Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Nov. 20, 2012): An ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025 – with the goal of a 90% reduction by 2050 – was recommended for approval by the city’s planning commission at its most recent meeting.
The climate action plan includes about 80 recommended actions to help achieve those goals, ranging from possible changes in city code to actions that individuals or organizations can take voluntarily, like weatherizing buildings. [.pdf list of recommendations]
In his presentation of the plan, Nate Geisler of the city’s energy office told commissioners that the plan doesn’t tie the city to making firm commitments about these actions, but “it sets us on the path to doing this.” He indicated an urgency in taking action, highlighting the negative impact of global warming and the risks associated with doing nothing. The plan – which is coordinated with the city’s sustainability framework and with a similar effort by the University of Michigan – has already been recommended by the city’s energy and environmental commissions, and will be forwarded to the city council for its consideration.
Bonnie Bona, a planning commissioner who served on the task force that developed this plan, praised Geisler and Wayne Appleyard, chair of the city’s energy commission, for their role in leading the initiative. She offered the planning commission’s help in implementing the recommended actions. More information about the overall effort is online at a2energy.org/climate.
Also on the Nov. 20 agenda was a site plan and zoning request for a residential project at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road – called the Summit Townhomes. A similar version of the project had been previously postponed by commissioners in June of 2012. The current plan calls for building 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings, with each building between 80 to 160 feet in length. Each of the 24 units would have a floor area of about 1,300 square feet, and an attached one-car garage. The plan includes two surface parking areas on the east and west sides of the site, each with 12 spaces.
On Nov. 20, the commission recommended approval of zoning the property R3 (townhouse dwelling district). That zoning proposal will be forwarded to the city council. But because of outstanding issues – including questions related to regrading the site’s steep slope – commissioners followed planning staff’s advice and voted to postpone a recommendation on the site plan.
In other action, the commission granted a special exception use that will allow the Memorial Christian Church to use a building at 1900 Manchester Road, off of Washtenaw Avenue. The building has been owned by and used as the Ann Arbor regional headquarters for the Girl Scouts Council. And six parcels in the northeast Ann Arbor Hills neighborhood – on Geddes, Seneca and Onondaga – were recommended for rezoning from R1B to R1C. Both are types of single-family dwelling districts. The rezoning would allow some of the larger lots to be divided.
During the Nov. 20 meeting, commissioner Eric Mahler gave a brief update from the commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC), which is reviewing recommendations on changes to the city’s R4C/R2A zoning district, including a report from a study advisory committee. He said ORC is still working on the project and hopes to have a report ready for city council in the spring of 2013. [For an overview of the R4C/R2A initiative, see Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Weighs R4C/R2A Report."]
The meeting included a formal commendation for former planning commissioner Evan Pratt, who recently stepped down from the group after winning election on Nov. 6 as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner. Pratt had served on the planning commission since 2004, and had been its most senior current member.
Climate Action Plan
A draft climate action plan for the city of Ann Arbor, two years in the making, was presented to the Ann Arbor planning commission for their recommendation. [.pdf of executive summary] Nate Geisler of the city’s energy office, who had given commissioners a briefing on the plan at their Nov. 13 working session, again made a presentation at the Nov. 20 meeting.
He gave an overview of the plan’s premise – that climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, with a detrimental impact on the environment in a variety of ways. He noted that this year, several records have been broken globally for high temperatures, and Hurricane Sandy has raised the issue more recently. “These are changes that scientists across the globe are seeing,” he said, “and that we hope to have a response to in the form of our own climate action plan.”
Geisler reported that in the absence of a federal plan, local communities have been developing their own plans. The city of Ypsilanti, for example, adopted a climate action plan in July of 2012. Although Ann Arbor took its first greenhouse gas emissions inventory in 2003, the city until now hasn’t had a climate action plan.
The executive summary describes the plan’s purpose this way:
This Climate Action Plan is community focused, meaning it is not limited to addressing municipal government emissions, which in Ann Arbor make up less than two percent of the entire community’s emissions inventory. The actions found in the Plan may not all be feasible immediately; some may never be possible. There also may be emerging or unexplored ideas not discussed in these pages that will be identified in the future. As with any large-scale project or endeavor, actions that the municipality ultimately implements that require upfront investments will be brought before decision makers for consideration.
