Beyond Pot: Streets, Utilities, Design

Also: Ann Arbor fire chief hired; retirement benefits discussed

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 6, 2011, Part 1): While the largest chunk of time at the city council’s Monday meeting was devoted to consideration of ordinances regulating medical marijuana, the agenda was dense with other significant material.

Tom Crawford John Hieftje

Mayor John Hieftje (standing) and interim city administrator Tom Crawford before the start of the city council's June 6 meeting.

For road users who head to the polls on Nov. 8, possibly the most important issue on the agenda was a brief presentation from the city’s project management manager, Homayoon Pirooz, on the city’s street repair tax, which would reach the end of its current five-year life this year, if not renewed by voters. The city council will convene a working session on June 13 to look at the issue in more detail.

Also related to infrastructure was the council’s initial action on setting rates for utilities (water, sewer, stormwater), voting unanimously to send the rate increases on to a second and final vote with a public hearing. The rate increases range from 3-4% more than customers are currently paying. All new and amended city ordinances require two votes by the council at separate meetings.

The council also approved an $800,000 agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation for the initial, right-of-way portion of the East Stadium bridges replacement project. Construction on that public project is due to start later this fall.

For another public project, the council voted to add a previously budgeted $1.09 million to the construction manager contract for the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron.

In an action designed eventually to reduce employee benefits costs, the council passed a resolution – brought forward by its budget committee – that directs the city administrator to craft an ordinance revision that would alter the way non-union employee benefits are structured. What’s planned is a change from three to five years for the final average compensation (FAC) calculation, and a change from five to 10 years for vesting. In addition, retirees would receive an access-only health care benefit.

The city’s newest non-union employee is Chuck Hubbard, whose appointment as the new fire chief was approved by the city council on Monday night. Hubbard was previously assistant chief, which, unlike the chief’s job, is a union position. Hubbard has 25 years of fire protection experience, all of it in Ann Arbor.

Expected to begin construction this year – in late summer – is a private development on the First and Washington lot currently owned by the city. On that lot, Village Green is planning to build a 9-story, 99-foot-tall building featuring 156 dwelling units and a 244-space parking deck on the first two stories. After much discussion, the council approved a $100,000 reduction in the purchase price – from $3.3 million to $3.2 million – that Village Green will pay for the First and Washington parcel. The price break came in the context of water management and a decision to use a full “bathtub”-type design for the foundation. The unanimous vote came after two councilmembers had already left the meeting (which pushed nearly to midnight), but it seemed at one point to hang in the balance, with two of the remaining nine councilmembers expressing reservations. Because the resolution involved land purchase, it needed eight votes to pass.

Village Green’s project, a planned unit development (PUD) approved over two years ago, was not required to undergo the mandatory process of design review that is now part of the city’s code. The council gave final approval to that design review process on Monday night. The new ordinance sets up a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

Also receiving approval at first reading was a revision to the landscaping ordinance. Fuller Road Station also drew comment from the public and the council.

Final action on medical marijuana zoning and licensing is not expected until the council’s June 20 meeting. Council deliberations on medical marijuana will be covered in Part 2 of The Chronicle’s meeting report.

Ann Arbor Street Millage Renewal Planned

The council received a brief presentation setting out a timeline for renewing the city’s street repair millage, which is currently authorized through 2011 at a level of 2 mills, but is levied at 1.9944 due to the Headlee cap. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s state equalized value, or SEV. Renewal of the millage would need voter approval on Nov. 8, 2011.

As part of the council’s budget retreat discussion in January 2011, councilmembers briefly discussed the idea of folding the city’s sidewalk replacement program – for which property owners now pay directly – into the activities funded by the street repair millage.

And at a budget work session in late February, public services area administrator Sue McCormick outlined how funds received through the METRO Act, which are currently used for administration of the sidewalk replacement program, could be used to close out the 5-year cycle for the current program. Then in future years, the METRO funds could be used for other work in the right-of-way. METRO funds are paid to the city under state statute for use of the right-of-way by telecommunications companies.

