Ward 4 voters in the Aug. 6, 2013 Democratic primary will choose between incumbent Marcia Higgins and Jack Eaton as the Democratic candidate to appear on the Ann Arbor city council ballot in November.
Each of the city’s five wards is represented with two seats on the 11-member council, which includes the mayor. The terms for council seats are two years, and one of the two seats is up for election every year.
Both candidates participated in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on July 10. The complete video recording of the forum, conducted at Community Television Network’s studios on South Industrial, is available online through CTN’s Video on Demand.
Questions fielded by Eaton and Higgins included topics like downtown Ann Arbor and future development, transportation, relations between the University of Michigan and the city, and interactions between councilmembers and residents.
They also responded to a debate prompt that for Ward 4 possibly could be of greater significance than those other issues – a question about flooding. In last year’s Ward 4 Democratic primary, which Eaton contested with incumbent Margie Teall, the election came about five months after heavy rains on March 15, 2012 caused overland flooding in the Lansdowne neighborhood of Ward 4. Although Eaton lost the election by a handful of votes, he was strongest in the precincts farther from downtown, where the flooding took place. Previously, Eaton had run for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 4 in 2010, also against Teall. His showing in 2012 was a significant improvement over his 2010 result. This year marks his third campaign for Ann Arbor city council.
Higgins was first elected to the council in 1999 – as a Republican. However, she switched to the Democratic Party in 2005. She’s in her 14th year of service on the council.
This report presents responses by Higgins and Eaton to questions at the July 10 LWV forum, grouped more by theme than by chronology.
Candidates were given a chance to make a one-minute opening statement.
Opening Statement: Eaton
Eaton began by thanking the League of Women Voters for holding the forum. Ward 4 residents were telling him that city hall needs to focus on sensible priorities, such as essential infrastructure and core services, he said. He’s running for office because he has been involved in local politics – as he’s been active in his neighborhood association and in helping other neighborhoods get organized.
What he’d found, Eaton said, is that the city council is unresponsive to the concerns of city residents. He’s running for council because he believes that Ward 4 residents deserve responsive leadership. He said he’d answer e-mails and return phone calls promptly. He’s running because he believes the council needs to represent the priorities of its residents. If elected, he would seek common sense solutions to neighborhood concerns.
He called himself a voice for sensible priorities – such as public safety, protecting the local transportation system, and maintaining essential infrastructure.
Opening Statement: Higgins
Higgins introduced herself as a current councilmember representing Ward 4. Since the time she was elected to the council, her priorities have always included a balanced budget, she said, which absolutely allows the city to provide core services.
Other priorities indicated by Higgins included maintaining infrastructure, maintaining strong reserves and an excellent bond rating, preserving parkland, and working with neighbors on various issues. She’d worked on stormwater issues, traffic calming, and had prevented football parking in Allmendinger Park, Higgins said. She’d worked on issues that arise between residents and students.
Higgins said she wants to continue to work to make Ann Arbor a vibrant and livable city. She wants to work with residents in collaboration going forward, looking at how Ann Arbor can be moved forward.
Several questions involved downtown development and a vision for the future of Ann Arbor.
Downtown, Development: City-Owned Land
Please tell the voters what land the city owns in the downtown area and how you would favor using it for the greatest good. What ideas are out there or are commitments already made? And specifically, what use would you support for the Library Lane lot?
By way of additional background, the DDA this year completed a city council-directed planning project, called Connecting William Street (CWS), which included the Library Lane lot as well as the former Y Lot. The CWS project was undertaken by the DDA based on a directive from the city council given at its April 4, 2011 meeting.
The intent was to make recommendations for possible future development, in a cohesive way, on five city-owned sites: (1) the Kline lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the former YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.
In January 2013, the DDA gave a presentation to the council on its Connecting William Street recommendations. The council never took action on that proposal. However, at its March 5, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission voted to adopt the report as a resource document supporting the city’s master plan. Kirk Westphal, the commission’s chair, also served on an advisory board for the Connecting William Street effort. He is running unopposed in the Aug. 6 Democratic primary for Ward 2.
For a summary of Chronicle coverage of CWS and Y lot issues, see “Planning Group Strategizes on Downtown.”