Underlying this Plan is the belief that the consequences to society and natural systems from continued inaction far outweigh the costs and challenges associated with the implementation of the proposed actions.
The plan states that in 2010, total greenhouse gas emissions in Ann Arbor – including the University of Michigan – totaled over 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), compared to 2.19 million metric tons in 2000. By category, those emissions in 2010 came from UM (30%); the commercial/industrial sector (25%); the residential sector (22%); transportation (22%); and waste (less than 1%). The category of waste includes solid waste collection and future emissions from landfilling, annual methane from the closed Ann Arbor landfill, and annual emissions from wastewater treatment.
The plan’s goals include a 25% reduction in community greenhouse emissions (over the year 2000 baseline levels) by 2025. This is the same goal set by the University of Michigan. In the shorter term, the goal is a reduction of 8% in emissions by 2015 – that’s an existing “energy challenge” goal set by city council set in 2005. Long-term, a 90% reduction is sought by 2050.
The plan provides a range of strategies for achieving these goals, divided into four categories, which align with the city’s recently adopted sustainability framework: (1) energy and buildings; (2) land use and access; (3) resource management; and (4) community and health. Examples of about 80 recommended actions include weatherizing existing housing stock, maximizing the purchase of renewable energy, providing incentives for the use of public transit, adopting a water conservation ordinance, and starting a community “net-zero” home-building/renovation contest. [.pdf list of actions]
The plan doesn’t tie the city to making firm commitments about these actions, Geisler said, but “it sets us on the path to doing this.”
He noted that to reach the ambitious mid-century targets, a major shift has to happen to move away from fossil fuels as energy sources. In Michigan, with voters not approving Proposal 3 on the Nov. 6 ballot, the mandate remains for utility companies to generate just 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2015, he said. [Proposal 3 would have mandated 25% renewable energy by 2025.]
Development of the plan was funded by a two-year $50,000 pollution prevention grant that the city received in 2010 from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. The effort has been spearheaded by the city’s energy commission, which formed a task force to work on the project. Members included planning commissioner Bonnie Bona, who has given periodic updates to the planning commission. She is a project manager for the Clean Energy Coalition, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit.
Both the energy and environmental commissions recommended approval of the plan at their October 2012 meetings. Geisler pointed to the website a2energy.org/climate for more information.
No one spoke at the public hearing for the plan.
Climate Action Plan: Commission Discussion
There was little discussion about the plan among commissioners. Bonnie Bona thanked Nate Geisler and Wayne Appleyard, chair of the city’s energy commission. [Appleyard attended the Nov. 20 meeting but did not formally address the planning commission.] She described the task force as a well-informed group, and she urged commissioners to read every word in the report. Bona also wanted to support the energy commission as it moves the plan forward, and asked that the planning commission be informed if there’s any help they can provide.
Ken Clein said he was also supportive of the plan, and asked a question about the measurement of CO2 emissions. Geisler said that in a micro-climate sense, the city can’t easily measure what its parts-per-million CO2 emissions might be. So estimates were made based on emissions that would be generated from certain actions, he said, and the cumulative impact was calculated. He said the city’s plan talks about the need, in a global sense, to be close to 350 parts-per-million, but the plan isn’t specific about how Ann Arbor can contribute to that goal.
Tony Derezinski praised the plan’s goals. But he noted that it focuses only on lowering CO2 emissions. For that, using wind, solar and other renewable energy only allows you to reach a certain level. “Does this really push you toward nuclear energy as the source?” he asked, noting that nuclear energy generates very little CO2 emissions.
Geisler estimated that the current DTE grid generated about 20% of its power using nuclear energy. The climate action plan doesn’t advocate for a particular type of energy, he said, though there’s an emphasis to increase the use of renewable energy. He indicated that the city doesn’t have the ability to take action on the level of generating power. However, he pointed to the city council’s advocacy role earlier this year – in unanimously passing a resolution in support of Proposal 3. The statewide ballot initiative was defeated on Nov. 6, but Geisler noted that it passed in Ann Arbor, with strong support in Washtenaw County as well.
It’s hard to know how things will change in the coming years, Geisler said, and how those changes will influence the ways that energy is generated. But it’s important not to wait, he added, and that’s why there’s urgency in taking the kinds of actions that are outlined in the climate action plan.
