserve neighborhoods. A good example of a historic district that works is the Old West Side historic district, she said. The city’s historic district commission, she said, performs its function well. The commission approves about 90% of the proposals that are presented to it. She said that projects are improved by going through the historic district commission review.

Susan Wineberg introduced herself as a member of the historic district study committee. She said she’s lived in the Old Fourth Ward since 1983, when a historic district was established there, and that she’d only seen improvements. It had resulted in the creation of a neighborhood group and a sense of identity for the neighborhood. She said that 95% of the neighborhood is rental, but the renters benefit from having the neighborhood group advocate for everything from parking permits to street cleaning to tree planting.


Seated are three members of the historic district study committee (left to right): Susan Wineberg, Kristi Gilbert, Patrick McCauley.

Wineberg also sought to dispel a misconception that historic districts regulate paint colors or issues inside of houses. A historic district does not regulate paint colors and deals only with the exterior of the houses, she said. She gave the example of subdivisions that have various rules about what can be done to houses, which is something that people like – it provides a sense of predictability and stability, she said. She allowed that she did not know if the increase in property values in the Old Fourth Ward had been a function of the properties’ inclusion in a historic district or if it reflected a general rise in property values near the university. She also pointed out that one of the benefits to property owners in historic districts is the tax credits that are available – she’d taken advantage of them and had saved a lot of money, she said.

Ethel Potts told the council they’d heard a lot about the strong desire to honor the history of Ann Arbor and the excellence of architecture and workmanship by establishing a historic district. Less talked about, she said, are the financial and economic benefits of establishing a historic district. The Old West Side had started as “scruffy,” she said, and had now become “charming.”

Christine Crockett told the council that a historic district would give property owners an incentive to maintain their property, something they already had demonstrated even without a historic district. It would encourage property owners to maintain the beauty of Ann Arbor, she said. When pictures are shown of Ann Arbor, you never see pictures of the newer buildings. It’s the older buildings that are chosen for pictures depicting Ann Arbor, she said. Responding to Jane Belanger’s comments to the effect that houses in a historic district are expensive to maintain, Crockett said that maintaining any house is expensive. In a historic district, however, there are tax credits available to offset some of the expense.

John Floyd, a Republican candidate for Ward 5 city council in November, began by applauding what Alex de Parry had proposed to do with the Heritage Row project, which would preserve the seven historic houses. He’d toured the site twice, he said – once with a member of the study committee. What de Parry proposed to do with the site was, Floyd said, “fabulous” and should be acknowledged. He also said it should be acknowledged that de Parry had the right to develop something on the backside of the site.

Floyd said he also supports the establishment of a historic district. If there were not some concern about the houses being destroyed, he said, the topic of a historic district would not come up. He characterized the area where the district was proposed as part of the “charm zone” of Ann Arbor – the ring of pre-WWII houses around downtown. As part of the charm zone, Floyd said, the houses are part of the signature element of Ann Arbor’s built environment.

Leafy neighborhood blocks surrounding the downtown core, Floyd contended, give Ann Arbor a unique character that helps to partly offset the disadvantages of climate and geography in the competition to attract and retain talented people. He said he also advocates appointing a committee to explore expanding the district southward of Packard Street and over to Jefferson and perhaps even Hamilton Place.

Rita Mitchell asked the council to vote to support the district and immediately approve a study committee for an expanded district – south of Packard and eastward as well. The money spent on rehabbing houses, she said, would immediately create jobs, and the increased value of the properties would also increase the tax base.

Richard Jacobson criticized the study committee report for neglecting to include notable residents who had lived in the area south of Packard Street. Among the notables were Henry Otto, who’d led the Otto band, which had been the first band to play the UM fight song, “Hail to the Victors.” Bruno St. James had owned a dry goods shop and was a partner in Goodyear & St. James, on South Main. He’d served as an alderman from 1906-1910, Jacobson said. George Walker was the owner of Walker & Co., the most successful carriage shop in Ann Arbor, Jacobson told the council.

Anne Eisen, who lives in the proposed district, asked the council to approved the district – it would get the city about half way to the goal. How much she would continue to invest in her house, she said, depended in part on whether the city council voted to extend the protection of a historic district to the neighborhood.

Ray Detter stated that there should be no question that the houses in the proposed district were worthy of historic district designation. The committee had approached its work, he said, with honesty, hard work, and transparency. The city staff had provided assurance that there was a legal right to establish the district. As far as the boundaries were concerned, Detter said, in his experience boundaries of historic districts were always arbitrary. A historic district for the neighborhood would be consistent with the city’s master planning, he said. He rejected the policy position of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce to expand the downtown area to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Alex de Parry, the developer who had proposed the Heritage Row and the City Place projects, said he wanted to go on the record as not supporting the establishment of a historic district – it was being proposed for all the wrong reasons, he said. It did not meet the Secretary of Interior guidelines, he said, and the committee’s report contained many mistakes. He called it “an abuse of the historic district process.” Potential tax credits are not a rationale for creating a district, he said. Responding to a remark by Ray Detter that boundaries of historic districts are arbitrary, de Parry said he found the idea “rather strange.”

