The council’s first regular meeting in September was shifted from Monday to Tuesday in order to accommodate the Labor Day holiday.
The Sept. 2 agenda is relatively light and is dominated by land use and development issues, many of them related to the Ann Arbor housing commission’s (AAHC) extensive plan to renovate many of its existing properties.
In other significant business, the council will be considering a direction to the city administrator to negotiate operating agreements with transportation networking companies like Uber and Lyft.
And the council will consider authorizing up to a 15-year extension of the local development finance authority (LDFA), based on a collaboration with a satellite arrangement in Adrian and Tecumseh.
Separate from site plan and zoning issues associated with the AAHC’s renovations, the council will also be considering transferring $729,879 from the affordable housing trust fund to the Ann Arbor housing commission. The fund transfer would support the “West Arbor” portion of the renovation plan. That would leave a $850,920 balance in the trust fund. The trust fund’s current balance stems largely from the council’s decision late last year – on Dec. 16, 2013 – to deposit into the trust fund the net proceeds of the sale of the former Y lot.
Two projects associated with the West Arbor part of the AAHC plan appear on the council’s Sept. 2 agenda. First, the council will consider initial approval of rezoning for the 3451 Platt Road property – from R1C (single-family dwelling district) and R2A (two-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). That was forwarded to the council with a recommendation of approval from the planning commission. However, commissioners postponed consideration of the site plan for the five-building, 32-unit project, amid concerns about the site’s location in the floodplain and stormwater management. The site plan may be able to “catch up” to the zoning approval – because the council will need to give the rezoning a second and final approval at a meeting following the Sept. 2 session.
Second, the North Maple Estates site plan, which requires just one council vote, will be considered on Sept. 2. The rezoning required for the AAHC project – a 4.8-acre site at 701 N. Maple Road – has already been given final approval by the city council, at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting. The zoning was changed from R1C (single-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). The site plan, which was shifted to the Sept. 2 agenda, calls for demolishing 20 existing single-family homes – the public housing complex known as North Maple Estates – and constructing an eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex with a total of 138 bedrooms.
A non-AAHC land development item on the council’s Sept. 2 agenda is final approval of the rezoning of property necessary for an expansion of the Gift of Life Michigan facility on Research Park Drive. The rezoning would change 6.55 acres from O (office district) and RE (research district) to ORL (office/research/limited industrial district). The site plan, which also appears on the Sept. 2 agenda, calls for building a three-story, 40,786-square-foot addition to connect two existing buildings at 3161 and 3169 Research Park Drive, which are owned and occupied by the nonprofit.
Even though the council rejected one proposed change to its taxicab ordinance at its Aug. 18 meeting – which would have regulated all drivers for hire in the city – initial approval was given to another change in the part of the ordinance that regulates rates. So the council will be giving final consideration to that change on Sept 2. The change would establish certain parameters to mitigate possible negative consequences to the setting of a very high maximum allowable taxicab rate, under which taxicab companies might eventually compete. Those parameters include a requirement that a taxicab company commit to a single rate annually and that the rate be advertised in a vehicle with signage in letters one-inch tall.
As an alternative to requiring all drivers for hire to be registered with the city and to affix commercial plates to their vehicles, the council will be considering whether to establish operating agreements with companies like Uber and Lyft. The council’s Sept. 2 agenda includes a resolution that would direct the city administrator to negotiate operating agreements with transportation network companies (TNCs) in lieu of developing a local law. The resolution does not define in specific terms what a TNC is.
In other business on Sept. 2, the council will be considering a large contract with Ultimate Software Group, worth $250,000 for payroll software to cover the period as the city transitions to NuView, a different software system. Another large contract to be considered by the council on Sept. 2 is with Northwest Consultants Inc. for $930,822 – to do the design work for the Stadium Boulevard reconstruction project from Kipke Drive to Hutchins.
A smaller contract to be considered by the council, as part of the consent agenda, is with Hinshon Environmental Consulting Inc. for additional facilitation services for the technical oversight and advisory group (TOAG). That group is overseeing and coordinating multiple wet weather-related projects in the city. The $10,000 contract amendment would bring the total contract value to $35,000.
The council will also consider the confirmation of several nominations to boards and commissions, including a reappointment of John Splitt to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. It would be Splitt’s third four-year term on the board.
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.
Affordable Housing Fund Transfer
The council will be considering a $729,879 transfer from the affordable housing trust fund to the Ann Arbor housing commission to support the “West Arbor” portion of the AAHC’s renovation plan. That would leave a $850,920 balance in the trust fund. The trust fund’s current balance stems largely from the council’s decision late last year – on Dec. 16, 2013 – to deposit the net proceeds of the sale of the former Y lot into the trust fund.
