Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 7, 2013): Most of the council’s first regular meeting of the year was taken up with discussion of a U.S. Department of Energy grant of nearly $1 million for construction of two wind turbines, likely to be constructed on Ann Arbor Public Schools property.
Councilmembers established a concern about the possible financial risks associated with the project, and a desire that public input be solicited on the ultimate decision for a site. But the vote was unanimous to accept the grant, which includes an obligation to provide roughly $480,000 in matching funds. That match is expected to be provided by Wind Products Inc., a company located in Brooklyn, New York.
At a meeting of the city’s energy commission held the following night, commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction that the proposal had not been brought to that body for review.
Some of the council’s deliberations on the wind turbines included the question of whether the effort was consistent with the council’s priorities for the next two years – ones that were formally adopted at the Jan. 7 meeting. The priorities, which had been identified in a Dec. 10 planning session, included the basic areas of: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing.
The council had three parks-related voting items on its agenda, neither of which prompted extended deliberations. One was approval of a design for the new skatepark in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, which is expected to start construction in the spring and be completed in the fall. A second voting item was the approval of another contract with the Conservation Fund, which helps manage operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs.
A third parks-related voting item was authorization of a contract to replace roofs on two buildings at Cobblestone Farm.
Another agenda item – related to parks, but not requiring a vote – was a presentation from the council-appointed task force that’s been asked to make recommendations for a future vision of the North Main Street corridor, extending to the Huron River, including the MichCon property. They focused their presentation on the 721 N. Main property, for which the council had authorized two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. The group has a summer 2013 deadline to make recommendations for the whole area.
Also on the topic of parks, the council heard from representatives of New Hope Baptist Church during public commentary, regarding a planned new dog park. Members of the congregation oppose the location of the dog park inside West Park, because it’s immediately adjacent to the church on Chapin Street. Also during public commentary, the council again heard calls for the top of the Library Lane parking garage to be designated as a park.
Some other items on the agenda could be grouped under land use and planning. The council gave approval to changes to the site plan for Packard Square, a proposed redevelopment of the former Georgetown Mall. The council had postponed the item from its Dec. 3, 2012 agenda.
And the council gave initial approval to a zoning request in connection with the proposed Summit Townhomes project site, just east of Stone School Road. The land was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.
Also as a result of council action, Ann Arbor residents could have some additional flexibility for parking cars on their front lawns – beyond just the occasions of University of Michigan football games.
In other business, the council approved the appointment of Carrie Leahy to the board of the local development finance authority (LDFA). The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA.
Other public commentary heard at the meeting included remarks opposing continued investment in companies that provide military hardware to Israel.
One hour immediately preceding the regular meeting was a special session of the council. Its agenda consisted only of a closed session, to discuss labor negotiations – which is an allowable topic for a closed session under the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
Wind Turbine Grant
The council was asked to consider acceptance of a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy that will fund part of the construction of two wind turbines. The turbines are intended to generate electricity for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The project requires construction in or near the city of Ann Arbor sometime in the next year and a half.
The city is obligated to provide an additional $484,390 in matching funds on the $951,500 grant – which it expects to achieve through partnership with a third-party developer, who was not named in the council’s resolution. However, city staff responded to councilmember questions before the meeting by indicating it was Wind Products Inc., out of Brooklyn, N.Y. that is expected to make the investment.
The city’s plan is to make a $18,590 contribution of in-kind staff time, not paying any cash.
The plan is to locate the wind turbines on AAPS property, and that the third-party developer will construct the turbines. The developer would then provide AAPS with a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) – which would give the AAPS some guaranteed minimum of power at less than the current market rate. The recipient of any renewable energy credits (RECs) from the installation would be the city of Ann Arbor.
AAPS director of communications Liz Margolis responded to an emailed query from The Chronicle describing the possibility that the site of the installation could be Pioneer High School, with the height of the turbines approximating that of two cell towers already located on the property. Margolis indicated that before any decision is made to locate wind turbines on the school’s property, the school district would solicit comments from residents who live near the site. The city council deliberations indicated little enthusiasm for locating the turbines near residential neighborhoods or very near a school building.
In the state of Michigan, Ann Arbor has poor to marginal potential for wind energy generation, compared with areas in the rest of the state – according to data maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy. However, the goal of the Ann Arbor project is focused on the educational benefit – as the schools integrate the project into their curricula and the public would have its awareness raised regarding renewable energy.
Wind Turbine Grant: Public Comment
During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Kai Petainen told the council that he was speaking only on his own behalf. He thanked them for their vote on the skatepark. But he told councilmembers that the wind turbine grant didn’t make sense to him, saying it doesn’t take much to see we don’t have much wind in this area. He ventured that the money would be better spent hiring him to teach children about geography, and where wind resources are distributed. He told the council that the VA hospital has a windmill on its roof that he has occasion to observe with some frequency, and he contended that it never moves.
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Kermit Schlansker told the council he was unaware that windmills were on the agenda. He told the council they should take money if they can get it, but added that they should divert it for something else. Windmills are not new, he said, and there’s nothing spectacular about them, and there isn’t that much wind in this area, he said.
