Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 4, 2011): At its Monday meeting, the council focused much of its time discussing the future of downtown Ann Arbor.
Councilmembers voted on two major downtown-related agenda items – one affecting the immediate future of an individual parcel, the city-owned Library Lot. The other item involves a process by which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority would lead the planning of development for multiple downtown parcels, including the Library Lot.
The council voted, over dissent from two of its members, to end the RFP process for the Library Lot and to reject a draft letter of intent they’d discussed at a March 14 work session, which would have called for the city to work with Valiant Partners to craft a development agreement for construction of a conference center and hotel on the lot. The Ann Arbor DDA is currently building a roughly 640-space underground parking garage on that parcel.
Based on a separate resolution passed by the council, the future use of the Library Lot could emerge from a process to be led by the DDA. The council required lengthy deliberations before narrowly approving an amendment that reduced the area of focus for the DDA-led process. The amendment limited the area to the square bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets, which would include the Library Lot on South Fifth Avenue, the Kline Lot on Ashley, the old YMCA Lot at Fifth and William, and the Palio Lot at Main and William.
The resolution on the DDA-led process is part of a broader ongoing negotiation between the city and the DDA, related to the contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. That contract is being renegotiated, and since January, the city has not budged from its position that the DDA should pay the city a percentage-of-gross parking revenue of 16% in the contract’s first two years and 17.5% in years thereafter. It appears that the DDA board is gradually conceding to the city’s bargaining position. That will become clearer at the DDA board meeting on Wednesday, April 6.
The city’s negotiating position is based in part on the idea that the DDA is, as mayor John Hieftje has described it, “an arm of the city.” Hieftje’s view of the DDA as part of the city was further accentuated on Monday, when he announced at the end of the council’s meeting that he would be inviting the DDA to move its offices into newly-renovated space in the city hall building. The DDA currently leases space about a block south of city hall.
Also a part of Monday’s downtown-themed meeting was initial approval the council gave to a revision to the city’s ordinance on panhandling. That ordinance revision – which added some areas where panhandling is prohibited – will require a second reading and a public hearing in front of the council before it can be enacted.
An additional part of the downtown discussion came at the start of the council’s meeting, with a presentation on work being done to plan and study the 415 W. Washington parcel for future use as a center for artists and as a greenway park.
In non-downtown business, the council accepted a series of easements that will set the stage for TIGER II grant funds – already awarded by the federal government – to be formally obligated to the city. At stake is $13.1 million, which is currently still part of a continuing resolution for the federal budget. But that continuing resolution expires April 8, so the council was acting with some urgency.
The council also gave necessary approvals for a bus pullout to be constructed on Washtenaw Avenue, and authorized emergency purchase orders for furniture. And the council heard a presentation from Andrew Brix, the city’s energy programs manager, about efforts to increase the percentage of renewable energy that the city uses.
Library Lot RFP Termination
At its Monday meeting, the council considered a resolution to formally end the review process for proposals that had been received in response to a request for proposals (RFP) that the city issued in 2009 for use of the city-owned Library Lot.
A letter of intent (LOI) had been presented in draft form at a March 14, 2011 council work session, which would have called for the city to work with Valiant Partners over a four-month period to draft a development agreement for construction of a conference center and hotel at the South Fifth Avenue Library Lot site. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is currently constructing a roughly 640-space underground parking garage on the parcel.
The RFP review committee, which was charged with evaluating the proposals, had selected the Valiant Partners conference center and hotel proposal as the preferred one out of six responses to the city’s RFP. The name “Valiant” is an allusion to the University of Michigan fight song, which includes the line, “Hail to the victors, valiant.” The partners include prominent UM alums Fritz Seyferth and Bruce Zenkel. [Previous Chronicle coverage "Library Lot from Top to Bottom"]
Added on Friday, April 1 to the Ann Arbor city council’s April 4 agenda, the resolution to end the Library Lot RFP process was sponsored by mayor John Hieftje and councilmembers Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Sandi Smith (Ward 1). At Monday’s meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked that his name be added as a co-sponsor of the resolution.
Library Lot RFP Termination: Public Commentary
Alan Haber opened by saying, “It’s nice to be here again.” He said that he was again there to address the council on the topic of the community commons – a proposal he’d supported as a use for the Library Lot. He also told them that he was again disgruntled.
Haber objected to the fact that the council was contemplating termination of the RFP process, when the process had generated a proposal for a community commons that he said never received a fair hearing.
[Haber had worked with a group that submitted the proposal for a commons as one of six responses the city received to its RFP for use of the lot. The commons proposal was presented publicly, along with the other five proposals, and eliminated early on by the RFP review committee. It was then reinstated for consideration by the request of the city council, then eliminated a second time.]
Haber told the council they should take a look at the proposal. He suggested that the council was simply embarrassed by the flawed process and was now throwing everything out. He allowed that the council was tired of seeing him, and that the DDA was tired of seeing him – still, he wanted to know why the council didn’t want to look at the proposal.
