Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 4, 2013): Two significant land use items were included in the council’s agenda, but councilmembers moved ahead on just one of them. A request to zone a recently annexed piece of property as R3 (townhouse district) prompted long deliberations by the council, and ultimately a referral of the item back to the planning commission for further review.
Dependent on the R3 zoning is Summit Townhomes – a proposed project for the 2081 E. Ellsworth Road site, located in the southern part of the city just east of Stone School Road. The townhouse project’s site plan is expected to come before the council for approval later this month. The planning commission has already recommended that the Summit Townhomes project be approved, and previously recommended the R3 zoning. The council itself had already given the zoning its initial approval at a previous meeting.
But during the public hearing about the zoning on Feb. 4, the council heard from several people who spoke against the zoning and the project, reprising many of the same objections that had been raised more than seven months ago at the June 19, 2012 meeting of the planning commission. Concerns included overcrowding and congestion in the area, and a lack of adequate city services. Also weighing in with general support for zoning that fits with the desires of residents was Washtenaw County commissioner Andy LaBarre, who represents the county district where the site is located.
Another item related to future land use was council action to authorize the distribution of the draft South State Street corridor plan to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, such as the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. After a mandated comment period, the city planning commission will have the opportunity to make revisions to the plan, before the commission and the city council make a decision to adopt it.
A major infrastructure study, with a roughly $1 million budget, was also authorized by the council – to give the city a clearer understanding of how flows behave in the sanitary sewer system, especially during rainy periods. The study is prompted by a desire to measure the impact of a footing drain disconnection program that the city has implemented for over a decade. In the last year, the program has generated strong protest from the Glen Leven neighborhood. The footing drain disconnection program was created in part to remedy the backup of raw sewage in basements during heavy rains.
The city council also authorized revisions to two existing technology agreements. One was an agreement between the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to act as a purchasing consortium. The modification to the agreement will allow other participants to be added to the consortium in a streamlined way. The second agreement was the extension of a contract with the city of Chelsea to provide various IT services.
The council put off a decision on issuing bonds to support energy improvements for its property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. The item had been added late to the agenda, and several councilmembers had questions they wanted answered before voting on it.
Although the agenda itself was light, several significant communications were included, either as written attachments or conveyed verbally. The written reports attached to the agenda included a revised auditor’s letter and a report on how the street resurfacing millage money was spent during the 2012 season.
Conveyed verbally was a report from the council’s budget committee chair, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who alerted councilmembers that on Feb. 11 and Feb. 25 the council would hold budget work sessions starting at 6 p.m., with each meeting consisting of two 2-hour sessions with a break.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), chair of the city’s taxicab board, called for enforcement of the city ordinance that is meant to prevent the operation of “rogue limousines” – in the context of a reported sexual assault of a University of Michigan student by the driver of either a taxicab or limousine.
Kunselman also called for a number of revisions to the city ordinance that establishes the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, including stricter regulations on membership of the board, but more significantly a limitation on the way the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture is calculated.
The council considered a second and final approval of zoning for a recently-annexed city parcel as R3 (townhouse dwelling district). It’s a roughly 3-acre site, just east of Stone School Road, that was previously part of Pittsfield Township.
When the council gave its initial approval, Christopher Taylor had indicated that while he was voting for the zoning on that occasion, he wanted to alert his council colleagues to the fact that he’d heard some concerns about the type of progress and development that the zoning represents. Taylor represents Ward 3, where the proposed project is located. So Taylor said the issue might be a point of discussion when the council was asked to give the zoning its final approval. That reflected concerns also expressed at the planning commission’s June 19, 2012 meeting from residents of the nearby Forest Hills Cooperative.
R3 zoning is consistent with the intended development of the site – to be called Summit Townhomes – for which the city’s planning commission recommended 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 site plan includes two surface parking areas on the east and west sides of the site, each with 12 spaces.
Townhouse Zoning: Public Hearing
Andy LaBarre told councilmembers he was addressing them as a city resident and also as a Washtenaw County commissioner. The parcel is in the district he represents on the county board of commissioners – District 7. [LaBarre is serving his first term as a Washtenaw County commissioner, having been elected in November 2012.] In the course of the campaign and since then, LaBarre said, he’d had a chance to meet Claudia Myszke [managing agent of the Forest Hills Cooperative] and other leaders of neighborhood and homeowners associations in the area.
LaBarre believed that residents hoped to have as little dense development as possible. He allowed that city councilmembers have hard jobs with the number of constituents that they have to respond to, and they have different ideas amongst themselves on the council and “frankly, within your own heads at times.” So he wanted to offer any and all assistance that he could provide – in his capacity as a resident or as a single commissioner on the county board – to work to make sure there’s some level of future use of that land that fits with the desire of current residents there. LaBarre said he’d follow up later with Ward 3 councilmembers Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman.
Aiji Pipho introduced herself as a resident and committee member of Forest Hills Cooperative. The project planned for the 3-acre parcel will be the fifth to be “shoe-horned” into a quarter mile, she said. The city’s goal is that everybody is supposed to be able to walk to a park that’s within a quarter mile of their home. The park that is walkable from her house, she said, is one where people get attacked. Her son got his jaw and nose broken in the park closest to their house. The city should be thinking about providing services to a poor community, she said – something that would create a separation from “gang members” who hang out in the parks and the “latch-key children” who come home from school and have to manage without their mom and dad being there. What’s shown itself to be a positive influence in other areas, she said, are good community services. So she wanted part of the land to be reserved for a community center – in this part of the city, where many poor people are concentrated.
