Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Nov. 2, 2011): At a meeting that included no business requiring a vote, the Ann Arbor DDA board began a public hearing on possible parking rate increases for the city’s public parking system.
The hearing will continue at the board’s Dec. 7 meeting, after a Nov. 14 joint working session with the Ann Arbor city council, when the two bodies will discuss proposed increases. A vote by the DDA board on the rate increases would not come until January.
Around a half dozen people spoke at the initial opportunity for public comment on the proposed rate increases, most either downtown merchants or representatives of merchant associations. They were uniformly in support of one feature of the proposal – no extension of meter enforcement past 6 p.m. Extension of enforcement hours has been actively on the table for at least two years. Based on board discussion at Wednesday’s meeting, evening enforcement could eventually be implemented – but not for the current rate increase cycle.
Those who spoke at the initial part of the hearing were generally opposed to increasing rates, but also acknowledged the financial decisions the DDA faces. And some speakers put part of the blame for that situation on the city of Ann Arbor. Under a new contract, the city of Ann Arbor now receives 17% of gross public parking revenues, which could otherwise be put back into the parking system, reducing the pressure to raise rates. Under the contract, the DDA operates the system, and is responsible for ongoing maintenance. Rates are controlled by the DDA in consultation with the city council.
The details of proposed parking rate increases were first announced towards the end of last week, most of which would be implemented starting in September 2012. Some increases would be implemented starting in February. [.pdf of DDA proposed parking rate changes]
Highlights of the changes to be enacted in September 2012 include predominantly $.10/hour increases: hourly structure parking rates would increase from $1.10/hour to $1.20/hour; hourly parking lot rates would increase from $1.30 ($1.50 after 3 hours) to $1.40 ($1.60 after 3 hours;) hourly parking meter rates would increase from $1.40/hour to $1.50/hour; monthly parking permit rates would increase from $140/month to $145/month.
The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports, including the quarterly financial numbers and parking report, and updates on the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage construction as well as the most recent development in the Nov. 8 sidewalk millage ballot proposal.
At the city council’s Oct. 17 meeting, the council passed a resolution clarifying how the millage proceeds would be used inside the DDA’s geographic district. And at the DDA’s Wednesday meeting, mayor John Hieftje gave the clearest public indication to date that he does not want to take a position on the sidewalk millage, saying that residents would have to “figure it out for themselves.”
The board also held a closed session, under the provision of the Michigan Open Meetings Act that allows such a session to discuss the meaning of legal advice contained in a written document protected under attorney-client privilege.
Parking Rate Public Hearing
The main focus of the board meeting was the public hearing on parking rates and the associated discussion by DDA board members. Remarks included not just comments on the rate increases, but also questions about the need to build the underground parking garage, which is currently under construction on the so-called Library Lot on South Fifth Avenue, between Liberty and William streets. Speakers also complained that revenue from the parking system was being used to backstop the city of Ann Arbor’s general fund.
Terms of the new contract (ratified in May 2011) under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system include a provision whereby 17% of gross revenues are paid directly to the city of Ann Arbor. The payments are made quarterly, by the end of the month after the quarter ends. So the first of those payments was made on Oct. 31. The 17% figure came to $662,471.
Parking Rate Public Hearing: Introduction
The contract between the city and the DDA, under which the DDA manages Ann Arbor’s public parking system, provides for a mechanism the DDA must use in order to implement rate increases. It involves three separate board meetings: one to announce an intent to raise rates, another to hold a public hearing, and a third for a vote.
… DDA shall not implement any increase in the Municipal Parking System’s hours of meter operation or parking rates intended to persist for more than three (3) months without first:
(i) announcing, and providing written communication regarding, the details of such increase at a meeting of the DDA Board;
(ii) providing all members of the public an opportunity to speak in a manner similar to a public hearing before the DDA Board at its next regularly scheduled meeting on the subject of the proposed increase (“Public Hearing”); and
(iii) postponing any vote on the proposed increase until at least the regularly scheduled meeting of the DDA Board after the Public Hearing.
The DDA board completed the first step of the process at its Wednesday meeting and opened the public hearing early, so that it could receive input from the public before its Nov. 14 work session with the city council.
