Park Issues Dominate Council Deliberations

Some councilmembers: park advisory commission input not crucial

Ann Arbor city council meeting (July 16, 2012): The bulk of the council’s recent meeting was related to parks – either directly or tangentially.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asks to be called on during the meeting.

Councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asks to be called on during the July 16 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The council considered a resolution that would have placed a question on the Nov. 6 ballot about a charter amendment affecting city parkland. The amendment would require a voter referendum not just for the sale of parkland, but also for leases or other contracts that have a practical effect similar to a sale.

The majority of the council wanted to allow time for the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) to weigh in before taking council action. To facilitate that timeline, PAC is convening a special meeting on Aug. 8 to consider the matter. The council’s postponement was until Aug. 9 – its next regularly scheduled meeting. That’s a Thursday instead of the usual Monday, pushed back because of the Aug. 7 primary election.

Some supporters of the possible amendment had hoped to bring the matter to a council vote before the August primary, because they wanted incumbent council candidates to be judged by the electorate based on their vote on the parkland ballot question. That led Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who is not seeking re-election to a third term, to call the resolution on the ballot question a “poorly disguised political stunt.”

Other park-related items on the agenda included approval of a $89,560 contract with Wally Hollyday Skateparks for the design and construction oversight of a skatepark to be built in the northeast corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The council also gave initial approval to the rezoning of two parcels recently acquired by the city for expansion of the Bluffs Nature Area at 1099 N. Main St., north of Sunset Road. On final approval, both parcels will receive the PL (public land) zoning designation. The city expects the additional land to make the entrance to the nature area more accessible.

The Leslie Science and Nature Center will get $115,309 worth of improvements to create accessible pathways at the city-owned site – the council approved a contract with JB Contractors Inc. for that work. The center is operated by a separate independent nonprofit on land and buildings that are owned and maintained by the city of Ann Arbor.

The possibility of a mixed-use park and art center at the city-owned 415 W. Washington property was given a chance to move forward, with the council’s authorization of $50,000 in general fund money to pay for physical surveys of the building on the property. The building, which would potentially house a space for working artists, would need environmental, hazardous materials and topographic surveys done, even if a decision were ultimately made to demolish the building.

Open space outside the city got a boost from the council’s acceptance of $396,900 in federal funds for the purchase of development rights (PDR) on properties in Webster and Superior townships. The federal funds will be matched with city funds from the open space and parkland preservation millage, which supports the city’s greenbelt program.

The wetlands at Plymouth Parkway Park that were impacted by last year’s railroad embankment washout along Plymouth Road will be restored through a $97,687 contract with Fonson Inc. authorized by the council. The funds will come from the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Only tangentially related to parks was the council’s approval of the site plan for the Maple Cove development. Located on 2.96 acres at 1649 N. Maple, north of Miller Road between North Maple and Calvin Street on the city’s west side, the plan calls for combining two sites – 1649 N. Maple and 1718 Calvin – and demolishing an existing single-family home and detached garages there. Two 3-story apartment buildings would be built with a 64-space parking lot. The project also includes building a private street to serve seven new single-family houses near Calvin Street.

The parks connection to Maple Cove is that the city requested a $26,660 contribution from the developer to support the city’s parks – a voluntary contribution, with the amount determined by formula. The developer has declined to make that contribution.

The council also voted to appoint John Seto as chief of police and head of safety services – he’s now permanently in charge of policing the city, including city parkland. Seto has served since April as interim in the wake of Barnett Jones’ retirement.

In other action, councilmembers voted to suspend the use of construction unity board (CUB) agreements in construction contracts – after voting to restore their use earlier this summer. On the CUB issue, the council has been responding to a changing landscape of law, as state legislation is passed and court decisions are handed down.

Park Lease Ballot Question

The council considered a possible ballot question on a charter amendment affecting city parkland. It would require a voter referendum not just for the sale of parkland, but also for leases or other contracts that have a practical effect similar to a sale.

Ultimately, the council voted to refer the issue to the city’s park advisory commission (PAC).

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) confer after the meeting.

Councilmembers Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) confer after the meeting.

The chair of that commission, Julie Grand, had written in an email to mayor John Hieftje on July 12 that she felt “… it is critical for PAC to provide a formal resolution prior to any council vote. I therefore propose to find an alternative time for PAC to hold an open work session with councilmembers [Jane] Lumm, [Mike] Anglin and [Sabra] Briere [co-sponsors of the resolution] in accordance with the deadlines imposed on ballot initiatives prior to council’s vote on this matter.”

In the last two months, the nine-member PAC has seen the departure of three long-time members, because of term limitations: Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen and David Barrett. Nystuen and Offen were replaced by Ingrid Ault and Alan Jackson. Nominated at the council’s July 2 meeting and confirmed on July 16 was Barrett’s replacement – Bob Galardi, a former Ann Arbor Public Schools administrator.  The two city council representatives to PAC – Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – are non-voting ex officio positions.

The special meeting by PAC is scheduled for Aug. 8 at 3 p.m. at city hall. The Ann Arbor city council has until its second meeting in August to put various questions before voters on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot. A resolution placing a question on the ballot requires a seven-member (2/3) majority on the 11-member council.

The draft language before the council on July 16 was: “Shall Section 14.3(b) of the Ann Arbor City Charter be amended to require voter approval for long-term (greater than 5 yrs) non-park or non-recreational uses of parkland within the city while retaining the section’s current requirement for voter approval of the sale of any city park, or land acquired by the city for a park or cemetery?”

If approved by voters, the charter would be changed to read [added language in italics]: The city shall not sell, lease, or contract for any non-park or non-recreational long-term use, without the approval, by a majority vote of the electors of the city voting on the question at a regular or special election, any city park, or land in the city acquired for park, cemetery, or any part thereof. For purposes of this subsection long-term shall be defined as a period greater than 5 years.”

The existing charter provision, which deals only with the sale of parkland, had been approved in November 2008 by a 81%-19% margin of voters (42,969 to 9,944).

Michigan’s Home Rule City Act already lists among a city’s prohibited powers: “… to sell a park, cemetery, or any part of a park or cemetery, except where the park is not required under an official master plan of the city …”  The council voted to place the question before voters in 2008 over dissent from councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and former councilmember Leigh Greden.

That year, the council had consciously settled on wording that included just selling, as opposed to leasing. In an Oct. 31, 2008 Ann Arbor News article, mayor John Hieftje was quoted as follows: “From time to time, we’ve thought about how nice it might be to have a restaurant near the river. I think it’s something people would really enjoy … That would be impossible if the ballot measure was expanded to include leasing.”

Park Ballot Question: Public Commentary

Several people spoke in favor of the resolution that would place a ballot question before voters, including two candidates for city council who are competing for seats in the Democratic primary. One person spoke against the resolution.

James D’Amour spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club Huron Valley Group. A fundamental value of the Sierra Club is protection of parks, he said. The Sierra Club stands fully behind the effort of councilmembers Jane Lumm and Mike Anglin to “close a loophole” in the charter amendment passed by voters in 2008. [The council resolution was also co-sponsored by Sabra Briere, but she was not mentioned by D'Amour.]

He called the parks a trust meant for future generations. D’Amour described city actions in connection with Huron Hills golf course and Fuller Park since 2008 as demonstrating a fundamental betrayal of that trust, he contended. It could be argued that the events that occurred were within the letter of the law, he said, but the long-term arrangements that were contemplated were a violation of the intent of the voters in 2008. He asked councilmembers to support the resolution.

Rita Mitchell also encouraged the council to vote for the resolution, because it provides support for parkland – which is jointly owned by all Ann Arbor taxpayers, she said, and is enjoyed by residents and visitors. She pointed to the significant environmental benefit that parkland provides to the city as a whole. She said the 2008 charter vote shows that citizens do want a voice in how the city uses parkland. Subsequent actions have challenged the spirit, if not the letter of the charter language. As an example she gave the plan for a large parking structure and train station at Fuller Park. If a good case can be made for land transfer or different use of a park, then that case can be made to the “real owners of the land,” she said.

