The Ann Arbor city council’s first regular meeting of the year, set for Jan. 6, 2014, features a relatively light agenda with only a half dozen substantive voting items.
Two of those items were postponed from the final meeting of 2013, on Dec. 16.
One of those postponed items was the official termination of a four-year-old memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan for construction of the Fuller Road Station project.
That was a planned joint city/UM parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located at the city’s Fuller Park near the UM medical campus. The council had approved the MOU on the Fuller Road Station project at its Nov. 5, 2009 meeting on a unanimous vote. However, a withdrawal of UM from the project, which took place under the terms of the MOU, was announced on Feb. 10, 2012. So it’s been clear for nearly two years that the MOU was a dead letter. The vote to terminate the MOU has its origins in the politics of Stephen Kunselman’s Ward 3 re-election campaign, when he promised to bring forward such a resolution.
The council’s postponement of the MOU termination at its Dec. 16 meeting was not due to any particular controversy about the vote itself. Instead, the postponement resulted from the fact that the item had been added to the agenda on the same day as the meeting, and that’s a practice the council has agreed should be avoided.
The other item delayed from the Dec. 16 meeting was a resolution assigning a specific cost to the removal of an on-street parking space, in connection with future developments: $45,000. That item first appeared on the council’s Dec. 2 agenda, but the council postponed it, based on a desire to hold a public hearing on the matter before taking action. The Dec. 16 postponement came after questions were raised during council deliberations, about the accounting procedures that would be used by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to track any money that might be collected under the policy.
Apart from those previously delayed items, the rest of the council’s agenda is filled out primarily with items concerning future development.
Accounting for two of the council’s Jan. 6 voting items is Traverwood Apartments – a First Martin development on the west side of Traverwood Drive, north of Plymouth Road. The council will consider final approval of some rezoning necessary for the complex of 16 two-story buildings. And on a separate vote, the council will consider the site plan approval and a wetland use permit associated with the apartment complex.
A third development item on the Jan. 6 agenda is the site plan for the upward expansion of the Montgomery Ward building on Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. The estimated $3.8 million project would expand the existing 17,273-square-foot building – a former Montgomery Ward’s department store – to 38,373 square feet, with housing on the second through fifth floors.
And a final development on the Jan. 6 agenda is a site plan and development agreement for two restaurants at Briarwood Mall. The restaurants – one at 6,470 square feet, the other at 7,068 square feet – would be constructed on the east side of the Macy’s building at Briarwood Mall, 700 Briarwood Circle. The restaurants would be operated by two chains: P.F. Chang’s and Bravo! Cucina Italiana.
The consent agenda features two items involving cellular phone antennas mounted on city facilities. One of the items relates to the specific contracts with Sprint for placing antennas at four facilities: the Plymouth Road water tower, the Manchester Road water tower, the Ann-Ashley parking structure, and the water treatment plant. The contracts are being revised upwards to $45,000 a year at each location, with 4% annual escalators.
The other consent agenda item that’s related to cellular phone antennas, if it’s approved, would make it unnecessary in the future for items like the agreements with Sprint to come before the city council for approval. Instead, it would give the city administrator the power to approve licensing agreements with cellular service providers – even though they exceed the $25,000 threshold for council approval set forth in a city-charter required ordinance.
This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m.
How Much Is a Parking Space Worth?
A resolution that was postponed for the second time at the council’s Dec. 16, 2013 meeting is now on the Jan. 6 agenda. It would define how much developers would need to pay the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority if a developer’s project requires removal of a metered on-street parking space. The proposed amount is $45,000 per space. The payment would go to the Ann Arbor DDA because the DDA manages the public parking system under a contract with the city.
The rationale for postponing the item on Dec. 2 – offered by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who sponsored the resolution – was that because it amounts to a fee, a public hearing should be held on the matter before the council voted.
After the public hearing held at the council’s Dec. 16 meeting, the council’s deliberations focused on the question of the accounting procedures to be used by the DDA in tracking any money that might be paid under the policy. Given that the rationale for the policy is that the money would be put toward the cost of construction for new parking spaces, councilmembers wanted to know how the money would be reserved for that purpose.
In this matter, the council would be acting on a four-year-old recommendation approved by the Ann Arbor DDA in 2009:
Thus it is recommended that when developments lead to the removal of on-street parking meter spaces, a cost of $45,000/parking meter space (with annual CPI increases) be assessed and provided to the DDA to set aside in a special fund that will be used to construct future parking spaces or other means to meet the goals above. [.pdf of meeting minutes with complete text of March 4, 2009 DDA resolution]
The contract under which the DDA manages the public parking system for the city was revised to restructure the financial arrangement (which now pays the city 17% of the gross revenues), but also included a clause meant to prompt the city to act on the on-street space cost recommendation. From the May 2011 parking agreement:
The City shall work collaboratively with the DDA to develop and present for adoption by City Council a City policy regarding the permanent removal of on-street metered parking spaces. The purpose of this policy will be to identify whether a community benefit to the elimination of one or more metered parking spaces specific area(s) of the City exists, and the basis for such a determination. If no community benefit can be identified, it is understood and agreed by the parties that a replacement cost allocation methodology will need to be adopted concurrent with the approval of the City policy; which shall be used to make improvements to the public parking or transportation system.
