The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Chronicle Staff it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fitness Center Proposal Gets Planning OK Wed, 20 Aug 2014 00:42:57 +0000 Chronicle Staff A plan to create a fitness center at 3100 W. Liberty received a special exception use approval from Ann Arbor planning commissioners at their Aug. 19, 2014 meeting.

3100 W. Liberty, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

3100 West Liberty.

The proposal by the owners, John and Jackie Farah, is to convert an existing office building on the 5.37-acre site into a fitness center that would operate similar to a physical therapy/rehabilitation facility, according to a staff report. The special exception use allows for indoor recreation on a site zoned office (O). It would be part of the Farah Professional Center, which was first developed in 1995 and expanded in 2005. The site – on the north side of West Liberty, between Wagner and South Maple – includes a 13,000-square foot, two-story building and a 10,000-square foot, one-story building with an 89-space parking lot. The property is located in Ward 5.

The staff report states that the proposed center “is a facility available to customers by appointment only, offering less than a dozen pieces of equipment such as treadmills, elliptical, bikes and nautilus machines. Yoga, spinning, massage therapy and acupuncture also will be offered. Hours of operation will be consistent with normal office/health practitioner business hours.” [.pdf of staff report]

Six people spoke during a public hearing on this project, including the Farahs as well as nearby residents. Concerns from neighbors included the disturbances that additional use of this site would have on their properties. Also speaking against the project was Brian Eisner, owner of the nearby Liberty Athletic Club, who expressed concern about increased traffic on West Liberty. The Farahs stressed that their effort would not increase traffic or negatively impact the residential neighbors.

During deliberations, commissioners considered putting limits on the hours of operation or restricting use to appointments only, but ultimately rejected those constraints. However, they did amend the special exception use to limit the amount of square footage that could be used for fitness center activities – to 9,000 square feet.

Separately, the owners have submitted an administrative amendment to the previously approved site plan for changes to the office center’s parking lot. The proposal is to increase the number of spaces from 89 to 104 within the limits of the current parking area. The additional spaces are required to support the proposed indoor recreation use. The modified parking lot would have 70 full-sized spaces, 29 compact-sized spaces, and 5 barrier-free spaces.

The administrative amendment does not require planning commission or city council approval. Nor is additional council approval required for the special exception use.

This brief was filed from the second floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.

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Mixed Action on AAHC Platt Road Site Thu, 07 Aug 2014 01:08:38 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission took two actions related to an Ann Arbor housing commission project at 3451 Platt Road.

Ann Arbor housing commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 3451 Platt.

The commission recommended approval of a rezoning proposal on 3.1 acres – from R1C (single-family dwelling district) and R2A (two-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). 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 rezoning request will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

In a separate vote, the commission postponed action on a proposed site plan for the low-income housing development, to allow AAHC time to address staff concerns regarding the impact on natural features. It’s not clear at this time when the site plan is going to be considered again by the planning commission.The site plan will also need city council approval. AAHC hopes to have a decision  on the zoning and the site plan from the city council by mid-October, to enhance a grant application.

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’s expected that the AAHC can address the issues raised by city staff so that the site plan can return to the planning commission at its Aug. 19 meeting. [.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.”

This project is not the same site as a county-owned property on Platt Road, which is also being considered for affordable housing.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.

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County Budget Adjustments Get Final OK Thu, 07 Aug 2014 00:28:28 +0000 Chronicle Staff Washtenaw County commissioners have given final approval to mid-year budget adjustments and have allocated this year’s higher-than-expected property tax revenues, as well as a $3.9 million surplus from 2013. Action was taken at the county board’s Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, following initial approval on July 9.

The adjustments increased the general fund budget’s expenses and revenues by $720,486 for 2014, $733,233 for 2015, $745,980 for 2016 and $758,727 for 2017. The county operates on a four-year budget, with the fiscal year matching the calendar year.

The adjustments also followed the recommendation of county administrator Verna McDaniel, and set aside the $3,920,818 surplus from 2013 in unearmarked reserves, rather than spending it. The projected year-end 2014 fund balance is $20,638,675. The county board had previously approved a goal of holding a fund balance equal to 20% of its general fund budget. For 2014, the general fund budget is $103,127,202. [.pdf of staff memo and mid-year budget resolution]

In addition, the following mid-year budget adjustments were made to the general fund:

  • Structural adjustments resulting in a $494,677 increase in expenditures for (1) providing employee health care coverage for autism; (2) a consultant to help with the board’s budget priority work, (3) a “local government initiatives” intern; (4) reinstatement of two full-time equivalent positions in the sheriff’s office; and (5) salary adjustments for non-union employees.
  • Non-structural, one-time, adjustments that increased expenditures by $65,000 for homelessness initiatives.