Bob Guenzel opened the hearing by noting that the recently signed contract with the city of Ann Arbor requires that a hearing be held. Some of the rate changes are proposed to take effect in September 2012, while others are proposed for February, he said. However, the public hearing would welcome comments on both sets of changes.
Guenzel noted that the DDA board would be meeting with the city council on Nov. 14 to talk about the modifications. Guenzel went on to explain that the public hearing would be adjourned and then re-opened at the Dec. 7 DDA board meeting, so there would be time both before and after the city council work session to hear from the public. Unlike working sessions for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, the city council work sessions have historically not provided time for public commentary.
Parking Rate Public Hearing: Public – Round 1
Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association (MSAA), began by asking if she needed to give her home address as Guenzel had indicated. Quipped Guenzel, “No, we know where to find you!” Thomson thanked the board and staff for their work and for their thoughtfulness in arriving at their recommendations. She said she understood the complexities the board faces. Specifically, the board needs to satisfy its financial obligations, she said, as well as the needs of the board’s “customers.”
As “customers” Thomson identified the public and downtown businesses. She called satisfying both sets of customers a “tall order.” She noted that many business were opposed to extending evening enforcement hours. She said she really appreciated the fact that the board had elected not to extend hours of enforcement. She said felt encouraged that the board had really listened to concerns of members of the MSAA and really heard them.
Maggie Ladd, director of the South University Area Association, told the board she echoed Thomson’s remarks and said she appreciated the fact that extension of enforcement of meters would not be recommended. She also said that she had no objection to the increases for parking during Ann Arbor’s art fairs. [That increase is proposed to go from $10 to $12 for entrance into the downtown parking structures. Ladd is director of the South University Art Fair, one of four fairs that take place each summer in downtown Ann Arbor.]
Ali Ramlawi introduced himself as the owner of the Jerusalem Garden restaurant on Fifth Avenue and resident of Ann Arbor. He described the construction of the underground parking garage, which is taking place immediately adjacent to his restaurant, as the “nightmare on Fifth.” He said he’d been watching actions of the board and its decisions, and the steps it’s taking. As a business owner and community resident, he said he believed that the board’s set of recent steps and decisions are “choking off” downtown. The effect of continued increase rate increases and increased complexity of the pricing structure is to choke off businesses, he said. Other than night clubs and restaurants, businesses are struggling to stay alive, he said. Extended hours of parking meter enforcement would have been the nail in the coffin.
Ramlawi went on to describe the relationship between the city and the DDA as uncomfortable. The mission statement of the DDA is not to balance the city’s budget, he said. It’s a “weird relationship,” he said, that includes the DDA paying the city $2 million that wasn’t required under its contract, then the forgiveness of excess TIF funds captured by the DDA. He described the situation as the “lines are getting blurred.” The DDA should get back to focusing on the needs of the downtown. People need to live within their own means, he said – that’s what we all have to do as businesses and as citizens. If the city keeps “going back to the well” of the DDA, the well is going to run dry, he cautioned. He allowed that the DDA does not have an easy job, but concluded by saying that continued parking rate increases are harming business downtown.
Andrea David spoke on behalf of Herb David Guitar Studio, located on the corner of Fifth and Liberty, a few parcels down from the ongoing construction of the underground parking garage. She said she appreciated that the extension of enforcement hours into the evening was not part of the proposal. But she told the board that the construction activity had practically killed the studio, and the restaurants Jerusalem Garden and Earthen Jar. Students who take lessons at the studio can’t find parking. She asked the board to consider raising the rates only after the underground parking structure is open, not before.
J.C. Potts of Pangea Piercing told the board in a friendly drawl that everything the board does makes it unattractive to drive downtown. He allowed that it would be nice to be able to get around only as pedestrians or cyclists, but said that the No. 1 complaint he hears is about parking. It’s not the cost or lack of parking, but rather the aggressive enforcement.
Potts said that in a time of limited resources, the city seems to have a whole army of officers who are assigned to enforce parking regulations. He regularly receives tickets, he said. Pangea Piercing is expanding its business, he said, but not in Ann Arbor. They’ve chosen Pittsfield and Ypsilanti, because the parking situation is easier there. He cautioned the board that the goose with the golden eggs can be killed.
