The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Mary Morgan it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: The Chronicle’s Last Chapter Wed, 03 Sep 2014 04:55:20 +0000 Mary Morgan I always start a novel by reading its last chapter – I like to know how things turn out.

A small slice of a large shelf of books about the history of Ann Arbor at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The AADL will be archiving the more than 10 million words that were published over the course of six years of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

A small slice of a large shelf of books about the history of Ann Arbor at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. The AADL will be archiving the more than 10 million words that were published over the course of six years of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

For those of you like me, who also flip to the end: This is the final word from The Chronicle.

We launched this publication six years ago with no clear ending in sight. It was a jumping-off-the-cliff moment, with the hope – but certainly no guarantee – that we’d be creating something special, even transformative. There were many times along the way when I doubted our choice to take that leap. Recall that 2008 and 2009 formed the nadir of the economic recession, and in hindsight I marvel that we were able to thrash out a livelihood.

I marvel because at that time, no one was clamoring for in-depth reports on meetings of the library board, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the park advisory commission or any of the other public entities we began covering. We wrote detailed 15,000-word articles on city council meetings, in an era when traditional news media considered 500-word stories too long for the attention spans of its target demographic.

Over 10 million words later, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and proud too that we’re bringing it to a close on our terms. Dave Askins wrote about that decision in his Aug. 7 column. I’d encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already.

Since that announcement, we’ve received a flow of well wishes, understanding and support – the generosity of spirit that has fueled us these past six years. Many readers also shared personal anecdotes about what The Chronicle has meant to them. That’s been meaningful for us, too, because this publication has been a very personal endeavor since its inception.

My two favorites are these: We learned that The Chronicle’s coverage of the Ann Arbor planning commission was used as flirting material with an urban planning grad student – and that couple is now married with a child. And the family of Peter Pollack – a landscape architect who died in 2010 – is including The Chronicle’s description of his legacy in a collection of materials they’ve gathered for his grandchildren, so that the next generation will learn about this remarkable man when they grow up. (We had tucked an obit for Peter into one of our regular city council reports.)

I cherish these kinds of connections that are now intertwined with The Chronicle’s own legacy. We set out to create an archive of community history, and The Chronicle itself is now a part of that history.

The Chronicle’s mission centered around giving readers the tools they needed for a deeper understanding of our local government, providing context and guidance as they navigated often baffling bureaucracies. Our hope was to make the inner workings of our city and county more accessible. Many people embraced this approach. Maybe they hadn’t been clamoring for The Chronicle’s public meeting coverage, because they hadn’t known what they could be missing.

So one question we’ve heard often since announcing our decision to close is this: What will fill the void?

We don’t know – but we have some ideas.

Although The Chronicle has been a useful resource, it was an attraction primarily for people who already have an interest in local governance. What about all the rest – the more than 80% of voters who didn’t bother to participate in the most recent primary election, for example?

Is it possible to shift our community’s culture? To educate, inform, cajole the majority of residents – of all ages – into caring about what happens at city hall and in the county boardroom? To make Ann Arbor a model of civic awareness and engagement to which other cities across America aspire?

Is it feasible to create a community where of course you would flirt over planning commission reports? Where the passing of a man like Peter Pollack would cause the whole city to pause and give thanks for his life of civic service?

Again, we don’t know. But I’d like to spend some time thinking about ways to catalyze that kind of cultural transformation.

There’s a literary technique called in medias res – starting in the middle. Perhaps The Chronicle was just such a thing, the middle of a community narrative that’s leading to an entirely unexpected conclusion.

So even while The Chronicle’s chapter of the community’s book is coming to a close, we’ll also be thinking about a possible sequel.

I do like to know how things end. But beginnings are even better.

Mary Morgan is publisher of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. She and Chronicle editor Dave Askins co-founded the online publication on Sept. 2, 2008. The Chronicle will not be publishing regular reports after Sept. 2, 2014.

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Fourth & Catherine Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:27:28 +0000 Mary Morgan Near the scooter parking behind the \aut\ Bar, there’s a posterboard on the ground with handwritten lyrics to Pippin’s “Time to Start Living.” [photo]

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New Wellness Center In The Works Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:02:09 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 19, 2014): Action taken by planning commissioners at its mid-August meeting will allow two projects to move forward: a new “modern lifestyle health spa” on West Liberty; and a new location for the Community Music School of Ann Arbor.

John Farah, Jackie Farah, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jackie and John Farah address the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Aug. 19, 2014 meeting. To the right is Andrew Walters of Metro Consulting Associates, who’s working on the Farahs’ project. (Photos by the writer.)

Both projects required approval of a special exception use from the commission, because the zoning doesn’t allow those uses without it.

It was the health spa/fitness center proposal that drew the most scrutiny from commissioners. John and Jackie Farah want to convert part of an existing office building at 3100 W. Liberty into a facility that would provide personalized training and guidance to help people develop healthier lifestyles. Jackie Farah stressed that the focus is on wellness, not on athletic fitness. The center would be in the same complex as John Farah’s dental practice.

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. It does not require additional city council approval.

The other special exception use was granted to the Community Music School of Ann Arbor, allowing it to operate at 1289 Jewett Ave., between South Industrial and Packard. The music school will share the building of Clonlara School, a private K-12 educational institution.

Commissioners also recommended the annexation and zoning of 2115 Victoria Circle, a half-acre vacant site west of Newport and north of M-14. If approved by the city council, the property would be annexed from Ann Arbor Township and zoned R1A (single family dwelling).

Farah Fitness Center

The Aug. 19 agenda included a request for a special exception use to create a fitness center at 3100 W. Liberty.

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 part of an existing office building on the southern end of a 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 two-story building includes John Farah’s dental practice. The one-story building houses a dental consulting firm and a milling center for dentists and dental labs nationwide. The property is located in Ward 5.

The staff report stated 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]

The office zoning district is intended as a transition between residential areas and other types of uses that would be incompatible with neighborhoods. In addition to offices – including medical and dental – the office-zoned sites can include salons, funeral homes, artist studios, hotels, and private colleges. With a special exception use, the sites can include veterinarian hospitals and kennels, and indoor recreation.

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. Of those 104 spaces, 12 would be “deferred” – meaning they will be shown on the planning documents, but not installed.

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

Staff recommended approval.

Farah Fitness Center: Public Hearing

Six people spoke during a public hearing on this project, including the Farahs as well as nearby residents. Some of them had also submitted letters to the commission.

Ira Mark, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ira Mark.

Ira Mark told commissioners that he’s a resident of the adjacent subdivision, and lives on Trego Circle. “This building is literally in my back yard.” Almost 19 years ago, he addressed the commission with other neighbors who negotiated significantly with John Farah about the first building that was constructed. He said at that time, the neighbors were guaranteed that the development would have certain hours of operation. Over the years, he’s spent thousands of dollars on landscaping and blackout shades. His neighbors have done the same, Mark said. They still hear cars and see lights from the development.

He indicated that it’s good that the parking won’t be expanded. He hoped that any additional lighting would be minimized. He said he took offense at the Farahs’ statement that the hours of operation won’t be detrimental to the neighborhood. Sometimes there are runners in the parking lot at 5 a.m. – he can hear them talk about where they’ll be running. If the new facility is by appointment only, can people make appointments for 10 o’clock at night or 5 in the morning? Even now, sometimes there are lights on in the building after regular business hours, he said.

Mark said that Farah has been willing to talk to neighbors when they’ve had issues over the years, and those issues have been resolved. He gave the example of trash pickup that used to be done in the early morning. But if there’s a lot of traffic in the parking lot at odd hours, it will be disturbing, he said, and it would potentially impact his property value. [.pdf of Mark's letter]

Brian Eisner introduced himself as the owner of the nearby Liberty Athletic Club – it’s located on the opposite side of West Liberty, in Scio Township. His major concern was traffic. There’s already a problem along that section of West Liberty, he said, citing two very serious accidents in recent years. It’s almost impossible to make a left turn onto West Liberty from the south side, during certain times of the day. His business has been there for 40 years, and he’s seen the traffic pattern change.

Brian Eisner, Liberty Athletic Club, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Brian Eisner, owner of the Liberty Athletic Club.

Eisner said he knows how many people come to a fitness center, because he owns one. The Liberty Athletic Club has yoga classes with 40 people enrolled, “so these are not small numbers,” he said. The Farahs’ whole business model has been disguised, he said, and he’d like to know what the business model really is. He suggested that the planning commission restrict the number of people that could be in the building at any one time. “I’m just very, very leery about the very, very sketchy information that we have, and how that’s going to impact a serious, serious problem,” he said, referring to traffic. He said he represented the concerns of his club’s members as well. [.pdf of Eisner's letter]

Bill Moorhead, another nearby resident, said his concerns were similar to those stated by Mark and Eisner. He thought that the operation needed to be defined. Is it a spa, or athletic club, or rehabilitation facility? [.pdf of Moorhead's letter]

Andrew Walters of Metro Consulting Associates was attending on behalf of the Farahs, who were also at the meeting. The proposal is for a “modern lifestyle health spa,” he said. It would provide a combination of services that deal with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The use is consistent with some of the other uses that are allowed without a special exception use, he said, such as health practitioner or beauty salons that provide massage. There is, however, an athletic component to their proposal, Walters added, and that’s what triggered the need for a special exception use.

No parking expansion is proposed, Walters noted. New spaces will be added by re-striping the existing parking lot. Nor is there planned expansion of the parking lot lighting, he said. Ultimately, it will just be a change in tenant of the building, and it won’t be a hindrance to the neighborhood. All the uses will be indoors, and the hours of operation will mostly be during general business hours – 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Regarding traffic, the site currently has office and medical/dental office uses, he said. A health fitness club use would be expected to produce the same or less traffic than a medical/dental office, he said. The people who visit would be spread out during the day, not all at the start and end of the business day.

John Farah, Jackie Farah, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jackie and John Farah.

The Farahs also addressed the commission. John Farah said he’s lived in Ann Arbor over 50 years. He’s a runner and believes in fitness. The proposal is to really help people lead a healthy lifestyle, he said. Many of his friends who are his age aren’t in as good of shape as he is, Farah said. “I think I have ways of helping people in the community.”

The place will be limited in size and will be very personalized, Farah told commissioners. He said that Ira Mark knows that any time the neighbors had a problem, he would address it. “I hate to say this,” Farah added, talking to Mark, “but you have never seen any runners in that lot. We have never had anybody congregating there in that lot.”

Before this space became empty, the previous tenants employed up to 22 people at one point, Farah reported. “We will not employ any more than three or four people in that area.” It should not affect the traffic in any detrimental way.

Farah noted that he’s been a member of the Liberty Athletic Club for many years, and he appreciates it. He’s taken many yoga classes there, and there have never been 40 people in a class. Usually the size is 12-15 people, except on Sundays when there are up to 25. That club also has only ??23 bikes in the spinning room, he noted.

Farah said he’s contributed to this community in many ways, and he thinks this new project will benefit the community too.

Farah then introduced his wife, Jackie Farah. There are many interpretations of the word “fitness,” she noted. But their focus is on the healthy lifestyle aspect, “and not fitness in a gym where you work out to become a better athlete.” Their spinning room will have eight bicycles. There will be one private yoga room for one or two people, she said, and the other yoga room will fit 12 people. “We’re really trying to zoom in on a very personal fitness plan for people,” she said. They’re proud of trying to help people, including those who’ve finished physical therapy or are fighting debilitating illness and need to continue with yoga or other instruction. The focus is on wellness, not on being a better athlete, she concluded.

Farah Fitness Center: Commission Discussion

Kirk Westphal wondered whether the description of the operation that’s included in the staff report would be tied to the special exception use – that is, would the special exception use only be valid as long as the fitness center reflects what’s described in the report? For example, the report states that the center will have less than a dozen pieces of equipment. What if the center eventually has two dozen pieces?

Alexis DiLeo, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alexis DiLeo of the city’s planning staff.

City planner Alexis DiLeo replied that the special exception use would be for an “indoor fitness center.” There are no limitations as to size or hours or maximum membership, she said, and the special exception use would apply to the entire site. However, it could be amended by commissioners to stipulate a limit on square footage, for example, or to put a limit on hours, she said.

Westphal wondered if city code for this zoning district puts any limit on hours of operation. No, DiLeo replied. There are city code limits on construction hours, but for not general business or retail hours.

Westphal also clarified with DiLeo that the special exception use would stay with the parcel, not the owner. “It’s not like a functional family,” she noted – a reference to a controversial request by local Jesuits for a function family special exception use earlier this summer.

Sabra Briere asked about the proposed use for the adjacent property that’s located in Scio Township. DiLeo replied that it’s owned by the Washtenaw County office of the water resources commissioner, and is part of the Sister Lakes drain. It’s open space, she said.

Briere ventured that the land creates a buffer between the residents on Trego Circle and the Farahs’ site. How wide is that buffer? DiLeo said she’d check to be sure, but she thought it was around 100 feet. Andrew Walters of Metro Consulting Associates reported that it’s at least 35 feet wide.

Sabra Briere, Ira Mark, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ira Mark gives some information to Sabra Briere, who serves as the city council’s representative on the planning commission. Mark raised concerns about a proposed fitness center near his property off of West Liberty.

Bonnie Bona pointed out that in addition to the drain property, there’s also a landscape buffer for the parking lot. DiLeo said that it’s a conflicting land use buffer, so it should be a minimum of 15 feet. She added that some additional landscaping is being put in, as part of the redesign of the parking lot, in order to meet the city’s current square-footage requirement for a “vehicular use area.” DiLeo explained how the redesign was being handled. Walters reported that three trees are being added to the landscaping, mostly on the eastern side of the site – nearest to the residential area.

Eleanore Adenekan asked about the hours of operation, confirming with John Farah that it would be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Farah said they haven’t worked out details about whether there would be weekend activity. It might be necessary to be there a few hours, to accommodate the schedules of certain individuals. He doubted they would do anything on Sundays.

Jeremy Peters asked whether the fitness center would take up the entire building – if not, how much space would be used? Farah replied that the building is two floors. His dental clinic is on the second floor, so the center would be on the first floor, with about 6,400 square feet.