Downtown, Development: City-Owned Land – Higgins
Higgins began by saying that the city council had worked with the DDA to look at what needs to be done in the downtown. The city owns several lots in the midtown area, she said. The Kline lot is also under consideration, she added. The city has just contracted with a real estate person to look at the Y lot and at what can be done with that, she said.
She felt there’s still a community conversation that is happening about what to do with those properties – and she didn’t think that decisions about that should be driven by the council. Higgins thought that decisions about those properties should be driven by the community. She was not aware of any decisions that have been made, she said. She’s not supporting any particular decision, she said, because it’s still an ongoing conversation.
For the top of the Library Lane lot, she’d heard all different types of suggestions that had been made, and all of them have merit, she contended. The community had not yet coalesced around one idea that is right for Ann Arbor, she concluded.
Downtown, Development: City-Owned Land – Eaton
The city owns a variety of properties downtown, Eaton began, saying that each one of them is unique. As a unique feature of the old Y lot, he pointed out that it’s a property that the city purchased and still owes money on. So he thought that property should be treated differently, saying that the city should try to sell that as soon as it can, so that the debt can be paid off. Eaton cautioned that it’s important to make sure that the zoning attached to the property is definite enough so that there is not a big drawn-out fight over how to use it, once somebody does buy it. But Eaton said he doesn’t think the city should micromanage what happens to it: The property should be put on the market and the market should decide what happens to that.
The other properties that the city doesn’t owe any money on are really public assets, Eaton said. And the city should be careful how those properties are used or disposed of. He believed a close look should be taken at developing downtown parks, and at creating downtown performance centers – things that actually serve the community, rather than simply selling those properties for a price.
Downtown, Development: DDA
Who or what is the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and what is the financial interrelationship between the DDA and the city of Ann Arbor? Do you favor continuing it or changing it somehow? And if so, what would you like to do?
By way of additional background, the DDA does not levy taxes on its own authority, but rather captures taxes of other taxing entities – the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College and the Ann Arbor District Library. The DDA does not capture the full amount of those entities’ taxes, but rather only on the initial increment between the baseline value of a property and the increase in value due to new construction and improvements. That is, the DDA does not capture taxes on an increase that’s due to inflation.
Chapter 7 of the city code already regulates the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF). The DDA has chosen to interpret the Chapter 7 language in a way that does not recognize the cap on TIF revenues that is set forth in the code. That led to a proposal by some councilmembers earlier this year to revise the ordinance so that the DDA’s alternate interpretation is clearly ruled out. The council gave the ordinance change initial approval on April 1, 2013. But later, on May 6, 2013, the council chose to postpone the vote until Sept. 3, the council’s first meeting that month.
Downtown, Development: DDA – Eaton
The Downtown Development Authority was created under a state statute, Eaton said, that allows cities to “skim” tax funds off of a downtown area for improving the downtown.
The statute was originally intended to help avoid decaying Midwestern downtowns. Ann Arbor’s DDA has been quite successful, he said, pointing out that Ann Arbor doesn’t have a decaying downtown.
Eaton allowed that the DDA does important work for the city.
When the city of Ann Arbor originally conceived of having a downtown development authority, Eaton pointed out, the city’s ordinance [Chapter 7] included limiting the rate of growth of the DDA TIF capture, but now “we’ve lost our way from that.”
Now that so much building is going on in the downtown area, the DDA is increasing its revenues at a rapid rate, Eaton. He thought it’s important to look at how quickly those revenues increase.
Downtown, Development: DDA – Higgins
The DDA is always changing, Higgins said.
The DDA was created in the 1980s, at a time when downtown Ann Arbor was decaying. A complete flight of things out of downtown and out to the suburbs had taken place, she said, noting that this was when Briarwood Mall was built.
And Ann Arbor’s downtown was looking pretty bad. The DDA took the initiative and has rebuilt the downtown, Higgins said.
Over the last 20 years, the downtown has changed significantly several different times. That is a part of change, Higgins said.
The DDA does a great job, she said. The issue that has come before the council now is a funding issue, she explained.
