City Council Expands North Main Task Force

Also: land use, water & sewer rates, sidewalk repair, tax abatement

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 21, 2012) Part 1: Although the council’s meeting did not conclude until around 1:30 a.m., the late hour was not attributable to the relatively heavy agenda. It was due to the extensive deliberations on the fiscal year 2013 budget, which the council finally approved over dissent from two of its members. A breakdown of amendments to the budget is included in The Chronicle’s report filed from the meeting. Deliberations on those budget amendments are covered in the forthcoming Part 2 of this meeting report.

Left is Sandi Smith (Ward 1). Right is Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The two had co-sponsored a resolution establishing a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor.

From left: Councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). The two had co-sponsored a resolution establishing a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor. (Photos by the writer.)

In addition to the budget, the council efficiently dispatched with a fairly packed agenda of regular items, which are covered in this part of the meeting report. The item generating the most discussion was a follow-up to action taken at the council’s previous meeting on May 7, to establish a task force to study the North Main Street and Huron River corridor.

That resolution had provided for nine task force members representing different constituencies. At the May 21 meeting, a resolution was brought forward to add three members. A debate unfolded about whether to add a fourth member – from the Ann Arbor public art commission – to the mix. Ultimately that addition was approved narrowly on a 6-5 vote on the 11-member council.

While the North Main task force is meant to develop a vision for future land use in the corridor, the council took action on several current land use items too. Winning easy approval were a site plan for Allen Creek Preschool on Miller Avenue, and a rezoning and site plan for Michigan AAA on South Main Street. The council also quickly approved six routine rezoning requests associated with annexation from a township into the city of Ann Arbor.  And councilmembers gave initial approval to revisions of the planned unit development regulations for a Shell service station on Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway.

Associated with these land use items were a total of 10 separate public hearings. However, no one addressed the council during any of those hearings.

The city’s park system made it onto the agenda in a few different ways. First, a consent agenda item was pulled out for separate consideration to highlight the fact that renovations to South University Park were being funded with a $50,000 gift that had been made by a couple – Leslie and Michael Morris – who previously lived next to the park. The council also approved the lease of a 40-space parking lot near Argo Canoe liveries to meet additional demand for river trips that has been generated by construction of the Argo Cascades bypass around the dam.

Related to open space outside the city were the reappointments of two members of the greenbelt advisory commission – Peter Allen and Catherine Riseng. The commission overseas a portion of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage.

Financial issues considered by the council included initial approval to increase water, sewer and stormwater rates that will together generate an additional $1.7 million in annual revenue. The council also approved a tax abatement for Sakti3, a battery technology company in Ann Arbor that is looking to expand its operation here.

Other items on the agenda included receipt of a federal grant to develop a strategy for improved energy efficiency in rental housing, as well as a grant administered for laptop computers to be used as electronic pollbooks. The computers are used for election record-keeping, not for casting ballots. The council also gave initial approval to an ordinance revision that relieves homeowners of responsibility for maintaining sidewalks adjacent to their property for the duration of the sidewalk-repair millage, which voters approved in November 2011.

North Main Task Force Positions

On the May 21 agenda was an item adding three positions to a task force to study the corridor along North Main Street and the Huron River: a member of the city council, someone from the boating/fishing community of river users, and a representative from the Huron River Citizens Association. During the meeting, an amendment was offered to add a member of the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC) to the task force, too.

When the task force was established at the council’s May 7, 2012 meeting, the membership had included the following: one member of the park advisory commission, one member of the planning commission, one resident representing the Water Hill neighborhood, one resident representing the North Central neighborhood, one resident from the Old Fourth Ward, one resident representing the Broadway/Pontiac neighborhood, two business and property owners from the affected area, and one member of the Huron River Watershed Council.

The task force is charged with delivering a report to the city council more than a year from now – by July 31, 2013 – that describes “a vision to create/complete/enhance pedestrian and bike connection from downtown to Bandemer and Huron River Drive, increase public access to the river-side amenities of existing parks in the North Main-Huron River corridor, ease traffic congestion at Main and Depot at certain times of a day and recommend use of MichCon property at Broadway; …”

Earlier than that – by the end of 2012 – the task force is to make recommendations on the use of the city-owned 721 N. Main parcel.

The creation of the task force comes in the context of the city’s application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funds to demolish two former maintenance yard buildings on the city-owned 721 N. Main parcel. The application has been approved by FEMA, but is pending the update of the city’s All-Hazard plan, which had expired and is being updated. FEMA is willing to help fund the demolition, because the two buildings are located in the floodway. The city council’s eventual acceptance of the FEMA grant will require a deed restriction on development in the floodway portion of the parcel.