The administration recommended that the remaining $160,809 be held as an undesignated allocation until budget projections improve as new information becomes available. Finance staff gave a second-quarter budget update on Aug. 6, projecting that the county will have a $211,920 general fund surplus at the end of 2014. [.pdf of budget presentation]

When an initial vote was taken on July 9, commissioners Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) had voted against it. Although they supported it on Aug. 6, both raised the same concerns they’ve voiced earlier. Conan Smith said he hoped that when the county achieves its goal of a fund balance equal to 20% of the general fund budget, then any extra surplus would be “put to work in the community.” Dan Smith stressed the importance of setting a budget and sticking to it, with adjustments coming only during the annual budget affirmation process – rather than throughout the year.

This brief was filed from the county administration building at 220 N. Main. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow.

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Grants Approved for Act 88 Tax Revenues Wed, 06 Aug 2014 23:59:14 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners made allocations to six projects, using funds from an Act 88 millage that the county levies each year. In a separate vote, commissioners took an initial step to levy that tax, with final approval expected in September.

The county’s position is that Act 88 can be levied without voter approval to fund economic development and agricultural activities. This year, the proposal is to levy 0.07 mills in December 2014 – the same rate that was levied in 2013. It’s expected to raise an estimated $1,022,276 in property tax revenues.

In previous years, the resolution setting this millage has outlined how the revenues would be allocated. The largest allocations have gone to the county’s office of community & economic development, and to the nonprofit Ann Arbor SPARK.

However, at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the board adopted a new policy for allocating Act 88 revenues, drafted by Conan Smith (D-District 9). [.pdf of Act 88 policy] The policy included creating an Act 88 advisory committee to make recommendations to the board and prepare an annual report that assesses how Act 88 expenditures have contributed toward progress of goals adopted by the board. The policy allows the committee to distribute up to 10% of annual Act 88 revenues without seeking board approval. The policy also allocates up to 30% of revenues to the county office of community & economic development, which administers Act 88 funding.

This year, the 10% amounts to $91,753. Of that, $3,993 remains unallocated and will stay in the Act 88 fund balance to support future projects. Beyond that, a total of $87,760 in funding was allocated for six projects initiated by two organizations – the Michigan State University Product Center, and Ypsilanti-based Growing Hope [.pdf of staff memo]:

  • $10,060 to the MSU Product Center to study the potential for enhanced food processing in Washtenaw County.
  • $12,700 to the MSU Product Center to develop “MarketMaker,” a food industry business network and database.
  • $20,000 to Growing Hope/Reconsider to run community education events on the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption Act and to study the potential and processes for investing locally in Washtenaw County.
  • $13,000 to Growing Hope/Revalue to provide two full-day educational events to assist investors in incorporating local investment offerings into their financial plans.
  • $13,000 to Growing Hope to create a study on increasing food assistance sales at farmers markets in Washtenaw County.
  • $19,000 to Growing Hope to support the development of an Ypsilanti “MarketPlace,” a year-round farmer’s market, and “MarketHub,” a food distribution center serving underserved communities.

These recommendations were made to the county board by the Act 88 advisory committee. Members are: County commissioners Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Alicia Ping (R-District 3) and Conan Smith (D-District 9); Todd Clark, president of United Bank & Trust; and Art Serafinski, chair of the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau board. Staff support was provided by the county’s office of community & economic development.

During the Aug. 6 meeting, commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) brought forward an amendment for both the projects resolution and the resolution to levy the tax this year. After some discussion among commissioners, the board unanimously passed this amendment on the projects resolution [strike-through reflects a clause that was struck during deliberations]:

FURTHERMORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners directs Corporation Counsel to provide an exhaustive written opinion, by December 31, 2014, detailing the lawful uses of sums raised under Act 88 of 1913 (MCLA 46.161), and that this opinion address in similar manner other possible interpretations.

