Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 17, 2012): The agenda for the council’s final regular meeting of the year was relatively light, but was weighted toward “green” issues – including parks and more general environmental items.
The council approved two grant applications for future development of at least part of the city-owned property at 721 N. Main St. as a park. It’s seen as an element of a future Allen Creek greenway that would arc northward along the railroad tracks, starting from the East Stadium bridges to the Huron River. The applications were for unspecified amounts from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) and the Washtenaw County parks & recreation Connecting Communities program. Last year the city received two $300,000 grants from the MNRTF – for the future skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and for renovations to the boating facilities at Gallup Park.
The current grant applications came in the general context of an initial recommendation made by a council-appointed task force that has been meeting since the summer. That task force has a much broader geographic charge, which includes the North Main corridor, extending eastward to the Huron River and over to the MichCon property. The task force is due to make recommendations to the council on that broader area by the summer of 2013. However, the group was asked to weigh-in specifically on the 721 N. Main property by the end of this year – because of the grant application deadlines.
The North Main task force had been appointed at the same May 7, 2012 meeting when the council had heard from representatives of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios on the physical survey work necessary for another city-owned property – at 415 W. Washington. At least part of that property is also envisioned as part of a future Allen Creek greenway. After appropriating $50,000 for physical testing at its July 16, 2012 meeting, the council on Dec. 17 allocated another $32,583 after bids came back.
In addition to green space, the council’s Dec. 17 agenda included two “green” resolutions – one that adopted a climate action plan and the other calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. Ann Arbor’s climate action plan calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 8% by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 90% by 2050. The reductions are compared to baseline levels measured in the year 2000. The action steps identified in the climate action plan are divided into four main categories: energy and buildings; land use and access; resource management; community and health. Those categories align with the city’s sustainability framework. The plan is also coordinated with a similar effort by the University of Michigan.
Other business handled by the council included another request to the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office in connection with stormwater infrastructure for a street reconstruction project. The petition requested an application for $1.4 million in low-interest loans for a three-year project in the Platt-Packard neighborhood. Also connected to bricks-and-mortar infrastructure was an additional allocation of about $148,000 for the 2012 sidewalk repair and ramp installation program – the first year of a five-year cycle, corresponding to a millage approved by voters in 2011. The total mount of the 2012 sidewalk program was about $965,000.
The council also gave its recommendation to grant a micro brewer license to Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky, a retail shop located at 1643 S. State St.
Initial approval was given by the council for a revision to the city’s ordinance regulating parking on front lawns. The change will make it easier to make arrangements for events other than University of Michigan football games.
And the council approved a $90,000 project budget that will allow for documents to be submitted digitally to the planning and development department. The project includes a public kiosk for reviewing plans.
The council also heard its typical range of public commentary, with topics including pedestrian safety, towing, and Palestinian rights.
721 N. Main Grants
The city-owned parcel at 721 N. Main was the subject of two grant applications the council was asked to consider. One application was for a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. The other was to the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission’s Connecting Communities program.
The city considers its proposal for 721 N. Main to be a strong candidate for the Connecting Communities grant, because it incorporates paths and trails through the site that could potentially be extended to connect to the cross-county Border-to-Border Trail.
The conceptual site plan includes the following: (1) open space on the floodway portion of the site; (2) using the floodway portion of the site for stormwater management; (3) making a trail connection from Felch and Summit streets to encourage future connections to the Border‐to‐Border Trail, by looping a trail through the site; (4) areas not identified as lawn, stormwater management, or other use are assumed to be a native prairie-type landscape; (5) interpretive elements will be included; (6) parking is proposed to be provided off Summit, outside of the floodplain – parking is prohibited in the floodway; and (7) recommendations for future use of the existing building will be based on additional research.
The recommendation to apply for the grants stems from the work of a task force appointed by the city council at its May 7, 2012 meeting, to study an area much broader than just the 721 N. Main site. The larger area includes the North Main corridor, extending to the Huron River and including the MichCon property. The connections from 721 N. Main to the Border-to-Border Trail might be given a clearer vision when the task force delivers its recommendation to the city council in the summer of 2013. The task force was asked to provide a recommendation on the 721 N. Main site earlier than that, due to grant application deadlines.
