On the south side of the block, in front of the federal building, community standards officer is ticketing cars. The block is parked full despite the clear “No Parking” signs. Officer explains that spaces had been added there when Fifth Avenue was closed for underground parking garage construction. People have not unlearned the habit.
Sandblasting and repainting of seat surfaces: Monday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Aug. 12, according to UM spokesperson.
Selma Cafe, the breakfast fundraiser that suspended operations in mid-April, has found a new fiscal sponsor and is close to securing a new location, according to co-founder Lisa Gottlieb. She hopes to restart the cafe in late June, likely as a monthly Saturday brunch.
The paperwork is being completed to transfer fiscal sponsorship from the nonprofit Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) to Artrain, an arts and cultural organization. In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Gottlieb said the new sponsorship by Artrain means that FSEP will release the Selma Cafe funds that had been frozen, including $46,500 from cash donations.
In late March, FSEP had frozen funds it held on behalf of Selma Cafe and had set a May …
In a report on the May 21, 2013 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting, Jeff Hayner spoke during a public hearing about the city’s master plan. The Chronicle misspelled his name in the report. We note the error here, and have corrected the original article. His name was also misspelled in a report on the May 6, 2013 city council meeting. That error has also been corrected in the original article.
The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has enjoyed significant attention from the city council through the spring – and that attention will continue at least through next week.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) has been leading the effort by the council to have an impact on the DDA – first by proposing ordinance amendments, then by bringing forward a proposal during the council’s FY 2014 budget deliberations on May 20 – to reallocate DDA funds toward housing. More on that later.
Next week’s June 3 city council meeting would have marked the start of a three-month DDA-free period on the council’s agenda. However, Ward 2 councilmembers Jane Lumm and Sally Petersen, joined by Sumi Kailasapathy from Ward 1, have now placed a resolution on that meeting’s agenda calling on the DDA to allocate money for three additional police officers dedicated to patrolling the downtown area.
For Lumm, this might appear to be a course reversal. Earlier this spring she argued that funding for police officers should be found within the regular city budgeting process. She argued that police officers should be paid for with city general fund dollars – because the city is responsible for public safety. Specifically, she argued that the city should not be looking to the DDA to pay for police.
Yet it’s not actually a course reversal for Lumm. If you follow the city council and the DDA closely, her position now – calling on the DDA to fund police – makes perfectly logical sense, if “logical sense” means “political sense.”
The fact that this reversal makes perfect political sense is not an indictment of Lumm specifically, but rather of the entire 11-member council. They’ve managed as a group to forget what they accomplished together at their retreat in December 2012.
At that retreat, the council achieved a consensus that the city’s achievement of success for the public safety area would not be measured by the number of sworn officers. Instead they agreed that success would be based by actual crime stats, perceptions of safety by residents, and an objective measurement of the time that officers can spend on proactive policing. Yet the council’s debate on May 20 reverted to the familiar past habit of measuring safety success by counting sworn officers.
To the credit of the June 3 resolution’s sponsors, their proposal at least claims that adding police officers downtown would contribute to the perception of increased safety – a nod to the council’s retreat consensus. But I can imagine arguments both ways about whether that claim is true.
The council’s general distraction from its budget retreat consensus might be linked to the energy spent on the DDA. So what has stoked that interest? The fuel for this political fire is the perverse interpretation the DDA has given to Chapter 7 of the city code, which regulates the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) revenue. The DDA contends that the revenue constraint that’s articulated in Chapter 7 isn’t really a constraint. The DDA further contends that the $470,000 it returned to other taxing jurisdictions in 2011 was paid back “erroneously.” Kunselman’s ordinance amendments would exclude the DDA’s interpretation.
Throughout the council’s months-long debate about the DDA, the DDA board and staff have enthusiastically participated in city council politics. They’ve done so in a way that has not added much value to the city of Ann Arbor, except in the form of political drama.
