Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 4, 2012): The council handled a mixed bag of items at its most recent meeting, ranging from land use to community events funding.
One item was apparently not handled the way that the majority of the council wanted, due to the absence of two councilmembers – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).
That item was a $60,000 appropriation – the city’s portion of a $300,000 local match for continued study of the Plymouth/State corridor, from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, extending south to I-94. The local match is needed for a $1.2 million federal grant that has been awarded for the study. This alternatives analysis phase follows a basic feasibility study. The current study is supposed to result in a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) as well as identifying stations and stops.
Because the $60,000 transfer from the general fund was a change to the city budget, it needed the votes of eight members on the 11-member city council. When Mike Anglin (Ward 5) led off the roll call by voting against it, it was clear that the council would have no more than seven votes in favor – because Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had already made plain during deliberations that she’d be voting against it. So some councilmembers voted against the resolution in order to be on the prevailing side. That gives them the right under parliamentary rules to bring back the item to the council’s next meeting for reconsideration. At that meeting it’s possible, but not certain, that supporters of the funding will have the necessary eight votes.
Several items on the agenda dealt with land use. The council gave final approval to a rezoning request for Knight’s Market, which will allow for expansion of the market at Spring and Miller streets. Winning initial approval was a rezoning requested by the developer of proposed townhouses on Catherine Street – from its current planned unit development (PUD) zoning to R4C (multi-family residential). Rezoning for part of a parcel in connection with a planned Speedway gas station at Maple and Miller also got the council’s initial approval. A related site plan for the station got its one and only required approval.
Also connected to land use was the council’s addition of two more properties to the greenbelt, using about $0.5 million in city funds from the open space and parkland preservation millage. The land from the two properties totals around 226 acres. Lumm cast a lone vote of dissent.
The council also authorized disbursements of community events funds to 13 organizations totaling $44,778, the bulk of which went to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park.
And the council set a public hearing for Oct. 1 on a tax abatement for Barracuda Networks. The firm is relocating to downtown Ann Arbor from its current location on Depot Street, in part to accommodate an additional 144 employees it expects to hire by July 1, 2014.
$60K for Transit Study
The council was asked to consider allocating $60,000 of general fund money for a study of a transportation corridor from the northeast of Ann Arbor to the city’s southern edge.
The measure needed eight votes to pass on the 11-member council – not a simple majority of six – because it was a change to the budget.
The contribution from the city of Ann Arbor is meant to help the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority move ahead with an alternatives analysis for the corridor. The corridor runs from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, continuing south to I-94. This alternatives analysis phase of the study would result in a preferred choice of technology (such as bus rapid transit or light rail, for example) and identification of station and stop locations.
The city’s $60,000 would be a portion of $300,000 in local funding that had been identified to provide the required match for a $1.2 million federal grant awarded last year to the AATA for the alternatives analysis phase. The breakdown of local support is intended to be: $60,000 from the city of Ann Arbor; $150,000 from the University of Michigan; and $90,000 from the AATA.
In November 2011, Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, had updated the AATA board on the possible timeline for the alternatives analysis. He said that phase, in which a preferred technology and route with stop locations would be identified, would take around 16 months.
The AATA board information packet for its June 21, 2012 meeting described the hoped-for $60,000 contribution from the city of Ann Arbor.
The resolution in front of the council highlighted the fact that the AATA had recently purchased from the city a six-foot-wide strip of land on the former Y lot, immediately to the south of the location for the planned new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. The strip of land was priced at $90,000, based on an independent appraisal. The AATA board approved its side of that deal this spring at its April 26, 2012 meeting. The city council had approved the land sale almost a year ago, at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting. The total parcel area was 792 square feet. A more general discussion of the city’s policy on the proceeds of city-owned land sales will unfold over the next few weeks.
A feasibility study for the corridor costing $640,000 has already been completed. That initial study concluded that some type of improved high-capacity transit system would be feasible – which could take the form of bus rapid transit, light rail transit or elevated automated guideway transit. That study had been funded through a partnership with the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, University of Michigan and the AATA. Chronicle coverage of that feasibility study includes: “Transit Connector Study: Initial Analysis“; “AATA: Transit Study, Planning Updates“; and “Washtenaw Transit Talks in Flux.”
$60K for Transit Study: Council Deliberations
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had sent several written questions to city staff about the connector study funding prior to the Sept. 4 council meeting. One of those was about the possible use of the city’s alternative transportation fund – instead of the city’s general fund – to pay for the study.
She led off the council’s deliberations essentially by questioning the accuracy of information she’d received about the use of the alternative transportation fund, which receives its revenue from Act 51 money. [Act 51 handles the distribution of revenue from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.]
She told city transportation program manager Eli Cooper that she didn’t see why the alternative transportation fund couldn’t be used to pay for an alternative transportation study. The written answer Lumm had received from Cooper was this: “Act 51, the source of the alternative transportation fund, does not allow for capital planning programs beyond street and non-motorized transportation.” Cooper noted that Act 51 has a provision in it called the “comprehensive transportation fund,” which covers a whole array of transportation. But the distribution of Act 51 money to local communities is more narrowly focused, Cooper explained. Local Act 51 money is for major streets and non-motorized transportation. Lumm ventured that major streets are involved in all the various alternatives – unless we’re looking at something out of the Jetsons, she quipped.
Lumm then pressed for an answer to a question she’d submitted about why the item had not been in the FY 2013 budget. The written answer she’d received was this: “It was included in the CIP [capital improvements plan] for FY 2014. The timing of the investment has been accelerated due to the interest of the stakeholders and availability of grant funding.”