The Connecting Communities grant application is due by the end of the year, while the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant is due April 1, 2013. Historically, Ann Arbor has competed successfully for the statewide grants, last year receiving two MNRTF grants, each for $300,000. One was for renovations to the Gallup Park boating facilities, and the other was for the skatepark to be built in Veterans Memorial Park. Construction on the skatepark is expected to begin in the spring of 2013.
Since 1976, the MNRTF has awarded about $0.4 billion statewide. Of that, about $19 million (4.4%) has been awarded to projects in Washtenaw County. Of the projects in Washtenaw County, those in the city of Ann Arbor have received $6.4 million (32.3%). [.jpg of pie chart of statewide NRTF allocations by county] [.jpg of pie chart of countywide NRTF allocations by jurisdiction]
721 N. Main Grants: Public Comment
Bob Galardi thanked councilmembers for their service. He introduced himself as the president of Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy. He supported the grant applications. The grant money would enable transformation of the floodway portion of the 721 N. Main property into a segment of the Allen Creek greenway, he said. The conservancy considers the 721 N. Main project as a first step to create the greenway, he continued – from the newly reconstructed bridges at East Stadium and South State north to the Huron River. It’s consistent with a prior city council resolution [Aug. 15, 2012] indicating the floodway portions of the 721 N. Main site should be a part of a future greenway.
The development of the 721 N. Main site will be integral in connecting the existing Border-to-Border Trail to downtown Ann Arbor, Galardi said. The branch will be a key element in the development of the greenway’s master plan. After the work is done on the 721 N. Main property, he said, it would be a real and inspiring place for people to experience the greenway. And that experience people have will generate support for future greenway work. Among the benefits Galardi listed for the greenway were: space for safe, off-street non-motorized traffic; recreational space; a connector to great commercial and residential offerings; responsible floodway management; and economic benefits.
721 N. Main Grants: Council Deliberations
During communications time, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) began the deliberations on the resolutions concerning the grant applications. He traced people’s interest in the idea of a greenway back to the 1970s. It’s moving slowly, but it’s still moving forward and has momentum, he said.
When the council reached the items on the agenda, mayor John Hieftje added some background on the 415 W. Washington city-owned site, which had been the focus for a couple of years of work by the greenway and arts communities. Out of that work came the idea of trying to start with the city-owned 721 N. Main site. He said that the 721 N. Main site was more likely to win a grant from the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Hieftje pointed out the connection to the rest of the county through the potential to Border-to-Border Trail. It’s an important step toward realizing the dream of the greenway, he said. He indicated that next year he hoped that 415 W. Washington would be the next candidate for development as part of the greenway.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – who with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) represents the council on the park advisory commission (PAC) – noted that PAC had been fully briefed and is in support of the applications. [See Chronicle coverage: "Grant Applications Recommended for 721 N. Main."]
Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) asked how much money the city was applying for. Hieftje indicated that it would be $300,000 from the Natural Resources Trust Fund. Sumedh Bahl, the city’s community services area administrator, was less specific, saying that the budget for the project was still being estimated. He described how the Connecting Communities grant would be used to provide matching funds for the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
Outcome: The council approved the two grant applications on two separate unanimous votes.
415 W. Washington Study – More Funds
The council was asked to authorize an additional $32,583 for the study of the city-owned property at 415 W. Washington from the general fund balance reserve. The authorization included contracts with Tetra Tech Geo for $44,498 (environmental investigation) and Rueter & Associates for $26,935 (historic structure assessment).
The council had previously authorized $50,000 for physical testing of the property. That vote had come at the council’s July 16, 2012 meeting.
The 415 W. Washington property, with its three buildings, was previously used by the city as a vehicle maintenance facility, before the construction of the Wheeler Service Center south of town on Stone School Road.
The council received a presentation at its May 7, 2012 meeting from representatives of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios on the physical survey work. The 555 group has assumed responsibility for the art community’s component of an initiative established by the city council on Feb. 1, 2010 to explore a collaboration between the greenway and art communities for adaptive reuse of the property. The 555 group stepped in when the Arts Alliance could no longer devote staff time to the project. Prior to that initiative, the city had gone through an RFP (request for proposals) process for the property that did not lead to the selection of any of the three proposals that were submitted.