Beverly Strassmann introduced herself as president of the Germantown Neighborhood Association. She said that the residents north and south of Packard Street wanted the historic district to extend all the way to Madison Street. The boundaries that had been proposed, she said, are “arbitrary and capricious” and denied many of the residents equal protection under the law. The houses left out of the district, she contended, would be subject to even greater development pressures. Those property owners, she said, have every right to the same tax credits for historic preservation and renovation as the residents north of Packard.

Strassmann contended that the consultant who had advised the study committee had not adequately advised the committee about their obligations under the law. Strassmann quoted from the Secretary of the Interior guidelines: “When selecting boundaries for a historic district, include the area that contains the highest concentration of intact resources.” The most intact block, Strassmann said, was the 500 block of South Fifth Street between Packard and Madison. She told the council that establishing a historic district would put the city in legal jeopardy. She urged the council to table the proposal and to convene an entirely new study committee.

Graham Miles introduced himself as the owner of several properties in the 500 blocks of Fourth and Fifth avenues south of Packard. He said he’d like to see those houses included in a historic district.

Susan Whitaker thanked Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) for sponsoring the resolution that established the historic district study committee. She noted that it had been the city council that had set the boundaries for the study area. She said that the neighborhood supported development when it was done right, citing Zaragon Place 2 as an example of high-density development done in an area suitable for that [at the southeast corner of William and Thompson]. She alluded to the support that Margie Teall (Ward 4) had shown for her own ward’s Lower Burns Park neighborhood by leading an effort to downzone part of the area to protect single-family houses.


Susan Whitaker spoke in favor of establishing a historic district.

[Teall is campaigning partly on that rezoning. From The Chronicle's coverage of a recent Ward 4 candidate forum: "Two years ago, she said, she had worked with her colleague from Ward 4, Marcia Higgins, to rezone part of Lower Burns Park to prevent more single-family residences from being broken up into multiple rental units."]

The area proposed for a historic district, Whitaker said, provides diverse housing options for people ranging from older couples, to young singles, to college students. She called it a model neighborhood for new urbanism and livability. She said the study report shows that the area is a “precious commodity.”

Patrick McCauley, who chaired the historic district study committee, said he’d prepared a long list of reasons for establishing the district and how they’d followed all the rules. Despite what some people were saying, he said, the study committee “did not kill anybody, we are not an Al-Qaeda plot.” He said he wanted to talk about why he still lived in Ann Arbor, given that he’d been “trying to get out of here for a long time.” He described himself as a housepainter, whose wife is a managing editor who works in Plymouth. They’d decided to stay in town after graduating from college, he said. Why? Because Ann Arbor is different. He said he kept checking out other places to live, but he kept coming back because it’s different – it’s not Royal Oak. Ann Arbor doesn’t believe in development at all costs, he said.

Marianne Zorza introduced herself as resident and owner of a house south of Packard Street that would be excluded from the proposed historic district. She said she wanted to tell the story of a family of historic preservationists who had saved six houses on the block. The matriarch of the family had been able to buy a house on the block. Her children and grandchildren had then been able to buy houses around that house, when there’d been a trend to tear down houses and replace them with modern apartment buildings. She said that she hoped the city council would honor the family’s early preservation efforts by taking steps to preserve the block south of Packard.

Zorza said that the report improperly draws the boundary line. She said she was not a politician and didn’t know how to make it work so that the cohesive neighborhood becomes one historic district – that’s what they’re trying to achieve, she said. She urged the council to work towards that end.

At the subsequent public hearing – on the establishment of an industrial development district for a portion of Green Road – Brad Mikus stepped again to the microphone to point out that there was not a lot of notetaking by councilmembers during the historic district public hearing. What had been the point of the public hearing? When mayor John Hieftje admonished him to address the topic of the current public hearing, Mikus said he’d made the point he wanted to make.

Historic District: City Council Deliberations

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) led off council discussion by saying that when he and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had brought forth the resolution to form a study committee, it was because there was a recognition that the area should be considered for historic preservation. The committee’s report, he said, confirmed that they were right about the formation of the study committee, which he said the majority of the council had supported.

Hohnke contended that the final report demonstrated that the resources in the precisely defined area of study unambiguously exceeded the criteria for listing in the national register – in terms of their age, integrity and significance of the resources. He said that 90% of the resources are contributing and 75% have a high level of integrity. It’s pretty clear, he said, that on the historic merits it’s reasonable to consider the area for preservation.

Hohnke said that Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) had appropriately brought forth at the previous meeting of the council – when the district had received its first reading – comments from a study committee member [Rebecca Lopez Kriss] to the effect that the study committee had considered only the historic merits of a district. It’s up to the city council to take a broader view, Hohnke said.

Hohnke allowed that there were many stories about people who might have had difficulty undertaking some modification to a structure in a historic district. However, he said that was different from the question of the establishment of a district. He noted that 90% of proposed projects in historic districts are approved by Ann Arbor’s historic district commission.

He pointed to the economic vitality that historic districts can provide to a community and to the uniqueness that they contribute to Ann Arbor.