Peter Zetlin offered his support for the idea of terminating the RFP process. He criticized a “resolved” clause in the resolution that he said made the financial return to the city primary and the beneficial use secondary. He asked the council to consider the larger body of analysis that concludes that public space creates significant economic vitality. He suggested eliminating or amending the resolved clause.
Odile Hugonot-Haber tried to address concerns she’d heard from people who say they don’t understand the idea of a “commons.” She talked about growing up in France, getting woken up by the clanging of cowbells as the cows went off to a common pasture. She also spoke of heating the raw milk to kill microbes, using the pasteurization technique developed by Louis Pasteur, not far from where she grew up. The field where the cows grazed was a commons, she said, as was the knowledge used to make milk safer to drink.
Thomas Partridge looped the idea of a community commons into his remarks when he asked the council what Christ would advise – protect the most vulnerable of Michigan’s citizens by providing access to affordable housing and transportation, or follow the proposal of Gov. Rick Snyder. That’s the kind of question, he suggested, that would be discussed in a community commons, if the mayor were to wave a magic wand to bring one about.
Ali Ramlawi introduced himself as a Ward 5 resident and the owner of Jerusalem Garden. He ticked through a number of complaints about the DDA, citing attitudes and actions towards him that he characterized as indifferent, borderline illegal, and dangerous. He cited specifically the sinkhole that had opened up behind his restaurant two weeks ago. [Ramlawi's business is located next to the Library Lot where the underground parking garage is currently under construction. Due to a breach in the earth retention system some 30 feet below grade, a sinkhole opened up just behind the building that houses his restaurant. Other Chronicle coverage: "Library Lot from Top to Bottom"]
Ramlawi noted that Fifth Avenue had been closed for seven months now and that he had been deprived of the quiet enjoyment of the land where his business is located without compensation or consideration. He complained about the road congestion and the dirt and dust from the construction. Running his business, he said, has been a hardship due to interruptions in trash collection, recycling collection and electric service. All he’d received, he said, was a string of Christmas lights, some parking validation stamps, and a sign on the construction detour signs indicating he was still open for business.
In winding up his remarks, Ramlawi said that Jerusalem Garden is a part of what makes Ann Arbor Ann Arbor: “I don’t want to be another city.” He called on the city council to “keep Ann Arbor organic” and “let it grow on its own.”
Lou Glorie congratulated the councilmembers who’d sponsored the resolution to reject the letter of intent, saying the proposal was “dead on arrival.” She called on the council also to issue a “do not resuscitate” order. She said the main problem from the beginning was a lack of public process. The conference center proposal had a small group of boosters who supported it, she said, but it had no community support. She said she wanted to see public process made a part of the resolution. She figured it would take as long as a year for the community to weigh in before another RFP could be issued.
Jean King told the council that she wanted to talk to them about openness of the process for deciding the use of the Library Lot. She told them the process had not been open, and that the council had not been open to Alan Haber’s proposal. Echoing the same sentiment expressed by Peter Zetlin, King said that instead of measuring proposals in dollars, the council should weigh proposals in terms of the benefit to the city.
Library Lot RFP Termination: Council Deliberations
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) led off deliberations by saying he was pleased to be a part of sponsoring the resolution. He characterized the process has having “borne a fruit we’re not interested in consuming.” He characterized the resolution as a way to “call the question” on Valiant’s proposal – an allusion to the parliamentary move “calling the question,” which ends debate by a deliberative body. He stressed that this does not reflect poorly on Valiant.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that the RFP process had begun in response to the fact that with construction of the underground garage commencing, there had been an opportunity to alter the design of the underground garage to change the location of support columns – if a design were proposed that required that relocation. She said the whole financial world had shifted at the time when the city issued the RFP. The overall economic climate, she said, made it the worst possible time. As a result, she continued, the responses from proposers were along the lines of people just seeing what they could get.
Smith cautioned that stopping the process now should not preclude starting up a new process soon. She indicated some concern about the word “robust” modifying “public process” in one of the “resolved” clauses that sketched a path forward for determining how the Library Lot should be used.
Smith said “robust” is ambiguous. She pointed to the history of various city planning initiatives, starting with the Calthorpe study in 2005, through the A2D2 process and the adoption of the new Downtown Plan as part of A2D2 – this process included a vast amount of public input. She proposed an amendment to remove the word “robust.”
Taylor responded to Smith’s concern about the word “robust” by saying it was simply aspirational, not contractual language. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) read aloud a statement that essentially supported the idea that the process should involve a lot of public input, based on the fact that it’s public land.
Mayor John Hieftje said he wouldn’t support the amendment, saying that one of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who could not attend the meeting that night, had been in agreement with the resolution’s language.
Outcome on “robust” amendment: The council rejected the amendment, which drew support only from Smith and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).
In continuing the council discussion on the unamended resolution, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that they’d heard from many of the speakers and sign wavers in attendance that they would have preferred a different procedure. She said the council had reached a novel conclusion – that as a council, they’d recognized a need to say they were not satisfied with the result of the process. She said it was a sad moment. She noted that Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had said a year ago it was time to hit the reset button and that Smith had said two years ago that the whole area of the site needed to be master-planned.
