Archive for May, 2013

County Gives More Support to Rutherford Pool

Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission (May 14, 2013): At their most recent meeting, county parks & rec commissioners voted to grant $150,000 to the city of Ypsilanti to help complete the Rutherford Pool project. The Friends of Rutherford Pool is trying to raise about $1 million to rebuild the community pool, located on the eastern end of Recreation Park at 975 North Congress Street.

Recreation Park, Ypsilanti, Rutherford Pool, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The entrance to Recreation Park in Ypsilanti, where Rutherford Pool is located. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners also took steps that could lead to spending over $1.713 million on natural areas preservation. They voted to move forward with the acquisition of three deals for the county’s natural areas preservation program: 17 acres in Scio Township ($55,000); about 245 acres in Northfield Township (about $1.4 million); and 65 acres in Freedom Township ($420,000). The latter two purchases were approved contingent on completing due diligence assessments, followed by final approval from the commission.

In addition, WCPARC approved an initial step in replacing the HVAC system at the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center on Washtenaw Avenue, and heard reports on upgrades at several other facilities. Those include the nearly-completed major improvements and expansion of water parks at Rolling Hills and Independence Lake parks. Both are set to open Memorial Day weekend, kicking off WCPARC’s summer season.

In other news related to Ypsilanti projects, WCPARC director Bob Tetens reported that the Ypsilanti city council had recently passed a resolution reaffirming support for the east county recreation center project, proposed in the Water Street site near the Huron River. Tetens also presented a report on WCPARC’s marketing and communications program, which staff have expanded into new venues – including AATA buses. The effort is partly in preparation for a millage renewal coming in 2014.

Commissioners also discussed the desire to add another off-leash dog park in addition to Swift Run, which the county runs in partnership with the city of Ann Arbor. Interest is especially keen in light of Ann Arbor’s difficulty in finding a new dog park location. Some commissioners want to include a water element where dogs could play. Jan Anschuetz put it this way: “We’ve done so much to provide water recreation for people – now let’s do it for the dogs.” [Full Story]

AATA: We Hear You, Ypsilanti

In a formal resolution, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has acknowledged the request of the city of Ypsilanti to join the AATA. The board’s action came at its May 16, 2013 meeting.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber attended the May 16 meeting and discussed Ypsilanti’s desire to join the AATA, citing several signs of  Ypsilanti’s support for transit – including the request to join AATA and the dedicated transit millage approved by Ypsilanti voters in 2010.

At the Ypsilanti city council’s April 23 meeting, councilmembers had made a formal request to join the AATA under the transit authority’s existing enabling legislation – Act 55 of 1963. For the city of Ypsilanti, joining the AATA represents a new way to generate … [Full Story]

AATA Bids Farewell to Bernstein

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member Jesse Bernstein attended his final regular meeting of the board on April 18, 2013. The following month, on May 16, his board colleagues approved a resolution acknowledging his five-year term of service, which began on June 16, 2008. Bernstein was not able to attend the meeting.

The resolution of appreciation approved by the board highlighted Bernstein’s turn as chair of the board, chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee, and the executive search committee that resulted in the hire of CEO Michael Ford. The resolution also called out his role in the development of the AATA’s transit master plan and his service as chair of the unincorporated Act 196 authority board, which was … [Full Story]

Summit & Main

Activity around the old gas station. Three people working, one applying red paint with a large brush.

In it for the Money: Independent Risk

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. At the May 20, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, a resolution will appear on the agenda that would establish a task force on “economic development.” This month we asked Nelson to write about a segment of the local economy we think is likely to receive scant attention from that task force: independent workers. [0]

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

In abstract, my monthly column is about money – how money is a way that we signal our values, the way we track our interest, and the trail left by our investments of time and attention.

Last month I wrote about the stuff I do to earn money. This month let’s talk about something I do that can’t conceivably ever earn me a damned dime: The Workantile.

The Workantile is a business-like entity on Main Street in Ann Arbor [1]. In contrast to pretty much any other “business” on Main Street, we sell neither goods nor services.

Our business is maintaining a space where a community of independent workers can sit together and work on their own things. Our space is around 3,000-square-feet, and has lots of rolling tables and chairs (so that the space can be reconfigured in any way that interests the members and serves their ends), as well as a kitchenette, a clean and commodious bathroom, a couple of phonebooth-esque things, a couple of conference rooms, some lockers and bike racks, and an awesome printer/scanner/copier.

We also have half of an ancient, homebrew quadrophonic stereo hooked up to a wifi bridge which, combined with our brick walls, high ceilings, and hardwood floors, means that we have a pretty sweet-ass dance hall sound system, too. [2]

Some of our members work together formally – either for the same employer with home offices in some distant and exotic place (usually California), or on projects of their own devising. But mostly we work separately, tapping away on our keyboards with headphones on.

We work on our own without having to work all alone. It’s nicer than a coffee shop, because there’s no milk-steamer roar, no awkward break-up happening at the next table, and no creepy old dudes leering at your sandaled feet. Our doors lock, so the crazies are limited to those who stay current on their membership dues (i.e., me).

