Ann Arbor Puts CIA Into First Gear

Also, council moves to align city traffic codes with state law

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 20, 2010): The city council’s last meeting of the year included a somber piece of news, delivered by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4): Peter Pollack, familiar to many in the community as a landscape architect and stalwart public servant in various capacities, had entered hospice care. Pollack passed away later that night.


During a break in the meeting, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) – seated at the right of the frame – came across the table to work on the wording of the Washtenaw CIA resolution. Standing, from right to left, are city attorney Stephen Postema, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Terri Blackmore of WATS (Washtenaw Area Transportation Study.) (Photos by the writer.)

In its main business of the evening, the council approved a resolution of intent to coordinate with Pittsfield Charter Township, Ypsilanti Charter Township and the city of Ypsilanti to explore the establishment of a corridor improvement authority (CIA) along Washtenaw Avenue.

The initiative would take advantage of Michigan’s Corridor Improvement Authority Act to create a tax increment finance (TIF) district. A possible timeline for establishing the CIA would include public hearings in early 2011, formation of the CIA and appointment of its members in mid-2011, with development and approval of the corridor development plan by late 2011.

The vote on the resolution of intent came after intense scrutiny of the resolution’s wording to ensure that it conformed with the requirements of the state enabling statute, while also addressing councilmembers’ concerns that the language not inappropriately suggest that the establishment of the CIA was further along than it actually is.

Several members of the public addressed the council at the public hearing on the adoption of the Michigan Vehicle Code and the Uniform Traffic Code. The adoption of the two codes is motivated by the city’s desire to make its speed limits legally enforceable. As the extensive public commentary and council deliberations reflected, the challenge is to set speed limits in a way that is legally enforceable but has adequate consideration for non-motorized users of roadways.

The council voted to adopt the two codes, after having given initial approval at its Dec. 6, 2010 meeting. However, amendments to the language used to adopt the two codes made at Monday’s meeting were substantial enough that the proposed ordinance revision was reset to its first reading stage. All ordinances must be approved at a first and second reading before the council.

Attached as a communication to the council’s agenda was an item that will likely receive a great deal of discussion early next year – a draft of a city council resolution that would specify how the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will go about facilitating development of downtown Ann Arbor surface parking lots. A key resolved clause of the draft resolution, apparently meant to address a historical point of friction between the city and the DDA, would require the city to reimburse the DDA for some of its expenses under certain scenarios.

Also at the meeting, in response to a report from the Environmental Working Group that the carcinogen hexavalent chromium had been detected in Ann Arbor’s drinking water – along with that of several other communities – city administrator Roger Fraser gave the city’s take on the study. [Chronicle coverage of that issue: "Context for Chemical in Ann Arbor Water"] 

Washtenaw Corridor Improvement Authority (CIA)

Before the council was a resolution of intent to work together with Pittsfield Charter Township, Ypsilanti Charter Township and the city of Ypsilanti to explore the establishment of a corridor improvement authority (CIA) along Washtenaw Avenue. The initiative would take advantage of the state of Michigan’s Corridor Improvement Authority Act to create a tax increment finance (TIF) district. [.pdf of Public Act 280 of 2005]

Washtenaw CIA: Background

At a Sept. 13, 2010 work session, the Ann Arbor city council had received a presentation about establishing a CIA for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor. A technical committee consisting of over 20 different planning professionals and representatives of the four municipalities that are involved has worked on the initiative over the last year. The technical committee was formed out of efforts by an action team that produced a report on the corridor in 2009. Work on the project can be traced back at least three years.

Contained in the technical committee’s report is a possible timeline for eventual establishment of the CIA that would include public hearings in early 2011, formation of the CIA and appointment of its members in mid-2011, with development and approval of the corridor development plan by late 2011. [Background documents available on the Reimagining Washtenaw website]

Washtenaw CIA: Council Deliberations

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) introduced the measure, describing the corridor authority as an example of an opportunity for collaboration among different municipalities to address an area in need of improvement. At Derezinski’s invitation, Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS), described the proposal in somewhat more detail. She said that establishing an authority would allow for transportation improvements. Examples she gave include installing additional sidewalks to fill in gaps, adding bus stops, and adding queue-jump lanes that would allow buses to navigate through the corridor more quickly than other traffic.

