Cars have huge notes on them saying (wrongly, I think) that permits are needed to park. [photo]
Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Sept. 20, 2011): Commissioners handled one major agenda item at its most recent meeting: A site plan proposal for The Varsity Ann Arbor on East Washington.
The Varsity is a 13-story apartment building proposed for 425 E. Washington St., east of the 411 Lofts building and west of the First Baptist Church. Currently on the site is a two-story office building that formerly housed the Prescription Shop. The proposed 177,180-square-foot apartment building would include 181 apartments with a total of 415 bedrooms, to be marketed to university students.
Four residents spoke during a public hearing on the project, and were generally supportive. However, they cited concerns over the attractiveness of the facade facing Huron Street and traffic issues that might arise from that entrance. Some commissioners also raised issues about parking and design, and wondered about the possibility of retail space on the first floor. The developer’s representatives felt retail wasn’t feasible at this time.
City planning staff recommended that site plan approval be postponed, so that some relatively minor issues could be resolved. Commissioners followed that advice, and postponed action on the project. It’s expected to be on the agenda again for the commission’s Oct. 4 meeting.
In addition to The Varsity, Tuesday’s meeting included several communications from staff and commissioners. Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, reported that a Sept. 21 meeting of the R4C/R2A advisory committee had been postponed and will be rescheduled. City planning staff had heard from several committee members who felt they needed more information before reconvening. The advisory group is developing recommendations for zoning changes in Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods.
Tony Derezinski, a commissioner who also serves on city council, reported on planning-related items that emerged at the council’s Sept. 19 meeting. He noted that although it wasn’t on the council’s agenda or discussed publicly, the issue of the City Place apartment complex, which is poised to break ground in the coming weeks, was “quietly being discussed” among councilmembers, he said. While it looks like the project will move forward and that an alternative project on that site called Heritage Row won’t be realized, Derezinski said – somewhat cryptically – there’s “many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.”
Stretch pink limo. It’s their world, we just live in it. [photo]
Local Good Samaritans training newbies on ePark meter use. [photo]
Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 15, 2011): With four of its seven members in attendance, the AATA board had just enough members present to transact two major pieces of business for the coming year. The board approved its 2012 fiscal year work plan and the budget that will support that plan.
The AATA fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The budget approved by the board calls for expenses of $30,410,616 against only $29,418,995 in revenues, for a deficit in the coming year of $991,621. At the meeting, members stressed that the nearly $1 million deficit was due to one-time expenses associated with the planned transition to a countywide service. They also stressed that even by using unrestricted reserves over the next year to cover the planned deficit, the AATA would still be left with more than three months’ worth of operating expenses in its reserve.
Incurring a deficit this year was characterized as a way to “catapult” the organization forward, allowing it to pursue an aggressive work plan for the coming year, which was also approved at the meeting. Highlights of that work plan include reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. Design for the station is expected to be complete by the end of the year, with construction to start in spring 2012.
In terms of increased service, next year’s work plan includes a focus on: establishing the AATA as a vanpool service provider; establishing service to the Detroit Metro Airport; improving work-transportation connections between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti; and continuing work on commuter rail. Also related to enhanced services, the AATA is also holding rider forums in October to get feedback on proposed increased service on Route #4, between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
Related specifically to commuter rail, the board received an update at the meeting on the Washtenaw Livingston Line (WALLY) project, a proposed north-south commuter rail connection between Howell and Ann Arbor. The board expressed some caution about the project by passing a resolution that requires the board’s explicit approval for the expenditure of the $50,000 in next year’s budget allocated for station designs.
In other business, the board approved the selection of Plante & Moran as its new auditor. A new auditor rotation policy put in place by the board earlier this year made the previous auditor, Rehmann Robson, ineligible for the contract. The AATA board also approved a contract with an outside vendor to begin offering vanpool service.
In business that could be described as housekeeping, the board opted to keep its same slate of officers for the coming year and to keep the same meeting schedule – the third Thursday of the month. Jesse Bernstein was elected chair last year, and will continue in that role.
Also at the meeting, other members of the financial review group were announced. That group will be analyzing funding options for an expansion to countywide service. Previously, it had been announced that McKinley CEO Albert Berriz and former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel would co-chair the group. Their first meeting was Friday, Sept. 16, the day after the AATA board met. Berriz stated at that first meeting that the group will meet three more times, and will produce a white paper by the end of this year.