You can go to the bathroom without worrying that someone is going to steal your laptop or rifle your purse. Also, when clients meet you in a coffee shop, they think, “Ugh. I guess this is how we have to do business in the 21st Century.” When clients meet you at Workantile — with our industrious brick walls, antiquey tin ceilings, and huge windows — they think “I can’t believe this gal isn’t charging me more!”

That, my friends, is an excellent thing for your clients to think.

So, to dispense with the hard sell: Come down today (or any other weekday) for a tour and a FREE Day Pass!!! [Full Story]

A2: Business

The Detroit Free Press reports that Esperion Therapeutics, founded by Ann Arbor entrepreneur and scientist Roger Newton, has filed this week for an initial public offering. According to the report, Esperion’s filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission states that the firm intends to raise $70 million and would be listed on Nasdaq with the symbol ESPR. [Source]

County Delays First Step in Bond Proposal

At the May 15, 2013 meeting of Washtenaw County board of commissioners, board chair Yousef Rabhi pulled from the agenda a resolution related to a $345 million bond proposal, pushing back a process that was originally scheduled to start that evening. The proposed bond issue – the largest in the county’s history – is intended to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations. The process is expected to be picked up again at the board’s July 10 meeting, when a public hearing will be held on this issue.

On May 15, the board also scheduled a special board meeting for July 24, to allow for additional votes and public commentary related to the bond proposal, if needed.

The resolution that originally appeared … [Full Story]

County Supports Medicaid Expansion

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners formally expressed its support for the state of Michigan to expand the federal Medicaid program, as part of the Affordable Care Act – informally known as Obamacare. A resolution of support, brought forward by commissioner Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), was approved at the board’s May 15, 2013 meeting on a 6-0 vote.  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. Conan Smith (D-District 9) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) were also not in the room during the vote.

Expansion of the Medicaid program would cover individuals and families earning up to 133% of the federal poverty … [Full Story]

Washtenaw Urban County Plan Gets Final OK

Washtenaw Urban County‘s five-year strategic plan through 2018 and its 2013-14 annual plan has received final approval from the county board of commissioners. The vote came at the board’s May 15, 2013 meeting, following initial approval on May 1. [.pdf of draft strategic and annual plans]

The Urban County is a consortium of Washtenaw County and 18 local municipalities that receive federal funding for low-income neighborhoods. Members include the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Saline, and 15 townships. “Urban County” is a designation of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), identifying a county with more than 200,000 people. With that designation, individual governments within the Urban County can become members, entitling them to an … [Full Story]

County Budget: More Structural Change Needed

At the Washtenaw County board’s May 15, 2013 meeting, the county financial staff and administrator Verna McDaniel gave an update on the 2013 budget status as well as a preliminary look at the next four years.

At its May 1, 2013 meeting, the board had approved development of a four-year budget. Looking at that period from 2014-2017, McDaniel told the board on May 15 that she hopes to identify $6.99 million in structural cuts in the first year of that four-year period. That’s a slight increase from the $6.88 million in structural changes that McDaniel targeted in her previous budget briefing, delivered at the board’s Jan. 16, 2013 meeting.

If the $6.99 million in structural changes can be identified in … [Full Story]

County Board Takes Initial Vote on Tax Rate

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to the 2013 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills – unchanged from the current rate. Their action took place at the county board’s May 15, 2013 meeting, with a final vote expected on June 5.

Several other county millages were authorized and 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.

This is an annual procedural action, not a vote to levy new taxes. With a few minor exceptions, the county board does not have … [Full Story]

A2: Marijuana

As activists seek decriminalization of marijuana in Michigan, Metro Times looks at the city of Ann Arbor, where voters in 1974 passed a revision to the city charter that decriminalized marijuana by making possession of less than 2 ounces a civil infraction. The article quotes state Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, who has introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana statewide: “The decriminalization that the community enacted decades ago, I think is a good example of how a local community can address these issues in a more reasonable and successful way. Marijuana is in communities all over Michigan and governments are completely impotent in addressing that.” [Source]

August 6 City Council Primary Races Set

Now that the 4 p.m. May 14 deadline has passed for filing nominating petitions, the Ann Arbor city council races for the Aug. 6, 2013 primaries are set. Only Democratic primaries will be contested, and they’ll be held in just two of the city’s five wards – Ward 3 and Ward 4. No Republicans filed nominating petitions. In the fall, at least five possible independent candidates could appear on ballots citywide, counting Ward 2 incumbent Jane Lumm.

In Ward 1, incumbent Democrat Sabra Briere, who’ll be seeking her fourth two-year term, will be unopposed in the Democratic primary. She could face independent Jaclyn Vresics in the November general election, if Vresics files at least 100 valid signatures by Aug. 7. Vresics is … [Full Story]

800 Block W. Washington

Swarm of bees hovering above middle of street, roughly between 826 and 831. Swarm appears to be ignoring lilacs and flowering trees. Looking to start new hive, perhaps?

413 E. Huron: Approved on 6-5 Vote

The site plan application for 413 E. Huron – a proposed 14-story, 216-apartment building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets – has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council. The vote was 6-5 with dissenting votes coming from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Voting for the project were Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje.