Outcome: Planning commissioners voted unanimously to recommend adopting the climate action plan. The recommendations from the planning, energy and environmental commissions will be forwarded to the city council for consideration, likely at its Dec. 17 meeting.
The site plan and zoning for a residential project at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road – called the Summit Townhomes – was on the commission’s Nov. 20 agenda. The request included zoning the property R3 (townhouse dwelling district). A similar version of the project had been previously postponed by commissioners in June of 2012.
At the June meeting, commissioners had approved annexation of the 2.95-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, from Pittsfield Township into the city of Ann Arbor. The annexation was subsequently authorized by the city council and is awaiting state approval.
The developer, Shawn Barrow of Orlando, Fla., had withdrawn his original proposal and in August submitted a new one, which was considered by planning commissioners on Nov. 20. Instead of an area plan, the current proposal is a site plan. The developer wants to build 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings, with each building between 80 to 160 feet in length. Each of the 24 units would have a floor area of about 1,300 square feet, and an attached one-car garage. The plan includes two surface parking areas on the east and west sides of the site, each with 12 spaces.
A public sidewalk would be installed along Ellsworth, with other sidewalks interior to the site. The city is planning to request a $14,880 donation to the parks system.
The city’s planning staff recommended postponing action. The development calls for extensive grading on the site, which includes steep slopes. Staff had expressed some concerns about that approach, which would require large amounts of soil to be removed from the site. According to a staff report, a postponement was requested so that the developer can address staff comments, and provide additional information about stabilization of the site and a natural features analysis. During his presentation to the commission on Nov. 20, city planner Matt Kowalski said that revised plans have been submitted, but the planning staff haven’t yet had the time to review them.
Summit Townhomes: Public Hearing
Snehal Shah told commissioners that he lived in the adjacent Cloverly Village, in a condominium that overlooks the proposed Summit Townhomes development. He was concerned about removal of 12 landmark trees, and wanted more information about that. Shah said his home overlooked the site, and he was concerned that the proposed townhomes would spoil the view and lower property values. He also asked about the elevation of the townhomes, and whether they would overwhelm the Cloverly Village condos.
Leonard Michaels of CIW Engineering in Rossford, Ohio introduced himself as the consulting engineer for this project. He noted that the project started in January of 2011 and that it’s been a “very arduous” process. There’s no question that it’s a challenging site, he said. Five different layout options had been submitted to the city, Michaels said. Under R3 zoning, it would be possible to build up to 29 units, he noted, but the proposed site plan has only 24 units – to make the layout easier. He said the project team could address the issues raised by the planning staff, but they were hoping for at least tentative approval that night because certain financing hinges on the project’s timing. He said he’d be happy to answer any questions.
Summit Townhomes: Commission Discussion
Bonnie Bona began by asking Matt Kowalski to address the question about landmark trees that had been raised during public commentary. Kowalski said he didn’t recall the exact species of the trees, but he pointed out where they were located on a schematic of the site, and said they would be replaced by a mix of deciduous and conifer trees around the perimeter of the site. [.pdf of landscaping plan]
In response to additional questions from Bona, Leonard Michaels – the project’s engineer – returned to the podium. He reported that the plan is to create a solid line of trees around the site’s periphery, which would fill in over time. On the east side there’s also a fairly large retaining wall, he noted.
From the audience, Snehal Shah of Cloverly Village shouted out that he had additional concerns about traffic onto Ellsworth, that he’d forgotten to raise during public commentary. Michaels told commissioners that one of the plans submitted to the city had included two driveways into the site off of Ellsworth, but the city’s traffic engineer had decided that only one driveway was necessary. The traffic impact of the project is so low that the city didn’t require a traffic study, Michaels said. He agreed that overall, traffic on Ellsworth is congested, but noted that the city’s traffic engineer didn’t feel the impact of the Summit Townhomes would be significant.
Michaels also noted that he was hoping to coordinate with the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The Summit Townhomes site is adjacent to land owned by the Ann Arbor Public Schools, leading to Bryant Elementary School. Planning staff have suggested that the developer include pedestrian access for future connection with the school. Regarding the parks contribution, Michaels said that a contribution would be preferable to incorporating a recreation area onto the site.