Lumm told Cooper that as far as the item being in the CIP, to that she’d say: “So are lots of things.” She noted that the AATA was notified about the grant in December 2011 – well in advance of the development of the budget and the council’s adoption of it [in May 2012].
Cooper told Lumm that although the AATA was notified by Congressional offices in December that the grant would be coming, it wasn’t a certainty and the paperwork hadn’t been completed at that time. The AATA still had to go through the process of negotiating a fair local share amount from the local partners, he explained. The $60,000 request reflects a belief in the feasibility of a higher-capacity advanced technology transportation system in the corridor – and federal support was made available through the work of the Federal Transit Administration and the region’s Congressional delegation. Given the participation of other local stakeholders, this was the best timing staff could do to bring the request forward, Cooper said.
City administrator Steve Powers, who started on the job about one year ago, offered that he’d take responsibility for the timing. He’d been learning Ann Arbor’s budgeting process and was still learning the specific details of the project. The “missed timing” is ultimately his responsibility, Powers concluded.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked where Cooper saw the project going after this phase? What would the memorandum of understanding between the city, the University of Michigan and the AATA include? Cooper indicated that it’s an 18-month and $1.5 million project. The feasibility study had shown the city who will benefit – whether that’s the University of Michigan, the downtown, and the community at large. After the alternatives analysis, better information will be available about the type of transportation technology and the cost and the various beneficiaries. At that point, it would be brought back to the city council on a “more informed basis,” Cooper explained.
In the case of the alternatives analysis study, Cooper said, it’s a situation where the one of the local partners – the University of Michigan – had volunteered 50% of the local match. He didn’t have a set answer, but in a year and a half, he expected that he’d have better information about proportionate shares of building a system – assuming the council gave its authorization to the $60,000 request.
Anglin said he had objected to the countywide transportation plan because it had included a rail station at the Fuller Road location, and it looked like the connector study was dealing with that location as well. As the University of Michigan looks at its bus system and the frequency of service that’s needed in that corridor for the university’s needs, this might be a better system for them than they have now. This seems like a system that services the university, he said. On the southern end of the corridor, Briarwood Mall is served by traffic from the interstate. He didn’t see the need to bring a connector service that far south. The part that’s needed is the part that provides a connection between the university’s campuses. He called it unfortunate that this becomes wrapped up in claims of ridership by the AATA. He asked Cooper if UM ever thought the connector could be entirely the university’s project.
Cooper told Anglin that as he has been involved in the conversation, it’s not been a matter of trying to measure how much one party would benefit. Instead, he characterized it as a “bunch of stakeholders around a table.” With respect to the future ridership, an unanswered question currently is: Who would be the owner and operator of the system? Cooper pointed out that the university had convened an advanced transit technology forum, which the city had attended. Cooper said he looked at this as collaboration. Ridership on the system – whether it’s a bus rapid transit system or a light rail system – will benefit both the university and the city’s downtown.
Cooper observed that the city had recently completed construction of the underground parking garage in the downtown, and said the city needs to have transit to complement the investment in the parking structure. As a transportation planner with gray hair and many decades of experience, he said, he would recommend continuing to provide support for all types of mobility. The feasibility study had shown that there’s a substantial demand, Cooper said. He allowed that Anglin is correct – a large part of that demand comes from the university.
However, the benefits will accrue to the entire community, Cooper said. The people taking trips provided by a connector transit system will not be competing for space on the road system. We’re moving beyond the automobile and the bus – whether that’s bus rapid transit, light rail or commuter rail, he said. This will continue to require study to find the most efficient and effective way to use public resources. There’s no denying the fact that these are capital intensive programs, he allowed. It will require support from the federal, state and local governments – and private partners as well, he said.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) supported many of Anglin’s questions about who benefits from the system. She also had some basic factual questions.
How many bus trips take place between the UM medical campus and north campus? Briere asked. Cooper gave a per-day passenger figure of 30,000. The frequency of buses is 60-70 per hour during peak periods, he said. That means there’s more than one bus a minute during peak hours, Briere ventured. Given that frequency and assuming 20 people on a bus, that would be a lot of car trips. Briere wondered, however, what that frequency of bus traffic might be doing to the road infrastructure. Cooper allowed that there’s clearly a relationship between gravel haulers and the impact on roads, but said that buses aren’t as heavy as those types of vehicles. He was not aware of any undue wear on Fuller Road as a result of the bus traffic.
Briere clarified that use of Act 51 money to make non-motorized improvements adjacent to Fuller Road is an appropriate use of Act 51 money. Cooper responded by saying that a minimum of 1% of Act 51 money must be allocated to non-motorized transportation improvements. Briere got confirmation from Cooper that it wouldn’t be appropriate to use Act 51 money to study the possibility of constructing a light rail system down Fuller Road.
Lumm followed up by getting clarification that light rail is one of the technologies that could be an alternative. Cooper clarified that this was the case and that each of the alternatives came with a specific associated cost.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) got confirmation that the DDA is not contributing to the local match for this particular study. He wanted to know why. Cooper’s understanding was that the DDA is not currently in a financial position to participate. However, the DDA would like to be involved in the ongoing discussion, with the possibility that the DDA could be financially involved in future phases of the project. Kunselman summarized that by saying, “So they don’t have the money.”
Kunselman asked if there’s an expectation that another round of federal grants might be available after the preferred local alternative is selected. Cooper told him, “Absolutely.” The recently enacted MAP 21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) bill continues to support new starts and small starts capital programs. Even in the tight times that are being felt in Washington D.C., with a number of reductions in different categories in the transportation bill, Cooper said, the transit capital starts program is strong in the federal bill.