Hohnke thanked the members of the study committee for their hard work, which they had done rigorously, fairly and openly. They’d produced a report of high quality, he said. Based on the association with the history of Ann Arbor, the association with important civic leaders, and benefit to the economic vitality of the city, he said he supported the establishment of the district. The balance between development and preservation would be well-served by the district, he concluded.

Derezinski said that the debate could be had by people of good intentions on both sides. He suggested that a simple way of looking at it is this: Do we look to the past, or do we look to the future? Are we looking forward or backwards? He called it a real moment of truth for the city involving two significant issues – the historic district and the Heritage Row development, which the council had rejected at its last meeting.

Derezinski said that while the legalities of establishing the historic district had been raised by some, he wanted to ask whether it was wise to establish a district. As he had done at the council’s first reading, Derezinski again quoted from a letter that Rebecca Lopez Kriss had written to council as a member of the historic district study committee. The committee had not been asked to analyze the economic effects, the feasibility, how it would fit into long-term planning on land use, or the impact on revenue compared to alternate uses.

Derezinski then quoted a passage from a blog posting by Lou Glazer, cofounder of Michigan Future Inc., which was written in the wake of the city council’s decision to reject the Heritage Row project [From "Why Ann Arbor Won't Be an Economic Engine"]:

But the notion that Ann Arbor is best positioned to drive Michigan’s transition to a knowledge-based economy is widely held across the state. Unfortunately Ann Arbor’s politics make it unlikely to happen. Yes, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan – a world class research university – which is a terrific asset. But to leverage the asset there has to be a large pool of talent that both will attract knowledge-based enterprises and commercialize the ideas coming out of the university. That talent pool won’t concentrate in Ann Arbor as long as it’s politics are anti-growth, particularly anti-density.

The City Council just turned down another development designed primarily for young professionals. It’s a regular occurrence. Is it easier in Ann Arbor to do higher density development today than five years ago? Yes, but it still is real hard.

The result: Ann Arbor has about one third the young professional households as Madison. A chief reason, Madison offers the kind of high density, mixed use, walkable neighborhoods that Millennials are looking for, Ann Arbor doesn’t. [...] So Madison is an engine for the Wisconsin economy, Ann Arbor isn’t for Michigan.  Unless Ann Arbor becomes much more development friendly and much more responsive to the changing demands for housing and density don’t count on Ann Arbor being an engine for the Michigan economy.

Derezinski then unfurled a large city map showing those parcels that were either university-owned land or in one of the 14 already-existing historic districts in the city.

Tony Derezinski with a map of Ann Arbor

City councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) unfurls a map of Ann Arbor that shows land that's either owned by the University of Michigan or in an existing historic district.

He then read a long passage from a letter that Jan Barney Newman had written to AnnArbor.com on the city council’s rejection of Heritage Row. “I don’t understand the logic of these decisions,” Newman wrote.

Derezinski began the wrap-up of his comments by quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall”:  “Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.” He called on his colleagues not to “calcify” their vision of the city in the past. He concluded with a pun on the “Cross of Gold” speech given by William Jennings Bryan at the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 8, 1896: “Do not crucify us on a cross of old.”

In his remarks, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) rejected the idea that the decision on the historic district was a referendum on preservation versus progress. For him, he said the questions were: (i) Does the proposed district meet the National Register Bulletin 15 standards? (ii) If it meets the standards, is the district in the long-term interest of the city?

In 50 years, Taylor said, they would be “the dead hand of the past” and so the decision had better be right.

By way of background, the criteria for consideration from the National Register Bulletin 15 subsequently cited by Taylor are these:

A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction;

Taylor said that according to the study committee’s report, collectively the resources in the district are historically significant according to criterion (A) and several meet the criteria (B) and (C) at the local level.

In his view, Taylor said, collectively meeting the criterion (A) would be a sufficient condition for establishing a historic district, while those criteria of only limited satisfaction – (B) and (C) – would not be a sufficient condition to establish a district. He then set about to evaluate criterion (A).

The study committee’s report concludes that the district meets criterion (A) because it encompasses a residential neighborhood that was established and has survived since Ann Arbor’s earliest days, Taylor said. It provides an excellent example of a neighborhood established in the latter half of the 19th century and evolved through the first half of the 20th century.

However, on reading Bulletin 15, in the section that explains criterion (A), Taylor did not feel the criterion was met. From the bulletin:

The event or trends, however, must clearly be important within the associated context: settlement, in the case of the town, or development of a maritime economy, in the case of the port city. Moreover, the property must have an important association with the event or historic trends, and it must retain historic integrity. [...] Mere association with historic events or trends is not enough, in and of itself, to qualify under Criterion A: the property’s specific association must be considered important as well.

Based on the study committee’s report, the proposed associative event is general, not specific. Survival, said Taylor, is not an important event or trend. He contrasted it with the report of the Old Fourth Ward study committee, which clearly and consistently related the Old Fourth Ward area to Ann Arbor’s founding. For the Fourth/Fifth Avenue proposed district, that kind of specific founding is absent, Taylor contended. The report itself acknowledges that the primary area of German settlement was in an area west of Main Street in what is now the Old West Side (OWS) and clearly referenced in the OWS study report.

