Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Aug. 16, 2010): Monday’s meeting was notable for its brevity, lasting barely over an hour. It was filled with the stuff of small-town governance – mayoral proclamations in honor of park volunteers, local food month, and women’s equality day.
Some of the more interesting conversation emerged during deliberations as the council accepted one of several easements: Why is this one 7 feet wide, when the others measure 10 feet?
Another one of the easements accepted by the council involved a non-motorized path to be constructed on the north side of Washtenaw Avenue between Glenwood and Tuomy roads. That project has a history dating back to 2006. At Monday’s meeting, the council also completed the third of four required steps in the process to establish a special assessment of residents whose property abuts the non-motorized path.
In other business, the council authorized purchases of software, plus IT switches. The switches will support the data center to be housed in the new police-courts facility. The council also set the stage for the local firm NanoBio to be able to apply for a tax abatement, by establishing an industrial development district.
As a part of his city administrator’s report, Roger Fraser seemed to put participants in the annual shopping cart race on notice that the event could be shut down on pain of a missing parade permit. The shopping cart races are a part of “punk week,” which has been part of Ann Arbor’s late summer culture for over a decade. The following evening, the race took place – with Ann Arbor police cruisers serving the same function they’ve performed historically, hanging in the background, providing a measure of protection to racers from traffic approaching from behind.
The shopping cart race featured a former councilmember and DDA board member, Dave DeVarti, who was stirred to participate by Fraser’s threat to shut down the event.
Washtenaw Avenue Non-Motorized Path
The planned non-motorized path along the north and east sides of Washtenaw Avenue will stretch from Tuomy Road on its northwest end to Glenwood on its southeast terminus. The section of Washtenaw Avenue where the path is planned includes the confluence of East Stadium and Washtenaw Avenue just east of the shopping center where Trader Joe’s is located.
Funding for the project will draw from three sources: (i) the city’s non-motorized fund – which the city allocates from its Act 51 state funding, (ii) a Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) transportation enhancement grant, and (iii) a special assessment on property owners. Here’s the breakdown:
ESTIMATED PROJECT COST $ 205,000 Design Engineering $ 1,050,000 Construction 135,000 Construction Engineering 85,000 Miscellaneous Costs 105,000 Contingency 1,580,000 Total Estimated Project Costs ESTIMATED PROJECT REVENUE MDOT $ 538,527 Transportation Enhancement 155,512 Surface Transportation Program - Urban Funds Local Ann Arbor Share $ 59,234 Estimated Property Share Assessable 826,727 City Alternative Transportation Fund $ 1,580,000 Total Estimate Project Revenue BREAKDOWN BY CITY/STATE 694,039 Total MDOT Grant 885,961 Total City Share
The special assessment of property owners requires a total of four resolutions.
- Charter SECTION 10.3 “No control or expenditure … shall be made for any public improvement, the cost of which is to be paid by special assessment upon the property especially benefited thereby, until the Council has passed a resolution determining to proceed with such public improvement.”
- Code Chapter 13 1:286 “By resolution the city council shall approve the plans and specifications for the improvement; determine that the cost shall be paid by special assessment upon the property especially benefited; designate the district or land and tax parcels upon which special assessments shall be levied; and direct the Assessor to prepare a special assessment roll in accordance with the city council’s determination.”
- Code Chapter 13 1:288 “… Upon receipt of a special assessment roll the City Council shall order it and the information presented to the City Council by the City Administrator pursuant to Section 1:284 filed in the office of the City Assessor for public examination; shall fix the time and place when it will meet and review the roll.”
- Code Chapter 13 1:191 “After the hearing and review, the council may confirm the special assessment roll with the corrections as it may have made, if any, …”
Before the council on Monday night was Resolution No. 3 in the series, which set the public hearing on the special assessment roll – for Sept. 7, the date of the council’s next meeting. Out of the $1.58 million project budget, the special assessment of property owners totals just under $60,000 for 12 properties, at an average of $4,936 per parcel. But most parcels are being assessed at around $3,500. One parcel, at 16,087, skews the average high.
The second of the resolutions was passed on June 21, 2010, while the first of the resolutions was passed in 2006. On Monday, in response to a request from councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1), city administrator Roger Fraser described some of the long history of the project. Fraser described the property owners’ reaction to the planned path: “To say they were less than receptive would be accurate, if not an understatement.”
Meeting with neighbors about the non-motorized path project was one of the first tasks that the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, took on when he was hired by the city. From a 2006 interview with Cooper:
HD: Do you feel like that meeting went off pretty well? That people got their questions answered?
