Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Sept. 1, 2010): On its surface, the first regular meeting of the DDA board after its July election of new officers seemed to be a relatively uneventful gathering. Two topics that could have prompted extended deliberations were handled in short order.
The first issue, handled with relatively little comment, was the report out from the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee, given by Roger Hewitt. The committee has been meeting over the course of the summer with a corresponding committee from the Ann Arbor city council to renegotiate the parking agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.
While board members Newcombe Clark and Russ Collins commented in a general way on the status of the conversations, it did not lead to any specific directive to the DDA’s committee for its next meeting, which will take place on Sept. 13 at 8:30 a.m.
However, at the suggestion of DDA executive director Susan Pollay, the board will schedule a retreat between now and its monthly board meeting in October – but likely after Sept. 13 – to focus on the “mutually beneficial” issue. In the meantime, the DDA’s committee will request of its city council counterparts that they provide their own assessment of the status of the negotiations. The Sept. 13 meeting of the two committees will also be the occasion when Pollay provides a detailed version of the outline, which she’d provided at the last committee meeting on Aug. 23, for a possible role for the DDA in the development of city-owned surface lots.
The second issue dispatched by the board with little overt controversy was a resolution that Newcombe Clark had brought through the operations committee last Wednesday to allocate $50,000 for support of skatepark facilities. Clark himself suggested that the resolution be tabled, alluding to the “prism through which everything is looked at this time of year.” DDA board members went along with that suggestion.
The prism to which Clark alluded is a political one. Clark is running an independent campaign for the Ward 5 city council seat currently held by Democrat Carsten Hohnke. Hohnke has positioned himself as a champion of the skating community’s efforts to construct a skateboarding facility at Veterans Memorial Park, which is in Ward 5.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the newest member of the board, former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel, and the member he replaced, Jennifer S. Hall, were acknowledged by chair Joan Lowenstein – but neither was present. The board passed a resolution of appreciation for Hall’s service, and Lowenstein welcomed Guenzel “in absentia.”
Other business at Wednesday’s meeting included the usual updates from the board’s committees. Notable from the transportation committee was an effort to collaborate with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to enhance bus service between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. And from the partnerships committee came a summary of a presentation they’d received from the chief of police – there’s a difference between being statistically safe and the perception of safety.
Downtown Development of City-Owned Property
Roger Hewitt gave the update from the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee, which is renegotiating the agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system. He noted that the committee had been meeting every other week – that’s more frequently than the originally planned once-a-month schedule. He said they’d come up with a matrix of parking issues and had identified various complications that would be involved in the DDA’s possible participation in the enforcement of parking regulations. One of those issues is getting access to records of prior infractions, Hewitt said. Hewitt was complimentary of the efforts of DDA executive director Susan Pollay.
Hewitt also noted that Pollay had created an outline for the DDA’s possible involvement in the development process for city-owned surface lots, which was circulated at the previous week’s committee meeting and was included in the board’s meeting packet for that day. The role of the DDA in downtown development is a key element of the term sheet guiding the committee discussions.
The issue had been discussed by the board’s executive committee, Hewitt said. By way of background, the executive committee of the DDA board is defined in the body’s bylaws as follows:
Article V – Executive Committee: The officers of the Board, including Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer and Recording Secretary shall constitute the executive committee. The last former Chair shall be a non-voting member and the Executive Director shall be a non-voting ex officio member of this committee.
Based on the results of the July annual meeting elections, the current executive committee consists of chair Joan Lowenstein, vice chair Gary Boren, treasurer Roger Hewitt, secretary Russ Collins and former chair John Splitt, along with non-voting member Susan Pollay.
Hewitt reported a desire to have a board retreat to guide how the “mutually beneficial” committee should proceed. Lowenstein called the idea of a retreat a good one, because there might be some ideas that have shifted since those discussions started.
Newcombe Clark asked if it might be reasonable to have the members of the city council’s “mutually beneficial” committee give a status report on the discussions from their point of view. Clark noted that if the reporting on the meetings has been accurate, then there has not been a lot of feedback from councilmembers.