Herb David, owner of Herb David Guitar Studio, said he endorsed what everybody else had said. If the goal of the construction of the underground parking garage was to make the downtown more vital, it had in fact de-vitalized long-time businesses.
David alluded to an old blues song by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) called “Bourgeois Blues” which includes a lyric: “I tell all the colored folks to listen to me/Don’t try to find you no home in Washington, D.C./’Cause it’s a bourgeois town.” Washington D.C. might be a bourgeois town, David said, but Ann Arbor is becoming a franchise town.
He told the board that the Herb David Guitar Studio is threatened, and might go out of business. Long-time customers don’t want to deal with the construction zone situation. He told the board they’d done a lot of good things. But after 50 years in business, where each year it would increase 4-5%, now it was down 40-45%. Sunday, he said, is better than the rest of the week, because you can get free parking. “We can’t pay our bills,” he told the board. For the first time in 50 years, the store had been broken into. He attributed the break-in as caused in part by a dark alley resulting from a missing street light. They’d been given a string of Christmas lights, but that didn’t help.
Deanna Relyea spoke on behalf of the Kerrytown District Association. She thanked the DDA board for the improvements that had been made to downtown over the years. She echoed Thomson’s remarks, telling board members she was sorry that they, as the DDA board, had to deal with city of Ann Arbor’s shortfall. There were plans for the Fifth Avenue streetscape improvements [involving additional brickwork in the area of Detroit Street] that had to get axed.
Relyea told the board that raising parking rates and aggressive enforcement go together to make Kerrytown customers think twice about coming to Ann Arbor. She noted that Kerrytown has a somewhat different character from other downtown districts – it’s a destination, and people come and stay for hours. She said that merchants don’t necessarily mind rate increases, they just need to know that parking will remain convenient. She noted that the DDA mentions cities that have higher rates, like Grand Rapids and Lansing. But Ann Arbor is not like those cities, she said, and shouldn’t aspire to be that way.
Ray Detter reported to the board that the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council had gone over each recommendation for rate changes and fully supported them. No no one wants to raise rates in a time of economic hardship, he said. But the increases were necessary in order to keep the parking structures in good repair and meet the DDA’s financial obligations. He reminded the board that the parking system didn’t always pay for itself. When the DDA took over the parking system in 1992, some of the structures were falling apart. With the city council’s approval, the DDA had taken responsibility for repairing and rehabbing structures and has made the system financially self-sufficient, he said.
Parking is only a small part of the full range of the transportation options that the DDA promotes, in concert with the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Detter said. The analysis of that entire transportation system, he said, had led the DDA to build the underground parking garage. The nature of that construction has caused problems for neighboring businesses, he acknowledged, calling that unfortunate. The whole system has more people using it than before. He passed around some articles taken from the Ann Arbor District Library archives from 1938. There’s a photo of a woman who had a sign that read: “Keep parking meters out.” It illustrated that parking rates had always been a point of controversy. [AADL Old News: Parking]
Andrea of Pangea Piercing said she wanted to argue the point that downtown was vital. There were four stores going out of business, she said. Trying to imagine Ann Arbor without Herb David Guitar Studio made her want to cry, she said. Ann Arbor doesn’t want a CVS and a Starbucks on every corner. “We don’t want a cookie-cutter city,” she said, with a chain store everywhere. She reiterated Potts’ point that Pangea’s is opening another location, but in another city, because people don’t want to come to downtown Ann Arbor.
Parking Rate Public Hearing: DDA Board Commentary
Responding to some of the remarks made during the public hearing, mayor John Hieftje said that a speaker’s suggestion that parking meter rates not be raised until after the underground structure is open is a good idea. He noted that September 2012 is after the underground parking garage is expected to be open (it’s scheduled to open in the spring of 2012). And September 2012 is when the majority of increases affecting the average parker are proposed to be implemented.
Newcombe Clark responded to the comments during the public hearing by saying that the board was aware of all the data, and the revenue needs. “We’ve all known this was coming,” he said, noting that the board has listened to the feedback it’s heard. Not having enough parking and having parking that’s too expensive are both problems. While it’s true that the board needs the revenue, this is a function of choices the board has made, he pointed out.