A similar amendment was passed unanimously for the resolution to levy Act 88:

FURTHERMORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners directs Corporation Counsel to provide an exhaustive written opinion, by October 1, 2014, detailing the exact mechanism under which Act 88 of 1913 taxes may be levied in excess of Article IX, Section 6 constitutional limits without a vote of the people.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow.

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Planning Commission OKs Change to Bylaws Wed, 06 Aug 2014 23:27:39 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission approved revisions to its bylaws related to public hearings.

At the commission’s July 15, 2014 meeting, planning manager Wendy Rampson introduced staff recommendations for changes to the bylaws, which had also been discussed at a July 8 working session. She noted that when revisions to bylaws are being considered, the commission must provide notice at a meeting before that potential action. That public notice happened on July 15.

Planning commissioners had originally adopted similar revisions to their bylaws at a Feb. 20, 2014 meeting. Such revisions require city council approval. However, the city attorney’s office did not forward the Feb. 20 changes to the council for consideration. There was no action until July, when assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald provided suggested revisions to the bylaws related to public hearings. Those were the changes that were presented to commissioners at their July 15 meeting, and approved on Aug. 6. [.pdf of revised bylaws regarding public hearings] [.pdf of bylaws staff memo]

The main changes are in Sections 3 and 5 of Article 5 – Public Hearings. In Section 3, the changes eliminate the ability of the commission’s chair to modify or waive the speaking time limitations. Instead, the changes stipulate that the entire commission would have to make that decision via a majority vote.

The changes for Section 5 relate to the continuation of a hearing, and are as follows [deletions in strike-thru, additions in bold]:

Section 5. At the discretion of the Chair, or by vote of a majority of the members present, public hearings may be continued to another date. meeting, but will not be deemed to be a new hearing but a continuation of the original. If a public hearing is continued, individuals who have not previously addressed the Commission during the public hearing may address the Commission following the requirements of Section 3. Individuals who have addressed the Commission previously during the public hearing may only address the Commission for additional time (as limited by Section 3) during the continued public hearing if the Chair, with the consultation of Planning and Development Services staff, determines that: 1) additional public feedback is necessary, or 2) a specific petition has materially changed since the date of the original public hearing date. Agendas for continued public hearings shall specify whether members of the public shall be granted additional time to speak.

There were no changes suggested for the revisions that were passed by planning commissioners on Feb. 20 related to interactions with city councilmembers. That revised section states:

Section 9. A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.

The bylaws will be forwarded to the council for consideration. The revisions must be approved by the council before taking effect.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.

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Veterans Relief Tax Gets Initial OK Wed, 06 Aug 2014 23:24:42 +0000 Chronicle Staff At their Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval to levy a tax to support services for indigent veterans. A final vote is expected at the board’s Sept. 3 meeting.

The county has determined that it is authorized to collect up to 1/10th of a mill without seeking voter approval. That’s because the state legislation that enables the county to levy this type of tax –  the Veterans Relief Fund Act, Public Act 214 of 1899  – predates the state’s Headlee Amendment. The county first began levying this millage in 2008, and collects the tax in December. Services are administered through the county’s department of  veterans affairs.

Since 2008, the county board has slightly increased the rate that it levies each year. In 2012, the rate was 0.0286 mills – or 1/35th of a mill. It was raised to a rate of 1/30th of a mill in December 2013, to fund services in 2014.

The current proposal is to levy 1/27th of a mill in December 2014, which is expected to raise about $540,887 in revenues for use in 2015.

There was no discussion of this item at the board’s Aug. 6 meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow.

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County TIF Policy Gets Initial Approval Wed, 06 Aug 2014 23:21:01 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has given initial approval a policy to guide the county’s participation in tax increment financing (TIF) authorities. The action took place at the board’s Aug. 6, 2014 meeting.

At its Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, the board had passed a resolution directing county administrator Verna McDaniel to develop a policy for evaluating future TIF proposals. The resolution stated that the policy would be developed with input from staff of the office of community and economic development, the equalization department, and the brownfield redevelopment authority. The Oct. 16 resolution was passed over dissent by the board’s two Republican commissioners, Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

Subsequently, an advisory committee was formed to help develop the policy. Members were: county commissioner Andy LaBarre (D-District 7); county treasurer Catherine McClary; corporation counsel Curtis Hedger; and finance director Kelly Belknap.

