Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 1, 2012): The council worked through its densely packed agenda in well under two hours, even though six separate public hearings were held.
Some of the votes, all of which were unanimous, reflected non-action.
The council voted to table a revision to its medical marijuana licensing ordinance, having postponed it twice previously. Tabling is unlike a postponement to a date certain, and leaves open the possibility that the council might not ever take the question up again. However, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated she intended to take up the medical marijuana ordinance again within six months.
The council has yet to act on recommendations from the city’s medical marijuana licensing board, made at the start of the year, to award licenses to 10 dispensaries. In the meantime, those dispensaries continue to operate. At the council’s Oct. 1 meeting, city attorney Stephen Postema indicated he would be creating a public document for the licensing board that would include a summary of pending legislation and court cases.
The council tabled a resolution on establishing a citizens committee to study the question of how to use proceeds from city-owned land sales. That tabling came at the request of the resolution’s sponsor, Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who had originally brought it forward at the council’s previous meeting.
The council also voted to extend by another 180 days a moratorium on digital billboards in the city – which the council first enacted back in April.
Three of the items on which the council took final action were at least indirectly related to stormwater. The council confirmed the appointment of the top area administrator whose department is responsible for stormwater management – Craig Hupy. Hupy’s appointment as public services area administrator comes after 26 years of service with the city.
The council also approved a $300,000 stormwater improvements component of a much larger $6.5 million street reconstruction project for Miller Avenue. The council authorized $50,000 to study the feasibility of opening up the railroad berm near Depot Street, which might allow floodwater to flow unimpeded to the Huron River on the other side. The study is also meant to cover the possibility of a non-motorized transportation connection under the berm, for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Related to water only in name was a tax abatement granted by the council to Barracuda Networks, which is relocating from Depot Street to downtown Ann Arbor and expecting to add 144 jobs.
The council also approved a raft of proposals related to land use. Winning approval were site plans for a Fiat dealership on West Stadium Boulevard and an expansion of the Food Gatherers facility on Carrot Way. The rezoning of a strip around the perimeter of a parcel at Miller and Maple, where a Speedway gas station will be constructed, got final approval.
A proposed townhouse project on Catherine Street got its rezoning as well as site plan approved. At the public hearing neighbors praised the project and developer Tom Fitzsimmons for what he had done to work with them.
The Plymouth Green Crossings project, which has already been built, got initial approval for revisions to its planned unit development (PUD) supplemental regulations.
The council also added 73 acres to the land protected under the city’s greenbelt program by approving the purchase of development rights on the Hornback farm in Salem Township.
The council weighed in on a state ballot question – which would require electric utility companies in Michigan to provide 25% of their power with renewable sources by the year 2025 – by passing a resolution in support of it.
One of the more significant pieces of news to come out of the meeting was an announcement from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) that he could not attend the council’s Oct. 15 meeting. That’s when the council is due again to take up the question of putting $60,000 towards a $300,000 local match for a $1.2 million federal grant that would fund a transportation connector study. It needs eight votes to pass.
The council considered
a resolution that would change amendments to its medical marijuana licensing ordinance.
The ordinance amendments in question were recommended by the city’s medical marijuana licensing board at the start of the year. Representative of the revisions is a change that strikes the role of city staff in evaluating the completeness of a license application. The following phrase, for example, would be struck: “Following official confirmation by staff that the applicant has submitted a complete application …” The changes also establish a cap of 20 licenses, and grant the city council the ability to waive certain requirements. The board-recommended revisions to the medical marijuana licensing ordinance are laid out in detail in The Chronicle’s coverage of the medical marijuana licensing board’s Jan. 31, 2012 meeting. [.pdf of recommended licensing ordinance revisions]
The licenses that the board recommended be granted to 10 dispensaries citywide – recommendations also made at the board’s Jan. 31, 2012 meeting – have not yet come before the city council for final action. The proposed ordinance revisions, recommended by the city’s medical marijuana licensing board on Jan. 31, had already been considered and postponed once before, at the council’s April 2, 2012 meeting. When the item came back on June 18, 2012, it was postponed, again until Oct. 1.
The general background of the current medical marijuana climate includes enactment of two kinds of local regulations for medical marijuana businesses last year, at the city council’s June 20, 2011 meeting. One piece of legislation set the zoning laws that apply to such businesses – establishing where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities could be located. The other piece of legislation established a process for granting licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries. Cultivation facilities are not required to be licensed.