North Main Task Force Positions: Council Deliberations

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who had co-sponsored the initial creation of the task force, led off the discussion by saying that the council had been inundated with requests about the task force, and that had prompted the addition of three more categories.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he felt one segment of the community that should be included is the public art commission. It’s important to make the entrances to the city beautiful, he said, so he wanted a representative from the public art commission on the task force. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) thanked Derezinski for that suggestion. She noted that there truly are so many possible voices that could be heard on the task force.

But Briere worried that the task force could become overcrowded. The task force had been given very tight deadlines, she said. She reported that she’d encouraged interested people to attend the task force meetings and participate, even if they can’t vote. She said she lacked clarity on the parameters for public art – whether the money can be used for non-original decorative pieces, for example. So she hesitated to say where the role of the public art commission member could be on a task force that’s more visionary than practical at this point. Adding a representative from the public art commission would move it up to 13 voting members, which pushes the envelope of practicality, she felt.

Derezinski made a formal motion to amend the resolution to add a representative from the public art commission. If Briere was not clear about the parameters for public art, Derezinski said she should attend the commission meetings or read the annual report. To him the idea of making the entrance beautiful “sort of implies art.”

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5)

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).

Smith respected the idea of having art be a part of this, but said there is not necessarily a specific project the task force is meant to study – because their responsibility is much broader than a specific project. Later in the process, she felt, it’d be appropriate to bring in someone from the public art commission. However, she couldn’t support it now.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said there’s a continuing discussion about how to better integrate art into the city. He felt it’s possible that someone from the public art commission could help influence the visioning. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked if there are capital projects known to be a part of the task force effort. Briere responded to Hohnke, saying yes and no. She noted that the city staff will be applying for additional grants for 721 N. Main [from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and from the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission]. She felt that counts as capital improvement. However, the task force’s job is to talk about how best to use the site, not to build or approve a capital project. She imagined that capital projects would come out of this – for example, if there’s a tunnel or a bridge built to get across the railroad tracks, that’s a capital improvement.

Derezinski felt that Briere’s answer to Hohnke’s question was a yes. Derezinski contended that the task force had started off by looking at an entrance to the city. When you start to plan your vision, he said, art should be a part of the vision – and entrances to the city are critically important. The art should not be just an add-on. He said he would like Ann Arbor to be known as an art city. The resolution was already adding three additional members, he said, so he wanted to add one more.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated that this was a case where she’d defer to the people who brought the resolution on the task force forward – and it appeared that they don’t want to add one more member at this time.

She noted that there are other corridor studies going on – for Washtenaw Avenue and South State Street –and no one from the public art commission is on those committees. She felt that the North Main task force is not yet at a point where it needed a member from the public art commission. She wouldn’t support the amendment, she told Derezinski, but she did support what he was trying to do.

Outcome on the amendment: The council voted 6-5 in support of the amendment to add a member to the task force from the public art commission. Voting for the additional member were Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), and mayor John Hieftje.

Mayor John Hieftje told Derezinski that it was now Derezinski’s task to find a member of the public art commission to add. [Derezinski serves on the public art commission. Two day's later, the public art commission met and recommended that Connie Rizzolo Brown be appointed to the task force.]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that there’d been a desire expressed by the Greenway Conservancy to be part of the task force, too. She worried that a group as large as 13 might be too large to be effective, and that’s why she had not voted for Derezinski’s amendment.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to add the four positions to the North Main/Huron River task force.

The appointment of actual members to the task force has not yet been made. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) indicated that the complete set of names might be expected by the council’s June 4 meeting. Later in the council meeting, Hieftje gave the following names, which will be formally appointed at the June 4 meeting: Darren McKinnon (Water Hill representative); David Santacroce (North Central neighborhood representative); Ray Detter (Old Fourth Ward representative); Tamara Burns (Broadway/Pontiac neighborhood representative); Julie Grand (park advisory commission representative); Erica Briggs (planning commission representative); Paul Ganz and Mike Martin (business & property owners of the affected area representative); Sandi Smith (councilmember); Rita Combest (Huron River/Newport neighborhoods representative); Cynthia Ives (boating/fishing/river users representative). Not yet determined is the representative from the Huron River Watershed Council. And the public art commissioners subsequently recommended Connie Rizzolo Brown to represent the commission.

Allen Creek Preschool Site Plan

The council considered a site plan for the Allen Creek Preschool, located at 2350 Miller Ave.

The site plan had been recommended unanimously for approval by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its April 17, 2012 meeting. The commission also granted a special exception use for the project.

