Archive for May, 2013

First & Washington

Next to the Washington Street side of their building, Kiwanis members are replacing a dirt/grass verge with bricks. [photo]

Fifth & Washington

Service berries (aka June berries) appear to be on schedule. They taste like blueberries. Very edible. They will be ripe in two to three weeks. [photo]

Kerrytown Place Project Moves Ahead

A proposed residential development spanning North Main to North Fourth – on the site of the former St. Nicholas Church – is moving ahead, following action by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its May 21, 2013 meeting.

Kerrytown Place, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing location of Kerrytown Place development, located between North Main and North Fourth Avenue.

Commissioners recommended approval of several items for the Kerrytown Place project: (1) rezoning the sites at 414 N. Main and 401 N. Fourth Ave. to D2 (downtown interface), with a “secondary street” building frontage designation; (2) modifying the city’s … [Full Story]

Rezoning for 2271 S. State Denied

Following advice from city staff, the Ann Arbor planning commission voted to recommend denial of a rezoning request for 2271 S. State St., where owners would like to locate an auto dealership. The vote was 1-8, drawing support only from Eric Mahler. However, the commission did waive an area plan requirement for the site, an action that will allow for a certain amount of auto sales at that location. The waiver was approved on a 7-2 vote, with dissent from Kirk Westphal and Wendy Woods.

The project had previously been on the commission’s Dec. 18, 2012 agenda, when action was postponed.

The 2.24-acre site is located on the east side of South State, across the street from a University of Michigan … [Full Story]

Planning Group Weighs Master Plan Changes

Items related to the city’s master plan were on the May 21, 2013 agenda for the Ann Arbor planning commission.

A public hearing was held during the meeting to get input on any changes that residents might want to see in the city’s master plan. Such a review is required by the planning commission’s bylaws to be done each May. 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.

By way of background, there are seven documents that constitute the city’s master plan: (1) sustainability framework – adopted in 2013; (2) parks and recreation open space … [Full Story]

Farmers Market Parking Lot to Get Upgrade

A surface parking lot at the Ann Arbor farmers market is getting an upgrade, paid for with $8,280 from the market fund balance. The city’s park advisory commission recommended the appropriation at its May 21, 2013 meeting.

Ann Arbor farmers market, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

This aerial view shows Ann Arbor farmers market in Kerrytown. The surface parking lot is indicated in red.

The Ann Arbor public market advisory commission had recommended the work and appropriation at its April 18, 2013 meeting. According to a staff memo, the work would include “saw cutting and … [Full Story]

Galardi Chosen as PAC’s Budget Chair

In a unanimous vote, Bob Galardi was elected chair of the budget & finance committee for the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at PAC’s May 21, 2013 meeting. He has served on that committee since soon after being appointed to PAC in July of 2012. He was nominated by PAC chair Julie Grand to replace Tim Doyle as committee chair, following the end of Doyle’s term on PAC earlier this month.

Galardi’s term as committee chair will run until PAC’s September meeting, when the commission elects all officers.

Jennifer Geer – Doyle’s replacement on PAC – was confirmed by the city council the previous evening but did not attend PAC’s May 21 PAC meeting.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council … [Full Story]

Contract for Mack Pool Roof OK’d

A roof replacement is in the works for the city of Ann Arbor’s Mack indoor pool, located within the Ann Arbor Open school near the corner of Miller and Brooks. At their May 21, 2031 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission recommended awarding a contract to Pranam GlobalTech Inc. for $193,000 to cover the roof replacement and painting refurbishment. A 10% construction contingency brings the project’s budget to $212,300.

Pranam provided the lowest of two bids. The other bidder was Wm. Molnar Roofing Co. Inc., which bid $271,319 for the work. Pranam was previously selected to replace the roof at Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena. The contract for that project was approved by the city council at its … [Full Story]

County Budget, Bonding Decisions Loom

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 15, 2013): A presentation that county commissioners called “daunting” and “sobering” was among several budget-related items on the May 15 agenda.

Young Women Making Washtenaw Better, Washtenaw County sheriff, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Princess Logan and Monique Franklin, students at Ypsilanti High School, are part of the Young Women Making Washtenaw Better program. Seated behind them is Natalia Harris, community outreach coordinator for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, which sponsors YWMWB. (Photos by the writer.)

