Doors open and students beavering away to set up new exhibit in space rented by UM’s Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning, next to Liberty Lofts. [photo]
Ann Arbor city clerk now has a kiosk for getting information at city hall. [photo]
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (April 16, 2013): After several years of cuts, the city’s parks system anticipates no significant budget changes in fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, 2013.
Park commissioners were briefed on budget details at their April meeting, and voted unanimously to recommend the budget for approval. The parks budget will be a component of the overall budget that the city council will vote on in mid-May. The public hearing on that budget will be held on May 6. “The message is status quo,” parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners.
In a separate vote, commissioners recommended raising fees – ranging between 4-9% – for rentals at the Gallup Park meeting room and Cobblestone Farm. It was the first fee increase at these facilities since 2007 and 2006, respectively.
In other action, commissioners unanimously recommended approval of a five-year contract with Coca-Cola Refreshments for cold beverage concessions. It will replace the 10-year contract with Pepsi that expires this summer. Pepsi was the only other bid received by the city for a new contract, but missed the deadline and was disqualified.
Commissioners also recommended that the city award a $535,000 contract to Pranam Global Tech Inc. to replace the nearly 40-year-old roof at Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena. The project includes a 10% construction contingency of $53,500, bringing the total project budget to $588,500.
Public commentary included an update from advocates of an ice-skating rink at the city-owned Library Lane site, as well as a report from the Library Green Conservancy, which hopes to make the parking lot into a park. [.pdf of Library Green Conservancy report]
Updates from commissioners included ongoing efforts to find a new centrally located dog park, as well as more information-gathering work by the downtown parks subcommittee.
And in his manager’s report, Smith informed commissioners of an increase in spray-painted graffiti in the parks. The staff is collecting data on how much time they spend repairing areas that are hit with graffiti, “and it’s substantial,” he said. Even trees have been tagged, which is unusual, Smith reported. “There have been some rather inappropriate things painted on some very nice trees.” He added: “It’s extremely frustrating … We’re not in the business of providing spray-painting opportunities any more than we are in the business of providing apothecary options for people in the parks. I’ll leave it at that.”
A mayoral proclamation made at the Ann Arbor city council’s April 15, 2013 session was not recorded in The Chronicle’s report of that meeting. Omission of such proclamations is pretty typical for our meeting reports.
In this case, I think it’s worth circling back to pick up that proclamation, which declared today, April 29, 2013, to be Jim Toy Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s Toy’s 83rd birthday.
The proclamation itself details how Toy was the first publicly out gay man in Michigan, and whose advocacy work over the last 40 years has included, among other things, the founding of the program that became the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan. He’s the namesake of the Jim Toy Community Center.
The proclamation made at the April 15 city council meeting earned Toy an uncommon standing ovation from councilmembers.
What I wanted to record in The Chronicle’s archives were Toy’s own remarks, which he delivered after receiving the honor. The meeting took place several hours after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, which Toy briefly mentions.
Jim Toy: Mr. Mayor, members of council, staff of the city of Ann Arbor, my comrades, and our allies, I am more grateful and humbled than I can say for this recognition – the recognition of the work of our entire constituency and of our allies. The city has advanced freedom and justice without ceasing for many oppressed individuals and groups and will continue to do so.
We thank everyone in our inter-sex, transgender, bi-sexual, lesbian, gay male, queer community, and we thank our allies for your support and advocacy through these two score years of working for justice and freedom – justice and freedom compromised and stained by the blood that has been shed by countless victims of anti-TBLGQ violence, violence generated by fear and hatred, as blood has been shed today in Boston.
Let me thank you all with deep gratitude for your patient support since 1971. I thank you for enduring my inadequacies, my prejudices, my isms, and my fear. I beg forgiveness of all whom I have ignored, neglected and wounded during these 40 years.