The project entails building a one-story, 929-square-foot addition onto the west end of an existing 3,111-square-foot preschool building, for a new total of 4,040 square feet. The preschool has an agreement with the Korean Methodist Church at 1526 Franklin Street to use eight parking spaces at the church lot. On-street parking is available on Miller Avenue and Franklin Street.

The special exception use is required because the project is located on a site zoned R1C (single-family dwelling district). According to a staff memo, the preschool includes programs for children up to 5 years old, with one or two afternoon enrichment classes serving children up to 8 years old. The programs will have a maximum of 14 students each (with 8 for young children attending with their parents) and one or two staff members teaching the programs. The preschool programs will be held mornings on Mondays through Thursdays, with enrichment classes held in the late afternoons. The number of children at the preschool will increase from 25 to 42, with a maximum of 50 in the future.

In December 2010, the planning commission had previously granted special exception use and recommended site plan approval for a project proposed by the preschool at a different location. That plan had called for demolishing the existing building and constructing a new 1,101-square-foot preschool building in a residentially zoned district at 1515 Franklin St. The preschool subsequently decided to pursue a different project.

The site plan (but not the special exception use) required approval by city council.

Outcome: Without deliberation, the council unanimously approved the Allen Creek Preschool site plan.

Shell Station Rezoning

The council gave initial consideration to a request to revise the zoning regulations associated with the parcel on the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway, where a Shell service station is located.

The city planning commission had previously voted unanimously to recommend approval of the zoning changes at its April 17, 2012 meeting.

Owners of the station are asking for revisions to the site’s planned unit development (PUD), which would allow them to build additions onto the existing 1,000-square-foot convenience store. The new additions would total 4,089 square feet, including 2,189 square feet to the north and east of the store. Their plan also calls for converting the 900-square-foot carwash area into new retail space. The existing access drive to the carwash would be landscaped, and the parking lot would be reconfigured for a new total of 16 spaces.

According to a planning staff memo, the PUD revisions were recommended because they are seen as providing an overall benefit to the city, by: (1) supporting the continued viability of retail options for the surrounding neighborhood; (2) creating job opportunities from this expansion; and (3) controlling the architectural design standards of this building as a gateway into the city.

Outcome: Without deliberation, the council gave unanimous initial approval to the Shell station PUD revision. Because changes to the PUD regulations are a change to the city’s zoning code, hence to the city’s ordinances, the initial approval by the council at its May 21 meeting will need to be followed by a second and final approval after a public hearing at a subsequent meeting.

AAA Site Plan, Rezoning

The council considered final approval of a rezoning request from AAA Michigan and the site plans for two separate parcels that are part of the same project on South Main Street. The council had given initial approval to the rezoning request at its May 7 meeting.

The rezoning request was to change half of a parcel located at 1200 S. Main to the P (parking) zoning designation.

The rezoning to P (parking) is part of a two-parcel site plan proposal – for which the city planning commission provided a positive recommendation at its March 6, 2012 meeting. At that meeting, the commission took two votes on the 1200 S. Main parcel – the site plan and the rezoning proposal. And on both votes, the planning commission split 6-3. For the other, adjacent parcel at 1100 S. Main, the city planning commission voted unanimously to recommend the site plan for approval.

The two parcels, at 1100 and 1200 S. Main, are across from Michigan Stadium. An AAA branch built in the 1950s is located there. The owner wants to build a new branch on a different part of the site, tear down the existing building, and reconfigure parking spaces.

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

The 1100 S. Main site is a surface parking lot, which has 72 spaces and exits onto both Potter and Keech. The owner is requesting to build a one-story, 5,443-square-foot new branch building on the northeast corner of that site, with parking for 21 spaces. A second phase of the project would include an eventual 2,230-square-foot addition to the south side of that building. There are six landmark trees on the site, and the plan would require removal of two that are located along South Main, near Keech. Other trees would be added elsewhere on the site.

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. And to do that, the proposal asked that the northern 123 feet of that parcel – about half of the parcel – be rezoned from O (office) to P (parking), so that parking could become the principal use for that site. A site plan for that parcel is also required.

The owner’s overall plan called for a total of 35 spaces – a reduction from the current parking on the site, which was approved in the mid-1970s but no longer conforms with existing zoning. The 35 spaces would be four more spaces than the 31 maximum number permitted under the O (office) zoning, based on the new building’s square footage in both phases. That’s why the owner requested that a portion of the overall site be rezoned for parking – in the P (parking) district, there is no maximum.

The council’s deliberations were brief. Margie Teall (Ward 4) got confirmation from city planning manager Wendy Rampson that the intent was not to build a parking structure on the site, but rather to have a surface parking lot.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved all three resolutions related to the Michigan AAA site.

