Archive for October, 2013

In it for the Money: Cockroach Thanksgiving

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.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Come November, Ann Arbor’s own Backyard Brains will be shipping their educational RoboRoach kits. In just a few E-Z steps you (yes, you!) will upgrade a standard issue Blaberus discoidalis cockroach into your very own iPhone-controlled insectoid robo-slave – and just in time for the Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday Season!

I know, I know, you have questions – and almost certainly some objections – when it comes to icing a live cockroach, mutilating its antennae, drilling a hole in its back, and taking control of its brain – with a goddamn phone. [1]

Readers, I share your moral panic. But I have walked in the Valley of Death, have been prodded with the SpikerBox, have bought coffee and a cookie for the lead roach-roboticisizer, have met their techno-insectoid minions, and here, on the far side of the vale, I want to tell you this:

I am not worried about the kids who unwrap a Backyard Brains RoboRoach kit sometime between Thanksgiving and the end of the year; I’m worried about the kids who don’t. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council OKs Rail Station Study

Continued study of alternative sites and conceptual design for a possible new Amtrak station for the city of Ann Arbor has been given approval by the city council. The vote, taken at the council’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting, was unanimous.

Amtrak train arrival (Chronicle file photo from September 2013)

Amtrak train arrival in Ann Arbor. (Chronicle file photo from September 2013)

The specific action taken by the council was to approve a contract with URS Corporation Inc. (URS) to conduct the Ann Arbor Station project environmental review. The total approved for the Ann Arbor Station contract by the council – which will cover … [Full Story]

Council Balks at Light Pole Allocation

The Ann Arbor city council has balked at a request to amend its current fiscal year budget to make a $280,000 allocation toward a downtown light pole replacement project that would replace 81 poles. The resolution failed on a 7-4 vote, because eight votes were needed for approval.

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole on northeast corner of Main & William. Photograph is from the city of Ann Arbor, taken April 2012.

The $280,000 needed to be allocated from the general fund to the field operation’s unit FY 2014 street lighting budget. And as a budget amendment, the resolution needed eight votes under … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Fossil Fuel Divestment

A resolution on divestment from fossil fuel companies has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council on a 9-2 vote.

Dissent came from Ward 2 councilmembers Jane Lumm and Sally Petersen. Petersen was not in favor of a resolution that had no “teeth,” and would have been inclined to support a proactive resolution that provided direction for investment in clean energies.

The action came at the council’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting, which was the third time the resolution had been in front of the council. When it was initially considered on Sept. 3, 2013, the council voted it down. But on Sept. 16, 2013 the resolution was brought back for reconsideration, then postponed until Oct. 21.

The resolution was amended … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Preps for Winter: Road Salt

A total of 6,900 tons of ice control salt has been authorized for purchase by the Ann Arbor city council. The action was taken at the council’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting.

Bulk salt, for ice control, and seasonal back-up supplies will be sourced from the Detroit Salt Company for $245,143 (2,800 tons of “early fill” at $34.50 a ton and 4,100 tons of “seasonal backup” at $36.23 a ton).

[Full Story]

Council Delays Ypsi Twp.’s AAATA Membership

Membership of Ypsilanti Township in the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has been postponed in action taken by the Ann Arbor city council at its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting. The council will take up the question again at its second meeting in November – Nov. 18.

Ypsilanti Township is now a member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, pending consideration by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils. Ypsilanti Township hopes to become a member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. (Solid green indicates the geographic area included … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA TIF: Postponed Again

A revision to the city of Ann Arbor’s ordinance regulating the tax increment finance (TIF) capture of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has been again postponed – in action taken at the city council’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting.

Postponement is until Nov. 7 – which is the last meeting of the current composition of the council. City council elections are held Nov. 5.

