Archive for October, 2011

UM Diag

The Tri Delts have set up a homemade teeter totter on the Diag in an attempt to raise funds for Mott Children’s Hospital.

A2: Farmers Market

The Ann Arbor farmers market is soliciting feedback from shoppers via an online survey. Questions cover what kind of information people are looking for from various communication channels – like the market’s Facebook page and Twitter account – as well as when and how often people shop at the market. [Source]

Sunset & Spring

Under Water Hill’s Golden Dome. While Hunt Park’s flame-orange maples are largely extinguished, around the corner arching over Sunset, and dribbling onto Spring, the late-turning 70-year-old golden maples are at their peak today. Worth seeing – worth going to see, for that matter. On the way there, don’t overlook the magnificent rusty-crimson foliage of the ancient oak on the east side of Spring, three homes north of Felch.

UM: Nurses Union

The Detroit News reports that the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council, representing about 4,000 nurses in the UM Health System, has reached a tentative contract agreement with the university. The news was originally posted on the council’s website. The previous contract expired June 30, and supporters have held rallies and attended UM regents meetings to lobby for better benefits than the university was offering. The tentative contract will require ratification by its members. [Source]

Fifth Ave. Historic District Re-Floated, Sinks

At its Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered but rejected a proposal to reappoint a historic district study committee for an area along Fourth and Fifth avenues near downtown Ann Arbor. Subsequently, a separate proposal to enact an emergency moratorium on demolition in the proposed study area was withdrawn. It would have included an area roughly from William south to Madison along Fourth and Fifth avenues, as well as some addresses on Packard Street.

It was another chapter in a years-long saga about the future of the area involving two proposed projects for the same site with the same owner – City Place and Heritage Row. [timeline] Now appearing imminent is construction of City Place, which … [Full Story]

City Place Votes Retaken, Outcome Same

At its Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reconsidered two votes taken at its previous meeting on Oct. 17 about the City Place matter-of-right project on Fifth Avenue south of William Street. The outcome of both votes was the same: approval.

One request from the developer was to waive a landscape buffer requirement that was introduced through an ordinance change made after the project was initially approved in 2009. The second request was for approval of changes to the buildings that included a new window on the upper floors of the north and south-facing sides, and a change from horizontal siding to simulated shingle siding on the dormer.

Both re-votes were prompted by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who had posed … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Wants Crosswalk Improvements

At its Oct. 24, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution that called on city staff to make recommendations on improvements to crosswalks throughout the city, identifying locations where technologies like High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacons (HAWK), and Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) would be appropriate. The resolution directed city staff to focus on Washtenaw Avenue near Tappan Middle School and Plymouth Road near the intersection of Beal Avenue. According to the resolution, the staff is supposed to present recommendations for the Plymouth & Beal intersection sometime in December  2011.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.

North Main

Apparently there is an election to be held on Nov. 8. For Main Street from downtown up to the freeway, a count of campaign signs: Sabra Briere (city council) – 4; Patrick Larry Murphy (school board) – 2.

Maple Rd. & Miller Ave

11:45 a.m. Closed Marathon at corner, main sign sports funky airplane line art painted both sides, sloppy, but not graffiti. Image search turned up no similar commercial logos. Is it some kind of a hint anyhow?

UM: Football

Writing on Yahoo Sports’ The Post Game, Jeff Arnold reviews the new book by John U. Bacon, “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” (FSG, $28, out Oct. 25, 2011). Arnold writes: ”While Bacon succeeds in earning Rodriguez’s trust in delivering behind-the-scenes observations, he fails to fully provide both sides of the story. The perspective of several key figures – including and especially [Lloyd] Carr – is not included. The former coach didn’t reply to any of Bacon’s 11 interview requests. That leaves Rodriguez’s predecessor looming eerily in every chapter as the proverbial man behind the curtain.” [Source]

UM: Solar Car

The Detroit Free Press looks at how the auto industry is working with the University of Michigan’s solar car team to leverage technology that students develop into possible industry applications. The article quotes Chris Hilger, a senior from Northville and the team’s business director: “The team works closely with industry in Detroit and with the university. The technologies in the car are things we expect to see on the road in the next decade, such as a super-lightweight carbon-fiber body, a high-performance battery, and a motor that’s 98% efficient.” [Source]

Nonprofit Supporters Lobby for County Funds

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 19, 2011): Lining Main Street in front of the county administration building, a dozen or so protesters stood in the rain – many with their dogs – holding signs in support of the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), which faces a dramatic funding cut under the proposed 2012-2013 county budget.