Replying to another query from Peters, Farah said there would be trainers available to work with clients by appointment.

Bona commended the Farahs, saying that they’re proposing a great business, so her comments weren’t a critique of their business plan. “Creativity and keeping people healthy is all a good thing – it’s whether or not it’s appropriate in this location,” she said.

Bona said she’s struggling with the use of an indoor fitness center. What zoning district would allow for a more traditional fitness club, like Liberty Athletic Club? DiLeo replied that the bulk of the city’s zoning ordinance was developed in the 1960s, and terms like “gym” and “yoga” are not included. The ordinance does mention indoor recreation – for court games like raquetball, which were popular at that time.

Bonnie Bona, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Bonnie Bona.

But the ordinance has to be interpreted for modern times, DiLeo said. So the staff has interpreted and applied the ordinance to allow for a gym or fitness use on sites that are zoned as commercial districts, as well as in other zoning districts – office and light manufacturing – that allow for indoor recreation as a special exception use.

Wendy Woods asked what entity is responsible for West Liberty Street? Briere responded that the road is actually in Scio Township. DiLeo noted that the road is under the purview of the Washtenaw County road commission.

No traffic study is required for this project, DiLeo explained. A study is triggered only if the Institute of Traffic Engineers manual indicates that a site’s use will generate more than 50 trips in a peak hour, she said. Based on this project’s square footage and type of use, it fell below that amount.

Bona said the concerns she’s heard relate to hours of operation, traffic, lighting, and the amount of parking. The principal uses that are allowed in an office district – such as beauty salons, institutions of higher education, hotels, health practitioners – vary widely in their hours of operation, she noted. The district allows for a lot more flexibility than what perhaps the neighbors would like, she said.

Bona added that she was struggling to figure out how the Farahs’ proposed use was different from a health practitioner. She wondered why a special exception was needed in the first place, and it didn’t make sense to limit the hours of operation when some of the other allowed uses would have even longer hours.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Kirk Westphal.

Diane Giannola said she saw things a bit differently. In a commercial area, there are more comings and goings during the day. For an office area – including a medical center – there would be less coming and going, she said, because people would primarily be entering and exiting at the beginning and end of the work day. So a commercial fitness center would have much more traffic than an office, she said.

Giannola’s concern with this item was that the special exception use would be attached to the property. The Farahs’ project appears to be appointment-only, she noted, which would limit the number of people coming into the site. She suggested amending the special exception use so that it would be limited to appointment-only centers. That would limit it for future uses too, so that businesses like Curves wouldn’t be allowed to operate there.

Responding to a query from Briere, John Farah said the dental consulting firm and milling center combined employ about two dozen people, who work during standard business hours. The same is true for employees of his dental office, though in that case there are also patients who arrive and depart throughout the day. Briere noted that in a way, the fitness center would be like adding dental patients, because they’d have scheduled appointments.

Farah thought the flow of people to the fitness center would be much lower than for his dental office. Walters added that the fitness center wouldn’t be adding to peak-hour traffic.

Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commission chair Wendy Woods.

Briere pointed out that the entire site won’t be used for one purpose, but it will continue to be used for multiple purposes. She agreed with Bona, saying she’s hard-pressed to see why this fitness center requires a special exception use. She suggested it might be time to revisit the city code, since it’s so outdated.

Bona clarified that her intent isn’t to change the rules, but rather to define businesses that exist today that are consistent with those already allowed. “We’re not talking about allowing things that would have characteristics dramatically different from what’s already allowed,” she said.

Westphal wanted to make sure commissioners all understood what would be allowed under this special exception use, which applies to the whole site. The lot hasn’t been developed as much as it could be, he noted, so if the property changed hands, this special exception use could allow for a significantly expanded fitness center, like a Planet Fitness. He didn’t doubt that the Farahs planned a smaller operation, but he wanted to be clear that in the future, something like a large gym would be a possibility.

DiLeo noted that the staff typically recommends some kind of quantity limit on any special exception use. For example, a special exception use for veterinary kennels would typically limit the number of dogs. Most schools come with a maximum number of students. So perhaps in this case, she said, it would make sense to limit the square footage allowed for a fitness center.

Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Jeremy Peters.

Westphal said he’d be open to that, as well as to some kind of “generous” limit on hours of operation.

Peters supported a limit on square footage, and also suggested limiting the usage to appointments only. That might address at least some of the traffic concerns, he said.

Bona said she’d like to see this business operate at this location. Regarding the suggestion on limiting use to appointments only, she noted that this zoning district allows institutions of higher education – without a special exception use. Such institutions hold classes, she observed, and those are often held in the evening. “It’s a little odd to put restrictions on a use when some of the allowed primary uses can do more,” Bona said.

However, Bona added that in the interest of allowing this to move forward, the appointment limitation and square footage are reasonable, “especially since it looks like we need to have a more robust discussion about how we define primary use.” She suggested that if revisions to the city code are made, the district shouldn’t be called “office” if there are a lot of non-office uses that are allowed. It misleads the neighbors into making certain assumptions about what could be located there, she said.

Giannola asked whether Farah intended to sell unlimited-use passes for the facility.

Farah responded by saying he was trying to be creative with this project, and to accommodate people in various ways. “I mean, how many restrictions can you put, you know?” Farah asked.

Eleanore Adenekan, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Eleanore Adenekan.

They’ve thought about whether to offer classes or a lecture to small groups, on topics like nutrition. They’ll probably experiment with different ideas, he said. But in general, it would be geared toward very small numbers of people. That makes it different from places like Liberty Athletic Club, he said.

Regarding limits on hours of operation, Farah said they want to cater to individuals – so occasionally, someone might need to be there until 8 p.m. He didn’t think it made sense to put time limitations. Giannola replied that it’s not a concern with his business, but if he sold the building, someone else could put in a different operation. “I’m not selling the building,” Farah said.

Giannola noted that in 10 or 20 years, that might change. The city can’t take back a special exception use, if all of the requirements are being met, she noted. So that’s why commissioners are being cautious.

Based on the discussion, Westphal said he’d withdraw his suggestion to limit the hours. He also questioned the enforceability of restricting the use to appointments only. However, he’d continue to support a limit on square footage.

Peters proposed amending the special exception use to limit it to 9,000 square feet.

Outcome on amendment: It passed unanimously on a voice vote.

There was no further discussion.

Outcome on amended special exception use: It passed unanimously and does not require additional approval from city council.

Community Music School

The planning commission was asked to grant a special exception use to the Community Music School of Ann Arbor to operate at 1289 Jewett Ave., between South Industrial and Packard. It would allow the private music school to use the Clonlara School building with a maximum of 150 students at any time.

Jill Thacher, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff gave a report on the Community Music School request.

Clonlara School, a private K-12 institution, is located in a district zoned R1B (single family dwelling), which permits private schools if given a special exception use approval. Most of the surrounding properties are single-family homes or duplexes. Clonlara already has a special exception use to operate with a maximum of 150 students. No changes are planned for the exterior of Clonlara’s 16,900-square-foot, single-story building.

The music school will primarily use the facility on weekdays from 3:30-9 p.m., on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on occasional Sunday afternoons. Over the last three years, the music school has enrolled 220-250 students, but on an average day, only about 25-30 students come in for lessons.

Even if there were an overlap in classes between Clonlara and the music school, there could only be a total of 150 students in the building at the same time.

Clonlara School’s 2.46-acre site includes 22 parking spaces in a parking lot off Jewett Avenue, plus three spaces behind a rental house located north of the school building. A one-way drive runs north from Jewett to Rosewood Street.

The city’s traffic engineer reviewed this request and thought that the number of instructors and students on that site at any given time would have a negligible traffic impact. Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff reported that there’s good public transportation access to that location, with a bus stop near the corner of Jewett and South Industrial, and other nearby stops on Packard. [.pdf of staff report]

Thacher said she’d received two calls from neighbors about this request, both of them inquiring about how loud the music would be. Clonlara windows don’t open, she noted, so that helps to contain sound. “They don’t intend to hold lessons outdoors on the site,” she added.

Community Music School: Public Hearing

Two people spoke during the public hearing, both in support of the special exception use.

Kasia Bielak-Hoops, Community Music School, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kasia Bielak-Hoops, executive director of the Community Music School (formerly the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts).

Kasia Bielak-Hoops, executive director of the Community Music School (formerly the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts), explained why the school would like to move to Clonlara. “We feel that it is an incredible capacity-building opportunity for us,” she said, and also an opportunity to collaborate with a similar organization.

The music school’s activities will not disturb the peace of the neighborhood, she said, and it might even be a resource to the community. She quoted from an email she’d received from a resident who lives on Jewett. The resident described the move as a “win-win” for the neighborhood, enlivening it with kids and families. Maybe some nearby residents would even sign up for classes.

Bielak-Hoops said she’d be happy to answer any questions that commissioners might have.

Martha Rhodes, Clonlara’s campus director, also described the compatibility of the two schools and their focus on lifelong learning. Clonlara has worked hard to become a “green” school, she said, and this change would continue that effort – because it would bring more activity to a large building that sits empty after 3:30 p.m. and on weekends.

The music school also offers the opportunity for deeper programming for Clonlara’s students, Rhodes said, “and an opportunity for both programs to grow together.” She hoped the commission would see it as a really good use of empty space, and would approve the special exception use.

Community Music School: Commission Discussion

Diane Giannola asked why the music school needed a special exception use, since there’s already an active special exception use for a school at that location.

Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Diane Giannola.

Jill Thacher replied that music schools are considered to be different “because they make more noise than elementary schools,” though she joked that as someone with experience at elementary schools, she might challenge that assumption.

Jeremy Peters noted that he works in the music industry and has a degree in music, so he joked that his question will probably cause his friends to yell at him. He wondered if the school was planning to hold lessons for amplified instruments.

Kasia Bielak-Hoops replied that they do offer a jazz studies program that includes electric guitar. They also have a guitar teacher who gives lessons in both acoustic and electric guitar. “But the plan is to have it indoors,” she said.

Peters cautioned that the music school should be aware of possible concerns from neighbors over noise. He said it didn’t seem like that would be an issue, but he wanted to raise it since the city had heard from residents about it.

Responding to comments made during the public hearing, Kirk Westphal noted that the planning commission does like to see buildings used longer and parking lots filled more times during the day.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously granted the special exception use for the Community Music School.

Victoria Circle Annexation

The Aug. 19 agenda included a resolution to recommend the annexation and zoning of 2115 Victoria Circle, a half-acre vacant site west of Newport and north of M-14.

2115 Victoria Circle, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

2115 Victoria Circle.

If approved by the city council, the property would be annexed from Ann Arbor Township and zoned R1A (single family dwelling).

The owner, Abayomi Famurewa, wants to build a single-family home there and connect to the city’s public water and sanitary sewer service. The staff report notes that the city’s storm sewer system does not extend to that area at this point. [.pdf of staff report] Staff had recommended approval.

No one spoke during a public hearing on this item.

Victoria Circle Annexation: Commission Discussion

Sabra Briere noted that the city has recently annexed several properties on Victoria Circle. Homeowners in the adjacent neighborhood have concerns that driveways would lead onto Newport Creek or one of the nearby streets. She pointed out that the property under consideration looks like it could have a driveway onto Newport Creek. Briere wondered if the city has any restrictions on that type of thing.

City planner Alexis DiLeo replied that Newport Creek is a public street, and the number of curbcuts permitted for any particular property is based on the property’s frontage onto a road. She noted that the property didn’t actually connect to Newport Creek. She didn’t believe the 2115 Victoria Circle site had enough frontage to warrant two curbcuts on Victoria Circle.

Bonnie Bona observed that the property has public land on one side (the Riverwood Nature Area), as well as sites zoned for single-family dwelling (R1A) and two vacant lots zoned as planned unit developments (PUDs). She asked about the history of the PUDs. DiLeo replied those sites zoned PUD are city-owned parkland, though she could not recall why they were still zoned PUD. She explained that the sites are “virtually undevelopable,” because it would require a voter referendum to sell parkland.

Kirk Westphal asked if the city-owned PUD sites were used as cut-throughs to the nature area, and whether the property owner of 2115 Victoria Circle knew that people might use it for that purpose. DiLeo said she wasn’t sure on either count. Briere ventured that there’s not currently a trailhead at that location into the nature area. DiLeo replied that staff could mention it in the letter that would be sent to the owner after annexation is approved.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the annexation and zoning. The item will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Bonnie Bona, Sabra Briere, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters.

Absent: Ken Clein.

Next meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 at 7 p.m. in council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]

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Main & Liberty Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:36:28 +0000 Mary Morgan Abandoned cardboard sign on the sidewalk, apparently left by someone who needed money to travel to Texas. [photo]

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Push to Program Liberty Plaza, Library Lane Sun, 24 Aug 2014 23:21:08 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Aug. 19, 2014): Liberty Plaza was the focus of two items that appeared on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda: (1) extension of a fee waiver for events held at Liberty Plaza; and (2) feedback in response to city council action, which addressed Liberty Plaza and the potential park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure.

Paige Morrison, Colin Smith, Bob Galardi, Graydon Krapohl, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Paige Morrison, Colin Smith, Bob Galardi and Graydon Krapohl before the start of the Aug. 19, 2014 Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Regarding feedback on Liberty Plaza and Library Lane, PAC unanimously passed a resolution to form a subcommittee to study issues related to those urban parks, and to allocate or obtain resources to oversee programming there for up to a year.

Based on that effort, the subcommittee would analyze the outcome and deliver recommendations to council next year – no later than October 2015. This resolution, drafted by PAC chair Ingrid Ault and vice chair Graydon Krapohl, had been emailed to commissioners earlier in the day but was not available to the public prior to the meeting. [.pdf of Aug. 19, 2014 Liberty Plaza resolution]

The Aug. 19 discussion also included comments from Matthew Altruda, who programs the Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch weekly summer concert series at Liberty Plaza. Ault had invited Altruda to the meeting to describe that effort, which is widely cited as a successful use of Liberty Plaza.

Regarding the fee waiver, PAC voted unanimously to extend the waiver through October 2015 – coordinating with the subcommittee work on Liberty Plaza and Library Lane.