In the meantime, medical marijuana dispensaries in Ann Arbor continue to dispense marijuana to patients.
Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted this was the third time the item had been on the agenda. Up to now the postponements have involved pending legislation in Lansing. She noted that there would be six months during which it could be taken up off the table, before it would demise, by council rule. She felt she’d likely do so within six months but found no reason to postpone to some date certain.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said that given what’s going on at the state level, it’s clearly the wiser approach for now to table it. She also looked forward to seeing a memo that the city attorney, Stephen Postema, has said he’d be providing publicly for the city’s medical marijuana licensing board. Postema noted that the Michigan Supreme Court is taking two cases to be heard on Oct. 11. Those cases deal with the dispensary issue, he said. The court of appeals has ruled against dispensaries, he said. He reported that he’d met with a state representative who’s sponsoring legislation that would provide a local option for municipalities to enact or not, that could allow dispensaries to exist, regardless of the outcome of the state Supreme Court cases.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to table the amendments to the medical marijuana licensing ordinance.
Committee on Land Sale Proceeds
On the agenda was a proposal to create a 10-person citizens committee to study options for proceeds of the sale of city-owned downtown Ann Arbor properties.
The resolution had been added by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) to the agenda of the council’s previous meeting on Sept. 17, 2012, but was postponed until the Oct. 1 meeting. 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 somewhat vague about how the committee was supposed to address the issue or in what timeframe, and was met with questions at the Sept. 17 meeting about the scope of the committee’s intended purview or its deliverables.
At the Sept. 17 meeting, Anglin’s resolution was one of two that the city council had been asked to consider on the topic. The other 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. Smith’s resolution was postponed at the Sept. 17 meeting until Oct. 15, and was in the meantime referred to the council’s budget committee. Based on the budget committee’s discussion, at a meeting immediately preceding the Oct. 1 meeting of the full council, that committee’s recommendation to the council will likely be for a much weaker version of Smith’s resolution, if it recommends anything at all.
Committee on Land Sale Proceeds: Council Deliberations
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that because of other discussions on similar topics that are taking place in the community – among city councilmembers and other groups that are interested in the downtown properties – he wanted to see the proposal tabled. He was satisfied that other councilmembers had expressed at the previous meeting their feeling that the proposal had merit.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to table Anglin’s resolution.
Digital Billboard Moratorium
The council considered a moratorium on the erection of digital billboards in Ann Arbor. The moratorium, which also prevents city staff from even considering applications to put up digital billboards, was first enacted at the council’s April 17, 2012 meeting.
Falling under the moratorium are “billboards commonly referred to as ‘electronic message centers,’ ‘electronic message boards,’ ‘changeable electronic variable message signs,’ or any billboard containing LEDs, LCDs, plasma displays, or any similar technology to project an illuminated image that can be caused to move or change, or to appear to move or change, by a method other than physically removing and replacing the sign or its components, including by digital or electronic input.”
The resolution passed by the city council in April acknowledges that such signs are already prohibited by the city’s sign ordinance. From that ordinance, the list of prohibited signs include those that “… incorporate in any manner or are illuminated by any flashing or moving lights other than for conveyance of noncommercial information which requires periodic change.”
Digital Billboard Moratorium: Council Deliberations
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reminded the council of the moratorium that had been enacted back in April. He reported that it’s taking more time for the staff to determine best practices and to research the relevant case law. So the request was to extend the same moratorium for another 180 days.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the extension of the moratorium on digital billboards.
Craig Hupy as Public Services Area Administrator
The council was asked to appoint Craig Hupy as public services area administrator for the city of Ann Arbor. Hupy has been serving as interim area administrator for the better part of a year. Public services includes drinking water, stormwater, sanitary sewer, streets, fleet, systems planning and field operations.
Hupy is an engineer by training, and holds a bachelor of science degree from Michigan Technological University. He’s worked for the city since 1986.
The city council’s appointment of the position is stipulated in the city charter in Section 12.1(b):
The appointive officers shall be the City Administrator and the Attorney, who shall be appointed by the Council; the Assessor and the Treasurer, the Clerk, the Controller, the Director of Building and Safety Engineering, the Fire Chief, the Police Chief, the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, the Superintendent of Public Works, and the Superintendent of Utilities, who shall be appointed by the Council on the recommendation of the City Administrator;
Hupy had replaced Sue McCormick as public services area administrator on an interim basis, after she left that post to take a job as head of the Detroit water and sewerage department in late 2011. McCormick’s last day on the job was Dec. 16, 2011.
