City Council Punts on Several Agenda Items

Affordable housing, living wage proposals put off until October

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 17, 2012): The council’s initial agenda, released on Wednesday before the Monday meeting, was relatively light. But by the time the council had approved that agenda to start the meeting, it had grown considerably heavier.

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and former councilmember and planning commissioner Jean Carlberg.

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and former councilmember and planning commissioner Jean Carlberg. (Photos by the writer.)

Five significant items had been added: (1) a proposal to suspend temporarily the footing drain disconnection program in one area of the city; (2) a proposal to waive temporarily the city’s living wage requirement for certain nonprofits; (3) a proposal to establish a sidewalk gap elimination program; (4) a resolution on dealing with proceeds of city-owned land sales that competed with one already on the agenda; and (5) reconsideration of allocating $60,000 for a transit study – funding that the council had rejected at its previous meeting.

The first two items were added on Friday, Sept. 14. The second two were added the day of the meeting (Sept. 17), with the fifth item added at the council table. Of the added items, the council approved only one – to suspend temporarily the footing drain disconnect program. The rest were  postponed, withdrawn or voted down.

Postponed was the resolution added by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to establish a committee of city officials and 10 residents – two from each ward, to be selected by councilmembers for respective wards – to address the issue of city-owned parcels in downtown Ann Arbor. The citizen committee to be established by Anglin’s resolution would study the available options for use of proceeds from the sale of downtown city properties.

Also postponed was the resolution that Anglin’s proposal was essentially challenging, which was brought forward by Sandi Smith (Ward 1). Smith wants to direct the proceeds from city-owned land sales to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Her idea – which she first floated to her council colleagues in an email written in late August – enjoyed the support of nonprofits, as well as the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

While Anglin’s resolution was postponed until Oct. 1, Smith’s was referred to the council’s budget committee and postponed until the council’s Oct. 15 meeting.

Also postponed was a requested $60,000 contribution to fund further study of a transportation connector – for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. The outcome of this phase is to identify a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and the location of stations and stops. The council had voted down the proposal at its Sept. 4 meeting, but it was brought back for reconsideration on Sept. 17, only to be postponed until Oct. 15. The $60,000 is meant to be the city’s share of a $300,000 local match for a $1.2 million federal grant that has already been awarded.

Withdrawn was the proposal to waive a requirement of the city’s living wage ordinance for those nonprofits that receive funding from the city to deliver human services. The ordinance has a provision for a hardship waiver, but states that a nonprofit must submit a plan for eventual compliance within three years. No nonprofits had submitted such plans, meaning that the council’s resolution would have amounted to an attempt by the council to amend the living wage ordinance through a simple resolution, which it cannot do. When the council reached the item on the agenda, it was withdrawn, with an indication that an ordinance revision would be brought forward to a future meeting.

Also at the Sept. 17 meeting, the council heard about an item related to nonprofit funding for human services that will be brought forward on Oct. 1: a request to continue the two-year pilot program for coordinated funding. That news came during a presentation from Mary Jo Callan, head of the city/county office of community and economic development.

Voted down was a plan to initiate a 5-year program to eliminate sidewalk gaps in the city. Councilmembers voting against the resolution pointed to the fact that the city’s non-motorized transportation plan takes a comprehensive approach to identifying such gaps. They feared that people might mistakenly believe that certain gaps would necessarily be filled through this program, and raised concerns about equity. The resolution sought to identify independent funding sources to pay for such projects – the city’s strategy in the past has been to levy special assessments on owners of property adjoining the sidewalks.

The footing drain disconnect program was the only one of the late additions to the agenda on which the council took final action. In the general vicinity of the Lansdowne neighborhood, where some houses have already had sump pumps installed as part of the disconnect program, residents have reported that during heavy rains, the overland stormwater flows and the sheer volume of water in the city’s stormwater system prevent sump pumps from being effective. At an Aug. 22 neighborhood meeting, residents had called for a moratorium on the program. That’s essentially what the council’s resolution did.

Flooding was also a topic included in other council business that had been placed on the agenda through the regular agenda-setting process. The council approved an update to the city’s hazard mitigation plan. It will allow the city to receive already-approved federal funds for demolishing two out-buildings located in the floodway at the city-owned 721 N. Main property.

Also related to emergency preparedness, the city council authorized the purchase of a light rescue vehicle that can be used by firefighters to respond to medical calls. Because its staffing requirement is just two firefighters instead of three, the use of the vehicle would allow response to medical calls without diminishing as much of the department’s response capability for fire calls.

The council also gave final approval to rezoning of an Eden Court property to public land.

Land Sale Policy

The council was asked to consider two resolutions related to the sale of city-owned land. One had been brought forward by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who first outlined the idea to other councilmembers in an email written three weeks prior to their Sept. 17 meeting. It involved directing the proceeds from city-owned land sales to the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

A second resolution had been added to the council’s agenda the morning of Sept. 17 by Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Anglin’s resolution called for establishing a committee of 10 residents – two from each ward, to be selected by councilmembers from each ward – plus other city officials to address the issue of city-owned parcels in downtown Ann Arbor.

Anglin’s resolution was not specific about how the committee was supposed to address the issue or in what timeframe.

Land Sale Policy: Anglin’s Resolution

At the start of the meeting, Anglin’s resolution was moved ahead of Smith’s on the agenda – at Anglin’s request, because he felt that if Smith’s resolution were approved it would render his own resolution moot.

The citizen committee to be established by Anglin’s resolution would study the available options for use of the proceeds from selling downtown city properties.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5)

Councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5). In the foreground is his wardmate, Carsten Hohnke.

The resolution included language like “a transparent process to gather citizen preferences for use of the City land in the DDA district, including whether to sell or lease the land to the private sector.” So it appeared to be an attempt to establish in some sense a parallel process to one that the DDA has undertaken at the previous direction of the city council, under the moniker of Connecting William Street. That process focuses on five city-owned parcels in the area bounded by Ashley, Liberty, Division and William streets. For Chronicle coverage of a recent presentation on the project to the city’s planning commission, see “Planning Group Briefed on William Street Project.”

Anglin’s resolution was moved ahead of Smith’s, over Smith’s objection.

Land Sale Policy: Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge called on the council to support affordable housing, affordable transportation and jobs. He also called for access to free and low-cost education from pre-school through graduate school. Ann Arbor should be known as the education city and as standing for progress in political, social and economic areas, he said. The city needs to give great attention to voter access, for the disabled and seniors and others who have transportation challenges. The council needs to give greater attention to the homeless in the city. He contended that in one stroke, the council could wipe out homelessness for 2012 and for all time.

Ingrid Ault introduced herself as a Ward 1 resident and spoke in support of Smith’s proposed policy on the sale of public land. She was speaking as a member of the housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB), which has the purpose: “To make recommendations to the City Council, City Administration and the Office of Community Development regarding policies and programs to address the needs of low income residents of the City of Ann Arbor. To monitor the implementation of the City’s housing policy and the creation of a City Housing Coordinator to oversee, carry out and coordinate these policies.” It’s a community goal to provide services that meet the basic human needs of impoverished and disenfranchised residents to maximize the health and well-being of the community, she said. In 2004, the goal of adding 500 rental housing units was established. Since that time, 322 units have been added, but 100 units were lost with the demolition of the downtown YMCA building and 79 units were converted to market rate units. That’s a net gain of just 156 units, leaving the community short of its goal of 500 units, she said. It’s time to take the community’s housing goals seriously.