The revision to Chapter 7 would clarify the existing language of the ordinance. The clarification would disallow the DDA’s preferred interpretation of a restriction on TIF revenue that’s expressed in the ordinance language. This ordinance revision was first considered by the council in February of this year. It received initial approval in April and has been in front … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor: “Sidewalks” Can Include Cross-Lot Paths

Cross-lot walkways in Ann Arbor will now be treated as “sidewalks” from the perspective of the city’s sidewalk repair millage. Even though the millage funds can now be used to repair the walkways, owners of property adjacent to cross-lot walkways will not bear responsibility for snow removal in the winter.

Cross-lot walkways include those that connect streets to parks or school property, or connect two parallel streets.

For typical sidewalks along the side of streets, Ann Arbor’s ordinance requires the adjoining property owner to take responsibility for snow removal. That’s unchanged by the ordinance revision on cross-lot walkways.

The council’s final approval of the ordinance change came at its Oct. 21 meeting.

At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the council was set to give … [Full Story]

Appleyard OK’d for Energy Commission

Wayne Appleyard has been appointed to another three-year term on the city of Ann Arbor’s energy commission, a body on which he’s served since 2002.

Wayne Appleyard (Chronicle file photo, uncertain date or context. Also at the table is Ann Arbor city planning commissioner Bonnie Bona.)

Wayne Appleyard at an April 2010 joint meeting of the city’s energy, environmental and planning commissions. Next to Appleyard is Bonnie Bona, who at that time chaired the planning commission. (Chronicle file photo.)

The confirmation vote took place at the city council’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting. The 8-3 vote gave Appleyard the seven votes needed for a non-city resident … [Full Story]

Re-Vote: Al McWilliams Still on DDA Board

A reconsideration of Al McWilliams’ appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has resulted in the same council vote as the previous one – a 6-5 tally in favor of appointment. The initial vote was taken on Sept. 16. The re-vote was taken at the council’s Oct. 21 meeting.

Al McWilliams

Al McWilliams attended the Oct. 2, 2013 meeting of the DDA board and voted on the one agenda item. This photo is from Chronicle coverage of that meeting.

The Sept 16 vote came after mayor John Hieftje stated during deliberations on Sept. 3 – as McWilliams’ confirmation that night appeared not to … [Full Story]

Library Board OKs Budget Adjustment

The Ann Arbor District Library board authorized a $40,000 adjustment to AADL’s 2013-14 budget to cover costs of repairs and testing of the downtown library roof. The action took place at the board’s Oct. 21, 2013 meeting on a unanimous vote.

The adjustment transfers $40,000 from the library’s fund balance to the repair and maintenance line item. According to the most recent financial report, the library had a fund balance of $8.03 million as of Sept. 30, 2013. The line item for repairs and maintenance that was approved as part of the 2013-14 was $302,000 for the entire fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2013. The board approved the budget at its May 6, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of ... [Full Story]

A2: River Data Discontinued

The USGS stream gauge for the Huron River located near Wall Street has stopped reporting data like oxygen content and turbidity, although basic stream flow data is still available. The message on the USGS realtime reporting site indicates that the reduction in data reporting is due to federal sequestration: “The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will discontinue operation of a number of streamgages nationwide due to budget cuts as a result of sequestration. Additional streamgages may be affected if partners reduce their funding to support USGS streamgages. The USGS is working to identify which streamgages will be impacted and will post this information as it becomes available. … When budget fluctuations occur, the network is impacted.” [Source]

According to Huron River Watershed … [Full Story]

Liberty Square Parking Structure

Two venues, Hill Auditorium and Rackam emptying out about the same time. Liberty Square Parking Garage with one pre-pay machine out of order, one elevator not working, long lines at pay machine and elevator, and floors of cars waiting to exit the lot. Solution: re-charge every car which did not reach the exit machine within 15 minutes resulting in an additional bottleneck and wait and assurance that few would exit in the allotted time.

Oct. 21, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: Final

The Oct. 21, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council is the last one before the Nov. 5 election. After the election, the current group of councilmembers will have just one more meeting, on Nov. 7, before the new council is seated. The agenda the current council faces on Oct. 21 is relatively heavy.