Kunselman noted that there are a lot of different planning efforts going on – like the WALLY north-south commuter rail, for example. Kunselman was worried that Ann Arbor was “in competition with ourselves,” because clearly not everything could be funded. Cooper responded by saying he wasn’t in a position to say when each one of those planning investments would mature. But in metropolitan areas like Ann Arbor, there’s an ongoing transportation planning process. And federal funding is available for a variety of modes. In any community that has a light rail system, a commuter rail system or a bus rapid transit system, the majority partner has been the federal government. Cooper expected that the federal government will continue to invest in mobility for communities.
Kunselman ventured that a lot of federal grants go to the University of Michigan, but he wasn’t aware of any federal transportation grants going to UM. The connector would predominantly benefit UM, so he wondered if that’s something new and different from the federal government.
Cooper responded with a parallel to his experience with the Fuller Road station. When he spoke to folks in Washington D.C. they had said, “That’s the Ann Arbor station; we don’t know Fuller Road from Main Street.” So in advancing projects of this sort, Cooper said, the feds will see it as an investment in the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor urbanized area. The feds know there’s a university here, but they’ll see it as making an investment in Ann Arbor, he said. The analysis will be blind to who gets the benefit. As the partnership is defined, it’ll be important to look at rider share, Cooper said. However, when the federal government looks at investments of this type, the feds look at the community, and they’ll measure the willingness of all parties to secure the investment that the feds are willing to make, Cooper concluded.
Kunselman expressed his displeasure that the resolution included a sentence about the portion of the YMCA site being sold to the AATA for $90,000, with the description that the $60,000 was thus available. That’s general fund money, and it’s not in its own bucket inside the general fund, Kunselman said. He found the inclusion of that sentence as “over the top,” saying, “We don’t need to hear that part.”
Anglin got clarification that the timeframe for the study would be a year and a half. It would be the same project team that did the feasibility study [URS Corporation], Cooper said, a project that had been finished on schedule.
Anglin stated that he was a little uncomfortable with the request, because there are so many competing distractions we have as a community. He wanted to know how long the study would be valid. He felt that the university would be asking students to relocate to places where they need to be most of the time. He ventured that it might not be clear how many people will be moving between the campuses as time goes on. It’s difficult to project the needs of a community as complex as Ann Arbor, he said.
Responding to the question about the validity of the study, Cooper indicated that the locally-preferred alternative would need to be valid as long as it takes to move to the next step. Comparing the draft environmental assessment (EA) report for the Fuller Road station project, once it’s outside of a three-year timeframe, Cooper said, “we ourselves would want to refresh the data.” Comparing whether the city gets more or less, Cooper pointed out that the entirety of the connector system would be located in the city. He recognized that UM’s configuration will be an important consideration in forecasting travel demand. For that reason, the city and the AATA have worked closely with UM’s planner to understand those needs as they’re seen today, Cooper explained. [Sue Gott, UM's top planner, was the most recent appointment to the board of the AATA. Cooper also serves on that board.]
If assumptions change, Cooper allowed, the project might take on a different character. But overall, the UM planner, the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS), the city staff and a consultant team were doing an analysis. Cooper said he was confident they have a grasp on the need, but agreed that it’s impossible to see all of the future. There could be other trip generators that emerge that had not been foreseen – but if the connector system is in place, that additional demand could be accommodated. If not, then a couple of different things could happen, he said. One of those things is that economic growth might not occur. Or the growth could occur without an investment like that of the connector, which would mean more vehicles on the roadway, Cooper cautioned.
Kunselman stated that he’d support the study, but agreed with Anglin that “We’re all over the place.” The idea that the city would make investments in mass transit, without knowing how to pay for operations, caused him a lot of concern, he said.
Kunselman complained that there are basic transportation services not being provided. Kunselman pointed out that if you go past US-23, there’s no bus to the UM medical center, which is a huge need for the community, he said. He then quoted something he’d written to an AATA board member after having lunch with that person. It included a portion of The Chronicle’s Aug. 16, 2012 AATA board meeting report:
AATA board member Charles Griffith, reporting from the performance monitoring and external relations committee, said that Routes #3 and #5, because of the increased ridership, have struggled a bit with staying on time and with overcrowding. So AATA is continuing to look at ways to address that. It’s not in the budget to increase the frequency of the service as the AATA had done for Route #4, he said – at least not at this time. Route #3 runs between Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Community College. Route #5 runs along Packard between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
Kunselman’s letter also complained that the AATA was providing commuter service to communities that didn’t support it with tax dollars [Chelsea and Canton].
Kunselman also wrote in his letter to the unnamed AATA board member that he wanted an opportunity to comment on the AATA’s budget as required under a 1974 agreement between Ann Arbor and the AATA. [.pdf of 1974 agreement] “We haven’t seen your budget,” Kunselman read aloud. He then noted the fact that Cooper is also a member of the AATA board, by saying, “Not you, … but you are an AATA board member, so I’m looking at you right there.”
The AATA budget is due to be adopted before the end of the month [September], Kunselman continued. It’s relevant to the $60,000 request, because as far as he was concerned, the city should not be spending that money, doing the business of the AATA, Kunselman said. He called the number of vehicles that are taken off the road through commuter services by the AATA a “drop in the bucket,” and suggested a better approach would be to get people to commute together through car sharing. [The AATA recently launched a service to promote group travel in the form of a vanpool program.]
Kunselman was skeptical of Cooper’s report that during peak periods the UM was running a bus a minute, calling it an “outrageous” claim. There’s no way there’s a bus each minute, he contended, and if there is, it’s for a very short period of time. He returned to his point about where the money for operations would come from. At that point, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) raised a point of order – that Kunselman had reached the end of his speaking time. He did not seem to have anything else that he wanted to add.