By way of background, in 2012 the city was accepted into a new rental assistance demonstration program, known as RAD, offered by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The program allows residents in selected housing units to receive rental assistance through long-term Section 8 subsidy vouchers that are tied to the buildings, rather than individuals. The RAD program also enables entities like the AAHC to partner with private-sector developers on housing projects – something the AAHC couldn’t previously do. The Ann Arbor city council gave necessary approvals in connection with the RAD program at its June 3, 2013 meeting. Financing for the RAD program is primarily through low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC).
According to the memo accompanying this item, out of the $16,564,370 project budget for West Arbor, low-income housing tax credits and permanent debt are expected to cover $14,091,491. That leaves a gap of $1,472,879. The AAHC has secured $50,000 from Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and $293,000 from a Community Challenge Planning Grant. So the AAHC has requested up to $729,879 in capital funding support from the Ann Arbor housing trust fund for the West Arbor portion of the RAD conversion.
A project included in West Arbor is the Lower Platt Road project, which will entail demolishing four 5-bedroom units – because of their current placement in the floodplain – and constructing 32 townhomes and a community center. A second project included in West Arbor is North Maple Estates, which currently offers 19 units. All those units would be demolished and replaced with 42 townhomes.
The final component of West Arbor is the renovation of the four 3-bedroom units known as the North Maple Duplexes.
AAHC: 3451 Platt Road Rezoning
The council will give initial consideration to the rezoning that’s necessary for the Lower Platt portion of West Arbor: from R1C (single-family dwelling district) and R2A (two-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district).
The planning commission sent the rezoning request for the 3451 Platt Road property to the city council with a recommendation of approval – in a vote taken at its Aug. 6, 2014 meeting. However, commissioners postponed consideration of the site plan for the five-building, 32-unit project, amid concerns about the site’s location in the floodplain and stormwater management. The postponement is supposed to allow time to address staff concerns regarding the impact on natural features.
Zoning and site plan approval must ultimately be given by the city council. However, the zoning approval will require two votes by the council at two separate meetings – because changes to the zoning code are actually changes to a city ordinance. So the site plan’s delay would not necessarily delay the project, as long as the site plan is put in front of the council for consideration by the time the council takes a second vote on the rezoning.
The site includes a property currently owned by AAHC, as well as an adjacent parcel that’s being purchased by the city on behalf of AAHC.
The project calls for demolishing four single-family homes and one two-family building, and constructing a 32-unit apartment complex with five buildings, 61 parking spaces, a playground, and a community building. The new apartments will include: 8 one-bedroom units; 12 two-bedroom units; 6 three-bedroom units; 2 four-bedroom units; and 4 five-bedroom units.
Two of the proposed buildings would be in the floodplain, which raised concerns from city staff. The AAHC is working to address those concerns – possibly by eliminating or reducing the number of buildings in the floodplain. It had been expected that the AAHC could address the issues raised by city staff so that the site plan could return to the planning commission at its Aug. 19 meeting – but that didn’t happen. [.pdf of planning staff report] [.pdf of June 28, 2014 citizen participation meeting report]
This project is part of major renovations and improvements the commission is making to its low-income housing inventory. For background on the AAHC process of renovating its properties, see Chronicle coverage: “Public Housing Conversion Takes Next Step.”
The AAHC Platt Road project is different from a Washtenaw County-owned property at 2260 and 2270 Platt Road, the former location of the county’s juvenile center. That site is also being considered for affordable housing.
North Maple Estates
The council will consider the site plan for North Maple Estates – an Ann Arbor housing commission project that calls for demolishing 20 existing single-family homes – the public housing complex known as North Maple Estates – and constructing an eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex with a total of 138 bedrooms.
The rezoning of the 4.8-acre site at 701 N. Maple Road already has been given final approval by the city council at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting. The zoning was changed from R1C (single-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district).
The project is another part of the major renovation effort being undertaken by AAHC on several of its properties. The site is on the west side of North Maple, between Dexter Avenue and Hollywood Drive. [.pdf of staff report]
The units in the eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex are proposed to have a total of 138 bedrooms. The units range in size from one bedroom to five bedrooms.
The project will include a playground, community building and 73 parking spaces. According to a staff memo, the buildings will be located along a T-shaped driveway that connects to North Maple Road and Dexter Avenue. The drive extends northward toward Vine Court but does not connect with that street. There would be a new connection to Dexter Avenue through the remaining, undeveloped length of Seybold Drive.