The street reconstruction millage is listed as CITY STREETS on tax bills.

The short briefing that the council received on Monday was given by Homayoon Pirooz, who heads up the city’s project management department. He described how the millage actually has 27 years of history, dating back to 1984, when it was first approved. Over the years, the funds collected under the local street millage have generated an additional $67 million in matching grants.

The street repair millage has criteria attached to the use of funds, Pirooz explained: The street repair millage is for resurfacing and reconstruction of streets – it’s not for filling potholes. [The city has two other funds it uses for that kind of maintenance work, including snow removal – the Major Street and Local Street funds, which receive money from the state of Michigan through vehicle weight and gas taxes.]

One of the new ideas for the street repair millage when it’s put before the voters again, Pirooz said, is to include sidewalk repairs as part of the criteria. If the public is in favor of that, he said, the city would like to apply the same approach as it does to roads. Namely, the millage would not be used for winter maintenance, but rather for replacing existing sidewalks.

Pirooz sketched a timeline for the public discussion on the street repair millage – including the possibility of increasing it to 2.125 mills to accommodate the sidewalk replacement program. That timeline would include two public meetings in June, a city council work session on June 13, and an online survey. At the council’s July 18 meeting, they’d hear a report on the public engagement, and the city council would give direction on how to proceed. At the council’s Aug. 4 meeting, it could then approve the ballot language, which needs to be submitted to the city clerk’s office by Aug. 16.

Mayor John Hieftje noted that there’s now an opportunity to release money in the street repair fund that the city thought it might have to use to replace the East Stadium bridges. With receipt of a $13.9 million TIGER II federal grant, the city can spend more of the balance in the street repair fund on road repair.

Utility Rate Increases Get Initial OK

On the council’s agenda was a resolution to approve changes in rates for drinking water, sanitary sewer and stormwater facilities. In terms of revenue generated to the city, the rate increases are expected to generate 3.36% more for drinking water ($664,993), 4% more for the sanitary sewer ($829,481), and 3.35% more for stormwater ($176,915).

Because the rates are part of a city ordinance, the changes must receive a second approval from the city council, after a public hearing.

According to the city, the rate increases are needed to maintain debt service coverage and to maintain funding for required capital improvements.

The city’s drinking water charges are based on a “unit” of 100 cubic feet – 748 gallons. Charges for residential customers are divided into tiers, based on usage. For example, the first seven units of water for residential customers are charged $1.23 per unit. The new residential rate for the first seven units would be $1.27.

The city’s stormwater rates are based on the amount of impervious area on a parcel, and are billed quarterly. For example, the lowest tier – for impervious area less than 2,187 square feet – is currently charged $12.84 per quarter. Under the new rate structure, that would increase to $13.24. [.pdf of complete utility rate changes as proposed]

At the council’s Monday meeting, mayor John Hieftje asked public services area administrator Sue McCormick to comment on a study last year showing that Ann Arbor had some of the lowest rates in the state. Ann Arbor’s average increase of 3.2% compares favorably with the regional average of 9% increase this year, McCormick reported.

Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) questioned McCormick’s numbers, saying it looked like McCormick was relying on comparative data taken exclusively from communities served by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). He asked that, when the council votes on the rate increases at its next meeting, councilmembers be provided with additional comparative data.

McCormick said she’d bring comparative data on other communities to the next meeting, before the final vote. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked that McCormick bring the actual rates together with percentage increases.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the utilities rate increases.

East Stadium Bridges

In front of the council for its consideration was authorization of an $800,000 agreement with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) for the right-of-way acquisition phase of the East Stadium bridge reconstruction project. Previously, at its April 4 meeting, the council had accepted easements from the University of Michigan for the right-of-way phase.

To be reimbursed for those easements – from federal TIGER funds that the city has been awarded for the project – the council needed to authorize the agreement with MDOT. MDOT acts as the conduit through which the city receives federal funds.

In August, the city council will be presented with a similar city-state agreement – for the construction phase of the project.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the agreement with MDOT.

Retiree Benefits Change

On Monday, the council considered a resolution directing its city administrator and city attorney to begin work on an amendment to the city’s retirement benefits package for new non-union employee hires.