Lumm said she wouldn’t support the request for several reasons, including budget discipline and transparency. She described the approach as incrementally throwing money at transportation related initiatives, “without any clue” about how operating costs will be paid. Lumm pointed out that there are at least five planning initiatives: (1) Ann Arbor rail station; (2) countywide transportation; (3) east-west commuter rail; (4) north-south commuter rail; and (5) the connector study.
Lumm said there’s no idea of how to pay for any of these. The idea that these projects are of equal priority is simply not reasonable, she contended. She felt that very basic questions were not being answered. If it was a priority, then it should have been included in the budget for the year.
Briere got clarification from Cooper about how much the city had expended to date on the connector study – $80,000. That meant the total to that point would be $140,000, if the city authorized the $60,000.
Briere asked if this would be the last money the city would be spending on studies? Cooper’s response: Not at all. There are future phases, which would include detailed environmental assessment work. Responding to a question from Briere about costs, Cooper indicated that it would depend on the choice of outcome from the alternatives analysis study. If the preferred alternative is bus rapid transit, the cost would be an order of magnitude less than another fixed guideway system. “Got it!” Briere exclaimed.
Briere asked Cooper to explain why he felt that the $60,000 is an investment and not an expense. Cooper said it goes back to the city’s transportation plan update. The “do nothing” alternative – as compared to spending money on a transportation portfolio – would result in substantial congestion along almost every major corridor in Ann Arbor. Investments in transit alternatives would be able to diminish the pressure on the road system, Cooper said, so that more freely flowing conditions could be expected.
Briere asked what might happens if the city decided not to do the study, but then five years from now decided at that point to do it. What’s the chaos that the community would face? Cooper told Briere that “chaos” might be too strong a word. There would be an increasing discomfort created by increasing levels of travel demand – more cars on the road. Over the last decade or so, the city has seen a greater influx of workers – from the university – and now we’re seeing more into the downtown area, he said. The forecast for continued economic prosperity in Ann Arbor is a positive thing, but the side effects are that each new job filled by someone who doesn’t walk or bicycle to that job will put additional stress on the transportation system. That’s the reason for the investment – for the community to be able to move forward while preserving the quality of life, Cooper said.
Briere tried to clarify what she meant by “chaos.” Any construction of a connector system would cause a lot of disruption during the construction. So she was trying to get a sense of whether it would be more prudent to get a clearer sense of the demand before constructing something, or go ahead and try to anticipate demand: “That’s what I’m trying to drag out of you,” she said.
Cooper described the modeling as statistically derived, and said the majority of the future is already here. When the system is operating at 0-90% of capacity, it can still function. Going from 90% to 95% or 100% is a “pivot point” where there’s more demand than the system can sustain and the system breaks down. The timing recommendations are that the planning needs to begin now, so that the investments can begin to be made in the mid-term. In 2009, the mid-term was seen as 5-15 years, he said.
Briere asked what would happen if the council were not to provide the $60,000. Would there be an effect be on the federal dollars and on the UM and the AATA? Cooper responded by saying he was not aware of a specific deadline, but the federal grant processing is such that if the council acted that night, the AATA board can follow. And with the UM’s pledge, the project could begin almost instantaneously. If the council spends more time deliberating, then the project would progress on that adjusted timeline. If the council were to choose not to participate at all, the remaining stakeholders will need to reconsider, Cooper said – but he would not speak on behalf of UM, AATA, or the DDA.
Mayor John Hieftje said he saw the connector as part and parcel of a larger picture. He felt that the city could be sure of future job growth. Jobs would continue to come to the city even if the city did not seek them, because the UM continues to build its workforce, he said. But jobs bring traffic and congestion. The only way we can affect that – beyond carpooling and park-and-ride lots – is to expand transit. We won’t know the costs, and we don’t have a way of talking about the costs, he said. He cautioned against backing away from transit – offering as a sardonic possibility the idea that the council could also vote to say they did not want more jobs in the city.
Hieftje called it wise to invest $60,000 as part of a $1.5 million project. The city can continue to build parking structures, and accept more traffic in the city, or we can invest in transit, he said. He asked that councilmembers show a little bit of vision as the city looks to the future and tries to plan for that.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) sought confirmation from Cooper that UM is not a suitable federal grant recipient for a transportation system. Cooper said that UM is not categorized as a recipient of transportation dollars. But UM can help provide the local matching dollars for a federal grant. Taylor concluded that even though the UM can’t sign on the dotted line, a future city council could conclude: “We’re not going to move forward until we get X from the U.” And X could be operating expenses or the local match. Cooper confirmed Taylor’s understanding.
Taylor said he supported the $60,000 allocation, because he sees the council as a steward of the city – not just today, but also 5, 10 or 15 years from now. That requires an investment in planning, he said. And we can’t plan or invest without data.
Taylor said the objection that “we don’t know how we would fund it” doesn’t make sense to him, because this is not the time we’re planning to pay for it. The city councils in the future will have the ability to plan for that, he said.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) indicated that transportation is a high priority right now. He said it’s good to study and plan.
Lumm came back to her concern that the city is going down a path with multiple plans. The city’s priority shouldn’t be whatever someone gives it money for, she said.
Outcome: Voting against the allocation were: Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), and Margie Teall (Ward 4). With the absences of Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), the measure got only four votes. Voting for the resolution were: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and mayor John Hieftje.
During the roll call vote, as it was apparent the measure would not reach the eight-vote requirement, Kunselman quipped that perhaps he’d change his mind – after indicating during deliberations that he’d support the resolution. Votes by Teall and Smith can be analyzed as strategic, because only a councilmember who is on the prevailing side – in this case, those who voted no – can bring an item back to be reconsidered. They’d ordinarily be expected to support a resolution like the $60,000 connector study.