A better way to spend the money, he said, would be to invest it in an “energy farm” – which relates to food, energy, jobs for unskilled labor, factory jobs, a place to house the homeless and for recreation. He advocated for putting up an apartment building that was supported by using geothermal heat, solar, wind and biomass energy.
Wind Turbine Grant: Council Deliberations
Brian Steglitz, a utilities engineer with the city, was asked to the podium to answer questions.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated that 18 months didn’t seem like a lot of time to complete the project, and the amount of staff time – with an estimated in-kind value of about $18,000 – didn’t seem like sufficient resources to complete the job.
Steglitz explained that half the staff time is reimbursed by the grant, so the amount of staff time would actually be $36,000. He also noted that a fair amount of effort would come from non-city staff. He allowed that the timeline is aggressive but said it’s “doable.” In the scheduling of the activities that have to be completed, there are many items contingent on some previous thing occurring. For example, the environmental assessment could have an outcome that could delay the process. Preliminary conversations have been held about a possible location, he said, adding that he could not yet share details.
Lumm asked Steglitz to describe the risks to the city: What happens if costs exceed projections? He explained that under the U.S. Department of Energy process, spending isn’t authorized until certain milestones are met. As an example, he said, it’s not possible to do design work on the turbines right now. If the project doesn’t meet a milestone, then the project stops, he explained. Steglitz did not see any risk except the staff time – that is, the city could put forth $18,000 worth of staff time and not have finished wind turbines. If the project is unsuccessful, then the city would have to summarize its experience in a report, he said.
Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) wanted to know how big the turbines would be. Steglitz explained that they hadn’t been designed or studied yet, but estimated that they’d be about 100-150 feet tall – the height of a typical cell tower. Responding to Kailasapathy, he indicated that a turbine could be located on AAPS property.
Sally Petersen (Ward 2) expressed some confusion – about whether there’d been an RFP (request for proposals) process and how Wind Products was selected. Steglitz indicated that the city had gone out initially a year ago and had made a partnership with the University of Michigan. Originally, the university was going to provide matching funds because they were interested in doing research – but that had not worked out. So the city had looked at other financing partners. The proposal from Wind Products calls for the company to construct the turbines on the city’s behalf, and then the company would own the turbines. The city would lease the turbines for a certain period of time and pay the company for the power during that period. Wind Products was the only company that had come to the table to meet the grant requirements and the financial commitment to build the turbines.
Petersen asked Steglitz if he didn’t consider that a risk – that Wind Products would not match the DOE grant matching requirement on the city’s behalf. Steglitz explained that the city had a letter of intent with Wind Products – but it’s not a contract. It states that if the city accepts the grant, then the city and Wind Products will work together to develop the power purchase agreement – the contract. The council would eventually need to authorize that contract, he said. Petersen indicated that she thought the power purchase agreement was supposed to be between AAPS and Wind Products. Steglitz responded that the parties to that agreement had yet to been determined.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked what the advantage to AAPS and to the city was: Why is the city working hard to accept this grant? Steglitz said that AAPS has been trying to do some kind of wind project for a long time. A planned project at Skyline High School never came to fruition, he said. There is some financial benefit, he said, because AAPS would pay less than current market rates for the electricity that’s generated. The school district is interested in being the “face of renewable energy,” he said, and wants to incorporate the turbines into the educational program. One of the benefits to the city is that it helps meet its goals for renewable energy.
Briere noted that Ann Arbor is not a really good location to locate wind turbines, because the steady 13-14 mph winds you need don’t blow here. Why are we doing this here? she asked. Steglitz observed that the project goes back many years, and he was not involved with the grant application. He ventured that the application was likely submitted by former city energy coordinator Dave Konkle. Steglitz said the project didn’t indicate that the city thinks it has a great wind resource. It’s more about education. It’ll be a monument to renewable energy, he said.
Mayor John Hieftje drew a comparison to a previous grant the city had received from the DOE for solar energy – which had been awarded even though DOE was aware that Ann Arbor is not the sunniest spot.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he felt Skyline High School would be a great location. He was concerned about the siting of the facility without much community engagement. He ventured that there would not be a direct feed from the wind turbine to a school building, but Steglitz indicated that might be possible – but he would not speak on DTE’s behalf.
Steglitz described challenges associated with various sites, including zoning and municipal airport flight lines. Kunselman got additional confirmation that any contracts associated with the project would come back before the council for approval.
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked about the size of the turbine blades. Steglitz indicated that they’d be on the order of a 30-foot radius – so 60-feet long. She expressed concern about noise. She also wondered what would happen if a blade flew off. She indicated she had some mixed feelings about it.
Lumm echoed Higgins’ sentiments about the importance of working with the community on site selection – that should be Job 1, she said. She noted that the solar array installation undertaken by UM recently involved zero community input. And the university had made zero effort to reach out to city staff, she contended, so many people were surprised when the panels appear. She said she gets angry any time she drives past it. She expressed a desire to “test the waters” on the issue of siting before going down the path of accepting the grant.
Hieftje described vibration and danger issues associated with wind turbines as minimal. He allowed that one particular wind turbine installation – at California’s Altamont Pass – was a danger to birds.