Lawrence Baird described the proud history of natural area preservation and parkland protection in Ann Arbor going all the way back to 1920 when Huey Eli Gallup was the city’s first parks superintendent and created the first parks development plan. Since then Ann Arborites have placed a high priority on protecting open space and parkland. Baird reminded the council of Washtenaw County’s natural area preservation millage which Ann Arbor citizens had helped pass and renew. He reminded the council of the city’s 2003 open space and parkland preservation millage passed by Ann Arbor voters. [That millage funds the greenbelt program to preserve natural areas and farmland outside the city, as well as park acquisition within the city.]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) talks to Lawrence Baird before the meeting.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) talks to Lawrence Baird before the meeting.

He reminded councilmembers of the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage that voters had approved and will likely renew this year. There’s a loophole in the 2008 charter amendment, he said, and recent events show that if the city chooses to do so, it can enter into long-term leases for non-park purposes. That violates the spirit of the 2008 charter amendment, he said. It also violates the spirit of the various millage votes Ann Arbor voters have made, he said. He contended that greenbelt properties enjoy more protection than city parkland. He described Ann Arbor voters as a “smart, informed, passionate bunch,” and they should be entrusted with the bigger decisions now and then.

Jack Eaton, who is challenging incumbent Margie Teall for a seat on the council representing Ward 4, told the council he was there to support the resolution. He was opposed to putting off the vote on the resolution until a meeting after the primary election. He felt it’s important to consider what’s not involved in passing the resolution. The council’s resolution does not amend the charter, he stressed, but merely allows voters to express their opinion on amending the charter. If the council opposes the resolution because of a fear that voters might approve the amendment, then the council is trying to circumvent the will of the people, he contended. But even if voters approve the charter amendment, the new protections don’t prevent putting the train station at Fuller Park – but rather requires that voters approve it. If the council fears that voters won’t approve the train station, he said, then they’re trying to circumvent the will of the voters.

As he talks to voters, Eaton said, he hears that the community holds parkland in special esteem. He asked the council to pass the resolution and to move it to the ballot immediately before the primary so that voters can know who supported the amendment and who opposed it, before residents cast their votes in the Aug. 7 primary. If the council expects voters to trust them with another park maintenance and capital improvements millage, the council needs to trust voters to weigh in on decisions about parkland, he concluded.

Sally Petersen, who is challenging incumbent Tony Derezinski for a seat on the council representing Ward 2, urged the city council to approve the resolution, because not doing so is not consistent with the city’s open space and parkland preservation, the parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan and the city’s 2008 charter amendment. The additional clarifying language would close a loophole, she said. She reported the results of an informal poll she’d sent to 160 people measuring their support for the resolution: by 6 p.m. she’d received 70 yes votes, compared to 7 no votes.

Gwen Nystuen, who served on the city’s park advisory commission until recently, told the council that until a few years ago she thought the city’s parks were permanently protected. But she contended that it’s not true – and much of the city’s parkland would be commercially valuable. She then enumerated some of the ways that parks are protected. One way is through deed restrictions, and conservation easements. Another way, she ventured, is if parkland has been purchased with millage money voted by the people. She’d contacted the head of county parks, and found that the county’s parks are considered protected because they’ve been purchased with millage money. Another way parks are protected, she said, is through tradition. Ann Arbor has been acquiring parkland for over a century – and most of our leaders say they’d never ever sell parkland. Beyond that, she said, she can’t find any real protection. The proposed resolution doesn’t prevent the sale or alternate use, but it does require a consensus by the voters, she said.

Elizabeth Colvin told the council she lives on Maiden Lane near the University of Michigan medical center. She urged the council not to support the resolution. She spoke as a supporter of parks and as a supporter of some of the projects that have been proposed for some parkland that don’t involve parks and recreation. The current process of handling projects involving non-park uses provides the public with sufficient opportunity to make their wishes known, she said.

Colvin perceives the current process as consisting of professionals with expertise in their fields – whether running a golf business or planning a train station – studying options, comparing alternatives, making recommendations, drawing up plans, submitting ideas for review and input. During that process, she said, people like her who are interested in a particular process can make their preferences known – by speaking during public commentary at meetings or emailing councilmembers. She felt that requiring a public referendum on top of that process adds unnecessary steps and adds delays to projects that should be completed with all due speed. For her, she said, it hits home with the train station that was initially proposed for parkland at Fuller Road. That project means the most to her, she said, because she feels strongly that improved public transit is absolutely key to the long-term economic health of the community. A new and improved train station in the right location is a critical component of a long-term mass-transit plan for our community, she said. Because that’s important to her, she said, she’d follow those discussions closely and she’d provide input on it. For those projects she doesn’t feel strongly about, she wouldn’t follow them closely and she wouldn’t care if there were a public vote.

Summarizing, Colvin said she thinks the current process works and it gives the public opportunity for input. She was addressing the council on behalf of herself, she said, but knew that several of her neighbors shared her view. She encouraged the council to vote no or at least postpone the issue to get input from the city’s park advisory commission.

Park Ballot Question: Council Talk – Intro

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) led off deliberations by noting the resolution had been co-sponsored by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). She thanked assistant city attorney Mary Fales for her help in drafting the language of the resolution. Councilmembers had been given the draft a week ago, she said, and it is unchanged from that version. The language has received a preliminary approval from the state attorney general’s office.

Lumm reviewed the purpose of the resolution – to close a “loophole” left when the 2008 charter amendment was approved. That amendment only specifically referenced the sale of parkland. As a result, the city could retain ownership and not sell it, but could still change the use of that parkland to a non-recreational or non-park use. The resolution is not about Huron Hills golf course or Fuller Road Station or about any specific site, she said. Those situations demonstrated the existence of the loophole. It also does not establish a principle that voters have a say in the long-term use of parkland – because that principle was already established with the charter vote in 2008. It’s simply tightening up the language, she said.

Park Ballot Question: Council Talk – Postponement

Briere said she cheerfully co-sponsored the resolution when it showed up – because she’d heard the same discussion over the last four years as everybody else on the council. However, she looked for unintended consequences. When the ballot measure was placed before voters in 2008, the council anticipated that a problem was being solved. But an unintended consequence was that the city could engage in long-term leases, she said, and indeed had flirted with that idea. The city had not followed through on that – but had talked about it. And that’s what the city is supposed to do, she said – look at its options. It’s that “opening” that the current proposal is intended to close.

Left is assistant city attorney Mary Fales. Right is Sabra Briere (Ward 1)

From left: assistant city attorney Mary Fales, councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

But there are also unintended consequences for the current proposal, Briere said, which she’d learned of that day. If the current version appears on the ballot, here’s what could occur without a public vote, she said: The city could contract with a company that manages water parks to run Fuller pool – because it would be the same recreational use. The city could contract with a golf-course operator to operate Huron Hills – because it’s the same recreational use. Or the city could build and own a fire station, a homeless shelter, a train station or a parking structure on a park without voter approval – because the city wouldn’t be selling land or engaging in a long-term lease or contract.

She knew that these were not things the framers of the resolution had intended. So she indicated a desire to postpone the resolution to try to work out the details and at the same time refer the topic to the park advisory commission (PAC), to look at any implications she might have missed.

Briere noted that they needed to specify a date to which the resolution would be postponed. Mayor John Hieftje noted that the chair of PAC, Julie Grand, had written to the council, and the PAC meeting for the following day, July 17, had been cancelled. But the intent was to use the first Tuesday in August, which is the scheduled time for PAC’s land acquisition committee meeting, as a time to hold a full PAC meeting to discuss the park ballot question. [Because that day, Aug. 7, coincides with the primary election, it was abandoned as the time for PAC to meet. Currently, PAC is scheduled to meet on Aug. 8 at 3 p.m.]

The council’s first meeting in August is Aug. 9 – due to the primary election. So Briere made her motion for postponement specifically to the council’s second meeting in August – Aug. 20.