Russ Collins, who serves on the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee, said that asking for that kind of feedback was reasonable. He noted that the committee had learned a lot about the bureaucratic and legal issues involved that would make the DDA’s enforcement of parking regulations difficult.
Responding to Clark, Collins allowed that yes, the DDA did need to focus on what the DDA wanted, but that if it’s impossible to get it, then that needed to be recognized. Collins emphasized that the committee had learned a great deal, characterizing the discussions as “productive, but frustrating.”
Clark expressed some frustration by saying, “What we want is irrelevant, because they have what they want.” He was alluding to the fact that the DDA in May had already agreed to pay the city an extra $2 million in FY 2010-11, which was not required by the original parking agreement.
Hewitt indicated that the next meeting of the city and DDA committees would take place on Sept. 13 at 8:30 a.m. – he would not be able to attend. Other members of the DDA’s committee are Gary Boren, Russ Collins and Sandi Smith.
Expected at that meeting is the more fully articulated, detailed plan for the DDA’s role in the development of downtown city lots.
Library Lot RFP Review Committee
If the DDA takes on a more active role in the development of city-owned land downtown, and if a suggestion from Ward 5 councilmember Carsten Hohnke is acted on, the Library Lot could be a parcel on which the DDA eventually leads the development process. Hohnke’s suggestion, made at a Democratic primary election forum, was that consideration of the Library Lot be restarted as a blank slate, with no preconceptions. An underground parking garage is currently under construction on the parcel, and a city-led committee is handling the review of proposals that were submitted for the lot last year. [Chronicle coverage: "Hotel/Conference Center Proposals Go Forward"]
At Wednesday’s DDA board meeting, John Splitt reported out from the committee that’s reviewing proposals for development of the parcel above the underground parking garage – he represents the DDA on the committee, which includes city staff as well as councilmembers Margie Teall and Stephen Rapundalo. Rapundalo chairs that committee.
Splitt gave essentially the same kind of update on the committee that Rapundalo has given his city council colleagues at recent meetings. The committee has not met in about four months, Splitt said. A consultant [Roxbury Group] has been hired and is doing due diligence on the two proposals that are still under consideration. The consultant’s meetings with the proposers should be concluded in time for the committee to meet sometime towards the end of September, Splitt said.
As chair of the operations committee, Roger Hewitt described to the board a resolution that Newcombe Clark had brought to that committee the previous week that allocated $50,000 of funds “to be used as matching funds for new public or private dollars raised in support of skate facilities and resources to be located and invested in the DDA District or within radial proximity of the DDA District.”
Skatepark: Tabling the Resolution
Hewitt said he didn’t feel the operations committee was the proper committee to review the proposal and said there were a number of problems with it. He thus stated that he did not want to move the resolution, but invited Clark to do so if he wanted to do so.
Clark moved the resolution, but in the same breath indicated he was open to the idea of tabling it – Gary Boren and others clarified that the first step was to actually move the resolution. After establishing that the resolution had actually been moved and seconded, Clark described how he was approached by the skatepark supporters – as other DDA board members had been – about possible support from the DDA for their efforts.
Those efforts include a location at Veterans Memorial Park, Clark said, and so he and others were “stretching” to find a way to directly support their efforts. [The "stretching" to which Clark alluded is a function of the city park's location, which is at the corner of Maple and Dexter-Ann Arbor roads, across from the new Aldi's. That's roughly 1.3 miles away from the DDA tax district boundary.]
Clark noted that the skatepark had gained support from Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, all the merchant associations, the Neutral Zone teen center – “all of our regularly supported friends and neighbors here,” said Clark. They all recognized how giving skaters a proper facility would help make the downtown safe take some of the burden off of downtown infrastructure. So he said he’d come up with the resolution as a way to support the effort with a relatively small amount of money.
But Clark noted that subsequently, he’d understood that there is “a prism that everything is looked through this time of the year,” and that he understood reservations that people might have.