Both Aug. 19 items – the feedback to city council (but with no accompanying resolution) and fee waiver – had originally appeared on PAC’s July 15, 2014 agenda, but were postponed because three commissioners were absent at that meeting.

In other action, PAC recommended approval of three three-year professional services agreements (PSAs) for engineering services in the parks and recreation unit – with SmithGroupJJR, Stantec Consulting Michigan Inc, and Tetra Tech Inc. The amount was not to exceed $150,000 annually per agreement.

The commission also elected David Santacroce as chair for the coming year, replacing Ingrid Ault in that position. Paige Morrison was elected as vice chair. Each vote was conducted by “secret ballot” as stipulated in PAC’s bylaws. The one-year terms begin Sept. 1.

One topic that did not appear on PAC’s Aug. 19 agenda was a review of the proposed four-year extension on a University of Michigan lease of three parking lots at Fuller Park. The city council – at its meeting the previous night, on Aug. 18 – had indicated an interest in having PAC take another look at the lease renewal, but parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners that he didn’t have additional details on the request.

During deliberations on Aug. 18, mayor John Hieftje had recommended postponing council action until early October, in order to give PAC two meetings during which they could reevaluate the lease agreement. PAC had already recommended approval of the lease, after discussing it at their July 15, 2014 meeting. The parliamentary option chosen by the council was to postpone, not to refer to PAC.

The two council representatives on PAC – Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) –  chose somewhat different points of emphasis in their characterizations of the council’s Aug. 18 action on the Fuller Park lease. When Anglin told commissioners that the council wanted PAC to review the lease again, Taylor stressed that the council action was “a straight postponement” – not a vote to refer the item back to PAC. He added that the council was interested in hearing if PAC has any further thoughts on the use of the site.

Liberty Plaza & Library Lane

Two items on the Aug. 19 agenda related to Liberty Plaza: (1) extension of a fee waiver for events held at Liberty Plaza; and (2) feedback in response to city council action, which addressed Liberty Plaza and the potential park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure.

Ingrid Ault, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

PAC chair Ingrid Ault.

Both Aug. 19 items – the feedback to city council (but with no accompanying resolution) and fee waiver – had originally appeared on PAC’s July 15, 2014 agenda, but were postponed because three commissioners were absent at that meeting.

After July 15, however, PAC called a special meeting for Aug. 5 to begin their discussion on providing feedback to the city council on Liberty Plaza. PAC’s discussion on Aug. 19 was informed in part by a packet of material provided to commissioners at that Aug. 5 special meeting, which The Chronicle was not able to attend because it was the date of primary elections. [.pdf of Aug. 5 Liberty Plaza packet] The materials included a memo with background and a bulleted list of issues related to Liberty Plaza, a list of potential ideas to address these issues, and suggestions for next steps.

Also included were PAC’s downtown parks recommendations, and a summary of previous work related to downtown parks, such as results from surveys conducted by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street study and by PAC’s downtown parks subcommittee. The packet also included case studies from downtown parks in four other communities: Director Park in Portland, Oregon; Arcadia Creek Festival Place in Kalamazoo; Campus Marius Park in Detroit; and Katz Plaza in Pittsburgh.

Commissioners continued that discussion on Aug. 19, focused on a newly crafted resolution that had been drafted by PAC chair Ingrid Ault and vice chair Graydon Krapohl. [.pdf of Liberty Plaza resolution, as amended by PAC on Aug. 19]

Liberty Plaza & Library Lane: Background

The PAC resolution discussed on Aug. 19 responded to a city council resolution that had been considered at the council’s June 16, 2014 meeting. That council resolution had been brought forward by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – who serves as an ex officio member of PAC – as well as mayor John Hieftje, Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

The surface of the Library Lane parking structure is highlighted in yellow.

Liberty Plaza is highlighted in green. The surface of the Library Lane parking structure is highlighted in yellow. The city council has designated 12,000 square feet of that lot, on the west side along the South Fifth Avenue, as a future park.

The original version of Taylor’s resolution would have directed the city administrator to “work collaboratively with the property owners adjacent to and near Liberty Plaza, the general public, PAC [park advisory commission], the Ann Arbor District Library, and the DDA to develop a conceptual design for an improved Liberty Plaza…”

But after nearly an hour of debate on June 16, the council voted to refer the resolution to PAC instead of approving it. The vote on referral to PAC came amid deliberation on some amendments to the resolution proposed by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) that would have broadened the scope of the effort to include the Library Lane lot. [.pdf of Lumm's amendments]

Funding for the collaborative work on the redesign, in the amount of $23,577, was specified in the proposed resolution as coming from the parks and recreation budget. In addition to a concept for a “re-imagined Liberty Plaza,” the resolution was supposed to result in options for funding construction, to be provided by city staff. Taylor’s resolution called for a report to be provided to the park advisory commission by December 2014 and to the city council a month later in January 2015.

Taylor’s resolution came in the context of a push by some Ann Arbor residents – including members of the Library Green Conservancy – to establish public park space on top of the underground Library Lane parking garage, which is southwest of Liberty Plaza separated from that park by a surface parking lot owned by First Martin Corp.

Related to that, the council voted at its April 7, 2014 meeting – as part of reconsidering a vote it had taken at its previous meeting on March 17 – to designate a 12,000-square-foot portion of the Library Lane surface to be reserved as an urban park. The result of the reconsidered resolution on April 7 undid the council’s earlier decision to establish a square foot range for the urban plaza – from 6,500-12,000 square feet. That April 7 council decision was made on a 7-4 vote, with dissent from Taylor, Hieftje, Teall and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

Deliberations among councilmembers on June 16, 2014 included questions about why PAC hadn’t been consulted on the resolution on Liberty Plaza. Taylor indicated that it wasn’t necessary to consult PAC, as it’s the council’s prerogative to set policy. PAC’s regular monthly meeting had been scheduled for June 17 – the day after the council meeting – but it was canceled.

PAC had previously been directed by the council to develop a set of recommendations regarding downtown parks, which were completed last year and included recommendations for Liberty Plaza and the Library Lane site. The council accepted PAC’s recommendations at its Nov. 7, 2013 meeting. [.pdf of 21-page PAC downtown parks report]

Liberty Plaza & Library Lane: Public Commentary

Two people spoke about this topic during the first opportunity for public commentary at PAC’s Aug. 19 meeting.

Ethel Potts told commissioners that she watches their meetings on Community Television Network. “You haven’t seen me, but I see you,” she said – a comment that drew laughs. The city council has given PAC an assignment to do something with Liberty Plaza, she noted. But the council has tied PAC’s hands by limiting the planning to Liberty Plaza. She described the plaza as “orphaned public space, unconnected to anything else in that whole block.” It used to connect to the lower level of the adjacent building, owned by First Martin Corp. on East Liberty, Potts said. Now, that building seems to be mainly offices, she added, with “very little coming and going of people.”

Ray Detter, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ray Detter at the Aug. 19, 2014 meeting of the park advisory commission.

Potts thought the plaza’s design is charming, with two features that every park should have – shade and seating. However, to be a success it needs to connect to the downtown library, to the future park on Fifth Avenue [on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure], and to the bus station. She noted that someday, there will be a building over part of the Library Lane structure.

Liberty Plaza needs to have a connection, “so that it isn’t just left out there on a corner on its own,” Potts said. “I would ask you to please disregard the limits put on your planning by council.”

The idea of connecting Liberty Plaza with the rest of that block is supported by the Ann Arbor Preservation Alliance, which is very concerned about the historic buildings on Liberty and Division in that same block, she said. Liberty Plaza itself is becoming historic, she concluded.

Ray Detter said he was speaking on behalf of the downtown citizens advisory council. Most of the July DCAC meeting was devoted to a discussion of the future of the “library block,” he said – particularly Liberty Plaza and the future park on top of the Library Lane parking structure. With the former Y lot now sold and a broker hired to explore the sale of development rights on the Library Lane site, “we should all be ready to plan a great urban space on that entire block,” Detter said.

Members of the DCAC support development of a significantly-sized public plaza on the South Fifth Avenue side of the Library Lane site, Detter said, as well as use of Library Lane all the way up to the parking structure entry for scheduled community activities. DCAC also supports pedestrian walkways. All future development should take into consideration the needs of the downtown library, possible connection to the Blake Transit Center, the University of Michigan credit union site, the former Y lot, and nearby historic properties, businesses and residents, he said.

DCAC also supports a new tax-producing private or public development on the major part of the Library Lane site – a development that would provide “eyes” on a future adjoining public plaza, Detter said. In April, he noted, the city council resolved that the city would work with the developer of the remaining portion of the Library Lane site to ensure that the design serves both spaces. A lot of work and outreach has been done to develop integrated planning, he said, “and I think it’s time we really use it.”

Detter noted that the DCAC was involved in the 1991 Luckenbach/Ziegelman study, as well as with the 2005 Calthorpe study and more recently the DDA’s Connecting William Street study. All of these studies support a vision for the entire block and area, he said. “Connecting Liberty Plaza and the proposed Library Lot plaza have always been a major part of that plan,” he said. No money should be spent on redesigning Liberty Plaza unless it’s a part of that broader vision. He hoped that any money spent would be used for programming on Liberty Plaza. Events such as Sonic Lunch and Magic Carpet Mornings have proven that with the right programming, Liberty Plaza can be a downtown asset, he said.

Saying that PAC might have forgotten it, Detter recalled that about 10 years ago a group had formed called Friends of Liberty Plaza, which raised $250,000. The DDA agreed to give $250,000 if the city parks department gave $50,000, Detter said. Ron Olson, the city’s park director at that time, agreed to that. So there were major improvements made then, he said. However, he added, “we did not eliminate the problems that the park still faces today. We think we can do that with a comprehensive plan for the entire park.”

Liberty Plaza & Library Lane: Commission Discussion

PAC chair Ingrid Ault began the discussion by noting that both of the city councilmembers who serve on PAC – Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor – were running late. She hoped that Taylor especially would arrive in time to participate, because he had sponsored the council resolution that PAC would be discussing. [He arrived about 30 minutes into the discussion.]

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, pointed out that the council did not vote on Taylor’s original resolution or on amendments proposed by Jane Lumm. Rather, they referred the resolution and amendments to PAC for consideration and feedback about costs and a timeline.

Ault apologized to commissioners, noting that they had not been sent her draft two-page resolution until earlier that day. It had turned out to be more complicated than she’d anticipated. She said the last page was the most important, and she then read it aloud:

Whereas, placemaking principles specifically identify the importance of dedicated and sustained programming resources as vital components of successful urban public spaces,

Whereas, dedicated and sustained programming resources have not historically been allocated in direct support of Ann Arbor urban parks, especially Liberty Plaza,

Whereas, PAC recommends the formation of a subcommittee to study and specifically address the issues associated with urban parks, especially Liberty Plaza and the Library Lot,

Whereas, PAC recommends that prior to any resource being allocated for redevelopment efforts directed at planning and redesign of either Liberty Plaza or the Library Lot, that resources, human and material, be allocated or obtained to specifically oversee the programming of Liberty Plaza and the Library Lot for a period not to exceed one year in order to answer the following questions:

1. Determine costs for on-going dedicated resources (human and material) for programming of the spaces for one year, recognizing that key element for success of any urban park is sustained and meaningful programming of the space.

2. Determine the success of programming efforts and how the currently designed spaces function in support of that programming. What worked and didn’t work?

3. Determine at the end of the study if issues long associated with Liberty Plaza are a function of design or the absence of sustained and meaningful programming, or a combination of both.

4. If shortcomings are design related, does it warrant a partial or complete redesign based on the outcomes of the study?

5. Determine what role adjacent and near by properties (public and private) have along with other downtown neighbors with regard to Liberty Plaza in determining key stakeholders for ongoing discussions.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, to reaffirm the purpose of PAC is to provide for public involvement in community park and recreation services and to provide advisory recommendations to the Manager of the Department of Parks and Recreation, City Administrator and Council regarding parks administration,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that PAC recommends that Council accept the above recommendations and direct staff and PAC to answer these questions and report their findings no later than October 2015.

Ault said that she and Krapohl had forgotten to include what funds would be designated for this purpose, so the resolution would need to be amended for that.

This would be a big undertaking, Ault said, so the timeframe was very important. It’s not something that could be done in the timeframe indicated by the council resolution – January 2015. She noted that PAC’s downtown park subcommittee had worked for nine months to complete its recommendations.

Pushing back the timeframe would allow PAC and staff to use the fall and winter to come up with ideas for programming, which could be implemented in the spring and summer, she said. The results of that programming then could be reported to the council in the fall of 2015. “You can’t make improvements unless you know how [the space] functions currently,” Ault said.

Liberty Plaza & Library Lane: Q&A with Matthew Altruda

Ault reported that she had asked Matthew Altruda to attend the Aug. 19 meeting and share his observations about what works or doesn’t work at Liberty Plaza, based on his experiences programming the Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch weekly summer concert series.

Matthew Altruda, Sonic Lunch, Bank of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Matthew Altruda programs the Sonic Lunch summer concert series on behalf of the Bank of Ann Arbor.

Altruda briefly described the history of Sonic Lunch, saying that the bank’s president, Tim Marshall, had wanted to sponsor an event that used music to build community. “We believe music is one of the great chariots of building community. When you’re out seeing music and dancing with someone, that’s where you meet your great friends and future husbands and wives – it really brings the community together.” He pointed out that in the movie “Braveheart,” the only time the characters are enjoying themselves is when they’re dancing around the fire.

Sonic Lunch is a huge event and it takes a lot of time, Altruda said. This summer is the seventh season for this series, and any event that someone tries in a city park needs to be given a few years to get off the ground. “We are in the fruits of our labor now, with great turnouts and the city really embracing us,” he said. It’s extremely difficult to make a new Ann Arbor tradition.

A lot of people understand the “non-programming” that goes on in Liberty Plaza, Altruda said – some people talk about how it’s a place where homeless people hang out or where drug activities occur. In his experience, when the Bank of Ann Arbor staff shows up, the people who are hanging out at Liberty Plaza usually leave. First and foremost, these are people in the Ann Arbor community, Altruda said. “We treat them with respect, and when it’s time for us to do our programming in the park, they return that respect and leave.” If they don’t leave, they “act like great citizens and enjoy the music like everyone else,” he added.