Higgins contended that the city had spent a lot of time in an economic downturn to lay a platform for the growth of the downtown area – and some of that is now happening. And it’s not just apartment buildings being built, Higgins said. Companies are coming back to downtown because that’s where they want to be.
So the city council right now is tackling the issue: What is the correct funding formula? A DDA-council committee had been appointed to review that question and come back with a solution, she concluded.
Downtown, Development: Vision of Ann Arbor
Many of today’s Ann Arbor citizens say they don’t recognize their city anymore, with the high-rises, zoning changes, and widely varying architecture. Are we trying for a complete makeover? So how would you or did you as a councilmember vote regarding building moratoriums, height restrictions, dedication of historical districts, and architectural oversight?
By way of additional background, on May 13, 2013, the city council approved a contentious development proposal at 413 E. Huron – a 14-story, 216-apartment building at the northeast corner of Huron and Division streets.
The council had contemplated imposing a moratorium on downtown site plans, but on March 18, 2013 opted not to do so. Instead, the council gave direction to the city planning commission to review the city’s D1 zoning. The specific scope of planning commission work was outlined in an April 1, 2013 council resolution. Before that, on March 4, 2013 the council also reconvened its design review task force to take another look at the design review process. Currently, design review is mandatory, but compliance by developers with review board recommendations is voluntary.
Downtown, Development: Vision of Ann Arbor – Higgins
Higgins described the A2D2 downtown rezoning overhaul as a large project to decide on a vision for Ann Arbor, which had lasted several years. It was a collaboration of residents from across the city over several years and resulted in a community decision to increase density in the downtown. And until the community tells her otherwise, Higgins said, she’d continue to support that.
Where problems had arisen, she said, is in those areas where downtown zoning butts up against near-downtown neighborhoods. That’s now being reviewed, Higgins pointed out, by the planning commission. A consultant has been hired to look at areas where residential areas butt up against tall buildings, Higgins said, calling it a legitimate concern. As far as the proposed moratorium, she said, a platform had been set for what the community wanted to do in the downtown – and she wanted to continue with that platform.
Five buildings went through with complete approval, she said, and for one where there were issues, citizens had told the council there were issues. Higgins pointed to her work on the downtown design guidelines, which are used to guide architectural aspects of development.
Downtown, Development: Vision of Ann Arbor – Eaton
Eaton began by saying he felt there are competing visions for the city. He felt some of the city’s leaders envision making “radical changes to our town,” changing the character of downtown dramatically and perhaps even making Ann Arbor a “mini-metropolis.” Eaton said he’s not sure that everyone supports that.
He allowed that Ann Arbor can sustain some core density. But when the city was considering the A2D2 downtown zoning, he and others had warned that the zoning needed to provide buffers between the core density and the nearby neighborhoods – but the council had failed to do so.
Eaton analyzed the fight over 413 E. Huron as the product of a failure to address what’s included in the city’s master plan – buffer zones between density and nearby neighborhoods. Density has also been extended out into the neighborhoods, Eaton said – so now a four-story massive apartment building and multi-use project will be located at the former Georgetown Mall site, in the middle of a residential block. Eaton wasn’t sure that project is an appropriate use of density. [The project Eaton was describing is Packard Square, which recently received approval of a revision to its brownfield plan.]
Downtown, Development: Who Are We Attracting?
The mayor and others want to work to make Ann Arbor a more attractive home for young professionals. Are we doing as much to promote a good, accessible life for retired professionals as well as for our disabled fellow citizens?
Downtown, Development: Who Are We Attracting? – Eaton
Eaton began by saying it was his understanding that when the zoning in downtown was revised, the idea was to try to attract not just young professionals but also empty-nesters, and he guessed that includes the disability community as well. Eaton felt that the revised zoning had failed on both counts.
The massive building that’s happened in the downtown area has been student housing, he said – not for young professionals, not for empty-nesters, not for any just “normal residents” of town. He believed that the downtown rezoning efforts have really seriously failed – and it’s important to go back and address what it would take to make the downtown area more inviting for non-student groups.