A lot of water over the dam. [photo]
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-District 53) participated in a recent segment of the Fox 2 News talk show “Let It Rip,” focused on decriminalizing marijuana. Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat, has proposed legislation – House Bill 4623 – to significantly reduce the penalties for recreational use of the drug. [Source]
House fire on Bending. Pittsfield and Ann Arbor firefighters responded. Those firefighters and police do good work. Thank you.
On Recycle Ann Arbor‘s 35th anniversary, Barbara Lucas of WEMU looks at the history of the city’s curbside recycling, and interviews several of the people who helped start the program. Among those are Dan Ezekiel, who’s now a science teacher at Forsythe Middle School and chair of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission. [Source]
Ann Arbor public art commissioner John Kotarski, holding a lime green flag on a stick, at Sculpture Plaza. Probably part of the docent-led walking art tours that started today.
Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 16, 2013): Moving ahead on a project that’s been years in the works, planning commissioners took action at its meeting to adopt a set of changes to the city’s R4C/R2A residential zoning districts.
Commissioners unanimously recommended that the city council adopt the draft changes, and that the council direct the planning staff and commissioners to develop ordinance language that would implement these recommendations.
Eight people spoke during a public hearing on the recommendations, including several who’d served on an R4C/R2A advisory committee. They raised a variety of concerns primarily related to lot combinations, parking requirements, and a proposed “group housing” district.
Related to lot combinations, several speakers urged commissioners to institute a maximum lot size of 6,525 square feet, equal to an allowable density of three units. This had been a recommendation of the advisory committee, in an effort to prevent future projects like the large City Place apartment buildings on South Fifth Avenue.
In contrast, the planning commission’s recommendations call for more flexibility in combining lots, but don’t yet provide much detail about how that approach would work. The approach would require planning commission approval of lot combinations as part of a project’s site plan review. Review standards would still need to be developed, as well as standards for design and massing – to ensure that any new development is compatible with the neighborhood.
The proposed group housing district was another point of concern for speakers during the public hearing, and was the focus for much of the commission’s deliberations. The recommendations designate a new zoning district, located south and west of the University of Michigan’s central campus. It would be roughly an area outlined in the city’s Central Area Plan, but with final boundaries to be determined. [.pdf of Central Area Plan] The idea is to address issues that are somewhat unique to neighborhoods with a large amount of student housing.
In general, the new district is intended to allow for flexibility by putting limits on density, but with premiums provided in exchange for community benefits such as pedestrian-friendly and architectural design standards. For example, parking might be based on a building’s total floor-area ratio (FAR), independent of the number of units in a structure. The recommendations call for details of this new district to be fleshed out in a second phase, after other ordinance changes are made that are seen as more straightforward.
Commissioners discussed the terminology for this proposed district, with some preferring the term “flexible housing” rather than “group housing,” which was the phrase used in the Central Area Plan. Commissioners appeared to reach consensus in directing Matt Kowalski – the city planner who’s taken the lead on this project – to clarify the group housing term as one that’s based on the Central Area Plan. Kowalski intends to make some other minor revisions to the draft report, based on feedback from commissioners, before forwarding it to the city council for consideration.
If the recommendations meet with council approval, the planning staff would then work with the city attorney’s office to develop specific ordinance revisions to implement the recommendations. Those ordinance changes would also be reviewed by the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee before being voted on again by the full planning commission and then the city council.
Related to this R4C ordinance process, some commissioners are concerned about how that work flow would fit in with the ongoing ZORO (zoning ordinance reorganization) project. At a five-hour retreat on April 23, several commissioners expressed frustration that ZORO seems to be languishing in the city attorney’s office. The ZORO project, which started in 2009, is a comprehensive zoning code review aimed at streamlining the development-related city code, clarifying terminology, and eliminating inconsistencies and outdated material. The commission intends to convey its concerns to the city council, hoping to push the project toward completion.
In other action at their April 16 regular meeting, commissioners recommended approval of two residential annexations on the city’s northwest side, and moved forward a project to replace outdated electrical equipment at the Barton Pump Station. The station pumps raw water from Barton Pond to the city’s water treatment plant about two miles away.