Clark talked about the parking policy choices driven by “best practice or best politics.” He said the board should try to err on the side of best practices. The parking rate increases the board is proposing take a first stab at revenue generation, Clark said. As the board thinks about parking policy, the best-practices-based plan calls for evening enforcement. So that may have to come back on the table, he said. Even though evening enforcement was a best practice, it’s not best politics. Clark noted that MyBuys, which employs Clark as a manager of business development associates, has 80 downtown employees, and sees no benefit to a lack of evening enforcement. But there’s no advocate for that position. Regarding the DDA board, he noted, “We’ll be yelled at no matter what we do.”
Parking Rate Public Comment: Public – Round 2
During the time allotted for regular public commentary at all DDA board meetings, Ali Ramlawi of Jerusalem Garden reprised the sentiments he’d expressed at the public hearing. He said he wanted to reinforce the thought that the DDA is a separate agency, and needs to act independently of the city’s financial woes. He told the board to focus on their mission statement. The DDA does not exist in order to fund gaps in the city budget, he said. Ramlawi said he respected Ray Detter, but as rates increase 10, 20, 30, 70 cents, you get to a point of no return.
Ramlawi noted that people compare Ann Arbor to other cities – the fact of the matter is that Ann Arbor is a university town. The university keeps the city afloat and keeps Ann Arbor from facing some of the same problems that other cities face, he said. Ann Arbor’s success is due to the University of Michigan. For his restaurant, business is off 30-40%. [Although Ramlawi didn't make the point explicitly that he appeared to be headed for, on other occasions he's mentioned that the catering part of his business, for which UM is a client, has helped stabilize the business.]
Ramlawi said that Fifth Avenue was originally supposed to be open in time for the art fairs in the summer of 2011, but it’s still closed. [During his construction activity update later in the meeting, DDA board member John Splitt indicated that the goal is to reopen the street by early 2012.] Ramlawi said he had a feeling that some of the need for rate increases are due to previous financial irresponsibility that has “caught up with today’s balance sheet.” He repeated the point that Ann Arbor is a successful city because it has one of the best university’s in the world in its backyard. It’s time to live within our means, he said.
Andrea David of Herb David Guitar Studio also returned to the podium. She said that the city has to move forward, but she told the board to do that with caution. The DDA built the underground parking structure, but doesn’t know if you can fill it. That’s prime parking not far from Liberty Street.
J.C. Potts of Pangea Piercing returned to the podium, too. He took up Clark’s point, by acknowledging that people will yell at the board no matter what they do. He said he recognized the need to build more parking. But he suggested easing enforcement or keeping rates the same as a goodwill gesture. He suggested that parking could be a “loss leader.” Now, people worry about coming to park in downtown Ann Arbor, because they think they’ll get a ticket and get “harassed by five bums.” The idea would be to take less from each downtown visitor, but if there are more visitors, the city can get more revenue. Ann Arbor needs to get people to come to downtown and “see the freak show,” Potts said.
Herb David, in his second turn at the podium, asked the board if they would be facing the same problem tomorrow. Based on the projected population growth in the next 50 years, he said, no one thinks the underground parking garage would be justified. He suggested building an atrium next to the downtown library as a replacement space for artists who previously worked out of space in the collection of buildings where the new Y was built on West Washington.
Parking Rates: Board Response, Discussion
Responding in more detail to remarks made at the public hearing, Roger Hewitt said there were some misstatements he wanted to correct. Responding to the idea that Ann Arbor is being taken over by chain stores due to decisions made by the DDA board, he pointed out that many members of the board are independent business owners in the downtown. They’re acutely aware of the challenges faced by independent businesses. The board is not associated with franchises of chains, he said. [Hewitt owns the Red Hawk Bar & Grill and Revive + Replenish downtown.]
Responding to the suggestion that enforcement activities should be eased off, Hewitt pointed out that the city of Ann Arbor handles enforcement of parking regulations. As part of the new parking contract, Hewitt said, the DDA and the city’s enforcement staff now have a monthly staff meeting to coordinate the city and the DDA’s thinking on the issue of enforcement. Hewitt stressed that it’s not the DDA who writes the tickets. Hewitt also noted that with the set of proposals the DDA has made about rate increases, there’s not currently a plan to begin enforcement of parking meters in the evenings.