Downtown, Development: Who Are We Attracting? – Higgins
Responding to Eaton’s assertion that the revised A2D2 zoning had failed, Higgins said, “I don’t believe it’s failed.” Many retirees come to Ann Arbor, and empty-nesters want to live downtown. They have many places to choose from, she said – pointing out there are wonderful lofts above historic buildings, and that’s where they live. They also live in Sloan Plaza, she added. The new building that will be built at 413 E. Huron has a mix of 60% one- and two-bedroom apartments. That development could also be a place for retirees to live, Higgins ventured.
As more density is being built in the downtown, Higgins said, in the near-downtown neighborhoods homes are starting to be turned back to single-family occupancy. It’s not just about young professionals who want to live downtown and it’s not just about students, Higgins said. Instead, she said, it’s about being inclusive so that we have the right mix of housing for everyone who wants to be in Ann Arbor.
Downtown, Development: Realizing Vision
Looking ahead 10-20 years, explain one or more projects you would like to initiate or support now to make your Ann Arbor vision realizable.
Downtown, Development: Realizing Vision – Eaton
Eaton thought the city really needs to focus on the core functions of local government. Primarily, he thought it’s the city’s responsibility now to set the foundation with infrastructure – so that 10 or 20 years from now, residents won’t continue to have the kind of bad roads that the city has now, and won’t continue to have the kind of street flooding that allows people to kayak in the street. Future generations should be able to build on what is done today, Eaton said, concluding that there’s a fundamental duty to take responsibility for problems today.
Downtown, Development: Realizing Vision – Higgins
Higgins began by quipping that she hopes she’s around in 15 or 20 years to see what it looks like. She said the city is “tackling” several issues – like transportation, what the downtown looks like, and preserving neighborhoods. She described those issues as including initiatives that have been underway for the past decade – and “we’re now starting to see fruits of that,” she said.
Responding to Eaton’s remarks about infrastructure, she contended that the city is focusing on infrastructure, saying the city has rebuilt five bridges in the past 10 years, put in miles of roads, replaced sewer, water lines, water mains and sewer pipes. Sidewalks have been replaced. That had been done in the context of a terrible economic downturn, Higgins said, adding that it’s important to ensure that the city has a balanced budget. A balanced budget is the most important thing, Higgins said, because what the city wants to do is always going to be determined by how much money the city has.
In your opinion, what progress has been made by the city to assure the availability of affordable housing? Could there be an exchange or regulations requiring developers of high-priced private dorms to provide some low-cost housing in exchange for the ability to develop it? Or will we just wait until these pricey student residences become outdated or unnecessary so they can be repurposed?
Affordable Housing: Eaton
Eaton said he thought the city has really fallen short on the entire area of affordable housing. When the old YMCA building was torn down, and its single-resident occupancy units for low-income people were eliminated, nothing was done to replace it, Eaton said.
He expressed concern about whether the city was maintaining the amount of affordable housing it had in the past. As an example, he gave an Avalon Housing project on Pauline Boulevard that demolished affordable housing and replaced it with fewer units. More needs to be done for affordable housing, Eaton said.
He also said more precision is required in the definition of affordable housing. He posed a series of questions: Is affordable housing for the very, very poor? Is it for the working poor? Or is it for middle-class people who can’t afford to live in this town? Without more clearly defining what is meant by affordable housing, Eaton felt it would be difficult to address the housing problem.
Affordable Housing: Higgins
Higgins began by saying she supports affordable housing. She wished the city had more general fund dollars to commit to affordable housing. The city has moved away from planned unit developments (PUDs), which had an affordable housing component. That involved a developer paying money into the city’s affordable housing trust fund, or providing a certain amount of affordable units within the housing itself. Now, more “by-right” development is taking place, instead of through PUDs, so that funding source has disappeared, she said.
The council is working with the Ann Arbor housing commission on ways to increase housing, Higgins said, and the city is working with other not-for-profits that provide affordable housing. She gave as an example Avalon Housing’s Carrot Way project on the northeast side of town. Higgins described the affordable housing the city has as not necessarily in the best shape. She said that the city needs to focus on what it already has, saying it needs to be housing for people who are going to want to live there and are going to be safe there, constructed with quality materials.
