Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Oct. 4, 2010): While the city council postponed two major pieces of business, it did take action on two others.
First, the council voted to discontinue a pilot program to turn off selected streetlights. The program was designed to save $120,000 for the current fiscal year’s budget [FY 2011]. No additional streetlights will be turned off, and those that were switched off as part of the pilot program will be turned back on.
And the council voted to authorize the issuance of $9 million in general obligation bonds in connection with the parking deck to be built as part of Village Green’s City Apartments project at First and Washington. The bonds could take the form of conventional tax-exempt bonds, or other bonds, depending on which are legally available and most advantageous to the city when they’re issued. The bonds won’t be needed until the construction of Village Green’s project is completed.
In 2008 the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority passed a resolution authorizing that the bond payments be made from revenues generated by the city’s public parking system, which is managed by the DDA. The city council approved an extension to the purchase option agreement for the land at its Aug. 5 meeting.
Two expected votes did not take place. Revisions to the city’s zoning code that would change the specifications for area, height and placement in most zoning districts of the city outside the downtown were postponed at the request of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who said that she had questions she’d been unable to submit in time to get answers.
And in the absence of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) – who arrived late to the meeting – Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked for postponement of a five-year extension of the 2007 consent judgment the city reached with Joseph Freed and Associates LLC, developer of the Glen Ann Place project.
Glen Ann Place was a planned unit development (PUD) approved by the council in July 2005, but that did not win subsequent approval from the city’s historic district commission. Freed then filed suit against the city, the outcome of which was a consent judgment. Per the consent judgment, the height of the building was reduced from 10 to 9 stories. Glen Ann Place is planned to include retail and office uses on its first two floors, with residential on upper stories.
In other business, the council approved a handful of recommendations for liquor licenses, approved a rezoning for the land where the University of Michigan’s new soccer facility has been built, and approved an overhauling of the ordinance that governs how false alarms to fire and police are penalized.
The council also received a variety of updates from staff, including one on the traffic control plan for the East Stadium bridges when they are reconstructed next year, as well as a response from the city’s CFO to recent community discussion of significant unpaid taxes that might be owed to the city.
The city council also accepted a gift on behalf of the city from the Ann Arbor Summer Festival – a giant print of a photograph by Myra Klarman.
Before the council was a resolution to reverse course on a previous decision council made when it approved the budget for the current fiscal year, FY 2011, at its May 17, 2010 meeting. As part of the city administrator’s budget proposal, the city was to begin turning off 17% of the city’s streetlights in areas that by lighting standards were “overlit.” The move was expected to save the city $120,000 a year.
During deliberations back in May on a revision to the budget – to allocate some of the $2 million paid by the DDA to the city to parks mowing – Sandi Smith (Ward 1) saw the issue as one of public safety versus parks maintenance. From The Chronicle’s May 17, 2010 meeting report:
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) was not convinced that mowing and trimming in parks was the best use of the money. She was looking ahead to another amendment that proposed to undo the proposed de-energizing of some streetlights. She said she saw it as a safety versus shagginess-in-the-parks issue.
After the parks mowing amendment was approved over Smith’s dissent, she later proposed an amendment of her own, that would keep all the streetlights on. She got support for the idea from her ward-mate, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), as well as Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). From The Chronicle’s meeting report:
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) worried about the possibility of de-energizing streetlights. He thought it was perhaps a highway exception to general governmental immunity. Public services area administrator Sue McCormick noted that there was variability in lighting already – some residential areas have no lighting, some of them had lighting just at the street corners. She also noted that the areas where the de-energized lights were proposed were already lighted at twice the standard. Mayor John Hieftje asked if it was possible to get a demo.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he was apprehensive about the designation of certain areas as “overlit.” He indicated that there were certain areas of the city classified as overlit that he did not find to be overlit. Hieftje indicated he would not support the amendment but would support a demonstration. He said he was concerned about the $120,000 that would need to come out of the city’s reserve, if the city did not go through with turning off some of the streetlights.