Hewitt said the biggest concern they’ve heard is not that people don’t want to pay – it’s the concern that if people receive parking tickets, it will send an unpleasant message. Hewitt alluded to technological advances in the parking industry that might allow fees to be charged for on-street meters without risk of parking tickets. [Hewitt was alluding to "hockey puck" sensors that would be installed in the pavement under a space and could monitor when an automobile is in the space. Patrons would pay for the time they used.] But evening enforcement is not part of the proposal for the coming year, Hewitt said.
Hewitt then ticked through each of the proposed increases. [.pdf of DDA proposed parking rate changes]
The break-even point for the parking system, Hewitt said, is roughly $16 million a year – that includes debt service as well as the cost of maintaining the structures. Hewitt said he appreciated that Detter had pointed out that the parking structures were in very bad repair when the DDA assumed responsibility for the city’s parking structures in 1992. Hewitt called Ann Arbor’s public parking system one of the best maintained municipal parking systems in the country. The maintenance costs for that system run about $2 million a year, he said. In contemplating the rate increases, the DDA is trying to balance its fiduciary responsibility to maintain the system against the issues that the speakers had identified during the public hearing.
With respect to the need to build an underground parking garage, Hewitt said that beginning about five years ago, it was noted that the parking system was reaching capacity. But measured in terms of “hourly patrons,” use of the parking system continues to grow. Hewitt clarified that an hourly patron is someone who pays hourly either at a lot or a structure.
Here’s a summary of parking revenue and hourly patronage trends over the last two years, compiled by The Chronicle from DDA monthly year-over-year comparisons:
Compared to five years ago, there are 450,000 more hourly patrons a year, reported Hewitt. [For the most recent year, there were roughly 2.2 million hourly patrons.] For the current monthly parking report [September 2011 versus 2010], Hewitt said, the number of hourly patrons has gone up 6%. Use of the system is now growing steadily, Hewitt said, after experiencing a somewhat flat period starting with the 2008 economic downtown. Without adding a new parking structure, Hewitt said, business couldn’t grow.
Sandi Smith said the board had heard a lot about parking demand management – which involves different pricing of parking options based on demand. She said it appeared, based on the proposed rate increases, that the DDA had stepped away from any implementation of that.
Hewitt told Smith that a “stepped approach” had been considered for off-street meters, but one barrier to that is that ePark stations had not yet been installed throughout the downtown. [The ePark stations are wirelessly-connected payment kiosks that allow different rates to be set for different geographic areas and different times of day, and to be easily adjusted. The capital expenditure of the stations has been put on hold in light of the need to meet the condition of the 17% gross revenue payment to the city of Ann Arbor, under the requirements of the new contract.]
Hewitt noted that on the fringes of the metered areas, the DDA wanted to establish “park and walk” meters, which are 10-hour meters that are half price. That’s consistent with the parking demand management approach. Hewitt’s comment prompted Russ Collins to recall a joke made by Geoff Larcom, director of Eastern Michigan University media relations, who says EMU doesn’t have a parking problem, it has a walking problem.
DDA executive director Susan Pollay noted that there are locations where such meters are already in place, on North Ashley, North First, and South Division. These meters would be branded, Pollay said, as part of the effort to expand use throughout the system. As the rates are increased in September 2012, Pollay said, the half-price meters would increase as well. [Later that day, Republic Parking employees were observed adding signs to the half-price meters.]
Mayor John Hieftje expressed his astonishment at the 450,000 figure Hewitt had given on the increase in the number of yearly hourly patrons compared to five years ago. He noted that there were also a lot more people using the go!pass and concluded that this reflected a lot more visits to the downtown.
Newcombe Clark wanted to know what the revenue implications are: How much money would the parking rate increase bring in? Hewitt told Clark he did not have the numbers in front of him. He said the DDA is in the process of revising its 10-year budget plan.
Sandi Smith wanted to know if historical decreases in parking system use correlated to rate increases. Hewitt told Smith he hadn’t seen use go down during the seven years he’s served on the board, though he allowed it’s been flat at times. In 2009-2010, things were flat for a little while, he said. Russ Collins recalled some history back when Main Street was dying due to the opening of Briarwood Mall, in the mid-1970s. If there was a desperate time, then that was it, he said. At that time there was an economic downturn and parking rates were doubled. Collins then quipped that WEMU’s reporter, Andrew Cluley, was not taking notes about his remarks, so it was obviously not important.
