Business Section

Milestone: A Pitcher Worth 1,000 Words

The monthly milestone column here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle provides a regular, systematic way to express our appreciation to readers and advertisers for their financial support. That support was strong enough to sustain the publication through its fifth year in operation. Thank you.

Pitcher passed at the Old Town Tavern on Jan. 1, 2014 for the annual Townes Van Zandt memorial show performed by Chris Buhalis – on the anniversary of Van Zandt s death, now 17 years ago. (Photo by the writer).

Pitcher passed at the Old Town Tavern on Jan. 1, 2014 for the annual Townes Van Zandt memorial show performed by Chris Buhalis – on the anniversary of Van Zandt’s death, now 17 years ago. (Photo by the writer.)

As we flip the calendar to a new year, the regular milestone column is also a chance to remind readers: To sustain itself, the business really does rely in part on “voluntary subscription” dollars.

The Chronicle’s continued ability to document local government and civic affairs depends on you and it depends on you now – not on someone else at some other time. So I’m asking you to think right now about using the online system or the old-fashioned check-in-an-envelope method to make a financial contribution to The Chronicle: Subscribe!

As a reminder, in case we don’t write a column about this in some given month, I’ve added a recurring monthly item to our event listings for the second day of every month: Time to Contribute Financially to The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

It’s worth pointing out that The Chronicle’s event listings are pretty extensive, and currently include somewhere around 15,000 local events. That’s made possible through the work of Jon Udell as part of his Elm City Project. Granted, 15,000 events might sound a bit overwhelming, but we have begun categorizing them into smaller mini-calendars that some readers might find easier to parse.

One of the regular events you’ll find listed in The Chronicle’s event calendar is live music every Sunday night at the Old Town Tavern. Customary at the Old Town, after the band has played its set, is for someone to carry around a pitcher to collect up money for the musicians. It’s somewhat like a secular version of passing the collection plate at a worship service in the Christian tradition.

When someone is holding the pitcher out in front of you, that’s the time you are called upon to act – not later.

So I’d like you to think of this month’s column as the Internet-equivalent of passing the pitcher for The Chronicle. Below the fold, I’m going to beat briefly (I promise) on this same drum. So if you’ve made a recent contribution, you should feel free to imagine that the pitcher has moved on to the next table. [Full Story]

Milestone: Zooey, Ukes, Parades, Calendars

In this monthly update, I will explain what Zooey Deschanel and Ann Arbor, Michigan have in common.

I’ll hazard a guess that some regular readers of The Chronicle’s local government news coverage might wonder: Who is Zooey Deschanel? OK. So here it goes. She’s that actress from New Girl – not the one who plays CeCe, but the one who plays Jess. Right. So Jess is the one who might wind up with Nick, but we don’t know for sure, but we’re still totally rooting for them to get together as a couple – because they’re both so, like, you know, quirky that nobody else would have them.

Calendar Listing for Ukelele Group

Extract of The Chronicle’s calendar listing for July 4, 2013. Other events between this “double entry” were digitally removed.

Ah, yes. New Girl is a TV sitcom, broadcast on FOX.

If that doesn’t give Ms. Deschanel enough cred for you to read any more of this column, try this: She gave a musical performance at Hill Auditorium last night, as part of the duo “She & Him.”

She was performing around the same time when regular readers of The Chronicle were following along with our live updates from the meeting of the Ann Arbor city council. [Spoiler alert: The council was all sorta Nick-and-Jess about their agenda last night, and postponed a bunch of stuff.]

Those city council meetings, by the way, are listed out on The Chronicle’s new-and-improved event listing display, along with myriad other happenings in Ann Arbor. I wrote about the basic technology behind that event listing earlier this year. If you’d like to add all your organization’s events to our listing all-in-one-go, it’s pretty easy.