Outcome: The amendment to keep all the streetlights on failed, with support only from Briere, Derezinski, Kunselman, and Smith.
On Monday night, the resolution to cease the demonstration/pilot program and to turn the lights back on was sponsored by mayor John Hieftje and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). The pilot program had been conducted in the general neighborhood where the two men live, and they’d made a nighttime field trip with neighbors, which Taylor had reported on at the council’s July 19, 2010 meeting:
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reported on a field trip at night he’d made with neighbors of the Brockman area to assess the initial result of a city program to deenergize some streetlights in order to save money. The measure was approved as part of the city’s FY 2011 budget, adopted in May 2010, and is expected to save around $120,000. The reaction of neighbors, Taylor said, was uniform: “They did not care for it.”
On Monday night, it was Taylor who introduced the resolution. Kunselman indicated he supported it. He noted that in many neighborhoods, given the large setbacks from the street, and the tree canopy, the porch lights from houses were not adequate illumination for sidewalks. Regarding the residents who complained about the lights being turned off, he said, they had “every right to be discombobulated.”
Mike Anglin asked if it might not be possible to lower the height of the streetlights to gain better illumination under the tree canopy. Hieftje pointed out that many of the lights are owned by DTE and there was considerable expense associated with changing the height of the lights.
Kunselman inquired about a possible city council work session with DTE. In the course of the conversation, Sue McCormick and Andrew Brix, the city’s energy programs manager, clarified that DTE is regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and that DTE proposes rates that must then be approved by the PSC.
By way of background, rates are particularly relevant to streetlights, because they are not metered for actual energy used. Rather, a rate is determined based on the number and kind of lights. With newer, more energy-efficient lighting technologies like LED bulbs, even though less electricity is used by them, there is no cost savings, unless there is a rate established for the bulbs.
Brix explained that in January of 2010, the PSC had required all utilities to file an LED streetlight rate with the commission. From The Chronicle’s background provided in one of the spring budget meeting reports ["Budget Round 4: Lights, Streets, Grass"]:
According to Michigan Public Service Commission spokeswoman Judy Palnau, the MPSC issued an order on Jan. 11, 2010 that required DTE to file an application with MPSC seeking approval of rates on un-metered streetlights that would accommodate newer lighting technologies. The deadline for submission was Feb. 10, 2010. However, the issue of these LED rates is still pending at the MPSC.
At Monday’s meeting, however, Brix said that DTE had not articulated a rate in terms of “here’s your equipment, here’s your cost” but rather had provided a paragraph indicating a willingness to work with customers on installation of alternative lighting technologies.
Brix then described a limited pilot program in which 58 lights had been converted to LED bulbs in cooperation with DTE, where half the cost had been shared by DTE – otherwise, the conversion would not have made sense to the city from the expense side. The area of that 58-light LED pilot, said Brix, was bounded roughly by Hill, Packard, and East University.
Related to a different streetlight project, Brix also confirmed that the city had initially had trouble getting credit for an agreed-upon reduced rate for LED streetlights installed in downtown Ann Arbor. However, he reported that communication was now better and that the city had been back-credited, so the city had been “made whole,” he said.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that there is also an LED streetlight installation in the Glendale area, and that the residents are extremely satisfied. Prompted by Hohnke, Brix confirmed that with LED technology, there is considerable flexibility to choose the spectrum of lighting – the city opts for a rough equivalent of “moonlight” – as well as 0-100% dimming.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) got confirmation that the new streetlights being installed on Stadium Boulevard between Pauline and 7th are owned by the city. She noted that the residents along the corridor had voted for a different lighting intensity to distinguish the residential section from the commercial district.
Bonds for Village Green’s City Apartments
Before the council was a proposal to authorize issuance of $9 million in general obligation bonds in connection with the parking deck to be built as part of Village Green’s City Apartments project at First and Washington.
The bonds could take the form of conventional tax-exempt bonds, conventional taxable bonds, Build America Bonds, Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds and/or Recovery Zone Facility Bonds, depending on which are legally available and most advantageous to the city at the time they are issued.