Under the amendment, for new hires after July 1, 2011, the final average contribution (FAC) for the pension system would be based on the last five years of service, instead of the last three. Further, employees would be vested after 10 years instead of five, and all new non-union hires would be provided with an access-only style health care plan, with the opportunity to buy into whatever plan active employees enjoy.

Christoper Taylor (Ward 3) introduced the resolution to his council colleagues, saying it came through the council’s budget committee that met earlier that day. It has resulted from the hard work of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), he said. After reviewing the content of the resolution, he stated that the city’s potential financial exposure due to retireee health care is significant, and the resolution was a beginning of the reform.

Taylor asked interim city administrator Tom Crawford if an estimate had been calculated for the savings that would be realized. Crawford told him that no estimate had been generated yet – staff would need to do additional research. Crawford said it’d be 5-7 years before the city sees savings. The nature of the change is long-term, he said, so it’s unlikly to save money in short term.

Taylor asked Crawford to explain what an “access-only” benefit plan is.

[As the phrase suggests, what the retiree gets is access to health care coverage (and only that). Here, "access" means the ability to purchase health coverage as part of the same group to which active city employees belong. The access to insurance as a part of that group allows retirees to purchase health care more economically than they could as individuals.] In his remarks Crawford emphasized that retirees would be able to use money the city sets aside, as well as their own money, to purchase that health care.

Mayor John Hieftje appeared interested in heading off criticism that this kind of reform should have been done years ago, by noting that the city has not hired that many people in the last few years. Given that so few people have been hired, he concluded, the council was acting in a timely fashion.

Stephen Kunselman noted that the city would be hiring at least one person soon – a city administrator. Kunselman wondered whether the benefits policy is intended to be in place before the administrator is hired. Crawford noted that the ordinance would require two readings before the council.

Kunselman wondered about the change in the vesting period from 5 to 10 years. He asked what the vesting period was back in the Neal Berlin days – 10 years seems extreme. [Neal Berlin is a former city administrator, who preceded Roger Fraser.] What about seven years? Kunselman said he wouldn’t necessarily expect a new city administrator to last 10 years. He wouldn’t want to hinder the city’s ability to make a hire.

Crawford told Kunselman that the last major change was when Neal Berlin was city administrator – the vesting period was changed from 10 to 5 years. So the resolution would direct the preparation of an ordinance to restore what was in place previously. City staff could take direction from the council’s labor committee on preparation of the ordinance, Crawford said.

Hieftje said there was a myth that Neal Berlin had received an extraordinarily generous severance deal. In fact, Hieftje said, Berlin had paid $140,000 in order to receive a $26,000-per-year pension. That meant he had to wait six years before getting a return on that, Hieftje said.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to direct staff to begin drafting an ordinance to change the benefits program for non-union employees. The resolution also indicated a goal to include union employees in a similar benefits program.

Ann Arbor Fire Chief

In front of the council for its consideration was authorization to appoint a new fire chief: Chuck Hubbard. Hubbard is an internal hire, who previously served as an assistant chief. His 25 years of experience in fire protection, coming up through the ranks, has all been in Ann Arbor.

Barnett Jones, head of public safety and chief of police, introduced Hubbard to the council with his recommendation. Jones has been serving as interim fire chief since the resignation of Dominick Lanza from that position earlier this year, after a bit less than a year on the job. Lanza had been an external hire.

Hubbard made some brief remarks by way of introducing himself.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the appointment.

Police Promotional Assessments

Items included on the consent agenda, which are normally moved together and voted on as a group, can be pulled out for separate consideration by any councilmember. It’s not uncommon for at least one item to be pulled out for that kind of separate consideration. On Monday, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked that an item be pulled out that approved a $35,830 contract with Industrial Organizational Solutions Inc. to conduct promotional assessment of Ann Arbor police department officers for ranks of sergeant and lieutenant.