EC: I am confident that everybody got their questions answered. We went through about an hour and a half of questions and I stuck around after the meeting time ended and chatted with a few folks even beyond that. It’s a relatively, and I use the term ‘relatively’, it’s a relatively simple project.
HD: Just from a construction point of view?
EC: From an overall complexity, not just the construction, but the effect. It’s not like it’s affecting 50% of the population. It’s a path on a very specific right-of-way. Many of the folks who will benefit from this City investment probably aren’t aware that the meeting was held. Or that, in fact, this project is underway. Those would be the folks who would be travelling by, and get to the edge of the sidewalk and say, Gee, now where do I go?
HD: I follow the dirt path!
EC: Again, the folks who were at the meeting, I think, generally seemed satisfied at the end of the conversation and thanked me for …
HD: … there was no yelling?
EC: No! That’s where you get to the public ‘hearing’ definition with a microphone and it’s kind of like a shark-feeding frenzy where one person makes a statement and the crowd erupts, and the next person gets in. No it wasn’t that at all.
HD: So it was a pretty friendly meeting.
EC: Friendly in terms of the atmosphere. There were clearly sides. There some who were there just to learn about it, there were some who had some preconceived ideas that were opposed to it, and there were others that were supportive of it. It wasn’t a love-fest, but it was a very polite and professional public discourse.
Non-Motorized Path: Public Comment
At the start of the meeting during time reserved for public commentary, Kathy Griswold addressed the Washtenaw non-motorized path resolutions on the agenda in terms of the city’s responsibility that was being accepted. From the cover memo in the council’s agenda:
The City will maintain the path; including repair, replacement, maintenance, mowing, tree trimming, and snow removal, …
She questioned whether this was good public policy, noting that it created the potential for inequity compared to other homeowners with sidewalks, who are expected to maintain them and remove snow from them. She also expressed concern that the city was making a financial commitment for maintenance of the path.
Griswold contrasted the Washtenaw Avenue non-motorized path project with an effort she’s pursued for more than a year to get a pathway or sidewalk constructed near King Elementary School. The point of that sidewalk installation would be to allow the crosswalk to be moved from its current mid-block location to a four-way stop where cars already are required to stop. Without the installation of a sidewalk, however, children crossing at that location would need to walk along a short unpaved section.
Griswold told the council that she’d turned the crosswalk project over to a group of King Elementary School parents and uploaded email exchanges she’s had to A2Docs.org. She said that her experience has become like a parody of “Roger and Me” [a movie directed by Michael Moore], with a supporting role by Stephen. [The allusions were to Roger Fraser, city administrator, and councilmember Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2).]
She reported that she’d talked to the Washtenaw County Road Commission concerning vegetation overhanging part of the roadway that belongs to Ann Arbor Township – there are various township “islands” within the city limits. She said that she’d learned that the street and the right-of-way belongs to the city and there is not a jurisdictional issue that would prevent the city from trimming the vegetation. She said she’d also called Norfolk Southern railroad about vegetation on Depot Street – several years ago she’d called and they’d been a bit more prompt about addressing it than they were being currently.
She said she’d also called the state attorney general concerning metered parking spots located within 20 feet of a crosswalk – near city hall – which she contends is in violation of the Michigan Vehicle Code.
Griswold concluded on a positive note, reporting that she and a foster child had enjoyed Fuller Park Day Camp – they’d had a great time. The gardens there were overgrown, so she called to get permission to clean up the gardens and by the time she received the phone call granting her permission, the lifeguards, on a rainy day, had gone out and cleaned them all up.
Non-Motorized Path: Council Deliberations
City administrator Roger Fraser related some of the history of the project, and the funding structure was outlined.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to set the public hearing on the special assessment roll for Sept. 7.
In connection with the non-motorized path, two easements were accepted from Washtenaw County – one for pedestrian access and one for public utilities. By way of background, an easement is simply the right to use land without actually owning it.
The council also considered and accepted four other easements: (i) for permanent drainage from Stone School Road Properties for storm ditch maintenance; (ii) for a permanent storm sewer and detention area from the public schools of the City of Ann Arbor [See related Chronicle coverage: "Drilling for the Drains"]; (iii) for public utilities from the Racquet Club; and (iv) for a water main from the underground South Fifth Avenue parking structure project.
The last one generated brief discussion, when Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) questioned why the easement was only for seven feet, not 10 feet. Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and Mike Bergren, of Park Avenue consultants – which is helping the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority manage the underground parking garage project – approached the podium to explain.
Bergren explained that only seven feet is on private property, with the remaining three feet on city property. So the strip of land where the 8-inch water main will be installed is actually 10 feet wide, explained Bergren.