In this column I’ll lay out the DDA’s role in the most recent political play that was performed at the council’s May 20 meeting.
Most sports fans are happy just to see their team make the playoffs. But Detroit Red Wings fans have been able to take that for granted for a record 22 straight seasons. The last time the Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs, not one current NHL player was in the league. Some of the current Red Wings weren’t born. Nine current franchises weren’t yet created.
But the record seemed doomed to be broken this season.
To start, there almost wasn’t a season at all, thanks to the contract dispute between the players and the owners, who both thought the other side was making too much money. And, of course, both sides were right – setting up a game of chicken between self-destructive lunatics.
When a federal mediator finally brought them to their senses in January, they had just enough time left to play a 48-game schedule – which actually seemed about right. But the Red Wings came out flat-footed, falling so far behind they had to win their last four games just to sneak into the seventh of eight playoff spots.
In the first round, they faced the Ducks of Anaheim – formerly the Mighty Ducks – which is already an affront to everything that is holy about hockey.
Amazingly, the Red Wings beat them in seven games – quite an upset. Their reward: an even tougher opponent, the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, who earned at least one point in their first 24 games, which is a record.
But for hardcore hockey fans – and really, are there any other kind? – this series was a reward.
Yellow Barn. Benefit/Birthday for carpenter/musician Chris Buhalis was packed with people. Here’s the lineup: [photo]. Didn’t stay til the end. But I’m almost sure that the finale of “This Land is Your Land” included all the verses they don’t necessarily teach you in elementary school, including the one about the “other side.”
This Eastern Screech Owl has been a frequent presence in the trees on the 500 block of Fifth Street this spring, even in broad daylight. [photo]
Bryan Rogers, who served as dean of the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design from 2000 to 2012, died on May 28 after a lengthy illness. A post on the school’s website quotes current dean Guna Nadarajan: “For those who worked closely with Bryan, he is remembered most for his wry and often wicked sense of humor, his grace and devoted friendship, his love of music and reading, and the many acts of kindness that he performed without an expectation of thanks or recognition.” [Source]
Low RR bridge 1, taller Coca-Cola truck 0. Road closed, police on scene, damaged trailer being unloaded into an intact one.
Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 21, 2013): A proposed condominium project on North Main and North Fourth Avenue – called Kerrytown Place – won planning commission approval, though some commissioners expressed disappointment with the amount of surface parking on the site.
The development covers four parcels – at 402, 408 and 414 N. Main and 401 N. Fourth, with the Main Street parcels separated from the North Fourth site by a public alley, which runs north-south. The vacant St. Nicholas Church had been located on the North Main property, but was demolished last year.
McKinley Inc.’s headquarters is south of the site on North Main, and the firm holds a permanent easement for 57 parking spaces on the Kerrytown Place land. Those spaces will be provided on the development’s surface parking lots. Developer Tom Fitzsimmons told commissioners that finding a way to accommodate those parking requirements into the design had been “challenging.”
The North Main site will include 16 townhouse units in a building with a central courtyard. A 3-story structure with 8 units will front Main Street, and a 4-story structure on the east side of the parcel will have 8 additional units facing the courtyard. There will be an underground garage, and additional parking in 12 carport spots and 24 surface spaces.
On the North Fourth site – now a surface parking lot, with an entrance across from the Ann Arbor farmers market – the plan calls for constructing a duplex with a 2-car garage for each unit and a 21-space parking lot behind the building, accessed from the alley. Each unit of the duplex would face North Fourth.
The project includes a rezoning request and modifications to the city’s landscaping and setback requirements. Commissioners praised the development, but Bonnie Bona in particular was critical of the surface parking. She was reluctant to compromise on the developer’s request to decrease a 15-foot minimum setback, saying that “when I’m giving up front yard for more asphalt, I’m just not as happy.”
City planning staff pointed out that the parking easement “runs with the land,” meaning that any development would need to accommodate those parking spaces. Ultimately, commissioners unanimously approved all requests related to the project, which will now be forwarded to the city council for consideration.