The Ann Arbor Housing Commission had received 18,000 applications for 1,400 vouchers – which means the need clearly exceeds capacity, Ault said. HHSAB unanimously endorsed the resolution, Ault said. Public land is an asset, and when assets are sold, they should be reinvested in the community, she said. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the economical thing to do. She cited a study that showed for every dollar invested in nonprofits, a return of $12-14 in non-local funds was received.

Jean Carlberg told the council it was nice to be back. [She previously served on the city council, representing Ward 3.] She told the council she was there as a board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance (WHA). The main task of WHA is to deal with homelessness, she said. Over the last year, over 700 singles called the housing access line, saying they were in a housing crisis. Over 600 adults and 900 children in families called the housing access line. The most efficient way to help people is to prevent them from becoming homeless, Carlberg said.

Dave DeVarti

Dave DeVarti spoke in favor of Sandi Smith’s resolution on proceeds of land sales being deposited into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

But currently, the community doesn’t have the housing it needs, in order to re-house people who’ve lost their housing. WHA can’t find units in Ann Arbor at rents low enough, Carlberg reported. The cost that accrues to the community from not being able to keep people in stable housing is tremendous, she said. For example, without stable housing, children sometimes have to change to a different school district – because they have to move to stay with another family member or friend, she said.

David DeVarti told the council it was great to be there for the last council meeting of the summer, and wished them a happy Rosh Hashanah.

He told the council he supported the land sale policy. When it was in effect previously, it had helped create affordable housing, he said.

It’s a continuing challenge to maintain a diversity of housing options. But when the city needed a couple of million dollars for the financing plan for the new police/courts building, he reminded the council, the policy was rescinded. But now that project has been built and is in use. So it’s time to restore the policy to once again commit ourselves to the support that affordable housing requires, DeVarti concluded.

Land Sale Policy: Anglin’s Resolution – Council Deliberations

Anglin led off deliberations by noting that the city is currently contemplating the use and the possible sale of city-owned downtown property. In the interest of transparency and the public’s ownership of the property, Anglin felt like the public should be the first group consulted. He contended that he’s seen the city defend the property rights of private owners, but not be as aggressive about defending the public’s rights with respect to publicly-owned land.

He reviewed how every councilmember would get a chance to appoint someone to a 10-person committee. [The proposal is in some ways reminiscent of Anglin's bid to establish a citizen's committee back on Feb. 1, 2010 in connection with the 415 W. Washington property. That committee would have been open to any citizen who wanted to participate.] The committee would also have access to the resources of the city staff.

Anglin apologized for the late timing of the item’s addition to the agenda. He felt it would lead to a much more open discourse.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that when she saw the email come through that morning from Anglin about the addition to the agenda, she found herself confused. There are not clear-cut deliverables, she observed. She asked Anglin if the committee was supposed to decide how to use land or how to allocate funding? Anglin responded by saying the purpose was to get a diverse set of potentials. If the meetings of the committee result in a conclusion that it’s a good idea to sell a piece of property, that would be given as a suggestion to the council. He called it “parallel to and in conjunction with” the DDA’s Connecting William Street process.

Briere responded by saying that one of the issues Anglin’s resolution talks about is DDA boundaries. If the idea is to look at just the five parcels within the bounds of the Connecting William Street process, that’s one thing, she said. But if the idea is to look at the DDA district as a whole, that’s another.

Briere wondered if Anglin’s committee was intended to be a standing committee that would meet perpetually as part of an ongoing process. She repeated, “I’m really confused.” Anglin said the intent was for each councilmember to choose a person from their ward that they felt would be “the most passionate person about the downtown.” The committee would set its own parameters about how to proceed. By establishing a committee, Anglin said, the council was asking for public input, but was not trying to direct the public by giving them a limited set of choices.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) also indicated she was confused. She noted that the city council had given a directive to the DDA to look at city-owned properties in a specific area, which it’s now implementing as the Connecting William Street process. That process, she observed, has a subgroup of citizens that has been directing it. They’ve conducted 17 different community meetings on the process of examining what could happen on the five city lots. She wondered how Anglin’s committee improves on the process that’s already been undertaken and how it relates to that process in a meaningful way.

Anglin said the committee he’s proposing would decide that issue for themselves. He had heard concerns that the First and William Street lot was not included in a discussion of Connecting William Street. [One reason that the parcel is not included is that the future of First and William was decided through a council resolution passed on July 6, 2009.] Anglin weighed in on the idea of citizen committees as contrasted with committees of stakeholders. He felt that such stakeholders reflected a preconceived idea, and he hoped that the citizen committee would not do that. He hoped they would work diligently. He didn’t see such a committee as conflicting, but rather as an adjunct to the Connecting William Street process. The committee would have the same resources available to it as the CWS group, he said.

Mayor John Hieftje said he sees some merit in Anglin’s idea but wanted to see it postponed until some additional clarity could be achieved. He felt there might be some way to have the two groups working together.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he appreciated Anglin bringing it forward, but wanted some additional time to contemplate it. So he moved to postpone the resolution until Oct. 1.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) described Anglin’s resolution as being prompted by Smith’s resolution about the sale of city land. So she wanted to see the council act on Anglin’s resolution that night. She disliked the fact that the resolution had been added that same day. She felt that the council did that kind of thing too much.

Anglin appreciated the council thinking of a postponement. He described the resolution as laying out in some broad brushstrokes how committees might be established in the future. He indicated he was not opposed to a postponement, and allowed that the resolution could be fleshed out more clearly. Hieftje indicated his support for a postponement. He stressed that there’s no initiative before the council right now to sell any property.

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Dave DeVarti

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Dave DeVarti.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said it’s interesting that the council is having a discussion about how to use the proceeds of city-owned land. He felt it’s important to broaden the discussion beyond affordable housing or beyond just the sale of the old YMCA lot. He took to heart Hieftje’s observation that there’s no pending sale, so the council was entertaining a lot of discussion about something it was not contemplating doing anytime soon. He wanted to see a community discussion that went beyond the DDA and said that Anglin was on the right track. He felt that Smith’s resolution is focusing the discussion on one aspect of what could be done with the proceeds of city land – to support affordable housing. However, Kunselman allowed that 10 people on a committee might be a little too broad.

In light of Anglin’s willingness to see the proposal postponed, Lumm indicated she’d support postponement. She supported the idea in principle, and observed that there was a real estate committee when she had previously served on the council, which she felt worked well.

Outcome: The council postponed Anglin’s resolution until the council’s Oct. 1 meeting.

Land Sale Policy: Smith’s Resolution

The policy on the disposition of land sale proceeds has a long history dating back to 1996. A previous 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.”

The ease with which the previous policy was rescinded in 2007 factored into the council’s deliberations.

The key resolved clause of Smith’s resolution read:

Resolved, That proceeds from the sale of public land in the City of Ann Arbor be directed first to reimburse any funds expended relating to the disposition of the property. Of the remaining proceeds, if the property is in the Downtown Development Authority District 5% are to be directed for public plaza or open space creation, renovation or improvements within the DDA District; 10% are to be directed to any project designated in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan, and 85% are to be directed to the Ann Arbor Housing Trust Fund, all regardless of budget year.