Candidates were asked two questions on transportation issues at opposite ends of the spectrum: (1) a possible high-capacity transit system that’s currently being studied; and (2) a relatively new crosswalk law regulating conditions under which motorists must stop for pedestrians.
Transportation: The Connector
Regarding the connector study, plans are underway to bring light rail transportation into the city of Ann Arbor. Please use your minute to tell voters, especially in your ward, how you feel about any of the options – station location, possible routing, service priorities, cost-sharing on the planning.
By way of additional background, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is currently conducting an alternatives analysis study for possible high-capacity transit in the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.
A previous study established the feasibility of operating some kind of high-capacity transit in that corridor. A key finding of the feasibility study was that the demand for high-capacity transit is clear in the “core” of the corridor – primarily between the University of Michigan’s north campus, medical facilities and central campus.
The demand was found to be less intense on the corridor’s “shoulders.” That basic finding is now evident in the color shading on the draft route alignment map for the current phase of the study, which indicates the density of trips.
At a public engagement session held on June 18 at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, it was announced that the alternative of an elevated guideway system is no longer among the mix of options that the consultant is considering. A final report on a locally preferred alternative is expected for this phase of the study sometime in the winter of 2014.
The funding for the planning work associated with both phases of the study was subjected to wrangling among the funding partners – the city, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the University of Michigan and the AAATA.
Transportation: The Connector – Higgins
Higgins began by saying that she was very excited to see that Florida didn’t want some federal funding that could now be brought into Michigan to consider funding “light rail.” [Higgins was alluding to federal funding for high-speed commuter rail for inter-city service. But the connector, as a new service that could be built within the city limits, is not that kind of project. The rest of the response from Higgins didn't address the connector project per se, but rather concerned commuter rail into and out of the city of Ann Arbor, with the associated controversies of building a new station – at the Fuller Park location – or expanding the existing Amtrak station to serve east-west commuter rail.]
Higgins said that “light rail” is not just about commuters, but rather is about people who want to go to a lot of places for entertainment, for example. It’s a way to connect, she said, and Michigan is behind the curve. As far as where the station could be or should be located, Higgins didn’t really have a preference about where it is. She just thought the best location needs to be decided and then the city should move forward with that. A new station could very well be an expansion of the existing station, she said. If a new station were to be located somewhere, there’d be a community dialogue on where it should be.
Transportation: The Connector – Eaton
Eaton began by first sketching out what the connector is. The connector study is actually a study about moving a large number of people within the city, he explained – from the northeast corner of town, down to the University of Michigan campus and perhaps even out South State Street. The connector project is separate and apart from the desire to have commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Livingston County or to Wayne County, Eaton said. The connector, Eaton said, would primarily benefit the University Michigan – in that it would be moving a lot of students between central and north campus.
Eaton pointed out that Ann Arbor has a transit authority in Ann Arbor with a dedicated millage. It should be the AAATA’s responsibility to work with the University of Michigan on the connector project, he said, and he was opposed to using Ann Arbor general fund money for that transportation study. There are a lot of other core, essential services that should be using its general fund, he concluded.
Transportation: Crosswalk Law
Please comment on the effectiveness and enforcement of the pedestrian crossing laws in Ann Arbor. Is there money available and is it being spent to ensure maintenance of the striping and the electric signaling? In your opinion, how are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists responding? Is further education and communication needed?
Background on the legislative history of Ann Arbor’s crosswalk ordinance includes a tweak given final approval at the council’s Dec. 19, 2011 meeting.
The language given final approval by the council reads in relevant part: “… the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk, when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”
That revision came after a modification the council made 18 months earlier on July 19, 2010 – to include an expansion of the conditions under which motorists must take action to accommodate pedestrians. Specifically, the 2010 amendments required accommodation of pedestrians not just “within a crosswalk” but also “approaching or within a crosswalk.” The modification approved on Dec. 19 was intended to address a perceived ambiguity of the word “approaching.”
Besides the “approaching” phrase, the 2010 amendments also included two other key elements. The 2010 amendments included a requirement that motorists “stop” and not merely “slow as to yield.” The proposal to change the language to “stop” – for the sake of clarity – was made at the council table by Marcia Higgins.