Chief of police Barnett Jones explained that the item is related to layoffs and retirements – it helps create a clear path for promotions. It’s been a long time since sergeants and lieutents have taken exams, he said. While the department is faced with layoffs now, it will also be experiencing some retirements in the future – around 16-17 by 2013, he said. Some of those who are retiring will be sergeants and lieutenants. The department will need supervisors at those ranks to replace the retirees. He could not simply promote people as he passed people walking down the hall, Jones said. This will be one of the most imporatnt promotional teams in the history of the city. The assessment will contain a written part and and oral interview.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract for promotional assessment of police officers.

Landscaping Ordinance Gets Initial OK

On Monday the council was asked to consider initial approval to a revision of the city’s landscaping ordinance. The revision is intended to: (1) improve the appearance of vehicular use areas; (2) revise buffer requirements between conflicting land uses; (3) reduce negative impacts of stormwater runoff; (4) improve pedestrian movement within a development site; and (5) preserve existing significant vegetation.

Those benefits are meant to be achieved through several text amendments to the ordinance, which include: adding definitions for “bioretention” and “native or prairie plantings”; allowing the width of landscape buffers to vary; modifying requirements for interior landscape islands; prohibiting use of invasive species for required landscaping; and increasing fines for violation.

The city’s planning commision had given the ordinance change a unanimous recommendation at its March 1, 2011 meeting.

All city ordinances require a first and a second reading in front of the city council, after a public hearing, before final enactment. The landscape ordinance will need a second vote before its approval is final.

Outcome: The council voted without discussion to give the landscape ordinance change an initial approval.

Downtown Design Guidelines

In front of the council for its consideration was final approval to an amendment of its land use control ordinance that will establish design guidelines for new projects in downtown Ann Arbor, and set up a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines. It’s the final piece of the A2D2 rezoning initiative.

Review by the DRB will come before a developer’s meeting with nearby residents for each project – which is already required as part of the citizen participation ordinance. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

The city council had previously approved the design guideline review program at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. The city planning commission unanimously recommended the change to the city’s ordinance at its April 5, 2011 meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

Downtown Design Guidelines: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge told the council they should use the word “democratic” with a big and a small “D” when considering these items. Too often, he said, an anti-democratic viewpoint is taken. He called on the council to advance the cause of using undeveloped land for mixed-use, including affordable housing. He noted there’d been no new housing cooperatives in the last 30-40 years.

Ray Detter thanked the council for their previous support of the A2D2 rezoning process and urged their support of the design guidelines. He told them he was speaking both as chair of the downtown citizens advisory council and as a member of the design guideline review committee. He reviewed some of the more recent history of the review committee. A group of citizens had formed in late 2009. In February 2010 the council had supported the formation of a design guidelines task force. Then in January 2011, members of task force had presented the outcome of their 34 weekly meetings at a city council working session.

James D’Amour told the council it was exciting to be present when the design guidelines are finally going to be approved. He’d served on the planning commission five years ago when talk about this started, he said. He urged councilmembers to support the proposal.

Downtown Design Guidelines: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she thought Detter had summed it up well, and urged her council colleagues to pass it. Mayor  John Hieftje thanked the people who did the work, including Higgins, for seeing it through.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the new downtown design guidelines. The council also received nominations from the mayor for the membership of the design review board, which the council can confirm at its next meeting, on June 20: Tamara Burns, Paul Fontaine, Chester B. Hill, Mary Jukari, Bill Kinley, Richard Mitchell, Geoffrey M. Perkins.

First & Washington Purchase Price

Councilmembers were asked at Monday’s meeting to approve a revision to the purchase option agreement with Village Green on the city-owned First and Washington site, where the developer plans to build a 9-story, 99-foot-tall building with 156 dwelling units. That revision reduces the price from $3.3 million to $3.2 million.

The break on the price is related to the “bathtub” design for the foundation of a 244-space parking deck, which makes up the first two stories of the development. The site of the development is near Allen Creek, and some kind of design strategy is required in order to deal with the possibility of water entering the parking structure. Rather than use a hybrid design that would entail pumping water out of the structure and into the city’s stormwater system on an ongoing basis, Village Green wants to use a complete bathtub-type design that will cost around $250,000. The city’s price break is a portion of that cost.