Commissioners also recommended that the city council approve distribution of the city of Ann Arbor’s draft non-motorized plan for feedback from neighboring jurisdictions. [.pdf of staff report and draft non-motorized plan] This is an update of a plan that was initially approved in 2007. It makes policy recommendations as well as specific project proposals, primarily related to pedestrian and bicycle travel.
Water stain in UMCU parking lot loves this weather!! [heart-shaped] [link]
This week, a company called “CareerCast.com” ranked more than 1,000 American jobs, and determined that the worst job in America isn’t garbage collector, dog cage cleaner or Lindsay Lohan sobriety tester – but journalist.
Yes! Score! Booyah!
They based their rankings on four criteria: the workplace environment, the industry’s future, average income, and stress.
Okay, it’s true: newsrooms usually aren’t pretty places, and the future isn’t any prettier for newspapers. You can make more money doing a lot of other things – and, yes, the stress is very real. The hours are long and late, and many of our customers think they can do our jobs better than we can. They’re often nice enough to take the time to tell us that – even if they’re complaining about a different news outlet that screwed up and somehow we’re responsible. Hey, at least they care.
Journalists themselves reacted to this ranking with all the calm, cool, collected professionalism of Geraldo Rivera and Nancy Grace. But here’s why: newsrooms aren’t for everybody, but we like them – the hustle and bustle and energy and urgency. We like the stress, too – no matter how much we complain about it – because it comes with doing work we believe actually matters.
The Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education took steps to address some of the most pressing needs of their superintendent search: identifying a salary, determining a superintendent profile, confirming the superintendent search timeline, and approving an advertising schedule. The actions took place at the board’s April 24, 2013 study session.
Earlier this month, superintendent Patricia Green announced her resignation, effective in mid-July.
The trustees were in agreement on posting a salary range, rather than a set number. After some wrangling about the top levels of such a range, they decided on $180,000 to $220,000, commensurate with experience. [Green began her tenure on July 1, 2011 with a five-year contract and a starting salary of $245,000.]
The board also decided on a …
The Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education approved the 2013 spring grant awards at its April 24, 2013 meeting.
New grants include: $11,332 from the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop for SchoolMessenger, a parental notification system; $15,000 from the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation (AAPSEF) for the Community Builders program; and $8,900 from Toshiba America to purchase Lego Mindstorms for Pioneer High School.
AAPSEF is also providing renewal grants for the following: $15,679 for Great Ideas; $4,000 for 5th grade instrumental music instrument repairs; $21,000 for SchoolMessenger; and $22,644 for the Environmental Education Program. Secondary Perkins III is providing a renewal grant of $143,022 for the Career and Technical Education program.
The entire cost of SchoolMessenger will be …
The Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education heard a first briefing on bid recommendations for district-wide network cabling and mechanical modifications to support the 2012 technology bond initiatives. The briefing took place at the board’s April 24, 2013 meeting.
After conducting post-bid interviews, the district’s professional team recommended awarding contracts to Fuller Heating Company for $80,669 for HVAC work, and to Complete Communications Inc. for $386,989 for network cabling. Both companies were the lowest qualified bidders for each job.
Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, noted that the district is opting for CAT 6 in place of CAT 5 cabling. While more expensive, it will take longer to be obsolete, he said. The team also opted for adding …
At its April 24, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education was briefed on a recommendation to renew the district’s lease of Freeman School to Go Like the Wind Montessori School. The district has leased the building to Go Like the Wind since 1987. It’s located at 3540 Dixboro Lane.
If approved, the new three-year lease with one two-year renewal option would begin on July 1, 2014. The new proposed rate is $300,862, with a 3% increase each year. Over a five-year lease period, the district will receive over $1.5 million in rent.
Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, recognized that the tenants have paid for renovations over the past 10 years, while the district pays for …
At the April 24, 2013 meeting of Ann Arbor Public Schools board, trustees were briefed on bid recommendations for contractors to perform the 2013 summer paving projects. The first briefing was presented by Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties.