Park Ballot Question: Council Talk – Postponement to When?

Lumm moved to amend the postponement to the first meeting in August.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) responded to Lumm’s proposal to postpone just to Aug. 9 by saying, “I’m not sure why we’re rushing this.” It could be voted on at either meeting in August, Smith said, and that would be soon enough to place it on the Nov. 6 ballot. The only reason that the item was on that night’s agenda [the last council meeting before the Aug. 7 primary], she said, is that “it’s a really poorly-disguised political stunt.” The remark from Smith, who is not seeking re-election to her Ward 1 seat, generated a discontented murmur among some in the audience.

In support of her contention that the timing of the resolution was political, Smith noted that the council had heard from a city council candidate during public commentary [Jack Eaton], which had indicated to her that it was a political stunt. It’s not about parks, she contended. Smith said the council does not as a habit rush things, noting that they had postponed the four-party transit agreement three times. The council didn’t vote on something that significant for three meetings, she said.

What was before the council that night affected the city charter: “This is our constitution! This is what we operate our city on. I cannot see the rush.” Smith noted there’s no memo or cover letter on the agenda, and councilmembers have had very little information delivered to them. The council should slow the whole process down, she concluded.

Responding to Smith, Lumm told her she had the draft of the resolution on June 26. Subsequent to that, she was trying to answer questions, she said, and she had been told [by Smith] that by answering questions she was potentially violating the Open Meetings Act (OMA). She had been trying to be helpful, Lumm said: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I guess.”

By way of background on the OMA issue, Smith had emailed questions about the resolution to the city administrator and the city attorney, CC-ing the message to all councilmembers. Lumm responded to everyone with her answers to Smith’s questions and what Smith perceived as possible advocacy of a point of view on the questions. That was the source of Smith’s caution about OMA issues. If more than a quorum of councilmembers engage in back-and-forth via email it could establish a “meeting” that has not been properly noticed to the public and not open to the public.

The strongest rationale for postponement, Lumm felt, had to do with the definition of potential uses of parkland that might not have been addressed. She felt that assistant city attorney Mary Fales was “Thomas Jeffersonian” in her efforts to craft the language. Fales addressed concerns about the things the city wants to continue to do. It’s a matter of not being able to legislate everything and anticipate every eventuality, she said. Lumm stated that it’s not political. She felt it should not be postponed, but if it were to be postponed, it should be just to the first meeting in August.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) before the meeting.

Councilmembers Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) before the July 16 meeting.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that back in 2008, the moment had been right, even though some members of council at the time didn’t want it to move forward. But the moment was right then, and it moved forward – with its limitations. He believed the moment was right now. It had been addressed at PAC several times, he contended. Mayor John Hieftje cautioned Anglin that the issue under discussion was to postpone to the first or the second meeting in August.

Anglin felt that the historical context was important. He felt that the council had not rushed – that it had been very deliberate and it had been going on for some time. As policymakers, that’s the council’s role. The city would have a continual rehashing of the issue – or it could be settled, by saying that those who own the parks have the right to say what happens to them. So he was not in favor of any kind of postponement. He had not been able during that night’s deliberations to speak to the main issue, because the postponement had been brought up before he’d had a chance do that. Postponement will send a chilling statement to those who support parks, he contended.

Briere appreciated the comments by Lumm and Anglin, and indicated that her discovery of loopholes in the current proposal was also a problem for her. If everyone were to move “extraordinarily expeditiously,” the issue could be resolved by the first meeting in August. If not, then the council still has another meeting in August. It’s important that it go to the public, she said, so it’s important that it be the best legislation that the city could have. She said she was content to bring it back on Aug. 9, knowing there’s another meeting in August.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) confirmed with city clerk Jackie Beaudry that the last date for certifying ballot language with the county clerk is Aug. 28. Kunselman ventured that even a special meeting could be possible. He called it the “common practice” to postpone it initially and then postpone it again if necessary. He’d support postponement to the first meeting in August.

Hieftje expressed concern about the timing, but didn’t have a problem postponing to the first meeting in August. But he was not enthusiastic about the kind of special meeting that Kunselman had described.

Smith took exception to something that Anglin had said about a “thorough and deliberate process.” Speaking to Anglin, Smith told him: “You serve on PAC and you didn’t feel this was appropriate to bring it to the commission you serve on.” Smith stated that the council is delaying in part because PAC hasn’t weighed in. PAC consists of citizen volunteers, she said. It disrespects PAC not to include that body in the process, so she questioned if it had really been a careful and deliberate process. The only appropriate way to go forward, Smith continued, is to have PAC weigh in on it. A Thursday council meeting [on Aug. 9] catches the public off guard, she said. It’s not always the best time to do something – because it’s harder to get the word out. Because of the need for PAC to weigh in appropriately, and because of the Thursday council meeting, she couldn’t support a postponement any earlier than the second meeting in August.

Kunselman sought confirmation that PAC would have time to weigh in on the proposal before Aug. 9. Hieftje told him that was the plan that PAC chair Julie Grand had proposed.

Outcome on postponement timing: The council settled on the timing of the postponement as Aug. 9 – over dissent from Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

Park Ballot Question: Council Talk – Postponement or Not

At that point, the question before the council was to postpone to Aug. 9 or not.

Lumm felt the resolution is very straightforward. She indicated that the concerns people had expressed about the language had already been addressed by the city attorney. She felt the language offered a good framework. And she reiterated that it could not anticipate every eventuality. She reviewed the basic arguments for the resolution. Lumm did not understand the need to postpone or the need for PAC to review it. The charter was not being changed, she said, but rather the issue was being put before the voters. She didn’t have a problem with PAC providing comment. She had a problem with the timing, she said. She said she didn’t receive a response from a question she’d posed to PAC chair Julie Grand about the scheduling of the meeting.

Responding to Smith’s criticism of Anglin for not moving the proposed charter amendment through PAC, Lumm said Smith had taken an unfair “potshot” at Anglin. PAC cancelled its meeting scheduled for July 17, when Anglin had been “poised to speak to this.” Apparently, Lumm said, PAC didn’t have very much on the agenda and had cancelled its meeting.

Smith picked up on the timeline issue that was part of Lumm’s argument. Smith said she was not sure how PAC could inform the council that night if the commission had been scheduled to talk about it the following day.

Smith then recalled the discussions the council had earlier in the year on the four-party transit agreement. She found some parallels that she found ironic. She then cited coverage in The Chronicle from deliberations conducted at the Jan. 9, 2012 meeting. The complete passage reads as follows:

Lumm reiterated many of her concerns, saying she felt the timeline is “backwards.” She said she doesn’t understand how the council could go forward without having critical documents. Lumm said the issue is not about whether regional transit is good. It’s about seeing information about the specific benefits. She described the process as a “rush” and as putting the cart before the horse.

Smith ventured that “parks” could be swapped in for “regional transit” in that quote. In February 2012, Smith continued, Lumm was quoted by The Chronicle during the four-party transit deliberations as saying “If it’s a good concept today, it’ll be a good concept tomorrow.”

If the park proposal is not on the Nov. 6 ballot, Smith said, it can be on a different ballot. She didn’t necessarily care if it was on this November’s ballot, she said, because she didn’t think there was an impending issue that would change things. She didn’t feel that the city council would be taking a vote on a long-term lease anytime in the next year – though she allowed she could be wrong about that. She did not see the need to rush. It’s important that the council have some robust input from citizens, and that night was the first opportunity she knew of that citizens had a chance to come to the podium to talk to the council about it. So it had to be postponed at least until the first meeting in August, she said.

Anglin said he was fearful the proposal would disappear and then never appear again. He felt the presidential election year, with its larger turnout, would yield a resounding yes or no answer. Over the last few years, the issue has been very contentious, he said, costing time and effort by staff and the council. He described most of the work as having been done by the Sierra Club – writing and re-writing language.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5)

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).