The parking deck is being developed in cooperation with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which has pledged to make payments on around $9 million worth of bonds, after the structure is completed and has been issued a permit for occupancy.

The timeline put in place on Aug. 5, 2010 – when the city council most recently approved an extension of Village Green’s option to purchase the First and Washington city-owned parcel – called for Village Green to purchase the land by June 1, 2011. However, that deadline was subject to an extension of 90 days by the city administrator – an option which interim administrator Tom Crawford exercised. That sets a new deadline of Aug. 30, 2011 for purchase of the parcel. Proceeds from the sale of the land are part of the city’s financing plan for the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron, which is currently in the final stages of construction.

First & Washington Purchase Price: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off council deliberations by saying that it appeared the council was being asked to reduce the purchase price by $100,000 due to construction issues related to high water. Alluding to the arrangement the DDA has to support the project, he asked why the DDA would not increase that support, instead of having the city reduce the purchase price.

Kunselman then said he wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the DDA. That organization’s 2009-2010 annual report included some telling numbers, he said. The report indicates over $18 million in annual revenue against expenditures of $22 million. Of those expenditures, $5 million is for debt service. The outstanding bond debt is $140 million – of that, $81 million is principle and $59 million interest. The report shows zero dollars in bond reserve. Kunselman noted that the number of jobs created is recorded as “n/a.”

Kunselman asked why the city is “bailing the DDA out for $100,000.” The issue that’s been identified (the bathtub design) is not a property issue, he continued, but rather a construction issue. Kunselman said he was having a difficult time voting for the resolution, but he did not want to see the resolution fail. But he noted that the resolution required eight votes for approval and two councilmembers had left the table.

[Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had left. It was after 11 p.m. Higgins' hoarse voice during the meeting indicated she was under the weather. Votes on real estate transactions are required by the city charter to be ratified by an eight-vote city council majority.]

Interim city administrator Tom Crawford told Kunselman that the logic used in not involving the DDA on the price agreement was that it’s a city-owned asset. He noted that it’s possible to design the foundation without the full bathtub deign. But Crawford noted that the city and Village Green have worked with the DDA to use lessons learned from the current construction on the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure. It’s the city’s decision to mitigate the risk with respect to flooding, and it’s a city decision to move forward with the bathtub design. The full bathtub design guarantees as close as you can that in the future, no pumping of water into the city’s stormwater system would be required, he said.

The agreement to reduce the price could have been set up to include the DDA, Crawford said, but the city did not structure it that way. That approach would have made it a tri-party agreement. The approach the city took – to amend the agreement between the city and Village Green – seemed the most approprate way, Crawford concluded.

Kunselman then asked Crawford to explain how the $100,000 would be made up – proceeds from the parcel were supposed to go into the building fund for the new municipal center. Crawford clarified that the original purchase price was $3.3 million and the amount designated for the building fund was $3.0 million. There’d always been a $300,000 excess, he said, so the price break of $100,000 would not compromise the funding of the municipal center.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) expressed some frustration at the length of time the Village Green project had been in the works, saying it had been going on about five years now. Didn’t we already know, he asked, that the location had water issues? Anglin wanted to know if the developer was willing to move forward. Crawford indicated that Village Green was in fact moving forward, actively spending money on design. Anglin questioned why the city was putting itself at risk with respect to the Pall Gelman dioxane plume – the plume was mentioned in a staff memo about the Village Green project.

Crawford explained that the plume is actually a far distance away, and the reason it’s discussed in the memo is that the city is looking at the very long term. By having a full-bathtub foundation design, there’ll be no requirement to do any pumping of water, so the risk is mitigated of pumping water that’s polluted with dioxane – that would require onsite treatment before pumping. The bathtub design is an attempt to protect the city from every possible eventuality, Crawford said.