Resolutions urging the city council to adopt such a policy were approved by the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at its Sept. 5, 2012 meeting and by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners later that same day.

Land Sale Policy: Smith’s Resolution – Council Deliberations

Sandi Smith led off deliberations on her own resolution by reviewing some of the history of the affordable housing trust fund. She noted that there’d been no city contribution to the fund since 2009. Besides the city’s general fund contribution, an additional source of revenues had historically come from developers who offered payment in lieu as requirements of planned unit development (PUD) proposals.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) touched base with city administrator Steve Powers before the meeting.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) touched base with city administrator Steve Powers before the meeting.

However, with new downtown zoning adopted by the city council – known as A2D2 – such PUDs will be few and far between, by design. While she supports diversity in the downtown, she felt that a good strategy would be for the sale of properties downtown to fund affordable housing outside the downtown.

The affordable housing trust fund will allow leveraging of state and federal funding, she said. With no policy in place, the proceeds from the sale of city-owned land would simply go into the general fund. She argued that it’s prudent and wise to reinvest in long-term assets. She asked her city council colleagues to join the DDA and Washtenaw County boards in supporting the resolution.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he applauded the aim of the resolution, having served as the council’s liaison to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. He wanted to know how the proposal jived with the Connecting William Street work going on right now with the DDA. Does Smith’s proposal affect that?

Smith characterized the two as only tangentially related. The Connecting William Street process is to assemble information about the city-owned parcels in a way that could eventually be used to bring them to market – whether that’s in a year or in a decade. The process is about finding out what the community’s values and wishes are. Smith said her resolution affects what the city does with the proceeds. That’s a question worthy of a robust discussion, she added: What do we do with that money, if and when it becomes available?

Derezinski ventured that obviously the sale of all the parcels would not happen at one time. The city doesn’t know what kind of offers might come in. He ventured that decisions about the use of the property could affect the amount of the proceeds from the sale of the land. Smith allowed that’s the case. If the city puts heavy restrictions on a property, that would affect the sale price, she said. An equally interesting policy discussion would be: What could the DDA do with TIF contributions, as contrasted with lowering the potential sale price of the land?

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked for clarification about the intended scope of the resolution. Smith replied that there’s no direction in the resolution about what happens in the event of a sale of city-owned land outside the DDA district. That was intentional, she said, because she’d reviewed the findings of the real estate committee back in the mid-1990s and found that of the parcels defined as “excess,” very few were still available.

Lumm also asked about the 10% of the net proceeds that Smith’s resolution specified for projects in the city’s CIP (capital improvements plan). Smith told her she imagined that would be determined by staff or council at the time of a sale.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he couldn’t support the resolution. Going back to “the old way” won’t get us more affordable housing units, he contended. While he’d heard talk about leveraging money, time and time again he kept seeing it fail. He felt that something different should be tried. He also felt the council was ahead of itself – because no property was currently contemplated for sale. The old policy had been repealed in 2007, he noted, when he’d served his first stint on the council – and it was so easy to do, he noted. It only took six votes to rescind the previous resolution. It’d be easy to repeal any policy the council might establish now, because the future is so unknown.

Kunselman allowed that he would support the resolution if all of the proceeds were designated to support the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) – because that property is already owned by the city, and that’s where he knows there’s a need. As support for the fact that the AAHC has needs, he alluded to a housing commission property on Platt Road that wasn’t mowed over the summer. He said the council needs to be visionary and think of something different.

Lumm agreed that the city’s record on creating affordable housing units isn’t good. She noted that the DDA’s resolution of support doesn’t specify the numerical percentage, but simply specifies that some percentage would be allocated from land sales. She indicated she might support something along the lines of 10-20%, but not 85% as Smith’s resolution stipulated.

Mayor John Hieftje said he was interested in making sure that any debt was paid off that’s associated with city-owned land. He noted that any policy would be only as strong as a six-councilmember majority, so it would be an advisory resolution. He could support some significant percentage, but stressed that the city might have great capital needs. He cautioned that the city was not yet out of the woods for the greatest recession in history.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) felt that the issue fell under the purview of the council’s budget committee, so she proposed postponing the matter until the council’s Oct. 15 meeting, with a referral to the budget committee.

Kunselman said he’d support the postponement and referral to committee.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) felt it made a lot of sense to postpone, and encouraged the budget committee to think about a funding stream that might be identified that is less susceptible to six votes of the council.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) agreed with Hohnke that it’s a basic budget question. She said she’d support a greater percentage allocation than Lumm, something well over 50%. She supported the postponement and referral to the budget committee.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3)

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) supported the postponement but cautioned against “make work.” He noted there were no sales imminent, and no current piles of money that the council had to decide on. What the council does now will not exert any control or have bearing on the actions of future councils. He said he fully agreed that the proceeds of land sales should be reinvested in assets, not in operating expenses. But what the council says in 2012 in a non-binding resolution will have little bearing on a council in 2015, he concluded.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated agreement with many of the things that had been said. She had thoughts about possible amendments to reflect her own concerns, one of which was that the scope of the resolution was restricted to the DDA district. She was content with referral to the council’s budget committee.

Smith indicated she would support referral to the budget committee, saying that the council needs to maintain the focus on affordable housing – whether that’s through the affordable housing trust fund or the Ann Arbor Housing Commission.

Outcome: The council postponed Smith’s resolution until the Oct. 15 meeting, referring the question to the city council’s budget committee in the meantime. The council’s budget committee consists of Higgins, Briere, Lumm, Anglin and Taylor.

Connector Transit Study

Brought back for reconsideration at the council’s Sept. 17 meeting was a resolution to fund continued study of a transportation corridor from the northeast of Ann Arbor to the city’s southern edge.

The council had failed to approve a requested $60,000 appropriation from the city’s general fund at its Sept. 4, 2012 meeting.

The 4-5 vote on the budget item on Sept. 4, which required an eight-vote majority on the 11-member body, reflected a strategic move by some councilmembers – who wanted to be on the prevailing side, which by council rules would have allowed them to bring the item back for reconsideration.

The city’s $60,000 is supposed to help the study move ahead with an alternatives analysis. The corridor runs from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street and farther south to I-94. This alternatives analysis phase of the study is to result in a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.

Margie Teall (Ward 4))

Margie Teall (Ward 4) moved for reconsideration of the connector study funding.

The city’s $60,000 is a portion of $300,000 in local funding that has been identified to provide the required match for a $1.2 million federal grant awarded last year to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority 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 would take around 16 months.

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.”

Connector Transit Study: Reconsideration

The move to reconsider the connector study decision came at the start of the Sept. 17 meeting, during the segment designated for agenda approval. The motion was made by Margie Teall (Ward 4), who voted with the prevailing side (those opposing it) on Sept. 4.

Teall’s motion was met with complaint from Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who felt that the item should have been added to the agenda ahead of time.

Responding to Lumm, mayor John Hieftje claimed that it had to be added at the meeting itself – a claim that was supported by city attorney Stephen Postema, who cited the council rule pertaining to motions to reconsider previous questions, highlighting “at the same or the next regular meeting” for special emphasis:

RULE 12 – Consideration of Questions
When a question has been taken, it shall be in order for any member voting with the prevailing side to move a reconsideration thereof at the same or the next regular meeting; but, no question shall a second time be reconsidered.