Asked by Kunselman if the water main was designed just for fire protection or to accommodate future development, Bergren indicated that it could be used as a looping water main for development.
NanoBio Industrial Development District
The council voted without discussion to establish part of a property owned by the real estate company First Martin Corp. at 2311 Green Road as an industrial development district. The step is necessary in order for NanoBio, a company located at that address, to apply for an industrial facilities tax abatement.
During the public hearing on the proposal, Thomas Partridge called on the mayor and the city council to report out on the projected impact for job and economic growth that would result from the establishment of the district.
NanoBio is a decade-old spinoff from the University of Michigan’s Center for Biologic Nanotechnology. The basic technology platform was developed by James R. Baker, Jr., who’s executive chairman and CEO of the company. It involves creating super-tiny droplets – 150-400 nanometers in diameter – that when applied directly to the skin can penetrate directly through pores and hair shafts to sites of infections. The ability of the droplets to penetrate in this way is a function of their extremely small size.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved establishment of the industrial development district, which will allow NanoBio to apply for an industrial facilities tax abatement.
The council considered three different resolutions related to computer software: (i) a purchase order with ImageSoft Inc. for $200,000 to acquire document management software, which also established a content management budget of $470,000; (ii) a purchase order with The Ultimate Software Group for $174,000 for human resources software; and (iii) a $60,000/year expenditure for three years to upgrade the city’s asset management software to the enterprise level.
At the request of councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1), stemming from a question a resident had asked at the previous evening’s caucus, city IT staff explained that the city had partnered with Washtenaw County two years ago on the consolidation of their data centers. The county has been using ImageSoft’s OnBase software for quite some time – it provides business process automation and document management. It replaces physical file cabinets and integrates with the city’s Legistar system, which organizes the documents associated with all of the city’s public bodies – city council, commissions, boards and committees. ImageSoft is a Southfield, Mich. company.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved all the expenditures related to software.
Also computer-related was an item authorizing a $373,405 purchase of equipment from Amerinet for network switches to support the city’s communications infrastructure.
From the staff memo accompanying the resolution:
… the additional equipment provides the necessary network infrastructure to support the additional performance, power and data requirements of the Ann Arbor Municipal Center. In addition, the Information Technology Service Unit is upgrading its core datacenter distribution network. All of this equipment will be located in the new Municipal Center building.
Outcome: Without discussion, the council unanimously approved the expenditure for network switches.
There are multiple opportunities for councilmembers and the city administrator to make announcements on any given agenda.
During his communications time, councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5) spoke to the heavy rains that hit the area on Aug. 11, specifically the effect on Allen Creek. He said that they really did not know how much water was going through the creek and it had not been adequately studied. He called for a hydrological study to be done.
City administrator Roger Fraser also addressed the Aug. 11 rainstorm and Allen Creek specifically during his communications. He noted that it was a short rainfall – about 45 minutes – but intense. Parts of the city received over an inch of rain during that 45-minute period, he said. Allen Creek’s flow rose from about 3.5 cubic feet per second to 380 cubic ft/sec. He described the ponding on city streets as what would be expected during an event of that intensity. He noted that sanitary sewer backups had been reported at four addresses in the Parkwood and Oakwood area, which was similar to a June 11 storm.
Communications: Punk Week
Roger Fraser indicated that there was an “interesting array of young people dancing around the north part of downtown.”
He described the phenomenon as happening for four years in a row – there’s a shopping cart race that is the hallmark of the group, he said, which is conducted late at night down Main Street. In describing the shopping cart race, Fraser paused for a moment to consider word choice, then opted for “borrow” to describe how participants sourced the shopping carts for the race.
He contended that it started out as just that race about four years ago, but that it had evolved to the point that it’s become quite a nuisance. [Editor's note: The activity seems to enjoy a much longer history than four years.]
None of the activity has received permits from the city, and this year, Fraser said, he’d determined to take a look at every aspect of the activities.
To the extent that permits are required, he said, people who are known to be connected with or sponsor the event will be advised that they must comply with the standards for permits before they’ll be granted a permit.
Among the problems listed out by Fraser were bands playing at late hours into the night, people sleeping in the streets, and other “unmentionable activities” in the city parks.
Police officers have been actively involved in quelling the “melees” and citizens have suggested that things have gotten out of hand, Fraser said. The required permit for the shopping cart race would be for a parade or other competitive event.
From the city code:
10:152. Parades and competitive events.
(1) As used in this section, “parade” means any procession of 25 or more persons or vehicles in City streets. It includes noncompetitive bikeathons and walkathons but does not include funerals, picketing at a single location or processions of less than 50 persons on sidewalks and in compliance with traffic-control signals.