Anglin questioned whether adequate hydrological studies had been done. Crawford addressed Anglin’s remark a bit later, noting that the city had relied on Carl Walker, the DDA’s engineering consultant on parking structures, for geotechnical analysis. There’d been a host of consultants, he said, and a substantial amount of work done. That work was what had triggered the need for a 90-day extension.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) drew out the fact that the bathtub design will cost $250,000, with Village Green picking up $150,000 of the cost and the city effectively picking up $100,000. She noted that a year ago, when the purchase option extension granted, nothing was getting built in the Midwest at all. The First and Washington project is a chance to get “another private crane in the air.” The council needs to support this, she concluded.

Mayor John Hieftje stated that using a pumping strategy would be much more of a problem. The full bathtub design offers the greatest amount of security.

Kunselman said he was still not convinced that selling the land should somehow result in an agreement about construction design. He came back to the point about DDA involvement. He felt the price reduction should be expressed in a three-way agreement.

Crawford responded to Kunselman by saying the city attorney’s office advised that this was a good way to proceed. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) weighed in by saying that Ann Arbor would own the parking deck for the next 75 years [the expected life of the deck]. The city has a chance now to guarantee that they don’t have a problem, at a cost of $100,000, he said. Taylor supported that.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) confirmed with Crawford that the developer currently has no obligation to pursue a full bathtub design. With Anglin and Kunselman having expressed their dissatisfaction, Hieftje recognized that if they both voted no, that would leave the agreement one vote short of the eight-vote majority it needed. Hieftje stated he would feel okay postponing it. Hieftje then filled some time with some general remarks about the structure, and Anglin followed up with an indication that what he wanted was to make sure the homework was done on it. Hieftje then called for the vote, which wound up being unanimous.

Outcome: The council voted 9-0 to approve the amendment to the purchase price from $3.3 million to $3.2 million.

Municipal Center

At Monday’s meeting, the council considered a $1,091,211 revision to the contract with Clark Construction Co., which is doing the construction on the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron, which houses the 15th District Court and the police department. Of that total, $693,327 is for security elements and $397,884 is for audio/visual.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said the revision brings the building’s total cost to $39 million. Interim city administrator Tom Crawford explained that the increase was for upgrades to the security of the building. He noted that the amount is not an increase to the budget of the entire project, but rather a recognition that implementation of the security measures is best done by the onsite construction manager.

Anglin wanted to know why the money is coming out of the city’s general fund. Crawford explained that the court is a general fund entity. Anglin asked why the funding for security was not part of the bonding process, saying he would rather have security outside the building [i.e, police officers on patrol] than inside the building. Crawford indicated that the expenditure is a one-time cost. The idea of how security in the building would be delivered was a conversation that had unfolded over time, Crawford said, and this was determined to be the most cost-effective. The fact remains that it’s coming from the general fund, Anglin grumbled.

Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, told the council that they’d previously decided they wanted to make these decisions about security later and had decided not to make decisions about installation of furniture and fixtures until later. It had been an early and deliberate discussion of the city council, she said.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the contract amendment, with dissent from Anglin.

Wireless for City Hall

Also pulled out of the consent agenda by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) was an item that authorized a $64,571 contract with Sentinel Technologies to equip the public areas and conference rooms of the city hall, the new municipal center and the Wheeler Service Center with wireless internet access – both secure and for public use.

Smith was curious about why the city used the middle bidder, instead of the lowest. She wanted to know why the city was using a non-Michigan bidder, who was not the lowest bid. Dan Rainey, head of IT for the city, explained that the low bid did not include the cost of recurring maintenance.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with Sentinel Technologies.

Fuller Road Station

The proposed Fuller Road Station – a large parking structure, bus depot and possible train station that the city plans to build in partnership with the University of Michigan, near UM’s medical campus – drew considerable public and council commentary, although the council did not have any business to vote on that specifically referenced the project.

James D’Amour expressed various concerns. He responded to a contention of the mayor’s to the effect that Fuller Road Station would result in the city getting some open space back. What are we getting? he asked. D’Amour contended that current facilities for trains are adequate. If it’s so important, D’Amour said, we should come clean with the fact that it will be located on public parkland.