Blackmore stressed that establishing a corridor authority is a process and that over the next few months, they’d be able to get a better idea of the feasibility and the costs involved.

At the request of Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Blackmore identified as key transit recommendations: eliminating sidewalk gaps; creating mid-block crossings and 5-foot in-street bike lanes; constructing “super” bus stops with more elaborate shelters and information systems; and forming neighborhood connectors.

Asked by Hohnke to comment on the land use recommendations associated with the project, city planner Jeff Kahan indicated that they generally included intensified land use consistent with the area, height and placement revisions on which the council would take final action on Jan. 3, 2011. [Recent Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Council Focuses on Land Issues"]

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) identified a “whereas” clause that was of concern to her, because it seemed to indicate that the city was already engaged in the process that the resolution was meant to start. The clause in question [emphasis added]:

Whereas, The Ann Arbor City Planning Commission has begun the process of integrating recommendations from the “Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Strategy” into the City Master Plan;

Derezinski stressed that the resolution was simply a recognition that the corridor authority is a good idea and that the city should look at it – the city could back out at any step. The resolved clauses were taken straight out of the enabling statute, he said.

After further deliberations, the whereas clause of concern to Higgins was removed by “friendly” amendment, which did not require a vote. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) clarified with the city attorney that the clause was not essential from a statutory point of view.

Higgins also expressed some concern that business owners along the corridor hadn’t all been notified in a timely fashion about some of the meetings that had been held by the technical committee. Blackmore said there would be two additional meetings scheduled – with residents and businesses.

At Blackmore’s suggestion, the date specified in the council resolution for the council to take action next year was changed from early February to early March.

Having dispatched with one of the “whereas” clauses, Higgins focused on the “resolved” clauses and asked that the clause specifying the boundary be removed. She allowed that a boundary would need to be adopted eventually, but not necessarily that evening.

Differing views were aired by city attorney Stephen Postema and Terri Blackmore about the need for the boundary clause under the statute. Postema’s view that it was necessary prevailed. From the statute [emphasis added]:

(2) In the resolution of intent, the governing body shall state that the proposed development area meets the criteria in section 5, set a date for a public hearing on the adoption of a proposed resolution creating the authority, and designate the boundaries of the development area.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) expressed concern about use of the word “endorse” in one of resolved clauses, saying that he was hung up on that. He said he was not going to support the resolution if what the clause meant to express that the council “agreed” with the strategy. After a brief recess to clarify what was absolutely essential in the resolution from a statutory point of view, the resolved clause was amended as follows [deleted material in strike-through, added material in italics]

RESOLVED, That City Council endorses accepts receipt of the Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Redevelopment Strategy and its recommendations for land use, transportation improvements, and continued community cooperation.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed reservations about the boundary as designated in the resolution of intent, in particular the way it included land along Platt off of Washenaw Avenue, as well as along Huron Parkway. Those areas have a different character from the corridor, Kunselman said. Postema clarified that the statute allowed for contraction of the boundary area after the resolution of intent.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reminded her colleagues that what they were talking about is a tax increment finance (TIF) district. If they eventually approved it, it would mean the appointment of a board and that board would make decisions about how money gets spent. [By its nature, a TIF district captures the increment between taxes collected based on current property values and those resulting from improvements, and allocates the money to the TIF authority for decisions on spending.] It’s a big deal, she cautioned.

Derezinski picked up on Briere’s phraseology and said that yes,  it’s a “good big deal.” He stressed the importance of collaboration, saying that the authority could become more than the sum of its parts. The corridor right now, he said, is a “mess.” Mayor John Hieftje concurred that the corridor right now “doesn’t work.”

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) offered her wholehearted support of the resolution, saying that a TIF is a tool for achieving improvements.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution of intent to collaborate with the three other municipalities to establish a corridor improvement authority along Washtenaw Avenue.