Communications: Library Lot Update
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), as chair of the Library Lot RFP review committee, gave an update on progress in reviewing development proposals for the city-owned Library Lot, where an underground parking structure is being built. Background research is being conducted by the consultant – previously reported by The Chronicle as the Roxbury Group. The consultant will be meeting with both of the two remaining proposers, he said, with the meetings not expected to be completed until mid-September.
Other Public Comment
Kim Kachadoorian appeared before the council with the largest visual aid of anyone in The Chronicle’s memory, a large tree branch that had fallen out of a silver maple tree [on the public right of way] on a nice sunny day. If the branch had hit a person, she warned, they’d be dead.
She’s been told by the city over and over that the silver maple is healthy. But the tree is rotting from the inside out, she said. She handed around samples of the rotted wood to the councilmembers. She said she called the city about it frequently, but they seldom came out to look. The tree’s roots are also causing the sidewalk to buckle, she said, so she can’t get a contractor to repair her sidewalk.
Today, she reported, someone from the city had finally come out to look at the tree. In 2006, she said, the city had come out to chop the tree down, but on inspection the city crew said the tree was tangled up in AT&T’s and Edison’s wires, and said there was nothing they could do about it until those companies do something about it. But AT&T and Edison told her they would not do anything until the city schedules a crew to chop it down.
Kachadoorian also told the council that the neighborhoods in the area of Madison and Main were not issued a red alert in connection with the armed robbers who fled the scene of a jewelry store robbery recently. An alert had come through the University of Michigan public safety department, she said, but not through the city’s system.
Thomas Partridge saluted the people who had received the mayoral proclamations at the start of the meeting, and called on the council to look at motorized and non-motorized transportation not just inside the city but also in the surrounding townships.
Three mayoral proclamations were made.
Local Food Month
The mayoral proclamation on local food declared September as Local Food Month in Ann Arbor. Organizers of the HomeGrown Festival, who accepted the proclamation, invited councilmembers and anyone watching the meeting to attend the Sept. 11 event, which runs from 6-11 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.
Women’s Equality Day
Mayor John Hieftje presented a proclamation declaring Aug. 23 “Women’s Equality Day” and called on everyone to observe this date with appropriate programs, activities and ceremonies supporting this year’s theme, which is “Vote!”
Appearing in period costume – with sashes emblazoned with the word “vote” – was a group led by Eunice Burns, who addressed the council, reminding them that women had enjoyed the right to vote for not all that long, only 90 years.
She noted that her mother was 25 years old when she first got the opportunity to vote.
Burns invited councilmembers to attend the celebration at Washtenaw Community College on Aug. 23.
She said she believed that Michigan was the second state to ratify the 19th amendment, and that we could be proud of that.
Of possible related interest to Chronicle readers is a column that local history columnist Laura Bien wrote this past April: “In the Archives: The Male Suffragette”
Parks Volunteers: First Martin
John Teeter of First Martin Corp. was on hand to receive the city’s appreciation for the work that First Martin has done in Wheeler Park, Liberty Plaza, and Depot Park – planting flowers, weeding, trimming trees and grass.
The Chronicle previously reported the efforts of First Martin in connection with Liberty Plaza, as those efforts relate thematically to the ongoing discussions between the city and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.
Those discussions are focused on revisions to the contract under which the DDA manages the parking system. From “Parking Deal Talks Open Between City, DDA“:
However, following up on some information from an audience member at the meeting, The Chronicle spoke by phone with John Teeter of First Martin Corp. about First Martin’s current supplement of maintenance in two Ann Arbor parks – Wheeler Park just north of the DDA district, and Liberty Plaza at the corner of Division & Liberty, located squarely in the DDA district.
According to Teeter, First Martin paid for the tree trimming at Wheeler Park this year and is handling the mowing, trimming and edging through this year’s mowing season. They’ve also repaired the steel fence around the playground area. In Liberty Plaza there’s no area to be mowed, but First Martin will be taking care of the tree trimming as soon as the holiday lights are taken down. In addition, the trash collection in the plaza has been added to a First Martin employee’s task list.
The two parks are not accidental choices of First Martin as locations where the real estate company thought about helping to supplement city services. Wheeler Park is located directly across from First Martin offices on Depot Street. And Liberty Plaza adjoins a First Martin property – the Michigan Square Building at 330 E. Liberty. The plaza was built at the same time as the building. First Martin takes an interest in neighborhoods where they operate, Teeter said.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Christopher Taylor.
Next council meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]