Ault said that one thing PAC learned when they studied downtown parks is to focus on behavior, not on particular groups of people. She thanked Altruda for reminding them of that. “Everybody has the right to use a public space, until behavior encroaches,” she said.

Paige Morrison asked Altruda to elaborate on obstacles that Sonic Lunch has faced. Altruda replied that some of it relates to reassuring families about the safety of Liberty Plaza. Early on, there was an issue with people panhandling, he said. So some confidence had to be built to assure visitors that the park was safe.

“A lot of people fear the unknown, and when they walk by the park, they’re thinking that there’s terrible people there doing terrible things,” Altruda said. “I think that’s an unfair thought to have for these people.” There are definitely some “bad apples” who hang out at Liberty Plaza, he added. But others have started to police themselves, he said, if someone is out of line.

Paige Morrison, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

PAC member Paige Morrison.

Bob Galardi asked how much time is devoted to programming these concerts. Altruda said it doesn’t seem like a lot of time because he’s passionate about it, but in fact it’s his job and he does spend a lot of time on it. He works on Sonic Lunch year-round, communicating with record labels and booking agents to ensure that the series gets great performers. It’s part of the bank’s marketing effort, he said, so they spend money and time on the event.

To do other kinds of programming at Liberty Plaza, “it would take a lot of passionate people that want to do great events, and empowering them to do so. I think that passion is just gonna run wild with this community, if given the opportunity,” he said.

Graydon Krapohl asked about costs. Altruda replied that it’s a marketing opportunity for the bank, “so we’re definitely putting a lot of money and effort into it.” He indicated that although the bank is willing to spend a lot of money to bring major artists like Michelle Chamuel and ZZ Ward, that level of support isn’t necessary to have a successful event. “We just go big because it’s part of our vision, with the size of the event,” he said. If it were scaled down, Altruda thought they could still put on a great event. He added that he didn’t really know how to address the budget issue for other events.

Alan Jackson asked whether it mattered if the infrastructure of Liberty Plaza were different in some way – like eliminating the sunken aspect of the plaza. Altruda said it’s definitely been an issue, but it improved when the city trimmed and removed some bushes to create better sight lines for the bands. The bank also bought a stage that it sets up each week, which has helped. Altruda said he’s been told that people hide in the sunken parts of Liberty Plaza to do various things, but he hasn’t seen any of that.

Altruda said that if you leave Liberty Plaza alone, people will come and do whatever they want. But if you put on great events, then the people who want to participate in those events will come. There needs to be programming at Liberty Plaza, so that people will want to come there and bring their families, he said, “changing the perception to make people feel safe there.”

Altruda added that he feels safe at Liberty Plaza now, because 99% of the people who hang out there are harmless. But others might not have as much faith in people as he does, he said.

Liberty Plaza & Library Lane: Commission Discussion

Graydon Krapohl began the discussion by stressing the importance of programming any urban space. For Liberty Plaza, he noted, there hasn’t been a commitment to sustain programming over a period of time, to offset some of the behaviors that take place there. That’s a critical thing to explore before making recommendations about infrastructure, he said. “I’m not sure we know what needs to be redesigned or how it needs to be redesigned until we actually do programming” to see what does or doesn’t work, and how programming can be coordinated between Liberty Plaza and Library Lane.

Graydon Krapohl, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, the Ann Arbor Chronicle

PAC vice chair Graydon Krapohl.

Ingrid Ault highlighted some data associated with Campus Martius Park in Detroit. She was there about a month ago for lunch, and there was live music, a small farmers market, a sand beach and fountain. It’s commonly lauded as a great public space, she said, but it entails a lot of investment. It costs between $1.2 million and $1.4 million each year to operate, Ault said. “That’s pretty serious dollars – which comes back to the funding.”

So the city needs to identify sustainable funding before moving forward, she said. “That’s the one area that I’m gravely concerned about, with only $23,000 being identified at this point.”

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, clarified that the $23,577 mentioned in the council resolution was the result of a “parks fairness” budget resolution. Every year when the city council approves the city’s annual budget, adjustments are made to ensure that the parks budget is increased to match any increase in general fund expenditures in other areas, or to make sure there aren’t disproportionate cuts to the parks budget. This year, the parks budget was increased by $23,577 as a result of the budget amendments that were approved for the general fund.

Smith noted that the $23,577 isn’t currently allocated for any specific purpose. He added that if there is a desire to heavily program Liberty Plaza for a year, then “that is by no means enough.” He said he didn’t have any suggestion for where additional funding might come from within the parks and recreation budget. PAC could always suggest that the council consider using general fund reserves, he added.

Traditionally, Smith explained, the parks staff has done programming within the city’s recreation facilities – the pools, rinks, canoe liveries and golf courses. The “non-facility” parks, which comprise the majority of city parks, are unstaffed from a programming standpoint, he said.

Mike Anglin, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Mike Anglin, a city councilmember and ex officio member of PAC.

But urban parks, to be successful, really do require some level of staffing, Smith said, noting that Director Park in Portland, Oregon, makes a good case study. It’s about the same size as the entire Library Lane site, and it also has underground parking. That park has fountains, public art, a cafe – and 26 businesses around the park’s perimeter. The annual operating costs are $475,000, which comes out of the city of Portland’s general fund. That funding is primarily for maintenance and staffing, Smith said, including a full-time “urban park specialist” who oversees the park.

Smith said he talked to Director Park’s specialist, who described it as “a community center without walls that requires attention every hour of the day.” Smith added that her words rang true to him. “It works really well when you work really hard at it.” For Liberty Plaza, $23,577 isn’t enough to make a difference – nor would it be a one-time investment, he said. Even if Liberty Plaza is redesigned successfully, funding would be needed on an ongoing basis.

Mike Anglin said that one way to evaluate a park is by looking at its use. That’s something to keep in mind if the city moves forward with programming. He recalled that one year there was a parade around Christmas time, and he was amazed at how many people came downtown. “We have a lot of talented people who have pent-up energy,” Anglin said. That’s something the city should tap into in a very positive way, he added. Anglin also spoke about the New York City park system, and some of its programming.

Alan Jackson wanted commissioners to keep in mind that if funding is spent on Liberty Plaza or a Library Lane park, “there may be associated economic benefits.” He suggested that when they evaluate the outcome of programming, they also evaluate benefits to adjacent businesses.

Karen Levin wondered if there were ways to partner with other entities, like the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Karen Levin, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

PAC member Karen Levin.

David Santacroce pointed out that there might be people who are willing to program the space at no cost to the city. He cited the Sunday Artisan Market at the Ann Arbor farmers market. He supported the approach reflected in Ault’s resolution. No matter how Liberty Plaza might be redesigned – other than fencing it off – without people in the park, there will continue to be “behavior that we may not want in a park.” Santacroce noted that Liberty Plaza has already been redesigned, “and it still didn’t accomplish what we wanted it to accomplish.”

Based on previous PAC discussions, Santacroce thought there was consensus that commissioners aren’t endorsing a city-funded public park versus a public space funded by a developer of the Library Lane site. “We’re not weighing in on that,” he said. That’s important to note, he added, because the process is still underway regarding development of that site.

Bob Galardi agreed. He wondered whether PAC had the purview to insert a whereas clause related to funding sources. Smith replied that since it was a recommendation to the council, adding that kind of clause would be appropriate, if that’s what PAC wanted to do. Galardi thought there might be other sources of funding, beyond just the city.

Smith said that since the programming would be for a year, it would likely be handled by hiring someone on contract to do the work. There’d need to be funding for materials and supplies as well, and possibly for security. Parks staff could come up with an estimate for the cost, he said. It’s also important to be very focused about what a contractor’s roles and responsibilities will be during that year, Smith added. He noted that it would take time to develop partnerships and other funding sources. Would that be the person’s focus? Or would the worker focus primarily on programming? He urged commissioners to keep in mind that they can’t accomplish everything immediately.

Anglin cautioned against hiring someone to “run” the programming. He wanted to make sure the community had the opportunity for input and consensus. “This is a discussion that needs buy-in first before we proceed,” Anglin said. If you have events and people show up, that means you’re on the right track, he said. But if no one comes, “you’re not moving – you don’t have the support.” Anglin thought it would take some time to do, saying that “deliverables in the public sector are very difficult, as we all know.”

Alan Jackson, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

PAC member Alan Jackson.

Jackson thought a one-year process would be setting it up for failure. It would probably take at least two years, he said.

Santacroce noted that there was a lot of public input when the PAC subcommittee on downtown parks did its work just last year. “I would be hesitant to re-engage the public in the identical conversation that we just did a year ago, because I think it’s a waste of time and public resources,” he said. One strategy might be to refine the request for input, he added, which would shorten the process a bit.

Krapohl agreed that one year probably isn’t enough time, but it would be the minimum amount needed. He thought the primary responsibility of a person dedicated to Liberty Plaza should be programming, and working out the metrics for how the city should measure success.

Smith drew an analogy to the city’s Give 365 volunteer program, which started a few years ago. One metric for that was to measure the number of volunteer hours per year, and gauge that in terms of hours worked by a full-time employee. The first year, the city had a goal of getting volunteer hours to equal three FTEs. So the parks and recreation staff is familiar with the need to measure a new initiative, he said. For Liberty Plaza, one measure could be the number of visitors to events.

Liberty Plaza & Library Lane: Commission Discussion – Amendments

The remainder of the discussion focused on relatively minor amendments, all of which were considered friendly – no votes were taken. Amendments included:

  • Substitute “public open space” for “park” in the first whereas clause: “Whereas, the Park Advisory Commission (PAC) was asked to make recommendations for development of five city owned parcels in the downtown regarding use as a park public open space in late 2012,..”
  • Eliminate “urban parks, especially” from this whereas clause: “PAC recommends the formation of a subcommittee to study and specifically address the issues associated with urban parks, especially Liberty Plaza and the Library Lot, …”
  • Add “and financial” and “or obtained” in this whereas clause: “PAC recommends that prior to any resource being allocated for redevelopment efforts directed at planning and redesign of either Liberty Plaza or the Library Lot, that resources, human, material, and financial be allocated or obtained to specifically oversee the programming of Liberty Plaza and the Library Lot …”
  • Add “and financial” in one of the questions to be answered: “Determine costs for on-going dedicated resources (human, material, and financial) for programming of the spaces for one year, recognizing that key element for success of any urban park is sustained and meaningful programming of the space.”
  • Change “superintendent” to “manager” in this resolved clause: “… to provide advisory recommendations to the Superintendent Manager of the Department of Parks and Recreation, City Administrator and Council regarding parks administration, …”

Ault and Krapohl clarified that they intended the new subcommittee to study the space at Library Lane and Liberty Plaza as it exists now, and to determine how it might function in the future based on activities during the year of the study. That might include looking at how to coordinate activities at both locations, Krapohl said.

Jackson advocated for extending the timeframe to two years rather than just one. Ault said she’d feel more comfortable leaving it at one year, with the understanding that one of the recommendations delivered in October 2015 might be to extend the period of study another year. Santacroce agreed with Ault, saying by that time there might be more clarity about what’s happening at the Library Lane site, in terms of development.

Ault then read aloud the two-page resolution, as amended. [.pdf of Liberty Plaza resolution, as amended by PAC on Aug. 19]

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously on a voice vote. It will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

Liberty Plaza Fee Waiver

Also on Aug. 19, commissioners considered an extension of the Liberty Plaza fee waiver.

Liberty Plaza, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Liberty Plaza, an urban park located at the southwest corner of Liberty and Division.

By way of background, a year ago the city council voted to waive fees for use of Liberty Plaza, located at Liberty and Divisions streets. The waiver was for a one-year trial period, through July 1, 2014. The waiver had been recommended by PAC at its June 18, 2013 meeting. It came in response to a situation that arose earlier that spring when city staff applied fees to the hosting of Pizza in the Park in Liberty Plaza – a homelessness outreach ministry of a local church.

The goal of the waiver was to attract additional musicians, performers, and other events at Liberty Plaza. A key “whereas” clause of the 2013 council resolution stated: “… it is the goal of PAC to further activate Liberty Plaza by increasing social, cultural, and recreational activities that take place there; …”

Later in the year, on Nov. 18, 2013, the council approved ordinance revisions to allow for a waiver of fees when an organization uses any park to distribute goods for basic human needs. The ordinance was revised to include the following text: “There shall be no park rental fee charged in association with a permit, where the permitted event’s primary proposed activity is the charitable distribution of goods for basic human needs.”

Liberty Plaza Fee Waiver: Commission Discussion

On Aug. 19, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners that the PAC resolution passed a year ago included a resolved clause stating that PAC should review the waiver after a year and make a recommendation to council about whether it should become permanent.

Alan Jackson asked how well the fee waiver has worked. Smith replied that there’s been some use – he mentioned the Turkey Trot – but not a lot. There hasn’t been a staff person available who could promote it. Smith thought it would dovetail nicely with PAC’s study of Liberty Plaza and the Library Lane site, which had been discussed earlier in the meeting.

Responding to the possibility of a similar fee waiver at the Library Lane site, Smith said that would be a question for the Ann Arbor DDA, which oversees the city’s public parking structures – including Library Lane.

David Santacroce suggested extending the Liberty Plaza fee waiver to synch with the proposed study of Liberty Plaza and Library Lane – through October 2015.

Christopher Taylor suggested the following wording for a resolution:

WHEREAS in the past year, fees have been waived at Liberty Plaza;

WHEREAS the park advisory commission has insufficient information about whether this is wise on a permanent basis;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that PAC recommends that city council continue the fee waiver in its current form for another year.

There was no additional discussion.

Outcome: On a voice vote, PAC unanimously recommended to extend the Liberty Plaza fee waiver. The recommendation will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

Election of Officers

PAC held its annual election of officers on Aug. 19. David Santacroce was nominated as chair for the coming year, to replace Ingrid Ault in that position.

Ault told commissioners that she’d be stepping down soon from PAC, as she’s moving out of town. Earlier this year she took a job as an educator with the Michigan State University Extension in Calhoun County, Michigan, based in Marshall. She has been commuting there from Ann Arbor.