When the city administrator announced the interim appointment of Hupy at the Dec. 29, 2011 meeting, he said that Hupy wouldn’t be a candidate for the permanent job: “City administrator Steve Powers announced at the council’s Dec. 5 meeting that the city’s head of systems planning, Craig Hupy, will fill in for McCormick on an interim basis. Powers reported that Hupy had no interest in the permanent position.”
Hupy wrote to The Chronicle in response to an emailed query about the reason for rethinking his interest in the job: “The realization that my public service within the various operations of the City of Ann Arbor had prepared me well to lead the Public Services Area forward and face the future’s challenges.”
Craig Hupy: Council Deliberations
Mayor John Hieftje stated that he fully concurred with the city administrator’s selection, saying that Hupy had performed well as interim.
Hupy would have big shoes to fill, he said – an allusion to former public services area administrator Sue McCormick. He said that Hupy has stepped up to the task and has been successful working with citizens on some controversial issues [like overland and basement flooding].
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) praised Hupy’s leadership on the flooding issue in West Park. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) heard that people were receiving water bills much higher than expected, who were asking questions, which she had forwarded to Hupy. Hupy had handled those questions, she said. She congratulated Hupy, saying it’s one of the most senior positions in the city, to which he’d be bringing lots of experience and technical knowledge.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) offered praise not just for Hupy, but for city administrator Steve Powers as well – for making Hupy his choice. Hupy has been a city employee since 1986, so that means Powers is looking at hiring from within. That means the city has cultivated qualified applicants, he said. And hiring from within encourages people to stick around.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm Craig Hupy’s appointment as public services area administrator.
Miller Avenue Stormwater Project
The council considered a $300,000 stormwater improvements proposal for Miller Avenue – between Maple Road on the west and Newport Road on the east. The stormwater improvements are part of a larger road reconstruction project, which will cost about $6.505 million.
The stormwater improvements will consist of rain gardens and infiltration basins within the right-of-way. The pavement will not be porous, however – it will be a traditional road surface.
The goal of the improvements is to reduce the amount of stormwater entering the stormwater pipes that flow directly to the Huron River. The idea is that if water is processed through rain gardens and infiltration basins, it will contain fewer contaminants that would otherwise be introduced directly into downstream creeks and the river. The city is subject to state-mandated total maximum daily load (TMDL) for total suspended solids, E. coli and phosphorus.
The council’s requested action was to approve the required petitioning of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office. The project is eligible for financing through the state’s revolving fund loan program at 2.5%. And the water resources commissioner will be assessing the city no more than $19,245 a year for the payments. It’s possible that up to 50% of the loan will be forgiven because it’s a “green” project.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) was encouraged by the fact that some people who live along the corridor are putting in more rain gardens and the city staff is helping people to do that. It’s going to be possible to have bicycle paths five feet wide on each side of the road, and a lot of water will be held onsite, which he called really terrific. He felt the project should help the situation downstream as well. He was disappointed that the same approach to achieving some water detention on the property was not achieved for the Stadium Boulevard reconstruction project.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) commended staff for being creative by building structures under the street for stormwater capture.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she thought the financing piece is also very attractive – given the low interest on the $300,000 loan.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the petitioning of the county water resources commissioner for the Miller Avenue stormwater project.
The council considered a $50,000 contract with Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment Inc. to conduct a study of a possible underpass for some active railroad tracks in Ann Arbor – which separate the area south of Depot Street (including 721 N. Main) from the Huron River.
The railroad tracks run along the top of a berm. The idea is to study the possible impact of replacing the solid berm – which acts as a dam for stormwater flow from the Allen Creek creekshed – with a culvert or a trestled system for suspending the tracks. The idea of opening up the railroad berm is that it would allow floodwater to pass unimpeded to the Huron River, and lower the depth of potential floods in the area. Also a part of the study is the potential for using the opening as a non-motorized access point to the river, for pedestrians and bicyclists.
For additional detail, see previous Chronicle reporting: “Burrowing under Railroad Berm Feasible?”
Railroad Underpass: Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who’d asked that the item be pulled out from the consent agenda for separate consideration, noted that the study is one of many ways the city is looking at dealing with stormwater. She pointed out that one of the council mandates to a task force currently looking at the North Main corridor is to give advice on the best way to get over, under or around the railroad tracks – to connect 721 N. Main to the Border-to-Border trail. At the same time, the city is looking at ways of dealing with floodwater. The study will explore if there’s an acceptable way to find a passage for floodwater and a passage for pedestrians and bicycles in the same location, she said.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve studying the opening of the railroad berm.