In other action at the May 21 meeting, commissioners held a public hearing on suggestions related to the city’s master plan, but postponed action until their June 18 meeting. A review is required by the planning commission’s bylaws to be done annually. The hearing drew six speakers on a range of topics, including development in Lowertown, a park in downtown Ann Arbor, and adequate sidewalks, cleared of vegetation, so that kids can walk to school safely.
There is also a list of resource documents that are used to support the master plan. [.pdf of resource document list] Commissioners spent a fair amount of time discussing why the Calthorpe report isn’t included on the list. The commission appeared to reach consensus that it would be worth reviewing the entire list of resource documents.
Also on May 21, the commission held a public hearing to get input on the South State Street corridor plan, as a possible addition to the city’s master plan. Commissioners and staff have been working on this project for more than two years. No one spoke at the hearing, and commissioners voted to add the South State Street corridor plan to the city’s master plan, as an amendment to the plan’s land use element. The city council will also need to vote on this item.
One request that commissioners rejected was rezoning for 2271 S. State St., where owners would like to sell cars. The vote was 1-8, drawing support only from Eric Mahler. Some commissioners had leaned toward approval, saying it would be good to have some kind of use on the long-vacant site, where Pilar’s restaurant had once been located. But others expressed concern that it didn’t fit with the goals of the South State corridor, and that it could set a precedent for other rezoning requests. It would be possible for the owner, Capital Investments, to bring the rezoning request to the city council, even though it did not receive a recommendation of approval by the planning commission.
During public commentary, commissioners heard from three people expressing concerns about development and city services in southeast Ann Arbor, along the Ellsworth corridor. They asked for a moratorium on any zoning changes or high-density housing there, until the area can be further studied. Residents have formed a task force to pursue the issue.
Everyone who’s at city hall for meetings has moved to the basement, which is the designated “severe weather” shelter. Riding out the tornado warning. [photo]
Ed Carpenter’s hanging sculpture Radius has been installed over the Memorial Day weekend, in the lobby of the Justice Center. [photo] Four out-of-town architects who designed the center were outside taking photos. They’d dropped by to look at the building while passing through town.
The Lansing State Journal reports on opposition to Michigan Flyer adding more routes between Lansing and Ann Arbor, reportedly because of federal grant dollars that would be used to subsidize the business. The company runs the route – known as AirRide – to the Detroit Metro airport. According to the report, opponents of awarding the federal funding say it would “give bus operators a leg up on airlines and other transit services that don’t receive similar money to buy fuel and pay workers.” [Source]
Island in intersection decorated for Memorial Day. [photo] in rain doesn’t do it justice.
Ann Arbor city council meeting Part 2: Non-budget items (May 20, 2013): Although the approval of the FY 2014 budget took up the majority of its meeting time, the council still completed a lot of other business. Budget deliberations are reported separately in Part 1 of the May 20, 2013 meeting report. Part 2 focuses on non-budget items.
On the surface it seemed like a controversial new development at 413 E. Huron – approved by the council at its May 13 session – might be reconsidered with a different outcome. But the item added to the agenda at the start of the May 20 meeting was simply motivated by a need to rectify a technical detail – to correct a reference to the most recent set of project plans. The council dispatched the item with scant discussion.
Fees were a highlight of the meeting in several ways, beginning with public commentary. Several residents spoke against the city charging a parks & recreation rental fee to a local church, for its homelessness outreach ministry in Liberty Plaza. Mayor John Hieftje gave an assurance that it was his intent for the Pizza in the Park event to continue without being assessed a fee by the city.
On the council’s agenda were three sets of fees for different service areas of the city, including those for parks and recreation. The council approved fee increases for facility rental at Gallup Park and Cobblestone Farm, as well as various public services area fees, and fire inspection and permitting fees. The fire permit fees prompted moderate discussion among councilmembers, pushed by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Kunselman’s colleagues agreed to his call for a substantial reduction in fire permit fees for bonfires – based on the idea that lower fees would result in higher compliance.