[In the past, however, the council has used placeholder items to reserve a spot for a motion to be made. As an example, an item reserving a spot for a motion to suspend the council's rules, a motion to reconsider and the main question – the Heritage Row PUD – was placed on the council's Dec. 6, 2010 agenda as part of the regular agenda-setting process, prior to the meeting. Another approach to giving notice of intent to reconsider an item would have been to add the item –  12-1084 – through the council's regular agenda-setting process for Sept. 17. Then precisely at the point when the council reached 12-1084 on the agenda, the mayor as presiding officer could have asked for a motion to consider the item, as is required for any item on the agenda. That potential motion, if made by someone who voted on the prevailing side, would have been the required motion for reconsideration, thus conforming with the council's Rule 12 on when such motions are to be made and who can make them.]

Connector Transit Study: Council Deliberations

Deliberations were scant. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) indicated she wanted to postpone the item, because she had remaining questions and noted that Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, was not available that night.

John Hieftje observed that Cooper was not available due to a religious holiday [Rosh Hashanah]. Hieftje asked councilmembers to send in their questions well in advance of Oct. 15, and not wait until the last minute. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked that the additional information – which Hieftje had said Cooper could share with the council – be provided to the council as soon as possible.

Smith’s move to postpone was met with parliamentary skepticism from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who noted that it had already been defeated previously. City attorney Stephen Postema assured him that the question was in front of the council properly – so what the council did with it at this point was up to the council. [The council had the full range of options in front of it for dealing with the resolution. Once it's reconsidered, it's as if the previous action had never taken place.]

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the issue until its Oct. 15 meeting – after bringing the resolution back for reconsideration at its Sept. 17 meeting.


Two issues affecting nonprofits were on the agenda. One related to a possible exemption from the city’s living wage ordinance. The other related to the coordinated funding approach that the city participates in to allocate money to nonprofits that provide human services.

Nonprofits: Living Wage

Added to the council’s agenda on Friday, Sept. 14 before the Monday, Sept. 17 meeting was a resolution related to an exemption from the city’s living wage ordinance for certain nonprofits – those that provide human services.

Left to right: Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Mary Jo Callan

Left to right: Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Mary Jo Callan, head of the city/county office of community and economic development.

The living wage is defined by city ordinance Chapter 23, Section 1:815, and was increased slightly earlier this year in order to conform with the ordinance. The new wage was set at $12.17/hour for those employers paying health insurance and $13.57/hour for those employers not paying health insurance.

The city ordinance applies to the wages that must be paid by companies that have contracts with the city worth more than $10,000. Passed in 2001, the ordinance initially stipulated in that year that workers of vendors holding contracts with the city had to pay their employees a minimum of $8.70/hour if the contractor provided employee health care and $10.20/hour if not. But the ordinance provides a mechanism for increasing the living wage based on federal poverty guidelines.

The resolution originally on the Sept. 17 agenda was an apparent attempt to invoke an exemption provided in the ordinance that allows the city council to grant an exemption from the wage requirements, if the city council determines that:

…the application of this Chapter would cause demonstrated economic harm to an otherwise covered employer that is a non-profit organization, and the City Council finds that said harm outweighs the benefits of this Chapter; provided further that the otherwise covered non-profit employer shall provide a written plan to fully comply with this Chapter within a reasonable period of time, not to exceed three years, and the City Council then agrees that granting a partial or complete exemption is necessary to ameliorate the harm and permit the non-profit organization sufficient time to reach full compliance with this Chapter.

However, the city council’s agenda item did not name any specific nonprofit employer or provide any written plans submitted by nonprofits for eventual compliance with the ordinance. A request made by The Chronicle under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act for such plans was turned down – because no such plans had been submitted. It appears that the resolution would have amounted to an attempt to change the city ordinance through a simple resolution, which is not a legal way to proceed.

In any case, Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance does not appear to be consistent with the most recent case law in Michigan. A Michigan Supreme Court order from April 7, 2010 left in place an unpublished court of appeals opinion that found a Detroit living wage law to be unenforceable.

When the council reached the item on the agenda, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that while the issue identified in the resolution is significant, the resolution did not resolve the problem, because it would not change the ordinance. She indicated she’d work with the housing and human services advisory board and have an ordinance change ready for the council’s next meeting – on Oct. 1. However, she wanted to withdraw the resolution from consideration that evening.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted the council previously had debated the idea of exempting nonprofits, and a process was put in place to provide an accommodation for that. She questioned the urgency at this point in time.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) responded to the question of urgency, saying there’s a nonprofit that isn’t receiving its funding from the city, because it can’t currently meet the living wage requirement. The housing and human services advisory board, on which she and Smith serve as city council representatives, had received a presentation on that, Lumm said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed concern that the council was picking winners and losers. Given that the resolution had been withdrawn, councilmembers ended their discussion.

Outcome: The resolution was withdrawn so it could undergo further review by the city’s housing and human services advisory board.

Nonprofits: Coordinated Funding

Mary Jo Callan, who heads up the city/county office of community and economic development, led off her update to the council by passing out a list of successes she believes the program has achieved in the first two years of the coordinated funding approach. Those included:

  • Identification of agency capacity concerns
  • Single program description & program budget
  • Reduced number of contracts
  • No required board resolution
  • Single reporting procedure and timeline
  • Auto-disbursement of payments regardless of funder
  • Grantee feedback mechanism
  • Volunteer reviewer feedback mechanism
  • Enhanced communication between funders & increased understanding of needs

Callan described the approach as one that brings together local funders: Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, United Way of Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and the Washtenaw Urban County.

The purpose of coordinated funding is to create a public/private partnership to focus on key areas, she said, to create increased coherence in investing in nonprofits.

The process has three parts: planning/coordination ($310,000), program operations ($4.4 million), and capacity-building ($225,000). Planning and coordinating assesses what the needs are in the community, and what the best practices are to inform the funding. Program operations is the part that the city has historically funded, she explained – shelters, after-school programs, counseling programs and the like. That’s where most of the investment is made. Capacity building contributes to the health of the nonprofit sector, Callan said, but also helps individual nonprofits be in a better position to meet the needs of the community.

The six priority areas targeted by the coordinated funding process, with the lead agencies, are: (1) housing and homelessness – Washtenaw Housing Alliance; (2) aging – Blueprint for Aging; (3) school-aged youth – Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth; (4) children birth to six – Success by Six; (5) health – Washtenaw Health Plan; and (6) hunger relief – Food Gatherers.

The total process puts $4.935 million into local human services nonprofits, so it’s the most substantial source of nonprofit dollars in the community, Callan said. The bulk of that goes into program operations.

When she’d approached the city a year and a half ago to embark on a coordinated funding process, she’d described the projected benefits. Essentially, if you read down the list, every one of the benefits is being accomplished, she said.

One of the highlights Callan drew out was the fact that it’s the first time the community has invested explicitly in planning and coordination. About coordination, Callan said: “It’s not free and it’s not easy.” Unless you have someone whose sole focus is planning and data and best practices and bringing people together, the funding doesn’t come together in a coherent way, she said.

A full outcome report will be available later in the fall, Callan said.