415 W. Washington: Public Commentary
Alice Ralph introduced herself as a Ward 3 resident on East Stadium. She was speaking as an individual, but noted she serves on the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy board of directors. She was there to support the two resolutions that she described as steps toward a more sustainable Ann Arbor: adoption of the climate action plan, and the additional expenditure of money to do testing on the 415 W. Washington site.
The climate action plan demonstrates community support for meeting the challenges of climate change, she said. It includes reducing energy consumption, diversifying our energy and transportation choices, and improving the performance of existing and new housing stock, among other goals.
The work on the 415 W. Washington site will complete work that’s preliminary to the development of the floodway portion of the site, she noted. The investigations will also facilitate the dispositions of the buildings, which are mostly on non-floodway properties.
Both are good steps for a sustainable Ann Arbor, Ralph said, and they fit nicely together with the grant applications for 721 N. Main.
415 W. Washington: Council Deliberations
Mayor John Hieftje noted that because the resolution altered the city budget, the vote required an eight-vote majority, and that’s how many councilmembers were present. [Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Margie Teall (Ward 4), and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) were absent.]
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she felt that taking funds from the general fund balance should be infrequent. However, she felt that in this case it was appropriate.
Hieftje concurred with Lumm, saying no matter what happens to the buildings [rehabbing or demolition] the information is needed.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the additional allocation for testing and study of the 415 W. Washington site.
Climate Action Plan, Clean Air Act
The council was asked to adopt a climate action plan for the city.
Also at the meeting, the council considered a separate resolution that urges the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case gave the EPA the authority to regulate emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) as pollutants – such as water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3).
Ann Arbor’s climate action plan calls for a reduction in GHG emissions of 8% by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 90% by 2050. The reductions are compared to baseline levels measured in the year 2000. The action steps identified in the climate action plan are divided into four main categories: energy and buildings; land use and access; resource management; and community and health. Those categories align with the city’s sustainability framework. The plan is also coordinated with a similar effort by the University of Michigan.
Examples of the 84 separate individual actions include: weatherizing existing housing stock; creating a program that provides incentives to employees and residents who choose to live within two miles of their job; increasing residential and commercial greywater use; and implementing a community net-zero energy home building/renovation contest. According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, adoption of the climate action plan does not commit the city to expenditures or other obligations.
The climate action plan was recommended for adoption by the city planning commission at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting. It had also been recommended by the city’s energy and environmental commissions. The energy commission had initiated the project, forming a task force in August 2011 to develop the plan.
Climate Action, Clean Air: Public Comment
Susan Hutton spoke in support of adopting the climate action plan, noting that she serves on the city’s environmental commission. The city’s task is to lead by example, she said, providing residents and businesses with resources they need to achieve the city’s goals. She encouraged the council to adopt and implement the action steps in the plan. The city itself only generates 3% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the community, she said. The rest comes from residents, businesses and the University of Michigan.
So even if the city “knocks every one of its goals out of the park,” Hutton said, if the rest of us don’t do our share, the plan’s goals won’t be met. We need to understand what we ourselves need to do, she said. The plan indicates a 90% reduction by 2050, she noted. Hutton said she needs to know what she should do to help achieve that 90% goal. She asked if every resident adopting a home composting program would be enough, or if we’d need to put solar arrays on our roofs, or replace our cars with electric vehicles. She mentioned a report that suggested that global temperatures could rise by as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. She raised the possibility that extreme weather events could become more frequent. She compared the cost of investments in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the clean-up costs from a major storm.
Wayne Appleyard introduced himself as the current chair of the city’s energy commission. He urged councilmembers to vote for the adoption of the climate action plan – saying that he was hoping for a unanimous vote. He noted that the plan is a lengthy document, which includes 84 separate actions. Climate change is real and it’s happening now, he said, and we need to do what we can now to limit its impact. He quoted from David Orr, a professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, in support of the idea that “climate change” isn’t a strong enough term, saying that “climate destabilization” is more appropriate:
The capacity and apparent willingness of humankind to destabilize the climate conditions that made civilization possible is the issue of our time; all others pale by comparison. Beyond some unknown threshold of irreversible and irrevocable changes driven by carbon cycle feedbacks, climate destabilization will lead to a war of all against all, a brutal scramble for food, water, dry land, and safety. Sheer survival will outweigh every other consideration of decency, order, and mutual sympathy. Climate destabilization will amplify other problems caused by population growth, global poverty, the spread of weapons of mass destruction…
Appleyard noted that approving the plan doesn’t commit the council to any expenditures.