Anglin  contended that he’d raised these issues at PAC, but they were dismissed – because PAC members didn’t see them as significant enough to discuss. For his part, if the council goes back to PAC, “We’ll just get an opinion.” He noted that PAC has three new members. So the “real skilled PAC members” who served for multiple years, are now out in the community willing to work. [He was referring to Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen and David Barrett, whose terms recently ended on PAC.] The council does itself a disservice not to see this as a public process, he said. “Just ask the voters – it’s so simple,” he said.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward) said he felt that there were good reasons to consider the proposal and to look at the language – but he hadn’t heard any reason not to postpone. Getting input from PAC makes perfect sense, he said. Having PAC’s input can only help, he said. While Anglin might feel PAC’s input doesn’t add value, Hohnke didn’t think it would hurt. In the interest of furthering the dialogue on a thoughtful effort to change the charter, he’d support postponement.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he felt it was important to have PAC weigh in. He lamented the fact that back on Nov. 5, 2009, when the council had approved an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the University of Michigan on Fuller Road Station, the council didn’t get advice prior to voting. But two wrongs don’t make a right, he said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) weighed in supporting the postponement to the first meeting in August. A problem with the volume adjustment on Higgins’ microphone prompted Thomas Partridge to chime in from the audience with a request that Hieftje make certain to ensure that microphone levels are loud enough for people to hear. Hieftje retorted with, “Could you make certain to keep quiet?”

Hieftje said the worst thing the council could do is put a flawed proposal on the ballot – a proposal that doesn’t do what voters think it will. So he’d support postponement.

Outcome: The council voted to postpone the proposal until Aug. 9, over dissent by Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Skatepark Design Contract

The Ann Arbor city council was asked to authorize a $89,560 contract with Wally Hollyday Skateparks for the design and construction oversight of a skatepark to be built in the northeast corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The city’s park advisory commission had recommended approval of the contract on June 19.

City council action on the skatepark at that location dates back to a Dec. 1, 2008 approval of a memorandum of intent. [.pdf of memorandum of intent]

The roughly $1 million project – including an anticipated $100,000 endowment for ongoing maintenance – will be financed through a combination of funds. Those include private donations – primarily solicited through the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark – as well as a $300,000 state grant, and up to $400,000 in matching funds from the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission. The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation is acting as fiduciary.

Selection of Wally Hollyday Skateparks for the work came after a selection committee reviewed six responses to a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the city of Ann Arbor in April. The committee selected two California firms – Wally Hollyday Skateparks and Wormhoudt Inc. – as finalists. Additional review and interviews resulted in the choice of Wally Hollyday Skateparks as the recommended designer. Wally Hollyday had already been involved in the project to some extent, leading design workshops for the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark in 2009 and 2010.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the skatepark design contract as a part of its consent agenda.

Initial Rezoning for Bluffs

The council considered giving initial approval to the rezoning of two parcels that were recently acquired by the city for expansion of the Bluffs Nature Area at 1099 N. Main St., north of Sunset Road. The city planning commission had recommended the rezoning at its June 5, 2012 meeting.

A 1.12-acre parcel to the north of the Bluffs – connecting the existing parkland to Huron View Boulevard – is currently zoned O (office), and had been donated to the city by a nursing home near that site. A 0.57-acre addition to the south connects the existing parkland to Sunset Road and is currently zoned R4C (multiple-family dwelling). It had been purchased by the city from the Elks lodge, using funds from the open space and parkland preservation millage. Both parcels were recommended to be rezoned as PL (public land).

City planner Alexis DiLeo told planning commissioners at their June 5 meeting that the parcels make the nature area more accessible. Though there is frontage onto North Main, there’s no easy access there for pedestrians or cyclists.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the rezoning of the parcels.

Accessible Path Work at Leslie Science Center

The council considered approval of a $115,309 contract with JB Contractors Inc. to construct barrier-free pathways at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. The recommendation includes a 10% contingency, for a total project cost of $126,840.

The city’s park advisory commission had recommended approval of the contract at its June 19, 2012 meeting.

JB Contractors provided the lowest of two bids. Fonson Inc. had submitted a much higher bid of $197,459. Funding is available from the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Francie Krawcke with a snowy owl

Francie Krawcke, raptor program director with the Leslie Science & Nature Center, brought a snowy owl to the June 19, 2012 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. The owl did not fly around council chambers, but did enjoy a few snacks at the meeting.

PAC had been initially briefed on this project – the first phase of a larger renovation – at its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting. The center, located at 1831 Traver Road, was previously part of the city’s parks system, but since 2007 has operated as an independent nonprofit. However, the city still owns and maintains the buildings and property.

Parks planner Amy Kuras told commissioners at PAC’s June 19 meeting that the goal of the changes to the pathways is to make the center compliant with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to make the pathways and overall organization of the site less confusing. The project includes replacing the paths that connect various buildings on the site, and constructing new paths to connect the center’s raptor enclosures.

At the council’s July 16 meeting, mayor John Hieftje expressed general support for Leslie Science and Nature Center, mentioning the Mayfly annual fundraiser. [Hieftje is a former board member for the center.] Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) added that representatives of the LSNC attended the July 16 Townie Party and brought the center’s raptors.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with JB Contractors Inc. for work at the Leslie Science & Nature Center.

Physical Testing of 415 W. Washington

The Ann Arbor city council considered a resolution approving $50,000 of general fund reserve money to be used for various physical surveys on the city-owned 415 W. Washington property. The property, with its three buildings, was previously used by the city as a vehicle maintenance facility, before the construction of the Wheeler Service Center south of town on Stone School Road.

Carl Goins, executive director of 555, and architect  Chuck Bultman

From left: Carl Goins, executive director of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios, and architect Chuck Bultman before the city council's July 16 meeting.

The council received a presentation at its May 7, 2012 meeting from representatives of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios on the physical survey work. The 555 group has assumed responsibility for the art community’s component of an initiative established by the city council on Feb. 1, 2010 to explore a collaboration between the greenway and art communities for adaptive reuse of the property. The 555 group stepped in when the Arts Alliance could no longer devote staff time to the project. Prior to that initiative, the city had gone through an RFP (request for proposals) process for the property that did not lead to the selection of any of the three proposals submitted.

Chuck Bultman, an architect who is working with the 555 group, had attended the Sunday night city council caucus on July 15. He had compared the physical surveys to be done on the 415 W. Washington property to a through medical workup for a patient. It would be more than taking blood pressure, and would include “drawing blood samples.” For the buildings, the work will include taking core samples to evaluate the structural integrity of the concrete and steel.

Besides the structural testing, other work to be done includes: an environmental survey; hazardous materials assessment; a topographic and boundary survey; a site survey; and architectural drawings of the existing buildings.

Bultman, along with several other professionals, have thus far volunteered their time to move the project forward. Others include: Paul Dannels (a structural engineer with Structural Design Inc.), Shannan Gibb-Randall (a landscape architect with Insite Design Studio Inc.), and Matt Grocoff (an energy performance consultant with Thrive).

Much of the survey work – in particular, the environmental, hazardous materials and topographic surveys – would be required regardless of the parcel’s future use.

415 W. Washington: Public Comment

During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Carl Goins – executive director of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios – told the council that a team of local professional had been working with the city’s task force. He noted the 555 group’s experience in transforming underused spaces into facilities that provided resources to hundreds of artists. The 415 W. Washington building’s size, location and historic character make it an ideal candidate for that kind of re-use, he said. The project could be a model for public, private and nonprofit collaboration. The physical surveys could put things on track for the building to become a regional hub for the arts.