Bona said she hoped the parks contribution would be made. When the commission previously considered this project in June, they’d heard from neighbors that there weren’t adequate parks and recreation areas in that part of the city, she noted. She asked planning staff to make sure that the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan addressed this issue.
Kowalski said parks planner Amy Kuras had been working with the developer about the parks contribution. Kowalski also had talked to Kuras about allocating the project’s parks contribution to the nearby Arbor Oaks park. The parks staff isn’t too concerned about the availability of parks and recreation options in that area, Kowalski said. Staff believes the amount of parkland is adequate. He also pointed out that the pedestrian connection to AAPS property is a request from the city, not a requirement.
Commissioners asked questions about the proposed retaining wall, stormwater runoff, site lighting, and issues related to the sloping of the site. Wendy Woods asked Michaels if he had any drawings to show the elevation of the retaining wall or the type of materials that would be used. Otherwise, she said, it would be hard for her to imagine what it would look like. Michaels replied that more detailed design would be based on estimated cost and available financing, which hadn’t been finalized.
In response to a query by Tony Derezinski, Kowalski said that planning staff still recommended a postponement. Although the developer had submitted responses to issues that had been raised by the city staff, Kowalski said he hadn’t yet had time to review those responses.
Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, observed that Michaels had suggested separating the zoning from the site plan, and she noted that the commission could choose to vote on those recommendations separately. The planning staff felt that the R3 zoning was appropriate. Rampson reported that because the zoning request would need to go through both a first and second reading at separate city council meetings, the process for zoning takes longer than for site plan approval.
Commissioners agreed to vote on the two recommendations separately.
Outcome: The commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of zoning the property R3 (townhouse dwelling district). That zoning recommendation will be forwarded to the city council. On a separate vote, commissioners unanimously voted to postpone action on the site plan approval.
Memorial Christian Church
A special exception use was being requested to allow the Memorial Christian Church to use a building at 1900 Manchester Road, off Washtenaw Avenue. It has been owned by and used as the Ann Arbor regional headquarters for the Girl Scouts Council. The church was previously located at 730 Tappan – the corner of Tappan and Hill – in a building that was purchased by the Michigan Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon earlier this year.
The request would allow the church to convert a 8,104-square-foot two-story office building to a church use for seating up to 111 people. This use is permitted under Chapter 55 (zoning) of the city code. No exterior changes are planned. The church hours are Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday evenings from 7-9 p.m., and occasionally at other times during the week. There’s a 37-space parking lot on the site, with overflow parking on Manchester.
Memorial Christian Church: Public Hearing
The church’s pastor, Bob Brite, spoke to commissioners during a public hearing on the request, reporting that the church currently has 30-40 members. They are looking for a location where there’s room for growth, and this site will meet a lot of their needs.
Dan Mooney introduced himself as an architect representing BASEstudios in Ann Arbor. He said he was on hand to answer any questions that commissioners had about the project.
Memorial Christian Church: Commission Discussion
Bonnie Bona asked how the occupancy number of 111 had been set. Jeff Kahan replied that the site has 37 spaces, and the city requires one parking spot for every three people. The math is a straightforward calculation, working out to 111.
Bona told the pastor, Bob Brite, that she hoped the church could attract as many parishioners as the building’s capacity would hold. It’s a two-story building, and she wondered how the seating would work. Brite replied that the sanctuary will be on the second floor, which would hold up to 88 seats. They’re also planning to put a fellowship hall on that floor. The church hopes to lease space on the first floor to nonprofit tenants. He joked that unless someone famous joins their congregation, it will likely be a while before their group reaches the maximum 111. When they reach 88 parishioners, they’ll likely split into two services, he said. He invited commissioners to Sunday service.
Eric Mahler raised some concerns about traffic turning left onto Washtenaw Avenue, but Kahan clarified that there is no direct exit from the site onto Washtenaw. The parking lot exits onto Manchester, and there’s a signal at the intersection of Manchester and Washtenaw.
Wendy Woods said that as a former board member for the Girl Scouts and as someone whose daughters were Girl Scouts, she was glad to see the building used in this way.
Tony Derezinski noted that the neighborhood is accustomed to parking on the streets for church services. St. Francis of Assisi is located nearby on East Stadium Boulevard, he said. The Ann Arbor Assembly of God is even closer, at the split of Washtenaw and Stadium. Derezinski reported that he had voted there on Nov. 6 – it’s the polling station for his Ward 2 precinct.
Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to grant the special exception use. No action is required by city council.
Rezoning in Arbor Hills
A rezoning request for six parcels in the northeast Ann Arbor Hills neighborhood was on the Nov. 20 agenda. The sites would be rezoned from R1B to R1C. Both are types of single-family dwelling districts. The locations are 2014 Geddes Ave.; 2024 Geddes Ave.; 520 Onondaga St.; 2025 Seneca Ave.; 2023 Seneca Ave.; and 2019 Seneca Ave. [.jpg aerial view of parcels] These are six parcels in a block of 10 sites – the other four sites are already zoned R1C.
According to a staff memo, the rezoning was initiated by the city council at the request of property owners: Raymond Maturo and Ann Mulhern; Joseph and Suzanne Upton; Rishindra and Gwendolyn Reddy; Shahrzad Vazirzadeh and Chad Patterson; Vassilios Lambropoulos and Artemis Leontis; and the Clan Crawford Jr. Trust.
R1B zoning requires a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 70 feet. Three of the parcels don’t conform with that zoning. Under the proposed R1C zoning, all parcels would conform with required lot size and width. The rezoning would potentially allow three of the parcels – each lot size currently about 17,500 square feet – to be divided in the future, if other city code requirements are met.
No one spoke during a public hearing on this item.
Rezoning in Arbor Hills: Commission Discussion
There was no substantive discussion, but Tony Derezinski noted that one of the property owners – Clan Crawford – had a statewide reputation in the past and was known as “Mr. Zoning & Planning.” Crawford had authored several books on municipal zoning and planning practices in Michigan, and Derezinski said he would call up Crawford for advice when Derezinski was doing work in that field. Derezinski reported that Crawford was supportive of the proposed rezoning.
Outcome: The rezoning was unanimously recommended for approval, and will be forwarded to city council for consideration.
Farewell to Evan Pratt
Evan Pratt, who had served on the Ann Arbor planning commission since 2004, was elected as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner in the Nov. 6 general election. That new job requires that Pratt attend Tuesday evening meetings of the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission, precluding membership on the planning commission, which also meets on Tuesdays.
Pratt attended the Nov. 20 meeting to receive a certificate of appreciation from his former colleagues. Commissioners around the table praised his work and congratulated him on his new endeavor. Eleanore Adenekan said that as a relatively new commissioner, she had learned a lot from Pratt and she’s sorry to see him go. Tony Derezinski said he’d remember fondly the discussions they’ve had and work they’ve done – “sometimes tough, sometimes controversial, but always with friendship.” He invited Pratt to join commissioners after their meetings every once in a while “to give us your words of wisdom.” [Some commissioners go out together socially after meetings, typically to The Blue Tractor.]
Eric Mahler joked that they’d know if Pratt was doing his job because they’d see reports from the water resources commissioner’s office for projects that they’d be reviewing at the planning commission. Mahler recalled that when he joined the commission, Pratt was serving as chair. “You set a very high bar for all the future chairs to come.” He said the business of the commission could not have been done without Pratt.
Bonnie Bona began by saying “I can’t believe it – I’m now the senior planning commissioner because you left.” She said she’d miss not just his engineering perspective, but also “your layperson’s way of explaining all of that.” It was very helpful, and she thought it would be a huge asset in the water resources office too.
Diane Giannola and Ken Clein echoed the sentiments of other commissioners, and wished Pratt luck.
Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, also thanked Pratt and said she appreciated his insights. He brought a great blend of his professional expertise and his layperson’s perspective to planning issues, she said. She hoped he would return with some Pecha Kucha presentations in the future, to provide some entertainment for the commission. [Pratt had given this kind of presentation to commissioners at one of their meetings two years ago, on the topic of roundabouts.]
Wendy Woods, the commission’s vice chair who was leading the meeting in the absence of chair Kirk Westphal, read aloud the certificate of appreciation and concluded by giving him a hug. Pratt said it had been great working as part of the team and with the planning staff. He thanked members of the public who attended meetings too, saying he appreciated everyone’s input. Commissioners and staff gave Pratt a round of applause.
Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Bonnie Bona, Ken Clein, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, and Wendy Woods.
Absent: Kirk Westphal.
Next regular meeting: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]
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