On the topic of siting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) joked that if the idea was to consider a site where a lot of air gets pushed around, he wondered if Steglitz had considered city council chambers?
Higgins questioned whether there was clear support from the AAPS board for the project, and drew out from Steglitz that he’d been working with AAPS executive director of physical properties Randy Trent. Higgins ventured that to complete the project in 18 months, they’d need to move with “lightning speed.” Steglitz indicated he was optimistic.
Lumm said this sounded to her like a familiar path. [She was alluding to a grant the city had received from the Federal Rail Administration that required local matching funds that the city thought it had already provided – which turned out not to be the case.] She questioned whether the city should try to do everything, or instead try to prioritize. In the year she’s served on council since being elected most recently, Lumm said, it seemed like the council had spent a lot of time on transportation and the environment, not the priorities the council had discussed at a recent planning session. She looked forward to shifting her focus to those priorities.
Petersen stated, “I’m a fan of wind.” [It's unclear if the pun was intended.] She also said the city needs to focus on alternative energy in the future. As Lumm had pointed out, environmental concerns were not in the council’s top five priorities, Petersen said. She liked the educational components, but was not sure if the AAPS board was supportive. She was also worried about the short time frame.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) did not share Petersen’s concerns and said she was pretty excited about the project. The short time frame means we don’t need to wait, she said, adding: “The time is now; the time is yesterday.”
Responding to remarks by Lumm and Petersen on priorities, Briere noted that infrastructure was one of the identified priorities – which include transportation. Briere’s comment responded specifically to Lumm’s contention that the council’s focus on transportation wasn’t consistent with the five priority areas. Briere pointed out that the council had made a big effort to define infrastructure so that it included transportation. In any case, the priorities are aspirational goals for the next two years, not for the current budget cycle. She said it would be a shame to decide they don’t want to do it.
Kunselman said he would support the project, reasoning that it’s important that they move forward on something that had been started years ago. He felt like the city would hand off the siting question to the AAPS board.
Warpehoski agreed with Kunselman, saying that he was excited when he saw it on the agenda – because it meets several goals of the city. Among those goals were financial and educational goals. The best way to assure we waste staff time is to back out now, he said, adding that the finish line is in sight. Higgins said she’d support the project but wanted AAPS to have a community-involvement element to its site-selection process.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said the project struck him as typical of the large, forward-thinking projects that the city staff brought forward – where the city’s risk is minimized. Taylor said the fact that he didn’t understand where the turbines will be or what the community conversation will be didn’t strike him as important. The time to evaluate that is for the future, he said. If the school district’s process is lacking, the council would hear about it. And the council would have the chance to “pull the plug” at a later time.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve acceptance of the DOE grant for wind turbines.
Wind Turbine Grant: Postlude
On the following evening, on Jan 8, 2013, the city’s energy commission met and was briefed about the wind turbine project. Based on CTN coverage, which is available through Community Television Network (CTN) Video on Demand, commissioners had a negative reaction to not being included in the review process for the project. [CTN coverage begins at roughly the 0:57 minute mark]
Wayne Appleyard, who chairs the commission, stated: “Some of us wonder what we’re here for if we’re not consulted on these things.” He also pointed to the stated purpose of the commission in support of his contention that the city should have taken advantage of the technical expertise of commission members: “To oversee City policies and regulations in areas of energy efficiency concerns and make periodic public reports and recommendations to the City Council.”
By way of explanation for the omission, environmental coordinator Matt Naud, who gave the briefing, explained that the project had languished for a time, and that there’d been a staff transition – as former program manager for the Ann Arbor energy office, Andrew Brix, had left the city. But Naud allowed: “We did not keep you up to date as much as we should have.”
Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the energy commission, seemed to discount the significance of the council’s action, expressing some skepticism that the project would even be built: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” The item’s appearance on the council’s Jan. 7 agenda was facilitated by Hieftje’s sponsorship of it. It had missed the deadline by which staff could add an item to the agenda – but a member of the council can add an item at any time.
Commissioner Cliff Williams asked some pointed questions about the RFP process that had eventually led to an exclusive letter of intent with Wind Products Inc. He was aware of some companies that had submitted bids, but that were not aware of the change in scope of the project that resulted in the selection of Wind Products, which had not bid in response to the initial RFP.
On the council’s agenda was an item that called for the adoption of a consultant’s report on a Dec. 10, 2012 council planning session. Part of the report outlines priorities for the next two years identified by the council at that session, including: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing. [.pdf of Julia Novak's report on the Dec. 10 session]
For more detailed coverage of the problem and success statements that the council associates with each of the priority areas, see Chronicle coverage: “Council Focus: Budget, Safety, Infrastructure.” And for coverage of statements of councilmember sentiments in response to one of the planning session assignments – a 3-5 minute statement on “What I believe” – see “What They Believe: Ann Arbor City Council.”