South University Park Improvements

On the council’s consent agenda was an item to approve a $43,533 contract with Terra-Firma Landscape Inc. to make improvements to South University Park.

Michael Morris, Leslie Morris, Colin Smith

Photo from the June 21, 2011 park advisory commission meeting, when the Morrises announced their gift of $50,000 to rehab South University Park. From left: Michael Morris and Leslie Morris, and Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager.

The work includes removal of trees and shrubs, replacement of the basketball court, removal of the bench and dilapidated kiosk, and installation of three new benches, installation of a new concrete walk that bisects the park, a picnic table, and native flowering trees and shrubs as well as extensive grading to the site.

Consent agenda items are moved and voted on as a group, but can be separated out at the request of any councilmember. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) pulled out this resolution for special consideration to review the list of improvements.

What’s noteworthy, Lumm said, is that they’re being funded by a $50,000 donation from Leslie and Michael Morris, who previously lived by the park and would like to see it improved.

Lumm also highlighted the past service of Leslie Morris on the Ann Arbor city council and the park advisory commission.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contract with Terra-Firma Landscape Inc. to make improvements to South University Park.

Supplemental Argo Livery Parking

The council considered a resolution approving a $2,500 lease with Huron River Holdings Inc. to use a parking lot near 416 Longshore Drive on weekends and holidays from May 26, 2012 to Sept. 3, 2012 to supplement parking for patrons at the Argo Canoe Livery. [Combined, the Argo and Gallup canoe liveries in Ann Arbor are the largest in the state of Michigan, according to livery manager Cheryl Saam.] It’s expected that the increased user fees at the livery, especially in connection with increased rentals due to the new Argo Dam bypass – called the Argo Cascades – will offset the cost of the lease.

Council deliberations consisted of Sabra Briere (Ward 1) remarking that she is glad more parking is being secured [the lot offers 40 spaces]. However, she ventured that still more parking in the area would be needed as the city had created additional demand through the construction of the Argo Cascades.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the lease to provide overflow parking.

Greenbelt Commission Reappointments

The council considered approval of the reappointment of Peter Allen and Catherine Riseng to the city’s greenbelt advisory commission. The group is responsible for overseeing a portion of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage.

The greenbelt advisory commission is one of the few boards and commissions for which the nominations to serve come from the city council as a body, not from the mayor. The item had been on the council’s agenda at its May 7 meeting – but only inadvertently. It had been intended only as a communication item. The council voted to postpone consideration of the reappointment until the May 21 meeting.

The commission’s membership is defined in terms of qualifications in different categories. Allen fills the slot on the commission designated for a real estate developer. Riseng fills a slot designated for a plant or animal biologist. According to her University of Michigan faculty profile, Riseng is an “aquatic ecologist with specific focus on fluvial ecosystems and benthic invertebrate ecology.”

The complete slate of membership positions include the following: two members to serve as representatives of environmental or conservation groups; one member who is an agricultural landowner or operates an agricultural business; one member who is a real estate development professional; one member who is a plant or animal professional; one member who is a plant or animal biologist; three members from the public-at-large; one member of the Ann Arbor city council.

The city council representative to the greenbelt advisory commission is Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). In re-introducing the reappointments, Hohnke noted that both Allen and Riseng have provided their substantial expertise in service of the commission.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to reappoint Allen and Riseng to the greenbelt advisory commission for three-year terms.

Water, Sewer Rate Increases

The council gave initial consideration to increased rates for drinking water, sanitary sewer and stormwater. According to a staff memo, the increases on an average single-family customer come to 3.21% across three different rate tiers – assuming the same level of consumption as last year. That 3.21% increase works out to $19.40 per year. [.pdf of water, sewer rates]

History of Ann Arbor Water Rates

History of Ann Arbor water rates, showing the introduction of tiered rates. (Image links to Google Chart.)

Because the water and sewer rates are part of a city ordinance, the council will need to vote a second and final time on the rates, after a public hearing.

By way of illustration of the rates, the drinking water rate for the vast majority of residential customers is tiered, based on usage. For the first 7 “units” of water, the charge is proposed to increase from $1.27 to $1.31. For the next 21 units, the charge is proposed to increase from $2.64 to $2.74 per unit. And for the 17 units after that, the increase is proposed to be from $4.50 to $4.69. For additional amounts more than 45 units, the charge is proposed to increase from $6.50 to $6.78 per unit.

One hundred cubic feet is 748 gallons. So a rate of $1.31 per unit translates to significantly less than a penny a gallon – $0.00175.