Fees were also on the agenda in the form of utility rate increases, which the council gave initial approval. Because the utility rates are part of the city’s ordinances, they need an initial approval followed by a public hearing and then a second and final vote. In terms of revenue generated to the city, the proposed rate increases are expected to generate 3.55% ($739,244) more for drinking water, 4.25% ($955,531) more for the sanitary sewer, and 4% ($233,811) more for stormwater.
In other business, an economic development task force, put forward by Sally Petersen (Ward 2) over the last several weeks, was formally established by the council. Appointed to the task force for the city were Petersen, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and city administrator Steve Powers. The two other entities that are being asked to participate are Ann Arbor SPARK and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. They can appoint up to three members each.
Appointments to standing boards and commissions approved by the council at its May 20 meeting included Stephanie Buttrey to the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC), Susan Baskett to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), Paras Parekh to the city planning commission, and Jennifer Geer to the park advisory commission. Nominated to serve on GAC was Jennifer Fike.
A proposed ordinance on video privacy was again postponed by the council, this time until June 17. But the council did take action to approve a contract for roof repair at the Veterans Memorial Park ice arena.
Public commentary included a focus on how the city allocates its share of Act 51 money, which comes from the state to fund road maintenance. The city designates a portion of those funds for non-motorized facilities. In years past, that portion was 5%, but was reduced to 2.5% as a result of the economic downturn. Non-motorized transportation advocates are now calling for restoration to the 5% level.
Sunday afternoon swordplay, by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (who are quite friendly, once the helmets are off). [photo]
A group of people in this city care so much about the art of making books that they’ve launched a center dedicated to it, one that will pass down an artistic tradition while incorporating cutting-edge technologies to widen its boundaries.
Its founders call boundedition a “member-based community resource for the preservation, practice and expansion of the book and paper arts.” They call themselves its managing members: bookseller Gene Alloway, book artist Barbara Brown, graphic designer Laura Earle, printmaker Jim Horton, and product designer Tom Veling, a retired Ford Motor Co. engineer.
They were moved to act when Tom and Cindy Hollander announced last summer that Hollander’s School of Book and Paper Arts would close its doors after the spring 2013 session. The school operated on the lower level of the Hollander’s Kerrytown store for more than 10 years.
Brown, a longtime teacher of bookbinding classes at Hollander’s, reached out to fellow teacher Horton as well as Earle, Veling and others who met weekly at the open studio there. Serious discussions began in February, Horton says, when “we decided that what we’d done at Hollander’s was too good to give up.”
Earle, whose family has been involved with Ann Arbor’s Maker Works, was instrumental in finding a home for boundedition inside the member-based workshop at 3765 Plaza Drive. Maker Works’ managers were receptive to letting boundedition rent some space, and Brown says Earle, her husband and her son “pretty much built the office singlehandedly” – including a set of modular work tables that can be arranged according to the requirements of individual classes.
Brown credits Earle’s energy and determination for the speed with which boundedition took shape. “It would have happened,” she said, “but Laura made it happen now instead of later.”
Ann Arbor’s community of book artists and book lovers got a chance to look around at a May 16 curtain raiser. Tom and Cindy Hollander were in attendance; Horton reports that they’ve given boundedition “a thumbs up” and Brown says “Tom has really been very supportive.”
An open house is coming up on Sunday, June 2, from 1-6 p.m. “The whole community is invited to come out to see the space,” Horton says, “to sign up for classes, to let us know if they’re interested in teaching classes.”
Ann Arbor city council meeting Part 1: Budget debate (May 20, 2013): The council’s meeting did not conclude until nearly 2 a.m. after a 7 p.m. scheduled start. This portion of The Chronicle’s meeting report focuses mostly on the council’s fiscal year 2014 budget deliberations, which started at about 9 p.m. and ended around 1:30 a.m.