David Santacroce, Alan Jackson, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

David Santacroce (left) was elected chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission for a one-year term starting Sept. 1. Next to him is Alan Jackson.

Santacroce is a professor of law at the University of Michigan. Before his appointment to PAC in November 2013, he chaired the city’s North Main Huron River corridor task force, which last year delivered its report to the council on recommendations for that corridor.

There were no competing nominations.

The vote was taken by “secret ballot,” as stipulated in PAC’s bylaws. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith passed out slips of paper for commissioners to write their vote. City councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor, who serve as ex officio members of PAC, are not allowed to vote.

Outcome: On a 6-0 vote with one abstention, David Santacroce was elected chair, for a one-year term starting Sept. 1. He received a round of applause.

Paige Morrison was nominated as vice chair.

Typically, the current vice chair is nominated and elected as chair. However, PAC’s vice chair, Graydon Krapohl, is running unopposed for a city council seat in Ward 4. He won the Aug. 5 Democratic primary, also unopposed, and will appear on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election. Krapohl told The Chronicle that he plans to step down from PAC after the November election, but is interested in being appointed as one of the two city council ex officio members. Those positions are currently held by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Taylor won the Aug. 5 Democratic mayoral primary, and faces independent Bryan Kelly in November.

There were no competing nominations for vice chair.

Outcome: On a 6-0 vote with one abstention, Paige Morrison was elected vice chair for a one-year term starting Sept. 1.

After the vote, Smith commented that he didn’t remember any abstentions in previous years, “so that was an exciting departure from the norm.”

Agreement for Engineering Services

At the start of the Aug. 19 meeting, the agenda was amended to add a new resolution related to engineering services. The resolution, brought forward by staff, was to recommend approval of three three-year professional services agreements (PSAs) for engineering services in the parks and recreation unit. The amount was not to exceed $150,000 annually per agreement. [.pdf of staff memo and resolution]

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Colin Smith, the city of Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation manager.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, explained that for the last six years, the city has maintained professional agreements for engineering services for capital projects that the parks and recreation staff oversees. The existing three-year agreements are expiring.

The staff conducted interviews earlier in August with companies that responded to a request for proposals (RFP). They made a decision on Aug. 18 – that’s why the resolution was a late addition for PAC’s Aug. 19 meeting, he said.

The engineering firms are pre-qualified so that as projects come up, it speeds up the process, Smith explained. Each project still requires that the city administrator approve a “work statement” before a contract is signed with the firm, he noted.

Ten firms submitted RFPs. The three firms that qualified were selected based on the city’s needs: SmithGroupJJR; Stantec Consulting Michigan Inc; and Tetra Tech Inc.

City park planner Amy Kuras told commissioners that this process really helps her streamline projects. Responding to a query from Mike Anglin, Kuras clarified that the $150,000 ceiling applies to each firm annually. Sometimes it’s a lot less, she said, but there are also some projects that exceed that amount.

Smith said there’s no guarantee that any of these firms would get any work – it depends on whether projects emerge that are best suited for any of the firms.

Christopher Taylor asked whether any money is paid before specific projects are proposed. No, Kuras replied – the firms aren’t on retainer, they’re just pre-qualified. Kuras also noted that before contracts are awarded for projects, the firm must provide a detailed description of the work and cost estimates, which are sometimes negotiated down, she said.

Outcome: On a voice vote, PAC recommended approval of the professional services agreements.

Communications & Commentary

During the Aug. 19 meeting there were several opportunities for communications from staff and commissioners, as well as two slots for public commentary. Here are some highlights.

Communications & Commentary: Manager’s Report – Senior Center, Fuller Park Lease

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that the city’s outdoor pools would be closing for the summer after Labor Day, and he urged commissioners to get out and enjoy them in the remaining days.

Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Christopher Taylor, a city councilmember and ex officio member of PAC.

Smith also gave an update on repairs to the Ann Arbor senior center, located at 1320 Baldwin Ave. near Burns Park. He described a recent story in the newspaper “that perhaps raised more questions than provided answers.” There are repairs being done to the ceiling, and it’s easier and safer for users of the center to relocate to other sites. While that work is being done, there will also be improvements made, such as adding skylights. The staff expects it to reopen at the beginning of September.

Regarding a city council resolution on renewing a lease with the University of Michigan for the Fuller Park parking lot, Smith reported that the council postponed action on it until October. That action came at council’s Aug. 18 meeting. He said he didn’t have more details on that. [PAC had discussed the lease and recommended approval of the renewal at its July 15, 2014 meeting.]

Mike Anglin – one of the two city council ex officio members of PAC – recommended that commissioners watch the Community Television Network video from the Aug. 18 council meeting, regarding the discussion of the Fuller Park parking lease. “Because I believe the council sent it back to PAC to take a second look at it – that’s how I interpreted it,” he said. [The discussion begins at roughly the 2:53:43 minute mark.]

Christopher Taylor, the other city councilmember on PAC, characterized the council action as “a straight postponement” – not a vote to refer the item back to PAC. [The parliamentary procedure used by the council contrasted with the one used by the council to deal with Taylor's June 16 Liberty Plaza resolution – which was a vote "to refer."] Taylor added that council was interested in hearing if PAC has any further thoughts on the use of the site for parking.

Anglin said he thought the council was clearly sending it back to PAC.

Smith said he’d forward the council minutes to PAC after they are approved, “because I am not clear, after today, myself.” He didn’t think there was a vote on it, but he’d rely on the minutes.

The council’s Aug. 18 deliberations lasted about five minutes. Jack Eaton (Ward 4) suggested that if the council postponed action, he’d ask that PAC review the lease’s implications on city planning documents, such as the Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan.

Mayor John Hieftje then asked what would be an appropriate amount of time for PAC to do that, and he asked when PAC met next. Taylor replied that PAC met the next day – on Aug. 19. Hieftje then said: “Ok, maybe we should give them until the first meeting in October – because then they would meet twice before our next meeting.” Taylor replied: “Fair enough.” Taylor also noted that PAC had reviewed the lease renewal already, “but certainly if there’s a particular question that council is interested in, then we can certainly address that.”

Eaton said it was his understanding that PAC’s previous discussion of the lease had been brief. Mike Anglin described PAC as having a “quite lengthy discussion” about one aspect of the lease – a section of the lease titled “Early Termination/Transportation Use.” Anglin noted that some PAC members wanted to be clear that they were not endorsing a train station in that location. He said he’d like to send it back to PAC so that they could eliminate any mention of a future use. The mention of a possible future use seemed inappropriate to him, since the council hasn’t made any decision about that.

The council then unanimously voted to postpone action on the lease renewal.

Communications & Commentary: Committee Reports

Karen Levin reported that the dog park subcommittee would be bringing its work to PAC in September. It’s a guide for establishing new dog parks and improving existing ones, she said.

David Santacroce gave an update on the subcommittee that’s developing recommendations related to smoking regulations in the park. They’ve met with an expert from the University of Michigan, he said, and their intent is to bring forward recommendations to PAC in September. The recommendations will include a list of parks in which smoking should be banned.

Communications & Commentary: World Peace Day

Alan Haber spoke about World Peace Day on Sunday, Sept. 21. It was started by the United Nations in 1982 on the third Tuesday in September, coincident with the annual opening of the UN General Assembly session. In 2001, the UN changed the day to be Sept. 21 each year. “This is celebrated all over the world and as a peace person, I would certainly want to see it celebrated here,” Haber said.

Alan Haber, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alan Haber.

He hoped there would be a place to come together in this town to talk about what people can do to address the conflicts in our world. The day could also be used to inaugurate a park on the Library Lane lot, he said, “as a peaceful place.”

It’s within that framework, Haber said, that it seemed to him appropriate for the park advisory commission to give the idea an endorsement or imprimatur of some sort, “as indeed the DDA has.” [It's not clear what action Haber was referring to regarding the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which oversees the Library Lane underground parking structure.] He hoped the parks and recreation staff could help in some way – such as using the city’s liability insurance policy to cover the event. Whatever PAC did collectively, he hoped commissioners would come “and bring that peaceful part of yourself, and let’s elevate consciousness and activism.”

Haber also spoke on the same topic at the final opportunity for public commentary. Noting that PAC had discussed the importance of programming earlier in the meeting, Haber said this would be an example of community-initiated programming. He’d like to see World Peace Day become an ongoing part of the city’s calendar. He hoped the city would co-sponsor it, along with the DDA, and would allow the event to use the city’s omnibus liability insurance policy.

He thought a skating rink would also be a good programming idea for the Library Lane site.

Present: Ingrid Ault, Bob Galardi, Alan Jackson, Graydon Krapohl, Karen Levin, Paige Morrison, David Santacroce, and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio members). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.

Absent: Missy Stults.

Next PAC meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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The 2014 Bezonki Awards: A Celebration Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:05:26 +0000 Mary Morgan For the past four years, The Chronicle has honored some remarkable people in this community with our annual Bezonki awards.

Bezonki, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Three of the six Bezonki awards, crafted by local artist Alvey Jones and named after his comic strip that’s published monthly in The Chronicle. (Photos by Ben Weatherston.)

This year, we celebrated the 2014 winners with an open house on Aug. 15. The event was admittedly bittersweet, coming a week after our announcement that we plan to close this publication on Sept. 2, 2014.

But the awards are forward-looking, as well as an opportunity to recognize and honor the foundations that are being built to make our community strong. And this year’s winners are exceptional: Ryan Burns, the energy behind Ignite Ann Arbor; Linh and Dug Song, a couple committed to community-building; the Finding Your Political Voice program at Arrowwood Hills Cooperative; Mary Jo Callan, a leader in Washtenaw County government; developer Tom Fitzsimmons; and Jeannine Palms, on behalf of the many groups she’s a part of in the Buhr Park neighborhood.

Like the individuals and organizations that receive these awards, each of the six physical Bezonkis is unique, made in part with bits salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News – a nod to our profession’s past. They were crafted by local artist Alvey Jones, whose Bezonki cartoons are published monthly in The Chronicle.

The awards are unique in another way. Until this year, each winner of a Bezonki has been a steward of the physical award for a year. Winners in the past year hand it off to the next year’s winners. Our hope has been that the awards create connections year after year between people in the community – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.

You can learn more about our past winners in The Chronicle’s archives. They’re an amazing group.

But as The Chronicle comes to a close, we have a new charge to this year’s winners. We’ve asked that they take responsibility for passing along their Bezonki to highlight the great work of others, as they encounter it in the coming months or years. We further asked that they convey this same message to the next steward of Bezonki, whoever that might be – so that the awards continue to create positive connections throughout our community. We’ve created an Ann Arbor LocalWiki page to keep track of the lineage.

Or maybe they’ll just stay on the shelves of this year’s winners – that would be fine, too. They deserve it.

2014 Bezonki Awards: Ryan Burns

Among many other things, Ryan Burns is the driving force behind Ignite Ann Arbor, an event that’s been held eight times since 2009. It’s been described as a more democratic, less arrogant form of TED talks – funny, friendly five-minute talks by local residents sharing their expertise and insights. Ryan has created a popular venue for showcasing our community, in all its adorkable charm.

He’s an engineer who’s also on the board of A2Geeks, a nonprofit that promotes the local tech community.

Ryan received the Bezonki from Paul Courant, one of last year’s winners – an economist, former University of Michigan dean of libraries and provost, and a geek in his own right.

Paul Courant, Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns, right, with 2013 Bezonki winner Paul Courant.

To Ryan Burns: In recognition of his efforts to highlight the creative energy of this community, reminding us that almost everyone has something to teach, and something to learn.

Previous stewards of this Bezonki: Trevor Staples (2011), Ann Arbor District Library digital archiving team (2012) and Paul Courant (2013).

2014 Bezonki Awards: Linh & Dug Song

Linh Song and Dug Song have official job titles – Linh is executive director of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation and teaches international social work at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Dug is a tech entrepreneur who among other things is co-founder and CEO of Duo Security. He also created the Tech Brewery, an incubator for technologists, entrepreneurs and start-up technology firms.

But it’s their deep commitment to their community that makes this couple truly remarkable, on top of their professional accomplishments. In addition to raising a family, their volunteer work spans support for the new Ann Arbor skatepark, to helping organize their neighborhood’s Memorial Day parade, to serving on boards for several nonprofits.

It’s their support of the Neutral Zone that connects Linh and Dug to last year’s winner, Lisa Dengiz, whose community work includes co-founding that nonprofit for teens.

Linh Song, Lisa Dengiz, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Linh Song and Lisa Dengiz with Quynh Song.

To Dug and Linh Song: In recognition of their individual and joint efforts that help make our community stronger, smarter and a more creatively playful place to live.

Previous stewards of this Bezonki: Summers-Knoll School (2011), Roger Rayle (2012) and Lisa Dengiz (2013).

2014 Bezonki Awards: Finding Your Political Voice

“Finding Your Political Voice” is a program located at the Arrowwood Hills Cooperative on Pontiac Trail in Ward 1. Its goal is to educate residents about issues and candidates, and to develop informed voters who can participate in their community at the local, state and federal levels. This year, for example, they hosted a forum in June for candidates in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary for city council.

The idea of giving people the tools they need to become engaged citizens is one that The Chronicle embraces. This kind of grassroots education could be a model for other neighborhoods throughout the city.

James Daniel accepted the award on behalf of the program. He received it from Linda Diane Feldt, one of last year’s winners and another terrific community builder.

Arrowwood Hills Cooperative, Finding Your Political Voice, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: James Daniel, Linda Diane Feldt and Patricia Byrd, a former city councilmember.

To Finding Your Political Voice: In recognition of their contributions to create more informed voters and better citizens to improve our community.

Previous stewards of this Bezonki: Paul and Claire Tinkerhess (2011), Jim Toy (2012) and Linda Diane Feldt (2013).

2014 Bezonki Awards: Mary Jo Callan

Whenever someone mentions a cool project that involves Washtenaw County or Ann Arbor city government, Mary Jo Callan is usually involved or leading the effort – affordable housing, funding for nonprofits, fostering the local food sector, creating ways to invest in our local economy, and much more.