New sign on door to Ann Arbor city council chamber

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

It’s possible that the council might be briefed at the meeting on proposals received by the Oct. 18 deadline for the purchase of the city-owned parcel on William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues (the former Y lot), but that’s not yet clear. The property had been listed for $4.2 million.

Many of the Oct. 21 items already on the agenda can be divided into three main categories: transportation, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and the city’s energy commission.

The council held a work session about transportation on Oct. 14, 2013. Transportation-related items on the Oct. 21 agenda include a resolution that would admit Ypsilanti Township as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The specific question to be considered is a revision to the AAATA’s articles of incorporation – which would also expand the number of board members from nine to 10.

A second transportation-related agenda item is a city-led initiative to develop a new train station, with the location to be determined. The existing location, as well as one on Fuller Road near the University of Michigan medical campus, would be among the possibilities. On the council’s agenda is a contract with URS Corp. to conduct an environmental review that would include public engagement, site selection and conceptual design. The council’s authorization would be $824,875, an amount that includes a $63,083 contingency. The city would pay 20% of that, or about $165,000, with the rest covered by a federal grant that has already been awarded by the Federal Rail Authority.

To the extent that pedestrian infrastructure is also part of the city’s transportation system, a transportation-related pair of items would alter the definition of “sidewalk” to include cross-lot walkways. Affected by the change, for example, would be walkways that connect streets with parks or school property. The change would allow for use of sidewalk repair millage funds to repair cross-lot walkways, without triggering the winter maintenance requirement for adjacent property owners.

Finally, the city council will be asked to approve an annual resolution related to wintertime transportation – the purchase of ice control salt for city streets.

Related to the Ann Arbor DDA are three items: (1) reconsideration of the appointment of Al McWilliams to the board of that authority – likely to be confirmed on a re-vote, if reconsideration is approved; (2) final consideration of a change to the city ordinance regulating the DDA’s TIF (tax increment financing) capture – likely to be postponed yet again; and (3) a budget allocation of $280,000 to cover costs associated with replacement of downtown ornamental, pedestrian-scale light poles. The DDA is contributing $300,000 to the cost of the $580,000 project. Some councilmembers think the DDA should pay for the full amount, so the eight-vote majority required for the budget amendment might not be achieved.

The specific size of the majority vote required could also be a factor in one of two agenda items related to the city’s energy commission – the re-appointment of Wayne Appleyard to the commission. The confirmation will need a seven-vote majority under the city charter, because he’s not a city resident. The other energy-related item is an energy commission-recommended resolution – which was previously rejected, reconsidered and postponed by the city council. The resolution would call upon the city’s employee retirement board to divest from fossil fuel companies.

This article includes a more detailed preview of each of these agenda items. More details on other meeting agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. Readers can also follow the live meeting proceedings Monday evening on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Downtown Park Proposal Moves to Council

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Oct. 15, 2013): Commissioners who’ve been evaluating possibilities for downtown parks and open space delivered their recommendations at this month’s meeting, wrapping up an effort that traces back over a year.

Bill Higgins, Harry Sheehan, Mike Anglin, Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Bill Higgins, Harry Sheehan and Mike Anglin, a Ward 5 Ann Arbor city councilmember. Sheehan is environmental manager with the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, and gave an update on the Upper Malletts Creek stormwater management project. Higgins lives in the neighborhood that’s the focus of the project. (Photos by the writer.)

The report of the downtown parks subcommittee includes several broad recommendations based on feedback gathered over the past few months, with an emphasis on “placemaking” principles that include active use, visibility and safety. The most specific recommendation calls for developing a park or open space on top of the city-owned Library Lot underground parking structure, adjacent to the downtown library.

A park at that location should exceed 5,000 square feet, according to the report, and connect to Library Lane, a small mid-block cut-through that runs north of the library between Fifth and Division. That connection offers flexibility, because the lane can be closed off for events to temporarily increase the size of a park or open space at that location.