Michigan Vehicle Code (MVC), Uniform Traffic Code (UTC)

Before the council for a second reading was a measure that proposed to adopt the complete Michigan Vehicle Code (MVC) and the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC) as part of the city code – Chapter 126 Traffic. In early 2008, the council had adopted the MVC, but excluded portions of the MVC addressing speed limits in an attempt to reserve for itself local authority for setting speed limits. [.pdf of corresponding Michigan Vehicle Code]

Part of the background to the proposal is that the city of Ann Arbor lost an August 2008 court case in which two speeding tickets issued in late 2007 were thrown out, because the city of Ann Arbor’s posted speed limits did not conform to state law with respect to the number of access points in a half-mile stretch of road, or a guideline that stipulates posted limits not be lower than the travel speed of the 85th percentile of traffic.

The two sets of codes provide for the various legal means by which a city can lawfully set speed limits. By adopting the full MVC and adding the UTC, the city’s position is that it might be able to retain some flexibility with the way it sets local speed limits.

Although the council eventually approved the change to its traffic ordinances, amendments were undertaken that reset the ordinance change to its first reading. The proposal will need to be approved at an additional reading by the council in order to be enacted.

MVC and UTC Adoption: Public Hearing

All changes to city ordinances require a public hearing. Several people addressed the council on the issue, with most of them recognizing the need for the council to adopt the two sets of codes. However, a clear difference in perspective was displayed between those advocating for speed limits that do not unfairly punish motorists, and those who wanted to make sure that safety concerns were addressed with respect to non-motorized users of the transportation system – pedestrians and bicyclists.

Characterizing himself as an unwilling expert on the subject, Charles Loucks described how he’d received a speeding ticket and had used state laws to challenge the ticket. As a result, Loucks said, the city attorney’s office had elected not to pursue it. The way current speed limits are set on some sections of roads, he said, makes rule-breakers out of most motorists. The speed limits, he said, need to be benchmarked against reality. If the rules are set up in a way such that 95% of motorists become rule-breakers, people will start to think the city is playing games with them.

briere walker

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) with James Walker before the meeting started.

Also addressing the council was James Walker, who had filed the lawsuit that had resulted in the 2008 court decision against the city of Ann Arbor. Walker allowed that he had “put some of the fire” behind the issue. Walker spoke for the National Motorists Association. He contended that when the city recently lifted limits from 30 to 35 mph in some areas and from 40 to 45 mph in others, the actual travel speed did not change. He noted that there was not necessarily a relationship between the number on the speed limit signs and the speed of the traffic.

Walker said that the city should be following state law, which includes an access point formula for setting speed limits. He also advocated for the use of the 85 percentile standard for setting speed limits. [The federal "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices" stipulates this as a standard: "When a speed limit is to be posted, it should be within 10 km/h or 5 mph of the 85th-percentile speed of free-flowing traffic."]

Jeff Gaynor introduced himself as a Ward 3 resident who also teaches at Clague Middle School and participates in the Safe Routes to School Program. [By way of background, at its Sept. 7, 2010 meeting the city council authorized application for a grant to fund infrastructure improvements as a part of Thurston Elementary's Safe Routes to School Program. The city announced recently that $160,840 had been awarded to help construct pedestrian refuge islands, flashing traffic beacons, crosswalk markings, and increased signage. Thurson is located just south of Clague Middle School, where Gaynor teaches. Nixon Road is a major north-south artery located just west of the two schools.] Gaynor cautioned that the speed limit on Nixon Road would likely be increased, when the council enacted the ordinance change.

Gaynor explained that for the last three years, he’s been carless. And he pointed out that cars are simply bigger and faster than pedestrians and cyclists. Faster traffic is less safe, he said, and increases the risk of fatality. In the U.S., he said, we sacrifice around 40,000 people a year to our “god, the automobile.” Although he understands the issue with the need for the city to adopt the state law, he said he hoped that  there could be some kind of compromise.

Erica Briggs spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, which has developed a position on the issue. [.pdf of WBWC position on speed limits] From the statement, portions of which she read aloud:

We urge Council and city staff to take special measures to ensure safety for all road users in any cases where speed limits must be raised. In addition, we ask that the City continue working with the Michigan Municipal League and other cities to seek reforms to the Michigan Vehicle Code, with the goal of promoting the safety of all road users and the vitality of our communities.

Briggs was critical of the National Motorists Association, which Walker represented, for its opposition to mandatory seatbelt laws, texting-while-driving bans, zero-tolerance DUI policies, and traffic calming.