Council deliberations consisted of remarks from Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who called the session productive. She thanked the city staff for their efforts. The time was well spent in team-building and identifying key areas of focus for the next two fiscal years, Lumm said. She reviewed the five priority areas. She supported those five areas, which she felt were aligned with the community’s priorities as well, and looked forward to acting on them in the next few months. [The council will be adopting the fiscal year 2014 city budget in May, for the 12-month period beginning on July 1, 2013.]
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to adopt the planning session report.
Ann Arbor Skatepark Design
The council was asked to consider the final design of a new Ann Arbor skatepark, to be located in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The city’s park advisory commission had unanimously recommended approval of the proposed design at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2013, with a goal of completing the project by the fall.
The park was designed by Wally Hollyday. In July of 2012, the Ann Arbor city council had authorized a $89,560 contract with his firm, Wally Hollyday Skateparks, for the design and construction oversight of the skatepark. City council action on the skatepark at that location dates back to a Dec. 1, 2008 approval of a memorandum of intent. [.pdf of memorandum of intent]
The roughly $1 million project – including an anticipated $100,000 endowment for ongoing maintenance – will be financed through a combination of funds. Those include private donations – primarily solicited through the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark – as well as a $300,000 state grant, and up to $400,000 in matching funds from the Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission. The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation is acting as fiduciary.
The design includes a wide variety of skateboarding features – including bowls and pools; banked, Hubba and cantilevered ledges; and slappy curbs. Landscaped areas and rain gardens are located throughout the park, which will also serve as stormwater management elements. The design includes a small stage, which could be used for skateboarding demonstrations as well as other community performances. Organizers also hope to incorporate concrete “skateable artwork” on the site.
Two residents who live near Veterans Memorial Park spoke against the location during public commentary at PAC’s Dec. 12 meeting, saying they hadn’t been informed before the site was selected. They also referred to a petition of about 20 other residents who opposed the location, including the owners of Knight’s Restaurant, which is located across from the proposed skatepark. They were concerned about noise, maintenance, safety and other issues that they felt hadn’t been adequately addressed.
Later in that PAC meeting Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, reviewed the history of the project starting in 2007, including a listing of forums with neighbors, which he described as well-attended, and public hearings at PAC and city council. He later showed The Chronicle a receipt for a mailing sent to neighbors in 2008, notifying them about the proposal in its very early stages.
Trevor Staples, chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, also spoke to PAC and noted that the group would be holding a retreat later this winter to discuss their future mission, indicating that they’d be involved in ongoing support for the skatepark. Part of the MOI with the city stipulates that 10% of fundraising for the skatepark is being set aside for future maintenance.
At the council’s Jan. 7 meeting, no one spoke against the project.
Ann Arbor Skatepark Design: Council Deliberations
Although the skatepark design was on the consent agenda, it was pulled out for separate consideration by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Taylor sits as a council representative (ex officio non-voting) to the park advisory commission, and he reported that PAC had enthusiastically recommended the skatepark design. He said he looks forward to its implementation.
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) expressed his thanks to the Friend of the Ann Arbor Skatepark for their hard work. He acknowledged that there have been recent concerns expressed about the location. Although it’s been a long-term process, he allowed that not everybody “got the memo.” He lives near the space, and characterized it as currently not well used. He thought it would be a great amenity and looked forward to seeing it in his neighborhood.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that it had been a long time coming, and called it a community effort. He noted that it had involved kids, who had come to the meetings. He said the city’s youth had stepped up and shown what’s important to them. He was happy to be there for the vote.
After some lighthearted back-and-forth between Kunselman and mayor John Hieftje about age and skateboarding, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) weighed in. She said it was very nice to see the resolution come forward. She asked some clarificational questions about some of the elements in the design – highlighting a “multi-event area.”
Trevor Staples responded to Higgins, saying that from the beginning, the skatepark has been conceived as a community gathering space. The multi-event area could be used for award presentations, or a judges’ stand for competitions, or music. He noted that the area Higgins was asking about is designed to be “completely skateable.”
Higgins expressed some concern about the adequacy of the parking at Veterans Memorial Park – if a skateboarding competition were to be held there at the same time as softball games were going on. Sumedh Bahl , the city’s community services area administrator, indicated that he could not give a precise analysis on that. Staples indicated that parks and recreation manager Colin Smith and park planner Amy Kuras had looked at the parking situation.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the skatepark design.
Conservation Fund Contract
The council was asked to approve a $156,230 contract with The Conservation Fund to manage operations for the city’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs. The programs are funded by a 30-year 0.5 mill open space and parkland preservation tax that voters approved in 2003. The contract is for a one-year period, with the option for two one-year renewals.
The city had issued a request for proposals (RFP) in early November, with a Nov. 28 deadline for responses. [.pdf of management RFP] Only one proposal had been received – from The Conservation Fund.
The Conservation Fund has held that contract since the greenbelt program launched. The current three-year contract ends on Jan. 15, 2013. The nonprofit is headquartered in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Ginny Trocchio is the nonprofit’s Ann Arbor staff member.
The current contract was approved by the Ann Arbor city council on Dec. 21, 2009. It authorized $119,565 in 2010, with two one-year renewal options for $113,661 in 2011 and $106,797 in 2012. The Conservation Fund also was the only bidder for that RFP.