Clean Air: Council Deliberations
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) noted that the Clean Air Act resolution came from the environmental commission (EC). He and the resolution’s co-sponsor, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), serve as the city council’s representatives to that body. Warpehoski said the EC had been looking at the issue for quite some time. Ann Arbor would be joining communities across the county to ask the Obama administration to use the authority it has under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.
He characterized the resolution and the climate action plan, which the council had later on its agenda, as additional steps in a long history of actions that Ann Arbor is taking. But Ann Arbor recognizes that a global problem like climate change is more than the city can handle on its own. National and international leadership is required, he said, as well as local leadership.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) ventured that another “resolved” clause would be useful to direct the city administrator to forward the resolution to someone in the federal government. Warpehoski felt that the resolution didn’t necessarily need such a clause, but allowed that it’d be helpful to have one.
Mayor John Hieftje indicated that some standard language could be added on a friendly basis, without requiring a vote. Hieftje said he was happy to see the resolution and to vote for it. “Every little bit helps,” he said. He hoped that the elected representatives to Congress from this area would pay attention to the resolution, as would perhaps someone at the EPA.
Outcome: The resolution on the Clean Air Act was unanimously approved.
Climate Action: Council Deliberations
Mayor John Hieftje indicated that he felt the people who’d spoken during public commentary had explained it very well – representatives from the environmental commission and the energy commission. It’s been talked about by those commissions and it was now before the council, he said.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed her support for the plan, which sets a lot of targets. She thought it’s appropriate to set those goals. But she cautioned that the challenge will be in the plan’s implementation, which will require balancing trade-offs of the multiple priorities of city government. She was encouraged to see the mid-range goal of 25% reduction, which was aligned with the University of Michigan’s goal. The aggressive target of 90% would require implementation of almost all of the more than 80 actions, she observed. That would require large investments from various organizations, including residents and taxpayers.
Lumm asked city environmental coordinator Matt Naud to answer some questions. She noted that after the council’s work session on the issue, she’d asked about the cost implications. She asked Naud to explain how the costs and benefits are calculated for the CO2 reductions – saying that some of the dollar amounts are negative. Naud explained that some of the actions can be implemented without spending any money, so that meant the carbon reduction cost is negative. If you invest in energy efficiency, it can pay for itself, he said. Certain items will cost something, he said.
The city will continue to evaluate where the opportunities are, Naud said. The city is in discussions with utility companies, which want to install solar photovoltaics, potentially on city property. That could generate cash for the city, which could be re-invested in additional installations that could be used for the city’s own energy needs. As the market changes, Naud said, the city would continue to monitor things so sensible investments could be made to meet the goals in the climate action plan.
Responding to another question from Lumm, Naud described the next step as going back to work with the energy commission and staff to talk about which steps will give the city “the biggest bang for the buck” in the immediate future. Whatever is developed as a proposal would be brought back for approval by the city council, he said.
Responding to further questions from Lumm, Naud explained that “no regrets” steps are “things we would do anyway,” which would have significant climate benefits. For example, Naud said, $250 million is spent citywide on natural gas electricity – and about 10% of that could be saved with caulk. If the University of Michigan is $110 million of that, that’s $140 million for businesses and residents. So saving 10% would translate into putting $14 million back into the local economy, Naud concluded. But that is also a huge greenhouse gas reduction, he said. So that’s a “no regrets” option, whether you believe in climate change or not, he said.
It’s also important to integrate the most recent climate science, Naud said. He mentioned the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments as having some of the smartest climate scientists in the country. But they don’t necessarily understand the questions a municipality might have. As an example, he said that the city builds the stormwater system to handle a 10-year storm. Or the floodplain is regulated to contend with a 100-year storm. The city needs to know what a 100-year storm looks like in 2025, Naud said. So it’s important to work with climate scientists to make clear those specific information needs.