If Hohnke and Higgins are at the table for a vote of the full council on Sept. 17, the resolution would at least have a chance at passing. Hohnke would almost certainly vote for it. But passage would depend on Kunselman not changing his mind, and either Higgins or Briere voting yes – neither of which would be a certainty.
Knight’s Market Expansion
In front of the council for final consideration was a plan to expand Knight’s Market, at the
northeast northwest corner of Spring and Miller.
The market’s owner, Ray Knight, is well known for his family’s restaurant, Knight’s Steakhouse, located at 2324 Dexter Ave. The grocery store has been on land zoned C1 (local business) and M1 (light industrial). Knight also owns two separate parcels adjacent to the market. One of those parcels – at 306-308 Spring St. – was zoned R2A (two-family dwelling) and M1, and contains two single-family homes and part of a parking lot. The third parcel at 310 Spring St. was zoned R2A and MI, and contains the other half of the store’s parking lot. All three parcels have been non-conforming in some way, according to a staff report, and are located in the 100-year Allen Creek floodplain.
The Knight’s expansion includes several components. What the council was asked to approve was a rezoning of 306, 308 and 310 Spring to C1. That rezoning will allow the building at 306 Spring to be converted into a bakery, although the intent is to leave the exterior of the house intact. The rezoning will also allow for approval of a site plan to build a 1,200-square-foot addition to the existing grocery store and to expand, reconfigure, and improve the existing parking lot. In addition, the council approved rezoning to C1 of 418 Miller Ave. – the site of the existing grocery. The council was also asked to approve the site plan.
The changes to the parking lot include providing three additional spaces (for a total of 17 parking spaces), a designated snow pile storage area, solid waste and recycling container storage enclosure, right-of-way screening, conflicting land use buffer, and rain gardens for storm water management. An unused curb cut on Miller Avenue would be removed and the curb and lawn extension would be restored there. A temporary storage building at 418 Miller would be removed. The house at 310 Spring will remain a single-family dwelling.
Because the request involved a rezoning – a change to the city’s set of ordinances – the council needed to vote on the item twice, at different meetings, and hold a public hearing. It had given the rezoning an initial vote of approval at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting.
Knight’s Market Expansion: Public Hearing
Eric Cazepis spoke during the public hearing on the zoning change, introducing himself as the owner of the property directly across the street from the market.
He’s opposed to a change in the ordinance, citing his main concern as flooding. He observed that the property is in the flood plain, and it’s located at the bottom of a hill. He alluded to a mudslide that washed out the railroad tracks in May 2011 along Plymouth Road. He’s seen the street become like a river, as it became too much for the storm drain to handle. He grew up in the area, he said, and he’s seen flooding there. He wanted it to be on the record that he’s against the zoning change. He allowed that the Knights are a good family, but as a nearby property owner, he was opposed to the change.
The architect for the project, Dick Fry, also addressed the council. He told councilmembers that he’d studied the site with respect to the flooding issue. The city’s own department was also very thorough in checking calculations, he said. He said that all the stormwater would be kept on the site. It’s so low across the back of the site that it would flow to the north.
Fry showed the council some drawings, which he said the zoning board of appeals had suggested he do. The ZBA had some concern about the “blankness” of the market. He characterized the sketches as “nothing incredible” but he wanted to show the council some concepts for some awnings. And he noted that some nice improvements had already been done to the entrance of the market – for example, a 12-foot sliding door, he said.
The market will have “eyes on the street” from the butcher area. The building will look better with larger windows, Fry said. He mainly wanted the council to know that the water situation was addressed very thoroughly.
Knight’s Market Expansion: Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported that she’d been able to attend the citizens participation meeting on the project. The big concern she’d heard expressed was about truck traffic. She felt the council needs to keep its mind open to ways to limit large truck traffic through the neighborhood. She allowed that supplies have to be delivered, but all the same, the traffic makes it difficult for neighbors, she said.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) stressed the importance of addressing what the zoning is currently – which is light industrial, or the kind of zoning that is appropriate to being adjacent to a railroad track. She noted that neighbors were concerned about what might go in if the Knights ever left. The rezoning would state that this is now “a commercial spot,” which she felt would protect the neighborhood from some of the other things that could be there.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) agreed with Smith’s point and with the planning commission’s recommendation. She noted the rain garden feature and the stormwater management on site. She was pleased to support Knight’s Market, which she called an “iconic Ann Arbor institution.”
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) described Knight’s as a business that has shown support for the community, saying the family has a lot of history and integrity. He felt that the expansion helps business and jobs for Ann Arbor. Anglin felt that concerns about flooding are addressed by the topography of the area – as there are areas where the water can disappear along the railroad tracks.
Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, indicated he’d support it – because he felt that it legalizes what’s going on already. He acknowledged some of the reservations and concerns like truck traffic through the neighborhood, but said you can’t foresee every difficulty. He felt that it’s a solid project with solid people behind it.
Mayor John Hieftje said he understands the concern that Knight’s might not be there in the future, and that the zoning might allow a different owner to do something different. But as Smith had pointed out, he said, it’s a change for the better. He added that he hoped the Knight’s family would be there for a very long time.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved both the rezoning and the site plan for the Knight’s Market expansion.
Catherine Street Rezoning
The council was asked for initial approval of a rezoning request for a proposed three-story townhouse development with five housing units at 922-926 Catherine St. The rezoning request associated with the project had been recommended for approval at the July 17, 2012 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission.