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley in front of the Washtenaw County administration building at Main and Catherine, prior to the Oct. 19 board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Inside during their meeting, county commissioners heard from a stream of supporters for various nonprofits, all urging the board to maintain funding for services – from the care of animals to basic safety net services like housing and food. The proposed budget calls for $1.2 million in cuts to outside agencies, including many nonprofits. Funding levels would drop from about $3 million this year to $1.8 million in each of the next two years. The cuts are proposed to address a projected $17.5 million deficit over the next two years.

Much of the public commentary came from HSHV supporters, who argued that the county is already getting more services than it pays for under its contract with the nonprofit, even before cutting annual funding from $500,000 to $250,000. That contract expires at the end of 2011, and leaders from the county and HSHV will be meeting later this month to try to reach an agreement for providing services – including those mandated by the state.

The budget was the focus of much of Wednesday’s three-hour meeting, which started with the appointment of Felicia Brabec to fill the vacant District 7 seat. Commissioners expressed support for the nonprofits they fund, but several argued that cuts are necessary because of the county’s declining revenues. They also pointed to discussions at the state level of eliminating the personal property tax. A recent analysis prepared by county staff estimates that repeal of the PPT would cut county revenues by $5.559 million, and would eliminate a total of $42.961 million in revenues for all local governments in Washtenaw County. [.pdf of PPT report]

Some commissioners urged the public to contact state legislators and oppose the PPT repeal, while others asked that everyone dig into their own pockets and contribute to local nonprofits that face funding cuts. Several commissioners expressed support for putting a human services millage on the ballot as a way to raise money for these safety net services. It would not be possible to add it to the Nov. 8 ballot, but could be considered for 2012. Wes Prater also argued that not enough cuts have been made in the budget – he believes county departments can find additional ways to trim their expenses.

In the only formal action related to the proposed budget, a resolution proposed by Yousef Rabhi reallocated $26,230 in annual dues (or $52,460 over two years) paid to the Michigan Association of Counties, transferring those funds to the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter in Ann Arbor. The resolution was unanimously approved. It followed action at the Ann Arbor city council’s Oct. 17 meeting, when councilmembers appropriated $25,000 from the city’s general fund reserve to keep the Delonis Center’s warming center open this winter. At the council’s meeting, mayor John Hieftje noted that the Delonis Center is a partnership between the city and county, and he hoped the county would uphold its end.

Final decisions on the budget haven’t yet been settled. The board must pass a budget by Dec. 31, and has only three more regular meetings scheduled for the year. The budget must first be voted on by the Ways & Means Committee – a committee of the whole board – then voted on a final time at a regular board meeting.

Though much of the Oct. 19 meeting focused on 2012-2013 budget issues, the board gave final approval to several other items, including: (1) creating a study committee to explore a historic district in Salem Township; (2) renewing a two-year contract with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing-based lobbying firm; and (3) authorizing a contract with Sylvan Township related to the township’s bond repayment schedule.

And in non-budget public commentary, Douglas Smith submitted an appeal to the board for a Freedom of Information Act request that had been denied by the county, related to an incident that he says involves a high-ranking member of the sheriff’s office. The board did not respond publicly to his request, other than to clarify with the county’s corporation counsel that appeals are handled by the county administrator. [Full Story]

Attorney Misidentified

In a city council meeting report from Oct. 17, 2011, we misidentified Scott Munzel, thus allowing an inaccurate inference to be made. Munzel is an attorney who represented the former owner of properties on South Fifth Avenue where the City Place and Heritage Row projects were proposed to be built. We acknowledge the mistake here and have corrected the original article.