Council deliberations on the issue were limited to a brief remark from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who is now the city council representative to the greenbelt advisory commission. Previously, the council representative had been Carsten Hohnke, who left the council in November 2012, having chosen not to seek re-election.
Taylor noted that he’d only attended one meeting of GAC so far, but said that GAC supports the contract with The Conservation Fund.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve The Conservation Fund contract.
New Roofs for Cobblestone Farm
The council was asked to approve a $109,500 contract with Renaissance Restorations Inc. – to allow replacement of roofs at Cobblestone Farm. Roofs on the event barn and on the Tincknor-Campbell House will be replaced. The bid from Renaissance was the lowest of three received for the work. The contract includes a 10% contingency, bringing the total to $120,450.
The project will be funded with proceeds from the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.
According to a staff memo, the Tincknor-Campbell House is a cobblestone farmhouse that was built in 1844. Its existing wood shingle roof was installed in 1977 and is in serious disrepair. The proposal calls for the new roof to be made of cedar shakes, with flashing done in copper.
The event barn, built in the late 1980s, is rented out for weddings, parties, business conferences, and other events. Its existing roof is over 30 years old and is also in poor condition. Because the building is not historically significant, the proposal calls replacing the roof with a recycled plastic shingle that resembles cedar, but that is less costly and more durable.
The alternative material was approved by the city planning staff who provide support to the city’s historic district commission. The Cobblestone Farm Association has also reviewed the proposal and agreed with the recommendations. The park advisory commission voted to recommend the contract at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting.
Outcome: Without substantive deliberations, the council voted unanimously to approve the contracts for replacement of roofs at Cobblestone Farm.
721 N. Main Presentation
Two members of the North Main and Huron River Corridor task force – David Santacroce and Darren McKinnon – gave a presentation to the council summarizing the group’s work to date.
The group had been tasked with developing recommendations for a future vision of the North Main Street corridor, extending to the Huron River, including the MichCon property.
They focused their presentation on the 721 N. Main property, for which the council had authorized two grant applications at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.
The group has a summer 2013 deadline to make recommendations for the whole area. But the council had given the task force an end-of-the-year deadline for a recommendation on the 721 N. Main property – because of grant deadlines. One of the grant applications was due at the end of 2o12, while the other is due at the end of March 2013.
Recommendations were divided into the floodway portion and the non-floodway portion of the site. For the floodway portion, there was not a lot to decide – because a city council resolution from Aug. 15, 2005 calls for the floodway area of the 721 N. Main site to be included within a planned Allen Creek Greenway.
The task force is now recommending that the roughly 2.5 acre floodway portion be developed to include non-motorized paths to connect from Felch Street to North Main and West Summit streets.
Recommendations for the non-floodway portion of the site include:
- That, consistent with its charge, the NMVT investigate potential uses for the non-floodway portion of the site, beginning with the existing masonry buildings outside of the floodway for potential reuse. And that, in order to do so, Council shall provide City staff with sufficient resources to conduct a structural and environmental assessment of the buildings and a market analysis of the portion of the parcel outside of the floodway and provide those findings to the NMVT no later than April 30, 2013. Based on these findings and other considerations, the NMVT will provide Council with final recommendations for the future use of the non-floodway portions of the parcel with the NMVT’s final recommendations to Council which are due no later than July 31, 2013.
- The NMVT’s initial findings with respect to the non-floodway portion of the parcel are as follows:
(i) If the buildings are determined to be salvageable, the City should promptly pursue building renovation and occupation. Prior to any public use of the site, efforts should be made to minimize the potential for nuisance activities around the buildings;
(ii) If any future development occurs on this portion of the site, such development should remain consistent with the residential scale and character of the neighborhood and surrounding zoning districts;
(iii) That it is essential that development of non-floodway open space coincide with efforts to activate the floodway improvements. Such efforts should consider unique and unmet needs near downtown (e.g., a dog park/community garden/flex space/sustainability demonstration/ trailhead parking).
Santacroce indicated that some resources would be required to help determine the value of the property and whether the buildings are salvageable. For general market considerations, he’d had a conversation with Todd Poole, a land use economist who’d done work recently for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project. And because Poole wouldn’t be starting from scratch, it would cost perhaps only $5,000 to “tweak” the work he had already done.
For the physical assessment of the property and the buildings, Santacroce estimated it would take about $30,000 to do the necessary analysis.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed a lack of enthusiasm for salvaging the buildings and ventured that instead of hiring Poole, perhaps some local real estate professionals could be engaged, who might be willing to do the work pro bono.
Outcome: This was not a voting item.
The council was asked to approve changes to the site plan of the Packard Square project, an effort to redevelop the former Georgetown Mall. The site plan – given original council approval on May 2, 2011 – calls for demolition of the existing buildings, and construction of a mixed-use development consisting of 23,858 square feet of retail, up to 230 apartment units, and structured parking.
The changes include altering the facade of the building by reducing the number of balconies by one-third, replacing some brick with Hardi-board siding, changing windows, and changing the color of the siding. The council originally postponed the matter a month ago, on Dec. 3, 2012.