In 2008 the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority passed a resolution authorizing that the bond payments be made from revenues generated by the city’s public parking system, which is managed by the DDA. The city council approved an extension to the purchase option agreement for the land at its Aug. 5, 2010 meeting.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off deliberations by expressing his concern about what happens to the bond if the deck does not get built. The city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, explained that the payment is not owed until there is a certificate of occupancy issued for the City Apartments project, and thus the bonds would not be issued until the project was substantively complete. Crawford allowed for some flexibility in that respect, if the city saw that it could get a better interest rate by issuing the bonds a few months before the project is actually complete.
Based on the timeline approved by the council in connection with the extension of the purchase option, Crawford said, the project is supposed to be built by around May 2012.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to authorize the issuance of $9 million in bonds.
Glen Ann Place
Before the council was a request to extend for five years the 2007 consent judgment it reached with Joseph Freed and Associates LLC, developer of the Glen Ann Place project. Glen Ann Place was a planned unit development (PUD) approved by the council in July 2005, but that did not win subsequent approval from the city’s historic district commission.
Freed then filed suit against the city, the outcome of which was a consent judgment. Per the consent judgment, the height of the building was reduced from 10 to 9 stories.
Glen Ann Place is planned to include retail and office uses on its first two floors, with residential on upper stories. The site plan approvals in the consent judgment are set to expire on Nov. 30, 2010.
Although Freed was requesting a five-year extension, the resolution the council considered was for a two-year extension. The lawsuit will remain settled regardless of what council action is taken. From the staff cover memo:
The consent judgment granted these approvals … with an expiration of November 30, 2010. The petitioner has requested a five year extension due to current economic conditions. Because the approval of this project was a consent judgment, it is within the City Council and HDC’s discretion to grant this approval if they would like to provide an opportunity for this development to be completed. Whether or not this extension is granted, the lawsuit between the two parties will remain settled. Staff supports an extension of two years, consistent with the City’s policy of extending site plans for two year periods.
The resolution considered by the council also explicitly conditioned any extension on approval by the city’s historic district commission.
The council’s deliberations were led off by Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who had announced during his communications at the previous meeting that the issue would be coming before the council. Derezinski cited the absence of Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) in suggesting a postponement – there would still be time to act before the site plan approvals expired.
The council’s delay, Derezinksi noted, meant that the historic district commission would weigh in first on the extension, at their meeting later in the week.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of an extension for Glen Ann Place.
Area, Height, Placement (AHP)
The proposed revisions to area, height and placement provisions in the city’s zoning code for most zoning designations outside of the downtown area – a notable exception being the R4C area, which is being studied separately – has a history dating at least to September 2008. At that time, the city council asked the planning commission to seek additional public input before moving ahead with recommended changes.
The general spirit of the changes is intended to achieve a variety of goals consistent with best practice in land use, among them, as specified in the city’s planning staff report:
a) more compact use of land and infrastructure;
b) the preservation of natural systems,
c) accommodating new growth along transit corridors in existing urban areas which have existing infrastructure,
d) locating buildings closer to the right-of-way to promote non-motorized access, and
e) mixed land uses.
The anticipated benefits of the changes include, from the city planning staff report:
- Business and Job Retention and Expansion – The proposed amendments will allow the expansion of existing employment and retail uses that will encourage businesses to remain and expand in Ann Arbor.
- Revitalization of older Retail and Employment Centers – Many retail and employment centers in Ann Arbor were built more than 30 years ago and have become dated and underutilized. These proposed amendments will encourage these sites to redevelop and be revitalized.
- Environmental Benefits – Redeveloping sites will trigger a number of code requirements that will result in substantial environmental gains such as: a) storm water management (buildings constructed prior to 1978 typically do not detain storm water), b) landscaping, which will result in additional open space being provided as well as new trees and shrubs, and c) new energy efficiency standards for new buildings.
- Improved Non-motorized Access – The revisions will result in new buildings being constructed closer to public streets and sidewalks which will improve access for transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians, including those with limited access abilities.