Related to that countywide effort, the initial board for an unincorporated transit authority – a precursor to an eventual formal authority – could be seated by Oct. 20, the date of the AATA board’s next meeting. It would include representatives from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and other districts throughout the county.
Several loaves of bread scattered next to the benches on the southwest corner of Fourth & Catherine. [photo]
Thursday, Sept. 22, around 6:30 p.m. The Yankee Warrior, B25D Mitchell bomber from the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run, flying over my house, circling and flying back over my house again at low altitude. Awesome! This is the only plane of its type still flying and its sound is unmistakeable.
Dome magazine profiles Rebekah Warren, an Ann Arbor Democrat who represents District 18 in the Michigan Senate. Among other things, the article quotes Warren in describing her efforts to build relationships with Republicans in the legislature: “Term limits have increased partisanship. People from different parties don’t even know people’s names on the other side.…So in my first week, I went to the GOP side and started making friends. I ran into trouble, in a way, from my caucus.” [Source]
College conferences are going through a major upheaval – perhaps the biggest in the history of college sports.
In the past year, we’ve seen Nebraska join the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah join the Pac-10, and, this week, Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the Atlantic Coast Conference – geography be damned. In fact, DePaul, Marquette and Texas Christian University just joined the Big East. Which raises the question: Just how big is the East, anyway? Big enough to swallow half the Midwest and a chunk of Texas?
I’ve noticed a lot of people who don’t care that much about sports seem to care a lot about this. For non-sports fans, college conferences are kind of like your parents as you get older. You might not check in with them every day, but it’s good to know they’re there, safe and sound.
Our conferences have been there much longer, of course. Way back in 1895, seven university presidents – not athletic directors or coaches – created what we now call the Big Ten. Those seven presidents didn’t do it to make money. They thought it unseemly for a university to charge anybody anything to watch their students play football. The presidents didn’t discuss marketing or “branding,” either. They simply wanted to ensure everybody representing their university was a bona fide student, an amateur athlete, and safe. A good start. The Big Ten served as the model for just about every conference that followed, coast to coast.
Like so much that is great about college athletics, those conferences formed organically and authentically, bringing together schools of similar size, quality and character. They also defined our regions better than any labels.
Democrat Andy LaBarre, a former aide to U.S. Congressman John Dingell, on Thursday announced plans to run for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners in 2012. He’ll seek the seat in the new District 7, which was formed during the redistricting process earlier this year. In a statement, LaBarre cited his interest in protecting human services, public safety and parkland: “Unfortunately, as Lansing continues to ask local governments to do more with ever-shrinking state funds, we are confronted with extraordinarily difficult decisions about how to deliver these vital programs just when many residents need them the most. I am running for county commission because I want to use my experience to advance the solutions that will both invest …
Knight’s Market. A printed-with-local-ads edition of the satiric website, The Onion, is being distributed, free, at Knight’s Market. Today’s headline: “First-Ever Gay “Dear John” Letters Begin Reaching U.S. Troops Overseas. Hailed as a monumental step towards equality by gay rights activists…”
Also National Enquirer-worthy photo captioned, “Obama Accidentally Seated Next To Taliban Leader at Tense White House State Dinner”.
Ads include Dawn Treader books, West Side Books, People’s Food Coop, Ann Arbor Public Library.
Have not seen The Onion elsewhere.
Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 19, 2011): The council’s agenda contained a raft of significant items, which could have easily pushed the meeting past midnight. But councilmembers maintained a brisk pace, postponing a few key issues that allowed them to wrap up the meeting in around four hours.
Public commentary was dominated by the theme of public art, with several people weighing in against a proposed change to the city ordinance setting aside 1% of all capital improvement projects for public art. One of the changes would exclude the use of funds generated by the street/sidewalk repair tax from inclusion in the public art program. Those taxes are on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The deliberations on the public art ordinance provoked some overt politicking at the table between Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), which concluded with Kunselman challenging his council colleagues to direct the city attorney to write a formal legal opinion justifying the legal basis for the public art program.
The proposed changes to the public art ordinance were motivated in part by a desire to assure voters that their street/sidewalk repair millage would not instead be spent on public art. However, the council postponed the public art ordinance revision until its second meeting in November – after the vote on the millage. That’s also well after the planned dedication ceremony for the Dreiseitl water sculpture on Oct. 4 – a project paid for with public art funds.