Gift of Life Expansion
At its Sept. 2 meeting, the council will consider giving final approval to the rezoning of property necessary for an expansion of the Gift of Life Michigan facility on Research Park Drive. The rezoning would change 6.55 acres from O (office district) and RE (research district) to ORL (office/research/limited industrial district). At the same meeting, the council will also consider the site plan for the project.
The proposal calls for building a three-story, 40,786-square-foot addition to connect two existing buildings at 3161 and 3169 Research Park Drive, which are owned and occupied by the nonprofit. According to a staff report, the additional space will accommodate offices, a special events auditorium and “organ procurement suites.” The nonprofit’s website states that the Gift of Life is Michigan’s only federally designated organ and tissue recovery program. Cost of the expansion project will be $10.5 million.
The city planning commission recommended approval of the rezoning at its July 1, 2014 meeting. City council action to give initial approval of the site plan came at its meeting on Aug. 7.
The project would reduce the four existing curb cuts to Research Park Drive to three, connecting one of the loop driveways to an existing driveway at the east end of the site. A parking lot at the back of the site will be expanded by 38 parking spaces. Two alternate vehicle fueling stations are proposed in parking spaces near the main entry, with the driveway at the center of the site providing access for ambulances. A new shipping and receiving facility will be located on the northeast corner of the site.
Taxicab Meter Rates
Even though the council rejected one proposed change to its taxicab ordinance at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting – which would have regulated all drivers for hire in the city – initial approval was given to another change in the part of the ordinance that regulates rates. So the council will be giving final consideration to that change on Sept 2.
The change would establish certain parameters to mitigate possible negative consequences to the setting of a very high maximum allowable taxicab rate, under which taxicab companies might eventually compete. Those parameters include a requirement that a taxicab company commit to a single rate annually and that the rate be advertised in a vehicle with signage in letters one-inch tall.
The vote by the taxicab board to recommend the ordinance change came at its July 24, 2014 meeting.
These issues were also discussed at three monthly meetings of the taxicab board prior to that, on April 23, 2014, May 22, 2014 and June 26, 2014. Representatives of the taxicab industry at those meetings advocated for the establishment of a very high maximum – not tied to gas and insurance prices. They feel it’s one mechanism that would allow them to compete with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
The proposal to regulate all drivers for hire, which the council rejected, was also intended in part to allow taxicab companies to compete with Uber and Lyft on an even playing field. Taxicab drivers are already regulated by the city.
Regarding fare regulation, the city’s current structure already allows for the establishing of a maximum rate to be adopted by the city council. Currently the maximum rate in Ann Arbor is $3 to get in, $2.50 per mile, and 40 cents per minute waiting time. Those maximum rates were last adjusted upwards three years ago, on May 16, 2011, in response to gas prices that had nudged past $4 per gallon. At that time, the taxicab board indicated it did not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices were over $5 for at least two consecutive months.
So the taxicab board’s thinking is not being driven by gas prices, which are currently between $3.75 and $4 in the Ann Arbor area. Instead, a possible increase in allowable fares is based on concern that the taxicab industry in Ann Arbor might not be able to survive unless taxis are allowed to charge more.
At its Aug. 28, 2014 meeting, taxicab board members recommended the following maximum rate schedule for eventual consideration by the council, which could appear on the council’s agenda as soon as Sept. 15: $10 to get in, $5 per mile and 40 cents per minute waiting time. In addition, a $1 surcharge could be applied for each passenger over three passengers.
At the council’s Aug. 18 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – who also serves as the city council’s representative to the taxicab board – asked rhetorically if the taxicab board should be disbanded. At its Aug. 28 meeting, taxicab board chair Michael Benson announced that he’d received an email from board member Eric Sturgis, who indicated that he would be resigning from the board – because he’s moving to Jackson, Mich. It has historically been difficult to find residents willing to serve on the taxicab board.
Drivers for Hire: Uber/Lyft Operating Agreement
The ordinance change rejected by the council on Aug. 18, 2014 would have required all drivers for hire to be registered with the city, to have commercial plates on their vehicles, and to maintain insurance commensurate with commercial plates. And the absence of commercial plates on a vehicle that is observed being used for picking up or dropping off passengers would have provided a reason for a traffic stop by Ann Arbor police. At the taxicab board meetings over the last few months, representatives of the taxicab industry argued that the state statute regulating limousines already gives the city the ability to enforce against Uber and Lyft drivers.