Council Moves on Future of Fifth Avenue

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 17, 2011): At its meeting last Monday, the Ann Arbor city council acted on two different residential development projects for the block of Fifth Avenue just south of William Street. Both projects are owned by the same developer.

Margie Teall Jeff Helminski

Margie Teall (Ward 4) with Heritage Row and City Place developer Jeff Helminski. (Photos by the writer.)

At the time of their votes – on the matter-of-right City Place and the planned unit development Heritage Row – councilmembers knew that one set of actions would become moot. Only one of the projects, located on the same site, would be built. A few days after the meeting, news emerged that Heritage Row is now off the table and that City Place will move forward, with construction planned to start sometime this fall.

That meant that the council’s action last Monday, to give initial approval to the Heritage Row project, will ultimately have no effect. Developer Jeff Helminski requested that the item be pulled from the council’s Oct. 24 meeting – a meeting that had been added to the council’s calendar specifically to take a second and final vote on the Heritage Row project.

At their Oct. 17 meeting, the council took two actions on the already-approved City Place project – one to allow flexible application of the city’s new landscape ordinance, and a second to approve additional windows on the upper stories and to change the siding. That added to an Oct. 3 decision by the council to allow greater flexibility in the sequencing of City Place construction.

Also on Monday, the council confirmed two appointments to the city’s zoning board of appeals. The ZBA is a body that has purview to hear any challenges to city decisions about the correct application of city ordinances and the appropriateness of administrative decisions, including those associated with matter-of-right projects like City Place.

In other real estate development news out of Monday’s meeting, the council approved changes to the elevations for City Apartments, a residential project at First and Washington scheduled to start construction yet this season. The council is expected to authorize the sale of the city-owned parcel at its Nov. 10 meeting.

The council approved the annexation into the city of a township parcel where Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky has set up shop. A tax abatement for Arbor Networks, a computer network security firm, was also approved by the council.

Another significant item on the council’s agenda was the appropriation of $25,000 from the city’s general fund reserve to keep the warming center open this year, which is operated by the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County in the Delonis Center on Huron Street.

The council also approved a resolution of intent on the use of sidewalk and street millage funds, which voters will be asked to approve at the polls on Nov. 8. The resolution was amended to clarify how funding will work for sidewalk repair adjacent to commercial properties inside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district. [Full Story]

Buhr Park

Still at Buhr Park soccer fields this morning: 2 coats, 4 water bottles, glove, T-shirt, peace sign backpack, cap that says “NO RACHEL.”

Column: Book Fare

The upcoming trifecta of other-worldly holidays – Halloween, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day – are the perfect frame to showcase a pair of new literary treats from local authors. (A neat trick, no?)

Cover of "Ghost Writers"

Cover of "Ghost Writers"

“The Sin-Eater: A Breviary,” Thomas Lynch’s latest collection of poems from Paraclete Press, presents this world and the next according to Argyle, an insurance policy incarnate for unabsolved offenses and, Lynch writes, “the mouthpiece for my mixed religious feelings.”

“Ghost Writers: Us Haunting Them,” part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series from Wayne State University Press, serves up a dozen ghost stories – some fiction, some true in their own way – from some of the state’s finest writers, many of them from the Ann Arbor area. Laura Kasischke (“Space, In Chains” and “The Raising”) and Keith Taylor, whose next poetry collection, “Marginalia for a Natural History,” comes out next month, are the editors as well as contributors.

Taylor, who teaches English at the University of Michigan, and “Ghost Writers” contributor Elizabeth Kostova (“The Historian,” “The Swan Thieves”) will read from the collection at Zingerman’s Roadhouse on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the sixth annual Vampires’ Ball, a benefit for Food Gatherers. (Hunger. In Washtenaw County. In America. Sin? Horror story? This theme is definitely hanging together here.) [Full Story]

Commission OKs Arbor Hills Crossing

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Oct. 18, 2011): In its main business of the evening, the planning commission recommended approval of the site plan for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw.