Transportation: Crosswalk Law – Eaton
Eaton began by saying that recently the city passed a pedestrian ordinance that’s quite different from the local law in most communities in Michigan. Ann Arbor has a lot of people coming to live for shorter periods of time – to do business or attend school. He didn’t think that Ann Arbor’s law on pedestrian safety should be that much different from the rest of the state.
Eaton indicated that the state’s allocation of Act 51 money to the city might be available to use on sidewalks and pedestrian safety in greater proportions than it’s been used in the past. He would support more signals, and filling in more of the city’s sidewalk gaps to make pedestrians safer in town.
Transportation: Crosswalk Law – Higgins
Higgins thought the city’s current crosswalk ordinance language is a little confusing for a lot of people, saying that they don’t know exactly what they’re supposed to do. She described the council’s action as tackling an issue of safety very quickly, saying that not all the kinks have been worked out. Different alternatives had been considered to allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely, she said. As an example, she cited solar-powered flashing signals that work to ensure that people can get entirely across some of the major streets.
About “road diets,” she said that the city is still trying to figure out the best approach, noting that there is still some work to do on that. About sidewalks, she said the recent voter-approved sidewalk millage is being used to work on the sidewalk gaps in the city. [The sidewalk millage is actually only available for repair of existing sidewalks, not for construction of new sidewalks.]
Many university cities have established anchor institution relationships, the hallmark of which is connecting the campus with city life and community-building. What are the some of the ways you believe that Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan can nurture and grow programs that use common anchor institution strategies – among them local purchasing, investment practices, neighborhood partnerships, and city revenue generation, such as payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOTs.
By way of additional background, the city and the University of Michigan recently came up against a point of friction over a right-of-way occupancy agreement in connection with the university’s desire to run conduit under Tappan Street. The council took action at its July 15, 2013 meeting to direct renegotiation of the template used by the city and the university to handle that kind of agreement.
The friction stemmed from a vote taken at the council’s May 13, 2013 meeting, which failed to achieve an eight-vote majority. The purpose of the conduits is to connect a new emergency generator to the Lawyers Club buildings at 551 S. State St. The Lawyers Club and the generator are located on opposite sides of the street. The university considers the transaction to be a conveyance of an interest in land. The city doesn’t see it that way, but the council was asked to treat the agreement as if it were a conveyance of an interest in land – which triggered the requirement of an eight-vote majority.
Other recent council conversation about university-city relations includes coordinating with the university about a partial closure of Main Street on football Saturdays. A public meeting is scheduled for July 24 at 6 p.m. at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library to explain how the logistics will work.
University-City Relations – Eaton
Eaton thought Ann Arbor needs to work significantly harder to cooperate with the University of Michigan, saying it’s the main institution and one of the largest employers in town. Eaton said the city does not have a good working relationship with the university. He thought that one of the ways the city could cooperate with the University of Michigan is by installing infrastructure and utilities on a schedule that is compatible with the building projects that the university has.
He also felt the city could cooperate with the University of Michigan in seeking alternative energy generation and use. He concluded that he believed there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to set up better cooperation between the city and the university, and he would support such efforts if he were elected to the council.
University-City Relations – Higgins
Higgins pointed out that the city already has a relationship with the university at the staff level. For the projects that the university is working on, city staff are providing support, she said, and vice versa. Monthly meetings are held where staff from the two institutions talk about what’s coming up, where the city and the university can collaborate on different issues – and she thought that approach is working well.
She described additional friction that can happen, when the university chooses to undertake major projects that affect the nearby neighborhoods. The city has been working for the past couple of years with the university so that when the university rolls out a project, the city can alert those neighborhoods so that a conversation can be started with the residents about how they will be impacted. Higgins said she thinks that is working very well, and it’s something the city will continue to work on.
The League of Women Voters exists to promote active citizen participation in government. Please direct your answer to an interested Ann Arbor resident. Tell her or him what steps to take to become actively involved in our city, through the neighborhoods, the council, the commissions, etc. What kind of advice would you give?
Citizen Participation – Higgins
Higgins said the city is always looking for volunteers. It’s one of the conversations the city council has had: How do we let people know where we need help? She pointed out that people can apply online to serve on boards and commissions. People active in their neighborhoods are very important, and the city looks to those neighborhoods to give direction on how neighborhoods can be helped, she said.