Briggs was in the middle of giving some specific numbers to support Gaynor’s contention that likelihood of fatality increases with speed, when her three-minute time elapsed.

Karen Moorhead, who spoke later in the hearing, picked up the thread of increased fatality rates by clarifying that in pedestrian-car accidents, the probability of pedestrian death increases from 5% at 20 mph to 45% at 30 mph to 85% at 40 mph. Moorhead also reported a conversation she’d had with a school crossing guard who said that many motorists don’t realize he’s there, even when he’s standing with a stop sign in the middle of the road.

Bruce Geffen, a colleague of Gaynor’s at Clague Middle School, told the council that he has students who walk across Nixon Road to get to school. Increasing the speed limit there, he felt, puts his students in danger. He’d like to see some consideration along Nixon Road in terms of crosswalks, he said.

David Sponseller signed up to speak during public commentary reserved time on the topic of long-range transportation planning but had arrived late to the meeting and missed that opportunity. As the public hearing unfolded, however, he elected to weigh in on the topic. He told the council that he’d driven Huron Parkway 18,000 times – a four-lane road with no entrances – and could not figure out why the speed limit is only 35 miles an hour.

Tom Wieder told the council that they did not have a lot of choice – people have already challenged the city’s approach to setting speed limits and won. He urged the council to adopt the MVC and then do a legitimate traffic study. With respect to the safety issue, he assured the audience that he did not want to run down bicyclists or pedestrians. He urged recognition of the difference between the number on speed limit signs and actual traffic speeds. He cautioned against the false sense of security that can come from seeing a sign that indicates 25 mph as the speed limit.

MVC and UTC Adoption: Council Deliberations

Council deliberations began with solicitation of some remarks from Bob West of the city attorney’s office. He sketched out the history of the 2006 change to the Michigan Vehicle Code, which added an access point formula for the setting of speed limits. An access point is a driveway or intersecting roadway. It is, according to the MVC, prima facie lawful to operate a motor vehicle at speeds no faster than the following.

(d) 25 miles per hour on a highway segment with 60 or more vehicular access points within 1/2 mile.

(e) 35 miles per hour on a highway segment with not less than 45 vehicular access points but no more than 59 vehicular access points within 1/2 mile.

(f) 45 miles per hour on a highway segment with not less than 30 vehicular access points but no more than 44 vehicular access points within 1/2 mile.

The city had faced a legal challenge in 2008, West said, when Judge Julie Creal of the 15th District Court had ruled that the two sections of roadway where tickets had been issued were not in compliance with the access point formula. The circuit court had then upheld Creal’s decision, West said. The city had attempted to address the situation by  un-adopting specific sections of the MVC in 2008, but now West said he agreed with the two speakers during public commentary – Walker and Wieder – that the city needed to adopt the MVC and the UTC.

Bob West city attorney ann arbor

Bob West, of the Ann Arbor city attorney’s office.

Once the two codes are adopted, West said, the city can conduct further traffic studies.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted  to know how the MVC interacted with the “complete streets” urban planning policies – which call for roadways to be accessible to all users. She noted that the faster cars drive, the less secure bicyclists and pedestrians are. West gave the new HAWK signal at the intersection of Huron and Chapin streets as an example of a measure that the city has enacted to mitigate against potentially unsafe crossings.

Later in deliberations, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) elicited from West the statement that the 2006 change to the MVC was not undertaken in response to “complete streets” policies, but rather as a reaction to communities that tried to make a money-maker out of setting unreasonable speed limits and ticketing motorists for violations of those limits. Ann Arbor did not do that, said West.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) was concerned about the city’s ability to set speed limits in school zones. West indicated that Sections 257.627, 257.628, 257.629 of the MVC specifically address the ability to set speed limits in schools zones – which are defined in the MVC as extending  ”not more than 1,000 feet from the property line of the school in each direction.”

In a theme that West reiterated often throughout questioning from councilmembers, he told Teall that the ability to justify speed limits other than what are specifically laid out in terms of the access point formula would depend on studies conducted by traffic engineers.