Flo Hepola told the council she had concerns about the population density. She described the traffic on Ellsworth as horrible – saying it was bad to begin with, even without the new development. She asked for more infrastructure support for the growing and expanded population. She said it was difficult to find a decent park to take her granddaughter, so she’d wound up driving to a county park. There’s only one drinking fountain in the closest park – Southeast Area Park. The kids in the neighborhood liked to hang out at that park, she said, but there’d been incidents of kids having heat stroke while playing basketball. She wanted to see the land developed for use by the community. She thanked Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski and Andy LaBarre, who she said have been very helpful.
Claudia Myszke, managing agent of the Forest Hills Cooperative, told the council she was there representing her board of directors and the 306 limited-income families who live in Forest Hills. She was also there on behalf of the “sister cooperatives” – Colonial Square Cooperative and University Townhouse Cooperative – which have 427 and 630 limited-income families, respectively. She thanked Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski and Andy LaBarre for working with members of the Forest Hills community as they’ve tried to educate themselves. She also thanked Leonard Michaels, who represents the Summit Townhomes development.
Myszke told the council she was there to oppose zoning of the land as R3. She told the council that within a five-mile radius, there are over 2,400 units of multi-family housing. All of it is limited-income, affordable housing. She calculated that this translated to about 6,000 people. She had major concerns about the potential zoning to accommodate more people in an area that is already saturated.
Thomas Partridge told councilmembers he wanted them to take the zoning proposal back and make sure that it provided for some prospect of integrated affordable housing with retail or community services and affordable, accessible transportation for the most vulnerable residents.
Townhouse Zoning: Council Deliberations
Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who is the city council appointee to the city planning commission, briefed the council from her perspective serving on the planning commission since December 2012. When the planning commission had deliberated on the Summit Townhomes site plan in early January, planning commissioners had not heard from residents with the kind of objections that they’d expressed that evening to the city council, Briere said. [Later in deliberations, city planning manager Wendy Rampson pointed out that these issues had been raised at a meeting earlier in 2012, in the summer before Briere had been appointed to the planning commission.]
Planning commissioners had discussed transportation and congestion issues and whether there was a way for children to walk to school without having to walk along Ellsworth or Stone School roads, Briere reported. The planning commission had not discussed whether property should be acquired for a city park, she said.
Briere allowed that it’s a very congested area and the zoning is intentionally for multi-family use. Since she lived in the area 40 years ago, it’s been an “entry level” of housing for people with low incomes, she said. She noted that the Community Action Network (CAN) provides services in this neighborhood. [CAN runs the nearby Bryant Community Center, under contract with the city.] The requests from residents for more services and more thoughtful planning were reasonable, she said. But Briere also noted that the proposed project absolutely fits the zone and the master plan. She noted, however, that the council had options – including saying that it was the council’s desire to step back and think about it.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) allowed that the proposed zoning is probably consistent with the master plan because that’s generally what is in the area now. But it’s important to acknowledge the feelings of the residents who live there who’d expressed concerns about the livability of the area. He ventured that perhaps the implementation of the city’s master plan had “outstripped” the master plan itself.
Taylor asked city planning manager Wendy Rampson to address the rationale for the parcel’s R3 zoning. Rampson indicated that the project had been reviewed by the planning commission and staff several times before it had come before the city council. When the parcel was under Pittsfield Township’s jurisdiction, it had a single-family home. Upon annexation, the city must assign appropriate zoning, she explained. The city’s South Area Plan, which she allowed was somewhat dated, identified 20 acres at the corner of Ellsworth and Stone School as being appropriate for single-family attached and detached use. The R3 zoning designation, which was being requested, is single-family attached housing – which translates to a maximum density of about 10 units per acre, she said. The Summit Townhomes project is actually about 8 units per acre. The other alternatives would be single-family or duplex. At the planning commission, there hadn’t been a suggestion that either of those should be applied.
The report from the city traffic engineers, Rampson said, indicated that the impact from a single-family attached development is minor compared to a Tim Hortons at the corner of Ellsworth and South State. The Summit Townhomes development would add a small amount of traffic to what’s already there.
Taylor got clarification from Rampson that application of single-family or duplex zoning to the parcel, instead of townhouse zoning, would reduce the number of allowable units by half to a quarter. She note that there’s a slope on the land that makes it a challenging site to develop, so she ventured that a certain minimum number of units would be required in order to make it financially feasible.
Responding to a question from Taylor about drainage, Rampson indicated that the parcel drains to the south and west side, so the drainage doesn’t affect Arbor Oaks to the north – because water from the parcel flows toward Ellsworth. Later in deliberations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) questioned whether the parcel had a different drainage area from Arbor Oaks, saying that he believed that both were a part of the Mallets Creek watershed. Rampson agreed that both pieces of land were part of the Mallets Creek watershed, and that the drainage from the Summit Townhomes parcel went to Mallets Creek, but not through Arbor Oaks.
Public services area administrator Craig Hupy was not able to recall what the topographic maps for the area looked like to settle the question for Kunselman.
Kunselman also pointed to the parcel zoned R1C to the east, which would become isolated as an R1C area if the council approved the R3 zoning for the Summit Townhomes parcel. He asked Rampson if assigning R1C zoning to the parcel would stop the Summit Townhomes development. Yes, Rampson confirmed. Kunselman asked if there’d be any legal issues associated with a council decision to do that. Rampson declined to speculate, saying that the zoning decision is discretionary on the council’s part. She ventured that if the council was not inclined to support the R3 zoning, the item could be rescheduled or postponed. The zoning and the site plan could be considered together at the council’s Feb. 19 meeting.
Kunselman and Taylor both indicated a willingness to postpone the zoning question.