Ann Arbor’s tiered rate system was implemented in 2004. Before that, the rate for all usage levels was the same. In 2003, that was $1.97 per unit. In 2004, the lowest tier was dropped to $0.97. This year’s rate for the lowest tier is still less than what the general rate was in 2003.

Council deliberations were brief. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off by saying that Ann Arbor has always had some of the lowest rates compared to other communities. And she noted that those who use the least amount of water pay less.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) felt the council shouldn’t gloss over something that results in generating that much additional revenue. The rate increases are expected to generate $664,834 more for the water fund, $916,577 more for the sanitary sewer fund, and $184,064 for the stormwater fund. But the increases are in the 3-4% range, she said, which she felt is reasonable and she would support the changes. None of the councilmembers take this change lightly, she said. The rates are competitive. The additional revenues are necessary to fund debt service and new capital projects. The increases are not insignificant but are reasonable, she said. Mayor John Hieftje said he appreciated the mention of Ann Arbor’s rates as compared to other municipalities.

Outcome: Councilmembers unanimously voted to give initial approval to the rate increases.

Sakti3 Tax Abatement

The council considered a tax abatement for Sakti3 – a battery technology spinoff from the University of Michigan. Sakti3 is led by UM professor Ann Marie Sastry.

The council had postponed their vote on the tax abatement at the council’s May 7 meeting – at the request of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who wanted the matter referred first to the council’s budget committee.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

According to a staff memo accompanying the resolution, the abatement would be on $151,433 of real property improvements and $1,374,861 of new personal property. According to a memo from city financial staff, the value of the tax incentive to Sakti3 over three years totals $36,000.

Reasons given in the staff memo for the abatement include the need for Sakti3 to expand and add new equipment for the continually changing alternative energy business and the expected addition of five new employees due to the firm’s expansion. The memo concludes that the retention and expansion of such operations is consistent with the economic development goals of the city of Ann Arbor and of Ann Arbor SPARK.

Previously, the council voted on March 21, 2011 to set a public hearing on the establishment of the industrial development district under which Sakti3 is applying for an abatement. And on April 4, 2011, the city council approved the establishment of that district.

The city is prohibited by state statute from abating taxes on any more than 5% of the total state equalized value of property in the city. Responding to an emailed query, city of Ann Arbor chief financial officer Tom Crawford wrote to The Chronicle that total SEV for the city for 2012 stands at $5,294,974,640, and the total SEV of abated property in 2012 is $8,935,974. That works out to 0.169% – well under 5%.

At the May 21 meeting, the council moved the item forward on the agenda so it could be considered early in the evening. The brief deliberations consisted of a report from Higgins, who noted that the council’s budget committee had met to discuss the abatement, and had recommended that the request be moved forward to the council for approval. Higgins chairs the budget committee.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the Sakti3 tax abatement.

Sustainability Grant

The council considered authorizing receipt of $256,000 to create a community-scale energy strategy to increase energy efficiency improvements in rental housing.

The rationale for the project, according to a staff memo, is to address energy costs that are regressive, because renters often pay more on utilities due to the condition of rental housing stock. That is, higher energy costs affect poorer renters more. The grant will be used to develop a strategy to address inefficiencies in rental housing and thereby increase the affordability of rental housing stock.

The money was awarded to the city as part of a larger $3 million grant given last year to Washtenaw County through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Challenge Planning Grant (CCPG). According to the city staff memo, the goal of the Washtenaw County grant is “to expand existing affordable and energy efficient housing options and connect them to job centers and healthy food through an enhanced multi-modal transportation corridor.”

The corridor in question is Washtenaw Avenue, between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

The $256,000 will be used by Ann Arbor for a rental housing energy efficiency project that is planned to last through December of 2014. Of the $256,000, $210,000 is budgeted for labor to hire a project manager and $46,000 is budgeted for marketing and outreach.

Matching funds totaling $370,000 have been pledged: $50,000 from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality grant supporting Michigan Green Communities; $60,000 from the Home Depot Foundation Sustainability Framework; and $260,000 from the city’s PACE/ energy efficiency financing and community outreach efforts.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the receipt of the grant.

Electronic Pollbooks for All Ann Arbor Precincts

The council considered approval of a $32,850 grant from the state of Michigan, funded through the Help America Vote Act, to pay for 48 laptop computers and the peripheral devices needed to use the equipment as electronic pollbooks (EPBs).

The electronic pollbooks do not change the way voters cast their ballots; Ann Arbor voters will continue to use paper ballots. The electronic pollbooks are expected to make record-keeping at the precinct locations on election day more efficient and to reduce waiting time for voters.