At its Monday meeting, the council also postponed a vote on a resolution of intent expressing the council’s plan for spending the sidewalk/millage money.
The council also considered a proposal to cancel a 10-year contract signed last year with RecycleBank, a company that provides a coupon-based incentive program for city residents to participate in the city’s recycling program. The data from the first year of the contract was not convincing to councilmembers that the RecycleBank program was having a positive impact.
However, councilmembers voted instead to direct city staff to negotiate towards a revised contract that RecycleBank had offered, which reduces RecycleBank’s fee by one-third.
The council approved a settlement with its police union, retroactively to 2009. The new contract is similar to those that other city unions have also settled on – including no wage increases, and pension and health care plans that require a greater contribution from employees than in the past. The city still has two unions (firefighters and police command officers) with contracts yet to be settled. Contracts with those unions will now have to conform to the requirements of new state legislation, effective Sept. 15, that limits the amount that the city can contribute to the health care costs of its employees.
Also related to police staffing, the council authorized the use of federal money to hire five police officers, if the city is awarded a grant for which it has applied.
In another employment-related issue, the council gave final approval to a revision to its retirement system, which lengthens the vesting period to 10 years and computes the final average compensation (FAC) based on five years instead of three.
Land use and property rights were a recurring theme throughout the meeting. Those items included: approval of the sale of a strip of city-owned downtown land to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; postponement of a request from a medical marijuana business for rezoning a parcel on South State Street; authorization of city staff to begin with the systematic annexation of township islands located within the city boundaries; and initiation of the process to levy a special assessment of Dexter Avenue property owners to fill in sidewalk gaps.
Items fitting the general category of economic development included a tax abatement for Picometrix, the setting of a tax abatement public hearing for Arbor Networks, and the expression of the council’s intent to establish a property assessed clean energy (PACE) district. The PACE program is a way for the city to offer loans to commercial property owners for the purpose of making energy improvements.
Among other items on the agenda, the council also passed a resolution calling on Gov. Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that would eliminate same-sex domestic partner benefits for public employees.
Republican candidate for president Ron Paul’s Michigan campaign headquarters is the newest tenant of the Goodyear Building. Office is teeming with volunteers who’ve dropped by for orientation from staff, which include Ann Arborite Adam de Angeli. The Michigan legislature has passed a bill setting Feb. 12 as the Republican primary election date. [photo]
Taped to sides sides of stop sign post, a printout of quote from Albert Camus on capital punishment. Begins: “What then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared?” [photo]
The city of Ann Arbor has issued a missing person alert for Matthew Eric Varnum, who’s been missing since the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 21. Varnum is a 33-year-old white male, 6-feet tall, 200 lbs. with sandy hair and green eyes. He was last seen wearing a black sweatshirt, jeans, black shoes, and a Medic Alert necklace. The alert notes that he suffers from a closed head injury and concussion, which could cause him to faint. He “likes to walk considerable distances and may seek a peaceful wooded area.” Anyone with information about Varnum is asked to call the Ann Arbor police at 734-794-6930, ext. 49319, or 734-994-2911. [Source]
Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Sept. 19, 2011): Much of Monday’s 20-minute public meeting was spent discussing the possible repeal of the state’s personal property tax – a move that would take an estimated $637,000 out of the library’s roughly $12 million annual budget.
Josie Parker briefed the board during her director’s report, saying she wanted trustees to be aware of the issue and of its potential impact on the library’s finances. Legislation has been introduced, but it’s not yet clear whether lawmakers will decided to eliminate the tax completely or simply reduce it. Also unclear is what – if any – options would be available to taxing authorities to replace that lost revenue. Parker noted that when Pfizer closed its Ann Arbor operation several years ago, the library also took a hit. Pfizer had been the city’s largest taxpayer.
Parker’s report also included news about a lawsuit brought by Herrick District Library against the Library of Michigan. The state library has decided not to appeal an August court of appeals decision, which ruled in favor of Herrick’s position. Herrick had challenged new rules that would have changed how public libraries qualify for state aid. The changes were seen as a threat to local control, by taking away certain decision-making authority from local libraries. AADL was the only individual library in the state to file an amicus curiae brief in support of Herrick.