There was no opposition to postponement expressed by other councilmembers. The ensuing discussion centered around the nature of the direction to be given to the planning commission. The consensus coalesced around the idea that the planning commission should consider lower density zoning – without specific direction from the council to consider specific zoning options.
Leonard Michaels of CIW Engineering was present at the meeting on behalf of the developer and asked to comment.
Michaels described how the project began more than a year ago, noting that Taylor had been present for the required citizens participation meeting. The location of that meeting had been changed to accommodate as many people as possible. He noted that the report from Claudia Myszke, managing agent of the Forest Hills Cooperative, had been included in the developer’s report about the citizens participation meeting, without any omissions. He noted that the Summit Townhomes proposal adds less density than is allowed by R3. The drainage is still being designed, he said, but it will not increase the runoff into the Ellsworth ditch.
Michaels reported that he’s still “playing phone tag” with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, trying to understand where to put a pedestrian connection to the school.
Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said he was comfortable with having the planning commission take another look at the zoning. He summarized the concerns as involving three issues: driving, drainage, and public services. He noted that the area is not in the ward he represents, but he knows people who live there.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to refer the issue back to the planning commission. The commission’s next regular meeting is on Thursday, Feb. 21.
Distribution of South State Street Plan
The council considered a resolution to distribute a draft of Ann Arbor’s South State Street corridor plan to neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders, such as the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The planning commission had voted to recommend the corridor plan’s distribution at its Jan. 3, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of draft South State corridor plan]
The plan includes more than 40 overall recommendations for the corridor, which stretches about 2 miles between Stimson Street at the north end down to Ellsworth in the south. Recommendations are organized into categories of the city’s sustainability framework: Land use and access, community, climate and energy, and resource management.
Among the recommendations are: (1) Evaluate use of vacant parcels for alternative energy generation; (2) Evaluate integration of public art along the corridor; (3) Evaluate use of open land for community gardens; (4) Assess and improve high crash areas along the corridor; (5) create boulevard on State Street between Eisenhower and I‐94 to enable safer automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian movement; (6) consider utilizing vacant parcels for athletic fields and recreation facilities; (7) develop a pedestrian and bicycle path along the Ann Arbor railroad that will connect the planned Allen Creek bikeway to Pittsfield Township through the corridor; and (8) resurface roads in the corridor.
Each recommendation includes several related action items. The plan also provides a section that organizes the recommendations into each of three distinct sections of the corridor: (1) from Stimson on the north to Eisenhower Parkway; (2) from Eisenhower south to the I-94 interchange; and (3) from I-94 to Ellsworth. In addition, there are nine site-specific recommendations for areas including Briarwood Mall, the complex of hotels near Victors Way and Broadway, and the research park development near the corridor’s south end.
The city planning commission and staff have been discussing this project for several years, but have accelerated work on it within the past 12-18 months. See Chronicle coverage: “South State Corridor Gets Closer Look,” “Sustainability Goals Shape Corridor Study,” and “Ideas Floated for South State Corridor.”
South State Street Plan: Council Deliberations
Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) clarified with planning manager Wendy Rampson that the plan to be distributed is a draft plan, and asked that the word “draft” be inserted in one instance where the plan was described in the resolution. Higgins also confirmed with Rampson that a comment period would follow the draft plan distribution, which would include possible comments from the public. Revisions to the draft could be undertaken, but the planning commission and the city council would then need to adopt the plan to make it final, following a public hearing.
Rampson noted that the planning commission and the city council would need to adopt the same plan. She noted that in the past, the city council hadn’t agreed with the planning commission’s version of a plan and had returned the plan to the commission. [She was referring to the downtown plan, which was most recently adopted in 2009.] Rampson said she’d prefer for that not to happen again, and for differences between the council and the commission to be sorted out before voting.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to authorize distribution of the draft South State Street corridor plan.
Sanitary Sewer Flow Study
The council was asked to consider authorizing a study of Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer flows – meant to assess the impact of a decade-long footing drain disconnection program. The study is to be conducted by Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment Inc. over the next year-and-a-half to two years.
The $968,348 contract with OHM is part of a project budget that includes a $192,000 contingency and $85,000 to account for city staff time. The money will come from the city’s sanitary sewer capital fund.
The city of Ann Arbor’s footing drain disconnect (FDD) program was implemented in 2001, prompted by repeated incidents of raw sewage backing up in residents’ basements and the discharge of only partially treated sewage into the Huron River.
The city of Ann Arbor has separate sanitary and stormwater conveyance systems. However, during construction of new developments before 1980, footing drains – permeable pipes buried around the perimeter of a foundation, roughly at the depth of a basement floor – were frequently connected directly to the sanitary sewer pipes. Those connections were convenient to make, because the footing drains and the sanitary sewers are buried at roughly the same depth.
However, during very heavy rains, that configuration leads to a volume of stormwater flow into the sanitary sewer system that it’s not designed to handle. That can cause two problems. First, near the point where the extra water is entering the sanitary system, it can cause raw sewage to back up through the floor drains of basements. Second, farther downstream at the wastewater treatment plant, the amount of water flowing into the plant can exceed the plant’s capacity. That can result in only partially-treated wastewater being discharged into the Huron River.
It was wastewater discharges into the river that led the city to agree to an administrative consent order with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to establish a way to offset the impact of new connections to the sanitary system required by new developments. That program essentially requires developers who are building projects that place additional burdens on the sanitary sewer system to pay for a number of footing drain disconnections elsewhere in the city, according to a formula.
The footing drain disconnect program was targeted initially in five neighborhoods that accounted for about half of all reported basement sewage backups. Since implementation, 2,538 footing drains have been disconnected, including nearly all of the houses in three of the five areas. In the two other areas, between 55% and 60% of footing drains have been disconnected.