Action had been postponed at the commission’s June 7, 2011 meeting so that the developer – Campus Realty – could address some outstanding issues with the plan.

Arbor Hills Crossing rendering viewed from northeast at Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road.

A rendering of Arbor Hills Crossing at the southeast corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road – three of the buildings front Washtenaw. (Image links to higher resolution .pdf)

Commissioners were satisfied with the revisions the developer had undertaken to the plan in response to their comments made at the June 7 meeting. Commissioner Bonnie Bona characterized the site plan as essentially a disguised strip shopping center, but allowed that it was a good strip shopping center.

Arbor Hills Crossing will next go before the city council for its approval.

The commission also granted three separate requests for flexible application of the new landscape ordinance approved by the city council in June 2011. Those requests were from: (1) Gallup One Stop gas station and convenience store; (2) the University of Michigan Credit Union (formerly the Ann Arbor News building); and (3) Glacier Hills.

The commission meeting included its usual range of updates on city council and planning staff activity. [Full Story]

Main & Ann

Vicki Dischler with paper cutout of a man, getting photo taken by Paul Koch. It’s for her nephew’s Flat Stanley geography class. Stanley will be mailed back to Pleasant Praire, Wisc. where her nephew lives. [photo]

Heritage Row Proposal Withdrawn

According to a city council source, developer Jeff Helminski has withdrawn the revised proposal for Heritage Row, a planned unit development on South Fifth Avenue. A different project, City Place, is now expected to be built on the same site by the same developer, though some possibility exists to contest the City Place project via the city’s zoning board of appeals.

The plan for the matter-of-right City Place would demolish seven houses and construct two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. The two City Place buildings would comprise 144 bedrooms in 24 6-bedroom units. By contrast, Heritage Row would have constructed three buildings behind the row of seven houses and either rehabilitated or reconstructed the seven houses. That project would have included up to 85 units with 180 bedrooms. [Full Story]

Column: Rodriguez and The Michigan Man

Editor’s note: Columnist John U. Bacon has been answering questions from Michigan fans on MGoBlog about his upcoming book, “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” (FSG, $28, out October 25, 2011). Last week, he described how he gained access to UM’s football program, and how his book deal emerged. This week, he talks about the early days of the Rodriguez regime, what it means to be a “Michigan Man,” and what his future plans are following publication of this book.

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

One of the central questions that comes up in various forms about Rich Rodriguez is the “Fit, or Lack Thereof” with Michigan’s program. I’ll start to answer that question by working backward, from the final seconds of Rodriguez’s regime.

On January 5, 2011, the assistant coaches, staffers, and yours truly were all sitting in the coaches’ meeting room, when Rodriguez walked in, laid a file down on the table, and said, “Well, as expected, they fired me.” He later added, “It was a bad fit here from the start.”

And in many ways it was. But I’m not certain it had to be.

People who were living in Ann Arbor in 1968 can tell you about the last outsider to take the reins: Bo Schembechler. His predecessor, Bump Elliott, was a former Michigan All-American who was smart and humble, with an urbane, conservative manner. He didn’t yell at his players, he rarely swore, and if you said you were hurt, that was enough for him.

When Schembechler’s crew arrived with their wives sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, some Michigan insiders took to calling them “The Ohio Mafia.” The players quickly learned the new guy yelled, swore, grabbed your facemask and literally kicked you in the ass. If you were merely hurt, not injured, but didn’t want to practice, you got left behind when the team plane took off.

Instead of turning his back on the new regime, however, Elliott embraced them, hosting parties for their families and introducing them to important people around town. He did not allow players to come to his office in the Athletic Department to complain about the new guy, either. And when Schembechler delivered what today would be an unforgivable comment about changing “Michigan’s silly helmets,” Elliott, Don Canham, Fritz Crisler and Bob Ufer quietly taught him Michigan tradition.