There was no board discussion about a potential response to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s excess tax capture decision. At issue is the interpretation of a city ordinance about tax increment finance (TIF) capture in the DDA’s downtown district. In July, the DDA board passed a resolution stating its opinion that the city’s ordinance does not require the DDA to return any money to taxing authorities in its TIF district – despite the fact that the DDA had already returned excess TIF revenue earlier this year.
The AADL is a taxing authority in the DDA’s TIF district and has been consulting with its legal counsel over the implications of that decision, as well as a possible response. Queried by The Chronicle after Monday’s meeting, Parker said the AADL has made no decision yet on the issue. [For background and analysis of the excess tax capture, see Chronicle columns: “Taxing Math Needs Another Look” and “TIF Capture is a Varsity Sport.”]
Entertainment Weekly reports on a compilation of complaints posted by formers employees of Ann Arbor-based Borders, titled “Things We Never Told You: Ode to a bookstore death.” The list, originally a thread on reddit.com, includes items like “We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie” and “Most of the time when you returned books you read them already — and we were onto you.” Borders has gone out of business – the downtown Ann Arbor store closed earlier this month. [Source]
Vigil for Troy Davis began before 5:30 pm with one UM student holding a sign. By 7 p.m., when candles were lit, a few dozen others had gathered. News of a temporary reprieve shared by those following the news on smartphones soon after 7 p.m.
Washtenaw County commissioners have received a recommended budget for 2012-2013, which calls for a total net loss of 32.22 full-time-equivalent jobs. Most are positions that are already vacant or that will be handled through retirements. [.pdf of draft 2012-2013 budget] County administrator Verna McDaniel and the county’s finance staff gave a presentation on the two-year budget at the board’s Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, showing how the administration proposes to balance the budget. Previously, an estimated $17.5 million deficit had been projected for that two-year period.
Board chair Conan Smith characterized the budget as a recommendation “that is ripe for public discussion at this point.” Everything is still on the table, he said. A public hearing on the budget is set …
At its Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave final approval to levy two taxes in December 2011: (1) 0.05 mills for support of economic development and agriculture; and (2) 0.025 mills to pay for services for indigent veterans. Because the Michigan statutes that authorize these millages predate the state’s Headlee Amendment, they can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. Initial approval and public hearings on these millages occurred at the board’s Sept. 7 meeting.
The indigent veterans millage was passed with dissent from Alicia Ping. It will cost homeowners about $2.50 for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. It’s expected to raise $344,486 – about $11,000 less than in 2010, due to projected …
At their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to a contract that would help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). The contract is part of a deal that will include the county authorizing the issuance of $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit.
The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds would be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities – the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township is participating in the WWRA, but will not help fund the new facility. The …
A contract amendment regarding the distribution of the county’s accommodations tax was given final approval at the Sept. 21, 2011 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.
The county collects a 5% excise tax from hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts, which is then distributed to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti convention & visitors bureaus and used to promote tourism and convention business. The contract calls for the county to retain 10% of that tax to defray the cost of collection and enforcement. (Until 2009, the county had only retained 5% for this purpose.) The remaining funds are split, with 75% going to the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, and 25% going to the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau.
At its Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners unanimously gave final approval to suspend the county’s use of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements, pending the outcome of litigation that’s challenging the validity of the state’s Public Act 98.
CUB agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors who sign the agreement abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project. In return, the trade unions agree that they will not strike, engage in work slow-downs, set up separate work entrances at the job site or take any other adverse action against the contractor.
However, Act 98 of 2011 – which became effective July 19, 2011 – prohibits municipalities …
At their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to the county’s 2011-2012 public health budget, which includes elimination of a net of nearly seven full-time positions.
The $11,839,496 budget includes a $3,553,575 allocation from the county’s general fund – a net decrease of $583,597 from the previous year. Unlike the county’s general fund budget, which is aligned to the calendar year, the public health budget runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, in sync with the state’s fiscal year.
Though a total of nearly 12 full-time-equivalent positions (a combination of part-time and full-time jobs) will be eliminated in the proposed budget, five positions will be created or reclassified, for a net loss of nearly seven FTEs.
The budget also calls …
The 2011-2012 budget for Washtenaw County’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department was approved by county commissioners at their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting. The budget includes a net loss of five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions.