415 W. Washington: Council Deliberations

Mayor John Hieftje led off deliberations by saying that the funding would move the process along. The city had been working with the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy and the Arts Alliance for the last couple of years, on the idea of developing a greenway park and art center. He alluded to an “outshoot” of the North Main corridor task force that was focusing on the greenway. The first greenway park, he said, would be the 721 N. Main city-owned parcel. The effort on 415 W. Washington and 721 N. Main need to be coordinated and connected, he said. He mentioned hooking up the greenway to the county’s Border-to-Border trail. Even if you don’t agree that the dream of an art center will come to pass, the surveys would need to be done, he concluded.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) agreed that it was an important and judicious investment in preserving options for the building. Absent a clear understanding of the potential for re-use, he said, the move would be toward seeing the building demolished. [The city's historic district commission would need to grant the city a notice to proceed with that demolition, which is not a foregone conclusion.] Hohnke noted there are a number of people now involved with the effort, who have experience with this type of repurposing. The expenditure increases the likelihood that something exciting happens at the site, he said.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) called it pretty exciting that the city is going forward with the work. She made a note that the terminology used in the resolution refers to the future “conveyance” of the land. The council’s deliberations on the ballot question then spilled into the 415 W. Washington item, when Smith said she’d love to have a legal opinion on what the city would need to do in order to “convey” the property. It was an excellent example, she said, of a situation where a special election might have to be called in order to enter into an eventual long-term lease. She wanted to know what the impact would be of the proposed city charter amendment on the 415 W. Washington project – not that night, but eventually.

Responding to Smith, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) ventured that the 415 W. Washington project would not be affected at all – because the proposed charter amendment speaks to parkland and cemetery use. The 415 W. Washington site is public land, not parkland. So it has nothing at all to do with the 415 W. Washington site. Responding to Lumm, Smith said, “Thank you very much, councilmember Lumm. I’d love to have a discussion with the attorneys at a later time.” Lumm wrapped up the exchange with “Sorry, I was just trying to help.”

Lumm continued with her remarks by thanking Chuck Bultman, the architect who’s been working with the 555 group. Bultman had given her and others a tour of the site last week. Bultman really has a vision for the future of the building, she said. She understands that what’s contemplated is finding a positive use for the city-owned site. She asked city administrator Steve Powers to outline what the resolution does. Powers reviewed the physical surveys of the building that would need to be done – regardless of its future re-use. To provide more detail on what’s been done to date, Powers told Lumm he’d need to prepare that information and provide it at a later time.

Lumm wanted more information about what the phase 2/3 environmental surveys would tell us. Public services area administrator Craig Hupy was called on to address that question. Hupy described a phase 1 environmental assessment as an analysis of past use. The site does have a history of past uses that causes a suspicion of contamination. A phase 2 study looks at the ground more in depth to see if pollution exists, and if so, to what level.

Lumm asked why the funding was not included in the FY 2013 budget. Powers characterized it as an oversight and nothing more. He was not aware of the momentum of the project at the time the budget proposal was put together, he said.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported to her colleagues that the previous night at the council caucus, she heard from people who are working with the 555 group [Bultman and Trevor Stone] and had heard quite a bit about what could be learned from an environmental assessment – from taking core samples of concrete, looking at groundwater, studying what part of the flooding is caused by the water table and what part is caused by grading of the site and the additional gravel that’s been added to create the parking lot. At the caucus meeting, she’d also learned there is a section of the site that is inaccessible.

Responding to Lumm’s concern about the failure to include this item in the FY 2013 budget, from Briere’s perspective, she was not surprised to see the item come forward until after the budget was approved. Frequently, she said, an item is not “ripe” until after the budget has been approved. It’s a one-time expense, she continued, and she indicated that it’s typical for such items to be approved outside the regular budget cycle.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she appreciated all the words of support from other councilmembers. She’s excited about this project, she said, which she contended she’d been working on for a decade – a public space for the arts and the performing arts. She characterized it as a first step. The surveys will tell us whether the building is usable, she said, and she hopes the answer is affirmative.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he supported the resolution and viewed 415 W. Washington as a roadmap for how to deal with 721 N. Main. He noted there’s a lot of community interest in how to use the 721 N. Main property for community needs – whether it’s a day-use center or not. [The council has heard frequent public commentary at its meetings since the fall of 2011 on the idea of a day shelter and warming center. And 721 N. Main has been a property that organizers asked the city to turn over for such use.] How the city handles 415 W. Washington sets up a framework for other city-owned properties, and he’s excited to hear what information the city gets from the work, Kunselman concluded.

Hieftje responded to the 721 N. Main thread that Kunselman had picked up. Hieftje indicated that 721 N. Main is moving forward as part of a state Natural Resources Trust Fund application by the city – because 721 N. Main already has its environmental “clearance.”

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the $50,000 expenditure for physical surveys on the 415 W. Washington building.

Federal Money for Greenbelt

The council considered approval of the acceptance of $396,900 in federal funds from the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) for the purchase of development rights (PDR) on properties in Webster and Superior townships owned by the Robbin Alexander Trust (90 acres) and Robert Schultz (136 acres). The grant amount represents 49% of the purchase price.

Ann Arbor Greenbelt as of June 2012

Ann Arbor greenbelt as of June 2012 (not including the properties the council voted on at their July 16, 2012 meeting). The large square-ish area is the greenbelt boundary area – the land eligible for protection with Ann Arbor greenbelt millage funds. Darker green areas indicate protected property. (Image links to dynamic map.)

The council had approved the application for the federal funds at its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting. The local share will be provided through the city’s parkland and open space preservation (greenbelt) millage.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who serves as the city council representative to the greenbelt commission, noted that the applications for federal grant money had been approved by the council in February 2012. He highlighted the fact that the federal grants covered 49% of the purchase price, which is the maximum amount that the FRPP will approve. Hohnke said that 49% reflects the quality of the applications that the city staff are submitting. He characterized it as great leverage for the millage funds that Ann Arbor voters have approved.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she certainly supported accepting the funds but contended that it could be better – if other sources of local funding (from the townships) besides the city’s greenbelt millage had factored into the local match component. She ventured that this was not the funding proportion that had been anticipated when the millage was approved.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the receipt of the FRPP funds.

Wetland Restoration at Plymouth

The council considered approval of a $97,687 contract with Fonson Inc. for restoration of a wetland in Plymouth Parkway Park that was filled in as a result of a railroad embankment collapse caused by heavy rains in July 2011. The funds will be taken from the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Immediately after the collapse, about half of the soil from the embankment washout was removed from the site, and the rest was removed last month, according to a staff memo accompanying the resolution. The staff memo also states that  Ann Arbor Railroad worked with the city to restore and improve drainage systems in and around the railroad embankment.

The work covered by the contract with Fonson is to repair underground drainage systems in the park, complete final site grading and replanting the wetland with appropriate species.

Council deliberations consisted of a remark by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) that she is delighted the restoration will go forward.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with Fonson Inc.

Maple Cove Site Plan

The council considered the site plan for the Maple Cove development located on 2.96 acres at 1649 N. Maple, north of Miller Road between North Maple and Calvin Street on the city’s west side.

The plan calls for combining two sites – 1649 N. Maple and 1718 Calvin – and demolishing an existing single-family home and detached garages there. Two 3-story apartment buildings would be built with a 64-space parking lot and eight bike spaces. The project also includes building a private street to serve seven new single-family houses near Calvin Street, but with an entrance off of North Maple. According to a staff memo, there will be no access to Calvin Street, which “is a private street with a checkered history regarding access rights.” The apartment complex would have a separate entrance, also off of North Maple.

Each apartment building would contain a total of 18 one-and two-bedroom apartments ranging from 745 to 1,057 square feet. The plan calls for each apartment building to have a rooftop patio for use by residents, with the possibility of a vegetated cover (green roof) for the remainder of the roof surface. The staff memo noted that the city has requested a $26,660 parks contribution, but the developer has declined to make that contribution.

The project has a somewhat unusual history. Planning commissioners originally approved it at their March 20, 2012 meeting. But that vote was rescinded because Scio Township residents on Calvin Street had not been included in an original public notice mailed out for the commission’s March meeting.