[Full Story]

Council Takes Step to Remove 1% Art Funding

The Ann Arbor city council has taken the initial step toward changing the city’s public art ordinance, so that capital improvement projects are no longer required to set aside 1% of their budgets for public art – up to a maximum of $250,000 per project. The action came on May 13, 2013 at a meeting that had started on May 6.

If the ordinance change is given final approval by the city council at a subsequent meeting, the way that public art is funded in the city – through a Percent for Art approach – would fundamentally change.

The main change is to eliminate in the ordinance any reference to a specific percentage for art in a capital project budget. Also, art … [Full Story]

UM, Ann Arbor: No Agreement on ROW Issue

Ann Arbor city council action taken on May 13, 2013 at a meeting that had started on May 6 has failed to grant a right-of-way occupancy for the University of Michigan to install conduits in Tappan Street. The purpose of the conduits under Tappan Street is to connect a new emergency generator to the Lawyers Club buildings at 551 S. State Street. The Lawyers Club and the generator are located on opposite sides of the street.

The item was treated as if it required an 8-vote majority – that is, as if it conveyed an interest in land. But Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) voted against it. Because Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) left … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Gets $600K for UM Smart Vehicle Study

Federal grant funds of $622,884 will flow to the city of Ann Arbor as a result of a much larger grant that was awarded to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). UMTRI received a $14.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to pilot the use of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) safety technology in the city.

Ann Arbor city council action taken on May 13, 2013 – at a meeting that had started on May 6 – formally accepted the money and authorized a contract with the University of Michigan. The money will be used by the city of Ann Arbor to install telecommunications fiber, sensors and electronic equipment as well as some network support.

The … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Fire Department Gets Grant

A federal grant of $87,876 has been accepted for the Ann Arbor fire department through action taken by the city council on May 13, 2013 at a meeting that had started on May 6.

The grant, which comes from the Department of Homeland Security under the auspice of the Assistance to Firefighters grant program (AFGP), is for a specific project for which the local fire department applied. The project involves installation of vehicle exhaust capturing systems – so that diesel fumes don’t accumulate inside the fire stations. The federal grant requires a local match of $21,969 (25%). That local match is being made with money from the city’s general fund.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Firefighters to Get New Gear

Ann Arbor firefighters will be equipped with $150,000 worth of firefighter gear, as the result of city council action taken on May 13, 2013 at a meeting that had started on May 6. The contract authorized by the council is with Phoenix Safety Outfitters.

According to the labor contract between the city and the International Association of Firefighters Local 693, the city is required to provide two sets of turnout gear for each firefighter – in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.

According to the staff memo, at least 20 sets of gear are due for scheduled replacement, and 14 more sets of gear are needed in order to equip seven new hires.

This brief was filed from the city council’s … [Full Story]

Steps Toward Special Assessment for Miller Ave.

Two steps required to establish special assessments on properties on Miller Avenue in Ann Arbor have been taken by the Ann Arbor city council. According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, the properties will be special assessed for sidewalk improvements ($5,976) and curb/gutter improvements ($3,429) totaling $9,405.

In action taken by the council on May 13, 2013 at a meeting that had started on May 6, the city assessor was directed to prepare a special assessment roll. [.pdf of table showing parcels and amounts] The second step was to set a public hearing on the matter – for June 3, 2013.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Chooses Coke over Pepsi

Coke will be replacing Pepsi in Ann Arbor parks facilities, as a result of action taken by the Ann Arbor city council on May 13, 2013 at a meeting that had started on May 6. The city council acted on a recommendation by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its April 16, 2013 meeting. The commission’s recommended approval of a five-year contract with Coca-Cola Refreshments for cold beverage concessions was unanimous, as was the council’s vote.

However, councilmembers expressed concerns about Coca-Cola’s human rights record, the nutritive value of soft drinks, and the fact that no local vendor had responded to the city’s request for proposals (RFP).

A 10-year contract with Pepsi Bottling Group of Michigan is set to expire … [Full Story]

Hideaway Lane Gets Council OK

A proposal to build 19 single-family houses on a 4.6-acre site on Hideaway Lane off Traver Road – near the city’s Leslie Park Golf Course – has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council. The planning commission had recommended approval of the plan at its March 19, 2013 meeting. The council’s action came on May 13 at a meeting that had started on May 6.

Hideaway Lane, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial map showing the location of the Hideaway Lane project.

Action on the planned project’s site plan and development agreement had been postponed at the planning commission’s … [Full Story]

490 Huron Parkway Rezoning: Initial OK

A rezoning request for 490 Huron Parkway from R3 (townhouse district) to R1B (single-family dwelling) has received initial approval from the Ann Arbor city council. The action came on May 13, 2103 at a meeting that had started on May 6.

490 Huron Parkway, Johnson Building Group, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 490 Huron Parkway, outlined in black. The major road running west of the site is Huron Parkway. The land on the far west of this image is the site of Huron High School.

If given final approval at a subsequent council meeting, following a public hearing, the … [Full Story]