John Mouat said the message about the opening of the new underground structure should be: “We’ve got parking!” The board needs to remember that it’s a great thing to be able say that to people who’ve been trying to come downtown for years. The capacity of the new underground structure will also allow various kinds of growth, Mouat said, including allowing more downtown residents. Mouat looked forward to the time when the bonds are paid off and the DDA would be able to manage costs. He said the board has to keep in mind the future – 10-20 years from now.
Building off of Mouat’s remarks, Collins said as far as long-term vision, it would be great if the parking system were used less 30-40 years from now. When the Maynard parking structure can’t be maintained any longer, he said, it could be removed and replaced with commercial space. Building the new parking spaces underground is the right place to build them, he said. Collins said he was in complete sympathy with businesses affected by the underground parking garage construction. He quipped that he always blames architects. [Mouat, seated to Collins' right, is an architect.]
Hieftje added that it’s important to remember that the parking system is close to capacity and that some of the parking might disappear due to development. He pointed out that the Brown Block could be developed. [The entire block –bounded by Huron, Ashley, Washington and First – is a surface parking lot on land owned by First Martin Corp. and leased to the DDA.] Business owners who have been severely impacted by the underground parking garage construction obviously have grievances, he said. He recalled the lawsuit some of them had brought against the city before the project started. Hieftje then echoed the same sentiment that Hewitt had expressed – that the DDA board includes small business owners among its members. Others of the board work downtown, he said. The DDA is in every respect reflective of the small business community, Hieftje concluded.
Parking Rates: Board Response – Downtown Climate
John Splitt noted that the 2010 census indicates a 30% increase in the number of downtown residents in the last 10 years, which translates to 1,000 more people.
Reporting on transportation issues later in the meeting, John Mouat offered some anecdotal evidence of a change in the dynamics of downtown. Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, had related how some employees at Google say they rarely leave downtown, and don’t own a car. Mouat said some things that people have talked about for a long time are beginning to happen.
Also later in the meeting, mayor John Hieftje cited some anecdotal evidence he’d heard at a neighborhood association meeting off of Hill Street, to the effect that there was a change in climate near downtown. One attendee, said Hieftje, described how there were now homes coming on the market that aren’t being snapped up by investors. The attendee had described it as the “steamroller” having been stopped, and attributed it to more students living downtown.
Communications, Committee Reports
The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.
Comm/Comm: Quarterly Financial Report
Highlights from the first-quarter financials called out by Roger Hewitt included the dramatically lower capital expenses, because invoices for the Fifth and Division streetscape improvements haven’t been received yet. Maintenance expenses are high, because part of the underground parking structure is being paid out of maintenance, but will be reimbursed out of the bond sale.
Hewitt said he doesn’t anticipate the DDA will be paying out the $500,000 grant this year, which it made to the nonprofit Avalon Housing for the Near North housing project, due to delays in that project.
Comm/Comm: Construction Update – Underground Parking Garage
John Splitt reported that for the dogleg on the east side of the construction site, sidewalks exist and Library Lane now exists. Splitt said you can get a great look at it from behind the credit union building. The plaza-level slab was to be poured soon in a large 1,000-cubic-yard pour.
The speed ramp on Division Street was being poured that day, Splitt said. He reported discussions with the design team and Christman Company (the construction manager) to get Fifth Avenue open as soon as possible. Weather does present a challenge, he said. Splitt noted that it’s possible to pour concrete in the middle of January, but it’s expensive and cost prohibitive. At minimum, Splitt said, the sidewalk on the east side of Fifth Avenue should be finished in December or January.
Comm/Comm: Construction Update – Fifth/Division Streetscape
Trees are being planted on the 200 block of South Fifth, John Splitt reported. The punch list for the streetscape project is 80% complete. He also noted that 11 sidewalk ramps were completed this year in connection with ADA compliance. By next year, they will all be complete, he said.
Comm/Comm: Sidewalk Millage
Reporting on transportation issues, John Mouat noted that on Nov. 8, city voters will be asked to vote on a 0.125 mill tax to support sidewalk repair. He reviewed the city council’s decision on its resolution of intent for use of the sidewalk repair millage.