Also acknowledged at the Sept. 21 meeting was the retirement of CSTS executive director Donna Sabourin, who has worked for the county for 20 years. She’s been executive director of CSTS since 2002. The board approved a resolution of appreciation in her honor at Wednesday’s meeting.
The proposed $26,838,557 CSTS budget calls for eliminating seven FTEs and putting one position on hold/vacant status, but creating three new FTE positions, for a net loss of five FTEs. In addition, 19 FTE positions will be reclassified. Though CSTS is a …
The Washtenaw County board of commissioners, at its Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, gave final approval to accept proposed quotes for insurance coverage in seven areas, totaling $1,021,275 in premiums.
The Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Agency has proposed obtaining coverage from several providers for the areas of: (1) property coverage, including boiler and machinery – Chubb Insurance Co.; (2) general liability, law enforcement liability, public officials liability, and auto liability – Genesis Insurance Co.;(3) crime – Great American Insurance Co.; (4) fiduciary liability – Chubb Insurance Co.; (5) lawyers professional liability – Underwriters at Lloyd’s London; (6) judicial liability – Underwriters at Lloyd’s London; and (7) medical professional – Hudson Insurance Co.
This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building …
A reorganization of administrative positions proposed by Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel was pulled from the agenda of the Sept. 21, 2011 meeting of the county board of commissioners. Details of the restructuring had been part of the board’s packet of materials. There was no discussion on the topic.
The proposed changes, which could be introduced at a later date, were expected to save $120,962 and were part of a broader 2012-2013 budget proposal. The reorganization would have put the deputy county administrator’s position – which has been unfilled since the departure of Bill Reynolds earlier this year – on hold/vacant status. A new “cross lateral” team was proposed with four members: Kelly Belknap, director of finance; Greg Dill, infrastructure management director …
University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Sept. 15, 2011): At a meeting where regents awarded UM president Mary Sue Coleman a 2.75% raise – adding $15,678 to her salary of $570,105 – the board also heard from members of the nurses union who are angry over proposed cuts to their benefits.
The Michigan Nurses Association, which represents about 4,000 UM nurses, is negotiating a new contract. Members brought large banners with signatures from their supporters, and three people spoke about the issue during public commentary – including Brit Satchwell, head of the Ann Arbor teachers union. The nurses are concerned that weaker benefits will affect patient care by hurting the UM health system’s ability to retain and recruit high-quality nurses.
Ora Pescovitz – UM’s executive vice president for medical affairs – read a statement to the board, asserting her respect for the nurses but saying the health system needs an agreement that’s market- and cost-competitive.
Also during the meeting, regents got an overview of UM’s annual development report for fiscal 2011, which ended June 30. The university received $273.14 million in contributions during the year, up from $254.08 million the previous year – an increase of 7.5%. The previous two years had shown declines from the $342.05 million raised in FY 2008, which marked the end of the multi-year $3.2 billion Michigan Difference fundraising campaign.
As part of that report, a couple who’ve given considerable financial support to UM – Bill and Dee Brehm – spoke to the regents about the motivation for their donations. They provide support for UM’s Brehm Center for Diabetes Research and Brehm Scholars program, among other initiatives.
Regents also heard from students and staff about work toward environmental sustainability on campus and in coursework. More is in the works: On Sept. 27, Coleman is scheduled to make an address to campus, expanding UM’s sustainability goals for both academics and operations. Her remarks will be shown via a webcast, starting at 11 a.m.
A range of action items during the meeting received little discussion and were all passed unanimously. They included several construction-related projects, the creation of two medical school departments, and authorization to buy a parcel at 716 Oakland Ave. in Ann Arbor, between Monroe and Hill streets near the law school campus. This is the fourth Ann Arbor property that UM has purchased within the past year with an apartment building on the lot.
Writing on MGoBlog, Brian Cook comments on John U. Bacon’s new book, “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football,” due out Oct. 25. Cook writes: ”Amongst the many deeply bizarre things that Rich Rodriguez did was allowing John Bacon virtually unfettered access to his program for three years. He didn’t know it at the time, but these happened to be the only three years of his program. I received an advanced copy of the book that resulted and… man. If you are a Michigan fan the result is a must read.” Cook is collecting questions from readers to ask Bacon, and plans to publish the answers along with a book excerpt in October. [...