In her state-of-the-county address, county administrator Verna McDaniel set a goal of identifying $6.99 million in structural reductions for the 2014 budget. The approach to addressing this $6.99 million target depends on whether the county moves ahead with a major bond proposal, which would cover the county’s pension and retiree healthcare obligations. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Board Debates $345M Bond Proposal."]

If the board decides not to bond for those obligations, McDaniel said that most of the $6.99 million would need to come from a reduction in operating costs, as well as $100,000 in cuts to outside agency funding. Finding the $6.99 million in cuts would be very challenging, she added, given the amount of reductions that have already occurred in the past few years. Serviceability levels and major programs would be affected.

Action related to the bonding proposal – for up to $345 million, the largest ever issued by the county – was originally on the May 15 agenda. But early in the meeting, board chair Yousef Rabhi announced a decision to push back the process until the board’s July 10 meeting. He cited the need for more time for public input and additional information – including updated actuarial reports that are due in late June. Public hearings on the proposal are set for June 5 and July 10, with a board working session on the issue scheduled for June 6.

The board also voted to hold a special meeting on July 24, to allow for additional bond-related votes and public commentary, if needed. Rabhi also announced a series of informal meetings at coffee shops in Ann Arbor to discuss the bond proposal with residents. The first “Bonding Over Coffee” will be held on Tuesday, May 28 from 4-6 p.m. in the basement of Elixir Vitae (formerly Café Ambrosia) at 326 Maynard St. in Ann Arbor.

Among the several items that the board is expected to vote on at its July 10 meeting is a “notice of intent” to issue the bonds. This is a standard initial step in the bonding process, letting residents know that they have 45 days during which they can circulate petitions to require a vote of the people before any bonds are issued. Ronnie Peterson reminded commissioners that just a few years ago, a citizens group had gathered enough signatures to force another bond proposal – for expansion of the county jail – onto the ballot, where it was defeated by voters. For the current bond proposal, about 15,000 signatures would be required to force a voter referendum.

In another budget-related item on the May 15 agenda, the board received a first-quarter 2013 briefing. The county’s financial staff is now projecting a $818,999 shortfall for the year – the difference between $102,364,815 in projected general fund revenues and $103,183,814 in projected expenditures. That shortfall is lower than the $3.03 million shortfall that was originally projected for 2013.

The board continued its budget discussion at a retreat on May 16, where they worked to hone priorities for the next four years. This Chronicle report includes a summary of that two-hour session.

In other May 15 action, the board gave initial approval to set the 2013 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. Several other county millages are levied separately: emergency communications (0.2000 mills), the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority (0.2146 mills), two for county parks and recreation (0.2353 mills and 0.2367 mills) and for the natural areas preservation program (0.2409 mills). That brings the total county millage rate to 5.6768 mills, a rate that’s also unchanged from 2012. A final vote and public hearing is expected on June 5.

The board also passed a resolution expressing support for the state of Michigan to expand the federal Medicaid program, as part of the Affordable Care Act – a measure currently being debated in the state legislature. During deliberations, Dan Smith (R-District 2) voiced his objection to the county weighing in on state issues, but he left the room prior to the vote.

A range of other issues were raised as items of communication by commissioners or during public commentary. Topics included: (1) a corridor improvement authority planned by Pittsfield Township for a section of State Street; and (2) the possibility of renewing the county’s membership in the Michigan Association of Counties. [Full Story]

Appointments to AATA, GAC, PC Approved

Appointments to the city’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC), the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), and the city planning commission have been confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council in action taken at its May 20, 2013 meeting. Receiving confirmation from the council were Stephanie Buttrey (GAC), Susan Baskett (AATA board) and Paras Parekh (planning commission).

Buttrey had been nominated at the council’s May 6 meeting. She’s an engineer and retired Chrysler executive. She’ll serve out the remainder of Liz Rother’s term, through June 30, 2014.

Baskett currently serves as a trustee on the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an elected position. She’s worked with a committee to replace some school bus routes with AATA service. Her confirmation by the council was … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Utility Rate Increases Get Initial OK

Water, sewer and stormwater rate increases have received initial approval from the Ann Arbor city council. The initial action came at the council’s May 20, 2013 meeting.