Outcome: The board voted to table the resolution – with two audible votes against tabling from Sandi Smith and John Splitt – and the suggestion to the partnerships committee to take up the issue.
Skatepark: Political Prism
The political prism to which Clark alluded includes the fact that Clark is running an independent campaign for the Ward 5 city council seat currently held by Democrat Carsten Hohnke. Hohnke has positioned himself as a champion of the Ann Arbor Skatepark’s efforts to construct a skateboarding facility at Veterans Memorial Park, partly through his drafting of a letter from city councilmembers encouraging the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission to support the skatepark with a $400,000 matching grant. And Hohnke is endorsed by Trevor Staples, who is chair of the board of directors of Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. The race for the Ward 5 seat is a three-way contest between Hohnke, Clark and John Floyd, who is the Republican nominee.
In a post on the Friends of the Skatepark website, Staples wrote about Clark’s resolution:
I feel that it’s important we point out that the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark was approached by Newcombe Clark with the resolution for DDA funding that he wanted to bring for a vote before the DDA. The Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark declined to support the resolution because we could not figure out how the dollars could be used for the skatepark, unless the skatepark was moved. This is not an option.
Skatepark: Location, Location, Location
The location issue cited by Staples in his post involves where the DDA can make its investments. When the Ann Arbor DDA was renewed in 2003, the plan included explicit provision for expenditure of funds outside the DDA tax district [emphasis added].
[page 9] In an effort to accomplish its mission, it is understood that the DDA may elect to participate in important projects outside the DDA District.
[page 24] The funds allocated by the DDA are intended to strengthen the downtown area and attract new private investments. This Plan recognizes that solutions to downtown problems (for example, traffic, access, and parking problems) may best be developed by spending funds outside the DDA district. Similarly, this Plan recognizes that a key to the future vitality of the downtown is stable and successful near downtown neighborhoods.
However, the Veterans Memorial Park location is 1.3 miles away from the DDA boundary. While the DDA board has no general policy on the distances beyond the DDA boundary, it does have a specific distance policy related to affordable housing. The DDA’s affordable housing policy is to support housing projects up to 1/4 mile away from the DDA boundary. This policy was affirmed at the board’s March 4, 2009 meeting. Those deliberations will likely be remembered as much for the 1/4 mile distance as for board members’ “channeling” former board member Dave DeVarti, who consistently championed the cause of affordable housing.
While the source of the skatepark support was proposed to be taken from a grant previously allocated to the Washtenaw-Livingston Rail (WALLY) project, those WALLY funds ultimately came from the DDA’s parking revenues. Those dollars enjoy somewhat more geographic flexibility, because they are not collected under the tax increment financing of the DDA district, but rather from parking fees. Although there’s somewhat more geographic flexibility, the DDA’s policy on investing parking revenues has been to look at the parking system as part of a “transportation system” and to fund transportation-related projects. For example, the DDA uses parking revenues to fund go!pass bus passes for downtown workers.
While skateboards do have wheels, it’s not straightforward to analyze a skatepark facility at Veterans Memorial Park as a transportation project.
During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Ray Fullerton expressed some puzzlement at the skatepark resolution, asking for some clarification as to whether the support would be for the proposed Veterans Memorial Park facility or for some additional second location. Board members don’t typically engage in interactions with the public during their speaking turns, but Clark told Fullerton that “as written” the money could not be spent on the proposed Veterans Memorial Park facility.
After the meeting, Clark told The Chronicle it’s possible that the DDA’s partnerships committee might amend the resolution’s wording – which currently reads “skate facilities and resources” – so that it’s simply skate resources that are located in the district. In that case a resource like, for example, signage pointing people down Dexter-Ann Arbor Road to the skatepark could conceivably be located in the district, but still support the Veterans Memorial Park location.
Policing the Downtown
How the downtown gets policed was a topic that received discussion at a couple of different points during the meeting.
Policing: Funding Source
The source of the funds identified for Clark’s resolution in support of the skatepark is an as-yet unspent grant for the Washtenaw Livingston Rail (WALLY) project, which has an uncertain future. [At a recent Ann Arbor Transportation Authority retreat, the AATA board identified WALLY as a project they'd like to see start hitting some milestones for achievement.]
