Lack of Quorum Stymies Planning Meeting

Action on AAA branch, Noodles restaurant postponed until March 6

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 23, 2012): The planning commission did not achieve a quorum of members on Thursday evening and therefore could not conduct its full meeting.

Ann Arbor planning commissioners

Ann Arbor planning commissioners and staff talk to high school students in city council chambers on Feb. 23. From left: Wendy Woods, Bonnie Bona, city planner Alexis DiLeo, and Kirk Westphal. (Photos by the writer.)

Five of the nine commissioners are needed for a quorum to conduct business, and only four attended. In addition to those four, about 10 people showed up for the two main action items on the agenda, and several high school students were attending as part of a class assignment.

After waiting about 30 minutes, vice chair Kirk Westphal and Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, conferred and decided to hear public commentary. One person spoke. John Chamberlain, an attorney representing the Automobile Club of Michigan, came to the podium only to say that he and his team would return for the commission’s next meeting, on March 6.

The club wants to tear down its existing AAA branch near Michigan Stadium and build a new one, and was requesting approval for a site plan. The other main action item on Thursday’s agenda was site plan approval to build a new Noodles restaurant on West Stadium Boulevard, at the location of the former Sze-Chuan West. Both projects will be considered at the planning commission’s March 6 meeting.

Robert’s Rules, Commission Bylaws

Regular planning commission meetings are typically held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. This past week, the meeting was shifted from Tuesday to Thursday, accommodating a city council meeting that had been bumped from Monday to Tuesday because of the Feb. 20 Presidents Day holiday.

The planning commission is governed by its own set of bylaws, which were revised and adopted last year. [.pdf of planning commission bylaws] The bylaws refer explicitly the requirement of a quorum:

Section VII Meetings

Section 10. A quorum shall consist of five (5) members of the Commission. An affirmative vote of five (5) members is required for the Commission to act on any matter, except six (6) votes shall be required to go into closed session or to act on plans, policy statements, granting of special exception uses, recommendations to City Council, and petitions described in Article IX of these bylaws. The right to vote is limited to members of the Commission actually present at the time the vote is taken at a lawfully called meeting.

Beyond that, the bylaws generally defer to Robert’s Rules of Order – a parliamentary guide that’s the standard set of rules by which public bodies operate. From the commission’s bylaws:

Article XIII Parliamentary Authority
Section 1. The rules contained in the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised shall guide the Commission; however parliamentary procedure shall be flexible and may be adjusted in the Chair’s discretion to best serve the needs of the Commission. Nevertheless, no parliamentary procedure shall be followed that is inconsistent with these bylaws.

Robert’s Rules states that “in the absence of a quorum, any business transacted is null and void.” There are only four exceptions to that rule: (1) fixing the time to which to adjourn; (2) adjourning; (3) recessing; or (4) taking measures to obtain a quorum.

Pre-Meeting Conversations, 3-Minute Session

As people waited for a fifth commissioner to arrive,  city planning manager Wendy Rampson gave periodic updates on the situation. She also took the opportunity to explain Robert’s Rules to the high school students who were attending as part of a class assignment.

Rampson then invited the four commissioners who had already arrived – Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods – to introduce themselves to the students and talk a bit about their background. Woods in particular capitalized on the opportunity. She described her job as associate director of the Michigan Community Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, and encouraged students to consider attending UM after graduating high school.

At roughly 7:30, Westhphal – the commission’s vice chair – took the chair’s seat at the front of the council chambers. He said he was calling the meeting to attention, not to order, and that anyone who wanted to address the commission could do so. Their comments would be communicated to other commissioners at the March 6 meeting, he said, and people could address the commissioners again at that meeting, if they desired.

Only one person spoke. John Chamberlain, an attorney representing the Automobile Club of Michigan, came to the podium only to say that he and his team would return for the commission’s next meeting, on March 6.

When no one else stepped forward, Westphal apologized, saying he couldn’t remember a previous occasion when the commission had not been able to meet because of the lack of a quorum. [Rampson later told The Chronicle that it has happened before, but not for several years.]

At the Feb. 23 session, Rampson told the gathering that there were apparently “crossed wires” in communicating with the commission’s chair, Eric Mahler, who had been expected to attend the meeting. Rampson noted that the planning staff had recommended postponing one of the two action items – the one concerning the AAA branch on South Main. She indicated that staff had recently received revised plans from the owner, and would present a revised report on that project at the March 6 meeting.

The Feb. 23 session, as recorded by the Community Television Network, lasted 3 minutes and 25 seconds.

AAA Branch

The item that Rampson mentioned related to two parcels – 1100 and 1200 S. Main, across from Michigan Stadium – owned by the Automobile Club of Michigan and containing an AAA branch that was built in the 1950s. The owner wants to build a new branch on a different part of the site, tear down the existing building, and reconfigure parking spaces there.