In terms of revenue generated to the city, the rate increases are expected to generate 3.55% more for drinking water ($739,244), 4.25% more for the sanitary sewer ($955,531), and 4% more for stormwater ($233,811). [.pdf of complete utility rate changes as proposed]

According to the city, the rate increases are needed to maintain debt service coverage and to maintain funding for required capital improvements. The city estimates that the impact on an average customer will be a $20.66 per year increase in total utility charges.

The city’s drinking water charges are based on a “unit” … [Full Story]

Economic Collaborative Task Force Established

A task force that would consist of up to nine members has been established by the Ann Arbor city council to reflect on “core values, priorities, and activities regarding economic development and identifying operations that may be duplicative, resources including funding, and opportunities for collaboration …” The task force will draw two or three members from the city of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor SPARK and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

The resolution, which the city council approved at its May 20, 2013 meeting, named the city’s representatives to the task force: city administrator Steve Powers, Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Higgins and Petersen had sponsored the resolution. It had grown out of an idea to establish … [Full Story]

Video Privacy Ordinance Postponed Again

Initial consideration of a new ordinance regulating the use of public surveillance cameras has been postponed again – this time until June 17.  The council’s action came at its May 20, 2013 meeting. The council had previously postponed the item at its April 15 meeting – due to the length of that meeting – and again at its May 6 meeting. [.pdf of ordinance as presented to the council on April 15, 2013]

[Full Story]

Vets Ice Arena Roof Contract Gets Final OK

A $535,000 contract with Pranam Global Tech Inc. to replace the roof at Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena has been given final approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The project includes a 10% construction contingency of $53,500, bringing the total project budget to $588,500. The vote was taken at the council’s May 20, 2013 meeting. The city’s park advisory commission had recommended the contract at its April 16, 2013 meeting.

Pranam, based in Livonia, was the lowest of five responsible bids received by the city. Other bidders were A.Z. Shmina Inc. ($612,000), Cedroni Associates Inc. ($738,000), Construction Solutions Inc. ($738,800) and Phoenix Contractors ($747,754).

According to a staff memo, the roof is nearly 40 years old and has several leaks. … [Full Story]

May 20, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: In Progress

The main event of the May 20, 2013 Ann Arbor city council meeting will be the council’s approval of the FY 2014 budget. The city’s fiscal year starts July 1. Under terms of the city charter, the council is required to amend and approve the city administrator’s proposed budget by its second meeting in May – which this year falls on May 20. The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published “below the fold.”

Door to Ann Arbor city council chambers

Door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber.

If the council fails to act, then the city administrator’s budget, which Steve Powers presented formally to the council on April 15, 2013, would automatically be adopted. It’s been described as essentially a “status quo” budget, with no major changes to personnel levels or basic approaches to service delivery. The council has held work sessions on various aspects of the budget starting in February.

For the general fund, the status quo budget translates to $82,893,312 in total expenditures, which will require tapping the general fund balance for $260,514. That would leave the general fund with $13.8 million in reserves or 17% of operating expenses.

But it’s possible that the council will undertake amendments to that budget. Among the amendments that might be proposed are some that would change the budget of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Other amendments that might be put forward provide funding for an increase in the number of police officers. One strategy for increasing funding for police officers is to take money out of the 15th District Court budget. Another strategy that could be brought forward for funding police officers is to re-allocate the salary for retiring assistant city attorney Bob West.

Affordable housing and human services funding will likely be the topic of some amendments. It’s possible to change the budget later in the year, after the May 20 meeting, but that would require an eight-vote majority. Amendments to the main budget resolution of the year – this year on the May 20 agenda – require only a six-vote majority. [Full Story]

Main & Huron

Workers are pulling out flowers – tulip bulbs? – from a Main Street planter. [photo]

413 E. Huron to Get Technical Reconsideration

At the Ann Arbor city council’s May 20, 2013 meeting, the  controversial site plan for 413 E. Huron will likely be reconsidered and re-voted because of a technical detail in the resolution previously approved by the council on May 13, 2013. The resolution approved by the council on a 6-5 vote did not specify the correct date on the set of plans that the developer had submitted. [.pdf of May 20, 2013 staff memo explaining the issue]

The parliamentary procedure the council would need to use is to move for reconsideration. It’s only a member of the prevailing side – one of the six who voted in favor – who can move for reconsideration. Moving for reconsideration of a vote … [Full Story]

A2: The Fifth Dimension

Ugly Things – a national magazine covering “the overlooked music of the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s & beyond” – has published an article by Frank Uhle about The Fifth Dimension, a downtown Ann Arbor teen nightclub that operated from 1966-1968. From the article: ”In contrast with most venues of its type, it was an architect-designed psychedelic showplace with trippy pulsating lights, a huge spinning op-art wheel at the entrance, splatter-painted wall panels, carpeted sitting mounds, a sunken (soda) bar, and a mod clothing store.” [.pdf of Fifth Dimension article cover page] The print edition of Ugly Things is sold locally at Wazoo Records and Literati Bookstore.