Taylor then looked at criterion (B), which the committee report contends is met because the proposed district contains several homes of several Ann Arbor citizens who were locally important to the development of the city. Quoting from Bulletin 15 again, Taylor expressed doubt that this was sufficient to meet the criterion:

The criterion is generally restricted to those properties that illustrate (rather than commemorate) a person’s important achievements. [...] The persons associated with the property must be individually significant within a historic context. A property is not eligible if its only justification for significance is that it was owned or used by a person who is a member of an identifiable profession, class, or social or ethnic group. It must be shown that the person gained importance within his or her profession or group.

As he read the report, Taylor said, the people who lived in the houses were of standing in the community, but with the possible exception of mayors Hiram Beakes, Samuel Beakes and William Walz, they do not appear to have been important within their profession.

For criterion (C), Taylor again quoted from Bulletin 15:

A structure is eligible as a specimen of its type or period of construction if it is an important example (within its context) of building practices of a particular time in history.

As he read the report, Taylor said, there are several resources that exemplify to varying degrees a type or method of construction, but he did not believe that any of them are “important” examples.

Based on his understanding of the Bulletin 15 criteria and his reading of the report, Taylor said, he did not think the criteria were met. Even if they were met, he said, it would be necessary to establish it was in the long-term economic interest of the city. His vote against the district, Taylor said, should not be seen as a lack of concern for neighborhood cohesion or a sense of place.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) thanked the members of the committee for their work – the detailed house-by-house cataloging of the district. She said she enjoyed reading the report. It struck her that at the time, 60-year-old houses had been torn down and moved to build the houses that now existed there. For Smith, the protest petition signed by 22 owners of the 53 properties in the district – 41% of them – was significant. She noted that a protest petition for a planned unit development (PUD) required only a 20% threshold. [That threshold had been met for the Heritage Row project, which had the effect of requiring an 8-vote super-majority for approval. Protest petitions have no formal role in the process for establishing historic districts.]

Smith indicated she was still wrestling with the issue, and was looking forward to hearing the rest of her colleagues’ comments.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) echoed the sentiments of Taylor and Derezinski. He said his interpretation was that the standards were not met collectively. Rapundalo also said he agreed with Smith’s observation that opposition to the district within the proposed area, based on the protest petition, was significant.

Addressing the contentions that some speakers had made about the state agency considering the report to be a model,  Rapundalo said he had not seen anything that addressed the substance as opposed to the form of the report. He also noted that the central area plan calls for integrative architecture and design guidelines to ensure consistency of scale and character of neighborhoods. Nowhere does it point to historic districts as the sole tool for achieving that. He concluded that he would be opposing the district.

Hohnke acknowledged that Taylor had argued forcefully in terms of the district persisting functionally in perpetuity. But he said he didn’t think that was accurate. In exactly the same way that they were now going through a process to form a district, said Hohnke, at some future point the community could elect to undergo the prescribed process to dissolve the district, if it no longer served the interests of the community.

Alluding to Derezinski’s remarks, Hohnke said “I dare not refute Tennyson, so I will refute Mr. Glazer!” He said that the idea that politics in Ann Arbor are anti-growth is simply not accurate. He noted that dozens of projects over the last 10 years have been approved – Hohnke said he would not bore his colleagues with the list, which he has ticked through on a couple of recent occasions.

Hohnke then stated that the idea that Ann Arbor is not an economic engine in the way that Madison is – as Glazer had contended – “is just bunk.”

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that back in 2005, before she had been elected to the city council, she’d stood at the podium asking the council for their support for a historic district. She’d spent a lot of hours working on the study committee and then waiting for the council to act. She therefore knew that a lot of work went into the process.

Briere said it’s difficult to imagine what it would take to answer the question about the economic effect of a district on future economic growth. However, she said she believes that Ann Arbor’s historic districts create an opportunity for the stabilization of neighborhoods. The establishment of the Old Fourth Ward and the Old West Side historic districts had both resulted in redevelopment, she said.

We want to keep the charm of our neighborhoods, she said, and we don’t think about how to convince people that our houses are interesting. They’re the fabric of what makes Ann Arbor Ann Arbor.

Derezinski responded to Hohnke’s contention that a historic district could be dissolved by a prescribed process by asking if any of the already-established districts in Ann Arbor had been abolished. What is the momentum in a situation like this? He pointed out that many people were already calling for the district’s expansion.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said it was a difficult decision and that she was troubled by the large number of people who had signed the protest petition. She said she appreciated Smith’s speculation about how many houses the current mayor has lived in might be seen as historic. She noted that the Heritage Row development that had been rejected would have preserved the houses. She concluded that she would not be supporting the district.

Mayor John Hieftje said he could see how the vote was going to go and he didn’t want to make a long statement. He said that the city might want to look at the issue that Smith had raised about the contrast between a PUD protest petition that could raise the threshold to an 8-vote super-majority and the historic district protest petition, which had no particular legal standing.