Trent had interviewed the lowest qualified bidders: Best Asphalt from Romulus, Barrett Paving of Ypsilanti, and Quality Asphalt of Howell. After the district conducted due diligence, Barrett Paving withdrew its bid.
Contract awards are recommended for Best Asphalt at $377,535 and Quality Asphalt at $60,208 to perform the paving projects. Trent noted that Best Asphalt previously has done paving projects for the district, and Quality Asphalt has tried to get projects with the district in the past. The projects are funded …
The Ann Arbor city council meeting that started on Monday evening, April 15, 2013 did not end until after 3 a.m. the following day. This was due in part to a stream of about 100 citizens who took the podium for general public commentary and two significant public hearings. The three-minute allocation of time per speaker translated into about five hours of public speaking time.
Conversation amongst audience members at the meeting – as well as subsequently in the community – described the effort as a “citizens filibuster.” The result of all the commentary: Two significant items on the agenda were postponed until the council’s May 6 meeting.
One of those items was the site plan approval for 413 E. Huron. Postponement of a decision on that project was lumped in with the general motion to postpone all remaining action items on the agenda until May 6. It was not necessarily expected that the council would postpone the 413 E. Huron site plan that evening, even if it was hoped by opponents that councilmembers would put off the decision – for a third time.
But there was a reasonable expectation that another significant item would be postponed – the council’s final action on a proposed revision to the city ordinance governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. It was during the often acrimonious debate on that decision that the council ultimately opted to postpone all of its remaining action items until May 6.
The acrimony stemmed in part from the fact that the stated intention of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) at the start of the meeting was to postpone a final decision – and that was the expected outcome. The fact that this expected outcome was called into question heightened the tension in an already emotional debate. The tension was heightened by the fact that deviation from the anticipated postponement was made possible mainly by the absence of two councilmembers – Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).
By the time the council reached the DDA ordinance on its agenda, the hour was approaching 2 a.m. And by then Higgins and Kailasapathy had needed to leave the council meeting. Both of them had supported the ordinance changes in the 7-3 vote taken at the council’s April 1, 2013 meeting. But for the final reading on April 15, neither of them were at the table when the debate on the DDA ordinance began.
Kailasapathy described herself to The Chronicle as on the verge of physical exhaustion when she left – having had little sleep over the several days leading up to the meeting. She earns her livelihood as a certified public accountant, and tax season is a time of peak workload.
So apparently recognizing that the absence of Kailasapathy and Higgins would mean defeat for the ordinance change – if it were voted up or down, instead of being postponed – mayor John Hieftje led an effort to force an up-or-down vote on the issue. And councilmembers who were willing to put off the issue were not unified in their view about the parliamentary procedure to use to achieve that delay. So the council voted on two different options – postponing until a date certain (June 17) or tabling the issue. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) provided a crucial vote against postponement, but voted in favor of tabling.
Kunselman argued for the postponement by pointing out that because the sequence of the roll-call vote that evening allowed him to vote last, he could simply assess how the tally stood, and vote accordingly with the prevailing side. That would give him the right to bring back the vote for reconsideration at the council’s subsequent meeting. But Kunselman’s argument was not persuasive to a six-vote majority.
Without a six-vote majority in favor of either tabling or postponing, the council was left to deliberate on the actual ordinance amendments. As some attempted amendments failed – clearly due to the dynamic that had resulted from the absence of two councilmembers – Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) eventually proposed adjourning the meeting until the following Monday, when the meeting could continue. However, after a brief recess it was decided that the council would simply postpone all remaining voting items until its May 6 meeting, and put an end to the April 15 meeting.
After approving the motion to postpone the action items, councilmembers ticked through the remaining “housekeeping” items on the agenda, which largely included various reports and communications. Of those, one highlight worth noting was the nomination by Hieftje of Eric Mahler to replace David Nacht on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
The public commentary at the April 15 meeting exceeds The Chronicle’s capacity to report in its customary way. Still, some accounting of the meeting is important for the archives.