For his part, Hohnke said he was not a fan of the city taking on financial risk – he would be supporting the resolution.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated he would support the resolution. He allowed that everyone knew of his disdain for RFP processes. He did have some concern about the last “resolved” clause, which stipulates that the future use of the Library Lot will be one that results in property taxes being paid. He worried that this might preclude public buildings that might be built as part of a public-public partnership involving the Ann Arbor District Library or perhaps the Ann Arbor Housing Commission.
Derezinski indicated that he was only in slight disagreement with Smith. Given the number of significant decisions in front of the council – the budget, city-DDA relations, medical marijuana regulation – Derezinski wanted to postpone the issue and let things cool down. He expressed concern about the message that the council’s action would be sending to the outside world.
In arguing for a postponement, Derezinski said the process had yielded a lot of questions to which no answers had yet been given. He pointed to questions raised at the council’s March 14 working session, such as: Could the financial arrangement with Valiant Partners be arranged as an outright sale? He characterized a decision against Valiant’s conference center proposal that night as premature.
Derezinski spoke of the way that people mouth wonderful things about the inevitability of change and the need for growth, but when an actual project comes, people don’t necessarily act.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) read aloud prepared comments that focused on the failure of the council to see the RFP process through to the end. Valiant Partners, she said, has been left out of the process to date. Valiant had not been given a chance to respond to the questions that had been raised.
Teall said Valiant was more than willing to work with the council, and that there has to be room for negotiation. Valiant had not been given a chance, she said, to modify its proposal. She said it was true that Valiant was free to come back and offer cash for the air rights, and she hoped they would, saying they are a great team. Teall said Valiant has the best interests of the city at heart – financial and cultural. She said if people did not believe her, they could ask Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library. Valiant had worked to integrate their proposal with the library, she said.
Taylor responded to Teall and Derezinski by saying he disagreed with them, though their sentiments were heartfelt, earnest and reasonable. He allowed that the early termination to the process did raise the question of the message it would send to the outside world. The city’s devotion to growth, said Taylor, is in the $5 million investment in the lot [the cost of the foundations for the underground garage, which will allow it to support a substantial structure on top]. He said he was committed to the final “resolved” clause [stipulating the financial benefit for future uses of the lot]. It was not a matter of closing all doors, he said, but rather only this one.
As a counterpoint to the objections based on early termination of the process, Taylor pointed out that continuing a process that has little hope of success would amount to leading someone on.
Smith acknowledged Teall and Derezinski’s comments, saying she appreciated the dialogue. She allowed that passing the resolution would not allow the process to go all the way to the end, and that there had been no opportunity for a counter offer by Valiant. However, she said it’s a strong negotiating point to say, No, you’re not anywhere near what we’re talking about. She indicated dissatisfaction with Valiant’s willingness to put something in writing that put the city in a subordinate position, no matter how ambiguous the city’s RFP might have been. She characterized it as Valiant testing the waters to see how desperate the city is.
Briere immediately echoed Smith’s point about how it was a problem to put the city in a subordinate position – the city needs to be paid first, ahead of any other bank or loan payments, she said.
Teall complained that she believed the negotiations with Valiant could be flexible and that Valiant was in the process of changing its position even last week.
Hieftje said he respected Teall and Derezinski’s point of view. He noted that the conceptual sketch that had been associated with the proposal was unlikely to have ever been built, because of changing circumstances. He assured everyone that there was never any danger of the city accepting risk. For him, the questions reduced to whether he had confidence that the concept would work – he did not. Given that the University of Michigan was not willing to sign on to use the facility, he didn’t think it would be financially successful.
He then touched on several general points that seemed intended to support the final “resolved” clause and to reduce expectations that the parcel would now become a community commons. He spoke of adequate parking as providing a powerful economic development tool. He described how downtown development authorities were created to give downtown areas an advantage. He reiterated Taylor’s point about the $5 million investment in additional foundation strength being built into the underground parking garage to support a structure on top.
There are other parcels, Hieftje said, for people who would like to establish a community commons. The proposed greenway park portion of the city-owned 415 W. Washington parcel was one possibility, he said. In any case, the commons did not need to be located on the most valuable piece of real estate in the city. He cautioned that the city already included 2,100 acres of parkland and that adding a greenway park to it would require finding a way to pay for it. He also noted that the Ann Arbor District Library did not want to see a large commons located next to it.
Derezinski wondered what would happens next – would signs appear with slogans like “No Conference Center,” no matter what shape it was? He wondered what would happen with the proposed Fuller Road Station – would the city back off from its vision there? “Are we always going to back down from our vision?” he asked.
Teall, Anglin and Hieftje each took another speaking turn, touching on their previous positions.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) weighed in, echoing the complaints by Teall and Derezinski about the early termination reflecting a problem with the process. Higgins focused on more technical issues. For her part, she felt the council should be taking action on some recommendation from the RFP review committee. She noted that during the March 14 work session, the council did not have a current draft of the letter of intent. That part of the process was disappointing, she said – she felt like the work session had produced a mish-mash of information.