Subject to administrative approval by the city, the DDA has sole authority to determine the addition or removal of meters, loading zones, or other curbside parking uses.
The $45,000 figure is based on an average construction cost to build a new parking space in a structure, either above ground or below ground – as estimated in 2009. It’s not clear what the specific impetus is to act on the issue now, other than the fact that action is simply long overdue. [For more background, see: "Column: Ann Arbor's Monroe (Street) Doctrine."]
Taylor, the resolution’s sponsor, participated in meetings during the fall of 2013 of a joint council and DDA board committee that negotiated a resolution to the question about how the DDA’s TIF (tax increment finance) revenue is regulated. In that context, Taylor had argued adamantly that any cap on the DDA’s TIF should be escalated by a construction industry CPI, or roughly 5%. Taylor’s reasoning was that the DDA’s mission is to undertake capital projects and therefore should have revenue that escalates in accordance with increases in the costs to undertake capital projects.
Based on Taylor’s reasoning on the TIF question, and the explicit 2009 recommendation by the DDA to increase the estimated $45,000 figure in that year by an inflationary index, the recommended amount now, four years later, would be closer to $55,000, assuming a 5% figure for construction cost inflation. The city’s contribution in lieu (CIL) parking program allows a developer (as one option) to satisfy an on-site parking space requirement by paying $55,000. (The other option is to enter into a 15-year agreement to purchase monthly parking permits at a 20% premium.)
The actual cost of building an underground space in the recently completed (2012) underground Library Lane parking structure could be calculated by taking the actual costs and dividing by 738 – the number of spaces in the structure. Based on a recent memo from executive director Susan Pollay to city administrator Steve Powers, about 30% or $15 million of the cost of the project was spent on items “unneeded by the parking structure.” That included elements like oversized foundations to support future development, an extra-large transformer, a new alley between Library Lane and S. Fifth Avenue, new water mains, easements for a fire hydrant and pedestrian improvements.
The actual amount spent on the Library Lane structure, according to DDA records produced under a Freedom of Information Act request from The Chronicle, was $54,855,780.07, or about $1.5 million under the project’s $56.4 million budget. Adjusting for those elements not needed for the parking structure yields a per-space cost of about $52,000. [(54,855,780.07*.70)/738] [.pdf of Nov. 22, 2013 memo from Pollay to Powers][.pdf of budget versus actual expenses for the 738-space Library Lane structure]
By way of additional background, the Ann Arbor DDA’s most recent financial records show that last year, on-street parking spaces generated $2,000 in gross revenue per space or $1,347 in net income per space annually. The contract with the city under which the DDA operates the public parking system stipulates that the city receives 17% of the gross parking revenues. So the city’s revenue associated with an on-street parking space corresponds to $340 annually.
Killing Fuller Road Station MOU
An item postponed from the Dec. 16, 2013 meeting would officially terminate a four-year-old memorandum of understanding between the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan on Fuller Road Station.
Fuller Road Station was a planned joint city/UM parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located at the city’s Fuller Park near the UM medical campus. The council had approved the MOU on the Fuller Road Station project at its Nov. 5, 2009 meeting on a unanimous vote. [.pdf of Nov. 5, 2009 MOU text as approved by the city council] However, a withdrawal of UM from the project, which took place under terms of the MOU, was announced on Feb. 10, 2012. So it’s been clear for nearly two years that the MOU was a dead letter.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) sponsored the Dec. 16 resolution. The idea to terminate the MOU has its origins in election campaign rhetoric. He had stated at a June 8, 2013 Democratic primary candidate forum that he intended to bring forth such a resolution to “kill” the Fuller Road Station project. From The Chronicle’s report of that forum:
Kunselman also stated that he would be proposing that the city council rescind its memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan to build a parking structure as part of the Fuller Road Station project. Although UM has withdrawn from participation in that project under the MOU, Kunselman said he wanted to “kill it.” That way, he said, the conversation could turn away from using the designated parkland at the Fuller Road Station site as a new train station, and could instead be focused on the site across the tracks from the existing Amtrak station.
The city continues to pursue the possibility of a newly built or reconstructed train station, but not necessarily with the University of Michigan’s participation, and without a pre-determined preferred alternative for the site of a new station. At its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting, the council approved a contract with URS Corp. Inc. to carry out an environmental review of a project called the Ann Arbor Station. That review should yield the determination of a locally-preferred alternative for a site.
Kunselman led off deliberations at the Dec. 16 meeting saying he would like to postpone the resolution. He indicated that he thought he’d managed to add the item to the agenda on the Friday before the Monday meeting, but it turned out he had not done so. In light of the council’s discussion at their Dec. 9 budget planning session – when councilmembers had said they’d strive to avoid adding resolutions at the last minute – Kunselman said he wanted it postponed.
Mayor John Hieftje and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) both indicated they’d vote for the resolution – but also said they didn’t think the resolution was necessary. They indicated they were willing to vote for the resolution without postponing. Kunselman nevertheless wanted to postpone it, because it was added late to the agenda.