There were no changes to the plan in the interim period, but at their May 1, 2012 meeting, planning commissioners voted to postpone action to get more information from the traffic engineer about whether the proposed two separate entrances to the property created a health, safety and welfare hazard. According to city planning staff, the city’s traffic engineer raised some concerns, but he subsequently confirmed that the site plan – with two entrances off of North Maple – does conform with city code.

Planning commissioners ultimately approved the project at their June 5 meeting on a unanimous vote, but three of the nine commissioners – Bonnie Bona, Evan Pratt and Kirk Westphal – were absent. Bona and Eric Mahler had dissented on the commission’s March 20 original approval. Part of their objection stemmed from concern that no sidewalks were planned for the private street.

At the Sunday night city council caucus held on July 15, the project’s developer indicated the possibility that the private street portion of the project might be sold to another developer – and that developer would have the option to submit a revised site plan that includes sidewalks.

Maple Cove: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge spoke, describing himself as an advocate for the most vulnerable residents of the city. He contended that amendments should be made to the proposal that would require a percentage of the units to include affordable housing.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, mayor John Hieftje responded to Partridge’s mention of an affordable housing requirement by saying that with a planned unit development (PUD), the city could require affordable units; but for a “by right” development like Maple Cove, something like that couldn’t be required.

Maple Cove: Council Deliberations

Project area for Maple Cove

Project area for Maple Cove is shown outlined in black. (Image links to higher resolution .pdf file)

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began by saying that there are some positive aspects to the proposal, including the fact that it will help fill in Maple Road. He noted there had been a healthy discussion by the planning commission on the site plan. The developer had been asked to consider some minor improvements – not required by code, but that would have improved the experience for future residents of the project and for the public at large. The developer had not undertaken the suggested changes. He was disappointed, Hohnke said, but did not feel it rose to the level of concern that would cause him to vote against the project.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he wouldn’t support the project. As city councilmembers, he said, they have a right to do everything they can to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. Because the developer did not want to include some things that affect safety – like sidewalks on the private street – he would not support the project. He characterized that as “cutting corners,” saying the developer should be held to the same standards as everybody else.

Mayor John Hieftje then asked city planning manager Wendy Rampson to the podium to ask her a single question to which everyone already knew the answer: “Is this a by-right development?” Rampson told Hieftje that yes, Maple Cove meets the requirements of the zoning ordinance.

Hieftje then ventured that if Kunselman requested it, the council could have a closed session to discuss the ramification of voting no. [Assistant city attorney Mary Fales whispered to Hieftje words to the effect that Hieftje's idea for a closed session wouldn't work, because the council would need a written memorandum from the attorney's office to discuss in order to justify the closed session. That had been part of the point of a lawsuit filed by The Chronicle in September 2010. Since that time, closed sessions held by the Ann Arbor based on the attorney-client privilege have become rare events, when previously they were regular occurrences. Hieftje subsequently relayed Fales' comments at the table.]

Because Maple Cove is a by-right development, Hieftje said, a vote against it would be a “protest vote” but he felt the course was clear. There are many by-right developments where the developer doesn’t cooperated to the utmost, but the council has to follow the law.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that many councilmembers would like to see sidewalks included in all new neighborhoods, but that’s not a code requirement. While the council could change the city’s ordinance to require sidewalks in the future, it was not an option that night. She indicated she would cheerfully tell the developer that, as she did the previous night at the council’s caucus.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that it’s a complicated project that has generated a lot of discussion by staff and the neighbors. She concurred with Hohnke in his conclusion that the developer had not been very flexible – with respect to the possibility of eliminating one of the driveway entrances (curbcuts) and the voluntary parks contribution. But she concluded that the project met the code requirements. She felt that the project reflected an improvement.

Responding to a question from Lumm about the city staff’s recommendation for approving the project, Rampson said that “as near as we can tell” the project complies with city code.

Rampson noted that city code requires a sidewalk for a private street with eight lots or more, but the private street for Maple Cove includes seven lots, so there’s no requirement for sidewalks. She noted that the project had been reviewed twice by the planning commission, because the township neighbors weren’t notified the first time around. Neighbors from the township had concerns about the different lot sizes in the Maple Cove project compared to those on Calvin Street – and they felt the project reflected an increase in density. However, Rampson pointed out that the property was already zoned, and the proposed lots are consistent with zoning.

On the traffic issue, related to the two driveways, a city traffic engineer took a look at the placement of the two driveways. The conclusion, Rampson allowed, was that the two driveways were “not ideal” – in that they don’t have the desired spacing between each other or the desired distance from the intersection. But the city does not have anything about access management in the code. According to the traffic engineer, Rampson said, if the driveway configuration becomes a hazard, one of the drives can be removed under the city code.

About the parks contribution, she noted that it’s a suggestion based on a formula, but it’s not a code requirement. She noted that there are some amenities included in the project that might actually count toward the park contribution.

Hohnke asked Rampson to share some views of the expected benefit for the development, compared to the existing situation. Rampson told Hohnke that the planning commission had pointed to the fact that the current site is not very well maintained. The project would bring additional housing to the area – both rental and homeowner opportunities. It would also provide a sidewalk link on the public frontage along North Maple, so it’s consistent with the city’s master plan, she said.

Maple Cove driveway configuration

Maple Cove driveway configuration. Magenta arrows show the two driveways.

Hohnke said he shared Kunselman’s concerns, but indicated surprise that Kunselman was considering voting against the project. He felt it’s hard to make a reasonable argument that it’s a detriment to health, safety and welfare. He ventured that it could be considered irresponsible [of Kunselman] to put people of Ann Arbor at [legal] risk by denying a site plan that meets code and provides some benefit. He encouraged people to understand the weightiness of denying a by-right proposal.

Kunselman responded by noting that Rampson had said the driveway curbcuts don’t meet the desired standard, but that the city doesn’t have a mechanism in the city code to do anything about that. If it were determined that there was a hazard being caused, he said, and the driveway entrance to the private street had to be closed, then the only access to the private street would be through the other driveway entrance – and that would lead past the additional lot for the multi-family housing in the project, for a total of eight lots. If that’s what happens, Kunselman ventured, the developer will have been able to circumvent the requirement of having sidewalks for the private street.

Kunselman restated his view that it’s an issue of public safety. There are no sidewalks in his neighborhood, he said, and walking down the street last year with the mayor of Tübingen [Ann Arbor's sister city in Germany], they almost got run over. He rejected Hohnke’s suggestion that Kunselman’s would be a protest vote. Kunselman noted that he grew up in that part of town. He wanted to make sure that sidewalks are added.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the city council’s representative to the city planning commission, contended all these questions were raised and answered. He restated the fact that it’s a by-right development. “When it meets the code, that’s it!” he said. He characterized the application of the rubric of health, safety and welfare as a very “slippery slope.” He felt the council should vote for the project.

Hieftje indicated he would support the project because he did not think there’s any latitude, citing the potential of a lawsuit, and saying the council would be on extremely thin ice to deny it.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the Maple Cove project, with dissent from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Ann Arbor Police Chief: John Seto

The council considered a resolution appointing John Seto as permanent police chief and head of safety services.

John Seto at the March 30 farewell for former chief Barnett Jones

John Seto at the March 30, 2012 farewell for former chief Barnett Jones.

Seto has served as interim in both roles since the resignation of former police chief Barnett Jones effective March 31.

At his farewell sendoff on March 30, Jones was emphatic about his view that Seto should be hired as permanent chief, describing Seto as “the right person to follow me.”

Seto was hired in 1990 as a patrol officer in the AAPD and achieved the rank of deputy chief in 2008.

Seto’s college degree is from Eastern Michigan University, and his subsequent professional development has included training from the FBI. He also holds certification as a firefighter.

As head of safety services, Seto oversees the fire chief. The administrative position of safety services administrator is appointed by the city administrator. But the city charter requires that the council approve the appointment of police chief.