Barracuda Tax Abatement
The council was asked to consider a tax abatement to Barracuda Networks in connection with its relocation from 201 Depot Street to the old corporate headquarters of Borders in downtown Ann Arbor, off Maynard Street. The total tax break for the 5-year period of the abatement is expected to be worth $61,000. That’s less than the originally estimated amount of $85,000.
Barracuda is a computer network security company. On its application for the abatement, 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.
The tax abatement agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and Barracuda makes the expectation of 144 new hires an explicit condition on receiving the abatement:
Barracuda Networks will add not less than one hundred forty four (144) jobs at the facility named on the Application as compared to its number of employees as of the effective date of the Certificate. If Barracuda Networks adds less than one hundred forty four (144) additional jobs by December 31, 2014, Barracuda Networks shall have materially breached the terms of this Agreement and the City shall have the right to recommend revocation of the Certificate subject to provision 10 of this agreement to the State Tax Commission or taking other appropriate legal action in connection with the default.
The council had voted at its Sept. 4 meeting to set the public hearing held on Oct. 1. And 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 to the downtown site. [.jpg of parcel map showing 317 Maynard] [.jpg of aerial photo showing 317 Maynard]
Barracuda Tax Abatement: Public Hearing
Thomas Partridge told the council that recipients of the tax abatements should be required to come before the council to present their case for why they can’t find private capital to achieve the same goals. Those companies should also have policies in place so that senior citizens and lower income workers won’t face job discrimination.
Sean Heiney introduced himself as founder of Ann Arbor’s Barracuda research and development office. He told the council it’s worked out well so far. In 2007 Barracuda had started its Ann Arbor location with five software development engineers; now, over 200 people are employed on Depot Street. He characterized the 144 position to be added as great-paying jobs, which would have a positive impact on the community. He called Ann Arbor a “cornerstone” of the company’s planned expansion.
Barracuda Tax Abatement: Council Deliberations
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, for the due diligence done on the application. She noted that many cities grant abatements to retain businesses.
Ann Arbor is already attractive and rarely needs to provide such incentives, she said. Lumm noted that it’s important to have Barracuda occupy the old Borders corporate location, and felt that adding 144 jobs is a positive outcome.
Mayor John Hieftje asked Crawford how much the relocation of Barracuda would add to property tax revenues. Crawford didn’t have the figures in front of him, but noted the city already receives property tax revenue from the parcel. Hieftje said he’d had meetings with folks over at Barracuda, and appreciate their resolve to stay in Ann Arbor. He said the company is bringing a lot of energy to the downtown area.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported that she’d had several exchanges with Crawford and wanted to point out that when the council approved the establishment of the industrial development district, the estimated value of the tax abatement for the five-year period was higher [$85,000] than the current estimate of $61,000. That had been based on an investment by Barracuda of almost $2 million in improvements, she said. But Barracuda had been able to be more frugal, so it was less of a “hit” to the city. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) balked at the word “hit,” saying that it’s money that the city is forgoing for a short period of time.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve Barracuda’s tax abatement.
Food Gatherers Site Plan
The council considered a proposal from Food Gatherers to expand its large warehouse, adding cooler and freezer space to accommodate its focus on fruits, vegetables and other fresh food. The Carrot Way site, on Ann Arbor’s far north side, is a hub for the nonprofit’s food distribution. The city planning commission recommended approval of the site plan at its Aug. 21, 2012 meeting.
The site plan was a revision to the nonprofit’s planned unit development (PUD), which will allow for a 12,646-square-foot addition to the back of the existing 16,977-square-foot building.
That building houses the nonprofit’s administrative offices, storage warehouse, and training space. The plan also will add 22 parking spaces to the site, and includes an expansion of produce-washing stations, used to clean vegetables grown at gardens on the site. The Carrot Way site is located on the north side of Ann Arbor off of Dhu Varren Road, east of Pontiac Trail.
According to a staff memo, the changes include a separate administrative land transfer request to shift a shared lot line between the site and a parcel of vacant land to the southeast – both owned by Food Gatherers. The lot line will be moved about 70 feet south, adding 0.43 acres to site where the Food Gatherers’ facility is located. The larger lot size is necessary so that the building addition will conform to the permitted floor-area ratio (FAR). FAR – a measure of density – is the ratio of the square footage of a building divided by the size of the lot. A one-story structure built lot-line-to-lot-line with no setbacks corresponds to a FAR of 100%. A similar structure built two-stories tall would result in a FAR of 200%.