Also on the council’s Jan. 6 agenda is a First Martin Corp. project, which would construct a residential complex on the west side of Traverwood Drive, north of Plymouth Road. The development is called Traverwood Apartments.
The project, estimated to cost $30 million, would include 16 two-story buildings for a total of 216 one- and two-bedroom units – or 280 total bedrooms. Eight of the buildings would each have 15 units and 11 single-car garages. An additional eight buildings would each have 12 units and 8 single-car garages.
Two separate items are on the council’s agenda – one for the rezoning required for the project, and the other for the site plan and wetland use permit.
At the council’s Dec. 2, 2013 meeting, the initial approval of the required rezoning was given. Also approved at that meeting was a donation of 2.2 acres, just north of the project site – by Bill Martin to the city. The donated acreage is next to the Stapp Nature Area and the Leslie Park golf course.
The city’s planning commission recommended approval of the site plan and the required rezoning at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. The site is made up of two parcels: a nearly 16-acre lot that’s zoned R4D (multi-family residential), and an adjacent 3.88-acre lot to the south that’s currently zoned ORL (office, research and light industrial). It’s the smaller lot that needs to be rezoned R4D.
Montgomery Ward Building
Another item on the city council’s Jan. 6 agenda is the site plan for a four-story addition to the existing two-story building (the old Montgomery Ward building) at 210-216 S. Fourth Ave., between East Liberty and East Washington in downtown Ann Arbor. The plan calls for creating 32 new housing units, including four studios, 14 one-bedroom, and 14 two-bedroom units. Planning commissioners took action to recommend approval of the project’s site plan at their Nov. 19, 2013 meeting.
The estimated $3.8 million project would expand the existing 17,273-square-foot building – a former Montgomery Ward’s department store – to 38,373 square feet, with housing on the second through fifth floors. The ground floor would remain commercial space. Current tenants include Salon Vertigo and Bandito’s Mexican Restaurant. The top floor will include a stair/elevator lobby, restroom, wet bar, and access to several roof decks. Part of the fifth-floor roof will be covered in vegetation as a green roof.
Because the building is located in a historic district, it required a certificate of appropriateness from the city’s historic district commission. The HDC granted that certificate at its Sept. 12, 2013 meeting.
The site is zoned D1, which allows for the highest level of density. According to a staff memo, eight footing drain disconnects will be required.
According to a report from the July 10, 2013 citizen participation meeting, the units will be marketed to “anyone who wants to live downtown.” If approvals are received, construction is expected to begin next summer. The project’s architect is Brad Moore.
Moore is also the architect for an expansion project on the adjacent property – a three-floor addition to the Running Fit building at East Liberty and South Fourth, which will create six residential units. That project received a recommendation of approval from planning commissioners at their Oct. 15, 2013 meeting and was subsequently approved by the city council on Dec. 2, 2013.
Briarwood Mall Restaurant Expansions
A site plan for construction of two free-standing restaurants at Briarwood Mall is also on the council’s Jan. 6 agenda.
The proposal calls for building two new freestanding restaurants – one at 6,470 square feet, the other at 7,068 square feet – on the east side of the Macy’s building at Briarwood Mall, 700 Briarwood Circle. The restaurants would be two chains: P.F. Chang’s and Bravo! Cucina Italiana.
The parking lot north and east of the new restaurants would be reconfigured, reducing the total amount of parking by 188 spaces. The estimated cost of the project is $1,577,094. The site is located in Ward 4.
Ann Arbor planning commissioners recommended approval of the site plan and development in action at their Nov. 19, 2013 meeting. The project was originally considered at the commission’s Oct. 15, 2013 meeting, but postponed because of outstanding issues.
Originally, the planning staff had indicated that the project would require rezoning a portion of the parking lot from P (parking) to C2B (business service. However, according to a memo accompanying the commission’s Nov. 19 meeting packet, planning staff subsequently determined that because the original 1973 Briarwood Mall zoning anticipated the expansion of Hudson’s (now Macy’s ) to the east, no rezoning was needed.
Cellular Antenna Licensing
The consent agenda for Jan. 6 features two items involving cellular phone antennas mounted on city facilities. By council rule, contracts for less than $100,000 can be placed on the consent agenda.
One of the consent agenda items relates to the specific contracts with Sprint for placing antennas at four facilities: the Plymouth Road water tower, the Manchester Road water tower, the Ann-Ashley parking structure, and the water treatment plant. The contracts are being revised upwards to $45,000 a year at each location with 4% annual escalators. The previous agreements ranged from $25,920 to $39,283, according to the staff memo accompanying the resolution.
The staff memo also indicates that Sprint has been given initial administrative approval to undertake replacement of some of its equipment related to its 4G deployment.
The other consent agenda item related to cellular phone antennas, if it’s approved, would make it unnecessary in the future for items like the agreements with Sprint to come before the city council for approval. Instead, it would give the city administrator the power to approve licensing agreements with cellular service providers – even though they exceed the $25,000 threshold for council approval set forth in a city-charter required ordinance.
The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!