The city had already accepted eight laptops and accessories, which were deployed at eight polling places for the May 8, 2012 election. That pilot program went smoothly, according to a staff memo accompanying the resolution.

An added incentive to the city to participate in the state’s EPB program is that the state will fund 50% of the cost of the maintenance agreements for Ann Arbor’s voting tabulators – if EPBs are implemented in all 48 of the city’s precincts by the Nov. 6, 2012 election. For previous Chronicle coverage of the pilot deployment, see “New Technology for Tech Bond Election.”

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the state grant for electronic pollbooks.

Annexation Rezonings

The council considered final approval for six separate rezoning requests associated with annexation into the city of Ann Arbor from Scio Township. The zoning change in all cases is from the township to a residential category. The requests had received initial approval at the council’s April 16 meeting.

Five of the properties were annexed into the city on Oct. 3, 2011 – in connection with the expansion of a well-prohibition zone due to 1,4 dioxane groundwater contamination caused by the Pall Corp.’s Wagner Road facility, formerly owned by Gelman Sciences. Those five properties are: 305 Pinewood St.; 3225 Dexter Rd.; 427 Barber Ave.; 545 Allison Dr.; and 3249 Dexter Rd.

Annexation into the city allows the properties to connect to city of Ann Arbor water services. Pall has paid all petition filing fees as well as the connection and improvement charges for water and sanitary sewer service that are related to the annexations. The zoning for which the city council gave final approval is for R1C. [Google map of well prohibition zones and property locations] [.jpg of map with well prohibition zones and property locations]

A sixth parcel for which the council considered final rezoning approval – also due to annexation, but not related to the well-prohibition zone – is located at 1575 Alexandra Blvd. The parcel was rezoned from the township to R1A zoning.

No one spoke at any of the individual public hearings on any of the rezoning resolutions. The council did not deliberate on any of the parcels.

Outcome: On separate votes, the council unanimously approved the six rezoning resolutions.

Sidewalk Repair Ordinance

The council gave initial consideration to a revision of the city’s sidewalk repair ordinance – in light of the voter-approved sidewalk repair millage, passed in November 2011. The basic idea is that for the period of the authorized millage – through fiscal year 2016 (which ends June 30, 2017) property owners will not be responsible for repairs to sidewalks abutting the property on which they pay taxes.

There are various wrinkles and contingencies in the revised ordinance for properties located within the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority tax increment finance (TIF) district.

Ann Arbor voters authorized an additional 0.125 mill to be levied as part of the street repair millage, which was also renewed at that November 2011 election for 2.0 mills, for a total of 2.125 mills.

As part of the resolution passed by the city council to place the sidewalk millage question on the November 2011 ballot, the council directed the city attorney and other staff to provide the ordinance revision for the council’s consideration on or before Dec. 1, 2011. There was no comment at the council table about why the revision came to the council nearly half a year after the date specified.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) introduced the ordinance, and described the rationale for the part that deals with the DDA district. He said that because the DDA captures a certain amount of millage monies, the DDA was taking responsibility for repair of sidewalks in the DDA district. But on further reflection, the DDA had insufficient experience with the inspection and repair program, so DDA staff had worked with the city on a plan to have the city perform the repairs and have the DDA fund those repairs with a portion of the millage.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the sidewalk repair ordinance. As with all ordinance revisions, the council will need to vote a second time at a subsequent meeting, following a public hearing, in order for the ordinance to take effect.

Communications and Comment

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

Comm/Comm: R4C/R2A Report

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) alerted his colleagues to the fact that a report from the advisory committee that studied the R4C/R2A zoning areas of the city has been referred to the planning commission’s ordinance review committee. The report is available on the planning commission website, he said. He noted that there are a lot of different views on it. [Derezinski is the city council's representative to the planning commission. For a detailed overview of the R4C/R2A report, see Chronicle coverage of the May 8, 2012 planning commission working session.]

Comm/Comm: Human Rights

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for everyone needing vital services. He told the council he is on the Democratic primary ballot for Michigan house of representatives, District 53. [The seat is currently held by Democrat Jeff Irwin.] Partridge said he was there to advance the cause of human rights and disability rights. He called for full funding of housing and human services in Ann Arbor. He called on the council to take an integrated approach, instead of a segregationist approach, and to do away with the old-boy network, and backroom decision making.

Comm/Comm: Smart Meters

Nanci Gerler updated the council on DTE smart meter installation. She reported that the Ypsilanti Township board had voted to enact a moratorium – because the board felt an opt-out provision was necessary. She told the council that citizens as well as representatives for DTE had spoken. She wanted the council to take action and let DTE know there’s a large number of people who will be affected by smart meter installation.