As a result of the coordinated approach, the funders had learned a great deal about the community, Callan told the council. What happened previously is that a nonprofit would approach one of the funders and share a little bit of an issue, but not necessarily want it shared more widely, because they were afraid. What the coordinated funding approach had allowed is for some key agencies to approach the group of funders in a way that’s supportive and helpful instead of punitive. It also allows the funding investments to be better informed, Callan said.

What’s been learned so far from the planning and coordinating effort is that there are key areas of need. Nonprofits can share in administration. She said there’s not a lot of duplication of services – for example, there are not too many shelters. But there is a lot of duplication at the level of overhead. Rather than saying we need fewer nonprofits, Callan said, the idea is to say: Can you share back-office support? She reported more interest in that.

Callan also indicated there’s been interest in planning for executive director transitions. She noted that it’s happened twice since the coordinated funding approach was started. When an executive director leaves, they take a huge piece of the organization with them, Callan explained. She said that nonprofit leaders had been approached with the idea that it’s okay if you’re planning to leave, but “don’t just leave.” The funders might be able to engage with the nonprofit’s board to help create a smooth transition, she said. That way the nonprofit is not destabilized.

Callan also indicated that additional program capacity needs to be added to the eastern side of Washtenaw County.

On the horizon, Callan said, the funders are working with a national level external evaluation firm – paid for by a private funder. The private funder had expressed an interest in investing in the coordinated funding approach, but wanted the program to undergo a formal evaluation process. For the policy makers who had supported the coordinated funding approach, they’d be getting the best evaluated initiative they’d seen in a while, Callan ventured. But the promise to nonprofits had been that they would not spend existing resources to figure out if the coordinated funding approach was a great model.

So a private entity had approached the office of community and economic development and said: If I like what I see, I want to become an investor in coordinated funding. An additional hoped-for benefit for coordinated funding was that it would stimulated additional resources, and this is an example of that, Callan said.

Next steps would include asking the city council to consider an extension to the third year for program operating funds as part of the coordinated funding process. She reminded the council that the planning and capacity building happen every year, but the program operation funding is on a two-year cycle. She told councilmembers they’d be asked to extend that by one year. That way, nonprofits would not need to reapply – but she allowed it would be dependent on the availability of funds in the city budgeting process.

The extension by one year would allow for the evaluation process to finish – which she felt would be done by January and would be available in January and February. It would also allow a better opportunity to provide the outcome data on the program so far.

Outcome: This was an informational item and did not require a council vote.

Sidewalk Gap Program

The council was asked to approve a resolution that would establish a five-year program to replace sidewalk gaps in the city of Ann Arbor. The resolution had been added to the council’s agenda by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) via an email sent to the city clerk on the morning of the Sept. 17 meeting.

From the city’s non-motorized transportation plan:

The plan identifies over 75 missing [sidewalk] segments along the major roadways. These areas are confronted with a number of challenges that have prevented sidewalks from being constructed. Steep grades, e.g., hills and ditches or swales as well as vegetation including trees and shrubs are often times found where a sidewalk gap exists. Although the Plan defines the gaps and recommends they be filled, staff has to define the improvement and develop projects for the construction of the sidewalks. At this time there is no cost estimate to complete the sidewalk system and that effort will need to take place as an essential first step. Once the cost to complete the system is known funds will need to be secured. City code requires that properties along a corridor where a sidewalk or non-motorized path is to be located participate in the cost of the improvement to the extent that the property benefits from that improvement.

The resolved clause of Anglin’s original resolution read:

RESOLVED, That City staff will develop a 5-year program to fill sidewalk gaps;

RESOLVED, That City staff shall engage the public and give priority to school walk zones;

RESOLVED, That funding for the program shall come from Act 51 funds; and

RESOLVED, Staff shall present its program to Council during the FY14 budget cycle.

The memo to council offering city staff perspective cautioned against allocating Act 51 money to fund the program:

Act 51 funds cannot be used for “stand alone” sidewalk projects. The work would have to be done as part of a road improvement project. Saying Act 51 will fund the program without knowing the total cost of the program is risky. Act 51 is what is used for street maintenance (snow plowing, pot hole repairs, some street sweeping, traffic sign maintenance, signal maintenance and upgrades). The sidewalk program could take a significant amount of funds. Additionally, I would think it would be desirable for attorney’s opinion on funding as it relates to special assessment. Sidewalks have been built using special assessment funds, developer investments or grants. Is there an equity issue by leaving the special assessment process/ contributions out?

Sidewalk Gaps: Public Comment

Kathy Griswold expressed her support for the program to eliminate sidewalk gaps. She said it was important to balance the interests of special groups against the “silent majority.” She pointed to a location on the side of Geddes Road that was in need of attention.

Sidewalk Gaps: Council Deliberations

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) described the proposal as emerging from a variety of community interest groups. He noted that the proposal gives priority to school walk zones. He felt that was important due to the decrease in school bus service, which meant that children are walking farther to school. He described the proposal as giving the effort to eliminate sidewalk gaps a “shot in the arm.”

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) proposed a friendly amendment that instead of specifying Act 51 as a source of funds, the clause on funding should be changed to read: “Staff shall present options for funding this program during the FY 2014 budget cycle.”

But Anglin wanted to include a mention of Act 51 in the resolution.

City administrator Steve Powers cautioned against specifying Act 51 as a source of funds for eliminating stand-alone sidewalk gaps. He didn’t want to mislead anyone. Hearing that from Powers, Anglin agreed to Briere’s amendment.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) wondered if the city didn’t already have a plan for eliminating sidewalk gaps – the city’s non-motorized transportation plan. Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, told Hohnke that the non-motorized plan identifies the locations of gaps, but it’s not exhaustive. There are locations lacking sidewalks that are not part of the non-motorized plan, he said. It’s the larger gaps on the more heavily traveled streets that are included in the plan, Hupy said.

Hohnke ventured it would it be fair to conclude that on approval of the resolution, the city staff would be integrating the non-motorized plan with a larger program. Hupy allowed that was true, but told Hohnke that a gap in knowledge had been identified – as to where all the sidewalk gaps are in the city. Hupy didn’t have confidence the city has a complete picture of where the gaps are.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3)

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) raised the equity issue, by noting that over the last year, residents of Ward 1 have been talking about Newport Road. Various options of bike lanes or sidewalks had been considered, she said. A real obstacle was the fact that the residents who live along Newport would likely be the funders of the improvement – through a special assessment – whereas the residents who live behind those residents would be the actual beneficiaries. After some back and forth with Hupy, Smith indicated she wouldn’t support it due to the equity issue.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he values the sidewalks in his neighborhood and he thought the equity issue was an important one. But he criticized the resolved clauses on the resolution as indefinite. He proposed a wholesale replacement of all the resolved clauses with the following:

Resolved: The city administrator is hereby directed to provide a report to the city council prior to Sept. 15, 2013 regarding the feasibility and if appropriate, the methodology for filling sidewalk gaps throughout the city of Ann Arbor.

The goal of the resolution is to develop a plan and explore whether the plan is feasible. He felt that this resolution was a cleaner way of going about it.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) questioned the long lead time. Taylor said it was his understanding that this was an appropriate timeframe, based on his conversation with city staff. Teall alluded to an ongoing conversation with neighbors on Scio Church Road, who were hoping for something to move quicker than that. Taylor ventured that if the report were done earlier, then it’d be done earlier.