Part of the council’s reluctance to give its approval in December was based on aesthetic dissatisfaction with the changes as reflected in the revised renderings. The renderings showing the changes were not given the same amount of attention to detail as the original drawings – with respect to shading to show depth, for example – which left some councilmembers to conclude that the development looked “flat” and dormitory-like. Councilmembers at the Dec. 3 meeting also gave the new color scheme an unfavorable review.
Responding to the specific request of the council to provide drawings on which they could make “apples-to-apples” comparisons, the developer of the project submitted 3D sketches for the Jan. 7 meeting. [.jpg with original color-scheme for Packard Square] [.jpg with revised color-scheme for Packard Square]
The changes to the building that the council was asked to approve were motivated by a change to the upper level residential portion of the Packard Road facade. It was moved 10 feet to the east to make it line up with the front stairwells. That also increased the footprint of the building by 4,720 square feet.
Packard Square: Council Deliberations
Margie Teall (Ward 4) led things off by asking that the developer Craig Schubiner come to the podium. She wanted to know if the new elevations were in the council’s packet. She asked for a description of changes that had been made since December, in response to the commentary at that council meeting.
Schubiner explained that they’d had the elevations rendered in the new colors and the old colors in the same way. He said that on the sides, it breaks up what are really long facades on the north and south. The retail “frame” would accentuate the stores in front, he said.
All the windows are six-foot windows, he noted, and there are nine-foot ceilings. If you look at the floor plans that are currently being reviewed by the city for approval, he said, the windows take up most of the wall space in every living and every bedroom. He concluded that these are the largest windows of any non-downtown, garden-style apartment complex ever built in Ann Arbor.
The retail windows had been made bigger and the corner was embellished, he said. He contrasted the new rendering with the original colors. They were a little bit more “washed-out.” The new colors would better break up the long facades, he said. But he noted that colors are, at a certain point, a matter of opinion.
Teall left her seat and examined the drawings up close.
Schubiner noted that the basic building design and footprint had not changed.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the Packard Square site plan changes.
Summit Townhomes Zoning
The council was asked to give initial approval of a request to zone a 2.95-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, as R3 (townhouse dwelling district). The property was recently annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township.
The city’s planning commission had voted to recommend the zoning at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting.
The R3 zoning would be consistent with the intended development of the site – to be called Summit Townhomes – for which the city’s planning commission recommended for approval at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting. 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.
Summit Townhomes Zoning: Council Deliberations
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked for confirmation that what was before the council for its consideration was simply the zoning. City planning manager Wendy Rampson told Lumm that was right.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated he’d vote for it at first reading, but he’d heard some concerns about the type of progress and development that it represents. So he wanted to alert his colleagues to the potential that this could be an issue to be discussed when the council is asked for its final approval.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who represents the city council on planning commission, reported that she’d been concerned about how children will get to school in a way that won’t require them to walk down Ellsworth. They live too close for busing, but it’s awkward if there’s no internal sidewalks, she said. But she reported her understanding that the developer has committed to achieving the goal of a walkable route to school.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give the zoning initial approval. It will need a second approval after a public hearing to be enacted.
Front-Yard Event Parking
On the council’s agenda was the second and final approval of revisions to the parking ordinance that might allow more flexibility for residents to park cars in their front yards.
The change in local law allows the city council to establish “special event dates” for temporary front open space parking. The ordinance had already allowed 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 UM’s annual intra-squad spring football game.
The ordinance change was motivated in part by the possibility that University of Michigan 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. But it had been cancelled last year due to labor disputes between the NHL and its players’ association.
Front Yard Event Parking: Public Hearing
One person spoke at the required public hearing on the ordinance change – Thomas Partridge. He asked that the ordinance be withdrawn and a different one substituted that would provide for greater monetary and city council policy support for the use of existing parking lots on the outskirts of town that aren’t utilized – an allusion to AATA park-and-ride lots. We don’t need more front-yard parking in residential neighborhoods near the football stadium, he contended.
Outcome: The council voted without discussion to approve the front area parking ordinance change.
LDFA Board Appointment
The council was asked to consider the appointment of Carrie Leahy as one of six Ann Arbor representatives to the 9-member local development finance authority (LDFA) board. She replaces Theresa Carroll, whose term expired six months ago, on June 30, 2012.
The LDFA is a tax-increment finance (TIF)-funded entity that comprises the geographic area of the city of Ann Arbor’s downtown development authority, as well as the city of Ypsilanti’s DDA. The LDFA is separate and distinct from the nonprofit Ann Arbor SPARK, which operates a business accelerator under contract with the LDFA. [The Chronicle is able to offer only occasional coverage of the LDFA. From June 2012: "SmartZone Group OKs SPARK Contract."]
Leahy is an attorney with Bodman who specializes in “general corporate transactions, mergers and acquisitions, compliance with securities regulations, and issues involving venture capital funding.”
Other Ann Arbor representatives on the LDFA board include Richard Beedon and former city councilmember Stephen Rapundalo. Christopher Taylor is another one of the six Ann Arbor representatives, filling the slot that goes to a member of the city council. Based on the city of Ann Arbor’s Legistar online record system, former Ann Arbor representative Lisa Kurek’s term also expired on June 30, 2012. Leahy’s appointment leaves Ann Arbor two representatives short.