At the taxicab board’s Aug. 28 meeting, representatives of the taxicab industry lamented the fact that they had not attended the council’s Aug. 18 meeting to advocate for regulating all drivers for hire through a city ordinance. Representatives of Uber and Lyft numbered over 50 people at the council meeting, some of whom addressed the council during public commentary time.
Ward 3 city councilmember and taxicab board member Stephen Kunselman indicated at the board’s Aug. 28 meeting that there might be a possibility that one of the five councilmembers who voted against the ordinance at first reading on Aug. 18 might bring it back for reconsideration.
The 5-5 vote totaling 10 on the 11-member body stemmed from the absence of Margie Teall (Ward 4). Voting for the regulation of all drivers for hire were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Voting against the change were mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).
At the council’s Aug. 18 meeting, during deliberations on the rejected ordinance change, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that she’d concluded as early as April of this year that an operating agreement – instead of a local ordinance – would be the right approach. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated he had been working with Briere to come up with that kind of approach.
The resolution to be considered by the council on Sept. 2 would direct the city administrator to negotiate an operating agreement with established transportation network companies (TNCs) and to bring an agreement to the council for approval by the second council meeting in October, which is Oct. 20.
The elements to be included in the operating agreement are specified in an attachment to the resolution as follows:
Operating agreement principles include:
- Company will provide a minimum of $1M in liability insurance coverage for the driver, vehicle and passengers and any other injured parties, from the moment a driver is linked with a passenger to the moment the passenger releases the vehicle.
- Company will conduct the following at no cost to the city: background checks for each driver-applicant prior to allowing their participation. This background check will include a criminal background check, including a check for multiple relevant jurisdictions; a review of the applicant’s driving record; a mechanical inspection of the vehicle by a licensed inspector. The results of this data collection will be made available to the City for any driver / vehicle combination approved for participation in the company.
- Company will not allow participation by a driver / vehicle combination if the driver has any felony conviction; any conviction for DUI; more than 2 moving violations in any calendar year or more than 4 moving violations in a six-year period, with no more than 4 accumulated points in any calendar year.
- Company shall ensure that all driver vehicles pass an annual, mutually agreeable safety inspection conducted by a licensed mechanic.
- Prior to participation in the program, drivers shall go through a driver-education program that provides training in customer service and improves familiarity with local streets and local traffic conditions.
- Drivers shall not accept passengers except through the ride-sharing mechanism provided by the Company.
- Company will provide requested data to the City about accidents and incidents with passengers, as well as a report on customer satisfaction and safety ratings.
The resolution does not appear to define explicitly what a TNC is – and seems to allow for the possibility that an existing limo company could seek to operate under such an agreement without complying with the state statute on operation of limousines.
The resolution also leaves unspecified the intended term of the agreement – although deliberations at the council’s Aug. 18 meeting indicated that the intent of such operating agreements in other Michigan municipalities was to implement a temporary basis under which Uber and Lyft could operate, while the state legislature establishes a legislative framework under which such companies could operate.
The resolution does not direct the city administrator to provide for any explicit penalties that the city could impose on a TNC for failure to adhere to the operating agreement. The enforcement mechanism that the resolution seems to contemplate is for a TNC to provide certain kinds of data to the city upon request.
The resolution does not direct the city administrator to impose any requirements on the public accessibility of data provided by TNCs to the city. If a company were to come to an agreement with the city that data and information would be provided to the city, but only upon the condition that it not be disclosed to the public, then that data would be exempt from disclosure, even under a request made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.
Extension of LDFA
The council will consider a resolution on Sept. 2 that would move ahead with a 15-year extension of the local development finance authority (LDFA). The LDFA – branded as one of about a dozen LDFA SmartZones statewide – is funded through capture of public school operating millages within the geographic areas of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti downtown development authority districts. In actual fact, however, no capture is made of the Ypsilanti school taxes.
The LDFA contracts with Ann Arbor SPARK to operate a business accelerator, which is meant to move start-up companies in the tech and biosciences sectors more quickly to a stage in their development when they are generating revenue from paying customers and adding jobs. Separate from the LDFA business acceleration contract with Ann Arbor SPARK, the city of Ann Arbor has historically engaged SPARK for business attraction and retention services. However, this year the $75,000 annual contract with SPARK was tabled by the council – in a vote taken at the council’s June 16, 2014 meeting. It’s expected at some point to be taken back up off the table for consideration. By council rule, it will be considered demised if it’s not considered before a lapse of six months.