In one of the remaining areas – the Glen Leven neighborhood – overland flooding during heavy rains in the spring of 2012 resulted in basement flooding in some houses that had been included in the disconnection program. The procedure includes the installation of a sump to collect water from the footing drains – which previously fed into the sanitary system – and a pump to move the water from the sump to the stormwater system.
Emphatic protest came from residents of that neighborhood, which has in recent weeks included rumblings of possible litigation. The litigation would be based on the legal theory that the city’s footing drain disconnection program has proceeded without valid contracts with homeowners, and that the installation of the wells and pumps constitutes an illegal “taking.” The city council decided on Sept. 17, 2012 to suspend temporarily the footing drain disconnection program.
It’s in that context that the city is now undertaking the study to be done by OHM – to determine if the footing drain disconnect program needs to continue and if so, where the efforts should be focused.
The scope of OHM’s work includes: (1) perform flow monitoring on the sanitary sewer in the five priority areas; (2) update, calibrate, and validate the existing sanitary sewer model; (3) evaluate the effectiveness of the current FDD program; (4) provide recommendations for reducing or eliminating wet weather flow impacts; and (5) do public engagement throughout the entire project, including a citizen advisory committee, a technical oversight committee, focus groups, and the general public.
Sanitary Sewer Flow Study: Council Deliberations
Cresson Slotten, an engineer and manager in the city’s systems planning unit, responded to questions about what the study would entail. The first part of the study, he explained, would include monitoring the sanitary system during heavy rains.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) drew out the fact that the city has also undertaken a study of the stormwater system – which is separate and distinct from the study of the sanitary sewer system. Teall encouraged members of the public to attend the public outreach meetings for the stormwater project.
Responding to a question from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) city administrator Steve Powers indicated that the sanitary sewer project could be part of the council’s discussion of the capital improvements plan (CIP) at a working session on Feb. 11.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) observed that when people live in a neighborhood, they expect that it’s not going to flood. He felt like the measurement study should have taken place earlier.
The Landsdowne neighborhood had paid for the fact that this study was only now taking place, he contended. Anglin asked Slotten why the city staff couldn’t undertake the study: Why did an outside contractor need to be hired? Slotten explained that the project is very intensive with respect to the equipment and staff resources.
A lot of human resources are required to gather all the data – to analyze and check for errors ,and to maintain the devices that are deployed out in the sanitary sewer system, Slotten said. The devices require a high level of expertise to operate, and a lot of expertise to take the data and analyze it with a computer model.
Slotten allowed that the city did have a computer modeler on staff – but his role is to maintain and utilize the existing model. The study is an effort to “advance” the city’s model of the system, to see how the system has evolved in the last 10 years – over the period when the footing drain disconnections have taken place. If the city’s one modeler were tasked with the study, it’d take a longer time and he wouldn’t be able to perform his usual duties.
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) concurred with Anglin, saying that for the homeowners who’d been impacted by it, this situation has been a nightmare. She allowed that $1 million is a lot of money, but said the city needs to do what it can to remedy the situation.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contract with OHM to conduct the study of flows in the sanitary sewer system.
Two technology agreements were before the Ann Arbor city council for consideration – a three-way agreement with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and Washtenaw County, and another two-party contract with the city of Chelsea. Both agreements existed previously.
The three-way accord had been approved by the council on May 2, 2011. This interagency agreement for collaborative technology and services (IACTS) is meant to provide a way to procure and maintain common technology platforms and services centrally.
The modification to the agreement, approved by the city council on Feb. 4, allows for adding other entities into the agreement in a more streamlined way, by “giving each founding member the ability to approve a process to enable an administrative individual to sign on behalf of that founding member for purposes of this adding new participants.” Other members could thus be added without modifying the agreement itself. With the amendment, Ann Arbor’s process for adding a new participant would include simply the approval of the city administrator on recommendation of the IT director and chief financial officer.
According to city of Ann Arbor IT director Dan Rainey, responding to an emailed query, one of the entities interested in participating in the IACTS is the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD).
In May 2011 – when the Ann Arbor city council approved the IACTS with AATA and Washtenaw County – the council was also asked to consider the approval of an agreement with Washtenaw County for data storage services and for backup services. At the May 2011 council meeting, Rainey explained the nature of the shared storage and shared backup – there will be one machine at city hall and one at the city’s Wheeler Center.
The topic of backup and disaster data recovery issues was identified as one area of minor concern in the city’s most recent audit in late 2012. In chief financial officer Tom Crawford’s response to the auditor’s note on that topic, he outlines how the city uses a “separation of risks” approach and has always been able to backup and recover data in individual computing environments. Crawford’s written response also describes the city’s current work to improve its disaster recovery plan in terms of the IACTS: “Because of the nature of our interdependences, the information technology departments of the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the AATA are collaborating on developing a common disaster recovery plan. The current state of the plan is that all parties know what is being backed up, where it is stored and that there is the ability to recover backed up data on a small number of servers.” [.pdf of revised auditor's letter] [.pdf of Crawford's Jan. 24, 2013 response]
Responding to an emailed query, Washtenaw County IT manager Andy Brush explained that certain IT services are already provided by Washtenaw County to various entities – like the city of Ypsilanti, Dexter’s fire department, and the 14B District Court – although they aren’t yet parties to the IACTS agreement.
The agreement between Ann Arbor and the city of Chelsea, which the council also considered on Feb. 4, dates back to 2011. Under the agreement, the city of Chelsea will pay the city of Ann Arbor up to $55,614 for the following services: helpdesk, management of the city’s website, server hosting, data backup and recovery, overseeing IT contractors, project management, and representing the city of Chelsea in regional technology efforts and meetings.