However, Higgins said she felt there was not a prayer that the proposal would pass, if it came in front of the council. The final “resolved” clause gave her hope, she said. The council needs to be clearer in its process going forward, she said, especially on the point of when the council will insert itself into the process.
Smith responded to Derezinski’s point about the amount of work currently in front of the council, saying she felt another related factor is the imminent departure of Roger Fraser as city administrator, who’s leaving at the end of April. There would be no one to take ownership of the project to carry it forward, she feared, though she allowed that an interim administrator could do that. However, with any interim, she cautioned, there tends to be some kind of void.
Briere wrapped up the deliberations by saying that she’d teased Smith in an aside about using the word “dialogue” when the word they needed was “discussion.” The council should have a discussion to identify exactly the process for finding a use for the Library Lot. That evening was not the time for that discussion, she said, but she is looking forward to taking part in it.
Outcome: The council voted to reject Valiant’s letter of intent and to end the RFP process for the Library Lot, with dissent from Derezinski and Teall.
The final “resolved” clause, which was often cited by councilmembers and public commenters, read:
RESOLVED, That future planning and proposals for this site shall recognize that this is a valuable, one of a kind parcel, and that whatever future project is contemplated for this site shall compensate the city with fair market value and a positive financial return, contribute to the tax base by paying property taxes, add vitality and density to Downtown and provide appropriate open space for public use.
DDA-Led Plan for Downtown Parcels
The council had considered but postponed the resolution at its March 7, 2011 meeting, and before that at its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting. At the March 7 meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had complained that no revisions had been made to the resolution to accommodate objections made at the Jan. 18 meeting. [.pdf of the unamended resolution with the parcel-by-parcel plan] At that meeting, objections to the proposal included “resolved” clauses in the resolution that would (1) require placement of items on the city council’s agenda; and (2) under some circumstances require the city to reimburse the DDA for its expenses.
At its Jan. 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor DDA board had approved a resolution urging passage of the council resolution, which had been circulated as early as the city council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, when Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) had attached a copy of the draft resolution to the council’s meeting agenda, and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting.
DDA-Led Plan: Council Deliberations – Dissent
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) began deliberations by offering amendments to the resolution that among other things added additional language about public process: ”Solicit robust public input and conduct public meetings to determine residents’ parcel-level downtown vision.”
Taylor also added clarifying language that would require the DDA to account for its direct costs – those costs would have to be reported along the way, in order to potentially have them reimbursed. Those amendments were undertaken as revisions to the resolution at the start of deliberations.
Taylor said the process would respect the desire for public input and would task the DDA with being the workhorse for the process, but would not grant control to the DDA to create the vision for the downtown. At various times in the process, the DDA would come in front of the council to check in.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) addressed a number of specific questions to Taylor. For example, she wanted to know how tasking the DDA with this job would differ from hiring a consultant, like Calthorpe.
Taylor responded by stressing that this new endeavor was not meant to be redundant with prior efforts like the Calthorpe study. He allowed that using the DDA in the way described by the resolution is similar to hiring a consultant, but that it would tap the DDA’s energy and enthusiasm and understanding of what makes Ann Arbor work. It’s akin to consulting, he said, but it would be a consultancy among friends. The DDA would be better suited to the task, he said, than a private consultant.
Briere wanted to know why the city’s own planning staff could not undertake the work. Taylor indicated that the volume of work would exceed the city’s planning staff capacity.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) has served with Taylor on the “mutually beneficial” committee that has discussed the parcel-by-parcel plan with DDA board members over the last several months. Later in the council discussion he noted that the parcel-by-parcel process would not supplant the city’s planning staff, but rather would integrate it into the process.
Hohnke also emphasized that the city would not be ceding any authority to the DDA – the process would be a part of the mutually beneficial relationship.
Briere wanted to know if the DDA would be making any decisions. No, Taylor said, the DDA would make proposals, which would then be decided on by the city council.
Briere wanted to know if there would be any expense to the city. Taylor indicated that the work would be free to the city. The only case in which the city would wind up paying any costs would be in the event that a proposal was advanced to the final stage and was rejected by the city council for some reason other than that the project did not meet zoning code.
Briere posed a question that led to considerable back and forth between Taylor and Sandi Smith (Ward 1): What does the label “parcel-by-parcel” actually denote? Taylor portrayed the idea of the process as more like settling on a vision for all the parcels of downtown before prioritizing specific parcels for implementation of development. Smith offered a portrayal that seemed to allow for identifying first a specific area of the downtown to focus on, which could then proceed to development of specific parcels within that area – without necessarily master planning all the parcels within the downtown area.
[At a January 2011 DDA board partnerships committee meeting, Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city of Ann Arbor, had led board members in a conversation about the midtown character district – part of the A2D2 zoning regulations – as a way to make more concrete for board members what the parcel-by-parcel process might be like.]
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) worried that the process would not be sufficiently public, and asked what the information distribution system would be like.