Clark has previously identified the unspent WALLY allocation as a funding source for a different initiative – restoration of downtown police patrols. At the May 5, 2010 DDA board meeting, the board remanded a resolution to its partnerships committee on the subject. From previous Chronicle reporting:
At the May 5 DDA board meeting, the board remanded a resolution to the partnerships committee on reserving of funds for a possible contract with the city to provide downtown beat cops. The resolution had been brought to the board by Newcombe Clark via its operations committee.
At the May 12 partnerships committee meeting, Clark said he was content not to press the resolution forward unless there was an attempt to grab the funds for some other purpose. The funds in Clark’s resolution on beat cops would be reallocated in monthly $60,000 increments from the WALLY north-south commuter train project, between Washtenaw and Livingston counties. There is a total of $335,000 reserved in the DDA budget for WALLY.
Policing: Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council Report
Ray Detter, who chairs the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, reported on that body’s regular meeting, which takes place on the Tuesday evening before the DDA’s first-Wednesday monthly board meeting. The existence of the CAC as a body is stipulated in the state enabling legislation for downtown development authorities.
Detter reported that the previous night’s meeting had included chief of police Barnett Jones, deputy chief John Seto and Ward 1 city councilmember Sabra Briere. He said they’d spent two hours discussing crime, panhandling and the challenges of police in the downtown area, as well as throughout the rest of the city. The discussion had been prompted, Detter said, by the expressed concern of downtown residents about petty street crime and aggressive panhandling being on the rise. Some people are attributing this increase, he said, to the reduction in sidewalk police presence.
One of the CAC members is president of the Sloan Plaza Condominium Association, Detter said, and he’d reported five separate security issues in a one-month period – twice a homeless person had stolen items out of the lobby, a smash-and-grab break-in, as well as homeless people sleeping behind the building.
Detter indicated chief Jones had observed that some of the homeless population are homeless “because they choose to be.” There’s an increase in people sleeping on the street, in parks, under bridges, Detter continued, and Liberty Plaza – an urban park at the corner of Liberty and Division – has become a problem once again.
Detter said that the CAC admired the ability of the police department to cope with the problems of crime in the city. He noted that while crime statistics are going down, arrests are going up. The police force has been reduced from 216 down to 124, he said, and they need help to solve this city-wide problem.
Detter said that Briere had indicated she’d be bringing a resolution to the city council at its Sept. 20 meeting to re-establish a panhandling task force. Detter alluded to the work done from 2001-03 by a previous task force, which had prompted a revision to the city’s panhandling ordinance. The ordinance revision had been due in part to the efforts of Joan Lowenstein, Detter said, who was then a member of the city council.
Detter stated that now we need action again.
The city’s “panhandling ordinance” is not known by that label in the city code. It’s a part of Chapter 108 on disorderly conduct and is covered in the section on solicitation:
Except as otherwise provided in Chapters 79 and 81 of this Code, it shall be unlawful for any person to solicit the immediate payment of money or goods from another person, whether or not in exchange for goods, services, or other consideration, under any of the following circumstances:
1. On private property, except as otherwise permitted by Chapters 79 and 81, unless the solicitor has permission from the owner or occupant;
2. In any public transportation vehicle or public transportation facility;
3. In any public parking structure and within 12 feet of any entrance or exit to any public parking structure;
4. From a person who is in any vehicle on the street;
5. By obstructing the free passage of pedestrian or vehicle traffic;
6. Within 12 feet of a bank or automated teller machine;
7. By moving to within 2 feet of the person solicited, unless that person has indicated that he/she wishes to be solicited;
8. By following and continuing to solicit a person who walks away from the solicitor;
9. By knowingly making a false or misleading representation in the course of a solicitation;
10. In a manner that appears likely to cause a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities to feel intimidated, threatened or harassed;
11. Within 12 feet of the entrance to or exit from the Nickels Arcade, located between State Street and Maynard Street; the Galleria, located between S. University and the Forest Street parking structure; and the Pratt Building, located between Main Street and the Ashley parking lot; or