Tech Agreements: Council Deliberations
Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she supported the concept of intergovernmental cooperation, and was supportive of this specific resolution. It’s nice to see other agencies joining in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor, so she ventured that the city’s approach to IT must be working.
But she noted that one of the aspects of the arrangement is that it’s a procurement cooperative. She wanted to know what other procurement cooperatives the city was part of, how the city decided to use them and when. She asked Dan Rainey, head of IT for the city, how can adding new members benefit the city?
Rainey explained that in the past there were occasionally opportunities to collaborate between the city and the county. The two entities would generate contracts and they’d done that one, two, three times. They’d then decided to come up with a platform to handle things in a more streamlined way. The benefit to the city is that the city’s expenses have been offset by investments the county has already made. In the other direction, other entitles have benefited from the investment the city has made in its data center. The council was being asked to consider a revision to the agreement that evening, because the existing partners are trying to get other entities to participate in the mindset of sharing. The idea is to not make other organizations feel like they’re being bullied into joining. They can join of their own accord, Rainey said.
Outcome: The agreement with Chelsea was on the consent agenda, which was approved unanimously. Separately, the council also unanimously approved the revision to the IACTS agreement.
Bonds for Clean Energy (PACE)
The Ann Arbor city council was asked to approve a step that would help owners of commercial property make improvements designed to help save energy under the city’s property assessed clean energy (PACE) program.
That step was to authorize the issuance and sale of up to $1 million in bonds in support of energy improvements to be undertaken by five property owners. In broad strokes, the PACE program is enabled by state legislation – the Property Assessed Clean Energy Act 270 of 2010. Property owners take out loans to make energy improvements to be repaid through regular installments as part of their taxes. Municipalities like the city of Ann Arbor administer the program. More than a year ago, on Jan. 9, 2012, the city council set the fees for participation in the program. Prior to that, on March 7, 2011, the city set up a loan loss fund with about $430,000 granted by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Properties for which owners have applied for improvements under Ann Arbor’s PACE program include: (1) Arrowwood (2566 Arrowwood Trail) for new HVAC equipment, insulation, occupancy sensors and lighting upgrade for the clubhouse; exterior lighting upgrade to LED; and solar shingles on one apartment building; (2) Big Boy (3611 Plymouth Road) for HVAC upgrade, lighting upgrade, cooking equipment replacement with energy efficient equipment, and controls; (3) Bivouac (330-336 S. State) for interior lighting upgrade; (4) Goodyear Building (118-124 S. Main) for HVAC replacement (boilers and A/C units), and lighting upgrade; and (5) Kerrytown Market & Shoppes (403 N. Fifth Ave.) for lighting upgrades in tenant areas and common areas.
Bonds for Clean Energy (PACE): Council Deliberations
The item was not added to the agenda until the day of the council meeting. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she wanted to postpone the item, in light of the many questions she’d heard about the program. She reported that the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, had indicated that a two-week postponement wouldn’t present a problem.
Mayor John Hieftje, who’d co-sponsored the addition of the agenda item, said he didn’t know why it had been added late to the agenda. He said he thought it was to be added to the agenda that’s publicized on the Wednesday before the following Monday’s council meeting.
Hieftje said he had been working on the PACE program for years and would be “joyful” when it finally was implemented.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the issuance of the PACE bonds.
Reports, Written Communications
Every council agenda includes a raft of written reports and communications. Here are two highlights from the Feb. 4 agenda.
Reports: Revised Auditor’s Note
A revised auditor’s letter to the city of Ann Arbor was attached to the city council’s Feb. 4, 2013 agenda, and has been formally received by the council as a written communication from the city administrator.
The original version of the letter had indicated three instances of an employee with a vehicle allowance also being reimbursed for mileage, and characterized those reimbursements as a “violation of city policy.” It was subsequently revealed that it was the mileage reimbursements of city attorney Stephen Postema that had caused the auditor to flag the issue.
But after further review – pushed by Postema and chief financial officer Tom Crawford – auditor Mark Kettner agreed that there was no written policy per se that disallowed the dual claims. Kettner is a principal at Rehmann, the city’s auditor, which is in the first year of a five-year contract.
But Kettner also noted that his original conclusion of inappropriateness was based on his view that the dual claims would be “illogical,” whether a policy existed or not. Kettner also indicated in reaching his conclusion of inappropriateness that he had not reviewed Postema’s employment contract, which Postema and Crawford contend would have permitted Postema to claim mileage reimbursements in addition to the vehicle allowance.
Postema’s contract was altered last year, chronologically after the contested mileage reimbursements, so that his vehicle allowance was eliminated.
The new wording of Kettner’s letter omits the characterization of the mileage claims as a “violation” but still calls attention to the issue, and adds language to highlight the problematic character of the reimbursements – that “… in each instance the expense report was not subject to independent review and approval.”
Postema’s contract stipulates that his reimbursements for travel are to be made according to standard city procedures. And one new procedure recommended by Crawford in his written response to the auditor’s report would address the lack of independent review. The recommendation is to require that reimbursements claimed by the city attorney or the city administrator – who are the city council’s two direct reports – be approved by the chair of the council’s administration committee.
Reports: 2012 Street Millage
The city of Ann Arbor’s street millage expenditure report for the 2012 construction season indicates that approximately 25 lane miles on 36 different streets were resurfaced or reconstructed this past season. Total construction cost was about $8.2 million, allocated between major streets (one-third) and local streets (two-thirds).