Hohnke elicited from West a statement that the city does not set out to ticket drivers for the purpose of generating revenue. West said that a ticket is, in any case, not exactly a money-maker – some of the revenue goes to the state and helps fund libraries. [Penal fine revenue for libraries came up in a Dec. 20 meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board. See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Library Weighs in on Lawsuit"] The goal of issuing tickets, said West, is to get people to slow down and drive safer.

Hohnke wanted to know if either the access point formula or the 85th percentile guideline take pedestrians or bicyclists into consideration. West indicated that the access point formula does not, while the 85th percentile does, because presumably drivers adjust their driving accordingly to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he agreed that the Ann Arbor police department did not issue tickets for revenue purposes. He wanted to know from West, however, if it actually had an influence on driver behavior. West said he thought it did, but expressed concern that when violations were converted by the court from moving violations to non-moving violations, they had less of an impact. Anglin ventured that causing an actual accident had a greater impact that any fine.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wanted to know what recourse the city might have if the speed limit along Newport Road, by way of example, were to be raised. West appealed to the possibility that a study by traffic engineers could provide some recourse. West said that accident rates might provide a mechanism on an after-the-fact basis.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) ventured that under the codes the council was being asked to adopt, the setting of speed limits ceases be a political issue – a matter of the desire of the community – and instead becomes data-driven. West rejected the idea that somehow the values of the community would be forsaken under the code adoption. Mayor John Hieftje also interjected that in his experience they’d never been set on a political basis. Taylor clarified that he had not meant “political” is a grand sense.

Briere asked West to comment on the notion that motorists typically believe they can go 15 mph faster than the posted speed limit, so that a 35 mph zone might result in people thinking they can drive at 50 mph. If speed limits were set based on an 85th percentile standard, Briere wondered if that might result in limits ratcheting upward. West suggested there is a limit to everyone’s nerve.

Briere supposed that there could be increased requests for traffic calming measures in residential neighborhoods, which recent budget tightening had reduced to one or two per year. [Reduction of the traffic calming program was a part of the FY 2010 budget discussion.] West indicated that he didn’t think residential areas would be affected by increased speed limits. Briere countered that Pontiac Trail goes through a residential neighborhood and currently has a speed limit of 25 mph.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) confessed that in 15 years of commuting to Lansing he’d received a speeding ticket. He thanked West for his work. Derezinski described a meeting that he’d attended with West and the state police on the 85th percentile guideline. He said that while there are outliers, the 85th percentile was a good standard to use. He urged the council to adopt the two codes.

Hohnke pressed West to clarify whether the city could enact its own speed limits as a result of other studies it might conduct, or if the city just hoped it could do so. West said there’s nothing in the MVC to preclude the city from using some other engineering study. He said that his reading of section 257.627 of the MVC was not that the access point formula is the only way to set speed limits. He allowed that the MVC was not explicit about what additional studies might be used for, but because it’s in the statute, it had to mean something. The relevant passage to which West was referring reads:

(11) Nothing in this section prevents the establishment of an absolute speed limit pursuant to section 628. Subject to subsection (1), an absolute speed limit established pursuant to section 628 supersedes a prima facie speed limit established pursuant to this section.

(12) Nothing in this section shall be construed as justification to deny a traffic and engineering investigation.

An amendment to the proposed ordinance change, which was brought forward by Derezinski, inserted language to clarify that the adoption of the MVC and the UTC was being made only to the extent that the codes did not conflict with city ordinances and codes. West explained that the need for the language was due to a 1985 court case involving a local law that was inconsistent with the UTC, even though the UTC had been adopted by the local municipality.

Outcome on the amendment: The council unanimously adopted the amendment inserting language on conflicts between local code and the UTC.

Outcome on the resolution: The council unanimously approved the resolution adopting the Michigan Vehicle Code and the Uniform Traffic Code. This was the second occasion on which the council had approved the adoption. However, due to the amendment, the status of the ordinance change was reset to a first-reading approval. The council will need to approve the change at an additional meeting, in order for the ordinance to be enacted.

Peter Pollack: “Looking over your shoulders”

At the conclusion of the public hearing on the Michigan Vehicle Code, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) announced that she’d received a message from Peter Pollack’s wife, Eleanor, that Peter would no longer be able to be a member of the design guidelines task force – he had entered hospice care and was not expected to live through the week.