Hieftje also said that he’d been talking to a lot of people lately and had concluded that there is a very clear generational divide in the city on the issue of preservation. He said he’d been taking a lot of flak for some votes he’d made in the past. A lot of people under 40 have said that they were very upset that he hadn’t voted for certain projects, he reported. To hear that they felt they weren’t being given a chance was interesting for him to hear, he said. There would be a change eventually, he said, because there would be a new generation that takes over.

Hieftje concluded by saying he agreed with Hohnke’s statements and he’d come to the meeting prepared to support the district and that’s what he intended to do.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he would support the district not based on a heavy analysis, but rather on the fact that it was the right thing to do. All 14 historic districts lend character to the community, Kunselman said. We can listen to what other people say about our community and talk about economics, but he said that if you look outside of the inner ring of the city, there are a lot of empty apartments and houses. In his neighborhood, Kunselman said, three houses had been torn down and a fourth would soon meet the same fate.


Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

Kunselman said that one of the issues the community continued to deal with is the policy set by the first president of the University of Michigan, Henry Tappan: Students would live in the community and the university would not build housing for them. That’s what we’re living with today, he said.

[Note: For a detailed analysis of University of Michigan student housing and its impact on the community, a good place to start is Dale Winling's 2007 master's thesis, which he discussed on his blog, Urban Oasis.]

North Quad, set to open this fall, is a step in the right direction, Kunselman said, but for the last few decades we haven’t seen construction of many new dormitories. That contributed to the conversion of near downtown neighborhoods to rental housing. He said that as a townie who’d grown up in Ann Arbor, he was dismayed by the change that has taken place in the neighborhoods closer to downtown. Without a historic district, we’d see the houses torn down, lots accumulated and “cash boxes” constructed, with the loss of the city’s neighborhood character. He said he supported a historic district and asked his colleagues to consider changing their votes.

Smith asked Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office if there was any mechanism for residents of a historic district to opt out. His one-word answer: No. So it’s all or nothing? she asked. McDonald’s answer: Yes!

Smith asked if historic districts precluded construction behind houses or additions. Jill Thacher, who is a city planner specializing in historic preservation, told Smith that additions were possible in a historic district, and that the historic district commission routinely approved them.

Briere then asked about the ease of adding another story. That’s not usually encouraged, said Thacher.

Outcome: The vote on the historic district was 4-6. Voting against it were: Stephen Rapundalo, Margie Teall, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Marcia Higgins, and Christopher Taylor. Voting for it were: Sabra Briere, Carsten Hohnke, John Hieftje, and Stephen Kunselman.

Reconsideration: Heritage Row

After the historic district vote, Stephen Rapundalo called his colleagues’ attention to the fact that there was an approved site plan for the City Place matter-of-right project that could still be built if there were no historic district. So he floated the idea of reconsidering the Heritage Row vote from the council’s last meeting.

Two parts of the council’s Rule 12 eventually came into play in the ensuing parliamentary maneuvers. The first part concerns who may bring a motion for reconsideration. The second part concerns how many times a question can be considered.

From the council rules [emphasis added]:

Rule 12 – Consideration of Questions When a question has been taken, it shall be in order for any member voting with the prevailing side to move a reconsideration thereof at the same or the next regular meeting; but, no question shall a second time be reconsidered.

Rapundalo had voted for the Heritage Row project, which had been defeated – he was thus not on the prevailing side, and was prohibited by Rule 12 from bringing a motion to reconsider Heritage Row. Rule 19 provides a mechanism for overriding other rules.

RULE 19 – How Rules May Be Altered Council-adopted rules may be altered or amended by a vote of the members-elect, if notice of the changes proposed to be made shall have been given the Council at a preceding regular meeting, and a written copy of the proposed changes distributed to all members of the Council.

Council-adopted rules may be suspended for the time being by a vote of two-thirds of the members present.

Rapundalo said he’d prefer not to go through the suspension of the rules, if someone from the prevailing side wanted to bring the motion. But neither Briere, nor Kunselman, nor Hohnke were so inclined.

So Rapundalo’s first step was to bring a motion to suspend Rule 12 so that he could bring a motion for reconsideration. With Mike Anglin’s absence, the 2/3 requirement translated to 7 votes required for the suspension of rules. The vote on that motion was 7-3, with Briere, Kunselman and Hohnke voting against it.

Rapundalo then brought the motion to reconsider the Heritage Row vote. That vote was 7-3 with Briere, Kunselman and Hohnke voting against it.

On the Heritage Row project itself deliberations were brief. Smith said that preserving the seven houses was a real benefit. That had been a reason for her to consider the historic district. Hohnke indicated that he was still processing the rule change. The historic district would have done a very good job of preserving the houses, so if the Heritage Row project were now approved, he would move to reconsider the historic district.

Teall said she appreciated Rapundalo’s “winging it” and understood Hohnke’s point that a historic district would provide the benefit of preserving the seven houses. But she returned to the fact that many of the property owners in the neighborhood didn’t want to be included in the historic district.

Rapundalo addressed Hohnke’s contention that a historic district was a better preservation tool by saying that in absolute terms that might be correct, but the situation was that there was a matter-of-right project with a green light for construction if the Heritage Row project were not reconsidered.