Police Chief Appointment: Public Commentary

During public commentary, Ann Arbor resident Blair Shelton reprised sentiments he’d expressed at the council’s March 19, 2012 meeting, alleging racism on the part of the Ann Arbor police department and Seto specifically. [By way of brief background, Shelton won a lawsuit against the city of Ann Arbor in the mid-1990s in a case involving racial-profiling in the AAPD's approach to collection of blood samples.] At the July 16 meeting, Shelton told the council that in 1995 when Channel 7 came to his home to interview him about winning his lawsuit, Channel 7′s Bill Proctor told him that on the way there, the AAPD had pulled over the Channel 7 news truck on suspicion of having stolen the vehicle. He invited people to ask Proctor about the ethnicity of the AAPD officer.

[Shelton was implying that the officer was Seto. In a phone conversation with The Chronicle, Proctor could not confirm the episode that Shelton described. Proctor noted that he did not recall interviewing Shelton, noting that the incident in question took place in 1995. Proctor indicated he did not recall ever being pulled over in the news truck because an officer questioned his legal right to be behind the wheel.]

Shelton contended that the “vestiges of racism have been enshrined in the department” since its inception. He pointed to the hiring of the first African American officer in the early 1900s, an officer Thomas Blackburn. He contended that Blackburn had been accused of raping a white university student and that the courthouse had been surrounded by people screaming: “Lynch the ‘n-word’ kill the ‘n-word.’”

In connection with his court case, he said, through the discovery process, they’d learned that the AAPD had wanted to perform DNA testing on the University of Michigan football team, but coach Bo Schembechler had said, “Hell, no.” Shelton told the council, “I am a human being!” with the right to move freely through the community. On the hiring of Seto as permanent chief, he told them, “Good luck.”

By way of additional background on the history of the Ann Arbor police department and racial issues, from former AAPD police officer Michael Logghe’s “True Crimes and the History of the Ann Arbor Police Department“:

Officer Clayton Collins was thought to be the first black Ann Arbor Officer when he was hired in 1950. However, according to Officer Camp’s report, a black officer named Thomas Blackburn, was hired in 1907. I discovered a photo of Officer Blackburn and it does not appear that he was black. Officer Blackburn was with the department for ten years and it is open for debate if he or Officer Collins was the first black officer. …

Officer Collins told me he was asked to apply to the department by Albert Wheeler (Wheeler would later become mayor). He stated Wheeler was always trying to get blacks to apply for positions which they had historically been barred. Officer Collins thought about it and finally applied. The department hired him and thus he became the first black officer in the city’s history. (I should note that in Officer Camp’s report, he stated a black man named Thomas Blackburn was an officer with the department at the turn of the century. Officer Collins had heard about Blackburn and thought he was half-Indian. In any event Officer Collins was the first black officer in the modern era.)

I was surprised to find that Officer Collins encountered very little racism, not only within the department, but within the city. Almost all of the officers were very accepting of him and none made a negative comment to him. At worst, some of the officers were distant to him. He stated his experience as an Ann Arbor Officer was very positive and enjoyable. He said Ann Arbor was a wonderful place in the 1950′s.

Jonathan Marwil’s “A History of Ann Arbor” gives an account of the hiring of Blackburn that’s consistent with Logghe’s. The Chronicle was not able to confirm in those two sources Shelton’s account of the rape accusation against officer Blackburn.

More recently, the AAPD was reviewed for possible racial profiling in a 2004 study of traffic stops, conducted by Lamberth Consulting. The AAPD scored well in the study, according to a Feb. 12, 2004 Ann Arbor News article. [.pdf of the Lamberth Consulting study on AAPD traffic stops]

Police Chief Appointment: Council Deliberations

Mayor John Hieftje said he’d had an opportunity to work with a few police chiefs in his time as mayor – Dan Oates and then Barnett Jones. Hieftje felt like he knows what it takes to be a good police chief – and whatever it is, John Seto has it. Seto has proven himself in this interim period, he said.

John Seto received a round of applause on his appointment as chief of Ann Arbor police.

John Seto received a round of applause on his appointment as chief of Ann Arbor police. From left: Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) praised Seto in the context of her work with him over the years. She was pleased to see promotion from within. She said that former chief Barnett Jones did a great job of succession planning. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she wholeheartedly supported the appointment. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Seto to come to the podium so that the public could see him.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) congratulated Seto for his work on sensitive issues. He was impressed with his professionalism and sensitivity. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) hoped that Seto recognized the unanimous support from the council reflected full faith and trust on the part of the council for his ability to lead. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) offered a single word: “Amen!” Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) called Seto’s appointment a recognition of the quality of the department as a whole, saying that it was the department that helped create Seto as he moved up the ranks.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to appoint John Seto as chief of police and head of safety services. He was given an enthusiastic round of applause.

Seto thanked city administrator Steve Powers for the confidence to make the recommendation to appoint him. For the last 22 years, Seto said, it has been a privilege to work with the men and women of the police and fire departments. He’s witnessed first-hand the hard work, dedication and the sacrifices they’ve made to serve and protect the community. More than the honor of being appointed chief, he said, it’s his honor to be a part of this organization. Throughout his entire career, he said, he’d worked very hard to represent the city in the most professional manner and to treat everyone he meets with great respect – and he’d continue to do that, he concluded.

CUB Agreements

The council considered a resolution to reverse at least temporarily an earlier action on restoring the use of CUB agreements. Construction unity board (CUB) agreements are negotiated between local trade unions and contractors, and require that contractors who sign the agreement abide by terms of collective bargaining agreements for the duration of the construction project. In return, the trade unions agree that they will not strike, engage in work slow-downs, set up separate work entrances at the job site or take any other adverse action against the contractor.

The resolution considered by the council at its July 16 meeting suspended the use of CUB agreements for contracts over $25,000. The resolution appeared on the agenda after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 238 of 2012 into law on June 29. The law amends the Michigan Fair and Open Competition Act.

The council’s previous action was taken about a month earlier on June 4, 2012, and had restored the use of such CUB agreements. The July 16 suspension allows for the resolution using the CUB agreements to be restored administratively, pending possible court rulings.

An alternating series of positions by the city of Ann Arbor began with the adoption by the city council of the use of CUB agreements at its Nov. 16, 2009 meeting. The resolution required that contractors and subcontractors execute such agreement with the Washtenaw County Skilled Building Trades Council as a condition of award for all city construction contracts.

But last year, the Michigan legislature passed Act 98 of 2011, which prohibited municipalities from signing construction contracts in which contractors were required to make an agreement with a collective bargaining organization.

So on Aug. 15, 2011, in response to the state law, the city council rescinded that requirement. However, the U.S. District Court subsequently found Act 98 to be unenforceable, based on the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution and the National Labor Relations Act. So at its June 4, 2012 meeting, the city council restored the use of CUB agreements. The lone voice of dissent at that meeting was Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who opposed the resolution on philosophical and practical grounds. She pointed to similar pending legislation (Act 238) that might be enacted.

And the pending legislation was, in fact, passed and signed into law, which led to the city council’s action on July 16 again to suspend the use of CUB agreements.

The staff memo accompanying the resolution states that the suspension of CUB agreements does not affect the city’s living wage ordinance. Not discussed in the memo is how a Michigan Supreme Court order from April 7, 2010 might affect the city’s living wage ordinance. The order affirmed an unpublished court of appeals opinion that found a Detroit living wage law to be unenforceable.

During the brief council deliberations, Margie Teall (Ward 4) noted that the way the resolution is intended to work is that the use of CUB agreements will be suspended – but on the outcome of court decisions, the use of the agreements could be restored administratively.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution suspending the use of CUB agreements.

Communications and Comment

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

Comm/Comm: Library Lane Parking Structure

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) reported on the grand opening of the new underground parking garage at South Fifth Avenue, called the Library Lane parking structure. [As of July 20, the parking facility was open with temporary occupancy permits, according to Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Remaining issues to be finalized include one elevator (which has a wall that's damp to the touch) and the water pressure in the fire suppression system.]