Taylor indicated that all of the parcels that would be part of the process were identified on a map attached to the resolution. He stressed that without some measure of consensus from the community on a proposal, the process would go nowhere. He said he anticipated “quieter times” with respect to public reaction, not because they’d be quelling dissent, but because there would be a consensus on whatever came forward. He adduced the example of Zaragon II, which recently won approval without opposition, as the kind of process that might be hoped for. That mostly residential building is under construction at the corner of William and Thompson.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) objected to the Zaragon II example, saying that the project met the new A2D2 zoning requirements, which made it somewhat different from city-owned property.
Higgins went on to state that she still had a problem with the idea that the DDA would be considering all of the city-owned downtown parcels. She noted that while it’s DDA money that would be spent, it’s still taxpayer money. She felt it was an irreverent use of taxpayer money, and she’d heard nothing to sway her to support the resolution.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) added a voice of dissent, saying that he, too, thought the proposal was too far-reaching. He didn’t feel like the DDA has the expertise to undertake the work – they’d simply be hiring a consultant. He suggested focusing just on the old Y Lot (at Fifth and William) and the Library Lot. He noted that the city faces a balloon payment on the Y Lot of $3.5 million. Those two properties are pressing issues, he said. He asked who at the DDA would be the project manager.
Taylor indicated that he didn’t understand Kunselman’s question. Kunselman clarified that when a project is reviewed by the city planning staff, it’s typically assigned to a specific staff member who takes responsibility for it.
Smith, who also serves on the DDA board, told Kunselman that the board’s partnerships committee would monitor the project. The partnerships committee, she told him, included two councilmembers, and regularly interacts with other government entities like the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
Kunselman said he could support the resolution if it were restricted only to the Library Lot and the old Y Lot.
DDA-Led Plan: Council Deliberations – Amendment/Consensus
Observing the clear dissent from Kunselman and Higgins, and possibly factoring in opposition from Briere and Anglin, Hieftje then indicated that he’d like to have a greater consensus and not pass the proposal on a mere six-vote majority. He seemed to float the idea of a postponement. Teall and Smith both indicated they wanted to see the proposal go forward that evening.
Smith then offered an amendment that added a resolved clause reducing the area subject to the process. The amendment reduced the area from the DDA district to a rectangle bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets.
Taylor was straightforward in stating his opposition to the amendment, starting with “I will absolutely not support this.” He noted that the proposal was the product of a great deal of conversation and that the DDA was very interested in applying a comprehensive view of all parcels in the downtown.
Hohnke also said he would not support the reduced area, but said he appreciated the effort to get a larger council consensus. He told Smith that she herself had been part of the conversation leading to the proposal that includes the entire downtown. He cautioned against trying to amend the proposal on the fly and said that the change would not be viewed as mutually beneficial by the DDA. It was too complex a task to be accomplished on the fly, Hohnke said.
Higgins bristled at the suggestion that the council should accept the proposal as it was, just because the city council and DDA committees had spent a long time discussing it already. She observed, “last time I checked,” a city council meeting is an opportunity for city councilmembers to add input.
Higgins observed that there are only four surface lots on the map that are not already built out – the Kline Lot, Palio Lot, Library Lot and the old Y Lot.
Later, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) indicated that he would be inclined to defer to the members of the mutually beneficial committee who were doing the negotiations with the DDA.
Hieftje noted that Kunselman was trying to express a priority of where to focus and he thought that was reasonable.
Briere noted that the council had heard a presentation about 415 W. Washington earlier that evening, which was included on the map of properties associated with the parcel-by-parcel resolution. She suggested that what was needed was a way to politely modify the focus – not change the absolute priorities, but rather to change the focus.
Smith argued for her own amendment by saying that even the reduced area would be a huge undertaking, a big bite to chew off, she said. She didn’t think the DDA would be offended if the council said to prioritize the smaller area.
Taylor came back with the idea that the value of the parcel-by-parcel plan is its consideration of the downtown area as a whole. So reducing the area to the small rectangle does the process a deep disservice, he said. He offered an amendment to Smith’s amendment that essentially softened it to say that the city council believed the reduced rectangle likely represented the first opportunities for development. Smith was willing to accept the amendment, but Kunselman, who had seconded her motion, was not.
With his proposed amendment to the amendment not accepted as friendly, Taylor eventually insisted that it be put to a vote.
Outcome on Taylor’s amendment to Smith’s amendment: Taylor’s amendment nearly succeeded, resulting in a 5-5 split. Voting for it were: Hohnke, Smith, Derezinski, Taylor, and Teall. Voting against it were: Anglin, Hieftje, Briere, Kunselman and Higgins. Rapundalo was absent.
Returning to the deliberations on Smith’s amendment that would restrict the parameters of the process to focus on a reduced rectangle of the downtown, Hohnke said he felt it was oxymoronic to speak of “master planning” a subset of properties.
Smith countered by saying it allows the DDA to focus on a smaller area with the most opportunity.
Outcome on Smith’s amendment: The reduced area of focus to the rectangle bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets was approved with support from Hieftje, Smith, Briere, Kunselman, Teall and Higgins. Dissenting were Hohnke, Anglin, Derezinski and Taylor.