12. From a person who is a patron at any outdoor cafe or restaurant.
Policing the Downtown: Partnerships Committee Report
Russ Collins reported that the partnerships committee had invited chief of police Barnett Jones and deputy chief John Seto to make a presentation to the committee on the status of policing in the city. Collins noted that there’s a difference between the perception and the statistics of safety. With respect to statistics, Collins said, Ann Arbor is very safe. And from the point of view of perception, he continued, Ann Arbor is also perceived as essentially safe. But he allowed that “young people can act enthusiastically.”
He also said that there was a lot of support for the idea of having downtown police patrols, because the perception of safety can be even more important than the statistics of safety. Collins said that the relative leniency of the panhandling laws in the absence of policing meant that people’s perceptions didn’t necessarily match the statistical reality of safety.
Newcombe Clark noted that when the crime statistics are low, it might take only one or two “bad apples” to skew the numbers higher. At that, Collins quipped, “You’re not talking about Ray [Detter] specifically, though, right?” After the laughter quieted down, Clark continued by saying that a large number of incidents could be the work of one or two individuals.
The other point that Clark highlighted from the police department’s visit to the partnership’s committee CAC was that the police force is good statistically at catching all the perpetrators of major crimes quickly and efficiently – but they feel the pressure to be proactive. Summarizing what the two officers had presented at the meeting, Clark said that an armed robbery might or might not happen, depending on whether they knew there’d be police officers nearby.
The “slippage” at Liberty Plaza, Clark said, could be attributed to the fact that the people who are new to town don’t know the panhandling rule, and those who know it, know that there aren’t beat cops walking around regularly enforcing it. He said it did not undercut the argument for downtown patrols to observe that statistically the Ann Arbor police do a really good job, especially considering that they have 100 fewer officers than they had a few years ago. Clark concluded by saying he didn’t want to let the issue go, simply by saying “the stats are good.”
Collins agreed with Clark’s basic sentiment – we’d all like bicycle patrols and beat cops restored because that provides a very effective message to the citizens and to the “nefarious people.” Safety is not only a statistic, he said, but also a feeling.
Some Chronicle readers may have noticed bicycle-mounted Ann Arbor police officers along Fourth or Fifth Avenue near the Blake Transit Center. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority contracts for security at the bus station. It’s not part of a general downtown beat patrol.
DDA Finances: Bond Payments, Timelines, Parking Revenue
As part of the operations committee report, Roger Hewitt presented the final unaudited summaries and fund balance sheets for FY 2010, which ended June 30. A point raised by Newcombe Clark was an asterisk next to a line in the TIF Fund Income Statement for the line item indicating “bond payments” for $1,569,605. The footnote reads: “Includes $508,000 for the Police/Court Facility Grant.”
Clark asked that in the future, that amount be reflected instead in the line item for “Grants & Transfers.” The arrangement is that the DDA has committed to grant the city of Ann Arbor the funds to make part of the city’s bond payments for the new police/court facility [aka municipal center]. At the meeting, deputy DDA director Joe Morehouse indicated the duration of the grant to be 25 years.
Also as part of the operations committee report, Hewitt noted that the board packet included a detailed set of milestones, which Village Green – developer of the City Apartments project at First and Washington – needs to hit as part of the purchase option agreement. That agreement was extended by the city council at its Aug. 5 meeting. Clark picked up on the fact that the turnaround time for DDA activities and involvement were all relatively short – in many cases a day. He suggested that the DDA “politely ask” that it be kept in the loop on those matters.
The parking revenue report that is always a part of the operations committee report showed some decreases in monthly numbers, compared year over year. For example, the Maynard structure showed $10,361 less revenue in June 2010 compared to June 2009, with 4,398 fewer hourly patrons using the structure.