310 S. Ashley (Hathaway’s Hideaway)

Kick-off for Jack Eaton’s bid for the Ward 4 council seat. Great turnout plus many local dignitaries there in support: Mike Anglin, Jane Lumm, Sumi Kailasapathy, Vivienne Armentrout, Kathy Griswold, Alan Haber. Probably others. Sorry if I missed you. Thanks to Ms. Hathaway for the venue.

A2: Main Street Lights

On his website last month, photographer Mark Bialek published a collection of photos of LED street lights on Main Street Ann Arbor. “These beautiful LED lights really are worth photographing over and over again.” [Source]

Green Light for 413 E. Huron

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 6, 2013 – May 13 session): In the session’s main business, the council voted 6-5 to approve a controversial 14-story residential project at 413 E. Huron. The vote came at around 9 p.m., about two hours into the session.

View looking north east at Division and Huron. A chain link fence around the construction site has been in stalled in anticipation of construction of the 413 E. Huron project.

View looking northeast at Division and Huron. A chain link fence around the construction site has been installed in anticipation of construction for the 413 E. Huron project. (Photos by the writer.)

While there’d been some speculation earlier in the day that Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) would not be able to attend the May 13 session – which was a continuation of the meeting that began on May 6 – he was present for the meeting. And his support of the project was crucial in providing the six-vote majority it needed. Taylor was joined in the vote by mayor John Hieftje, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

A decision on the site plan for the project, which will offer more than 200 apartments with more than 500 bedrooms, had been previously postponed on April 15, 2013, April 1, 2013 and March 18, 2013. The council recessed its May 6 meeting at around 11:30 p.m. just as it reached the 413 E. Huron site plan. So when the meeting resumed on May 13, the site plan was first on the council’s agenda.

Councilmembers who voted against site plan approval for 413 E. Huron gave pointedly specific reasons for voting no – citing traffic safety issues or failure to comply with aspects of the East Huron character district, or other aspects of the city code. It was a clear contrast to the approach a previous council had taken nearly 40 years ago in 1975, when then-councilmember Bob Faber explained his vote to deny approval of a site plan this way: “Finally, I will vote against this and I will move that the attorney and the planning director tell us why we voted no because obviously we don’t know yet and see what he can do with that in the court …” That decision had led to a losing lawsuit.

It was fear of losing a lawsuit that councilmembers cited in voting to approve the 413 E. Huron project.

After voting on the 413 E. Huron project, the council finished off the substantial number of remaining items on its agenda.

The council gave initial approval to changes to the city’s public art ordinance. The proposal includes removing the requirement that 1% of all capital project budgets be set aside for public art. Drawing some discussion from councilmembers was an additional change to which they gave preliminary approval. The additional change allows the council the flexibility to return money to its fund of origin, which might be set aside for public art in the FY 2014 budget. The council takes up the ordinance changes for final approval on June 3.

Another ordinance change to which the council gave initial approval is a change to utility improvement charges for undeveloped property. That will also appear on the council’s June 3 agenda for final approval.

In addition to initial approval of changes to those two ordinances, the council gave initial approval to rezoning of two different parcels – a property at 490 Huron Parkway and on South State Street. The property on Huron Parkway is proposed to be rezoned from R3 (townhouse district) to R1B (single-family dwelling) and would allow the currently vacant 1.22-acre site, located north of Ruthven Park, to be divided into three separate lots.

The State Street Center project is located adjacent to a new Tim Hortons restaurant, which opened last year near the intersection of State and Ellsworth. The rezoning request is from O (office) to C3 (fringe commercial). It would make the actual zoning consistent with the city’s official zoning map, which had been mislabeled. The site plan calls for demolishing a vacant 840-square-foot house and building a one-story, 1,700-square-foot building with a drive-thru Jimmy John’s restaurant facing South State Street.