In final deliberations after the amendment was approved, Hieftje noted that the council was giving away the process but not the decision-making authority.
Kunselman reiterated his view that the old Y Lot needs to be put up for sale one way or another. He was resistant to the idea that the city council should be trying to do economic development work – it should be left to organizations like Ann Arbor SPARK. He also observed that the Library Lot, the Kline Lot and the Palio Lot had been surface parking lots all his life.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the DDA-led development process as amended to focus on the rectangle bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets.
DDA-City Mutually Beneficial Negotiations
During deliberations on the DDA parcel-by-parcel proposal, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) described the process as part of the mutually beneficial relationship between the city and the DDA. He noted that the city was asking the DDA to step up during tough economic times by making a financial contribution to the city, and the parcel-by-parcel plan was another way they’d identified where the DDA could contribute in a mutually beneficial way.
During his communications time, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reported out on the financial contribution the DDA is making. Specifically, he gave an update on the progress of negotiations between the city and the DDA on the parking contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system.
[At a Monday, March 28 morning meeting of the two so-called "mutually beneficial" committees, the city council's team asked their DDA counterparts to convey a request to the full DDA board to reconsider the board's previous consensus, reached at a full-board retreat. That consensus, as part of renegotiating a parking agreement with the city, was that the DDA would pay the city a percentage-of-gross parking revenues – 14% in the first two years of a future contract, and 15% in years thereafter. The city's position since January has been that the DDA should pay the city 16% of gross parking revenues in the first two years of the contract and 17.5% in years thereafter.
At a Wednesday, March 30 DDA committee meeting, attended by 10 of 12 DDA board members, they reconsidered the city's request and reached a consensus that they could live with 16% in the first two years, and for remaining years as well. That is, they came to agreement on the first two years of the contract, but a 1.5% difference persists for remaining years. That translates to $270,000, based on roughly $18 million in revenues projected for fiscal year 2014, which would be the third year of the contract.]
At Monday’s council meeting, Taylor reported that on the morning of April 4, the two mutually beneficial committees had met again, and that city councilmembers had asked the DDA committee to take back to the full board a request to reconsider their flat 16% position and to think about increasing the figure to 17.5% in the third year and years thereafter. Taylor reported that the request would be taken back to the full board, which meets on Wednesday, April 6. Taylor had indicated some possibility that the increased percentage would need to be coupled with an increase from the length of the contract term to 15 years. [The city has floated the possibility of a contract as short as seven years, but in recent talks the term seemed to have settled on 10 years.]
Taylor indicated that they were looking forward to reaching an agreement in short order, which can then be incorporated into city administrator Roger Fraser’s proposed budget. Fraser will formally present the fiscal year 2012 budget at the council’s April 19 meeting.
415 W. Washington Update
The council received a presentation with an update about planning work that’s being done by a group tasked with working on an “innovative process of community collaboration to explore a greenway park and arts center” at 415 W. Washington. The parcel at 415 W. Washington, located across from the YMCA, is currently used as a surface parking lot.
The group was called on by a Feb. 1, 2010 city council resolution to provide a progress report on their work at the council’s first meeting in February 2011. [Chronicle coverage of the Feb. 1, 2010 council meeting: "Council Restarts 415 W. Washington Process"] The report at Monday’s meeting was in response to that resolution.
The Greenway Arts Committee includes: John Hieftje, Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall, Christine Schopieray (the mayor’s administrative assistant) on behalf of the city council; Joe O’Neal and Jonathan Bulkley for the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy; and Tamara Real, Susan Froelich and David Esau for The Arts Alliance.
David Esau of the Arts Alliance gave the presentation for the group.
Highlights of the work included a report out on focus groups conducted with artists. The committee also had made site visits to The Russell in Detroit, the Park Trades Center in Kalamazoo, and the Box Factory in St. Joseph.
The committee had secured a donation that had allowed a grant writer to be hired, who’d help submit applications for several grants, but none had yet been won, Esau reported. He said the next step would be to raise $100,000 for additional studies on the old buildings located at the site, which are protected by the Old West Side historic district.
DDA Invited to Move
During his communications period at the conclusion of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje announced that he and councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1) would be presenting the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority with an invitation to move its offices into newly renovated space on the lower level of city hall. Hieftje and Smith also serve on the DDA board.
That invitation will be made at the DDA’s Wednesday, April 6 board meeting. The DDA is contemplating signing a lease renewal for its existing space at 150 S. Fifth Ave., where the DDA currently pays $26 per square foot for 3,189 square feet of office space. Under terms of the new lease, the DDA would pay $16.75 per square foot in the first year of a 5-year deal, for a total of $53,415. After the first year, the amount would increase to $17.25, $18, $18.75 and $19.50 per square foot.
The DDA’s current arrangement with Weinmann Block LLC, which owns the building, ends on June 30, 2011.
Panhandling Law Tweak Gets Initial OK
The council considered a first reading of an amendment to the city’s code on disorderly conduct – the part dealing with solicitation, which is more commonly known as panhandling. To be enacted, the ordinance revision will need a second vote by the council and a public hearing.