The city now has a citizen participation ordinance that requires a developer to have a meeting with citizens in the early stages of proposing a project, so citizens can have input on what they think about the project, she said. That all becomes part of the public record and it moves through to the planning commission, and it helps with decision-making, she said. Higgins concluded by saying that residents’ voices are very important.
Citizen Participation – Eaton
Eaton took the question as an opportunity to praise the League of Women Voters, by saying he’d suggest that a resident of Ann Arbor consider joining the League of Women Voters and becoming active through LWV, which he described as a superb organization. He also suggested as an alternative becoming active in a political party of a resident’s choosing.
Eaton stated that he’d personally been active in many neighborhood organizations and helped form coalitions of neighborhoods. That was an excellent way to become involved in local politics, he felt, because the interaction between neighborhoods and elected representatives is “really where a lot happens in this town.” He hoped to work to open up availability on boards and commissions, contending that it seems like the same people are repeatedly appointed to the same boards and commissions again and again, term after term. Eaton wanted to open up the boards to more residents and encourage more residents to participate.
What plans does or should the city have to prevent or abate street flooding in the city? What do we need? Can we afford it? What interim measures can we work on first?
Additional background includes a study currently being conducted by the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner focusing on the Upper Malletts Creek area – located in Ward 4. The study was authorized by the Ann Arbor city council at its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting. The $200,000 cost of the study is to be paid for with city funds already held by the county water resources commissioner’s office. [County web page on Upper Mallets Creek study]
The staff memo accompanying the council’s Oct. 15, 2012 resolution mentioned the heavy rains on March 15, 2012, which resulted in street flooding in that part of the city. The city council heard complaints from the public at its meetings after the flooding. A map of historical flooding in the city shows that respondents to a survey conducted in the mid-1990s reported they’d experienced street flooding in the same areas that the flooding occurred in the spring of 2012. That map was part of a 1997 study conducted by Black & Veatch under contract with the city.
The city is also conducting a city-wide study of stormwater issues. [City web page on stormwater model calibration]
A third related study involves monitoring of the sanitary sewer system during wet weather. [City web page on wet weather sanitary sewer flows] That study is meant to measure the effectiveness of the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program, which was partially suspended in city council action taken on Sept. 17, 2012. The developer offset mitigation portion of the program continues – as recent projects like 413 E. Huron (now approved) and the Glendale condominium project (currently postponed by the city planning commission) include required footing drain disconnection credits from developers.
The city of Ann Arbor has separate sanitary and stormwater conveyance systems. However, during construction of new developments before 1980, footing drains – permeable pipes buried around the perimeter of a foundation, roughly at the depth of a basement floor – were frequently connected directly to the sanitary sewer pipes. Those connections were convenient to make, because the footing drains and the sanitary sewers are buried at roughly the same depth.
During very heavy rains, that configuration leads to a volume of stormwater flow into the sanitary sewer system that it’s not designed to handle. That can cause sewage backups as well as possible discharges of untreated sewage into the Huron River. It was such discharges that led to the creation of the city’s FDD program in the early 2000s. Another relatively small volume of such discharge was caused by heavy rains last month.
Higgins stated that Ann Arbor has experienced flooding for years. There are new tools that can be considered, and the city has several different projects underway right now. To move forward just for the sake of moving forward quickly could exacerbate the problem – if it’s not the right solution. So time was being taken to study the issue. Higgins noted that the city is working with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner [Evan Pratt] and using his expertise to deal with overland water flow.
Higgins also mentioned the city’s footing drain disconnection program, which she characterized as “a big question.” That program is being reevaluated, she said, noting that there is a moratorium in Ward 4 dealing with that. For Ann Arbor streets that were designed a decade ago or more, a decision was made that as storm sewers reach capacity, that water would be held in the streets. Not everybody understands that, Higgins said, so when you see a street flooding, it is actually supposed to do that. But because of the increased frequency of heavy rains, she added, the flooding is going overland, and that is what the city is dealing with now.