The two vacant parcels are on the south side of Catherine between Ingalls and Glen, across from the University of Michigan School of Nursing building. The lots are located in the Old Fourth Ward historic district.
The development – which according to the owner, Tom Fitzsimmons, will be marketed to students, UM employees, young homebuyers, and empty nesters – entails rezoning the parcels from PUD (planned unit development) to R4C (multi-family residential). The PUD zoning is tied to a previous development that was approved but never built. The current site plan is contingent on approval from the city’s zoning board of appeals for variances from the conflicting land use buffer requirement. The two lots must also be combined as a condition before the city issues building permits.
Five garages would be part of the development, with nine parking spaces and bike storage located below the townhouses. A 24-foot-wide curb cut is proposed off Catherine Street for a driveway, which would run along the east side of the site leading to the garages.
The proposed building and site layout plans were approved by the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission on April 12, 2012. The planning commission also recommended approval of the variance from the city’s zoning board of appeals related to the conflicting land-use buffer requirement. That variance was later granted.
During public commentary at the planning commission’s meeting, several neighbors – including residents of the nearby Catherine Commons condominiums – spoke in support of the project. However, some of them raised concerns about backups in the stormwater system, which is already a problem along Catherine Street. Staff indicated that those issues are likely tied to design flaws on the site of Catherine Commons. Members of the development team told commissioners that an underground stormwater detention system on the site could improve the situation, and at the least would not make it worse.
Catherine Street Rezoning: Council Deliberations
At the council’s Sept. 4 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off the discussion by asking why the city is only now rezoning the property back to R4C, if the PUD zoning approved in 1979 was not used to actually build the project.
City planning manager Wendy Rampson told Kunselman that the city has not historically gone back to rezone a property from PUD if the project was not built. Kunselman ventured that back in 1979, the economy had “kind of tanked.” Based on this experience, Kunselman wanted to know if Rampson though it would be a good idea get other PUD zoning “off the books” if the projects for which the zoning was established had not been built. As an example, he gave two North Main Street properties – the former St. Nicholas Church and the Near North project. To just let them sit doesn’t seem to make sense, he said.
Kunselman wanted to know who had initiated the rezoning of the Catherine Street property. Rampson described how the developer had been looking in the area for sites to build on, and identified the site. The developer felt it would be easier to develop under the R4C zoning. Rampson noted that until someone comes along and creates a site plan that fits the PUD zoning, nothing happens.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked if the project would be consistent with the R4C zoning that’s recommended in the report of a study committee that’s currently pending action by the planning commission. Rampson told Smith that it fit the current R4C zoning, except for a variance for a conflicting land-use buffer along the east side, which was granted by the zoning board of appeals. Smith pressed for an evaluation of the project against any recommended changes to the R4C zoning ordinance that are currently pending. Rampson responded by telling Smith that there’s not currently any new ordinance language, but rather just a report. City planning staff had not evaluated the project against that R4C study committee’s report, she said.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the Catherine Street rezoning request.
The council was asked to give approval to a site plan and rezoning for a portion of a parcel at North Maple and Miller, which will allow for development of a Speedway gas station at that location. The site plan and the rezoning for the gas station had been recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its July 17, 2012 meeting.
The project is located at 1300 N. Maple on a 1.39-acre site. The rezoning request would change the zoning from PL (public land) to C3 (fringe commercial).
The plan calls for demolishing an existing 1,500-square-foot vacant service station building, which was built in the 1950s, and constructing a new 3,968-square-foot, single-story gas station and convenience store with five pumps. The gasoline pumps will be covered by a 28-foot by 121-foot canopy. Fourteen parking spaces will be provided next to the convenience store, and six bicycle hoops will be located on the south side of the building, adjacent to a sidewalk leading to Miller.
According to a staff report, underground storage tanks have been removed and an environmental analysis of the site is underway. If any environmental contamination is found, the owner will be required to remediate the site to meet requirements of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality.
The staff report states that the city’s traffic engineer has reviewed a revised landscaping plan and confirmed that traffic issues have been addressed and the site plan meets the requirements of Chapter 47 (Streets) of the city code.
The plan will preserve all existing trees within the 25 feet at the back of the property, an area that includes an existing 5-foot-wide pedestrian path. In addition, seven oak trees will be planted along the sides of the proposed building, and required landscaping within the site will be provided.
The portion of the parcel that’s subject to the rezoning request is a path that circles the property along the east and north sides.
Speedway Rezoning: Council Deliberations
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) began by saying he’d walked the easement often during his youth, so he was curious about the description in the staff report that said the city doesn’t own the easement. Who does own it? he wondered. City planning manager Wendy Rampson explained that the property is owned by Speedway. But there’s an easement that provides the public with the right to cross the property. That does not give the city the authority over the easement, she explained, and the private property owner has responsibility for maintenance. If the property owner set up a gate or bollards that prevented people from crossing the property, then the city could enforce the right of the public to have access.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Rampson to explain why the property had ever been zoned as PL (public land). Rampson indicated that by looking through the city’s files, planning staff had not been able to determine that. Every era has its own set of practices, however, and she felt that it’s possible that planning staff at the time thought that the PL zoning would send a message that the property was to be used by the public. Rampson said the city does things a bit differently now. She said if the council chose not to approve the rezoning, it wouldn’t change anything on a practical level. But she felt that it’s “cleaner” to make it clear that the land is owned by the private property owner and that maintenance is the responsibility of the owner.
When the council came to the item on the site plan for the Speedway station, Kunselman called it “exciting” and added that it’s the most development that the Miller and Maple area had seen in decades. The gas station was the center of the neighborhood at one time, he recalled. He hoped it would spur new additional development as well.