- Improved Efficiency of Land Use, Mass Transit and Infrastructure – The proposed revisions will allow existing non-residential zoning districts to be used more efficiently and compactly. This will better support transit service, encourage development in existing urban areas instead of greenfields (and other sites without access to transit), and use existing infrastructure more efficiently.
- Enhanced Housing Diversity – By creating a new small lot single-family district (R1E) and encouraging parking to be located under new residential buildings, these proposed amendments will help expand the continuum of housing choices in Ann Arbor.
AHP: Public Hearing
Jim Mogensen recalled following the issue from the time it emerged from the planning commission’s ordinance review committee. The original proposal, he said, had included no height limits and the city council had caught that fact and sent it back for further public process.
Mogensen encouraged the council to reflect on situations – like the shopping center across from Arborland – that are planning a makeover, but not redevelopment with new construction. Would the new AHP provisions apply? he wondered. He observed that the basic challenge for that shopping center is that it’s “on the wrong side of the street.” In general, he cautioned, there could be cases where an owner had enough capital for a makeover, but not enough to redevelop. The council should think that through, he said.
AHP: Council Deliberations
The council deferred to a request from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to postpone action for two weeks. She indicated that she had questions about the changes that she had not been able to submit to city staff.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the vote on AHP zoning changes.
The council considered recommendations to the state to grant liquor licenses of two types: a micro brewer liquor license for Wolverine State Brewing Company at 2019 W. Stadium Blvd.; and a downtown development district liquor license to Mehak Indian Cuisine at 212 E. Washington.
Before the council were also two ownership transfers of liquor licenses – to Rush Street, at 314 S. Main St., and to Sava’s Cafe at 214 S. State St.
The limited deliberations came from two members of the liquor license review committee, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who noted that the downtown development district license recommended for Mehak was a good sign – investors see downtown Ann Arbor as an opportunity. Derezinski said it would add to the variety of food and social life downtown.
Outcome: The council supported the requests and applications for all four liquor-related agenda items.
Before the council was a wholesale repeal and replacement of the ordinance that regulates how false alarms to police and fire are handled when those false alarms are caused by automatic alarm systems. The city itself is moving to an automated system for enforcement and billing of false alarm fees – EnablePoint, which is supposed to reduce city staff time required to track and prepare false alarm billings. The false alarm tracking software will integrate with the recently implemented New World Financial System.
Separately, the council considered a new fee structure for false alarms. Under the new ordinance and fee schedule, registration would be required for fire alarm systems, and the “free” first-time offense is to be eliminated. False alarms from non-registered locations are assessed the registration fee plus the standard fine.
False Alarms Response Fee Schedule (Police and Fire Alarms) Current Proposed POLICE Annual Alarm System Registration $37 $ 37 False Alarm Response $82 $ 82 1st False Alarm Response for Non-Registered Location $82 $119 FIRE Annual Alarm System Registration none $ 37 1st False Alarm Response none $250 2nd False Alarm Response $120 $250 3rd and Subsequent Response $360 $250 1st False Alarm Response for Non-Registered Location none $287
Alarms: Public Hearing
Jim Mogensen suggested that the council be aware that after-hours cleaning services can sometimes trip alarms and that they need to make sure this phenomenon is taken into account.
Alarms: Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) expressed some concern on behalf of a resident who had contacted her about the ordinance change. He was worried that a false alarm triggered while he was out of town had previously cost him around $90, but the new arrangement seemed like it could cost him as much as $500.
City fire safety staff explained that there is an appeals process similar to the one used for traffic tickets. By way of background, the $500 figure is not related to the false alarm fee schedule, but rather to violations of the ordinance itself. For example, the new ordinance specifies that alarm companies cannot represent that their equipment has been tested or approved by the city of Ann Arbor:
3. No Person engaged in the business of installing, leasing, maintaining, repairing, replacing or servicing Alarm Systems shall: a. represent to anyone that any of the equipment they sell or service has been tested or in any way approved by the City of Ann Arbor. b. install an Alarm System unless a valid permit is in effect. c. obtain all permits, licenses and inspections required and comply with all applicable statutes, ordinances and regulations.