Eaton began by stating that two of the city’s main watersheds – Malletts Creek and Allen Creek – are beyond capacity. There’s continual talk about planning for growth, Eaton said, but he contended that there’s not capacity to handle the stormwater that the city is already experiencing.
He called for approaching the problem in a variety of different ways. He called for using pervious paving materials that allow stormwater to soak into the ground at the site rather than just moving it downstream. The city needs to increase the capacity to move water through Malletts Creek and Allen Creek to the Huron River, Eaton said. And the city needs to set up retention and detention ponds in neighborhoods to delay flow into the downtown areas, he said.
In 1997, Eaton said, the city did a major stormwater study. But the city had simply failed to follow up on any of the recommendations, Eaton contended. Now, 15 years later, the city is repeating the process of studying the problem that had already been ignored. He called for moving in a more expedient way.
Each candidate was given two minutes for a closing statement.
Higgins thanked the LWV and CTN for hosting the event. During her years serving on the council, her constant focus has been on building the city’s infrastructure, she said. She’d kept an eye toward the future while respecting the past, and she thought the city needs to continue to do that. The city has a great budget, she said, and it’s balanced every year – the city was not raising taxes, but was providing services. On the question of whether additional police officers and firefighters could be added, Higgins said, “We just did.” She said that three more police officers had been added, saying that “We have beat cops that we didn’t have before.” But she stressed that it’s a matter of how those positions are funded. It’s easy to say, “just give us more,” Higgins said, but there has to be a funding mechanism. [
Three Four additional firefighters were authorized in the FY 2014 budget compared with the FY 2013 budget. However, the number of authorized sworn police officers has remained the same. The council has passed a resolution asking the DDA to consider allocating funding for three downtown beat cops, but the DDA has not yet acted on that request.]
The city’s parks and recreation facilities are a tremendous asset, she said. Every week the city wins awards for livability. The city’s budget is the envy of Michigan, Higgins said. She called it a great decision to partner with the county and the University of Michigan to found Ann Arbor SPARK – and that has helped the city provide an economic platform to bring companies to the city, which diversifies the city’s tax base. Everyone had learned a very hard lesson when the largest taxpayer and employer [Pfizer] had left the city, Higgins said. So she thought the city was doing very well.
She supports transportation, Higgins said, calling it a core service that has been offered in Ann Arbor. In founding the AATA, Ann Arbor had been way ahead of the game and it’s been a “treasure,” Higgins said. She felt that expansion of the AATA could take place, as long as it’s not at the city taxpayers’ cost.
Higgins concluded by drawing a contrast between herself and Eaton. She said that this election offers a choice, indicating that she was a candidate who would work to ensure and approach the future with efficient, open and transparent government, by listening to residents and colleagues, and making Ann Arbor the envy of every other city in the state. Change is coming, Higgins said, and she would continue to engage with all residents as the city strives to find the best solutions and thoughtfully prepare for this change. She indicated the choice was between her approach and “candidates who only say no and fear any change of any kind.”
Eaton thanked the LWV for holding the event. He called Ann Arbor a special town.
There’s an opportunity to protect and preserve what is great about Ann Arbor while working to solve problems as they arise. This election provides a clear choice for voters, Eaton said. If elected to the council, he’d provide responsive representation. He’d answer constituent e-mails, and return phone calls, and meet with neighborhood groups. He would release regular e-mail updates. More importantly, Eaton said, he’d work with residents to help solve problems. He’d represent common sense priorities of the Ward 4 voters.
In speaking with Ward 4 voters, he’d heard that residents want the city council to focus on core services. He intended to work to rebuild the city’s safety services. The city’s police and fire departments should be staffed to meet nationally recognized standards, he said, contending that they don’t currently meet those staffing standards.
If elected, he’d work with other councilmembers to improve the city’s infrastructure. Long-term flooding problems need to be addressed, he said, saying that the city can’t afford further delay. Road repair funds need to be spent to maintain high-quality roads, Eaton said, not for ambitious planning and development.
Recent elections have added new responsive members to the council, he contended. He’d like to join those representatives and help bring common sense to city budget decisions. He asked people to take the time to vote on Tuesday, Aug. 6. He asked for support to represent voters’ interests and priorities.
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