Outcome: The council approved the site plan on a unanimous vote. The council also gave initial approval to the rezoning request, which was initiated by city staff.
The rezoning issue will need to come back for a second and final approval, as all rezoning requests must. Rezoning of land is a change to the city’s ordinances, and because of that an initial vote of the council is required, followed by a public hearing and a second vote at a subsequent meeting.
The city council had two items on its Sept. 4 agenda that had been previously recommended for approval by the greenbelt advisory commission. Both were for the purchase of development rights, and included grants from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP).
The council was asked to approve $394,417 for the Robbin Alexander Trust farm in Webster Township. Of that amount, the city’s portion totaled $226,837 with the remaining $167,580 coming from the FRPP grant as a reimbursement. The greenbelt advisory commission had recommended approval of this deal at its June 7, 2012 meeting.
The 90-acre farm is located along Northfield Church Road in Webster Township. According to a staff memo, “the farm is considered large enough to sustain agricultural production and is in a location that will encourage additional farmland preservation activities. The property is surrounded by additional farmland that has been protected by the Greenbelt Program and Webster Township.” [.pdf map showing location of Alexander property]
The second item for consideration by the council was the purchase of development rights for the 136-acre Robert H. Schultz property located along Harris Road and Geddes Road in Superior Township. That deal totaled $523,567, including $294,247 from the city and $229,320 to be reimbursed to the city by an FRPP grant. Like the Alexander property, this land is also considered to be large enough for agricultural production and is located in an area that would encourage other farmland preservation. According to a staff memo, the property is surrounded by additional farmland that’s been protected by the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy, Washtenaw County and the greenbelt program. [.pdf map showing location of Schultz property]
Eight votes are required to pass PDR deals.
Greenbelt Acquisitions: Council Deliberations
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated that she supported greenbelt acquisitions that included local participation other than the city of Ann Arbor. She contended that often the city is paying more than half of the cost, however, with no other local participation. The two PDRs on the agenda that night were examples of that, she said.
There are only two funding sources associated with the two acquisitions, Lumm complained – the city of Ann Arbor and the federal government. There’s no other local participation, she said, which she called a lost opportunity. Saying she has raised concerns about the city’s share of funding in the past, she said she wouldn’t support the acquisitions on the agenda. In the past, she said, she’d supported such acquisitions even when she’d been uncomfortable. But for the items on that night’s agenda, she wouldn’t support them. She encouraged the greenbelt advisory commission to come forward with proposals that leverage the greenbelt dollars better, and that come closer to the original objective of the city’s share not being more than one-third of the total cost.
Mayor John Hieftje allowed that the ideal situation would be for the city to pay one-third of the cost and that this had been the discussion at the time of the millage campaign. He said the state of Michigan previously participated in such purchases, but with its financial difficulties, that state support has disappeared.
But for the most part, Hieftje continued, the city has paid about 50% of the cost. For some of the properties, the greenbelt advisory commission just feels they need to make a move, even though the financial arrangement might not be ideal. He observed that the federal FRPP grant was helping out with the purchases on the agenda that night, but it wasn’t known how many more years that program would exist. He described the map of greenbelt properties as starting to create a green “mushroom” that’s forming over the top of the city. The program is doing a whole lot of what voters in 2003 asked to be done, he said.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) ventured that when millage dollars are used within the city, the city pays 100% of the cost, which Hieftje confirmed. Lumm responded by saying in those situations, city residents who are paying the millage were also getting 100% of the benefit – so she felt that was fine, because it’s fair to the taxpayers.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated he’d support the greenbelt acquisitions, although he understands Lumm’s concerns. He pointed out that the people in the county who are not taxing themselves to support a greenbelt program still face a reduction in the taxes generated when development rights are acquired – so those communities are taking a hit, he concluded. He called it a “backdoor contribution” that those communities wind up making. He said it would be nice if there was a greater sharing of financial contribution. The whole point, he observed, is to acquire pieces together so there’s some semblance of a “belt,” and the properties on the agenda were adjacent to other properties.
Kunselman wondered, however, at what point the city has leveraged all the millage money. He noted that Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) would not be serving as the city council’s appointee to the greenbelt advisory commission past November. [Hohnke chose not to seek another term on the council. He has attended only one of the greenbelt advisory commission's monthly meetings this year – in April.] At some point, Kunselman felt there should be a status report, so that the council understood how many more acres the commission felt that it could acquire.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) felt that Lumm’s position is well taken and there are times when more cooperation from other local entities would be preferable. Ultimately, though, the deals that the commission decides on are those they feel are best for the city, he said.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) appreciated the utility of guidelines, but also had faith in the work done by staff and volunteers on the greenbelt advisory commission. He was satisfied that the properties on the agenda meet the goals of the program.
Outcome: In separate votes on the properties, the council approved the purchase of development rights on the two properties. Jane Lumm (Ward 3) dissented on both votes, which meant that the requirement of an eight-vote majority was exactly met. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) were absent.
Community Events Fund Allocation
The council was asked to award a total of $44,778 from the city’s community events fund to a total of 13 organizations. The largest amount given to any one organization was $25,000 to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival for its Top of the Park series, followed by $6,000 to the Ann Arbor Jaycees for their summer carnival and Fourth of July parade. In many cases, the allocation from the community events fund was awarded to cover costs assessed by the city – for street closures, for example.