As director of Washtenaw County’s office of community & economic development, she is the least bureaucratic bureaucrat we know – someone who works to answer “yes” when asked for help, within the confines of a sometimes maddening labyrinth of federal, state and local regulations.

Mary Jo’s leadership in the county is one way she’s connected to last year’s winner, Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Mary Jo Callan, Derrick Jackson, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Mary Jo Callan and Derrick Jackson.

To Mary Jo Callan: In recognition of your patience, good humor, intellect and mastery of navigating the political terrain to make this community a better place to live and work.

Previous stewards of this Bezonki: Matt Yankee and Jason Brooks (2011), Jeff Micale (2012) and Derrick Jackson (2013).

2014 Bezonki Awards: Tom Fitzsimmons

It’s fair to say that Ann Arbor generally isn’t in love with developers. We’ve sat through countless meetings that draw concerned residents, protesting developments either downtown or in the neighborhoods. Despite that, Tom Fitzsimmons has consistently brought forward projects that not only don’t draw residents’ ire – they’re often praised.

When the planning commission reviewed his latest project, a condominium development on Kingsley Lane, not one person came to speak against it at the public hearing. We can tell you: This is not the norm. Maybe it’s because Tom grew up here that he’s managed to quietly imbue new buildings with the characteristics of existing Ann Arbor that people love. That’s no small feat.

Tom received his Bezonki from the 2013 winner Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, a nonprofit that’s doing significant work to improve our community.

Tom Fitzsimmons, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Tom Fitzsimmons (second from right) with his Bezonki award. He received the award from board members of the nonprofit Ann Arbor Active Against ALS.

To Tom Fitzsimmons: In recognition of his ability and willingness to create new developments that honor the context of the past – and not totally piss off the masses.

Previous stewards of this Bezonki: Yousef Rabhi (2011), Anna Ercoli Schnitzer (2012), Ann Arbor Active Against ALS (2013).

2014 Bezonki Awards: Jeannine Palms

When we told Jeannine that she’d be receiving a Bezonki, she immediately asked whether it instead could be awarded to everyone involved in projects that have strengthened the Buhr Park neighborhood. Here’s what she wrote: “For me, seeing a team or a group, instead of just an individual, working in various capacities to make a difference in their community would allow others to see themselves being involved. They don’t have to take a lead role; they can be part of a team. Also, if those who are already part of the team are recognized, they get a chance to be acknowledged and appreciated in a larger framework. They may be inspired to do more!”

We hope it’s clear from that why we’re honoring Jeannine – as well as all those involved in the Cobblestone Farm Market, the Buhr Park Children’s Wet Meadow Project and its new extension, the Buhr Food Forest.

So on their behalf, Jeannine received the Bezonki that was given last year to Dan Ezekiel, an educator and activist who knows the power of a collective effort. Dan couldn’t attend our open house, so 2011 Bezonki winner Yousef Rabhi – current chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners who worked on the Wet Meadow Project when he was a kid – gave Jeannine the award.

Andy Brush, Yousef Rabhi, Jeannine Palms, Mary Morgan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Bezonki winner Jeannine Palms (second from right) with Andy Brush, Yousef Rabhi and Mary Morgan.

To Jeannine Palms and all the volunteers who’ve contributed countless hours on the Buhr Park Children’s Wet Meadow Project, the Cobblestone Farm Market, and other efforts in the Buhr neighborhood: Thanks for making our community a better place, and for showing us how the power of one is magnified when people join together for a common cause.

Previous stewards of this Bezonki: Vivienne Armentrout (2011), Common Cycle (2012) and Dan Ezekiel (2013).

Scenes from The Chronicle’s 2014 Bezonki Reception

Our Aug. 15 festivities were held at the Zingerman’s Events on Fourth space and included teeter tottering, a song by our friend Chris Buhalis, treats from Hello! Ice Cream, and a masterful interactive experience from Donald Harrison of 7 Cylinders Studio – the Chronicle of Bezonkia, using images from artist Alvey Jones.

Here’s a window into The Chronicle of Bezonkia:


And here’s a sampling of images from the event. Unless otherwise noted, photos of the evening are by Ben Weatherston.

Zingerman's Events on Fourth, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Kara Carter and Aiyana Ward – staff of Zingerman’s Events on Fourth –hang a Chronicle banner before the start of the Aug. 15 open house. (Photo by Mary Morgan.)

Chris Buhalis, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Musician Chris Buhalis sang one of his songs, Kenai Dreams. The lyrics resonated with us: “…my own/ wheels are spinning but it won’t be long/ like a thin white cloud/a wisp and man I’m gone…”

Yousef Rabhi, Donald Harrison, Alvey Jones, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi prepares to enter the Chronicle of Bezonkia, an interactive multimedia experience from the creative minds of Donald Harrison and Alvey Jones. (Photo courtesy of Donald Harrison.)

Tom Bray, Donald Harrison, 7 Cylinders Studio, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Tom Bray and Donald Harrison. (Photo courtesy of Donald Harrison.)

Dave Askins, Mary Morgan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dave Askins, Chronicle co-founder and editor. To the right is Chronicle publisher and co-founder Mary Morgan.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle, teeter totter

A sticker with The Chronicle’s logo is affixed to a portable wooden teeter totter made by Chronicle co-founder and editor Dave Askins.

Russ Collins, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Russ Collins on the teeter totter with his grandson, Brooks Goodson. In the background is Hello! Ice Cream’s vintage truck, which was on hand to provide treats to The Chronicle’s guests.

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New Citizen Participation Tools Reviewed Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:39:26 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Aug. 12, 2014): Planning commissioners gave feedback on new guides that staff have developed for residents and developers, aimed at improving communication about proposed development projects.

Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Excerpt from a draft guide being developed by the city’s planning staff. It was reviewed at the planning commission’s Aug. 12 working session.

The “Citizens’ Guide to Effective Communication” and “Developers’ Guide to Leading Effective Citizen Participation Meetings” were drafted by planning staff, based in part on suggestions from the planning commission’s citizen outreach committee.

Two other outreach documents were reviewed at the Aug. 12 working session – a guide to the city’s site plan review process, and a template for postcard notifications of citizen participation meetings.

In addition to giving feedback on those draft documents and how they might be distributed, commissioners discussed how to improve the effectiveness of mandatory citizen participation meetings and the reports that developers must provide based on those meetings.

The citizen participation meetings are held for all major projects, a requirement that’s been in place since the city council enacted a citizen participation ordinance in 2008. An evaluation of that ordinance was supposed to have been done five years ago. However, there had been a lull in development soon after the ordinance was passed. Planning manager Wendy Rampson told commissioners that now there have been a sufficient number of projects to evaluate, and to possibly make some thoughtful changes to the code.

Citizen Participation

The city’s citizen participation ordinance was approved by the city council on Sept. 8, 2008 and took effect Jan. 1, 2009. [.pdf file of citizen participation ordinance] It was an ordinance that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) advocated for after her election to the city council in 2007. Briere, Joan Lowenstein – who served on the council and planning commission at that time – and planning commissioner Kirk Westphal worked with city staff to develop the ordinance. Briere now serves as the council’s representative on the planning commission.

Among other things, the ordinance requires the owner or developer of a project to hold a citizen participation meeting before a project is formally submitted to the city for approval – specifically, for planned projects, planned unit developments, rezonings, and major site plans. Developers are expected to:

… pursue early and effective citizen participation in conjunction with their proposed developments, giving citizens an early opportunity to learn about, understand and comment upon proposals, and providing an opportunity for citizens to be involved in the development of their neighborhood and community;

The ordinance also requires that written notification of the citizen participation meeting be sent to property owners, residents and registered neighborhood groups within 1,000 feet of the project site. The developer must then submit a report to the city that describes any issues raised by citizens and how the project will address those issues.

No formal evaluation of the ordinance has been completed, though that was initially expected to take place a year after it was enacted. An evaluation is part of the planning commission and staff’s 2014-2015 work plan, with a target completion of January 2015. Planning staff and the commission’s citizen outreach committee will be working on that. Committee assignments for the current fiscal year have not yet been made.

Katy Ryan, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Katy Ryan, an intern with the city’s planning unit. Her last day with the city was Aug. 15. She’s been accepted into the Ph.D. program at Rutgers University to study human geography. She told commissioners that she’s interested in climate change issues in rural neighborhoods, and how public participation can be used to encourage engagement.

The citizen outreach committee met most recently in January 2014, and had made some recommendations for improving engagement. Members of that committee were Sabra Briere, Diane Giannola, Jeremy Peters and Paras Parekh. Parekh recently resigned from the planning commission, as he made a job-related move out of town.

Based on the committee’s direction, staff had drafted some new materials that were brought to commissioners for review at their Aug. 12 working session.

Katy Ryan, an intern with the planning unit, gave a presentation on those materials that she had helped develop: (1) a citizens’ guide to effective communication; (2) a developers’ guide to leading effective citizen participation meetings; (3) a guide to the city’s site plan review process; and (4) a template for postcard notifications of citizen participation meetings.

The one-page citizens’ guide outlines elements of the citizen participation ordinance, describes ways that residents can get involved, and gives tips on how to effectively provide input. [.pdf of citizens' guide]

The developers’ guide, also a one-page document, gives direction about how best to handle the mandatory citizen participation meeting. [.pdf of developers' guide] Also for developers, a guide to the city’s site plan process describes the steps involved in this review, as well as an estimated timeline for each phase. Residents could also use this guide to see what the city requires and when there’s an opportunity for input, Ryan said. [.pdf of site plan guide]

The template for postcard notices is an effort to standardize communication so that the same information is always provided. [.pdf of postcard template]

Ryan also highlighted the new citizen participation site that launched earlier this summer, as part of the city’s overhaul of its entire website. Some outdated items were removed, and new information is intended to help people find what they need, she said. The new guides for citizens and developers are posted there. Google analytics indicate a spike in usage, she reported, and the bounce rate has improved – it’s been lowered by 8%.

Citizen Participation: Commission Discussion – Materials

Jeremy Peters asked how these guides would be distributed, other than the website. Katy Ryan replied that when developers meet with staff, they can be made aware of these guides. The citizens’ guide could be distributed to neighborhood groups, she said.

Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Jeremy Peters, who serves on the citizen outreach committee.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson reported that one of this year’s goals for the planning unit is to reach out to neighborhood associations. Part of that is to update the current information that the planning staff maintains, but another aspect is to create a stronger connection between the planning staff and residents.

Peters suggested including a link to the citizens’ guide, as part of the notification of a project in its early stages.

Rampson indicated that Ryan didn’t have time to revamp the city’s public hearing notices, but that’s next on the list. Those notices have to contain certain types of information, since they are legal notices, “but we could certainly make the wording more friendly” and include short URLs, she said.

Regarding the estimated project timeline that’s outlined in the site plan guide, Ken Clein suggested adding a disclaimer – that there’s no guarantee the timeline will follow those estimates.

Sabra Briere asked if printed handouts would be available for these guides. She noted that some residents would want the information, but they’re not necessarily computer savvy. Rampson replied that the staff have stopped keeping printed handouts in stock, but if someone comes to the front desk at city hall, it could be printed for them. She added that there could be printed handouts available at the planning commission meetings, as an option.

Wendy Woods wondered if the city ever sends out this kind of information with its water bills or other mailings. Rampson said the city mails out the Waste Watcher publication, which primarily includes public services-related information. But the city has also used inserts in its water bills at times, she noted. Those bills go out quarterly. She thought it probably wouldn’t entail additional cost to the planning unit’s budget, but would be handled by the communications staff.

Diane Giannola, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Diane Giannola.

However, more people are choosing to pay their water bills online, Rampson said, so that kind of mailing wouldn’t reach everyone.

Kirk Westphal liked the bullet point in the citizens guide that emphasized working with neighborhood associations, and he wondered if that could be stressed even more – especially for communications that happen before a developer actually submits a formal proposal.

Diane Giannola expressed caution about that. “The problem with neighborhood associations is that they’re controlled by a certain group of people – and that’s not necessarily the views of the entire neighborhood,” she said. For her own condo association, “the president runs everything.”

Westphal thought that if a neighborhood association meets with a developer over a proposed project, “it’s a great time for that neighborhood to hear from each other – it’s sort of a forced collaboration, in a way.” Peters added that ideally, such a meeting would take place early enough in the process so that the developer could incorporate neighborhood feedback.

Responding to a query from commissioners, Ryan said the design that’s featured in the citizens’ and developers’ guides was made by taking a photo of Ann Arbor’s skyline, tracing it in Photoshop, and filling in the outline with solid green.

Citizen Participation: Commission Discussion – Mandatory Meetings

Commissioners also discussed the format of the mandatory citizen participation meetings. Rampson said that some residents have told planning staff that Brad Moore – a local architect who’s involved with several projects in Ann Arbor – handles those meetings particularly well. So the planning staff plans to interview him for tips he might have that could be passed along to other developers.

Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

City councilmember and planning commissioner Sabra Briere.

Briere reported that she and Peters had just attended part of a citizen participation meeting, which started a half hour before the working session – Moore had been leading that one, too. [That participation meeting was held from 6:30-8 p.m. on Aug. 12 at the DDA offices, about a block from city hall. It focused on a project proposal to rezone 221 Felch St. and adjacent parcels from M1 (limited industrial district) to R4D (multiple-family dwelling district) to allow for a low-rise residential development over enclosed parking.]

Moore presented solid information, Briere said, and he reiterated that the current step is for rezoning – not for a building design and site plan. He started out with a description of the land, some conceptual ideas, and the rationale for their approach. “He was very good about knowing how people react,” she said.

Peters added that instead of starting with a vision for the building, Moore began by talking about the land’s topography within the Allen Creek watershed, flooding issues, and other challenges of the site. The landscape architect was also on hand to discuss these issues before showing a possible building footprint on the site.

Rampson noted that a good land planner does that kind of site analysis first, and starts putting layers on top of that to develop a project.

Briere pointed out that in contrast to Moore’s approach on the Felch Street project, the Toll Brothers representatives – at their July 10 citizen participation meeting for a 500-unit development at Nixon and Dhu Varren roads – led off by showing a site plan and pictures of the buildings. They didn’t start off by talking about how they’d handle issues that would affect neighbors, like landscape buffers, stormwater and traffic, she noted.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Kirk Westphal.