The street repair millage, renewed by voters in 2011, is levied at a rate of 2 mills, which generates about $9 million annually. The street millage expenditure report was attached to the city council’s Feb. 4, 2013 meeting agenda as a communication.
According to city project manager Nick Hutchinson, responding to an emailed query, the miles of streets resurfaced as reported in the city’s comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) is a different measure – in two ways – from the lane miles reported in the 2012 millage report. First, the CAFR statistic (which has typically ranged between 4 and 7 miles over the last six years) reflects simply the length of the roadway. Second, the CAFR statistic is based on fiscal years (starting on July 1), whereas the millage report is a based on the activity in a calendar year.
Also approved by voters in 2011 was a new 1/8 mill sidewalk repair millage, which generated roughly $500,000 in revenues. According to the city’s report, about $561,000 worth of work was done under the sidewalk repair program, which included replacement of 1,475 slabs of sidewalk and the trimming of an additional 6,380 slabs.
Work also completed that was funded by the street millage program – not the sidewalk millage – were sidewalk ramps on 395 street corners, which are on a list to be replaced under a consent decree. The consent decree requires curb ramps to be installed on all street corners where the city resurfaced or reconstructed streets between 1992 and 2004. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990. [.pdf of street millage report] [.pdf of map showing streets resurfaced in 2012]
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: Downtown Parcels – Library Lot, Y Lot
During public commentary, Alan Haber ventured that the council had heard from the “fringe” pressing on issues with thoughts that the council didn’t particularly want to hear – concerns about the homeless and about Palestine and about an energy farm.
Haber referred to a written statement he’d circulated to councilmembers about the interim use of the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage. [.pdf of Haber's message to the council.] Haber’s remarks came in the context of a presentation by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to the city council on Jan. 14 about the Connecting William Street project. The presentation had included the DDA’s recommendations for the future use of five city-owned downtown parcels, which includes the top of the new Library Lane underground parking garage.
Haber called for allowing people to begin to have activities on top of the structure. If it were allowed to be open, he told councilmembers they’d be surprised by the creativity that Ann Arbor shows. He told them that Ann Arbor really needs a place for the community to come together, and asked councilmembers to take a look at his ideas – including a temporary skating rink with artificial ice.
Two days later, at the Feb. 6, 2013 meeting of the DDA board, Haber reprised his comments.
By way of additional background, at its Dec. 19, 2012 meeting, the DDA’s operations committee was provided with a draft of ideas for a policy on special events at the Library Lane mid-block cut-through and the top of the Library Lane parking garage.
The preamble to the draft includes the expectation that the site would eventually include a building with public open space, but indicates support in the interim for the kind of activity that Haber called for:
The structural component of the underground Library Lane structure was designed to anticipate the construction of a future building and a future public open space area. In the meanwhile, until such time as these elements are designed and constructed, the DDA is supportive of community groups using the Library Lane surface parking lot and the adjoining Library Lane for events, public gatherings and meetings.
In the draft, the main bureaucratic requirement is approval by the city of Ann Arbor for a special events permit, which currently costs $34.
During his communications time at the Feb. 4 council meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) addressed a second parcel that’s part of the Connecting William Street project – the former Y lot at Fifth and William streets. Kunselman contended that it was pretty clear that “the DDA missed the boat on what to do with the Y lot.” Kunselman said the city needed to get that parcel listed for sale, so he’d be bringing forward a resolution directing the city administrator to solicit a real estate broker so that the Y lot can be offered for sale before the balloon mortgage payment on the property comes due at the end of this year. [The site is known as the Y lot because it was the former location of the YMCA. The property was sold to the city when the Y moved to its current location at 400 W. Washington.]
Comm/Comm: Budget Sessions
During communications time, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) reported that the council’s budget committee had met and has mapped out the next few council work sessions.
The Feb. 11 session will consist of two 2-hour sessions, starting at 6 p.m. The first session will cover affordable housing and the 15th District Court. The second session will cover the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP).
By way of additional background on pending proposed changes to the Ann Arbor housing commission’s housing stock, see: “Housing Commission Selects Co-Developer.”
For additional background on the 15th District Court, including an explanation of its responsibilities and funding sources, see coverage from the budget planning session two years ago: “Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: 15th District Court.”
For additional background on the status of the CIP as a planning document and the recent history of inclusion in the CIP of a proposed runway extension at the city’s municipal airport, see “Ann Arbor Budget Process Starts Up.” According to Craig Hupy, public services area administrator with the city, the fact that the runway extension is listed in the CIP for 2014 – with $2.135 million of funding – means that all other things being equal, $2.135 million will be spent on the runway extension in 2014 (i.e., it will be done in 2014), provided that funding is available. One factor that could change that would be for the city council to exercise its budgetary control and not to fund the project.
On Feb. 25, the work session will cover the specific budget impacts to individual service units and the council’s five key priority areas. The top three priority areas are: (1) city budget and fiscal discipline; (2) public safety; and (3) infrastructure. Two additional areas are: (4) economic development; and (5) affordable housing.
On March 11, Higgins continued, the council would talk about conflicting issues and would have a much larger discussion. That will give the city administrator time to finalize the budget. [Under the city charter, the city administrator must submit the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, at the second regular council meeting in April. The council then must amend and adopt any changes by its second meeting in May.]
Higgins noted that the night of March 25 would be reserved for a possible additional working session, but she recognized that it’s the first night of Passover. She observed that no votes would be taken.
Comm/Comm: Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority
During communications time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that for the previous meeting’s agenda, the council had received the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s annual report. [.pdf of FY 2012 DDA annual report]
That had reminded him that in August of 2011, he’d indicated to his colleagues that he’d wanted to make some amendments to the city ordinance establishing the DDA.