The two-page policy brought forward by McDaniel lays out a process by which the board would consider any proposed or amended Corridor Improvement Authority (CIA) or Downtown Development Authority (DDA) where the capture of county tax revenues is requested. [.pdf of TIF policy]

A final vote is expected at the board’s next meeting, on Sept. 3.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow.

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Aug. 5 Primary: Procrastinator’s Guide Mon, 04 Aug 2014 02:00:13 +0000 Chronicle Staff In Ann Arbor, local elections are mostly determined in the Democratic primary, held this year on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The mayoral race is well contested with four Democratic candidates. Races in three of the city’s five wards offer actively contested races.

"Vote Here" sign designating an Ann Arbor polling location for a previous election.

“Vote Here” sign designating an Ann Arbor polling location for a previous election.

No Republicans are running for mayor or in any of the city council races. Only one independent candidate – Bryan Kelly, who’s running for mayor – will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Races for probate judge and circuit court judge offer fields of five and three candidates, respectively.

This article provides a roundup of Chronicle election coverage, for anyone who’s still studying up on the candidates. It includes links to reports and recordings of candidate forums, campaign finance data, analysis and other information. Links are also provided to candidate websites and League of Women Voters candidate profiles.

If you’re not sure whether you’re registered to vote or you’re not sure which ward you live in, Michigan’s Secretary of State website offers an easy way to check. The site also lets you look at a sample ballot. To give you a general idea of what ward you live in, check out this ward boundary map.

Polls open on Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Readers can follow along during the day as The Chronicle goes poll-hopping, checking in at locations throughout the city. We’ll also be posting updates with results starting soon after the polls close. The Washtenaw County elections division website also provides unofficial results on election night.

Below you’ll find more information on the Ann Arbor mayoral and city council candidates, as well as judicial candidates for the probate and 22nd circuit courts.

Ann Arbor Mayor

Competition for the Democratic Party’s mayoral nomination is a four-way race: Stephen Kunselman, Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor, Sally Petersen. All are current city councilmembers. Incumbent mayor John Hieftje is not seeking re-election, and there is no Republican candidate. The winner of the Aug. 5 primary will face independent Bryan Kelly in the Nov. 4 general election.

The League of Women Voters provides written candidate profiles with responses to questions on its website. [Mayoral profiles]

Here are links to Chronicle coverage of mayoral candidate forums, campaign finance reports, and other analysis:

Ann Arbor City Council

There are five wards in Ann Arbor, with two councilmembers from each ward serving two-year terms. Each year, one of those ward seats is up for election. This year, races are actively contested only in Wards 1, 2 and 3.

In Ward 4, Graydon Krapohl – a Democrat who is currently vice chair of the park advisory commission – is the only person who has qualified from either party for the primary, so that race will not appear on the Ward 4 primary ballot. There are no Republican or independent candidates running for that seat. Incumbent Democrat Margie Teall is not seeking re-election.

Ward 5 voters will see two names on the Democratic primary ballot: one-term incumbent Chuck Warpehoski and Leon Bryson. Bryson has announced that he’s withdrawn his candidacy and won’t campaign for the seat. However, Bryson’s name will still appear on the ballot. As in Ward 4, there is no Republican or independent candidate running for the Ward 5 seat.

Ann Arbor City Council: Ward 1

The Ward 1 Democratic primary features one-term incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy and Don Adams, who is seeking elected office for the first time. There are no Republicans or independents in this race.

The League of Women Voters provides written candidate profiles with responses to questions on its website. [Ward 1 profiles]

Here are links to Chronicle coverage of candidate forums, campaign finance reports, and other analysis:

Ann Arbor City Council: Ward 2

In Ward 2, there are two candidates in the Democratic primary: Nancy Kaplan, a current trustee of the Ann Arbor District Library; and Kirk Westphal, who until recently served as chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission. The incumbent, Sally Petersen, is running for mayor rather than seeking re-election to that council seat. There are no Republican or independent candidates in Ward 2.

The League of Women Voters provides written candidate profiles with responses to questions on its website. [Ward 2 profiles]

Here are links to Chronicle coverage of candidate forums, campaign finance reports, and other analysis:

Ann Arbor City Council: Ward 3

This year’s Ward 3 contest features Julie Grand, Bob Dascola and Samuel McMullen, who are all competing for the seat that Christopher Taylor is leaving in order to run for mayor.