The city of Ypsilanti is currently represented by Vince Chmielewski and Phil Tepley. The term for the third Ypsilanti appointment, Mark Maynard, expired on June 30, 2012, according Legistar.
The council deliberations consisted of a remark from Taylor, who joked that no board could have too many lawyers who graduated in 1997 and specialize in corporate and intellectual property law. [Taylor himself shares the description he gave of Leahy.]
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm Leahy’s appointment to the LDFA board.
The council considered a resolution to approve a contract with T-Mobile Central LLC – as the successor in interest to Omnipoint Holdings Inc. The city had a previous agreement with Omnipoint, to place antennas on the Plymouth Road water tower. T-Mobile wanted to amend the license agreement to allow additional equipment on the site. The city will also get a bit more revenue, increasing the annual license fee amount by $1,200 to $39,686. That escalates each year by 4%. Under the previous arrangement, the fee escalated 20% every five years.
Council deliberations were relatively brief. But Jane Lumm (Ward 2) wanted confirmation that the additional equipment would not change the appearance of the water tower. And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted confirmation that the revenue from such contracts went to pay the cost of the Justice Center construction bonds. City administrator Steve Powers said that he thought Kunselman was right, but would follow up and confirm that.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with T-Mobile.
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: Dog Park in West Park
Two members of New Hope Baptist Church addressed the council on a topic that had been discussed at a meeting of the park advisory commission late last year, on Dec. 18, 2012.
During the public commentary at the conclusion of the special session of the council – which was held before the regular council meeting – Rodrick Green introduced himself as the pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church. He noted that the dog park was not a topic on the council’s agenda, but he wanted to voice on behalf of the entire congregation their unanimous opposition to the proposed dog park. The park is supposed to be located off of Chapin Street, in the area of West Park directly across from the church. Among the concerns the congregation had were issues of safety, noise and odor. They did not think it’s a proper location for a dog park, Green said.
During public commentary at the start of the regular session, Tom Miree, a trustee with New Hope Baptist Church, told councilmembers that he wanted to give them an update on the dog park in West Park. He told them that before the holidays, members of the congregation had met with the city’s park advisory commission, and gave testimony about why the site within West Park that had been selected for the dog park wouldn’t be a good spot. He reported that commissioners had listened politely, but then passed a resolution that said, “Let’s try this for a year to see how it works out.” Miree noted that the dog park site is right across the street from the church. He described the entire area of West Park as about 24 acres, but noted that only about 0.2 acres was designated for the dog park. He described it as a small area on a parcel where a house previously stood.
Miree ventured that anyone who’s done planning work knows you need conflicting land use buffers between properties. He said everyone recognizes that having amenities is a good thing. But he wanted the city to consider the impact a dog park would have on the neighborhood – especially on young children and the ministry in the area. He also asked that they consider the worship service that’s held there, saying that the congregation wants to maintain the dignity of the worship services.
Comm/Comm: Connecting William Street
By way of background, the city council will be holding a work session on Jan. 14 to hear recommendations from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on future redevelopment of five city-owned sites currently used for parking. The project, which eventually was named Connecting William Street (CWS), began with an April 4, 2011 city council resolution that directed the DDA to engage seek “robust public input” from experts, stakeholders and residents to develop a plan for those parcels.
Jamie Pitts introduced himself as the chief technology officer of a local startup [rapt.fm]. The company is located in Detroit now, but he lives here in Ann Arbor, he said. He wanted to talk about the DDA’s Connecting William Street as it relates to open space. In the space next to the Ann Arbor District Library on South Fifth Avenue, the recommended plan depicts a very large building. He said he couldn’t help but notice how small the green space was that’s allocated on the parcel. There’s an opportunity to do something great, he said, so the council would be forfeiting a huge opportunity by not allocating a greater amount of area on that parcel for green space.
He encouraged councilmembers to envision the people who live downtown. If they want more people to live downtown, they need to think about amenities. People who live in urban centers need a backyard, he said. So he called for the creation of a backyard for future downtown residents.
Alan Haber commented on the CWS recommendations that the Ann Arbor DDA would be presenting to the council on Jan. 14. In many ways, Haber said, it’s an excellent report. But he felt that the DDA understood “development” as only buildings and economic development. Other kinds of development, Haber said, include human development and community development. The DDA is only seeing the economic development perspective, he said. The council needs to see the part of the equation that involves community benefit and growing a space on which something can be created together.
Haber characterized the previous Sunday night caucus discussion as making clear to him that he and a lot of others had been barking up the wrong tree. That approach had been since people wanted a park, they should approach the “parks people” [the park advisory commission]. He wanted the council to hear a citizens report, because the DDA translates everything into money terms, Haber concluded.
During communications time, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) relayed a request from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), who was absent from the meeting. He asked to include in the council’s Jan. 14 work session on CWS an opportunity to hear from citizens on their open spaces ideas.
Comm/Comm: Public Art Committee
During her communications time at the conclusion of the meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported that the city council committee created to review the public art ordinance had held a second meeting.