By way of background, voters will be asked to approve two separate proposals: (1) a 5-year renewal of a 2.0 mill tax to support street repair projects; and (2) a 0.125 mill tax to pay for sidewalk repair.
Over the last five years, the city has conducted a sidewalk repair program that has included systematic inspections of sidewalks, and citations given to property owners who had sidewalk slabs adjacent to their property in need of repair. Property owners then had a choice of hiring contractors to do the work themselves or waiting for the city to do the work and getting a bill from the city. The five-year cycle took different sections of the city in turn, so that over the five-year period, the entire city was covered once with the inspection program.
At the Oct. 17 city council meeting, councilmembers considered a resolution of intent for the use of proceeds from a street/sidewalk repair millage. The council had previously considered the resolution of intent at its Oct. 3 meeting and before that at its Sept. 19 meeting.
The resolution of intent specifies that the street repair millage will pay for the following activities: resurfacing or reconstruction of existing paved city streets and bridges, including on-street bicycle lanes and street intersections; construction of pedestrian refuge islands; reconstruction and construction of accessible street crossings and corner ramps; and preventive pavement maintenance (PPM) measures, including pavement crack sealing. [.pdf of unamended Oct 3, 2011 version of resolution of intent]
At its Oct. 3 meeting, councilmembers had questions about the need to have any resolution of intent, as well as the status of millage revenue use inside the geographic area of the Ann Arbor DDA.
The resolution of intent had originally stipulated that sidewalk repairs inside the Ann Arbor DDA district would not be funded by the sidewalk repair millage, except when the sidewalks are adjacent to single- and two-family houses. A Sept. 28 meeting of the DDA’s operations committee revealed a measure of discontent on the DDA’s part about the intended restriction inside the DDA district and the lack of communication from the city of Ann Arbor to the DDA about that issue.
At its Oct. 17 meeting, the council took up the inequity identified by commercial property owners under the original language – they’d be included in the repair millage but excluded from the benefits. An amendment added the following language:
3. Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph II.2, if the City and the Downtown Development Authority (“DDA”) execute an agreement whereby (i) the DDA agrees to perform sidewalk repair within the Downtown Development District (“DDD”) adjacent to all properties against which the City levies property taxes; and (ii) the City agrees to transmit to the DDA annually 1/8th mill for parcels located within the DDD and not otherwise captured by the DDA; then the 2012 Street and Bridge Resurfacing and Reconstruction and Sidewalk Repair millage may be used for sidewalk repair within the Downtown Development District adjacent to all properties against which the City levies property taxes. The 1/8th mill shall be subject to the Headlee rollback. [.pdf of complete resolution of intent as amended on Oct. 17, 2011]
The original version of the resolution of intent had assumed that the DDA would repair the sidewalks within the district that are adjacent to commercial properties, based on the incremental tax capture in the DDA district for the millage. The impact of the amendment is to provide the entire millage amount to the DDA (not just the captured increment), but only if the DDA agrees to take responsibility for sidewalk repair inside the DDA district.
City councilmembers Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) have stated in the course of their re-election campaigns that they only reluctantly support the sidewalk repair millage. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) has characterized the sidewalk millage as simply offering voters a choice.
Though not up for re-election this year, mayor John Hieftje stated at the DDA’s Oct. 5 board meeting that he did not think councilmembers are out in the community saying that the city absolutely needs the sidewalk millage or that it’s essential. Like Rapundalo, the mayor characterized the sidewalk millage as offering residents a choice of having the city take over the responsibility for sidewalk repair.
At the DDA board’s Nov. 2, 2011 meeting, Hieftje was somewhat more emphatic in his lack of a position on the sidewalk millage. He said that overall, he doesn’t have a particular position on the issue and said people would need to figure it out for themselves. He allowed that it would be a new tax, but the city would be taking on a new task.
Comm/Comm: Percent for Art
In his report from the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council meeting the previous night, Ray Detter said that there’d been a lot of discussion of the city’s Percent for Art program. The city council’s Nov. 14 work session will include Percent for Art as a focus, he noted. The CAC expressed its continued support of the program, he said, adding that the recent dedication of the Dreiseitl sculpture shows the program has achieved some success.