An expansion to the Theta Delta Chi house on State Street near the University of Michigan campus was given quick approval after first appearing on the April 15 agenda and getting bumped to the May 6 agenda, when the council postponed all remaining items due to the late hour. The council didn’t reach the Theta Delta Chi item until the May 13 session.

And the council gave approval to two items affecting the Ann Arbor fire department – one to accept a federal grant that will pay for exhaust fume removal systems at fire stations, and another to appropriate funds to replace protective gear worn by firefighters.

The University of Michigan appeared in connection with two different agenda items. One resolution authorized a contract for the city worth more than $600,000 in connection with a vehicle-to-vehicle study – for which the UM Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) won a $14 million federal grant. That won quick approval from the council.

The other item related to UM involved a right-of-way agreement for placing electrical conduit under Tappan Street – so that an emergency generator can serve a law school dorm. The resolution reflected a disagreement between the city and the university about whether the agreement was a transfer of land interest. The university insisted the council treat it as such a transfer, with an eight-vote majority requirement. The resolution received only seven votes, and thus failed.

Councilmembers passed two resolutions necessary to impose a special assessment on property owners along Miller Avenue, to help pay for construction of new sidewalks. And the council authorized a contract with Coca-Cola as the vendor for Ann Arbor’s city parks – but not without concern expressed by some councilmembers about the company’s human rights record and the nutritive value of soft drinks.

Receiving more discussion than they typically do were confirmations of mayoral appointments, in particular that of Eric Mahler to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Four councilmembers voted against Mahler, though that was still not enough to derail his appointment. Dissenters argued in part that it’s important to expand the total pool of people who are appointed to boards and commissions. Mahler has served two terms on the city planning commission. Dissenters also cited an alternate candidate, unnamed at the meeting, who was thought to be preferable to Mahler – because she would be able to represent the disability community better. The alternate candidate was LuAnne Bullington. [Full Story]

Fourth & Catherine

Sculpture Plaza. Balkan dance music infused with a bit of jazz by the band East. Quintet includes Matt Endahl on accordion, plus bass, trombone, drums.

Main Street btw Liberty and William

Street violinist abruptly interrupts amazing solo performance. Hugs exchanged with a couple she knows. Explanation to those of us listening: They just got engaged.

Ypsilanti a Topic for AATA Planning Retreat

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 16, 2013): Possible membership for the city of Ypsilanti in the AATA was a main theme of the board’s monthly meeting.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber addressed the board at its May 16 meeting.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber addressed the AATA board at its May 16 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber attended the meeting in support of the city’s request for membership, and the board unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging the request. The resolution also directed staff to prepare for a detailed discussion on the issue at the board’s planning retreat, scheduled for May 22. Board members were positively inclined toward the request, but wanted to be sure that due diligence is done to ensure all the implications are understood.

Because the addition of the city of Ypsilanti would require revision to the AATA’s articles of incorporation, there’s some interest by some board members in approaching the changes in a way that could accommodate the addition of more members than just the city of Ypsilanti. It’s possible that Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township or other jurisdictions might request membership in the near future. A more comprehensive approach to revising the articles, or delaying until all jurisdictions are admitted to the AATA at one time, could eliminate the need to revise the articles multiple times in quick succession.

The possible membership of Ypsilanti in the AATA is part of an effort to continue working with “urban core” communities in the immediate Ann Arbor area – after a more ambitious effort to extend AATA governance and services countywide in the summer of 2012 failed to gain traction.

A revision to the articles of incorporation would likely include a change in the AATA board membership structure. Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje had indicated he’d support adding two seats to the current seven-member board, with one of the two additional seats to be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.

Related to board membership, the May 16 meeting included a resolution of appreciation for the service of Jesse Bernstein on the board. He concluded a five-year term of service in April. Susan Baskett, currently an AAPS trustee, has been nominated as his replacement on the board. If she’s confirmed at the Ann Arbor city council’s May 20 meeting, she’ll join Eric Mahler as another new appointment. Mahler’s appointment to replace David Nacht was subjected to political wrangling at the council’s May 13 session, but he was confirmed on a 7-4 vote. [Full Story]

Fifth & Huron

A covered bike service stand with air, tools, and more. Just happened across this. A surprise at city hall. The eight “tools” are multi-purpose, simple, and secured with heavy-duty cables. [photo 1] [photo 2]