Hieftje said that based on conversation with one of the neighborhood leaders, that person didn’t think the matter-of-right City Place project would ever be built. But Hieftje said he didn’t agree with that. And for that reason the best course of action – given that the historic district had been turned down – would be to approve Heritage Row. He didn’t want to take a chance and wanted to support Heritage Row because it did preserve the houses.

Briere said that she appreciated the mayor’s comments, but noted that the council had a choice about whether  to support a historic district. She also contended that Alex de Parry and his wife had said boldly and strongly at the podium that they had no intention of building the matter-of-right development. She said that nothing had changed with respect to the Heritage Row project in the last two weeks. The only thing that had changed, she said, was that the council had chosen not to support a historic district.

Smith said that she’d seen some heads shaking over among the developer’s team in response to Briere’s remarks. She asked the de Parrys to address the council to clarify. Alex de Parry said that the language regarding the public easement for Heritage Row had been prepared – the lack of an easement for the public plaza in the actual supplemental regulations had been noted as a deficiency by Kunselman at the council’s previous meeting.

De Parry also said that they would be replacing all the street trees in need of replacement along Fifth Avenue between William and Packard on both sides of the street. He also corrected the number of bedrooms that people had talked about at the council’s previous meeting – it’s 154 bedrooms, not 163, he said.

Betsy de Parry also clarified that they had never indicated that they were not going to build the matter-of-right project, as Briere had contended. What they’d wanted to do was to rehabilitate the houses – that was their “wish and deepest desire,” she said.

Hieftje said it wasn’t just the matter-of-right project that concerned him. He said he figured, if the matter-of-right project were not built, there would be other proposals that would not result in the preservation of the houses.

Kunselman, however – who was perceived as the possible swing vote – said that if there was to be no historic district, he didn’t understand the need to preserve the homes. Moving them closer to the road as proposed would put them out of character and out of context, he said. He suggested that perhaps townhomes would be in order – 3-4 stories with garages.

Outcome: The vote on the reconsideration of Heritage Row was 7-3, with Briere, Kunselman and Hohnke voting against it. It thus failed because it did not achieve the required 8-vote super-majority.

Hohnke then attempted to bring back the historic district for reconsideration, but could not, because he had not been on the prevailing side. He’d incorrectly understood the previous suspension of Rule 12 to apply for the rest of the meeting. He thus needed to first bring a motion to suspend Rule 12. That motion failed 6-4 – it needed 2/3 of 10 present members, or 7 votes, to succeed. Teall, Higgins, Derezinski and Rapundalo voted against it.

Then Hohnke moved to suspend the part of Rule 12 that concerns how many times a question can be considered, so that the Heritage Row project could be considered for a third time total and for the second time that night. That motion succeeded, with only Kunselman and Briere voting against it.

Hieftje then called for a brief recess, and during the break, Hohnke and Briere conferred. In a telephone interview with The Chronicle the day after the meeting, Briere said she shared with Hohnke her belief that de Parry would not build the matter-of-right City Place project.

Returning from the break, Hohnke apologized to his colleagues, citing confusion about the suspension of the rules and what he contended had been conflicting advice from the city attorney. He then withdrew his motion to reconsider Heritage Row.

Pressed during a break to assess whether she considered the proceedings weird, Ethel Potts, who has witnessed several decades of Ann Arbor politics allowed, “As weird goes, this was pretty weird.”

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Mike Anglin.

Next council meeting: Monday, July 19, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave.


  1. July 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm | permalink

    TLDR. The first time I’ve hit that point in one of your articles. I made it about 1/3 of the way, then skimmed. As hard as that is to read through, that must have been a heck of a meeting to sit through.

  2. July 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm | permalink

    On the contrary, I found this write up invaluable. I had no idea that many parliamentary procedures were put into action late that night and in so far as political meetings can go, it makes for exciting reading. But that’s a small thing in comparison to the important matters under debate. I do hope that Mayor Hieftje and Councilwoman Briere are right in their contention that City Place won’t be built. What a disaster that’d be after this two year roller coaster.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    July 9, 2010 at 5:39 pm | permalink

    Hieftje actually *didn’t* contend City Place would never be built, as I understand the somewhat convoluted language of the article.

    I understand the tl;dr reaction–some of this was slow going, but worth grasping the details. I have to say I’m unimpressed by Kunselman’s position. Without the “heavy analysis” everyone else seems to have done, how does he know what the right thing to do is?

  4. July 9, 2010 at 6:11 pm | permalink

    Well, now I’ve expanded my vocabulary of modern jargon. Thanks to the commenters for that. And thanks to Google whose search engine yielded a quick answer.

    But I’ll reinforce the message of how valuable this account was. And actually stirring! And dramatic! …if you are a legislative junkie like me. There have been other shorter reports (including your nice news ticker) for those who don’t love the details.

    I’m glad to see that the Council seems to be engaged in serious deliberation. If they don’t actually succeed in convincing each other of a particular point of view, they certainly are laying out some good arguments and discussion points.