The revised ordinance prohibits panhandling in one generally-defined additional location (in or within 12 feet of a public alley) and one specific location (within 12 feet of the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library.) [.pdf of revisions to existing ordinance as they were drafted at the start of the April 4, 2011 meeting]
The proposal to revise the law grew out of a street outreach task force, which was appointed at the council’s Sept. 20, 2010 meeting and charged with developing cost-effective recommendations for addressing the issue of downtown panhandling and the needs of those who panhandle. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers"]
At the council’s March 21, 2011 meeting, the council received a report from two members of the task force – Maggie Ladd, executive director of the South University Area Association, and Charles Coleman, a project coordinator with Dawn Farm. A recommendation contained in the report included revising the city’s ordinance on solicitation to prohibit panhandling in additional locations. [.pdf of street outreach task force report]
Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who chaired the task force, introduced the ordinance change, saying she hoped that the council would not need to discuss it too much, as it was the first reading.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wondered about a specific point that had been a part of the task force’s recommendations – though not a part of the ordinance change. It had to do with the mayor’s downtown marketing task force as the agent for implementing some of the educational steps – providing people with information about alternatives to giving money to panhandlers. Smith wondered if it was a role that the marketing task force was willing to take on. Mayor John Hieftje indicated that it was.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had a question about some phrasing in the existing language of the ordinance, which was not proposed to be changed: ” … from a person who is a person who is in any vehicle on the street.” She suggested it was redundant and should read ” … from a person who is in any vehicle on the street.” [The awkwardness could have arisen in the original due to a parallel with a different part of the ordinance "... a person who is a patron at any outdoor cafe or restaurant."]
Hieftje indicated he appreciated the rapid work of the task force.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give its initial approval to a revision to the city’s panhandling ordinance.
East Stadium Bridges Project
Before the council were four items related to its East Stadium bridges replacement project: a road right-of-way easement from the University of Michigan for $563,400; two utilities easements from UM totaling $426,650; and an unrecorded water utilities easement.
The city was able to get TIGER II federal funds formally “obligated” for that first right-of-way phase of the project – city council held a special meeting on March 16, 2011 to sign the necessary agreement.
The approval of the easements at the April 4 meeting will allow the city to proceed with getting an additional $13.1 million of TIGER II grant funds obligated that have already been awarded for the second phase of the bridge replacement project. A continuing federal budget resolution passed by the U.S. Congress – which would preserve the TIGER II funding – expires on April 8. Previous proposals by House Republicans have included cuts that would have eliminated the TIGER II funding.
The council is acting with some urgency to get the funds obligated before the program is eliminated – if, in fact, it is eliminated.
The urgency was reflected in the fact that the council took a brief recess immediately after the easements were accepted, in order for mayor John Hieftje to sign the documents that needed to be forwarded to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the four easements related to the East Stadium bridges reconstruction.
Washtenaw Bus Pullout
The council was asked to approve the award of a construction contract worth $159,107 to Fonson Inc. The company will build a bus pullout as part of a bus transfer center on eastbound Washtenaw Avenue, east of Pittsfield Boulevard.
In a related item, also before the council was authorization for the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for the city to manage construction of the bus pullout – the project will be paid for with federal stimulus funds provided to the AATA. The AATA board authorized its side of the MOU at a special meeting held on April 1.
The bus pullout is part of a larger project – a transfer center on the south side of Washtenaw Avenue at Pittsfield Boulevard, opposite Arborland mall – which will include a “super shelter.” For now, only a center on the south side is being contemplated, because topographical and right-of-way issues pose challenges on the north side.
Construction on the bus pullout is to begin later in April and be completed by June of this year.
The need for a transfer center at that Washtenaw Avenue location, of which the bus pullout is a part, stems from the termination in July 2009 of a previous arrangement with Arborland shopping center, which provided for a bus stop and transfer center in the Arborland parking lot.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved both items related to the Washtenaw Avenue bus pullout.
Before the council were two emergency purchase orders for used furniture, but for different reasons.
The first purchase order was for $32,291 worth of used furniture – office cubicles and work stations – to be purchased from Steven C. Proehl Office Interiors. The furniture will go in the first and sixth floors of the city hall building, which are currently being renovated.
A staff memo describing the purchase order refers to a lease expiring for a Southfield, Mich. business, which has resulted in the availability of furniture at one-quarter to one-third the cost of furniture on the regular used furniture market. The emergency purchase order is being requested to take advantage of the savings. Reportedly, one consequence of the used furniture acquisition is that the old chairs around the council table will be replaced.
The second purchase order was a supplement to one that the council had authorized at its Dec. 6, 2010 meeting, for $39,000 worth of furniture for the 15th District Court, housed in the city’s new municipal center. The court had anticipated being able to use furniture it already owned in some areas of the new facility, but an on-site inspection showed that it was not usable as anticipated. The resolution passed by the council at its April 4 meeting increased the purchase order by $17,240, to $56,240.