The site plan conforms with the existing PUD zoning, so one approval by the council at the Oct. 1 meeting was sufficient. Changes to zoning require two readings before the council.
Food Gatherers Site Plan: Public Hearing
Former board member Gary Bruder addressed the council on behalf of Eileen Spring, who is executive director of Food Gatherers. He described the addition of the warehouse and office space, and characterized the need for it as straightforward: the economy is facing great challenges. In Washtenaw County, 1 in 7 adults and 1 in 6 children are experiencing hunger, he said, and of those only 1 of 8 have sufficient access to fruits and vegetables. That had driven a Food Gatherers decision to add cold storage to meet those needs. The addition to the space would allow the doubling of the nonprofit’s food distribution capacity, from 5 million to 10 million pounds a year, and increase their storage capacity for proteins and produce from 32 pallets to 260 pallets.
They’ll have better work space for volunteers and be able to increase the diversity of food choices for people who receive food from the nonprofit, Bruder said. The project team was there, he said, who would be available to answer questions: David Esau of Cornerstone Design, John Curry from Professional Engineering Associates, and John Reed, Food Gatherers director of operations.
Food Gatherers Site Plan: Council Deliberations
Other than a remark from mayor John Hieftje to the effect that the renaming of the street where Food Gatherers is located had resulted in some pushback from the U.S. post office, the council did not deliberate further on the request.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Food Gatherers site plan.
Fiat Site Plan
The council considered a plan to build a new Fiat showroom next to the post office on West Stadium Boulevard. The property is owned by the Suburban Collection of Troy. The site plan was recommended to the council for approval by the planning commission at its Aug. 21, 2012 meeting.
The property had originally been developed in the late 1950s as a gas station, but underground tanks have been removed. It had been purchased by the Naylor Chrysler dealership in the mid-1990s, and most recently was acquired by the Suburban Collection of Troy, which operates a Chrysler Jeep dealership across the street at 2060 W. Stadium. Suburban also owns local Cadillac and Chevrolet dealerships located on Jackson Avenue.
The site plan calls for demolishing a 2,505-square-foot automotive service building and constructing a 3,408-square-foot showroom. The 30,010-square-foot site is zoned C3 (fringe commercial) and is located next to the post office on the west side of Stadium Boulevard between Federal Drive and East Liberty. The new showroom building will be on the south side of the site, roughly in the same spot as the existing building. However, it will be shifted toward the front lot line to comply with the city’s maximum 25-foot front setback requirement.
There are two driveways now off of West Stadium Boulevard. The southern driveway and curb cut will be closed, and filled in with landscaping.
According to a staff memo, the site has 43 parking spaces. The city granted a variance in 1998 as part of an addition to the building and expansion of the parking lot. The variance allows four parking spaces in the front – at the time, a 40-foot minimum front setback was required. The variance also permits parking stalls to be “stacked” for vehicle storage, with a 20-foot aisle between the stacked parking spaces.
There is no current stormwater management on the site. The proposed plan includes underground stormwater management for a 100-year storm volume.
Fiat Site Plan: Public Hearing
Thomas Partridge told the council that a dedicated and reliable form of revenue for affordable housing in Ann Arbor was needed.
Stanley Tkacz, of Studio Design-ST, addressed the council representing the Suburban Collection. He hoped the council would look at the building program and support it.
Fiat Site Plan: Council Deliberations
The council did not deliberate further on the Fiat site plan.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Fiat site plan.
Plymouth Green Crossings
The council considered several changes to the PUD supplemental regulations for Plymouth Green Crossings – a mixed-use complex off of Plymouth Road, west of Green Road.
The city planning commission gave its recommendation to approve the change at its Aug. 21, 2012 meeting.
The current request proposes six major changes: (1) adding parking or flexible space for special events as permitted uses in the ground floor of a proposed three-story mixed-use building, on the site’s northeast corner; (2) increasing the use of potential restaurant space within the site from 7,000 square feet to 14,224 square feet; (3) eliminating requirements for a free-standing restaurant that had previously been planned; (4) increasing the maximum number of parking spaces from 275 to 290; (5) reducing the minimum number of bicycle storage spaces from 70 to 64; and (6) adding the following language to the facade section: “ground level facades of Building A if used as interior parking shall include architectural columns, a minimum 3-foot height masonry screen wall, and louvers or grills to screen views to parking while permitting natural ventilation.”