This report provides: (1) a summary of votes taken; and (2) a summary of actions that will now appear on the May 6 agenda as a result of the April 15 postponement. In addition, this report begins with details of the deliberations on the proposed DDA ordinance revisions.
Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education study session (April 17, 2013) Editor’s note: Since this study session, the board has held an additional study session and a regular meeting, both on April 24. The Chronicle anticipates offering coverage of those meetings as well.
The board is now in the first stages of it has determined to be a “fast track” superintendent search. That’s because Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Patricia Green has turned in her resignation, after a little less than two years on the job. Her resignation takes effect in mid-July. In a brief letter to AAPS staff and families in the school system, Green said she intends to retire after 43 years in the profession. [.pdf of Green's letter]
The bulk of the board’s April 17 study session was spent discussing the first steps of a superintendent search. Led by board president Deb Mexicotte, the trustees discussed topics ranging from retaining a search firm, determining the superintendent profile, creating the search timeline, gathering community input, and naming an interim superintendent.
Also at the study session, Mexicotte also put out another call for trustees to indicate their interests for standing committee membership, as well as interest in chairing a committee. Appointments were to be made by the next regular meeting, which took place on April 24.
The dates and locations of the AAPS community budget forums were also announced. At the forums, the administration will review the budget for the 2013-14 school year.
The board also heard public commentary regarding potential budget cuts and the superintendent search.
Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 17, 2013): Major budget issues were the focus of the April 17 county board meeting, including news that tax revenues in 2013 will be higher than anticipated.
After several years of reporting declining tax revenues, Raman Patel – the county’s equalization director – gave commissioners a report showing stronger signs of economic recovery, reflected in a 1.68% increase in taxable value. That translates into an estimated $2.327 million more in property tax revenues for county government than had been budgeted for 2013. [.pdf of Patel's presentation]
Also related to the budget, commissioners gave initial approval to a four-year budget planning cycle, a change from the current two-year cycle that’s been in place since 1994. Voting against the item was Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). He and other commissioners expressed a range of concerns, including the fact that commissioners are elected every two years and therefore might not be able to contribute adequately to setting budget priorities. Although Peterson remained unconvinced, several commissioners observed that the annual budget affirmation process acted as a fail-safe, allowing the board to make adjustments based on changing priorities.
Another item that could have a dramatic impact on the county’s budget was only briefly mentioned: A proposal to issue up to $350 million in bonds to fully fund the county’s pension and retiree healthcare plans. It would be by far the largest bond issuance in the county’s history. County administrator Verna McDaniel plans to make a formal presentation about the proposal at the board’s May 2 working session. She distributed materials on April 17 to help commissioners prep for that meeting. [.pdf of bond proposal handout]
Commissioners also took a final vote officially to dissolve a countywide public transit authority known as the Washtenaw Ride. There was no discussion, but Conan Smith (D-District 9) – a vocal advocate for public transit – cast the sole vote against the resolution.
Other action handled by the board included a federal weatherization grant, a public hearing for the Urban County strategic plan, and resolutions honoring county employees and residents. Among them was Leila Bauer, the county’s chief deputy treasurer who is retiring after 41 years with the county. She received a standing ovation from the board.
Star Wars meets Star Trek? [photo]
The Detroit Free Press reports that Paul Dobrowolski has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Ann Arbor and police chief John Seto, alleging that his Constitutional rights have been violated. Dobrowolski, an anti-abortion activist, has been ticketed for violating city code that prohibits parking a vehicle on a street with the purpose of displaying advertising. Dobrowolski was ticketed for parking outside of Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor with a sign in his car that included information about a facility that provides free ultrasounds. [Source]
Tappan Middle School: After conclusion of a public meeting on the study of wet weather flows in the city’s sanitary sewer system, Jack Eaton collects signatures for his petition to become a candidate in the Democratic primary election for Ann Arbor city council in Ward 4. (Marcia Higgins is the incumbent up for election.) Ward 4 representative Margie Teall has an off-year for election; she attended the meeting. Also in attendance: Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and city administrator Steve Powers.