Smith invited mayor John Hieftje to reprise his remarks made on the occasion of the grand opening. He held forth at length. Highlights included the fact that the parking structure did not use any city general fund money, but rather money dedicated through the DDA. The parking structure revenue is supposed to pay for the bonds. [The DDA will be drawing on tax increment finance (TIF) capture for some initial capital costs and debt service.]

Later Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) would pick up on the bond payment topic, noting that it was Build American Bonds that were used to pay for the structure. He wanted some communication directly from the city’s bond counsel on any restrictions to the possible uses for the parking spaces. By way of background, in April 2010 the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center had sent the council a letter outlining its view of the applicable restrictions. The concern in the letter is that dedicated use of spaces in the structure by private, non-governmental entities could jeopardize the federal subsidy provided to the city through this type of bond. [.pdf of GLELC bonding analysis]

Kunselman’s view is that any problem caused by a private entity undertaking a development on the site could be solved if the Ann Arbor District Library were to build its new building on top of the structure, just to the north of its current location. That same night, the AADL board voted to place a $65 million bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot for construction of a new library on its current site. It appears unlikely that the library would follow Kunselman’s suggestion.

Comm/Comm: Non-Partisan Elections, Public Speaking

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Michael Benson noted that of the eight candidates for four city council seats that are contested in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary, the vast majority have responded positively to the idea of converting Ann Arbor’s local city elections to a non-partisan format. Regardless of whether non-partisan elections are a good idea or bad idea, Benson said, he thought it might be good for the council to form a task force to study the issue and report back on it.

Benson also pointed out to the council that for that night’s agenda, more than 10 people had signed up to speak for public commentary at the start of the meeting. So some people who wanted to address the council on an action item had been assigned only an alternate slot and had not been able to address the councilmembers. Benson alluded to the fact that some speakers will meet the condition of speaking on an “agenda item” by referencing attachments of communications on the agenda, like minutes from various boards and commissions. He suggested that the council look at its priorities on allotting public speaking time. [Benson has previously suggested that the time per speaker be reduced from the current three minutes to two minutes, while adding 10 minutes to the current 30-minute time block. That would result in a doubling of the number of possible speakers from 10 to 20.]

Comm/Comm: AATA

Tim Hull related to the council how he had needed to travel to Canton and had discovered there is no way to ride on the Canton Express from Ann Arbor to Canton. [The service is configured for commuters from Canton to Ann Arbor, not the other way around. The issue has been raised by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) when the council has been addressed by Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.] Hull was critical of the AATA’s plan for countywide expansion – it amounts to an effort to get people from the county into Ann Arbor, and running empty buses out to Chelsea and Canton to start the service. AATA remains “woefully inadequate,” he said. He pointed to the New Year’s Day Winter Classic hockey game, a day when there’d be no regular bus service scheduled.

Comm/Comm: Better Services

Thomas Partridge told the council he was there as he has been for over a decade to lobby for increased services, attention and priorities for residents needing and deserving services the most. He told the council he was there as a candidate in the Democratic primary for the state house of representatives 53rd District, which covers most of Ann Arbor. [He's running against incumbent Jeff Irwin.] He called on the council and the public at large to adopt a progressive agenda. He called for expansion of affordable transportation and housing in a way that is balanced and that is backed by adequate appropriations. He contended that the expansion of employment in the city is being neglected.

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Partridge repeated his call for expanded services, including an expanded competent public transportation system. He lamented the lack of a public hearing on John Seto’s appointment as permanent police chief. He said the public deserves open, transparent government. It’s not good public policy to approve large contracts without due deliberations on them or to approve site plans that would require little children to walk in the streets, he concluded. [Partridge was alluding in his last comment to the Maple Cove site plan approved by the council that night. The site plan does not include sidewalks for a private street leading to single-family homes.]

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

Absent: Christopher Taylor.

Next council meeting: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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9 Comments

  1. By Jack Eaton
    July 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm | permalink

    The Council’s actions on the Park Land Protection amendment to the City Charter raise two concerns, one procedural and one substantive.

    Procedurally, we note that the Council made its decision to delay the vote on the Charter amendment before the Council meeting even began. A Council member told me before the meeting that the issue would be delayed. When citizens attend a meeting to express support or opposition to an issue of concern to them, it is disrespectful to have Council make a decision before residents had any chance to discuss the matter.

    Substantively, the concerns raised as reason to delay consideration of the ballot measure have little to do with the purpose of the measure. Council member Briere contends that the amendment would not prevent contracting out the management of public pools or golf courses. That is not the concern of the amendment. We currently contract out our recycling service (at arguably higher cost than if city employees performed the tasks), and that has raised no concern. The amendment is intended to prevent disposition of public parks, it not meant to address the wisdom of contracting out management of the parks.

    Council member Briere also contends that the amendment would not prevent re-purposing parkland for a fire station, a homeless shelter, a train station or a parking structure, if the facility was owned by the city. Council is planning the abandonment of fire stations. We are unlikely to do much of anything in the near term to address homelessness. If we build a train station for Amtrak, we are likely to lease it to them, which is the very situation addressed by the amendment.

    The Charter amendment offered by Council members Lumm and Anglin was narrowly drafted to avoid unforeseen consequences. The language was well vetted, both by City legal staff and the State’s Attorney General’s office.

    If Council attempts to address all possible problems, the amendment will surely cause unintended consequences. We should amend the park protections as actual problems arise. In the meantime, Council members should act in a manner that respects the voters’ desire to protect parks from non-park, non-recreational uses.

  2. July 23, 2012 at 6:10 pm | permalink

    The charter amendment was a piece of lousy drafting that would not have prevented even the construction of a train station on the Fuller Road site – as long as the City did the constructing.

    Why do something that won’t even prevent what so many people want to prevent?

    Hopefully Council will approve much stronger language in August. If it doesn’t I smell a petition drive coming.

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    July 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm | permalink

    Courts often defer to local authorities’ interpretations of their own zoning ordinances, provided those interpretations are based on clear and substantial evidence. It is my understanding that the City’s own traffic engineer provided just such evidence in this case. There have also been Michigan court cases where local municipalities have had their right to use “health, safety and welfare” clauses upheld. (Florka v City of Detroit, 396 Mich 568; 1963 Mich Lexis 504 (1963), Natural Aggregates Corp v Twp of Brighton, 213 Mich App 287; 1995 Mich App Lexis 409 (1995))

    But putting aside the legal argument for a moment: This is just another in a string of projects over several years where the current Mayor and Council have thrown up their hands and approved a project that they all seemed to agree had significant defects. So why is it that after all this time, this mayor, and numerous long-term incumbents (which include attorneys and real estate professionals), OR the long-serving City Attorney, OR even longer-serving planning staff have not set about writing a “health, safety and welfare” clause that the City Attorney CAN support in these “loophole” cases?

  4. July 23, 2012 at 6:39 pm | permalink

    Re: [3] Whitaker’s comment relates to the Maple Cove site plan: [internal link to meeting report section]

  5. By Lawrence Baird
    July 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm | permalink

    Slight correction – I said “Eli” Gallup was the city’s first park superintendent.

  6. By Diana Bowman
    July 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm | permalink

    If the city wants sidewalks for new developments, they need to make that a code requirement.

  7. By Jack Eaton
    July 24, 2012 at 7:41 am | permalink

    Re (2), David, are you saying that if the amendment as drafted by Council members Lumm and Anglin had passed, the Fuller Road Amtrak station advocates on Council would have built the station and let Amtrak use it without a lease, just to circumvent the will of the voters? That would be pretty bold, even for the current majority/Amtrak station advocates.

    Hopefully Council will learn to respect our parks rather than look for technicalities and loopholes.

  8. July 24, 2012 at 10:41 am | permalink

    All the ways that the Council can slime around a park protection charter amendment must be considered, and the ways must be blocked.

    Otherwise an amendment would be an exercise in futility, and the public would feel betrayed yet again.

  9. By john floyd
    July 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm | permalink

    David, the only real protection is to hold council members accountable for their actions by removing them from office.