Peter Pollack

Peter Pollack, chairing the Ann Arbor public market advisory commission at its Nov. 3, 2009 meeting. As the sticker he’s wearing suggests, that was Election Day.

[The design guidelines are the final piece of the A2D2 rezoning initiative for downtown Ann Arbor. The zoning provisions have already been approved by the council. Higgins is the council representative on the task force.]

The message from Eleanor Pollack passed along Peter’s pleasure that he’d been included on the task force and had been able to contribute to it. She said that as the task force completed its work, Peter would “certainly be looking over your shoulders.”

Chronicle readers will recognize Pollock’s name from past coverage – of the public market advisory commission of which he was a member, or public commentary on a variety of site plan proposals where he brought his expertise as a landscape architect to bear.

His remarks inevitably spoke to the rhythms and patterns of surrounding context, whether that context was the natural or the built environment. For example, his suggestion for the Fuller Road Station was that its design should more closely echo the contours of the river valley. From a March 2010 Chronicle report on the city’s park advisory commission:

[Pollack] noted that his office had been involved in designing the Fuller Road boulevard in the early and mid-1980s. It’s the only place in the city where you get a sense of being in the river valley. It’s a very difficult place to put a very active facility, he said. Though the Fuller Road Station concept plan has been approved, he acknowledged, there’s still time to rethink the design. He urged commissioners to consider a structure that would be long and low, stretching across the current two soccer fields to the east – rather than building the taller structure that’s being proposed. It can be designed to be part of the park, rather than an object that’s plopped into the space.

Pollack said that in some ways he felt like he was on a horse tilting at windmills. The current design team are “good folks,” he said, but there’s just one chance to design the facility at that location, and they should do it in the best way possible.

Pollack was a gentle man. He always had a kind greeting for The Chronicle’s reporters when he encountered us. But he was also tenacious. At a public meeting on the Near North development, which was eventually approved by city council, he objected to the speculation that some expressed about the developer’s motives – he wanted the conversation to be about the project design. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting:

[Pollack] objected to discussion of what people believed the developer’s motive might be and rejected that line of thinking as narrow and unproductive. Pollack said that he had problems with some of the design features, but that they should focus on the challenge of whether the proposed design could be modified in a way that made it sufficiently integrated into the visual patterns and rhythms of the prevailing architecture of the neighborhood to win support from the community.

What Pollack thought mattered to people. His reaction was one standard against which people measured themselves. From a comment left on The Chronicle’s website, about the Near North meeting, by Ann Arbor Observer editor John Hilton, who also attended the meeting:

That’s the issue I and others were trying to get at with our questions about what 3 Oaks paid for the property. We must not have done a very good job, since two people I admire – Peter Pollack and Sandi Smith – spoke up to say that we shouldn’t question 3 Oaks’ motives.

Among his contributions to the community, Pollack will be remembered for his work chairing the Allen Creek greenway task force, which was appointed by the city council in 2005.

Higgins, at the conclusion of her announcement in city council chambers, characterized Pollack as an “amazing contributor” to the design guidelines task force.

Pollack passed away later that evening. He was 71.

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: Mutually Beneficial Discussions with DDA

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reviewed for his colleagues that the two committees from the council and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board – known as the mutually beneficial committees – had been holding discussions with two goals: (1) amending the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system, and (2) creating a process for developing downtown city-owned surface parking lots. As originally conceived, the idea was to pursue the two goals at the same time, in parallel.

However, Taylor reported that the two committees had revisited their thoughts about timing. Because the two committees had arrived at a draft of a resolution for developing a parcel-by-parcel plan for redevelopment, Taylor said, the resolution had been attached to that night’s information packet. Given that it was ready, he quipped, why hold off on a good thing? The DDA board would review the resolution in early January, Taylor said, and he anticipated that the draft could be brought to the council for consideration at its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting. [.pdf of the draft resolution]

The resolved clauses of the resolution appear to be constructed to prevent a repeat of a scenario from 2005, when the DDA had brought forward a development proposal for three parcels – the so-called 3-Site Plan – but the city council had declined to ever place the proposal on its agenda. One resolved clause from the draft resolution requires placement of items on the council agenda [emphasis added]:

RESOLVED, that for items above requiring City Council approval, the City Administrator shall place such items on the agenda of City Council no later than thirty (30) days after the City Administrator’s receipt thereof and determination that such items comply with City requirements. In the event that such item is not voted upon within thirty (30) days of being placed upon the agenda, then at each subsequent meeting of the City Council where the item does not appear on the agenda, the City Administrator during Communications from the City Administrator shall provide a status report as to reasons for the item’s failure to appear on the agenda.