    The parliamentary maneuverings made for a nice little tonic. Of course, I’ve devoured Robert’s Rules so I’m an aficionado.

  5. By Dave Askins
    July 9, 2010 at 6:29 pm | permalink

    Re: [3] “Hieftje actually *didn’t* contend City Place would never be built, as I understand the somewhat convoluted language of the article.”

    That’s correct. Hieftje didn’t agree with the contention of a neighborhood leader that City Place would never be built. Otherwise put, Hieftje’s view is that City Place is an actual possibility to be built.

  6. By Tom Whitaker
    July 9, 2010 at 7:40 pm | permalink

    “For Smith, the protest petition signed by 22 owners of the 53 properties in the district – 41% of them – was significant. She noted that a protest petition for a planned unit development (PUD) required only a 20% threshold.”

    “Margie Teall … was troubled by the large number of people who had signed the protest petition.

    “Rapundalo also said he agreed with Smith’s observation that opposition to the district within the proposed area, based on the protest petition, was significant.”

    “[Hieftje] said that the city might want to look at the issue that Smith had raised about the contrast between a PUD protest petition that could raise the threshold to an 8-vote super-majority and the historic district protest petition, which had no particular legal standing.


    These council discussions might lead one to believe that only 20% of property owners in this neighborhood objected to Heritage Row, while 41% objected to the historic district. That is not accurate and is somewhat misleading. The percentages referred to by Ms. Smith not only refer to two different sets of parcels, but one is based on LAND AREA, while the other is based on parcel count!

    Those eligible to sign the protest against a rezoning, a State-enabled process, must own property within 100 feet of the site. In the case of Heritage Row, that included 26 legal parcels on Hamilton, William, Jefferson and Fifth Ave. The proposed historic district, on the other hand, includes 51 legal parcels or 56 street addresses (by my count) on Fourth Ave., Fifth Ave., Packard, and William. (In the overlap, there are 12 parcels that are both within 100 feet of Heritage Row AND located within the proposed district, mostly on Fifth Ave.)

    By count, 61.5% of eligible parcel owners (16 out of 26) signed protest petitions AGAINST Heritage Row. This represented 51% of the land area within 100 feet. State law and local code only requires 20% of the land area to be represented in protest petitions in order to force an 8-vote majority of council for a rezoning. The minimum legal requirement was not only met, it was exceeded by 31%! (Contrast this to the City Place PUD petition which only garnered 24% of the land area–yet Council rejected City Place 0-10!)

    In terms of the historic district, Alex de Parry presented petitions representing 23 out of 56 street addresses in the proposed district, or 41%. (It should be noted that Alex de Parry signed 6 of the petitions for addresses he controls, and one of his partners, Dan Pampreen, signed a seventh, making up 12.5% of the 41% total.) Owners of 59% of the parcels therefore supported the district, had no opinion, or did not respond.

    In summary, 61.5% of the parcels immediately surrounding Heritage Row–the property owners most negatively affected–OBJECTED to it, while on the other hand, 59% of those in the proposed district supported it or at least did not oppose it.

    Teall, Smith, and Rapundalo all said that the petitions against the historic district influenced them to vote against it, even though the petitioners were in the minority. Yet, all three, plus the Mayor, voted FOR Heritage Row (twice!) despite the overwhelming majority of abutting owners who signed petitions against it.

    If the opinion of property owners is really as significant to them as they’ve stated, perhaps they will take the time to review their math and call for a reconsideration of the historic district at the next meeting.

  7. July 9, 2010 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    My mistake, you all are right. I misread the paragraphs beginning with “Hieftje said that based on conversation with one of the neighborhood leaders, that person didn’t think the matter-of-right City Place project would ever be built. But Hieftje said he didn’t agree with that.”

    I have to agree with Rod Johnson though. Kunselman’s actions confuse me. At one part he’s saying:

    “He said that as a townie who’d grown up in Ann Arbor, he was dismayed by the change that has taken place in the neighborhoods closer to downtown. Without a historic district, we’d see the houses torn down, lots accumulated and “cash boxes” constructed, with the loss of the city’s neighborhood character.”

    And then after the votes come out against the historic district he desired:

    “Kunselman, however – who was perceived as the possible swing vote – said that if there was to be no historic district, he didn’t understand the need to preserve the homes. Moving them closer to the road as proposed would put them out of character and out of context, he said. He suggested that perhaps townhomes would be in order – 3-4 stories with garages.”

    Then again, I suppose he’s right. Without a historic district we will have those houses torn down for cash box townhomes, especially when Council members doesn’t stand in their way.

  8. By epac
    July 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm | permalink

    so, with all the outcries of, ‘not in my neighborhood,’ we go from an attractive project like the original proposal: to something that looks like it belongs in livonia or brighton: . Really? REALLY?!

  9. By epac
    July 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm | permalink

    i don’t think the links will work in my previous post, so here they are…

    the original brownstone-like proposal: [link]

    the monstrosity that may come to pass: [link]

  10. By David
    July 10, 2010 at 3:31 pm | permalink

    “Without a historic district, we’d see the houses torn down, lots accumulated and “cash boxes” constructed, with the loss of the city’s neighborhood character.” Instead we have a lot of older “cash box” houses through use for student “slum” rentals.