Commissioners discussed and made some minor amendments to the subcommittee’s recommendations, which they then unanimously voted to approve. Most of the discussion focused on the Library Lot site. The recommendations will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Also on Oct. 15, Harry Sheehan briefed PAC about how a stormwater management project for Upper Malletts Creek might impact three city parks: Eisenhower, Churchill Downs and Lawton. The project, overseen by the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, is still in the planning phase. It’s intended to help control flooding in a neighborhood that’s roughly bounded by I-94, Scio Church Road and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, on the city’s southwest side.

Park planner Amy Kuras updated commissioners on capital projects throughout the parks system, highlighting projects that were completed this summer as well as work that’s ongoing, like construction of the Ann Arbor skatepark.

Missy Stults, PAC’s representative on the city’s environmental commission, reported that the commission has developed a work plan with strategies that are mostly tied to the city’s sustainability framework and climate action plan. For example, the plan includes work to promote re-useable water bottles and to discourage the use of plastic water bottles. One idea is to develop an app that would show people where to get public water, including water fountains in city parks. Tying in with that work plan item, Colin Smith – the city’s parks and recreation manager – reported said the city is looking to replace several water fountains at parks and recreation facilities with fountains that indicate how many plastic bottles have been saved by people using the water fountains. He noted that similar fountains are used at the University of Michigan.

Oct. 15 was the final meeting for Julie Grand, who is term limited after serving six years on PAC. Grand, who served on the downtown parks subcommittee, thanked commissioners for passing the recommendations, saying “it’s a great way to go out.” [Full Story]

Jackson Rd. & Parkland Plaza

Parkland Plaza is newly paved. That’s in Scio Township, but I’m not sure if that’s township purview or Washtenaw County Road Commission, or perhaps even a private road.

AAATA Formalizes Ypsi City Relationship

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct. 17, 2013): The main business of the board’s meeting was the approval of a funding agreement with the city of Ypsilanti – a new member of the AAATA, and the first jurisdiction to join the authority outside of the city of Ann Arbor.

Old Y Lot from the northwest corner of William and Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor.

Former Y lot from the northwest corner of William and Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor, looking northwest. In the background, the new Blake Transit Center is under construction. The AAATA voted to establish a committee to meet with whatever developer makes a successful purchase offer on the lot. Also announced is that the old BTC building, located on the opposite side of the block, will be demolished in early November, somewhat ahead of the original timing. (Photos by the writer.)

The funding agreement between the AAATA and the city of Ypsilanti formalizes the existing arrangement under which Ypsilanti passes its dedicated transit millage through to the AAATA. The board approved it unanimously. The Ypsilanti city council will consider the agreement on Nov. 5.

In another piece of business that came at the end of the meeting, after a closed session that lasted about an hour and a half, the board voted to establish a subcommittee to meet with whichever developer might make the winning bid on the city-owned property at Fifth and William – known as the old Y lot. That’s an alternative to the AAATA attempting to bid on the property itself, which was listed at $4.2 million. Bids were due by Oct. 18. The city paid $3.5 million for the property 10 years ago and still owes that much on a balloon payment due at the end of this year.

An item that simply authorized the purchase of additional vehicles for the AAATA’s vanpool program had some complex history behind it – involving the federal government shutdown. The shutdown prevented the AAATA from completing its pursuit of a waiver from the Federal Transit Administration for the Buy America requirement. And the Buy America requirements were pointing the AAATA toward purchasing more expensive vehicles (Chevrolet Traverses) that did not fit the needs of passengers as well as the non-qualifying vans (Dodge Caravans). So the board opted to use local millage revenue, and to backfill the operational expenses that the millage money was covering – by using federal preventive maintenance dollars.

In a final routine item, the board authorized the AAATA’s chief executive officer to execute contracts with MDOT that are less than $1 million.

A common thread among public commentary and other board communications was the 5-year service improvement plan the AAATA has developed, and the schedule of public meetings to introduce that plan.