Hieftje reminded the council that in 2005 he’d made a green energy challenge, which called for the city to achieve 15% renewable energy by 2010. The energy commission had increased that target to 20%, he said. That target had been missed by a bit, he said, but had been achieved by 2011. He noted that conservation was the city’s key strategy. The next challenge, he said, would be to get residents citywide involved in the effort.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the adoption of the climate action plan.
Stormwater Petition: Springwater
The council was asked to authorize a request of the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to apply $1.45 million in state revolving fund loans. It’s part of a street reconstruction project in the Springwater subdivision – with an overall project cost of $5.17 million.
The general location of the area is Platt and Packard roads. Streets that are part of the project include Nordman Road, Butternut Street, Springbrook Avenue, and Redwood Avenue.
The street reconstruction will use a traditional asphalt surface, but the management of stormwater will be achieved through oversized stormwater pipes. Construction is expected to start in late 2013 and will last three years. Sanitary sewer issues will also be addressed as part of the project.
Reimbursement from the city’s stormwater fund to the office of the water resources commissioner will be in installments of $88,677 per year. This petition made by Ann Arbor to the water resources commissioner comes after the council’s approval of three similar petitions, for other areas of the city, at its Dec. 3, 2012 meeting.
Outcome: The council approved the petition without discussion.
More Money Approved for Sidewalk Repair
The council was asked to authorize another $147,962 for repair of sidewalks and construction of ramps in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The vote to approve the change order brought the total contract with Doan Construction Co. for the 2012 program to $964,991. [.pdf of map showing areas where work was done]
The funding source being tapped is the sidewalk repair millage, which was approved by voters in November 2011.
Outcome: The council approved the authorization without discussion.
Micro Brewer License for Biercamp
The council was asked to consider a recommendation that Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky, a retail shop located at 1643 S. State St., be granted a micro brewer liquor license.
According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, Biercamp intends to brew small batches of beer in growlers for off-site consumption to complement their artisan meats. A micro brewer license limits the amount of beer produced to no more than 30,000 barrels per year. A barrel is 31 gallons.
The owners of Biercamp had previously hoped for a rezoning of the parcel to allow for the sale of more products not manufactured on site. That rezoning request was ultimately denied by the city council at its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting.
Biercamp: Council Deliberations
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted at the council’s Dec. 10 planning session, the topic of increased economic development had been discussed. The recommendation of the micro brewer license was an example of facilitating economic development, he said. He observed that Biercamp was not asking for a subsidy.
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said he’d support the recommendation for a micro brewer license, adding that if Biercamp’s beer is as good as their jerky and sausage, he couldn’t wait to try it. Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who serves on the council’s liquor license review committee, noted that the application indicates Biercamp will be brewing “small batches,” and ventured that it sounded like something everyone will want to check out.
Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked if anyone knew what a “growler” is – it had been mentioned in the staff memo. Mayor John Hieftje explained that it’s a container for beer. [A standard size is a half-gallon.] Hieftje offered a description of Ann Arbor residents of German heritage, who in the past would order a pail of beer to take home.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to recommend Biercamp for the micro brewer license.
More Front Yard Parking
The council was asked to consider a more flexible local ordinance regulating the ability of residents to park cars in their front yards.
The change in local law, if given final approval at a future council meeting, would allow the city council to establish “special event dates” for temporary front open space parking. The current ordinance allows people to use their front yards for parking for University of Michigan football games. The ordinance change includes a provision explicitly to include “scrimmages,” which will accommodate the annual spring game.
The ordinance change was motivated part by the possibility that UM football stadium events might in the future not necessarily be restricted to football games. For example, a National Hockey League game, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, had been scheduled for Jan. 1, 2013 at Michigan Stadium. It was canceled earlier this year due to ongoing labor disputes between the NHL and its players’ association.
The city planning commission recommended approval of the change at its Nov. 7, 2012 meeting.
Outcome: The council voted, without deliberations, to give the ordinance changes initial approval. Final approval will come at a future meeting after a public hearing.
Digital Plan Submission Software/Hardware
The council was asked to authorize a $61,000 contract with CRW Systems Inc. in a total project budget of $90,000 for implementing a digital system to submit plans to the city’s planning and development department. The budget includes a kiosk for public viewing of documents and large-screen monitors.
During deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she felt that the switch to digital plan submission made sense, but wondered if there’d been any resistance from those who have to submit plans. City planning manager Wendy Rampson described it as actually quite a “hassle” for people to put the plans in paper form. The city has heard from some people that they’d prefer the city not post AutoCAD files – out of concerns for proprietary information. Files in .pdf form should be adequate, she said, and that format also gives citizens better access.
Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) asked if there were specific cost savings associated with the change. Sumedh Bahl, community services area administrator, gave as an example that when the city planning staff makes comments on drawings, someone has to transcribe the comments onto another set of drawings – which is a manual process with paper drawings, he explained. If a project undergoes 2-3 reviews, someone has to do it over and over. With this software the council was authorizing, he explained, you type it once and it’s done. Another example he gave was that for commercial buildings, the drawings have to be available for the life of the structure. By changing to a digital format, much less space will be required for the physical storage of the drawings.
Outcome: The council approved the digital plan submission item on a unanimous vote.
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: Video Surveillance
During communications time at the end of the meeting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) alerted other councilmembers to an ordinance that he and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) would be bringing forward to regulate the use of video surveillance.
Warpehoski said that the Ann Arbor police department doesn’t currently use that technique, but there’d been some concerns in other communities. So the city’s human rights commission had been working to craft a legal framework that respects privacy concerns. The city’s legal staff is still putting the final touches on the ordinance language, he said.
By way of additional background, former Ward 1 councilmember Sandi Smith had announced at a council meeting over a year ago, on Aug. 4, 2011, that she’d be bringing a video surveillance ordinance for consideration at the council’s Sept. 6, 2011 meeting. And a year before that she’d indicated the human rights commission would be working on the issue.
During communications time at the end of the meeting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said that after the council had enacted a revision to the city’s towing ordinance – which makes it more straightforward for cars to be towed that are being stored on city streets without being moved – he’d heard from constituents with a question: What happens when I go on vacation?
Warpehoski reported that Ann Arbor chief of police John Seto had advised him and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) that residents can contact the community standards department before leaving to alert the department of their planned vacation. Community standards employees would then either not ticket or delay the enforcement cycle. He compared it to asking the post office to hold your mail.
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, a different type of towing was discussed – when someone parks in a private lot that has a contract with a towing company. Lon Cooke told the council he’d built a house and moved into the area about a year and half ago. [After the meeting, Cooke told The Chronicle he'd moved from North Dakota, to be near family.] He lives on Scio Church Road, west of Zeeb Road, he said, and he often comes into town to go to the market and to shop. He described a recent visit to Kerrytown and to Treasure Mart, when he’d parked in a vacant lot.
After about 15 minutes, Cooke’s car was towed. He didn’t know who had towed the car or who to contact. Eventually they learned that Glen-Ann Towing had towed it. He had to go to the Glen-Ann office to pay the charges: $120 for the towing; $65 for the jacks; a $7 surcharge; a $40 release fee and $30 administrative fees; and $20 for storage. That was $282 that had to be paid in cash, he reported. So he had to go to an ATM. The driver of the wrecker, he said, told him there’s a “fleet of wreckers” from that firm and another firm that patrolled the area targeting potential cars that could be towed. He characterized it as a predatory situation. Cooke indicated he wouldn’t come downtown to Ann Arbor to shop until the situation is rectified.
Comm/Comm: Crosswalk Behavior
During communications time at the end of the meeting, Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) said she was happy to receive an email from city administrator Steve Powers about enforcement of the crosswalk ordinance near schools. If a community can’t take care of its children, nothing really matters, she said.
During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Michael Benson spoke about the issue of pedestrian behavior at crosswalks. Based on his observations at the rapid flashing beacons that the city has installed along Plymouth Road, when pedestrians activate the beacons, the signals immediately begin flashing – there’s no delay between activation and flashing, he said. That led to pedestrians entering the crosswalk immediately, assuming they could cross safely. He suggested that the blinking be delayed slightly after activation, which might cause pedestrians to pause before entering the cross walk.