In addition, the city recently discovered that the bank building was built one foot from the west property line, although the approved site plan and supplemental regulations required a two-foot setback. To resolve this, the owner proposed an amendment of the PUD supplemental regulations, according to a staff memo. The memo also indicates that the owner has been making contributions to the city’s affordable housing fund, rather than providing affordable housing within the complex. The final payment is due at the end of this year. [For background on a current policy discussion on the affordable housing trust fund, see "City Council to Focus on Land Sale Policy"]
This isn’t the first time that changes have been requested for the site. In 2009, developers also asked to amend the original PUD agreement. Rather than build a restaurant, they asked for permission to turn that part of the site into a temporary parking lot, adding 26 additional parking spaces and 11 spots for motorcycles. The planning commission didn’t act on that request until its Feb. 18, 2010 meeting. Although all five commissioners at that meeting voted to approve the request, the action required six votes to pass, so it failed for lack of votes. However, the request was forwarded to the city council, which ultimately granted approval at its April 19, 2010 meeting.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve changes to the PUD supplemental regulations for Plymouth Green Crossings.
The council considered the final step to rezone a small portion of a parcel at North Maple and Miller – essentially a formality associated with development of a Speedway gas station at that location. The zoning will change from PL (public land) to C3 (fringe commercial).
The portion of the parcel that’s subject to the rezoning has an easement requiring public access; that easement will remain. The project is located at 1300 N. Maple on a 1.39-acre site. 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. [.jpg of drawing showing the property and the portion to be rezoned]
Approval of the site plan and the initial approval of the rezoning for the gas station had come at the council’s Sept. 4, 2012 meeting. The recommendations for approval by the Ann Arbor planning commission came at that body’s July 17, 2012 meeting.
At the council’s Sept. 4 meeting, city planning manager Wendy Rampson indicated that by looking through the city’s files, planning staff had not been able to determine why the portion of the parcel had been zoned PL in the first place. Every era has its own set of practices, she said. She felt 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, which is consistent with the easement requiring public access. 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.
Outcome: Without deliberating further, the council voted unanimously to approve the Speedway parcel rezoning.
Catherine Street Townhouse Project
The council considered a site plan and rezoning request for a residential project on Catherine Street that includes a three-story townhouse with five housing units at 922-926 Catherine St. The initial approval of the rezoning request had been given at the council’s Sept. 4, 2012 meeting. That rezoning request 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 was contingent on approval from the city’s zoning board of appeals for variances from the conflicting land use buffer requirement. The ZBA granted that variance at an August meeting.
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.
Catherine Street Townhouse Project: Public Hearing
Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for residents who would benefit from affordable housing. He endorsed this rezoning but said that the city council should pass an ordinance that requires dedication of significant amount of available acreage to affordable housing for every proposal. During a separate hearing on the site plan, Partridge questioned the lack of density on the site, saying that Ann Arbor needs to be known as a university town not a real estate Mecca.
Christine Crockett introduced herself as president of the Old Fourth Ward Association. Alluding to the frequently debated topic of public art, she said the most important public art is good architecture. The developer and builder of the project had hired a talented architect, she said: Lincoln Poley. She called it the right project for the right place. She welcomed these condos into the ward, saying that the project adds to the kind of dwelling units people want in the R4C-zoned neighborhood. She was pleased with the way Fitzsimmons has handled the project. Every step of the way, he has included the neighbors in the process. She reiterated that good architecture is the best public art.
Julie Ritter told the council she lives next door to the proposed project. She’s delighted it’s going up. Fitzsimmons had been professional, courteous and thoughtful in his interactions with the neighbors, she said. She asked the council to support the project.
Tom Fitzsimmons introduced himself to the council as the developer as well as the builder for the project. He told the council it’s been a long time since he’s appeared before the council, so he wasn’t sure if there’d be Q & A. But he told them that he was available, as was the engineer on the project.
Catherine Street Townhouse Project: Council Deliberations
The council did not deliberate further on the project.
Outcome: The council took separate unanimous votes of approval on the rezoning and site plans for the Catherine Street project.
Ann Arbor Greenbelt: Hornback Farm
The council was asked to approve the acquisition of development rights on the Hornback farm in Salem Township as a part of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program. The specific request was to approve $199,367 from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage for the purchase of development rights on the property. The roughly 73-acre farm is located on Pontiac Trail and Brookville Road.