The council considered several amendments to the FY 2014 budget. But the total impact on the general fund of all the successful amendments was not significant, leaving mostly intact the “status quo” budget that had been proposed by city administrator Steve Powers a month earlier. That was a budget with $82.9 million in general fund expenditures. [.pdf of one-page summary of possible amendments] [.pdf of longer detail on FY 2014 budget amendments]
Most of the successful amendments were voted through with relatively little debate, and involved amounts of $100,000 or less. For example, the Washtenaw Health Initiative received an additional $10,000 allocation, and the Miller Manor senior meals program received a $4,500 boost. Allocations to human services nonprofits were increased by $46,899. And the general fund balance was tapped to conduct a $75,000 study of sidewalk gaps so that projects could be prioritized.
The affordable housing trust fund received an infusion of $100,000 from the general fund reserve. The council also approved an amendment prohibiting the spending of $326,464 that was set aside in the FY 2014 budget for public art, in anticipation of a final affirmative vote on a change to the public art ordinance. A vote on amending that ordinance is likely to take place on June 3, before the fiscal year begins on July 1.
The “parks fairness” amendment, which came after deliberations on all other amendments, was a straightforward calculation in accordance with a city policy. The policy requires that any increase in general fund spending be matched by a parallel increase for parks. The council approved that $22,977 amendment with scant remark.
Just three issues took about 80% of the council’s roughly 4.5-hour budget deliberations: (1) the budget of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, (2) the possible reduction of the 15th District Court budget in order to pay for three additional police officers, and (3) the proposed restoration of loose leaf collection in the fall.
Of the most time-consuming items, the change to the DDA’s budget was ultimately approved – after escalating political rhetoric led to a kind of compromise that had almost unanimous support. The DDA compromise budget amendment called for a $300,000 transfer from the DDA’s TIF (tax increment finance) fund to the DDA’s housing fund, and a recommendation to spend $300,000 of TIF money on the replacement of Main Street light poles. Only Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) dissented.
The lone dissenting vote on the budget as a whole was Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who issued a verbal spanking of her colleagues and the city administrator – for proposing and approving a budget she did not feel reflected a priority on public safety. Countering Lumm was Taylor, who pointed out that roughly half of the general fund expenditures are related to public safety.
Police and protests. Seems to be against GMOs.
Amtrak train collided with a semi. The tractor and half the trailer were on the Barton Hills side of the tracks, and the rear end of the trailer was on the Ann Arbor side. Apparently the semi driver realized too late that his rig would not or should not fit on the Foster Road bridge, so he backed up right into the path of the train. [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo] [Previous Stopped.Watched on the same collision.]
The Amtrak train hit a semi carrying kayaks near the Foster Road Bridge. The truck apparently stalled on the tracks, but the driver got out of the cab before impact. People on the train were all taking pictures. [photo]
The Chronicle’s monthly milestone column is by custom published on the second day of the month. It’s a chance for us to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.
It’s not June 2 yet, so today’s publication means we’re jumping the gun a bit. That’s due in part to a selfish, practical interest I have in not writing separate emails to every reader who inquires: Where is your coverage of the Ann Arbor Public Schools? We’ve suspended that coverage for the indefinite future – but obviously not because we don’t think education is important.
When The Chronicle first launched back in 2008, we didn’t offer any coverage of the local public schools. Mostly through sheer good fortune we found independent freelancers – first Jennifer Coffman, and then Monet Tiedemann – who were able to provide coverage of AAPS to Chronicle readers.
It is not easy to find writers who believe that The Chronicle’s approach to coverage – through detailed reports of public meetings – is a worthy endeavor. And among those who believe it’s worth doing, it’s not easy to find writers who can actually meet the standard. And among that smaller group, it’s not easy to find those who are able to reconcile the economics of the compensation we offer with the sacrifice of time and effort.