Another resolved clause of the resolution foresees the city reimbursing the DDA for costs, if a proposal reaches a point of city council approval, but the city council declines to approve the item for any reason other than a failure to comply with zoning [emphasis added]:

RESOLVED, that in light of the DDA’s expenditures of Phase IV monies in reliance upon City Council’s approval of the Parcel-by-Parcel Plan, any resulting RFP, and the DDA-proposal recommendation, if City Council declines to approve a Parcel site plan for any reason other than the site plan not complying with applicable zoning regulations, then the City of Ann Arbor shall reimburse the DDA for all direct DDA Phase IV costs related to such Parcel.

In his communications, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) expressed disagreement with an unspecified statement that had been made in connection with discussions between the city and the DDA, which had been to the effect that the DDA could serve the role of shielding the city council from citizens. He stressed that citizens should feel free to contact city councilmembers with respect to issues involving the DDA.

By way of background, the specific idea to which Anglin was alluding is that the DDA would – in connection with redevelopment proposals for the downtown – serve to remove some of the political dimension from the discussion. This idea has been a part of the conversation during the course of the “mutually beneficial” discussions that have taken place between the city and the DDA since early summer. From The Chronicle’s report on a September 2010 retreat held by the DDA:

[DDA board members] were, however, content to let the DDA “take the heat” and “provide political cover” for elected officials to absorb some of the community criticism that could arise against specific proposals.

Prior to that DDA board retreat, the two mutually beneficial committees had met twice in August 2010. From The Chronicle’s report of the second of the August meetings:

The idea, said [DDA executive director Susan] Pollay, was to put the DDA at the “edge of the sword” so that her organization would “take the heat” from the community.

Comm/Comm: Human Rights Commission

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) gave a report out from a city’s human rights commission, the first one  that had taken place since Smith was appointed to that body in November 2010. She reported topics of discussion as including marriage equality in Michigan and a privacy ordinance. [.txt file of a draft ordinance circulated earlier in the year by Students Against Surveillance at the University of Michigan]

Smith characterized the repeal by the U.S. Senate of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the U.S. military as a “huge step forward” on the national stage.

Comm/Comm: Voting

As part of his city administrator’s report, Roger Fraser reminded the community of the participation by Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark in a $250,000 challenge sponsored by Pepsi.

Jackie Beaudry name badges

City clerk Jackie Beaudry distributes councilmember nameplates in preparation for the meeting.

[In the Pepsi Refresh challenge project, proposals compete for votes each month – one vote per project is allowed each day. The skatepark is competing for the month of December. To vote for the Ann Arbor Skatepark proposal, Chronicle readers can visit the website: Pepsi Refresh Project.] Fraser noted that it’s possible to vote more than once – you can vote once each day, unlike “the things that Jackie does.” The comment was an allusion to city clerk Jackie Beaudry, who handles election-related issues for the city.

Elections were also part of the consent agenda, which the council approved without comment. The election-related item was a resolution of acknowledgment meant to help publicize a change in federal and state law that overrides the city charter and has an impact on filing deadlines for Ann Arbor’s local elections. The filing deadline for city council candidates will change from late June  to early May. For 2011, the deadline to file is Tuesday, May 10 at 4 p.m.

Comm/Comm: Affordable Housing

Lily Au addressed the council on the topic of affordable housing, starting by wishing them a merry Christmas. She reiterated her concerns, which she has expressed at previous meetings, that human services funds not be co-mingled among the organizations that are distributing the funds. Next year, human services funding will be decided through a coordinated effort by the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw United Way, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, the Washtenaw Urban County. Au criticized the approximately $400,000 per unit construction cost in a recent proposal made by Avalon to demolish existing apartments at 1500 Pauline Blvd. and build a new complex. [Chronicle coverage: "Low Income Housing Project Planned"] Au complimented Margie Teall (Ward 4), who attends meetings of the Urban County as the city council’s representative to that body. Au told the council that she had a lot of poor friends, and that $400,000 could provide a lot of benefit to them. Au closed by riffing on a Christmas tune with altered lyrics to reflect conditions in a local homeless encampment: “We wish we had running water …”

Comm/Comm: Nominations

At Monday’s meeting, former city councilmember Leigh Greden was nominated to replace Jayne Miller on the board of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. Council will vote on his appointment at an upcoming meeting.