The appraised value of the property was $321,000, but the landowner made a 10% donation of $32,100, leaving a purchase price of $288,900. Of that, the city of Ann Arbor’s share was $160,500 after contributions from Salem Township and Washtenaw County of $64,200 apiece. The city incurred due diligence costs ($10,000), closing costs ($5,000) and made a contribution to the greenbelt endowment ($23,867) that brought the city’s share to $199,367.
The city’s 30-year 0.5 mill greenbelt tax was established by a voter referendum in 2003 for the purpose of “funding the acquisition of land for parks and the acquisition and management of land and land rights in undeveloped and developed land both within and outside the City of Ann Arbor for the purpose of preserving and protecting open space, natural habitats and the City’s Source-waters.”
Ann Arbor Greenbelt: Hornback Farm – Council Deliberations
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) allowed that other councilmembers might be getting tired of her objections to some of the greenbelt acquisitions. She said that when the millage was passed, the idea was that the city’s share would not be more than a third of the cost. For this particular property, she noted, the city’s share was closer to a half. But she said she would support this acquisition, because of the participation of Salem Township and Washtenaw County.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the acquisition of development rights on the Hornback farm.
25-by-25 Ballot Question
The council considered a resolution in support of a statewide Michigan ballot proposal that would require electric utilities to provide at least 25% of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2025.
Renewable energy sources are defined as wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower. Although it would change the state’s constitution, the proposal includes provisions that could extend the 2025 deadline into the indefinite future. An annual extension could be granted if it would prevent rate increases of more than 1% per year. The proposal would limit rate increases required to achieve the 25% standard to no more than 1% per year.
25-by-25 Ballot Question: Public Comment
Not speaking directly to the ballot question, but nonetheless commenting on a related topic, Kermit Schlansker stated that he’s in favor of building new nuclear plants. But he wanted to build as few as possible, in order to lower cost and reduce safety problems. He encouraged the use of solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal sources of energy, to reduce the number of nuclear plants that would be required. He then described a range of applications of solar energy, including photovoltaic arrays, building-oriented systems, and mirrored arrays.
Wayne Appleyard introduced himself as the current chair of the city’s energy commission. He told the council it was important to pass the resolution supporting Proposal 3. The energy commission will be sending a climate action plan to the council next month, which a task force has been working on for the past year. That plan recommends that 25% of the community’s energy be produced by renewable sources by the year 2025. That parallels a goal adopted by the University of Michigan, he said. Proposal 3 is the single most important element of reaching that goal, he said. The current law –Public Act 295 – is moving electric utilities toward the goal of 10% renewable energy in 2015. But utilities have not endorsed Proposal 3, and essentially intend, he contended, to stop producing more renewable energy in 2015. The cost of wind and solar continues to fall but the long-term cost of burning fossil fuel is increasing, he said.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution in support of Proposal 3.
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: Future Attendance – Transit Connector Study
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) announced that he would be absent for the next council meeting on Oct. 15. [He's attending a professional conference in connection with his employment as energy liaison at the University of Michigan.] So he alerted his colleagues that his seat would be empty at that time.
The impact of Kunselman’s absence is that his vote will not be available to support an item on that meeting’s agenda – a request for $60,000 to study a transit connector for the corridor that 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 identifying a preferred choice of technology (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and the location of stations and stops.
The Ann Arbor city council already voted on Sept. 4, 2012 to reject the $60,000 request, but reconsidered that vote two weeks later on Sept. 17, 2012. But on reconsideration of the vote, the council decided to postpone a decision until Oct. 15. Kunselman voted for the proposal at the Sept. 4 meeting, but at that meeting he appeared somewhat non-committal. His absence on Oct. 15 will reduce the body to no more than 10 members for a vote that requires eight to pass.
In the meantime, some of the requested $60,000 might actually be provided by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Initial indications to the AATA were that the DDA’s budget constraints would not allow a contribution to the local match. But at a Sept. 26, 2012 meeting of the DDA’s operations committee, it was decided that the full DDA board would be asked to consider a connector study funding resolution at its Oct. 3 meeting. The DDA resolution would specify a $30,000 total contribution by the DDA, in two $15,000 payments to be made in each of the next two years. Members of the DDA’s operations committee wanted to make the $30,000 contingent on the city of Ann Arbor providing the other $30,000.
The $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 AATA for the alternatives analysis phase. The breakdown of local support was originally intended to be: $60,000 from the city of Ann Arbor; $150,000 from the University of Michigan; and $90,000 from the AATA.