If an alarm company were to claim the city of Ann Arbor had approved their system, then that company would be guilty of an infraction that could be cited and fined for $500. The schedule of false alarm response fees will no longer be graduated. But for frequent false alarms from one location, the new ordinance provides a mechanism for the city to enforce disconnection of that alarm service.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the false alarm ordinance and fee schedule change.
UM Soccer Facility
On the council’s agenda was an item that dealt with annexation of property to the city of Ann Arbor from Pittsfield Township and the zoning of the parcel as public land (PL). The property, owned by the University of Michigan, is located on the east side of South Main Street, south of Ann Arbor Saline Road. The university uses the land for a soccer facility and recently completed the construction of a new soccer stadium. The point of the annexation is to allow the university to hook up water and sewer facilities for restrooms in the new stadium. Fees associated with the hookup include: $37,389 water improvement charge, $97,740 sewer improvement charge, and $14,000 local public improvement charge for storm sewer.
The city’s planning staff and planning commission recommended approval of the rezoning in December 2009, and in the interim, the university has completed construction of the facility.
Soccer: Public Hearing
During the public hearing on the rezoning of the land where the soccer stadium is located, only one person spoke – Jim Mogensen. He characterized it as a “missed opportunity” because the facility is already built. He noted that the planning commission had denied a special use exemption by Arbor Dog Daycare due to noise complaints, and suggested that the same principle could be applicable to the UM soccer stadium. [Chronicle coverage: "Expansion of Arbor Dog Daycare Denied"] The fact that UM was not applying for a special use exemption and was just now bringing the rezoning to the council after the facility was built was characterized by Mogensen as “institutional narcissism.”
Mogensen noted that there are more and more clear commercial enterprises on the university campus. As the university grows, he said, it puts more strain on infrastructure to support it, without a corresponding contribution in property taxes. He encouraged the council to think through what happens when commercial activities take place on public property. He encouraged the council to postpone the rezoning – the facility had already been built. It was worth taking the time to think through the issues, he said.
Soccer: Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated her dismay that the facility had already been built before the council rezoned the property. She said that in the future, she hoped the university would “jump through the hoops in the right direction.”
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the rezoning of the university’s land to PL (public land), with the newly constructed soccer stadium, which has been annexed into the city.
Before the council was a street closing – State Street, from South University to East William – in connection with the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Peace Corps. There will be two events on Oct. 14, 2010, one of them in the wee hours of the morning, to mark the exact anniversary of the 2 a.m. speech by John F. Kennedy from the steps of the Michigan Union. The later event, at 11 a.m. will include as guest speakers Sen. Harris Wofford, Jack Hood Vaughn, Aaron Williams, Julia Darlow, Mary Sue Coleman and Jennifer Granholm.
The University Record provides additional background: “The Peace Corps: It all started here.”
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the street closing.
The council received several nominations for appointments to boards and commissions that will be voted on by the council at their Oct. 18 meeting. Two of note were Malverne Winborne, to fill a vacancy on the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC), and Tim Hull to fill a spot on the taxicab board.
For background on AAPAC’s own efforts to identify a new member, see “Ann Arbor art commission also seeks two new members.”
Hull has addressed the council during public commentary in recent months on the topic of holding the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority more accountable, and he did that on Monday night as well. He also thanked the mayor for the nomination to the taxicab board.
Margie Teall (Ward 4), during her communications time, asked the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, about an issue that had been raised at a recent candidate forum by independent candidate Newcombe Clark, who along with Republican John Floyd is contesting the Ward 5 city council seat currently held by Democrat Carsten Hohnke.
Tax Issue: Background
The kind of “tax loophole” in question relates to real estate transactions involving companies that own companies, which in turn own real property – where the transaction itself is not directly about the real property, but which has the end effect of transferring the ownership of that property.
In a court case from 2006, Signature Villas v. City of Ann Arbor, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that in a transaction involving ownership of a company that, in turn, owns real property, the transaction meets the state statutes definition of a “transfer of ownership.”