Helen Slomovits introduced herself as a resident of Ann Arbor. The benefits and safety of the devices are being misrepresented by utility companies, she contended. She urged the council to enact a moratorium on smart meter installation. The devices allow for time-of-day billing. She contended the devices don’t save energy or save customers money. In fact, she contended, they cause electric bills to go higher. She also contended that the meters are an invasion of privacy, because they collect more information than necessary. The utility companies also misrepresent the amount of RF radiation the meters give off. The data transmissions might be few per day, but because the devices are part of a mesh network there are about 10,000 transmissions a day to keep the network going, she said.

Responding later to the public commentary on smart meters, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that smart meters are on the agenda for the next environmental commission meeting. Mayor John Hieftje remarked that most communities aren’t fortunate enough to have an environmental commission.

Comm/Comm: Energy Farms

Kermit Schlansker spoke to the council about the challenges to achieving sustainable living. He described the inherent geometric advantages to bigger buildings – a better surface-area-to-volume ratio. He described a range of different energy systems, including solar systems, windmills, bio-digesters, and thermal reservoirs.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: Monday, June 4, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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  1. By Joan Lowenstein
    May 25, 2012 at 11:58 am | permalink

    When our kids were little, we would go to South University Park because it had a merry-go-round (ancient play apparatus) and other stuff to play on. However, the park was mainly used by winos, who would sit on the merry-go-round and scare the kids, so the merry-go-round was removed. Neighboring UM students play basketball there now, but once the basketball court is gone, we’ll see who uses the park. I’m sure it will look nice.

  2. May 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm | permalink

    Re: [1] “once the basketball court is gone”

    There’s an ambiguity in “replacement” of the basketball court – replace with a new, better basketball court versus replace the court with other things. I read the staff memo as replace and reconstruct the basketball court – based on the contrast with the other things that will be “removed.” But I’ve put in a call to the city folks to clarify.

  3. By Leslie Morris
    May 25, 2012 at 12:57 pm | permalink

    I attended the neighborhood meeting in which park planner Amy Kuras discussed her suggestions for park improvements, and it was clear that the basketball court is to be replaced, and, I believe, expanded.

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm | permalink

    “However, the park was mainly used by winos, who would sit on the merry-go-round and scare the kids, so the merry-go-round was removed.”

    There’s nothing I can add to this comment but it explains a lot about Ms. Lowenstein’s time on Council and her votes.

  5. By David Diephuis
    May 26, 2012 at 9:03 am | permalink

    I’m not sure why City Council was only focused on the Water Rate for Consumption part of an Ann Arbor resident’s water bill. To me, if we’re going to make comparisons, it seems like we should be interested in the total water cost. Since the tier system was implemented, there are two components to the water portion of the bill, the water rate and the domestic customer charge. Prior to 2004 there was only a consupmtion charge with a minimum charge amount that reflected 8 units of use.(you paid for at least 8 units, whether you used that much water or not.)

    So if the total water portion of bills from 2002 to 2012(proposed) are compared we get these results for a couple different usages:

    For 5 units of consumption—
    2002…..Total cost is $15.75 (the mimimum charge)
    2012…..$12.90(domestic cust. charge)+$6.55(rate charge)= $19.45

    For 21 units of consumption(the most common bill; I believe the average bill is larger)
    2002……Total cost is $41.37 (21 units times $1.97)
    2012……$12.90 (domestic cust. charge)+ $47.53(rate charge) = $60.43

    If you pay your bill on time, which over 90% of customer do, the charge will be reduced 10%.

    If there’s a chart associated with the Mayor’s comment about Ann Arbor’s rate being the lowest in the area, that would be interesting to see. Total water charges can vary widely between communities. Some only have a water consumption charge, while others add on other fees, often substanial.

  6. May 26, 2012 at 9:11 am | permalink

    Re: [5]

    David, I’m curious about the choice of 5 units to illustrate. Doesn’t your point get made more emphatically, if you choose 7 units?

  7. By David Diephuis
    May 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm | permalink

    Re: (6)

    Dave, yes, choosing 7 units would have widened the spread between the 2002 costs and the 2012 costs and perhaps improved my point. I just didn’t want to pick a number at the top or bottom of the tier. But that does start to illustrate the problems in trying to compare water charges among Ann Arbor and other commumities, especially when the stormwater and sewer charges are added in as well.