The previous day, Detter had met with other members of the task force that is working on selecting three additional pieces of art for the new municipal center. Three artists had been selected from over 100 applicants. Detter acknowledged that some in the community had expressed continued interest in selecting local artists for the city’s Percent for Art projects. Detter said that only 15 of the 100 artists who applied to create art for the interior of the municipal center were local. Those (non-local) artists who were selected were really top notch, he said. He concluded that portions of his remarks by contending that the Percent for Art program is working.
Comm/Comm: Village Green, City Apartments
Also during his report from the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, Ray Detter addressed a future development on the western edge of downtown. Expected to be on the city council’s Thursday, Nov. 10 agenda, Detter said, would be an item to approve the sale of the city-owned parcel at First and Washington to Village Green, to build the City Apartments project. It’s a high-density project in the downtown, and would add 150 units– a portion of which will be offered at rents affordable to tenants earning 60% of the area median income. The project has not been easy, Detter said, but the developer made necessary design and parking adjustments and sought out input from neighboring property owners. It’s taken a long time and overcome various setbacks, he said.
Comm/Comm: Revenge of the Electric Car
John Mouat, reporting out on transportation issues, noted that there would be a screening of “Revenge of the Electric Car” at the Michigan Theater on Nov. 11-13. For two of the showings, the filmmaker Chris Paine will be there for a post-screening Q & A.
As part of her report from the partnerships committee, Sandi Smith said that chief of police Barnett Jones and deputy chief John Seto attended the committee’s meeting. They’d tried to give the committee a feel for what’s actually happening, compared to the perception. Smith noted that she’d heard mayor John Hieftje say that crime is going down, but incidents in graffiti and panhandling have created the perception that crime is up.
Up to now, graffiti has been been complaint-driven, but it will no longer be just a function of complaints, as the city is now planning to step up enforcement efforts. Smith noted that Anderson Paint and Fingerle Lumber are a source for a product called Elephant Snot, which is provided to downtown property owners at no cost through a DDA grant. The process works as follows:
1. A downtown building or business owner finds their building or sign tagged with graffiti.
2. They visit one of the following businesses to obtain free anti-graffiti supplies:
Anderson Paint, 2386 W. Stadium Blvd | (734) 995-4411
Fingerle Lumber, 617 S. Fifth Ave | (734) 663-0581
3. Necessary information includes business name and address to ensure the location is within the DDA boundary, and thus eligible under the grant program. (DDA boundaries)
4. Graffiti is removed or covered up in accordance with the city ordinance.
Comm/Comm: City-Owned Surface Lot Redevelopment
Sandi Smith said the partnerships committee had received a review of a meeting of the leadership and outreach committee, which is working on a public engagement process for thinking about alternative uses of city-owned surface parking lots in the downtown area. [The city council had given direction to the DDA to undertake that work, after long wrangling that included the negotiation of the parking contract under which the DDA operates the city's public parking system.]
Smith described the committee as a bunch of people not typically around the table. In response to some of the proposed public engagement events, Smith said, some of the group had responded by saying, “My friends wouldn’t come to this.” That group had immediately challenged the DDA with a fresh perspective, Smith said.
Comm/Comm: Regional Rail
Mayor John Hiefjte reported that he’d attended a meeting sponsored by the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), which had included Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, assistant secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation John Porcari and administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration Joseph Szabo, as well as chief executive officer of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Rich Studley. [The president of the MEC is Chris Kolb, a former Ann Arbor city councilmember and former state representative for District 53.]
Hieftje characterized it as an interesting bipartisan mix of people. He said now is the best chance in the last 100 years that Michigan has had to improve its rail system. He reported that Snyder had said Ann Arbor’s Amtrak station is in the wrong place. [Hieftje supports moving the station to a location currently used as a parking lot in Fuller Park, to create an multimodal facility called Fuller Road Station. The first phase of FRS would be a parking structure used primarily by the University of Michigan, and bus terminals.]
For a recent Chronicle roundup of various transportation initiatives, see “Washtenaw Transit Talk in ‘Flux‘”
Present: Nader Nassif, Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, John Mouat
Absent: Joan Lowenstein
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]
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