Comm/Comm: Retirement System
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she’d be bringing forward a resolution that would transition the retirement system from a defined benefit to a defined contribution system. It would be just for new hires, she said.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported that she’d talked to the city attorney’s office about the existing ordinances affecting the towing of vehicles. Some kind of revision could be forthcoming.
Comm/Comm: Living Wage
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) announced that a revision to the living wage ordinance will be introduced at a future meeting to address a nonprofit exemption. The housing and human services advisory board would review it first. She hoped that by the second meeting in October something might be ready, but allowed it could be later.
Comm/Comm: Lewy Body Dementia Proclamation
At the start of the meeting, Tamara Real received a mayoral proclamation declaring October as Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) Awareness Month. In her brief remarks, Real told the council that her husband, Carl Rinne, suffered from LBD. So it was personal to her that it helps other people learn about the illness, she said. She suggested that for people who have loved ones who show shifts in behavior, they should visit the website of the Lewy Body Dementia Association, concluding: “You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Chronicle readers might remember that the Ward 5 Democratic primary debate in 2010 was hosted by Real and Rinne in their home. Real is former president of the Arts Alliance. Rinne is a University of Michigan associate professor emeritus of education.
Comm/Comm: Citizens United Decision
Weston Vivian – who’d been introduced for public commentary by mayor John Hieftje as “Vivian Weston” because the agenda showed his name printed that way – jokingly led off in falsetto. He asked the council to show its support for a Constitutional amendment to reverse the impact of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, which held that corporations could spend money on “electioneering communications.” Vivian described the situation as one where the actions of one member of the Supreme Court would take 100 million Americans to reverse. He allowed that it’s a long and tedious task. He asked the council to consider passing a resolution, indicating the city’s desire that the change to the Constitution be made. He pointed to other governing bodies that had passed similar resolutions recently in the state of Michigan (Ypsilanti, Ingham County, Lansing) and elsewhere (Chicago and Los Angeles).
Comm/Comm: A2 Open City Hall
Powers also noted that the city is still seeking feedback on the solid waste plan through an online survey.
Comm/Comm: Living Next to Construction
Eleanor Linn introduced herself and her husband as residents of Forest Court. She noted that it’s been four and a half years since the first uproar about a proposed high rise building at the corner of Forest and South University. [The building in question was originally named 601 S. Forest, but changed to the Landmark.] On the occasion of the building’s recent opening, Linn gave the council a summary of what has happened, saying that “noise and dust” as a description of living next to a construction site was a gross underestimate. She estimated over $5,000 worth of expense related to air filtering and ventilation.
Linn counted five doctor’s visits for eye and respiratory problems. They’d experienced cleaning and repair problems caused by oily dirt or scratchy dirt and pink mortar that stuck permanently to wet surfaces. She’d made more than a dozen calls about construction noise – which extended beyond the permitted hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Water and electricity were sometimes cut off without advance notification. The city’s garbage collection sometimes was not provided due to construction equipment blocking the entrance to their street. Muddy water had been allowed to flow into the city’s stormwater system. The developer didn’t secure the abandoned building adequately and squatters had started a fire, she said.
Many claims of the developers didn’t materialize, Linn contended – giving as examples the lack of a green roof and no LEED certification. They’d been told that students recycle so there’d be no garbage. Of course, she said, there’s garbage. They’d been told that students would not bring cars. But instead, she characterized the area as “overrun with automobiles.” The ventilators for the underground parking garage operate all day and all night, and are not supposed to be audible beyond the confines of the property. But she reported that she is frequently awakened by them. The trees along the property line lost their leaves in one week and are now dead. The grading of the pavement is several inches higher than next door, which leaves dangerous gaps. So she urged the council to think carefully when other large projects are proposed.
Comm/Comm: The Most Vulnerable
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge identified himself as a Democrat and advocate for all those who need government services the most. He was there to forward the cause of Ann Arbor’s and Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens – the seniors and people with disabilities and those with lower incomes. He said it was time to get behind the election of president Barack Obama. People need to go door-to-door and make sure that everyone is registered and has transportation to the polls, he said.
During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Partridge criticized the lack of an effort to do more to get people registered to vote. He said he’d be a write-in candidate for state representative of the 53rd District, supporting the cause of those who need government services the most – like affordable housing, health care, and education.
Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Stephen Kunselman, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Tony Derezinski, Marcia Higgins.
Next council meeting: Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 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 you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!