[That was on Aug. 4, 2011, two days after Kunselman won the Democratic primary election, on a campaign that was partly based on criticism of the DDA. That primary was a three-way race that included Marwan Issa and Ingrid Ault. Ault was subsequently appointed to the city's park advisory commission. The current chair of the city's park advisory commission, Julie Grand, could provide some competition for Kunselman in his re-election bid for 2013 – as she is now mulling a possible candidacy. Kunselman took out petitions on Nov. 3 to run for re-election to council for Ward 3.]
On Feb. 4, Kunselman highlighted the $2.1 million in the 2012 annual report from the DDA that was labeled “administration.” To have $2.1 million going toward administration seemed “a little outlandish,” Kunselman maintained.
By way of background, the line item labeled “administration” in the DDA’s annual report does not correspond just to those items typically associated with administrative overhead, like staff salaries and benefits. The amount includes, for example, about $0.5 million as a grant to the city for the police/courts building, as well as the subsidy of bus rides taken with the getDowntown’s go!pass. Responding to a request from The Chronicle, DDA executive director Susan Pollay provided the following breakdown of that amount:
Staff, office, professional services $1,018,259 Grant to the city for the Municipal Ctr $508,608 Other TIF grants and projects $110,267 Grant for go!passes, other alt programs $467,392 Total $2,104,526
Among the revisions to the DDA ordinance Kunselman described were changes to DDA governance, which would include term limits on board members, a prohibition against elected officials serving on the board, a requirement that any TIF (tax increment finance) expenditures outside the DDA district boundaries need the council’s approval, and a stipulation that TIF “rebates” for projects require city council approval.
But more significantly, Kunselman is proposing to change the way that the tax increment finance (TIF) capture by the DDA is calculated. The change to the way that TIF is calculated would be based on a different interpretation of the existing language in the ordinance, but would result in roughly $600,000 a year less in TIF capture by the DDA. It’s the same proposal Kunselman made on May 21, 2012 – as a proposed amendment to the city budget last year. On that occasion, his proposal received just three votes on the 11-member council; however, the current composition of the council includes three new councilmembers. For additional Chronicle reporting of the TIF calculations, see: “Column: TIF Capture Is a Varsity Sport.”
Kunselman’s view on the correct interpretation of the TIF calculation is one that was shared at least at one time by the Ann Arbor city attorney’s office. An apparently overlooked clause of the city’s ordinance on DDA TIF capture led the DDA board nearly two years ago, on May 2, 2011, to delay a vote on the new contract between the city and the DDA, under which the DDA administers the city’s public parking system. The Ann Arbor District Library, whose taxes in the district are subject to the DDA’s TIF, has also questioned the correct interpretation of the ordinance.
Kunselman concluded his Feb. 4 remarks on the DDA by saying that the ordinance needs some teeth to “rein in” the DDA board and the amount of TIF that is captured.
Comm/Comm: Taxicab Sexual Assault, “Rogue Limos”
During communications time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that he was chair of the city’s taxicab board and also the parent of two teenage daughters. He’d recently received a crime alert through the University of Michigan, reporting a sexual assault of a young woman, in either a limo or a taxi. Kunselman said the incident raises the issue that the taxicab board has been grappling with – the issue of “rogue limos.” He was describing limos that “impersonate taxis” with their marking and top lights, and pick up passengers as taxicabs do, but are not licensed as taxicabs under the city’s ordinance.
The city council had amended the taxicab ordinance [on Nov. 10, 2011] so that tickets could be written for limos that “impersonate” taxicabs by using top lights. If they’re not licensed, Kunselman said, the city doesn’t know who those drivers are. Kunselman thought it’s time the city do something about it. As chair of the taxicab board, he would ask for a monthly report of enforcement activities – how many limos are pulled over and how many have been ticketed. Kunselman identified two companies as having “rogue limos” – Yellow Car and Green Cab.
Responding to a question from mayor John Hieftje, Kunselman said there’s a state law that the city is trying to get strengthened and that he’d forwarded the crime alert to the city’s lobbyist, Kirk Profit. But Kunselman said he wasn’t sure it’s not possible to take action under existing laws and ordinances. At the most recent meeting of the city’s taxicab board, which took place before the reported sexual assault, the issue of limos impersonating taxis also arose.
Comm/Comm: Coleman Jewett, Public Art
During his communications time, mayor John Hieftje mentioned the memorial service for Coleman Jewett held the previous Saturday. Hieftje noted that Jewett had been a member of the Pioneer High School championship basketball team in the early 1950s. Hieftje passed along a suggestion that a bronze Adirondack chair be placed at the city farmers market as a remembrance to Jewett, who had sold Adirondack chairs and other furniture there for many years. Hieftje indicated that he hoped the public art commission would follow up on the idea.
Comm/Comm: Ending Homelessness, Cold Weather
Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Ann Arbor and a recent candidate for the state senate and house. He was there on a frigid night to urge the mayor and the city council to show immediate concern for the homeless in Washtenaw County. He expressed concern for people who show up on local news programs as causalities, hospitalized with frostbite or in the morgue frozen to death. He called on the council to empower the disenfranchised, and to give voice to continued union representation in contracts. He called on the city council immediately to end homelessness in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and Michigan. The Ann Arbor police department, fire department, Washtenaw County sheriff’s office and other organizations should be out looking for people who need shelter. He called for affordable transportation. Partridge observed that Feb. 4, 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the most famous public transit rider in history – Rosa Parks.