D’Amour also noted the public art commission’s annual plan, attached to the council’s agenda as a communication item, included proposed art for Fuller Road Station. He asked that the language be removed. He added that the city did not need murals on Huron Parkway, as described in the public art plan.

Barbara Bach told the council that the Fuller Road Station project is getting in the way of a discussion of rail transportation and about public park preservation. She then read aloud the sentiments of Tom Whitaker, who left a comment on an Ann Arbor Chronicle article about a recent meeting of the city’s park advisory commission.

As proposed, Bach said, Fuller Road Station is a huge warehouse for cars on parkland. She said that the city should work on getting cars out of the river valley and begin to talk about rail service.

Nancy Shiffler introduced herself as the current chair of the Huron Valley group of the Sierra Club. She said that the parcel where the Fuller Road Station is planned is used as parkland, appears on maps as parkland, and is included in the parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan as parkland. The city’s designation of the parcel as public land is used in the applications to the federal government for grant funding, but there’s no mention of its park designation.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation requires a more extenstive environmental study for parkland, she said. The redefinition of allowable uses for public land, approved by the council, allows public land to be used as a transportation center. As councilmembers, they should think about the use of parkland, as they anticipate putting the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage before the voters in 2012, Shiffler concluded.

George Gaston told the council he was there to speak in defense of Fuller Park. It’s been a city park for more than 50 years, he said. The 1993 accord struck with the university for use of the parcel as a parking lot was a temporary agreement – it was never intended to be a permanent lot, he said.

In a draft of environmental assessment for selection of the site, he said, 15 sites had been considered. Of those, three were eliminated because they’re city parks. The University of Michigan’s Mitchell Field was considered, but rejected because it’s a recreational area. Gaston said he could see why the university wants a project with free land and a prime location. But if the university is truly interested, he said, then let the university become a stakeholder. Mitchell Field would offer better access to Fuller Road. He contended that there are too many connections between town and gown for it to be an untainted vote. He contended that everything had been decided a year and a half ago. It’s taken too much effort to put together a ribbon of parks along the Huron River to lose that now, he said.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) called on his council colleagues to watch a recording of the May 17 park advisory commission meeting. Eli Cooper, transportation program manager for the city, had given a presentation on Fuller Road Station, Anglin said. Members of PAC were restrained but confused, Anglin said. [Anglin serves as one of two ex-officio representatives from the city council to PAC.] They thought they were going to have a train station, Anglin said. But now it’s looking like a parking structure more than anything else.

When the council voted to change the allowable uses for public land to include transportation facilities, that moved parks to another category, Anglin said. He said he did not think it sounds like the city’s share of the funding would be coming forward [roughly $10 million]. He stated that the city doesn’t need a large train station for a town this size – it just has one track.

At a time when the city is laying off police officers, $10 million for this project in unconscionable, he said. Anglin said he’s personally not excited by parking structures. The project has momentum behind it, but no funding, he said. There are no guarantees of a train coming to Ann Arbor, but there is a guarantee of a large structure. It’s such a pretty area, Anglin said, they should consider whether they should do that.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) anticipated mayor John Hieftje’s reaction to Anglin’s comments [Hieftje has pushed hard for the project] by telling the mayor that she knew he had a lot of thoughts about Fuller Road Station. But she thought the council should have a working session, so that councilmembers can become more knowledgable about the issue.

Hieftje indicated that he would look into adding something to the calendar. He then went on to describe how he and Briere had attended a press conference in Detroit recently when $196 million in federal rail funding had been awarded to projects in southeast Michigan. U.S. senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin were there, he said. Levin had called out Fuller Road Station as a good idea. Gov. Rick Snyder had also talked positively about rail transportation, he said.

Responding to Anglin’s contention that there is only one track, Hieftje noted that two tracks will be installed at Fuller Road Station. The design of the station has changed, he said, and will now put the train station inside the other building. But as far as the basic site selection, no other location is as ideal as the Fuller Road site – it has 24,000 people a day going to the university’s hospital. He then thanked Anglin for his previous vote in support of Fuller Road Station.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Volunteer of the Month

Karen Moore was recognized as volunteer of the month for her work in connection with downtown parks, in particular for Ann Arbor Downtown Blooms Day.