And, to Schembechler’s credit, he was wise enough to listen, and even seek out their help.

When Michigan upset Ohio State that year, they gave Bump Elliott the game ball, and there was not a dry eye in the room.

That’s Michigan at its best. The last three years were not. [Full Story]

AATA to Negotiate DTW-Ann Arbor Service

At its Oct. 20, 2011 monthly meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized its CEO to start negotiations with Michigan Flyer to provide service between the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center and Detroit Metropolitan Airport. During a presentation to the U196 board earlier in the afternoon, AATA CEO Michael Ford said that the intent was to provide 12 daily trips each way, with a very limited number of stops, in order to achieve a trip time of around 40-45 minutes.

The resolution passed by the board indicates that Michigan Flyer is willing to enter into a cost/revenue sharing arrangement and that marketing efforts for the new Ann Arbor-to-Detroit airport service would be made by both Michigan Flyer and the AATA.

The resolution also indicates that Michigan Flyer’s operating costs for the service would be $81.25 per service hour. By way of comparison, AATA’s budgeted cost per service hour for the current budget year is around $110 per service hour.

The airport route will be called Route #900.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow. [Full Story]

AATA Board Revises Bylaws

At its Oct. 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Board voted to revise its bylaws so that its meeting time is set each year at the same time that it approves the budget.

Before revision, the bylaws stipulated 6:30 p.m. as the meeting time. That mention was struck from the bylaws in favor of the language: “The Board shall set the time of Board meetings at such time as the budget is passed for the fiscal year.” The bylaws still specify the third Thursday of the month as the regular meeting time.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow. [Full Story]

AATA Bus Storage Facility

At its Oct. 20, 2011 monthly meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board authorized its CEO to execute construction contracts with 11 different companies
totaling $1,695,167. With the contingency of $169,517 the total construction budget for the project comes to $1,864,684.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow.

U196 Board Convenes First Meeting

The unincorporated version of a possible future Act 196 countywide authority in Washtenaw County met for the first time on Oct. 20, 2011. Act 196 of 1986 is a state enabling statute that explicitly provides for the formation of a transit authority at the county level. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is formed under Act 55 of 1963.

The meeting comes in the context of the culmination of the AATA’s transportation master planning effort and the review of various financing options now taking place by a group of more than 20 financial experts from the private and public sectors. The financial group is led by former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz.

Membership in … [Full Story]

A2: School Election

The Ann Arbor Schools Musings blog has published a Q&A with Andy Thomas, one of six candidates running for two seats on the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees. In response to a question about whether Thomas, an incumbent, supports Gov. Rick Snyder’s education reforms, Thomas writes: “The Emergency Manager legislation seems designed to subvert local control and focuses exclusively on cutting costs rather than providing services. The use of School Aid Funds for purposes other than K-12 education is a grievous betrayal of the public trust, and a violation of the spirit (if not the letter) of the law as enacted by the people under Proposal A.” The election is on Nov. 8. [Source]

UM: Solar Car Finish

Immediately following a third-place finish in the World Solar Challenge in Australia, members of the University of Michigan’s Solar Car Team were interviewed for a video posted on YouTube. The teams faced wildfires and bad weather along the course. Team member Troy Halm sums it up this way: “It was exciting. Now it’s very relieving that it’s finally over.” [Source]

In the Archives: Normal for Girls to Smoke?

Editor’s Note: Eastern Michigan University first opened in 1853 as Michigan State Normal School, later becoming the Michigan State Normal College. In days gone by a “normal school” was a teacher training college. The inaugural edition of a new Chronicle column by David Erik Nelson describes his schoolteacher wife as a “greedy, terrible, pregnant, unionized public servant.” It makes one wonder how she would have fared among the women students at the normal school in the early 1920s. Laura Bien sketches a picture of their travails in this week’s edition of her local history column. [Full Story]