    “The Law or Unintended Consequences”. From the beginning I have believed the proposed formation of the historic district was nothing but a means stop a developer. I doubt anyone, including the residents and local history buffs, would have ever proposed making this ares into a historic district if the development proposal has not been put forward. I am amused to think that with the defeat of the proposal and other legal/political manuverings by the residents, the city could end up with the least desirable development option.

  11. By Dan Rubenstein
    July 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm | permalink

    I endorse Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins’s principled stand against the vapid anti-Arizona immigration bill resolution. Good for them!!

    It is irrelevant whether or not it wastes council time or resources or whether council members feel symbolic statements are called for. Rapundalo hits close to the mark when he points out the fallacy of a city government criticizing a state immigration law on the grounds that the immigration is the purview of the federal government; if it’s the fed’s purview, let them address it.

    The real issue is that I don’t vote for city council members based on their opinions on national matters. They don’t campaign on those issues and they are not being asked to represent the citizens of Ann Arbor on them. In other words, they presume to speak for Ann Arbor — to represent what Ann Arborites think — when not one voter in Ann Arbor authorized them to speak for them on this kind of issue. They are elected to represent our voices on local matters and those that directly affect (and let’s not get cute here) the citizens of Ann Arbor. As a matter of principle, they should refrain from such grandstanding primarily because it is simply not their job, the job we hired them to do.

    By the way, of course the Arizona law is unconstitutional. But that is not the point. Don’t speak for us where we didn’t ask you to. This takes away our fundamental right to speak for ourselves and in doing so takes away our dignity. You are not our parents, you are not our priests, you are not the moral leaders of the community… you are elected to govern our city for us. Now, please get on with your good work. Thank you.

  12. By Jack F.
    July 11, 2010 at 10:09 am | permalink

    “Instead we have a lot of older “cash box” houses through use for student “slum” rentals.”

    The city is filled with slum condition student housing that continually avoids any meaningful city oversight. It’s what this is all about–trying to stomp out new development of student focused housing that will complete with current slumlord owned locations. It’s not the past vs. the future–it’s the resident slum housing owners vs. new kids on the block who want to make money (nothing wrong with that) from parents who don’t want their student children living in third would housing conditions.

  13. By Jack F.
    July 11, 2010 at 10:12 am | permalink

    Oddly enough, no Council resolution condemning local businesses who exploit illegal workers by subjecting them to mistreatment and lower than legal wages in countless local restaurant, lawn maintenance and roofing companies.

  14. By rulieg
    July 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    I had to laugh at the list of things “undocumented” people have been stopped for in A2. expired license plates? no turn signal? how DARE those evil policemen expect everyone to comply with traffic laws?

    this is of a piece with the idea now in vogue that obeying the law really isn’t that important. what part of “illegal” does the A2 City Council not understand?

    and I share the amusement of the poster above who points out the hypocrisy of a city council being against a state law because it conflicts with a federal law.

    let’s get back to parking, ok Council?

  15. By David
    July 11, 2010 at 3:22 pm | permalink

    “Oddly enough, no Council resolution condemning local businesses who exploit illegal workers by subjecting them to mistreatment and lower than legal wages in countless local restaurant, lawn maintenance and roofing companies”

    It reminds me of the on-going radio joke in Chicago a few years ago on the day of the nationwide illegal immigration marches, demonstrations etc. In went something like “don’t expect to get a fast-food meal today or to see a lawn mowed”

  16. By Andrew Carvin
    July 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm | permalink

    It’s easy for these people to support anti-immigation. Ann Arbor’s housing prices and taxes virtually assure that any illegal immigrants wanting to settle in the area will end up in Ypsilanti. Isn’t that how it’s always been done?

    It cracks me up that the immigration law is being categorized as “racist.” It is not Arizona’s fault that the vast majority of illegal immigrants happen to be Hispanic. This has nothing to do with rates, but everything to do with inflation, crime, lack of services, declines in our schools, etc.

    A formal liberal raised in Ann Arbor who has had enough

  17. By Jack F
    July 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm | permalink

    I think the Arizona law is racist and illegal. I’m a MEMBER of the ACLU and support their fight against it. BUT, I think Ann Arbor City Council should focus on ANN ARBOR issues first. They continue to show how rich and white and elite they are (how many people of COLOR are on council?)and spend way more time crying like babies when Sandi Smith tried to cut the Per Cent for Art tax back slightly for a couple of years but are a bit to busy and sipping wine and patting themselves on the backs for being GREEN instead of wondering if any part of their $200+ dinner at any Ann Arbor restaurant used any exploited and underpaid immigrant labor. It’s easy to vote for a feel good resolution while the Stadium Bridges are falling down. A bit harder to actually do any GOOD for the very folks they claim to support in their day-to-day Ann Arborite lives. The union bashing that the Mayor took part in during the run up to the Police and Fire cuts were pretty telling of where he was coming from. They talk pretty but when it comes to action, the are no where to be found.