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

Next council meeting: Jan. 3, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the boardroom of the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]


  1. By Rod Johnson
    December 23, 2010 at 9:33 pm | permalink

    Shocking and sad news about Peter Pollack. Thank you for your nice remembrance.

  2. December 24, 2010 at 9:47 am | permalink

    Yes, thank you for the look back at Mr. Pollack’s work for the community. His absence will be felt.

    I’d like to congratulate the Council for their care in amending the statement of intent for the Corridor Improvement Authority. It would be very helpful if the Chronicle could make a copy of the amended resolution available.

    I have many concerns about the potential for this initiative, but here is one as a question: Can we be sure that any TIF revenues are directed towards public improvements (transit, walkability) rather than toward subsidies for development, as the Ann Arbor DDA has often done? The recent discussion of further DDA responsibility for pushing downtown development only highlights this potential for another TIF-collecting entity. There is money to be made here.

  3. December 24, 2010 at 10:38 am | permalink

    Re: [2] “It would be very helpful if the Chronicle could make a copy of the amended resolution available.”

    Corridor Improvement Authority Resolution of Intent As Amended

  4. By Tom Whitaker
    December 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm | permalink

    I have to take issue with the blanket statement that the Washtenaw Avenue corridor “does not work.” Of course it works! Perhaps traffic moves slowly through this area at rush hours, but it is a thriving business district that has seen continuous private investment and reinvestment over many decades. It looks better in many respects now, than it did when I moved here over 30 years ago.

    Every quaint small town and city in the nation has a strip like this near the highway, on the outskirts of town, where chain stores, fast food restaurants and auto dealerships can all be peacefully located without interfering with the the more unique, homegrown character of downtown.

    For sure, there is room for improvement when it comes to traffic flow, alternative transportation, and perhaps making the strip more attractive, but I think it is disingenuous to categorically state that this corridor “does not work.” What next? WMD found at Arborland? This strip, like Stadium Blvd. has a purpose that is separate and distinct from other areas of town and we need to allow for these uses on these strips if we want to maintain the character of Main and State Streets.

    I would oppose yet another TIF that will take money from the City’s general fund, the County, the public schools and libraries. I think the improvements to congestion and attractiveness issues can be resolved through cooperative planning, using existing public and private resources, existing public agencies, and existing private business associations.

  5. By Lily Au
    December 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm | permalink

    Hello, I’d like to clarify the data which I provided. That’s me should be blamed due to not clear speech within three minutes at the council.
    I criticized two low-income housing projects:
    (1) Near North Main Housing: The total cost per unit/apartment is $323,000, the unit was originally 51 declined to 39, the developer added some premium project into it, which added $73,000/unit out of $323,000 . To make long story short, developer bought the land at inflated price, then get Avalon Housing to pay for the high price, that’s tax-payers money.

    (2) Avalon Housing is supposed to rehab 1500 Pauline, but they’d rather demolish the current 47 units, and invest $8 million to rebuild 32 new units. That means we lose 15 units. The reasons are “Getting tax credits” “Drainage problem” “Not updated outlook” “Issue of accessibility”.

    I received mails from local community stating that the “Developer Fee” available to benefit…….I’m not so sure, let’s investigate…..We need to keep an eye on our housing, as many people sleep along the river, in the wood, under the bridge, even junk yards. Do you know that those live in junk-yards, you can’t even discover them, they pack and leave in the early morning. People light the candles in their tents, miserable! Visit those under the bridge, cold & dark there!

  6. By Mark Koroi
    December 28, 2010 at 6:28 pm | permalink

    Peter Pollack will leave a lasting legacy on the Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission in addition to many other aspects of the city government that he served.

    He set an excellent example for all who wish to engage in public service.