Here’s the complete breakdown of awards: Ann Arbor Jaycees ($6,000 for the Summer Carnival and the Fourth of July Parade); Main Street Area Association ($1,000 for the Rolling Sculpture Car Show); Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau ($1,500 for the NJATC and UA block parties); Ann Arbor Council for Traditional Music and Dance ($578 for the Dancing in the Streets); Kerrytown BookFest ($1,000 for the Kerrytown BookFest); Arbor Brewing ($1,000 for the Oktoberfest); Hikone-Ann Arbor Educational Exchange Program ($2,000 for the Hikone Exchange); Michigan Takes Back the Night ($1,700 for 2013 Take Back the Night); University of Michigan Alice Lloyd Scholars Program ($2,000 for FoolMoon and FestiFools); Champions for Charity ($1,000 for the Big House Big Heart run); Main Street Area Association ($1,000 for the Taste of Ann Arbor); Ann Arbor Summer Festival ($25,000 for Top of the Park); and The Center of Light Ann Arbor ($1,000 for the 3rd Annual Ann Arbor Inner Peace Festival).
Margie Teall (Ward 4) noted that this is an annual disbursement of funds and she felt it’s self-explanatory. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Teall to explain how the community events money gets into that fund. Teall said it’s general fund money. Mayor John Hieftje added that it’s money set aside every year to make sure that events happen to make the city a fun place to live. Teall noted that the amount of money that’s awarded has gotten smaller over the years. Hieftje added that the allocation covers expenses for things like barricades.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to make the community event fund allocations.
Hearing Set on Barracuda Tax Abatement
The third of four steps associated with a tax abatement for Barracuda Networks was considered by the council – setting a hearing on the tax abatement for Oct. 1, 2012.
The council had previously set a hearing on the establishment of an industrial development district (Michigan’s Act 198 of 1974) at 317 Maynard St. in downtown Ann Arbor and voted to establish that district at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting. That set up the opportunity for Barracuda Networks to apply for a tax abatement as it moves from its current location on Depot Street to the downtown site. [.jpg of parcel map showing 317 Maynard] [.jpg of aerial photo showing 317 Maynard]
Barracuda is a computer network security company. On its application for the abatement, expected to be worth $85,000, Barracuda indicates that it currently has 155 employees who will be retained due to the abatement. The firm expects to add 144 employees by July 1, 2014. The property on which Barracuda is requesting the abatement ranges from cubicles and desk chairs to telephone network equipment and wiring.
Outcome: The council voted without discussion to set the public hearing for Barracuda’s tax abatement.
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: Pedestrian Access
Kathy Griswold recognized that the council had a resolution on its agenda to accept an easement [at no cost to the city] on a parcel on the northeast corner of Liberty Street and Maple Road.
She noted that a sidewalk leading from a four-way stop to King Elementary School would not require an easement. [Construction of a sidewalk would allow moving the mid-block crosswalk to the four-way stop. It's a topic on which Griswold has addressed the city council many times in the past.] She also called for a review of the city’s crosswalk ordinance by an professional engineer. Included in the review, she said, should also be ordinances involving sight lines.
Comm/Comm: Public Art
Libby Hunter delivered her commentary in the form of a song, which has become her preferred way to address the council. She prefaced her performance by recalling “blue-light specials” at Kmart. That served as a play on the blue lights that are intended as an artistic feature of a fountain designed by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl. Dreiseitl’s fountain, located in front of city hall, was the first of the projects approved by Ann Arbor’s public art commission. The melody was taken from “Midnight Special,” which has been recorded by a number of artists. Hunter’s version featured lyrics derisive of mayor John Hieftje: “If you ever go to Portland, you see the Dreiseitl Park; mayor Hieftje had to have one, fix was in from the start.”
Hieftje didn’t comment on Hunter’s song during the council communication time following public commentary, but responded a couple of hours later at the end of the meeting. He said that people can say whatever they want at public commentary regardless of whether it’s true. He said he’d never visited Portland, and had never heard of Dreiseitl until his name was mentioned by the public art commission.
Comm/Comm: Sustainable Energy
Kermit Schlansker addressed the council on the topic of sustainable energy. He characterized GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s energy plan as “drill and burn,” while president Barack Obama’s plan was “too little too late.” He contended that Europe uses half the energy that the United States does. A first step would be to move poor people into low-energy-use apartment buildings on tillable land, he said.
Comm/Comm: Affordable Housing
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) alerted her council colleagues that for the Sept. 17 meeting, she’d be introducing a resolution to direct proceeds of city-owned land sales, to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. The final details are still being worked on, she said. Smith said she was “disheartened” by the city’s current ability to provide affordable housing, especially in light of the recent failure of the Near North project.
The policy has a long history dating back to 1996. The policy of directing proceeds of city-owned land sales to the affordable housing trust fund was rescinded by the council in 2007. More detailed background is provided in previous Chronicle coverage: “City Council to Focus on Land Sale Policy.”
Comm/Comm: Student Conduct
City administrator Steve Powers gave a brief report on activity over the weekend, with University of Michigan students moving back into the city. The Ann Arbor police department issued 112 citations from Thursday through Sunday – for minor in possession, noise, open intoxicants in public and other ordinance violations, he said. AAPD had staffed extra officers using overtime. That staffing pattern would continue for football Saturdays through the fall, Powers concluded.
Comm/Comm: Limousines or Taxis
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) serves as the council’s appointee to the taxicab board. He’d noticed two cases of companies operating in Ann Arbor recently that are known to be limousine companies but that are advertising themselves as taxis. This is not supposed to happen, he said – there’s an ordinance against it. He asked his colleagues to pass along their observations. He said he’d be taking up the issue with the city attorney’s office to look at enforcement against companies that are flouting the city’s taxicab ordinance.
Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor.
Absent: Carsten Hohnke, Marcia Higgins.
Next council meeting: Monday, Sept. 17, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor city council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]
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