    I’d say it’s like apples and oranges, but it’s more like Ann Arbor is a watermelon and everybody else is either an apple or orange.
    To my knowledge, few if any other communities in Michigan have a tiered system even remotely like Ann Arbor. Also, probably less than a dozen have a stormwater charge. I’m aware of only two, Jackson and Marquette. Ann Arbor is also unusual in it’s 10% discount for paying on time. Most other communities assess a penalty if payment is late.

    So it bugs me a little when somebody says “Ann Arbor has low water rates (bills)”. True if a person is in the 1-7 units used tier. But also true would be the statement, “Ann Arbor has high water rates(bills)”, because once use gets into the middle of the 3rd tier, a consumer is probably paying at one of the highest rates in the State of Michigan.

    Data showing what percentage of bills fall into which tier would help some in understanding and evaluating comparasions.

  8. By Alice Ralph
    May 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm | permalink

    Two things on first reading-
    –”The commission overseas a portion of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage.” What “portion”?
    –I believe the sidewalk millage has finally revealed an inherent difference between “maintenance” and “construction”. If property owners no longer have to maintain adjacent sidewalks by performing construction to repair them, then are we relieved of other “maintenance”? The language is still imprecise. In my opinion, maintenance has always meant shoveling snow and removing debris–and probably still means that much. We got so far off track with 5 years of inequitable and indirect taxation that we still have a bit farther to go to get it right.

  9. By Mary Morgan
    May 26, 2012 at 2:56 pm | permalink

    Re. What portion of the open space and parkland preservation millage does the greenbelt advisory commission oversee?

    By way of background, the millage was passed by Ann Arbor voters in 2003 – it’s a 30-year 0.5 mill tax, and appears on the summer tax bill as the line item CITY PARK ACQ. The city’s policy has been to allocate one-third of the millage for parks land acquisition and two-thirds for the city’s greenbelt program. The greenbelt advisory commission handles the portion for land preservation outside of the city limits, while the city’s park advisory commission oversees the funds for parkland acquisition.

    As of Jan. 31, 2012 – the most recent financial report available – the fund balance for the millage stood at $10.57 million. Of that, about $6 million is allocated for the greenbelt program. [.pdf file of midyear financial report for the millage, as of Jan. 31, 2012]

  10. By Alice Ralph
    May 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Mary. The structure of the millage administration was in the fuzzy category of my brain. Also fuzzy is what portion of the millage has actually been spent on projects inside the city. Any? I do recall an impression that the 2:1 ratio policy has been unfulfilled, most projects having been completed outside the city.
    Additionally, since both Carsten Hohnke and Sandi Smith are not running for re-election, the Greenbelt Advisory Committee and the North Main Task Force will likely have different council liaison respectively. It’s not in my control, of course, but it might be a service to both groups that new assignments be made immediately from among those council members who are mid-term. Issues of land use are rising to even more critical importance, both outside the city and inside it.

  11. By Mary Morgan
    May 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm | permalink

    Re. portion of millage spent on projects inside the city:

    Page 7 of the financial report (see link in my previous comment) includes an itemized list of parks projects inside the city – a total of about $8.6 million since the millage was levied, including nearly $1 million in FY2011. By comparison, greenbelt projects over that same period (also itemized in the financial report, on pp5-6) total about $25 million.

    Major parks purchases using millage proceeds include Narrow Gauge Way, Camp Hilltop, Dolph Nature Area (south addition), property adjacent to South Pond (purchased from Elizabeth Kauffman and Wes Vivian), and Eberwhite Nature Area (purchased from Zion Lutheran Church).

  12. May 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm | permalink

    I’d be curious to know whether the tiered water rate structure has reduced consumption.

  13. May 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm | permalink

    On the North Main Corridor issue…I am one of the many who wanted to be on the advisory council (I live in the Near North area, by Wheeler Park). I am trusting that there will be opportunities to still be involved in the process for the rest of us. We just moved in and, crazy as this sounds, didn’t even realize how close the river is to us! We happened to walk across the street (of course not crossing the railroad tracks illegally, would never do that, never break the law, la la la la la, I can float when I want really honestly) and were like, “Day-am! That was like a two minute walk!” The atmosphere at Argo and the new Argo Cascades is amazing and I want more people to enjoy it, either with some sort of dining venture, or whatever.

  14. May 27, 2012 at 7:45 am | permalink

    Re (12) I don’t have the data, but I heard Sue McCormick explain one of the years that the fee increase was necessary partly because of decreased usage, thus revenues fell below expected, thus necessary to raise the rates.

  15. May 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm | permalink

    Re: basketball court in S. University Park.

    Morris is right, according to deputy parks and recreation manager Jeff Straw. The basketball court will be replaced and somewhat enlarged.