Eleanore Adenekan observed that neighbors go to those meetings to be heard, but they also come with their own pre-conceived notions about a project. Do the meetings include time for questions?

Briere explained that there’s no consistent format for the citizen participation meetings. There’s always an opportunity for Q&A, “whether it’s offered or taken,” she said, but it happens in different ways.

At the Toll Brothers presentation, because they tried to present so much information, they were constantly being interrupted, Briere said. In contrast, Moore and the Beal family – who own the Felch Street property – handled it in a more relaxed manner, so that it was more like a conversation.

Rampson pointed out that there’s a difference in the size of those two projects, which might have also been a factor.

Briere indicated that the responses to neighbor concerns at the Toll Brothers’ presentation were “not uniformly respectful, not understanding the impact on the existing properties.” In contrast, for the Felch Street proposal, Moore had offered to visit the neighbors and talk about their concerns. The difference might be that the Felch Street developer is local, Briere noted, and Toll Brothers isn’t.

“It’s a hard process to go through, engaging the public,” Briere said. “The more comfort you feel with it, the more often you do it, the better you get.”

Ken Clein, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Ken Clein.

Commissioners also talked about whether planning staff should attend the citizen participation meetings. Some people thought there might be a “chilling effect” if commissioners or staff attended, Westphal said, or if a city councilmember attended. If someone did attend, he didn’t think it was appropriate to speak – unless it was for clarifying a fact.

Briere, who serves on city council, said she attended the Toll Brothers meeting and spoke about “what the ordinance said, what the expectations were, who was responsible, and why there were no staff present.” The project is located in Ward 1, which she represents.

Giannola thought the issue was whether the public would want the planning commissioners to speak during a citizen participation meeting. “That’s their attempt to talk to a developer,” she noted. “We’re going to have our chance later, so we shouldn’t be there giving out opinions.”

Briere agreed that giving an opinion wouldn’t be appropriate, but answering questions was fine. Giannola ventured that sometimes opinions are conveyed when answering questions. “Maybe, maybe not,” Briere replied. “It depends on your self control.”

Some residents who attend these meetings might be concerned that a commissioner or councilmember would be defending or promoting a development, Briere said, but “many of them are simply looking for answers. They want to know what the rules are.”

If there isn’t someone knowledgeable in the room, she added, “it’s possible for the developer to simply be besieged.” At the Toll Brothers meeting, some residents were demanding answers to questions about traffic flow, for example, which Briere said “was completely outside of their capacity to answer.”

Wendy Rampson, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning manager Wendy Rampson.

Giannola said that indicated that perhaps a staff member should attend. Briere pointed out that prior to the citizen participation ordinance, staff members used to attend any meeting held by a developer. “More than one member of the public saw the staff in the role of defending and promoting the development, which puts the staff member in a very delicate position,” she said.

That might be because people don’t like the answers that the staff provided, Giannola said. Westphal added: “The staff is defending the master plan and the zoning.”

Briere said she wasn’t advocating for staff not to attend. She herself attends these meetings, and thinks that she should continue do that. It’s important to have someone there who can stand up and say that the answer to a particular question is something that the city, not the developer, should address at a later date, Briere said.

Rampson said that one strategy would be for planning staff to coach a developer’s design team, letting them know it’s OK to defer questions that they can’t answer. The answers could then be included in the citizen participation report, and sent to residents, she said.

Rampson noted that although materials have been developed and the planning unit’s website is redesigned, there are other issues to address – including possible changes to citizen participation meetings. She suggested pulling the outreach committee together to talk about next steps.

Citizen Participation: Commission Discussion – Mandatory Reports

Briere encouraged the planning staff to think about how the citizen participation reports might be given to planning commissioners in a more timely way. Right now, the ordinance doesn’t require that reports come to the planning commission. The reports are included in the commission’s meeting packet when a project is reviewed.

Eleanore Adenekan, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Eleanore Adenekan.

Rampson clarified that Briere also wanted the reports to follow a template, so that there would be consistency. Right now, Briere said, it’s difficult for planning commissioners to use the report as they evaluate a project.

Wendy Woods noted that some concerns had been raised that the report of a citizen participation meeting is biased, because it’s prepared by the developer – so the developer naturally wants to make it look as good as possible for the project.

Briere pointed out that the ordinance requires a developer to send the citizen participation meeting report to everyone who attends – assuming that they’ve provided contact information. So there’s a way for attendees to give feedback on the report. Rampson said the planning staff hasn’t been following up to make sure that’s happening, but they can start including that check as part of the process.

Giannola noted that one developer had included email exchanges with residents, as part of his citizen participation report. That had been very helpful, she said, because it included questions from neighbors as well as the developer’s responses.

Ken Clein thought developers would actually appreciate having a simple template to follow as they compile their report. “It’s sort of like Citizen Participation for Dummies,” he quipped. Westphal replied: “Let’s not make that the title.”

Westphal suggested that planning staff touch base with other communities that have had a citizen participation ordinance in place longer than Ann Arbor – like Auburn Hills.

Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Wendy Woods, chair of the planning commission.

Briere noted that for many residents in Ann Arbor, the citizen participation process “is an opportunity to try to discourage development. That isn’t the case in every community.”

Rampson reported that some communities go to great lengths to try to publicize development proposals. One community in Colorado had hired someone to create a website that listed all the projects and provided regular updates. Ann Arbor does that through its eTRAKIT system, she noted, “but you have to dig.”

Briere said she’d never gotten eTRAKIT to work for her. “I’m pretty savvy, and if I can’t get it to work for me, there’s a lot of other people who don’t even try after the first time,” she said.

Ryan gave an example from Philadelphia, which has developed a quick reference guide to zoning. It would take time to develop something similar for Ann Arbor, she said, but it would be a great resource.

Rampson suggested that this is an issue the subcommittee can discuss further, and then bring recommendations to the full commission.

Citizen Participation: Commission Discussion – Ordinance Evaluation

An evaluation of the citizen participation ordinance was supposed to have been done five years ago, Rampson said, “but we’re working on it.” There had been a lull in development soon after the ordinance was passed, but now there have been enough examples to evaluate it and possibly make some thoughtful changes to the code, she noted.

Citizen Participation: Public Commentary

Former planning commissioner Ethel Potts attended the working session and spoke during the final opportunity for public commentary. Potts had served on the planning commission when the citizen participation ordinance was developed and implemented.

Eppie Potts, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Eppie Potts.

She said she used the city’s website primarily to find meeting schedules and agendas, but she’s having difficulty navigating the site after the recent redesign. She also hoped that the site could include all meetings, such as committee meetings. “I struggle to find out when many of these meetings are,” she said, “and I miss some that I really wanted to go to.”

Regarding the city’s list of neighborhood associations, Potts reported that some of the information is outdated. Some of the contact people who are listed have moved out of town, for example, or died.

Regarding citizen participation meetings, Potts said that a good approach is to present very general information at first, then drill down with more details as questions are asked. That way, the information is tailored to the interests of the people who are attending, she said.

Potts said she’s attended some citizen participation meetings that were “dreadful – about as bad as you could get.” The developers either took too much or too little time presenting their proposal, she said, and didn’t know how to deal with the public. In one case, there was a resident who monopolized the whole meeting, she said. “So it can go badly – mostly it doesn’t, but it can.”

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Sabra Briere, Ken Clein, Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters. Also: City planning manager Wendy Rampson.

Absent: Bonnie Bona.

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First & Kingsley Mon, 18 Aug 2014 15:29:48 +0000 Mary Morgan Installation underway for large fish sculptures in this city rain garden, a project paid for by the now defunct Percent for Art program. [photo] Sculpture Joshua Wiener is working on site. [photo] Also here are Bob Miller and John Kotarski of the city’s public art commission, WEMU reporter Andy Cluley, landscape architect Patrick Judd of Conservation Design Forum, and Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator. [photo] [photo]

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County Explores Offering New ID Card Sun, 17 Aug 2014 18:06:13 +0000 Mary Morgan Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Aug. 7, 2014): A proposal to establish a county-issued ID card program is being reviewed by the board of commissioners, who were briefed on the recommendations of a task force at their August working session.

Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Front side of a sample Washtenaw County ID card.

A county identification card would allow residents who don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to access services that require that kind of identification, like renting an apartment or opening a bank account.

The proposal indicates that cards would cost $20 or $25 each, although a waiver might be available for people who can’t afford it. An estimated 1,000 cards would be issued in the first year through the voluntary program. Those revenues would help offset the operating costs, estimated at about $35,000 for the first year. The expenses would include funding for part-time staff at the county clerk’s office, which would administer the program.

Keta Cowan of the nonprofit Synod Community Services led the Aug. 7 presentation, outlining the work of the task force in comparing similar programs in other communities nationwide – although this would be the first ID card program offered by a Michigan municipality. The task force also conducted outreach to law enforcement agencies in the county, and Cowan indicated that they were supportive of the program. Sheriff Jerry Clayton is a task force member, along with several other county officials and nonprofit leaders.

Of the five commissioners who attended the working session, all but one indicated support for the program. Dan Smith (R-District 2) had concerns, and wondered why the county should spend money to duplicate a service that the Michigan Secretary of State already provides.

Task force members described the state’s ID program as being too stringent for residents who can’t meet the requirements, but who are living in this community and need access to services.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) described it as a basic human right. It didn’t matter to him whether someone is a legal resident or an undocumented resident – “if you need to live a decent quality of life and we can facilitate that with a simple ID card, great. We can and we should.” Smith also thought it would with access to voting, which he described as a citizen’s most fundamental right – the opportunity to shape their government.

Commissioners Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) also indicated support for the program. Rabhi served on the task force that is bringing forward the ID card recommendations.

The board is expected to consider a formal resolution to establish an ID card program, likely at a meeting later this year.

The Aug. 7 working session also included a presentation on the public health department’s strategic plan. This report focuses only on the ID card program.

ID Card: Presentation

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) introduced the ID project presentation. He had represented the county board on the task force. About a year and a half ago, Keta Cowan and Janelle Fa’aola of Synod Community Services came to him to pitch the idea of an ID project. [Rabhi had first mentioned the project during a Feb. 6, 2013 county board meeting.]

The task force has been reviewing what other communities have done, Rabhi said, as well as the potential for what might be done in Washtenaw County. [.pdf of task force report]

In addition to Rabhi, task force members are:

  • Jerry Clayton, Washtenaw County sheriff
  • Catherine McClary, Washtenaw County treasurer
  • Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds
  • Melody Cox, Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds assistant
  • Keta Cowan, Synod Community Services (task force chair)
  • Janelle Fa’aola, Synod Community Services (task force vice chair)
  • Laura Sanders, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights
  • Ellen Schulmeister, Shelter Association of Washtenaw County
  • Charo Ledon, community organizer
  • Sherrie Kossoudji, Law Enforcement Citizens Advisory Board
  • Jason Eyster, Cooley Law School Immigration Law Clinic
  • Irene Serrano, Community Conversations
  • Martha Valadez, Community Conversations
  • Ibrahem Irmy, Organizing for Action

Keta Cowan – CEO of Synod Community Services, a nonprofit based in Ypsilanti Township – began the presentation by showing a video that reviewed the reasons for implementing a county ID program. It would provide a way for residents who don’t have a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to access services that require such an identification card.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Members of an ID task force attended the Aug. 7, 2014 working session of the Washtenaw County board.

Actions and services that require a photo ID include renting an apartment, opening a bank account, and proving residency for things like library cards. People who are elderly, immigrants, ex-offenders, or homeless often face discrimination because they don’t have a photo ID. According to the task force report, having an ID is also important for law enforcement, because sometimes immigrants don’t feel comfortable reporting crimes – they fear repercussions if police ask for their ID.

An estimated 43,000 people in Washtenaw County lack ID, according to the task force, including 7,000 seniors, 11,000 African Americans and 5,000 undocumented residents.

Other communities across the country have already implemented local ID programs, including San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.; New Haven, Conn.; Mercer County, New Jersey; and New York City.

The task force is recommending that Washtenaw County establish an ID card available to all residents, and effective throughout the county. It would be administered through the county clerk’s office, and is projected to cost $20-$25 each. The cards would be completely voluntary.

There are human rights issues at stake when large numbers of people can’t access necessary goods and services, Cowan told commissioners. In addition, policing resources must now be spent identifying people who don’t have ID, she said. That means the community loses that police resource while an officer is taking an individual back to the station to get their information verified. “With a county ID, we could drastically minimize the waste of those policing resources, and provide a coordinated response to the problem of identifying folks in our community,” she said.

It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that all residents have a safe and healthy community, Cowan said.

About two years ago, the task force began reviewing other jurisdictions that have already established an ID card, Cowan explained. Those communities provided a lot of advice and guidance on how to proceed. The advice included the importance of building a broad-based coalition and doing community outreach. So the Washtenaw County ID task force set out to meet with every law enforcement agency within the county, she said. Those groups shared the issue of tracking down ID as a diversion of police resources.

Cowan reported that the sheriff and police chiefs throughout the county support the ID program. They’ve committed to accepting the ID if other police jurisdictions accept it, she added, “and they’ve all indicated that they will.”

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Keta Cowan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Keta Cowan, CEO of Synod Community Services, describes recommendations from a task force that’s been developing a Washtenaw County ID card program. (Photos by the writer.)

The front of the proposed ID card would be labeled “Washtenaw County Identification Card.” It would also state that the card is a “Michigan Picture Identification,” and not a license of any kind. The card would include a photo of the individual, their name and signature, taken on the day of their application. Other elements on the card are an ID number, date of issue and expiration, address, date of birth, height, weight and eye color. The security feature would be a “ghost image” of the person’s photo. The card would also include the Washtenaw County seal in the corner.

The card would have a magnetic strip that’s coded with the information on the card.

Applicants would apply for the card voluntarily through the county clerk’s office. An existing staff member from the clerk’s office would work part-time on the ID cards, accepting applications, verifying the identity and residency documents, and producing the ID card that same day.