And Kathy Griswold used the council’s agenda item on the approval of the $148,000 for the sidewalk program as an occasion to advocate for a range of pedestrian safety issues. She asked the council to balance out its funding for transit. Transit begins at the sidewalk, she said, not at the railroad tracks or the bus stop. If we want people to use transit, she said, then non-motorized transportation funding needs to be provided. She’d just attended a meeting about the non-motorized transportation plan review. She had reviewed the proposed update of the plan for 2012 and reported that “I have to say, I’m incensed. I’m so angry.” She was angry because the funding mechanism identified is Safe Routes to School, she said. Ann Arbor is a wealthy community – with money to plan for buses and trains. So she said “it’s time we thought about our children.” Some children are walking in the dark to school without sidewalks, she said.
She questioned the appropriateness of using “Pedestrians Rule” as a motto in educational material, because they don’t rule, she said. She felt the use of such material was a result of excluding traffic and transportation engineers from participation in the development of such material. She contended that signage at crosswalks is inconsistent with the crosswalk ordinance. [The signs admonish motorists to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. That's what Ann Arbor's ordinance requires. It also requires that motorists stop and "yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk."] Griswold also complained that the city is not enforcing sight-distance ordinances at crosswalks.
Comm/Comm: Palestinian Rights
Henry Herskovitz reported that he’d read in December’s Washtenaw Jewish News an article with the headline: “Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice condemns synagogue protests.” [.pdf of WJN article] [Herskovitz participates in the weekly demonstrations near the Beth Israel Congregation. Ward 5 councilmember Chuck Warpehoski is the executive director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.]
In a previous issue of the Jewish News, Henry Brysk had criticized Warpehoski, who was then a candidate for city council, calling him a “‘nuanced anti-Zionist’ as if that’s a bad thing,” Herskovitz said. Herskovitz quoted from the piece by Brysk: “The ICPJ has refused to condemn the Herskovite harassment of Beth Israel Congregation …” Herskovitz indicated that he felt there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between the Brysk’s criticism of Warpehoski and the ICPJ’s condemnation of the demonstrations. [.pdf of Brysk's letter in WJN, published in the summer 2012 issue]
Herskovitz stated that it was unfortunate that the Jewish community in Ann Arbor wielded more power than its relative percentage of the population. Herskovitz drew a comparison of cause-and-effect from eight years ago, when the council and the mayor received a letter from Barry Gross complaining about the council’s lack of action about the weekly demonstrations. Herskovitz quoted from the letter: “The time when your silence was acceptable is long past. The 470 family units in our congregation virtually all live in Ann Arbor. We are avid voters. We are watching closely for your response.” A short time later, the council passed a resolution condemning the weekly demonstrations, Herskovitz said.
Herskovitz noted that the previous month new councilmembers had been sworn into office. That oath includes a promise to uphold the U.S. Constitution, which includes the right of free speech. He indicated that he thought the council was abdicating its responsibility to uphold the Constitution, based on “bullying tactics of a small but powerful group.” He asked the council to remember its oath to uphold the Constitution.
Blaine Coleman began by stating, “Ann Arbor city council must boycott Israel at last.” Chuck Warpehoski had won election to the council, because he heads a well-known peace group [ICPJ], Coleman contended. The ICPJ had voted for a resolution urging the city to divest from the Israeli military. However, since being elected, Warpehoski has not abided by the ICPJ’s resolution, he said, and had instead become the “opposite of a peace activist.” Warpehoski has not said one word to defend the people of Gaza, Coleman said.
Since his election, Warpehoski has apparently forgotten how to pronounce the word “Palestine,” Coleman said. Coleman accused Warpehoski of joining the Israeli war effort against Palestine by denouncing the only Palestinian rights vigil in Ann Arbor. Since election to the council, Coleman contended, Warpehoski is “all over AnnArbor.com denouncing the Palestine vigils, and he won’t shut up about it.”
Coleman indicated that he felt Warpehoski is acting increasingly like a “racist coward.” He called on Warpehoski to change quickly or quit the council. Coleman described the demonstrators Warpehoski had condemned as “peaceful vigilers for Palestinian rights … silently holding signs against Israeli atrocities on Washtenaw Avenue.” He noted that the demonstrations are entering their 10th year. He described some of them as leaning on canes due to age and infirmity.