From the court’s opinion [emphasis original]:
Petitioner asserts that § 27a(6)(h) only applies to the conveyance of ownership interests in legal entities that own property, and does not apply to the conveyance of the ownership of a company that owns a company that owns property. We disagree.
Whether a transfer of ownership has taken place is important, because when a transfer takes place, the effect of Proposal A [passed in 1994] – which limits the rate at which taxes on a property can increase – is undone. From previous Chronicle coverage on tax issues:
When a property is purchased, the taxable value is reset to be equal to assessed value. And the assessed value is an amount set at roughly 50% of market value. But in years subsequent to that purchase, the assessed value of the property will increase or decrease, depending on overall market conditions.
If the market goes up after the purchase, then the assessed value goes up, and intuitively, taxes paid on the property (that is, the taxable value) should increase, and they do. But Proposal A puts a cap on how fast the taxable value can increase. That cap is 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
Suppose you buy a home for $200,000. If you’re paying the “right” price, based on the assessor’s assumptions, then the assessed value and the taxable value would be $100,000. Further, suppose that the following year, the properties in your neighborhood appreciate by 10%, putting the assessed value at $110,000. And suppose that inflation for that period is right at 5%. The difference between the 10% appreciation and the 5% overall inflation means that for that year the taxable value can’t increase to match the assessed value . Due to Proposal A, the maximum taxable value for the property would be $105,000. On that scenario, the property would have an assessed value of $110,000 and a taxable value of only $105,000.
If a property’s assessed value is currently greater than its taxable value, then a transaction involving that property will reset the taxable value at an amount greater than its current taxable value – so there’s an advantage to the purchaser if that transaction could be analyzed as not an actual transfer of ownership. That’s the kind of analysis the Court of Appeals ruled against in 2006.
For the city of Ann Arbor, then, the question is: How realistic is this idea that there could be $4.5 million in additional property taxes that are currently not being paid, because there were transactions since 2006 that were not property analyzed and reported as transfers of ownership?
Tax Issue: City Staff Response
In response to Teall, Crawford allowed that on occasion, that kind of transaction could take place, but that the city was not aware of any specific instances – the city would address any such cases, he said. He invited the city attorney to weigh in on the issue. City attorney Stephen Postema characterized the recent community conversation on the topic as treating the subject as if it were surprising or new. In fact, he said, it was the city of Ann Arbor that had established the legal precedent that governs such transactions, so of course the city is aware of the issue.
Teall asked if the city was on the lookout for subsequent transactions – Postema and Crawford confirmed that they were. Crawford noted that the issue applies statewide and that the city had a number of “clever ways” of monitoring all commercial real estate transactions – he expressed reluctance at revealing publicly what those ways are. However, he assured Teall that the city does ongoing due diligence on such transactions. Crawford noted that in cases where property owners are identified as being in violation, they must make historical repayment with interest and penalties.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) inquired whether the city might be able to encourage compliance by looking at the possibility of a “tax amnesty.” Crawford replied that this was not an option for a local municipality – the city could not waive the penalties or interest, either.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know if the Glen Ann Place property – considered but postponed that evening – had changed ownership and could possibly fit the category of properties that needed to have a transfer of ownership recorded. Crawford told Kunselman he would need to check.
Summer Festival Gift
Making a presentation to the city on behalf of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival were AASF board members Jim Kosteva and Jayne Miller, and festival director Robb Woulfe.
Kosteva is the University of Michigan director of community relations, while Miller was, until earlier this year, community services area administrator for the city.
Their presentation to the city was a large print of a photograph taken by Myra Klarman, who is the festival’s photographer. Woulfe thanked the council for their past support, noting that typically the Summer Festival appeared before the council to ask for money or to relax wage requirements, but on this occasion they wanted to make a gift to the city.
He said he hoped the city would find a place to hang Klarman’s print. [For some background on Summer Festival funding and wages: "Living Wage: Insourcing City Temps"]
Communications and Comment
There are multiple slots on every agenda for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.