JUNE 2010 JUNE 2009 2010 VS. 2009 Hourly Hourly Hourly Revenues Patrons Revenues Patrons Revenues Patrons Maynard $151,538 43,826 $161,900 48,224 ($10,361) (4,398)
A breakdown of art fair parking showed $218,230 in revenues compared to $244,180 for 2009 for a decrease of $25,950 – the weather had been terrible this year, with downpours and tornadoes in the area. Hewitt said that most of the monthly difference for July 2010 – which was $$33,975 or 2.55% less that July a year ago – could be accounted for by the decreased revenues during art fair. Hewitt suggested that the quarterly and annual reports gave a better feel for how things are going than the month-to-month reports.
Changing of the Guard
At the start of the meeting, the board’s new chair, Joan Lowenstein, who was elected at the annual meeting held just after the regular board meeting in July, welcomed the board’s newest member, Bob Guenzel. Guenzel retired as Washtenaw County administrator earlier this year. Lowenstein indicated that Guenzel’s absence was due to a previously planned vacation, but she still welcomed him “in absentia,” quipping, “He doesn’t know about the whole hazing thing, yet.”
Guenzel is replacing Jennifer S. Hall. The board unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging her service, which is the usual pattern and practice of the board. Hall’s period of service included a turn as board chair from 2008-09. The resolution highlighted her commitment to open government:
Whereas, Jennifer Hall encouraged important changes to the DDA’s processes, meetings, and website to foster a strong sense of public openness, accountability and transparency;
That commitment emerged perhaps most publicly when it became clear this past spring that members of the DDA board and the city council had done significant work on re-negotiating the city-DDA parking agreement – work that took place out of public view and outside of the committee structure that both bodies had established to undertake that work.
At the May 5, 2010 DDA board meeting, when the DDA board voted to grant $2 million to the city as a unilateral amendment to the parking agreement, Hall gave a blistering critique of the way the discussions had been conducted out of public view, against the DDA’s commitment to openness and against the specific mandate she’d given – as chair at the time the DDA’s mutually beneficial committee was formed – that the discussions be open and transparent. [For Chronicle coverage of that meeting, see "DDA OKs $2 Million Over Strong Dissent."]
The resolution thanking Hall also highlighted some of the specific projects she’d worked on during her period of service:
Whereas, Jennifer Hall also encouraged a number of signature DDA projects and programs, including approval of the Fifth & Division pedestrian and bicycle improvements project, installation of in-street seasonal bicycle racks and expansion of DDA funding for the getDowntown program and go!passes;
After Lowenstein read the resolution aloud, the board approved it without comment.
Public Comment: Electric Cable
Paul Ganz – DTE Energy regional manager for the counties of Ingham, Jackson, Livingston and most of Washtenaw – told the board he was appearing before the board on a bit of a “whimsy.” In connection with the underground parking garage project along Fifth Avenue, he said, DTE had been working with Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, and Adrian Iraola of Park Avenue Consulting, who works with the DDA to help manage projects. [Various utilities have required relocation in connection with the project.]
To provide the board with a historical perspective, he distributed roughly hockey-puck-sized cross-sections of electrical cable, which he said was typical underground high-voltage electric cable – it had been installed 34 years ago, in May 1976.
Ganz noted that the copper wires are wrapped in lead to help protect them. Ordinarily, the cable is recycled, because the metal is valuable, he said. But he felt like it was worth sacrificing a foot or two of the cable, sliced up into pieces, so that board members could keep a piece of it on their desks as a memento. He concluded by thanking the DDA for their cooperation.
Board member John Mouat commented that he liked the “peace sign” that was formed by the insulation around the three separate clusters of copper wire that make up the cable.
Leah Gunn thanked Ganz, saying she’d add the cable slice to her concrete chunks from Fourth & Washington, and pieces of re-bar from First & Washington – a kind of “parking structure memorial.” Russ Collins also thanked DTE for the work involved in relocating the utilities, which had to be coordinated and timed in a crucial way.
Present: Gary Boren, Newcombe Clark, Roger Hewitt, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.
Absent: John Hieftje, Bob Guenzel.
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]