As the committee moves forward, she said, the members want to hear from the public art community, but also want to think about the best way to reach the public.
The goal is to work with the city staff to create a topic on the city’s A2 Open City Hall. [For detailed Chronicle coverage of that committee meeting, see "Council to Seek Feedback on Public Art Program."]
The committee’s next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 14.
Comm/Comm: Environmental Commission
During her communications time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that a resolution to appoint Christopher Graham to serve on the city of Ann Arbor’s environmental commission would be on the council’s next meeting agenda.
Graham was initially appointed in 2006 and has served two three-year terms on the commission.
Graham is also a member of the executive committee of the Michigan Environmental Council.
Comm/Comm: Recall Snyder, Hieftje
During public commentary, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, and a recent candidate for the state senate and house. He stated that he was there to advance the cause of the most vulnerable. He called on the council and the public to prioritize affordable housing and countywide transportation, and to recognize that we are one community, whether we like it or not. He called for less attention on stormwater drains, and more on getting sufficient affordable housing. He called on the council to end homeless this month. He concluded by saying that mayor John Hieftje and Gov. Rick Snyder should be recalled.
Comm/Comm: Divestment from Israel
Addressing the council on the topic of divestment from Israel and Palestinian rights were Blaine Coleman and Mozhgan Savabieasfahani.
By way of background, for several years a group of people has regularly demonstrated near the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor with various anti-Israel signs. Critics of the action have described the regular demonstrations as religious harassment. Coleman has in the past stood with the group. In that context, his opening remarks can be understood as a way of responding to that criticism – by appealing to protests that have happened in the contexts of other religious institutions.
Coleman began by noting that Ann Arbor has a long history of protest against racist oppression at churches and synagogues. He showed the council a copy of the front page of a Michigan Daily from Aug. 20, 1970 that read: “Church Takeover Backs Demands for Reparations.” Another article from the Ann Arbor News, with the headline “Octogenarian Joins Fight Against Poverty,” described a sit-in at the First Presbyterian Church. [The article, from Nov. 29, 1970 also describes a court-ordered injunction against the group for disrupting church services.] Coleman described the point of the sit-ins as insisting that the country and the city keep its promises to black America.
Today, Coleman ventured, “unless you’re a racist, you will keep your promise to the Palestinian people, too. The Palestinian people are still being murdered and robbed and starved by Israel,” he said. It was human rights violations like those, Coleman said, that had led councilmember Chuck Warpehoski’s organization, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ), to publicly resolve itself to work for divestment – from all companies that sell arms to Israel.
Coleman called on Warpehoski to “keep that promise” as a city councilmember. Coleman went on to describe Israel’s actions as a “starvation siege.” And he noted that the ICPJ “brags” about its fight against hunger. Coleman ventured that “unless [Warpehoski] wants to look like a racist and liar, he will keep that promise” to work to divest the city from companies selling arms to Israel.
Coleman noted that Israel was an ally of apartheid South Africa and he characterized Israel as the “last apartheid state on earth.” Federal aid that goes to Israel should instead be spent on rebuilding cities like Detroit, Coleman concluded.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani said she was very hopeful that the city can do more work on human rights and to promote children’s health – particularly the health of children in Gaza. She said she was hopeful because seven of the 11 councilmembers are women, and women, she ventured, are more sensitive to issues involving children’s health.
In addition, she said, Warpehoski has in the past stood for the human rights of Palestinians and against providing military aid to Israel. His election to the council elevated Warpehoski to another level, she said. She wanted to convince the council that it’s past time to stop the “genocide of the Palestinian people.” She criticized continued U.S. aid to Israel, which she called a “racist state.” She wanted to see the city council speak up against the acts that have been committed by Israel and that would lead to a change in policy – and money would be kept in the U.S. That money could be used to clean up neighborhoods, and get the homeless off the streets of Ann Arbor. She concluded her remarks with “Boycott Israel!”
Typically councilmembers do not respond directly to public comment, but occasionally they do. Warpehoski indicated that the public comment from Coleman reminded the council that there are “right ways and wrong ways, productive ways and unproductive ways” to promote respect understanding and coexistence. Eight or nine years ago, he said, the council had passed a resolution saying that democracy and the freedoms it engenders cannot exist without “civil discourse.” [This was a 2004 resolution that condemned the regular demonstrations near the Beth Israel Congregation.] He also pointed to council resolutions in 2008, 2010 and 2011 encouraging people to honor Religious Freedom – on Jan. 16.
One group in town that is “doing it right,” Warpehoski said, is the Interfaith Roundtable of Washtenaw County, led by George Lambrides.
In Ann Arbor, Warpehoski said, we like to assume we’ve got everything all worked out, but when a Muslim woman driving home from her job at the university hospital had a gun pulled on her and was told to “go home,” that indicates that there’s work yet to be done. Another example he gave was the idea of putting a swastika over the Star of David, or circulating literature saying that Jewish religious observances turn boys and girls into “monsters.”
Present: Jane Lumm, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.
Absent: Mike Anglin.
Next regular city council meeting: Jan. 22, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]
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