The two parcels are part of a 1.5-acre site containing four parcels owned by AAA and all zoned O (office). Located on the 1200 S. Main parcel is the one-story branch building with walk-out basement and 36 parking spaces, with exits onto South Main, Berkley and Potter.

John Chamberlain

John Chamberlain, an attorney representing the Automobile Club of Michigan.

The 1100 S. Main site is a surface parking lot, which has 72 spaces and exits onto Potter and Keech. The owner wants to build a one-story, 5,443-square-foot new branch building on the northeast corner of the site, with parking for 21 spaces. There are six landmark trees on the site, and the plan would require removal of two that are located along South Main, near Keech.

After the new structure is completed, the old building at 1200 S. Main would be torn down and a 14-space parking lot would be put on that parcel. To do that, the parcel would need to be rezoned from O (office) to P (parking), since parking would become the principal use for that site.

In their memo, city planning staff noted that between 16-22 parking spaces would be required for a 5,443-square-foot building. The owner’s plan called for a total of 35 spaces. Even though it would be a reduction from the current parking on the site – which was approved in the mid-1970s – it would be more than would be required for the new building under city code. The owners had indicated that an addition to the new building might be made in the future. If that happens, the extra parking would be necessary.

Planning staff had recommended postponing action on the request, so that the owner could include the possible future addition as part of the site plan, to reflect parking needs better. Revised plans have since been submitted, and the planning staff expects to prepare a revised report by the planning commission’s March 6 meeting.

Noodles Restaurant

A plan for a new Noodles & Co. restaurant at 2161 W. Stadium Blvd. – site of the former Sze-Chuan West, a building adjacent to Bell’s Diner and Stadium Hardware – was also on the Feb. 23 planning commission agenda.

The proposal called for demolishing the existing 4,300-square-foot restaurant and building a new 2,679-square-foot one-story restaurant with a 615-square-foot enclosed patio at the front of the building. The 1.15-acre site is located on the west side of West Stadium, south of Liberty. The project would also reconfigure the existing parking lot and provide additional landscaping.

The site plan approval would be contingent on a land division request that’s currently being considered by the city’s planning staff. The division would separate the restaurant parcel from a larger parcel at 2151 W. Stadium, where the Big M car wash is located.

In their staff memo, planning staff noted that the redevelopment is consistent with the city’s master plan and would improve the aesthetics of the West Stadium corridor. Staff had recommended the project for approval. It will be considered by the commission at its March 6 meeting.

Noodles & Co. operates two other restaurants in Ann Arbor – at 320 S. State, near the University of Michigan campus; and at Arborland on Washtenaw Avenue, on the city’s east side.

Present: Bonnie Bona, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods.

Absent: Eleanore Adenekan, Erica Briggs, Tony Derezinski, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, March 6 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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  1. By TJ
    February 25, 2012 at 5:11 pm | permalink

    I somehow got the impression that Noodles was going near K-Mart, where that burned Chinese restaurant building is located. Obviously wasnt paying attention. Are there any plans for that space?

  2. February 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm | permalink

    It is supposed to become a Tim Horton.

  3. By cosmonıcan
    February 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm | permalink

    Tj — Tim Horton’s Restaurant: sandwiches, donuts, and coffee. Supposedly a done deal, waiting for shovels.

  4. February 26, 2012 at 9:39 am | permalink

    I miss Szechuan West with its Fred Flintstone interior and red vinyl bar. I never saw it as the Waterfall Club. Is anyone aware of any photos from those days? I think the owner, or maybe his son now lives in Whitmore Lake.

  5. By abc
    February 26, 2012 at 11:49 am | permalink

    OK so I fully understand that one of the A’s stands for automobile but 35 parking spaces? Maybe I don’t understand what goes on in there on a regular basis but that sure strikes me as a lot (no run intended). Every time I have been inside that building there have been just a handful of people. I think the city should NOT allow businesses to build unneeded impervious surfaces and I think parking lots should not be built for once-a-year events, if that’s the case.

    I do not know why the AAA thinks they need to exceed the code but I do hope they have a good reason. Everyone in this area is asked to work hard to minimize impervious surfaces to facilitate stormwater; particularly in the Allen Creek Drain. Why does this facility need so much parking?

    I do also hope the answer is not due to 8 events a year across the street. For those they can park on the grass.

  6. By Rod Johnson
    February 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm | permalink

    It’ll be the end of an era when they tear down the Szechuan West building.

  7. By TJ
    February 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm | permalink

    Ah yes, Tim Horton’s! Thanks!

  8. February 27, 2012 at 8:44 pm | permalink

    Regarding the AAA parking:

    AAA isn’t paying the full cost for these spaces. Neighbors and taxpayers will pick up the tab for lower property values, congestion, runoff (except for a small increment levied by the Water Dept), erosion, and toxic chemicals dumped in the air and water. As long as we keep subsidizing parking, businesses will keep building it. We could change this policy if we wanted to. Meanwhile I wouldn’t blame AAA for responding to economics.