Hupy told Teall that he didn’t see that night’s resolution as conflicting with the project that might be developed for Scio Church Road.

Mayor John Hieftje said he had doubts that the equity issue can be surmounted. Residents had made significant expenditures through special assessment by the city. On one occasion, a special allowance was made, but residents still paid, Hieftje said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she had liked the part in the friendly-amended original resolution that referred to the budget cycle.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Powers what the budget projections were – he recalled a deficit was being projected for next year. Powers noted that those had been very early projections and there might be a deficit.

Kunselman said he was a little hesitant to go too far ahead by allocating staff time to this. He called it a daunting effort. It could be misleading to the public, who might think that the city was going to solve sidewalk gaps in the coming year – but they won’t be eliminated in that timeframe. He called it nothing but “teasing” the neighbors and a little bit much to “chew on right now.” He noted that he lives in a neighborhood with no sidewalks.

Briere said that one way or another, the idea is to get the city staff to start thinking about how to improve the process of filling sidewalk gaps. That can be done with a tighter or looser timeframe. There are so many critical gaps on routes to school or adjacent to parks that create problems for residents throughout the city. She thought concerns about the budget impact were reasonable. She described the conversation as one that has not been around the council table but rather in the neighborhoods as people struggle to get to their designations. Taylor’s amendment was reasonable, she felt, but provides less guidance, because it does not prioritize the school walk zones. She was not enthusiastic about the longer timeframe.

Hieftje said he had a problem with the whole thing. If there were to be a priority, then school walk zones would be important.

Smith noted that if you look at where elementary schools are located, just by their nature, you’ll prioritize kids walking to school. For her, it was the equity issue.

Outcome on Taylor’s amendment: The council approved Taylor’s amendment. Voting for it were mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).

Derezinski expressed concern that the whereas clauses indicated the city is aware of various dangerous conditions. He wondered if it was potentially a legal liability for the city to recite that list of dangerous conditions. City attorney Stephen Postema told Derezinski that the recitals were general enough that it did not pose a risk.

Left to right: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3)

Left to right: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Briere noted that the resolution is about sidewalk gaps – that it did not mean that a whole subdivision necessarily needs to have sidewalks added.

Kunselman indicated he felt like the city was addressing the issue over time and that the council doesn’t need a report.

Responding to the idea that the report would overburden staff, Teall asked Powers if it would it be too much. Powers responded by saying essentially that if the council directs it, the staff will do the work.

Briere felt the resolution strengthens the city’s position as it participates in discussions with the school district about getting kids to school. She wanted elimination of sidewalk gaps to become a priority.

Lumm felt the resolution focused some needed attention on sidewalk gaps. She felt it’s reasonable to have the city administrator come back a year from now with a report on whether it’s feasible.

Hieftje felt like the ability to actually address the gaps would not come until the 2015 budget.

Hohnke felt it’s important to recognize that sidewalk gaps are not the only mobility issue. He wondered why the council would elevate sidewalk gaps above pedestrian islands, midblock crossings, or bike paths. He felt the non-motorized plan already addressed the issue.

Outcome: The amended resolution failed, receiving only five votes on the 11-member council. It received support from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Anglin, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

Footing Drain Disconnect Program

The council considered a resolution to suspend temporarily the city’s footing drain disconnect program in the area of the Lansdowne neighborhood on Morehead and Glen Leven. The resolution was added to the council’s agenda on Friday, Sept. 14 before the Monday, Sept. 17 council meeting. It came in the context of a meeting held by city officials with neighborhood residents at the Pittsfield branch of the Ann Arbor District Library on Aug. 22. At that neighborhood meeting, residents called for a moratorium on the footing drain disconnect program.

The program was created in 2001 by the city, in response to backups of sanitary sewers into residents’ basements during heavy rains. The problem is caused by the connection of footing drains to the sanitary sewer system, instead of to the stormwater system. At one time, such connections were consistent with city code, but they are now prohibited. The existing connections, however, put more stormwater into the sanitary system than it can handle. The footing drain disconnect program requires residents to install sump pumps in their basements as part of the disconnection from the sanitary system.

In the general vicinity of the Lansdowne neighborhood, where some houses have already had sump pumps installed as part of the program, residents have reported that during heavy rains, the overland stormwater flows and the sheer volume of water in the city’s stormwater system prevent sump pumps from being effective. The water that’s pumped from the sump to the surface simply cycles back into the sump and results in flooded basements.

The council’s Sept. 17 resolution suspending the program acknowledges that the area “has encountered unique, historical creek bed patterns and overland storm water drainage issues, which have impacted the implementation of the FDD [footing drain disconnect] program …” The resolution further acknowledges that “communication between this area and the city needs improvement …”

The city council heard complaints from residents in that area during public commentary earlier this spring about localized flooding in the vicinity. And at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting, the council had directed staff to begin negotiations with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to find “opportunities for stormwater conveyance and stormwater quality improvement in the area of the Malletts Creek drainage district bounded by Ann Arbor-Saline Road upstream to I-94 and Scio Church Road.” [.jpg of partial area map] The resolution approved by the council on Aug. 9 directed staff to bring an agreement to the city council with the water resources commissioner by Oct. 1, 2012.

That council directive came two days after the Aug. 7 primary election was held. Results from the precinct in Ward 4 where the flooding has taken place were nearly decisive enough in favor of challenger Jack Eaton to win the Democratic nomination over incumbent Margie Teall. But Eaton’s total fell short of Teall’s by 18 votes across the ward. And a recounted total put the difference at 20 votes.

The resolution suspending the footing drain disconnection program for the specific area of the city does not specify a date by which it might be re-activated. However, the resolution directs several actions, including: “Analyze and/or address existing issues in the local stormwater system to improve stormwater drainage/conveyance and address the existing surface flooding that residents are experiencing in this area. Clarify the methods and consequences of opting out of the program.”

Footing Drain Disconnect: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) told the council that she and Margie Teall (Ward 4) were bringing the resolution forward after much discussion with residents in the Lansdowne neighborhood – the Village Oaks area as well as Glen Leven. Based on several heavy rains, the city was experiencing overland flooding in three areas where it had not been seen before.

City administrator Steve Powers and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) during a recess in the meeting.

City administrator Steve Powers and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) during a recess in the Sept. 17 meeting.

In March of this year, she said that a rain had settled over the area of the city for about an hour and a half that had generated an “overland water issue.” In addition, there had been more problems with the footing drain disconnect program in this area of the city than anywhere else. She stressed that the action that the council was being asked to take had been requested by the neighbors. She asked Craig Hupy, public services area administrator, to brief the council.

Hupy described the footing drain disconnect program in other parts of the city as relatively straightforward.

In this area, however, he said the land was heavily laced with historical creek beds, which are now “expressing themselves.” He showed the council some slides that overlaid 1947 aerial photography with current building footprints. When the footing drain disconnect program was first started, he said, the city did not have the ability to match up the aerials against the current built environment. That’s one of the tools that the city used to look at the March 2012 storms and try to figure out “what the heck was going on.” The city is now taking a pause to re-study the area.