In addition, for many residents who don’t have identity documents or who are mobility-impaired, the task force recommends establishing an “ID clinic.” It would be staffed by volunteers who’ll be trained in how to identify authentic residency and ID documents. There will be a 300-point system established to determine eligibility criteria, which must include at least one credential with a “biometric” feature – a photo or fingerprinting.

Janelle Fa’aola, task force vice chair, told commissioners that the goal of the ID clinic is to take some of the burden off of the county. The clinic would ensure that needs of vulnerable residents are met and that they are welcomed and supported, she said. The task force also is prepared to continue its community outreach efforts, forming partnerships with service agencies, law enforcement, government programs, and libraries. Outreach would also be conducted to local businesses that might provide discounts for ID-holders. [The task force has also started an online petition to raise support for the ID card. As of Aug. 16, it had 529 signatures.]

Cowan reviewed a proposed itemized budget for the program. Washtenaw County’s one-time non-personnel costs are estimated at $23,285. An additional $8,190 in non-personnel costs would be paid by the community, Cowan said. County personnel costs – for a part-time staffer – would be an estimated $30,600 annually. Recurring non-personnel costs, primarily for supplies, would be $3,830. [.xls file of proposed budget]

In total, annual recurring costs would be an estimated $35,770.

Regarding the non-personnel costs, one item is the card printer for $9,000. This particular type of printer is recommended because it can produce security features to deter fraud and misuse, Cowan said, including security seals, ghosted photos, UV strips, and a digitized signature.

Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Chart of projected revenues from the ID card program.

The ID card also represents a revenue opportunity, Cowan said. The task force estimates that about 1,000 cards would be distributed each year. That’s based on looking at cards that are issued in other communities – particularly Mercer County, which is about the same size as Washtenaw County, she noted. But it’s possible that more cards would be issued, she added.

If Washtenaw County charges $25 per card, the program could recoup most of the initial start-up costs, Cowan said. If more cards are issued, the revenue would obviously increase, she noted. “We believe the program would pay for itself.”

Cowan told commissioners that the task force spent considerable time working out the eligibility criteria for applicants. They developed a 300-point system, which includes the requirement of identity documents with a photo or fingerprinting. Applicants would have to show proof of residency, showing that they had lived in Washtenaw County for at least 15 out of the past 30 days. “We set it low so that we can encourage people to come and get a card as soon as they move,” Cowan said.

ID Card: Board Discussion

Dan Smith (R-District 2) began the discussion by saying he had several questions and concerns. He asked why the county should spend about $35,000 annually to duplicate a service that the Michigan Secretary of State already provides?

Keta Cowan replied that it’s not a duplication, because the state only provides an ID card “to a rigid, restricted group of people.” The state’s requirements are so stringent that some American citizens are not able to get identification cards, she said. And if you can’t show proof of legal residency in the country, you’re also not eligible, she noted.

Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dan Smith (R-District 2).

In that case, Smith said, why wouldn’t the county lobby the Secretary of State, who is also an elected official with staff throughout the state, to make adjustments “to get rid of some of that [rigidness] that you claim exists?”

Cowan indicated they can pursue that approach. But meanwhile, there are individuals who lack access to necessary resources, she added.

Smith suggested that there’s probably a reason why some people can’t get state-issued ID cards. What’s been the response from the Secretary of State’s office?

The Secretary of State’s staff has said “that they can’t help us,” Cowan said. She gave two examples of residents who’ve been turned away, in one case because the man has dementia and can’t locate his identification documents.

Smith responded: “So you’re advocating that we put a less stringent process in place to make it easier for someone to get an ID than the state of Michigan, who has been in the ID business for decades.” He presumed the Secretary of State didn’t come up with its requirements “to be difficult.” There are legitimate reasons that the Secretary of State has for its processes and procedures, he said. So now, because the county doesn’t like those, they’ll just invent their own?

Jason Eyster, a task force member who works for the Cooley Law School Immigration Law Clinic, pointed out that for political reasons, the state determined that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to get driver’s licenses. Even if those people have other valid forms of identification – such as a passport – they’re not allowed to get a state ID or state driver’s license, he said. Other states have decided to handle it in other ways, Eyster noted.

Smith asked why someone would need a county ID card, if they have a valid passport. Eyster said if the passport has expired, that wouldn’t be considered appropriate ID by many organizations and law enforcement. Smith questioned why the county would issue an ID based on an expired passport, when other entities don’t recognize that as a legitimate ID. Eyster replied that the goal is to determine “if this person is indeed who they say they are.” In the interest of human dignity and to assist those who live in our community, he added, it’s important to provide an ID so they can do things like rent a canoe, for example.

In the case of renting a canoe, Smith replied, that decision should be up to the city of Ann Arbor to change their policy regarding canoe rentals. The city is able to do that, and doesn’t need assistance from the county, he added. The same is true for other entities, like libraries and banks. “You’re trying to influence all these other policies throughout the county,” Smith said. Instead of developing a county ID, advocates should be lobbying other entities to change their policies.

Cowan responded, saying that the task force has done that type of community outreach. The response has been positive, she said. “If we institute a county ID, they would accept that.” Smith stressed that the county doesn’t need to “get in the middle of it.” The library, governed by a separate elected body, can make changes to its policies in any way it sees fit, for example. “They don’t need any assistance from us to alter their policies,” he said.

Eyster noted that they can continue to lobby each individual organization.

Smith thought that this problem is largely solved through the state’s ID card, and he wasn’t convinced the county should enact a new program. Regarding comparisons to other communities that offer ID cards, Smith noted that the ID program in New Jersey is a private venture, and the program in New Haven is operated by a city – there are no counties in Connecticut. And in California, counties are significantly more important than in Michigan because there’s no township structure there. So in the examples given by the task force, “none of them really bear any weight with me because there are completely different entities issuing the ID, as opposed to county government the way it exists in Michigan.”

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) asked whether the county has authority from the state to do this – such as state enabling legislation or an attorney general opinion. Cowan replied that the county’s corporation counsel, Curtis Hedger, is researching that issue and will advise the board.

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) noted that there is no current state enabling legislation – but there’s also no legislation that would prevent it.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) said he took a different perspective on it “than the other commissioner Smith.” He thought that the county would be providing a public service – not just for the individuals who would receive the ID “as a very basic human right,” but also for entities like libraries, businesses and other organizations. Those groups shouldn’t have to figure out their ID parameters on their own, he said. It seems like people would be very grateful if the county provided that service.

It’s not the county’s role to solve the U.S. immigration policies, C. Smith said, but the county can help residents get access to services that require an ID – whether you’re a legal resident or an undocumented resident. “It doesn’t matter to me – if you need to live a decent quality of life and we can facilitate that with a simple ID card, great. We can and we should.”

Next to the dental clinic that the county is starting, C. Smith thought an ID card would be one of the best things that the board has accomplished. “It warms my heart that we’re even here at this point right now,” he said. He thanked the work of the task force, and looked forward to a formal proposal being brought to the board for approval.

Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Back side of a sample Washtenaw County ID card.

Rabhi said he understood Dan Smith’s concerns. But responding to that, Rabhi added, when there are citizens in this community who are afraid to report a crime that they witness or that they’re the victim of, “that’s a problem.” When people can’t cash a check unless they go to a pawn shop, that’s a problem. If even a thousand residents in this community don’t have an ID, that’s a problem, he said. “I’m not going to wait for the Secretary of State to solve this problem, because in the last multiple decades, the Secretary of State hasn’t solved the problem,” he said.

It’s incumbent on the county to show leadership, Rabhi said. This isn’t a new concept, he noted. “We are acknowledging the humanity of people, and not pushing them to the side.” A lot of these people are taxpayers, he noted. He recalled a woman who’d come to a county board meeting asking for their help – she was a homeowner and her children were U.S. citizens, but she faced deportation. [He was referring to Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who spoke at the board's Dec. 7, 2011 meeting.]

Homeowners and renters contribute to the local economy, Rabhi said. The taxes they pay come back to the county, city, library and schools, he noted. “They’re paying into a system that they can’t fully retrieve the benefits of, and that’s a lack of service to our taxpayers.” It’s a matter of equity, he said. Rabhi urged his fellow commissioners to support it.

Rolland Sizemore Jr. asked if any other communities in Michigan offer an ID card. No, Cowan replied. Rabhi noted that task force members met with representatives from Calhoun County, and he’s also fielded calls from Grand Rapids and Kent County – so there’s interest from other Michigan communities, he said. “There’s a lot of buzz in the state right now about it.”

Sizemore wondered what it cost law enforcement agencies to deal with people who don’t have a valid ID. Cowan said the task force hadn’t asked for that figure. Eyster noted that depending on the circumstances, someone without an ID could be arrested rather than just ticketed. An arrest would also require that a police officer or deputy notify the immigration & naturalization service (INS), and the person could be subject to deportation. So being pulled over for a broken taillight or other minor infraction has larger implications, he said.

Sizemore asked if everyone could afford a $25 fee for the card. If someone is homeless, $25 is a lot of money, he said. Cowan replied that the task force has considered instituting a waiver for people who are truly indigent.

Responding to other queries from Sizemore, Cowan said an applicant for the ID card would not be fingerprinted. It would only take a few minutes to process the application, and the card would be provided when the person applied. Sizemore also wanted to know more details about how the process would be protected from fraud.

Sizemore told the task force members that he planned to support their proposal. Washtenaw County takes pride in being a leader, he said. It would help make people feel more a part of this community, especially youth. Given the benefits, the county wouldn’t be spending a lot of money on this, he said.

Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rolland Sizemore Jr. (foreground) and other commissioners at the Aug. 7 working session.

LaBarre indicated that he’d likely support the program too. “From a cold-hearted business perspective, it would be good for commerce – and I say that half tongue-in-cheek, given where I work,” he quipped. [LaBarre is vice president of government relations for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce.]

Based on the experience of other communities, LaBarre said, what should the county be prepared for in terms of possible security problems? Other communities that the task force surveyed haven’t seen problems with the ID card, Cowan replied.

LaBarre said he was worried that even if the county puts this ID program in place, businesses and other entities might not accept the identification as valid. How can the county ensure that it’s effective?

Cowan explained that the majority of instances when an ID is required for businesses is for liquor purchases or in conjunction with the use of a credit card. The regulations issued by major credit card companies indicate that any government ID will suffice. For liquor stores, only state-issued or federal ID is acceptable, she said, “so our county ID would not be effective for the purchase of liquor.”

Responding to another question from LaBarre, Cowan said that local social service agencies and nonprofits have encouraged the task force to develop an ID program. Eyster pointed out that the task force has a responsibility to make sure that various organizations are educated about the program.

LaBarre said that if he were writing a headline to get attention, it would say something inflammatory, like “County Proposes Giving IDs to Illegals.” He imagined that if the program moves forward, the county will have to contend with rumor and hearsay. He wanted to make sure that they go into it with their eyes wide open in terms of all possible problems. Were there issues that other communities hadn’t anticipated when they launched their ID card programs?

Cowan reported that one community felt they hadn’t begun their community outreach early enough. Another community thought that they hadn’t built a coalition that was sufficiently broad-based. And one community hadn’t realized the balance of weighing access to the card against the need for having a reliable, reputable card that actually authenticates the identity of an applicant.

Eyster described the issue of undocumented immigrants as “incendiary.” He noted that the current issue about immigrant children coming from Central America is an example of that. There will be individuals who’ll take potshots or who vehemently feel it’s inappropriate, he said. LaBarre wanted the county to have an airtight case in terms of the program’s implementation, to make sure they’re prepared to deal with these issues.

Eyster noted that it’s important to remember the terrorists involved in the 9-11 attacks all had valid visas. LaBarre replied: “Something tells me that folks who will hit us on that issue will not listen to your point, but it’s worth saying.”

Rabhi said the ID program could be the start of a public-nonprofit partnership. The proposal isn’t for the county to go it alone, he noted. Community partners would help with outreach and education, and that’s built into the budget. That’s an investment that would help leverage the county’s investment, he said.

Conan Smith wanted to highlight the people who have lived in the United States for perhaps their whole lives who have problems getting an ID. With the proliferation of voter identification laws, it’s become a problem in exercising a citizen’s most fundamental right – the opportunity to shape their government, he said. It’s a problem that disproportionately impacts young people under the age of 25, poor people who are making less than $30,000 a year, and minorities. “We can help with that problem,” Smith said.

Cowan noted that the program provides an opportunity to do outreach into communities where people lack IDs, and who don’t know about the affidavit of identify. “All they know is that the signs say, ‘Take your ID to the polls,’” she said. “So if you don’t have an ID, you don’t go to the polls.”

The board is expected to consider a formal resolution to establish an ID card program, likely at a meeting later this year.

ID Card: Public Commentary

Two people spoke during the time for public commentary at the end of the working session.

Katia Salazar told commissioners that she’ll be a senior at Huron High School. She lives in Ann Arbor and is part of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. She supports the ID task force because every human deserves a form of identification to prove who they are. “We are all equal, and deserve to have the same equal rights as others,” she said. Having ID would also help prevent unnecessary deportations in the community, and it alleviates the fear that she or a family member could be deported. It also makes it less embarrassing to try to access services or resources like a library card. She hoped the county could get IDs for people who need them.

Ibrahem Irmy, a member of the ID task force, told commissioners that he’s a media analyst and preschool teacher. “I became a human being naturalized by the law three years ago.” He had lived in fear for a year before that, and couldn’t do normal things. He looked for ways to volunteer, but many organizations didn’t want him to help, because he didn’t have the documents for that. He’s now working with Organizing for Action to try to pass immigration reform, and he’s seen lots of people living in fear. They live on extremely low wages – $3 or $4 an hour – and live with 17 people in a room that doesn’t have space for even one person, he said. It’s about being a human being. Everyone is an immigrant, he noted. “We came here somehow, and we have human rights for all of us.” He hoped Washtenaw County would be the first county in Michigan to implement the ID program. He’d be willing to do anything to make that happen.

Present: Andy LaBarre, Yousef Rabhi, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith, Dan Smith.

Absent: Felicia Brabec, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping.

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A2 Farmers Market Thu, 14 Aug 2014 19:46:15 +0000 Mary Morgan A crowd gathered at the farmers market for a memorial service for Michael Jennings, described in his obituary as an “unabashed Ann Arborite.”

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