Comm/Comm: East Stadium Bridges Traffic Control
Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, briefed the council on the traffic control plan for the start of construction on the East Stadium bridge replacement, now scheduled to start in the summer of 2011. There will be an east-west detour for Stadium Boulevard traffic, she explained, that will route traffic via South Main, Eisenhower, and South Industrial. The north-south detour for State Street – which leads under the bridge – will take traffic via Packard and Stimpson. McCormick pointed out that this is effectively the same traffic control plan that the city had used in November 2009, when five beams of the bridge were removed. That plan had included input from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the Ann Arbor Public Schools, she said.
McCormick advised the council that the city would approach the community again 4-5 months before the start of construction for additional input and education about the planned detours. She also noted that in November there would be a “traffic summit” with the Washtenaw County Road Commission and the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, which would be an opportunity to look at the range of other road construction projects planned for the same period. That would allow the city to coordinate and modify the East Stadium traffic control plan, she said. She noted that the plan could be different, depending on whether construction starts before or after schools end their spring session.
McCormick advised the council that based on the experience in November, there could be up to a 40% reduction in traffic volume along the corridor, which would mean that the detour routes would carry 60% of the traffic that would ordinarily travel unimpeded along Stadium and State streets. That’s because driver awareness of the situation would lead people to find other ways without using the detour.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked that the city take a look at pedestrian traffic and how people might get from Burns Park to Pioneer on foot during the construction period.
Comm/Comm: Commuter Rail Excursion Service
Mayor John Hieftje reported that he’d attended another meeting attended also by the mayor of Dearborn about the Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail project. Hieftje expressed his optimism about the project eventually becoming a reality, based on the amount of money the federal government is investing in rail transportation through the ARRA stimulus program. At SEMCOG’s Oct. 28 meeting – to be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Henry Ford, Hieftje announced, the refurbished railcars to be used for the service will be on display. They’re double-decker stainless steel cars.
An excursion service would be offered to Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade, as well as to the Big Chill, a hockey game at Michigan Stadium between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, scheduled for Dec. 11. Hieftje also mentioned the possibility of excursion trains scheduled for the Ann Arbor art fairs. He cautioned, though, that there would not suddenly be commuter rail service – it would be built layer by layer.
Comm/Comm: Fuller Road Station
Two people addressed the city council during public commentary reserved time on the subject of Fuller Road Station, a proposed parking deck to be built in partnership with the University of Michigan on land designated as city parkland.
Nancy Shiffler noted that the city’s planning commission had recommended approval of the project’s site plan at its Sept. 21, 2010 meeting. She felt the commission had not considered the precedent it would set for use of park land without the consent of voters. She alluded to the history of the parcel in question, which she contended was purchased with taxpayer money and federal help and was designated as a wildlife habitat. She also characterized the project as bad transportation planning, saying that a parking deck is counter to a goal of mass transit. She also contended that the planning commission had not appropriately applied private development standards, and called the citizen input activities in connection with the project “bait and switch.”
Gwen Nystuen, who serves on the city’s park advisory commission, noted that the city council would likely be voting on the site plan at its next meeting. She said there are questions about used of dedicated park land for a transportation use. She urged the council to take additional time to consider the proposal, saying that Ann Arbor currently has more time than money, so it makes sense to spend some time. [Coverage of park advisory commission discussions on Fuller Road Station: "PAC Softens Stance on Fuller Road Station"]
Comm/Comm: City-DDA Parking Agreement
Fuller Road Station is a topic that has arisen as a tangential topic in the context of ongoing negotiations between the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor on the parking agreement that governs how the DDA manages the city’s parking system. The question has arisen as to whether the Fuller Road deck would fall under any new re-negotiated agreement.
At Monday’s council meeting, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) who serves on the council’s committee that is engaged in the negotiations, gave an update on their status. He said the conversations have moved away from the idea of the DDA taking responsibility for enforcement of parking regulations to focus on reworking the language of the existing agreement and the idea that the DDA would become the implementation engine for development of city-owned surface parking lots in the downtown. He alerted his colleagues to the likelihood of a city council work session when the DDA would present their concept for implementation of DDA-led development.