During his communications time, mayor John Hieftje cited a report he’d received from Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, saying that no one has been turned away from the shelter system this winter. There’s outreach going on, done by a group that goes out and looks for people who might need shelter. But Hieftje said that some people won’t come in.
Comm/Comm: Energy Farm
Kermit Schlansker described again his concept of an energy farm as a showplace where many people could come together to work out ideas that would support a comfortable, sustainable society that could last 1,000 years. Beyond a multipurpose building, one of the first projects would be to construct a bunk house where people could stay while they are working on projects. The ultimate goal of the farm would be the construction of an energy efficient apartment building that could last 1,000 years, he said.
Comm/Comm: Israel, Palestine
Three people spoke on the issue of Israel and Palestine during public commentary at the council’s Feb. 4 meeting.
Henry Herskovitz told the council that Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends, a group he’s a part of, has been holding peaceful vigils for over nine years outside the Beth Israel congregation. The group is known for raising the issue of Palestinian sovereignty and what he described as Israeli war crimes. When a member of the city council lashes out with false accusations, he continued, he felt the need to “play a little defense.” He alluded to an Ann Arbor Chronicle article that reported comments from Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5). From that report of the city council’s Jan. 7, 2013 meeting:
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.”
Herskovitz said that a website dedicated to ending his group’s demonstrations did not show any photographs of a swastika over a Star of David, and that if such a photograph existed, he was sure that it would be posted on that website.
Herskovitz then characterized the claim about religious observances turning boys and girls into monsters was out of context. Herskovitz indicated that the context should include Ovadia Yosef’s remarks as quoted in the Jerusalem Post: “Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.” Herskovitz noted that Yosef is former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas political party in Israel.
Herskovitz pointed to another work by an Israeli rabbi, Yitzhak Shapira, who wrote “The Complete Guide to Killing Non-Jews.” Herskovitz quoted another former chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu: “It is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.”
Herskovitz concluded that those quotations were “monstrous” and ventured that those who’d said those words were probably indoctrinated into an ideology that makes such statements possible – likely at an early age. Herskovitz contended that Beth Israel rabbi Robert Dobrusin takes Jewish children on tours of Israel and poses them with armed soldiers. Dobrusin indoctrinates children into a Zionist ideology, Herskovitz contended.
[Based on the Anti-Defamation League's frequent condemnation of various remarks by Yosef (including those cited by Herskovitz), Shapira's book and remarks by Eliyahu, the views expressed by the men could fairly be considered to be inconsistent with the mainstream.]
Blaine Coleman began his remarks by saying that Warpehoski had made a promise not to vote for any resolution that criticized Israel – at a time when Israel is, Coleman contended, massacring Palestinians. Coleman described that as a “monstrous” promise to make, and hoped that Warpehoski would retract that promise. Coleman hoped that Warpehoski would support a resolution to boycott Israel, to divest from Israel or at least divest from companies that supply arms to the Israeli military. Coleman pointed out that Warpehoski’s own organization, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, had approved a resolution to divest from Israel’s military, and he said that it’s Warpehoski’s responsibility to support that resolution as a city councilmember. Coleman described Israel as a “monstrously racist state” that could be compared to the racist ideology of Nazism.
Coleman showed the council a map of Palestine, which existed before Israel was established. One day, Coleman said, the Palestinian people would be free again to walk “in every inch of their land as free people.” That could only happen if “the racist state of Israel” were abolished, he said, in the same way that racist South Africa was abolished.
Coleman called on Warpehoski to lead the way by retracting his promise not to support a resolution critical of Israel. He closed by asking to whom Warpehoski had made the promise, and if someone had asked him to make such a promise.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani called Israel a “racist state” and contended it could be compared to a Nazi state. What Israel is doing to the people of Palestine, she said, is nothing less than what Nazis did to Jews. She contended that people were being kicked out of their homes in East Jerusalem by the Israeli military, with the full support of the U.S. She said the U.S. contributes $5 billion a year to Israel so that Israel can kick “regular people” out of their homes. Addressing the several high school students who were attending the city council meeting as part of a class assignment, Savabieasfahani told them that thousands of Palestinians their age were in jail without any charges being pressed against them.
Among the councilmembers, one had said he’d be in favor of cutting funding to the “racist, Nazi state of Israel,” Savabieasfahani continued – Chuck Warpehoski. That’s to his credit, she said. Now she wanted to see him push forward and act on that, given that he now has a position where he can do that. Nothing has changed, since Warpehoski made that statement. She concluded with a call for a boycott of Israel.
During council communications time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) responded to the commentary about Warpehoski. She said that in the five years she’s served on the council, one councilmember or another has been singled out for “less than positive feedback” during public commentary – something that always makes her “squirm.”
She was told when she ran for the city council that no matter how liberal she might be as a person, to please try hard not to bring resolutions to the council that have nothing to do with local government. When she brought a resolution to the council about immigration reform, she heard from a lot of people who felt that was really none of the council’s business. She has brought other items like that in the last five years, because she thinks that they’re important when they have a “local connection.” But at the same time, she allowed that there were a lot of people in the community who think the council should be “focused on the business of doing business in Ann Arbor.”
Briere thanked Warpehoski for recognizing that there’s no city investment in Israel, and that there’s no money the city is sending to Israel. She thanked him for recognizing that without some kind of local connection – unlike the boycott of South Africa over apartheid – there is no “local hook.” The city’s ability to influence federal spending decisions is very limited, Briere contended. She said she had wanted to say something, because she’d been on the receiving end of occasional “interesting communication” with members of the public. [.pdf of city council resolution rescinding South Africa boycott]
Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.
Next council meeting: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. The meeting date is pushed back a day to accommodate the Presidents Day holiday on Feb. 18. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]
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