The extension – which would still need approval from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation – depends on establishing a relationship between the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone and some other “satellite” LDFA. So the Sept. 2 resolution designates Adrian/Tecumseh as that satellite. The council’s resolution specifies the following as findings:
- That the selection of the Adrian/Tecumseh LDFA as a satellite provides unique characteristics and specialties through its public and private resources including the location of Adrian College, Siena Heights University and Jackson College within its TIF District and the opportunities for research partnerships and student/young entrepreneur involvement. In addition partnership with another multi-jurisdictional LDFA provides opportunities for shared experiences.
- That the selection of the Adrian/Tecumseh LDFA as a satellite provides regional cooperation and collaboration benefits to the LDFA and the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti with joint focuses on technology (including expanding green technologies and agricultural technology) and entrepreneurial services.
- That the selection of the Adrian/Tecumseh LDFA as a satellite provides value and support to the LDFA by strengthening existing collaboratives, making available a new/expanded technical assistance and support through its Innovation Center at Adrian College, and agricultural and manufacturing resources.
In connection with the extension, revisions to the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone TIF (tax increment financing) plan and development plan are being undertaken. Drafts of revisions are attached to the council’s Sept. 2 agenda item. Revisions appear to address concerns that have been raised about the current arrangement – to some extent by Ann Arbor city councilmembers.
Those concerns include the fact that TIF is not currently allowed to be spent outside the TIF district in the city of Ann Arbor; further, no TIF funds can be expended in Ypsilanti – inside or outside its TIF district – because no actual tax capture revenue is generated for the LDFA in that area. The revisions would allow TIF revenue to be expended anywhere in the entire cities of Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti.
In addition, the revisions specify in greater detail that TIF revenue can be used to pay for high-speed communications infrastructure. Specifically mentioned as eligible expenditures is the “installation of technology related infrastructure assets, i.e. fiber lines, nodes, or work spaces.”
The LDFA extension comes in the context of lingering questions about the impact on school funding of the LDFA tax capture. In FY 2013, the total amount captured by the Ann Arbor SmartZone LDFA was $1,546,577, and the current fiscal year forecast is for $2,017,835. About the same amount is forecast for FY 2015.
The LDFA captures Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) operating millage, but those captured taxes don’t directly diminish the local school’s budget. That’s because in Michigan, local schools levy a millage, but the proceeds are not used directly by local districts. Rather, proceeds are first forwarded to the state of Michigan’s School Aid Fund, for redistribution among school districts statewide. That redistribution is based on a per-pupil formula as determined on a specified “count day.” And the state is supposed to “reimburse” the School Aid Fund for the taxes captured by some SmartZones in the state.
Questions raised in the last few months have centered around whether the School Aid Fund is “reimbursed” by the state’s general fund for the taxes that are captured to fund the Ann Arbor SmartZone LDFA – because the wording of the state statute is based on the term “reimburse.”
It turns out that the school taxes captured by the Ann Arbor SmartZone are not required to be “reimbursed” to the state School Aid Fund – which diminishes the amount of funding for public schools statewide. That’s a conclusion based on a reading of the LDFA statute and confirmed to The Chronicle by communications staff in the Dept. of Treasury and the MEDC. However, it’s not clear that “reimbursement” is even a useful way of framing the question – notwithstanding the wording of the state statute. That’s partly because tax capture from those LDFAs to which the state statute does apply are not “reimbursed” in the sense that the word implies – with a specific calculation done and a transfer of money (or an adjustment to the legislature’s appropriation) made based on that calculation. From an Aug. 7, 2014 staff memo: “… the reimbursement language really only served as language of intent.”
Based on subsequent inquires made by city of Ann Arbor financial staff with state officials, it appears that the setting of the statewide per-pupil allowance each year proceeds along a separate track from replenishing the School Aid Fund – which receives significant revenue from sources other than local school operating millages. It appears it’s not possible to establish a 1-to-1 relationship between local school operating taxes that are captured by LDFAs and money that flows into the School Aid Fund from various other sources that might be analyzed as “compensating” for the capture.
In any case, city staff have concluded that LDFA tax capture has not had a negative impact on Ann Arbor’s local school funding.
Appointments to Boards and Commissions
Appointments to the city of Ann Arbor’s boards and commissions are typically handled in a two-step process: (1) the mayor announces the nominations at a council meeting; (2) the council votes on the confirmation at the next meeting of the council. The procedure is grounded in the city charter.
At the council’s Aug. 21 meeting, Anna Ercoli-Schnitzer was nominated to fill a vacancy on the commission on disability issues. Tamara Burns and Dick Mitchell were nominated to be reappointed to the design review board. Sofia Franciscus was nominated to fill the vacancy on the planning commission due to Paras Parekh’s resignation. And John Splitt was nominated for reappointment to the Downtown Development Authority board.