Hupy showed the council a slide of the overlay in the area of Churchill. He noted that the dark squiggly lines are creekbeds and that a number of homes are sitting in historic creekbeds. That has two effects, Hupy said. One is that the footing drains in that area are “very productive” – that is, a lot more water flows into them than anticipated. Another effect is that the water will want to follow the path of the historic creekbed, so there are overland flow issues.

Hupy then showed a slide of the Village Oaks area, with an orchard to the left, and historic creeks running through where some of the current houses are on Village Oaks. He showed the council how Mallets Creek had been shoved to the south to get it out from under houses that would otherwise be sitting in a creekbed.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had a question about the developer mitigation program, which the resolution would leave in effect. That program requires that when a development adds flow to the sanitary system, the development must remove from the system – through footing drain disconnection elsewhere – 1.2 times the amount that the development would add. It’s a program that holds the system harmless to increased development, Hupy said.

Hupy noted that as the city has disconnected footing drains, they have been monitored. The city has also monitored the run times on the sump pumps that the city has installed. Some of the run-time monitors have been on pumps since Day 1, but others have been moved around to different locations in the system. From that monitoring, Hupy said, the city has extrapolated to estimate what removals of stormwater are being achieved from the sanitary system. But the city has not looked at the sanitary system itself to confirm the estimates from this method. The system study would likely be “in seven figures” Hupy said, and is already programmed as part of the city’s capital improvements plan. It would be paid for by the sanitary sewer fund, Hupy said.

Left to right: city administrator Steve Powers and public services area administrator Craig Hupy.

Left to right: city administrator Steve Powers and public services area administrator Craig Hupy.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked about the last two resolved clauses – the developer mitigation program and the ability of a property owner to proceed with a footing drain disconnection. Hupy clarified that this was included simply to give clarity. Briere wondered if there were a time constraint for acting that night, as opposed to postponing it for three weeks.

Hupy calculated backwards from spring 2013 to undertake a systemwide study – in time to have monitors installed in the system to measure the spring rains. From getting council approval to hiring a consultant to issuing a request for proposals, Hupy said he’d like to get started sooner not later.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) confirmed with Hupy that the suspension of the program would not affect any of the consent orders about discharge into the Huron River, which Hupy thought had been removed back in 2006.

Responding to a question from Kunselman, Hupy said that the study the city will be working on with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office are separate and different studies – but they will feed back and forth to each other, Hupy said.

About the footing drain disconnection program, Kunselman wondered: When does it end?

Hupy responded to Kunselman by saying the last major backup was in 2000. He noted that in the five study areas that were the main focus of the initial program, the city had tackled a lot of the problem. But he estimated that only about 50% of identified problems had been addressed. Another 50% exists in the rest of the city. The attractiveness of the approach the city is taking, he said, is that it’s incremental. You can keep chasing the problem as you identify specific problems. For the “piped solution,” you have to start at the treatment plant and work your way back. When the footing drain disconnect program was established, Hupy said, it was thought it’d take decades to complete the project. Starting around 2000, not quite 50% had been disconnected. He added that those had been the easier 50%, because they were clustered. Hupy indicated that he hoped he would not still be addressing the council about the program when it ends.

Responding to councilmember questions, Hupy described the negative impacts of pursuing a solution that simply made the sanitary sewer pipes bigger – among them, that it would require a larger wastewater treatment plant.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to suspend temporarily the footing drain disconnect program.

Hazard Mitigation Plan

The council was asked to approve an updated hazard mitigation plan.

The plan is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for grant funding. The city has received a grant from FEMA for the demolition of two city-owned properties located in the floodway at 721 N. Main, but during the processing time for the grant, the city’s hazard mitigation plan lapsed. So until the city has an updated hazard mitigation plan, the grant money from FEMA will not be available.

The city recently hired a new emergency management director, Rick Norman, who was introduced to the council at its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting. Updating the plan was one of Norman’s priorities.

The demolition of the buildings at 721 N. Main factors into planning for the North Main and Huron River corridors. The council has appointed a task force to study the corridor, and has directed that the group make recommendations on the use of the 721 N. Main property by Dec. 31, 2012. The city’s current hope is to make the property the subject of a Michigan Department of Natural Resources trust fund grant application, in the annual competition for such awards.

The basic ranking of potential hazards, which are all discussed in detail in the plan, is: (1) Convective Weather (Severe Winds, Lightning, Tornados, Hailstorms); (2) Infrastructure Failures; (3) Severe Winter Weather Hazards (Ice/Sleet Storms and Snow Storms); (4) Fire Hazards: Structural Fires; (5) Hazardous Materials Incidents: Fixed Sites; (6) Extreme Temperatures; (7) Hazardous Materials Incidents: Transportation; (8) Flood Hazards: Dam Failures; (9) Flood Hazards; (10) Civil Disturbances; (11) Transportation Accidents: Land and Air; (12) Public Health Emergencies; (13) Sabotage & Terrorism; (14) Petroleum and Natural Gas Pipeline Accidents; (15) Nuclear Power Plant Accidents; (16) Fire Hazards: Wildfires; (17) Oil and Gas Well Accidents; (18) Nuclear Attack; (19) Drought; (20) Earthquake, Subsidence; (21) Fire Hazards: Scrap Tire Fires; and (22) Infestation.

Outcome: The council approved the hazard mitigation plan without significant deliberations.

Eden Court Rezoning

The council was asked to consider final rezoning of the property at 5 W. Eden Court so that it’s designated as PL (public land). It’s immediately adjacent to the Bryant Community Center. The Ann Arbor city council voted nearly a year ago, at its Sept. 6, 2011 meeting, to appropriate $82,500 from its open space and parkland preservation millage to acquire the property.

The 2011 taxes on the property were estimated at $1,400, which will be eliminated from the city’s tax base. The parcel is expected to be used to expand the community center’s programming services. It could also be used in other ways in support of the city’s parks and recreation system.

During her staff report given to the city planning commission on June 5, 2012, city planner Alexis DiLeo said the property contains a single-family home that will be used by the community center to expand its operations. Eventually, the center would like to renovate the interior and build an addition to connect the two buildings, she said. The center is managed under contract with the nonprofit Community Action Network. CAN gave an update on its activities most recently at the Aug. 21, 2012 meeting of the city’s park advisory commission.

Outcome: Without discussion, the council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of the Eden Court property.

Seneca Avenue Rezoning

The council was asked to direct planning staff to initiate the rezoning of six parcels on Seneca Avenue, Onondaga Street and Geddes Avenue from R1B (single-family dwelling district) to R1C (a different type of single-family dwelling district). Property owners had requested the rezoning.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, rezoning the six parcels to R1C would make the entire block R1C zoning, and would make three existing non-conforming lots conform with the size requirements of R1C (7,200 square foot lot area and 60 foot lot width). Also, the three existing double lots could be divided at some time in the future to create additional single-family lots.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) led off deliberations by noting that the rezoning had been requested by residents of the area. Because of the age of the current zoning, and development that went in different directions, he said, some of the parcels are non-conforming. Residents had approached him and asked him to present the resolution.

City planning manager Wendy Rampson indicated that the planning staff is not really sure why the parcels were zoned differently, except that the lots are larger. The city’s master plan recommends single-family zoning for the area, she said. When the planning staff examines it more closely, she said, a historical search would be done, and planning staff would come up with a recommendation.