During brief council deliberations, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked city administrator Roger Fraser to review the background to the emergency nature of the purchase orders. In elaborating a bit on the information provided in the staff memos, Fraser said that once the furniture had been moved into the new court facility, it was apparent that it would not be usable, without using something like a chainsaw to modify it.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve both emergency purchase orders.
Sakti3 Industrial Development District
At its previous meeting on March 21, 2011 , the council set a public hearing on the establishment of an industrial development district (IDD), which could lead to tax abatements for Sakti3. The company is a University of Michigan spin-off focused on advanced battery technology, headed by Ann Marie Sastry. The IDD would be established for just under an acre of land, located at 1490 Eisenhower Place. Sakti3 is reportedly considering an investment of $2.4 million in new equipment and hopes to hire five additional people.
At Monday’s meeting the public hearing was held – no one spoke.
Outcome: The council voted without comment to establish the IDD, which now allows for Sakti3 to apply for the tax abatements.
Communications and Comment
Every city council agenda contains multiple slots 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: City Administrator Search
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who is chairing the city administrator search committee, reminded councilmembers that they’d been asked for input on a job description to be used in the job posting. The target for completing that work is April 8, Higgins said.
Comm/Comm: Oxbridge Area Student Safety
Katie Rosenberg and Stephanie Hamel addressed the council, representing the University of Michigan Student Safety Commission. Rosenberg said that as president of the Panhellenic Association, she saw how safety is an issue that’s consistently discussed. She told the council that the Oxbridge neighborhood – an area east of Washtenaw Avenue, between Angell Elementary School and Berkshire Road – is packed with different kinds of student housing. In December 2010 and January 2011, two armed robberies had taken place in the neighborhood, which had involved four students.
The steps that Rosenberg said had been taken in response to the incidents included: creating the student safety commission, holding a safety forum attended by UM Dept. of Public Safety officials, and allocating some funding by a Greek Community committee to install some lights.
Hamel reminded the council how in 2008, when concerns were raised about safety in the Packard Street area, the city had responded by selecting that neighborhood as a pilot area for converting standard streetlights to LED lights – 58 conventional streetlights had been converted to the brighter, more reliable technology. She asked the council to extend the concept to the Oxbridge neighborhood.
Hamel said that the students wanted to partner with the city council on the issue, by beginning a conversation about how to make that student neighborhood safer and brighter.
During his communications time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that he served on the council’s student relations committee and had attended the safety forum that Rosenberg had mentioned. As the father of two 17-year-old twin girls, Kunselman said he could vouch for the fact that the safety concerns were legitimate. He said he was looking forward to helping out.
Comm/Comm: Reminder of MLK
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reminded her colleagues that on the same day as the council meeting, April 4, in 1968 Martin Luther King had died. During a recess in the meeting, Briere told The Chronicle that on that day in 1968, she’d attended a speech given by Bobby Kennedy in Indianapolis, in the wake of the news about King’s assassination.
Comm/Comm: Energy Challenge Update
The council received an update on the city’s energy planning from Andrew Brix, the city’s energy programs manager. That included a report on results from a February energy challenge. The goal of the February program was for households to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5%. According to the city, the average Ann Arbor household has an annual carbon footprint of 40,700 pounds of CO2 per year, which translates to a reduction goal of 170 pounds of CO2 per month.
Around 130 people signed up for the challenge. Based on the online reporting tool provided on the website created for the challenge, participants reduced their carbon footprint by an average of 5.4% in February 2011, resulting in a total reduction of 250,441 pounds of CO2.
Brix’s presentation mentioned the February challenge just briefly, taking a broader look at the city’s energy policy, which includes a goal established in 2006 of 30% renewable energy. Mayor John Hieftje had initially set a goal of 20% in 2005. Brix reported that the goal of 20% had been met, though he allowed that they rounded up from 19.8%. The city achieves its renewable energy percentage through landfill gas capture, two hydroelectric dams and a green fleets program. They’re still working on meeting the 30% goal, which came from Ann Arbor’s energy commission.
Brix also noted that the city itself accounts for only 3% of all the energy used in Ann Arbor, so their efforts will also target households.
Comm/Comm: City of ONE
At the council’s April 4, 2011 meeting, a mayoral proclamation was issued, declaring Ann Arbor a “city of ONE.” ONE is an international group that works against extreme poverty and preventable disease by advocating for better development policies and trade reform. ONE’s board of directors includes Bono, lead singer of the band U2.
Comm/Comm: Medical Marijuana
Chuck Ream addressed the council about the zoning and licensing regulations that will be coming for final consideration at the council’s April 19 meeting. He complained that the legal department is “sticking a dagger” in the ordinance. He said that Michigan has a crystal clear law that a lot of people hate, but 79% of Ann Arborites had voted for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act written just the way it is. He complained that the city attorney is trying to inject inspection and searches into the city’s ordinances.
Ream called on the council to separate dispensaries from cultivation facilities. Dispensaries should be included in the ordinance, he said, but cultivation facilities should not.
Present: Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Stephen Rapundalo.
Next council meeting: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron St. [confirm date]