It is really not easy to find a writer who is willing to sit through a school board meeting that lasts until 3 a.m.
The Chronicle’s publisher and I can absorb a certain amount of flux in available resources, but we’re past capacity. The size of our organization means that when a single person isn’t able to continue in a particular function, it can mean the end of the coverage that person was providing. So for the immediate future, we won’t be able to continue schools coverage.
And for the medium to longer term, I don’t anticipate being able to restore schools coverage unless our revenues through voluntary subscriptions and advertising were to dramatically increase and show evidence of sustaining that increase.
Ultimately, providing sustainable regular coverage of a public body will require more than the good fortune of finding people who, for a while, can wedge The Chronicle into their lives based on the compensation we can offer.
Isn’t some schools coverage better than none at all? Perhaps so. In this column, I’ll lay out my thoughts on that in terms of a metaphor familiar to regular readers of The Chronicle’s milestones: marathon running.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (May 21, 2013): The meeting featured a briefing on a project to install rain gardens at Arbor Oaks Park, part of a broader effort to address drainage and flooding problems in the Bryant neighborhood in southeast Ann Arbor.
Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, described the project, which is being paid for out of the city’s stormwater utility fund – not the parks and recreation budget. It will involve regrading the perimeter of the park in the fall, then putting in native plants next spring. Soil excavated to create the rain gardens will be used to elevate the park’s central lawn area, which often has standing water following heavy rains. The work will be done prior to improvements planned for the park’s playground next year.
Later in the meeting, commissioners voted to recommend awarding a contract for roof replacement at the Mack indoor pool, located within the Ann Arbor Open school near the corner of Miller and Brooks. The recommendation is to select Pranam GlobalTech Inc., which put in the low bid of $193,000. A 10% construction contingency brings the project’s budget to $212,300, with a portion of that amount to be paid for by the public schools.
Also recommended was using $8,280 from the public market fund to upgrade a surface parking lot – known as the “sand lot” – on the Fourth Avenue side of the farmers market. The paving is viewed as a short-term solution, pending longer-term improvements expected at the market in a few years.
Commissioners also elected Bob Galardi as chair of PAC’s budget & finance committee. He replaces Tim Doyle as committee chair, following the end of Doyle’s term on PAC earlier this month. Jen Geer – Doyle’s replacement on PAC – was confirmed by the city council the previous evening but did not attend PAC’s May 21 meeting. Geer has worked with Galardi and councilmember Christopher Taylor – an ex-officio member of PAC – in another capacity, in the performing arts. Most recently, she was executive producer for the Ann Arbor in Concert production of Ragtime, performed at Michigan Theater on May 18. Both Taylor and Galardi were lead performers in that show.
Updates during PAC’s May 21 meeting covered a range of topics, including news that bids for construction of the new skatepark came in a little higher than anticipated. Parks staff and skatepark designer Wally Hollyday will be reviewing the bids to see what options are available. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reported that at PAC’s June 18 meeting, commissioners will be presented with a resolution to award a construction contract, as well as an agreement between the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark related to operating the skatepark.
Other updates from Smith included the fact that parks staff is gearing up for Memorial Day weekend, with the opening of the city’s outdoor pools. He also highlighted the completed renovations of ball fields at Veterans Memorial Park, West Park and Southeast Area Park, and improvements made at Liberty Plaza. In addition to removing some bushes there, he said, “we also removed all sorts of things that were in the bushes, which are no longer there – and I’m glad they’re not.”
Other brief reports were given regarding work of PAC’s dog park and downtown park subcommittees, and public forums for the North Main-Huron River task force. Public commentary focused on input from the Library Green Conservancy, which is advocating for a park or public space atop the city’s Library Lane parking structure.
Renovation work is underway at South Quad. [photo]
Truck with smashed front noisily goes wrong way thru intersection across traffic with driver cringing.
Confab of men (with and without hardhats) in front of Real Seafood. Major renovation work in progress. [photo]