Sabra Briere (Was 1) asked Rampson to review the procedure for land division, which would be allowed if the rezoning were given approval. Rampson said it requires application to planning and development, but it’s not required that the planning commission or the council approve it. The city is essentially obligated to approve an application for land division, as long as it meets zoning. Responding to a question from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Rampson indicated that the division of land can’t create prohibited configurations – for example, there must be vehicular access, and a land-locked parcel is not allowed.

Rampson indicated that only a preliminary review had been done. The initial review indicated that R1C would be appropriate.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that by approving this resolution, the council would be asking the planning staff to take on the task of reviewing the rezoning. He wondered if the planning staff had sufficient capacity to undertake that review and still keep the citywide R4C/R2A review process on track. Rampson responded to Hohnke by saying that planning staff would essentially treat this rezoning request as a development review. It would not require the same scale of effort that the rezoning of Golden Avenue had required several years ago. She added that it seems clear that the neighbors are all in agreement. She concluded that it was a long way of saying it should not be a problem for planning staff to handle.

Outcome: The council  initiated the rezoning of six parcels from R1B to R1C.

Light Rescue Fire Truck

The council was asked to authorize the purchase of a light rescue truck, to be staffed with two firefighters at a cost of $264,597. The purchase is to be made from Ferrara Fire Apparatus.

The light rescue truck will replace a heavy rescue vehicle, which is staffed with three firefighters. The heavy rescue vehicle dates from 2001 and was scheduled for replacement in 2015. It will be retained by the department as a reserve engine. An even older heavy rescue truck, dating from 1991, which is currently in reserve, will be sold at auction.

The city is contemplating a reconfiguration of its fire stations, which would re-open an old station but close two others, leaving three stations. For more detail on the station plan and the city’s rationale for it, see Chronicle coverage: “A Closer Look at Ann Arbor’s Fire Station Plan.” A series of public meetings to discuss the fire station plan has been scheduled.

Outcome: Councilmembers approved the purchase of a light rescue truck.

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: Police Report

Chief of police John Seto gave the council an update on a few incidents that had happened over the last few weeks. Since the student move-in, there’ve been large crowds on South University and some assaults in the student area. There were also three robberies that took place during the same night, all with a similar description, he said. By not filling some specialized positions, Seto said, the AAPD had been able to respond to that situation with increased staffing, adding positions to patrol. That’s in addition to overtime positions that are generally filled on weekends in September, to respond to the added call load.

Seto told the council he’s also been meeting with the University of Michigan police chief to coordinate information. Officers have been making contact with and working with business establishments on South University Avenue. On weekend nights they’ve deployed officers on foot and on bicycles to respond to the large crowds there. He concluded this response by AAPD has had an impact, because no serious incidents were reported from the last weekend. The department would continue with that approach as long as there are large crowds in the area. He also reported that significant arrests have been made.

He alerted the community that a meeting for neighborhood watch captains would be held on Thursday, Sept. 27 from 6-8 p.m. at Burns Park Elementary School. That will be the first of four such meetings, Seto said.

Mayor John Hieftje asked about the amount of overtime that was being generated by the department’s response to the situation on South University. Seto indicated that the amount of overtime used depends in part on the number of home football games – and this year there are only six. He’s been staffing with overtime when needed.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), looking ahead to the next fiscal year, wondered if it would be useful to hire additional officers rather than using overtime. [The city of Ann Arbor's Open Book shows that year-to-date, a bit less that a quarter of the way through the fiscal year, $189,265 has been spent out of an overtime budget of $898,968, or 21% of the budgeted amount.]

Comm/Comm: Washtenaw Avenue

Reporting from the planning commission, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) gave an update on Washtenaw Avenue, which he described as a multi-jurisdictional corridor – covering the city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ann Arbor Township and the city of Ypsilanti. He characterized as “results” of the Re-Imagine Washtenaw project the Arbor Hills Crossing development, which will include very wide sidewalks. He pointed to a future “super transit” stop that will be located near the intersection with Platt Road. He also reported on a Michigan Dept. of Transportation non-motorized project that’s going in under US-23. People will be able to walk underneath US-23, he said.

Comm/Comm: Disabilities

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) reported that he and Kirk Westphal, who serves on the planning commission with Derezinski, had contacted AARP, which is very interested holding some kind of disability summit in Ann Arbor. The details are not finalized, but SEMCOG, AATA, the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), and the University of Michigan have expressed interest.

Comm/Comm: Praise for Demolition

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) mentioned that two buildings in Ward 1 have been removed: the former St. Nicholas Church on North Main Street, and 219 W. Kingsley. The depression that’s left at the Kingsley property will form a rain garden. Smith allowed that she usually doesn’t applaud the destruction of things.

Comm/Comm: Sidewalk Repair Using Risk Fund

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) called the council’s attention to the fact that the board of insurance minutes, which were included in the consent agenda, included a resolution that provided for use of the city’s risk fund to pay for sidewalk repairs adjacent to properties located in a township. City treasurer Matthew Horning was asked to the podium to explain that many township islands exist in the city. The sidewalk millage approved by voters last year does not allow for use of millage funds to repair sidewalks next to township properties. The board of insurance felt it would be a prudent use of risk funds to mitigate risk and to improve safety, he said.

Comm/Comm: Sustainable Living

Kermit Schlansker told the council he’d attended a recent lecture by environmentalist Bill McKibbon. Schlansker said he was disappointed that although the problem was defined, there were no solutions. We have to face up to the fact that we must change our lifestyle to survive, he said. We don’t need more economical cars, we must eliminate them, he said. The first element of the plan is to plant at least 10 trees for every person. That would mean a million trees for Ann Arbor, he said. Volunteers would be needed, who could be taught how to plant trees from seeds – but it’s something that first graders can learn to do.

The process of building a sustainable world is too big a project for the city, Schlansker allowed, but the city could build a model for how that might work. The only geometry for shelter that is sustainable is apartment houses, he contended, with factories located nearby. We need to cut energy expenses by 60% and establish experimental energy farms. We need to learn how to use sewage for fertilizer. To save our children, he contended, we must give up single-family houses and cars, and use geometry and hard worked to build a sustainable society.

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

Next council meeting: Oct. 1, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if supporting The Chronicle is already on your agenda, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

One Comment

  1. By Steve Bean
    September 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm | permalink

    “Smith said her resolution affects what the city does with the proceeds. That’s a question worthy of a robust discussion, she added: What do we do with that money, if and when it becomes available?”

    That statement doesn’t jibe with the wording of the resolution. An open (as in considering all options) discussion makes sense per Kunselman’s suggestion to broaden it. The limiting language of the resolution doesn’t allow for that.

    “[Hieftje] cautioned that the city was not yet out of the woods for the greatest recession in history.”

    Thanks for that, John. The housing bubble is still largely inflated, and now the credit bubble has been further pumped up, with a bit more “QE” to come before it bursts. The housing situation will change dramatically if that plays out. The level of defaults and foreclosures will likely dwarf what we’ve seen in recent years. With higher unemployment as well, more young people will rejoin their parents’ households, and more housing will become available if not necessarily more affordable (as lower rents would coincide with lower incomes). In turn, the city may face considerably different challenges than in the past, including wrt affordable housing matters.