Group of schoolchildren preparing to cross Packard from south to north. As I pedaled past, collected “Hello, Dave” from adult leader with the group – Jeannine Palms, who helped start the Buhr Park wet meadow project. They might have been headed to the meadow.
Bridge Magazine reports on disparities in health between neighboring Washtenaw and Wayne counties: “The health gap is best summed up in one piece of data: The average Wayne County resident dies at a younger age than residents of any other county in the state. Washtenaw men live an entire U.S. Senate term – six years — longer than Wayne men; the average Washtenaw woman lives 2.7 years longer than her counterpart to the east.” [Source]
Bicycle with frame that appears to be made out of bamboo. [photo]
Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (March 27, 2013): Public art commissioners hope to involve more students in their work – but no formal mechanism is yet in place to make that happen.
At AAPAC’s most recent meeting, John Kotarski proposed adding three students to the nine-member commission as voting members. He suggested that the student commissioners be selected by: (1) the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education; (2) the dean of the University of Michigan School of Art & Design; and (3) the Arts at Michigan program. Deb Mexicotte, president of the AAPS board, is also program coordinator for Arts at Michigan.
Ultimately, commissioners passed a resolution on a 5-1 vote asking that the city council consider adding students to the commission. Marsha Chamberlin dissented, saying she supported the concept of student involvement but didn’t like this approach. She’d rather handle it informally, perhaps by including students in the task forces that are set up for each project.
Chamberlin also noted that any change in AAPAC’s composition would require a revision to the city’s public art ordinance.
The city council committee that’s currently undertaking dramatic revisions to the public art ordinance has nearly completed its work, with plans to present recommendations to the full council on May 6. The recommendations include eliminating the Percent for Art funding mechanism and the concept of “pooled” funds from capital projects. Instead, the city council will designate specific capital projects to be “enhanced” with extra funding allocated for public art or architectural features, based on recommendations by AAPAC. [.pdf of draft ordinance revisions] [.pdf of most recent memo to city council regarding draft recommendations]
This Chronicle report includes a summary of the council committee’s April 18 meeting, which is probably the last one prior to presenting the recommendations – likely on May 6. The committee is suggesting that the council take a final vote on June 3, after soliciting public input through A2 Open City Hall.
In other action during the March 27 meeting, AAPAC approved its annual art plan. This year, because of uncertainty regarding the program’s future and a current moratorium on spending, the plan sets general goals rather than proposing new projects. Those goals are: (1) the creation of public art in more areas of the city and a commitment to balance the number of artworks throughout the city and its neighborhoods; (2) a focus on high use and visibility as locations for public art; and (3) an emphasis on putting public art in underserved neighborhoods.
AAPAC also selected Josh Wiener, an artist from Denver, to work with landscapers and incorporate public art into a new rain garden at the corner of Kingsley and First. The $27,000 project was one of several for which funding had already been approved, prior to the council’s decision to temporarily halt spending on public art.
Commissioners discussed a range of other ongoing projects, including public art at the East Stadium bridge, Argo Cascades and the Justice Center lobby. A project that doesn’t include city funding is the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Inside|Out program. Installation of that artwork in Ann Arbor took place two days after AAPAC’s March 27 meeting. Framed replicas of paintings from the DIA collection were mounted at several locations in the downtown area, and free docent walking tours will be offered on Saturdays and Sundays, starting on April 27. The tours will leave from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum every half-hour between noon and 3 p.m.
Looking ahead, Chamberlin reminded commissioners that it’s time to solicit nominations for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, which recognize local contributions to public art. The award winners are selected by AAPAC, with a presentation at an Ann Arbor city council meeting in June.
March 27 was the first meeting for AAPAC’s two new commissioners, Ashlee Arder and Nick Zagar. Arder, who works for ArtServe Michigan, took action during the meeting to set up a Twitter account for the commission: @AAPublicArt.