Comm/Comm: Housing Commission
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the city council’s liaison to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, reported on a useful field trip the commission had made to Grand Rapids to look at the diversity of options that Grand Rapids had achieved.
Comm/Comm: Single-Stream Recycling
Two organizations, independently of each other, in their remarks before the council expressed appreciation to the city for implementation of the single-stream recycling system.
For the Inter-Cooperative Council, general manager Eric Lipson and president Jeremiah Devlin-Ruelle were on hand to receive a mayoral proclamation declaring October Co-op Month in Ann Arbor. Devlin-Ruelle cited the single-stream system as providing a way for the cooperative housing organization to do a lot more recycling. He also praised the council for passing the recent ban on porch couches, saying it would make Ann Arbor safer.
During public commentary, Ken Wilson, pastor of Vineyard Church, read forth a resolution, signed by 539 people from his congregation, that expressed appreciation for the council’s service to the community, and highlighted the city’s implementation of single-stream recycling as a specific example.
Comm/Comm: NAP Volunteer
Denise Held was honored for her work as a volunteer in the city’s adopt-a-park program. The city council recognizes the efforts of a park volunteer once a month, typically at the first of its two monthly meetings. Held expressed her thanks to Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, for creating Brookside Park in the first place.
Comm/Comm: Community Policing
Jim Mogensen addressed the council on the topic of community policing and the homeless population. The overall context for his remarks is a recently re-constituted task force to look at panhandling in the downtown area. The council approved on Monday night the appointment of two additional members to that task force – Peter Ludt to represent the State Street merchants, and Mary Campbell to represent the Kerrytown merchants.
Mogensen related two anecdotes based on his experience 20 years ago in Silver Springs, Maryland. One involved a building where people had been living as squatters. The building’s owner boarded up the building to prevent people from occupying it. When asked how the people had reacted to having access to their temporary quarters blocked, his response was “What people?” Several people were then discovered inside, still alive but hungry and dehydrated.
The second anecdote involved a woman who called police about people hanging out on the street corner in view of her apartment window – doing drugs, having sex and the like. On investigation, the police determined that the people in question were simply waiting for the bus. When the calls persisted from the woman, the solution that was found was to move the bus stop a few yards down the road, so that bus riders waiting for the bus were no longer in the woman’s view.
Mogensen offered those two anecdotes as illustrations that the solutions to problems don’t always recognize what the actual problem is. As the city considers how to deal with panhandlers, he cautioned, he asked councilmembers to reflect on the fact that we recognize the interest that food cart vendors have in having access to the pedestrian flow. In the same way, panhandlers have an interest and a stake in having access to the pedestrian flow – something we should be mindful of, he said.
Comm/Comm: Integrated Funding
Lily Au addressed the council on the topic of the coordination of nonprofit funding with the city, the county and the Urban County, which is now proposed to include United Way and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. [For Chronicle coverage of a recent meeting of the Urban County executive committee, which discussed the topic: "Coordinated Funding for Nonprofits Planned"] Votes by the Urban County, the county’s board of commissioners and the Ann Arbor city council will be coming up in late October and early November.
Using toy boats as props, Au warned that the consolidation meant that a big boat was being built. But the problem with a big boat is that it can’t reach a small stream.
She questioned whether the consolidation would actually save money, pointing to the administrative overhead cost that would be incurred – in addition to the administrative overhead of the United Way and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. Au also asked who would be responsible for overseeing how the money is spent in the consolidated approach, once the money is allocated.
Comm/Comm: Zoning Reform
Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Washtenaw County Democrat with Christian values. He called on the city council to unite the city, the county, and the state and give inspiration to the entire nation by establishing zoning regulations in support of affordable housing. He called for the election of Democrat Virg Bernero as Michigan’s next governor.
Present: Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Stephen Rapundalo [arrived towards the end of the meeting], Sandi Smith.
Next council meeting: Oct. 18, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]