Comm/Comm: Affordable Housing

Forest Hills Housing Co-op received a mayoral proclamation for its role in providing affordable housing for the last 40 years.

Comm/Comm: Environmental Commission Nomination

Most nominations for the city’s various boards and commissions are made by the mayor. One of the exceptions is the environmental commission (EC), for which the council makes the nomination.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) announced that a nomination for a three-year EC term was being placed before the council that evening and that it would be before the council as a resolution at the following meeting. Margie Teall (Ward 4), who sits with Hohnke as the city council’s representatives to the EC, prompted Hohnke to name the nomination, which he did: Jamie Woolard.

Comm/Comm: Municipal Center

Margie Teal (Ward 4) reported that the building committee reviewed construction of the new building at Fifth and Huron, and the renovation of the existing city hall building. They concluded that the project is on time and under budget.

Comm/Comm: Argo Bypass Channel

Interim city administrator Tom Crawford gave an update on progress for the construction of the Argo bypass channel. An application for a permit has been submitted to the state. The city is waiting for that permit to be issued before earthwork can begin. There’s no way to know when the permit will be issued, he said, but city staff is estimating six weeks. The contractor will go ahead and begin to mobilize in preparation to start the earthwork.

Comm/Comm: Rain

Crawford reported that cleanup continues in the area of Plymouth Road, where the railroad embankment collapsed after heavy rains at the end of May. The city received 87 reports of sewer backups in basements in areas where the system was stressed. Some residents were given vouchers for cleanup, he said. The affected areas were the neighborhood Packard & Stadium, and Hill & Division. The city is considering creating two new areas for the city’s footing drain disconnect program – adding to the five existing areas – and accelerating the program.

Comm/Comm: Historic District Awards

At the start of the meeting, the city’s historic district commission presented its annual awards to property owners. A complete listing of the awards is available in the city’s press release.

Comm/Comm: Ward 5 City Council Race

Henry Herskovitz introduced himself as a Ward 5 resident, saying that it’s a matter of public record that Neal Elyakin is running for city council in that ward. Herskovitz told the council it’s his understanding that if elected, councilmembers must promise to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Elyakin, he said, had chosen to fly a national flag in front of his home that is not the U.S. flag, but rather one from a country that 44 years ago on Wednesday (June 8) had killed 34 Americans. [Hersovitz was referring to an attack on the USS Liberty in 1967.] Herskovitz said that he supported Elyakin’s right to fly the Israeli flag, and his right to run for a seat on the city council, but wondered to which country Elyakin owed his allegiance. Elyakin should state his loyalty and allegiances clearly, Herskovitz said.

Comm/Comm: JFK, Dems, Mackinac

Thomas Partridge reminded the council that it was the 50th anniversary of numerous historic events in the first year of John F. Kennedy’s administration, like the test ban treaty and the beginning of work on the civil rights act. He said he wanted to remind everyone of the progress made beginning in 1961, and the need to keep up the struggle. He opposed the attitude of those who left southeast Michigan and traveled to the recent Mackinac Policy Conference – that was nothing but a right-wing Republican convention, he said. He called on voters to recall Gov. Rick Snyder.

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: June 20, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm | permalink

    “Mayor John Hieftje appeared interested in heading off criticism that this kind of reform should have been done years ago, by noting that the city has not hired that many people in the last few years. Given that so few people have been hired, he concluded, the council was acting in a timely fashion.”

    Brilliant logic, and just what I expect of someone who doesn’t lead before a crisis but responds after things are a mess. Brilliant.

  2. By ChuckL
    June 11, 2011 at 6:51 am | permalink

    The city has built up a huge surplus in the City Streets Fund while the city’s roads have crumbled; voters should reject this millage when it comes up for renewal. Ann Arbor has the third worst roads in Michigan (illuminated by high tech LED lights, of course!) Voters in Ann Arbor pay for Cadillac service but get Yugo level quality in return; vote yourself a break–Drain The Buckets!