In addition to the candidates’ websites, more information is provided in the League of Women Voters written candidate profiles with responses to questions on its website. [Ward 3 profiles]

Here are links to Chronicle coverage of candidate forums, campaign finance reports, and other analysis:

Links to more coverage related to Dascola’s lawsuit against the city can be found here.

Probate Judge

Five candidates are seeking to be the next Washtenaw County probate judge: Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, Tracy Van den Bergh and recently appointed judge Julia Owdziej. The nonpartisan primary will narrow the race to two candidates for the Nov. 4 general election.

Owdziej was appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Snyder just last month, on June 2, 2014, to fill the vacancy on the court left by Nancy Wheeler’s retirement. The announcement of that retirement came on May 1, after candidates had filed to run. Wheeler was expected to retire at the end of the year, but it came earlier than expected due to health reasons. Bassett, Garwood and Jones currently work in private practice while Van den Bergh is a staff attorney for a legal services nonprofit.

On its website, the League of Women Voters has posted candidates’ written responses to questions: [Probate court candidate responses]

Here are links to Chronicle coverage of the probate judicial race:

22nd Circuit Court Judge

Pat Conlin, Veronique Liem and Michael Woodyard will compete in the nonpartisan Aug. 5 primary for 22nd circuit court judge. The top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 4 general election. The winner of that contest will fill the open seat left by judge Donald Shelton, who turned 70 in June. According to Michigan state law, only a person under the age of 70 can be appointed or run for the position of judge.

Conlin and Liem are local attorneys, while Woodyard works in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. A second seat on the court is also up for election, as judge David Swartz is at the end of a six-year term. He is running uncontested to retain his 22nd circuit court incumbent seat.

On its website, the League of Women Voters has posted candidates’ written responses to questions: [22nd circuit court candidate responses]

Here are links to Chronicle coverage of the 22nd circuit court judicial race:

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local elections. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already voting for The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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A2: Candidates Thu, 31 Jul 2014 21:12:41 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Jim Toy Community Center has released the results of its first municipal candidate questionnaire for the 2014 primary elections. The center received responses from 25 candidates, answering questions that were designed to gauge and elicit commitments to LGBTQ issues and equality. Candidates’ responses were then coded and rated on a five-point scale. All but two of the candidates received 4, 4.5 or 5 points. [Source]

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State Street Village Gets Initial Zoning OK Tue, 22 Jul 2014 03:21:02 +0000 Chronicle Staff Initial approval of the rezoning of the land for the State Street Village project has been given approval by the Ann Arbor city council. The 4.5-acre parcel is proposed to be rezoned from M1 (limited industrial district) to O (office district).

Action on the initial approval came at the city council’s July 21, 2014 meeting. A vote on the final enactment of the rezoning and on the site plan for the project will come at a future council meeting.

South State Village, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of State Street Village site.

A recommendation for the rezoning was given at the June 17, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission.

At that meeting, commissioners recommended approval of a site plan, development agreement and rezoning for the project. It’s a $10 million project put forward by Ann Arbor-based McKinley Inc. at 2221-2223 S. State St. The plan calls for constructing two 4-story apartment buildings at the rear of the site, totaling 112,262 square feet, with 38 units each. Another 2,027 square foot building – for a leasing office with two apartments above it – would be built on the front of the parcel, on South State.

The front part of the site is currently a surface parking lot, and is zoned O (office). The rear parcel – 4.5 acres – is vacant, and zoned M1 (limited industrial). Residential developments are permitted in office-zoned areas. [.pdf of staff report]

The development will include 114 parking spaces in the rear of the site and 13 spaces for the front. Another 22 spaces in the surface parking lot will be shared by the existing office building just south of the site.

In addition, 44 covered bicycle spaces and 8 enclosed bicycle spaces will be provided near the entrances of the apartment buildings and 2 hoops will be placed near the entrance of the rental office building.

Instead of making a $48,360 requested donation to the city for parks, McKinley has proposed two 8×10-foot grilling patios with picnic tables and grills.

According to the staff memo, the footing drains of 18 homes, or flow equivalent to 71.91 gallons per minute, will need to be disconnected from the city’s sanitary sewer system to mitigate flow from this proposed development.

Only the initial consideration of the rezoning issue was before the council on July 21. The site plan approval will be considered at a future meeting, likely at the same meeting when the council gives final consideration to the rezoning.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located at 301 E. Huron.

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