By way of additional background, over a year ago Coleman filed suit, represented by the ACLU, against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for rejecting a proposed anti-Israel advertisement for the sides of its buses. The court ruled in favor of Coleman’s request for a preliminary injunction, but the nature of the relief was not to force the AATA to place the ad. The AATA has revised its advertising policy, and the court has ordered the AATA to reconsider the original ad or a revised one. In an email sent to The Chronicle by Daniel Korobkin, the ACLU attorney on the case, he indicated that the ad to be re-submitted will be the same as the original ad.
Comm/Comm: Kuhnke Thanked
Carol Kuhnke, judge-elect of the 22nd circuit court, was presented with a proclamation honoring her 13 years of service to the city – on the zoning board of appeals.
The proclamation notes that she was first appointed to that body by then-mayor Ingrid Sheldon, and subsequently re-appointed by mayor John Hieftje. In the race against Jim Fink, Kuhnke won election on Nov. 6 to the open seat being left by retiring judge Melinda Morris.
The proclamation appoints her to the “honorary office of Retired Emeritus Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals.” In her brief remarks to the council, Kuhnke said she enjoyed her time on the ZBA and looked forward to serving justice and the citizens of Washtenaw County.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), in his role as the city council’s representative on the greenbelt advisory commission, reported on a successful closing of a conservation easement. It was on the Van Natter property, which is about 20 acres located along Joy Road, just west of Zeeb. He described it as contiguous with an existing block of about 1,100 protected acres in Webster Township. Sheep and chickens are raised on the farm, Taylor said.
Comm/Comm: Lame Duck – PPT
City administrator Steve Powers indicated that staff are still sorting through the items from the state legislature’s lame duck session. There’s not a full report yet, but the changes to the personal property tax law (on business equipment) were approved. Powers noted that the budget projections that the council had been shown at their Dec. 10 planning session had assumed those changes would be made to the personal property tax law, which decreases revenue to the city.
The city is projecting the following impacts to the general fund from the change to the PPT law: FY 2014 ($257,573); FY 2015 (257,598); FY 2016 ($422,068); FY 2017 ($471,409). However, the city expects to end this year (FY 2013) with a roughly $100,000 surplus to its general fund, on a budget of $79 million. The city currently projects a $1.2 million surplus for FY 2014, but after that a roughly break-even year in FY 2015 and a deficit of $800,000 and $1.5 million the following two years. The city’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.
Comm/Comm: Newtown Shootings
As a part of his city administrator’s report, Steve Powers indicated that chief of police John Seto had reached out to the Ann Arbor Public Schools to offer any assistance and support that could be provided in the wake of the tragic shooting deaths of elementary school children in Newtown, Conn.
Comm/Comm: Solar Panels
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Kermit Schlansker criticized Detroit Edison for building a power source using photo-voltaic cells. Solar installations on the roofs of large buildings are a far more effective way of spending money, because solar energy shouldn’t just be used for making power, but also for space heating, air conditioning, hot water, and alcohol distillation. He called on the city to demonstrate this idea by putting a power plant on the roof of the city hall building.
During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Michael Benson lamented the aesthetics of the solar panels that the University of Michigan has installed along Stone Road, which obscure what he described as a lovely city street.
Comm/Comm: What Would Jesus Say?
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge noted that it was nearly Christmas Eve. He wondered what Jesus would say, if he were walking through the Middle East today, an area plagued with turmoil. “Would Jesus not advocate here tonight before this council budgeting … to protect America’s most vulnerable residents by expanding human rights?” Jesus would call for advancing the cause of access to affordable housing and transportation, he said. These issues should always be given priority on the council’s agenda, and in every courtroom, and every place of worship. He called on the council to put first human rights and to advance the cause of the most vulnerable. He characterized as “ironic” the name of the program to which Ann Arbor was applying for support for the 721 N. Main project – Connecting Communities. Ann Arbor had not yet achieved connections within its own community, he said.
During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Partridge introduced himself as a recent candidate for the state senate and house. He called himself an advocate for all those who are not able to attend this and other public meetings. He told the council that he’d been informed that he was held in high regard by many people and is considered the alternate mayor of the city of Ann Arbor. He criticized mayor John Hieftje for disregarding the most significant issues of our time.
Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.
Absent: Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Marcia Higgins.
Next council meeting: Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]
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