Editor’s note: For the AAATA’s Oct. 17 meeting, The Chronicle hired a CART (Communications Across Real Time) professional to provide a real-time “text” stream of the meeting that was accessible online through The Chronicle. The resulting transcript from that live text stream is available here: [link]. The Chronicle is experimenting with ways to make public meetings more accessible to a broader segment of the community, and to provide archival transcripts of those meetings. [Full Story]

Washington & Main

Graffiti can be interpreted as (at least) two different animals. What do you see first? [photo] Bonus points for identifying the location more closely than the nearest intersection.

AAATA, City of Ypsilanti OK Finance Deal

The board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has ratified its side of a transportation funding agreement with the city of Ypsilanti, which was admitted as a member of the AAATA four months ago, on June 20, 2013.

The AAATA board action was taken at its Oct. 17, 2013 meeting. The city council of Ypsilanti is scheduled to consider the agreement on Nov. 5.

The agreement recognizes the AAATA as the public transportation provider for the city of Ypsilanti. The agreement is to transfer the full amount generated by Ypsilanti’s 0.9879 mill transit tax authorized by voters in 2010 (estimated to be $273,797 in the year 2013), to the AAATA. However, the agreement calls for the AAATA to pay the city of … [Full Story]

Column: In Praise of The Mud Bowl

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Tomorrow morning, one of Michigan’s oldest traditions will be on display. No, not at the Big House, but at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.

That’s where they’ve played something they call The Mud Bowl every year since 1933, the same season Jerry Ford played center for the national champion Wolverines, and Columbia University won the Rose Bowl.

Back then, the leap from the Mud Bowl to the Rose Bowl was a lot smaller than it is today. Oh, and a new venture called the National Football League was little more than a decade old, but few cared. Today college football is a lot closer to the NFL than it is to the Mud Bowl – which still doesn’t charge its spectators a dime.

Last fall, I woke up on a cold, rainy Saturday morning to see the tradition for myself. [Full Story]

AAATA to Appoint Subcommittee on Y Lot

The board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has voted to establish a subcommittee to meet with whatever party might make a successful purchase proposal for the city-owned parcel on William between Fourth and Fifth avenues in downtown Ann Arbor, known as the old Y lot. The action took place at the board’s Oct. 17, 2013 meeting.

The resolution to form a subcommittee – whose members aren’t yet identified – is an alternative to simply purchasing the property, which board member Roger Kerson described as not practical right now. Kerson chairs the AAATA’s performance monitoring and external relations committee.

The AAATA has historically been interested in the property, which is immediately south of the AAATA’s downtown Blake Transit Center. The city’s … [Full Story]

AAATA: 40 More Vehicles for Vanpools

Up to 40 vehicles could be purchased for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s vanpool program to replace aging vehicles, as well as to meet additional demand for the program. The vans will be either Dodge Caravans (mini-vans) at $21,356 from Snethkamp of Lansing, or Ford Econoline vans (full-size vans) from Gorno of Woodhaven, at $20,940.

According to the resolution approved by the board, the Ford Econoline meets the conditions of the Federal Transit Administration’s Buy America program – which require 65% American components and final assembly in the United States. The Dodge Caravan meets the 65% American-made component requirement, but is assembled in Canada – with union labor. So the funding of the Caravan, which does not meet all the FTA’s … [Full Story]

Annual MDOT Authorization OK’d by AAATA

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford was authorized by the board at its Oct. 17, 2013 meeting to execute all contracts with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation that are less than $1 million for the next fiscal year, through Sept. 30, 2014.

It’s a routine annual authorization.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AAATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

First & Washington

Fire alarm going off at the building under construction at First and Washington. Fire department on site.

Amid Protests, County Urges Repeal of SYG

After hearing from about three dozen people during a public hearing and public commentary – many of them supporters of Michigan’s Stand Your Ground law – the Washtenaw County commissioners passed a resolution asking state legislators to repeal the law.

The 5-to-4 vote took place at the county board’s Oct. 16, 2013 meeting over dissent from Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Dan Smith (R-District 2), Alicia Ping (R-District 3), and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5). In support of the resolution were Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). [.pdf of resolution]

This is the fourth meeting that has included public commentary on the Stand Your Ground law – … [Full Story]