The lead art for this column is made out of a screenshot taken from The Chronicle’s event listings. For calendar purists, this might be evidence that we are doing it wrong: The 4th of July parade is listed twice. Twice? That’s like making Jess and Nick go on a double date with CeCe and Schmidt, am I right?

Actually, I think that “double listing” illustrates perfectly why our approach to event listings is exactly right.  [Full Story]

Milestone: Relays Without Batons

We’re roughly midway through The Chronicle’s fifth year. That means in September we’ll mark a half-decade of publication.

May Day Medley Columbus Indiana 1988

Commemorative May Day Medley mug.  (Columbus, Indiana 1988)

At that point, we will likely write a column with some reckoning of total words, or total number of public meetings covered, or some other statistical breakdown.

And even though we will say, “It’s a half decade,” those numbers will not mean we are half way there. Because there is where the finish line is. And in this race The Chronicle has been running, there is no finish line.

In that respect it is not like a marathon – when you know at the start that if you settle into a sustainable pace, you will eventually finish. But for a race that has no finish line, what does a sustainable pace even mean?

Here at The Chronicle, a sustainable pace means that the business is financially stable enough to cover the freelance writers, basic business expenses and the livelihoods of a full-time editor and publisher. But The Chronicle is not sustainable in an important sense. It requires a full-time effort from two people – and here I don’t mean 40 hours, or 60 hours, or even 80 hours a week. I mean basically every waking moment.

So The Chronicle is not sustainable in the sense that it’s a business that could be sold to someone else to carry on – unless that someone else were two people who are willing to run down a race course that offers a simple livelihood with few water stations and some occasional cheers.

To pound this running metaphor completely into the ground, The Chronicle is not sustainable in the sense that it could passed like a baton to the next runner in a relay. And that reminds me of a relay race I ran a quarter century ago in my hometown of Columbus, Indiana.

It was called the May Day Medley.  [Full Story]

Column: Literati’s “Moment on the Page”

In the depths, it is tough to have faith that all things must pass.

I have been cobbling together a living since July 2009, when New York-based Advance Publications shut down Ann Arbor’s daily newspaper. It was a trauma, pure and simple, for me and for many of my colleagues. After almost 20 years at The News and 30 years as a newspaperwoman, my “career” was dead and the newspaper industry eventually would be, too – at least as we knew it. Some really bleak months followed for all of us.

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor business, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A crowd showed up for Literati’s first event on Friday evening, April 5. The new downtown bookstore is located at Washington and Fourth Avenue.

One of the ways I pay the mortgage now is with earnings from my freelance editing business. One of my clients was the Michigan Theater, which in 2011 hired me to edit a history of the theater. The manuscript’s author, Henry Aldridge, recently retired from the faculty of Eastern Michigan University; in the 1970s he rallied the community to rescue the Michigan from the wrecking ball and for decades has been one of the theater’s organists.

Over a number of months Henry and I would meet at Biggby Coffee on East Liberty Street and, chapter by chapter, shape his story of how a movie palace built for silent films in the 1920s weathered dramatic shifts in the film industry and the damage done to downtown America by postwar suburban sprawl, to ultimately stand firm as an Ann Arbor cultural landmark. It is an inspiring tale.

After one of our sessions we stood together outside Biggby and glumly beheld the dead sidewalk in front of the newly vacated Borders flagship store – a community institution that the community could not save. The ironies did not escape us.

The loss was especially personal for Henry; the bankruptcy had thrown a young friend of his out of a job she adored. Shannon Alden was a 14-year veteran of Borders with a passion for children’s literature. Henry was prodding her to find another way to use her gifts for connecting with people and sharing her delight in books. He urged me to contact her if only to offer some moral support; both of us had taken a hard blow to our sense of purpose because of a revolution in the economics of reading. Newspapers, bookstores – the Internet was killing them both.

So it is not a little ironic that months of blogging and Facebooking kept us up to date on the city’s much-anticipated new downtown bookstore before Literati officially opened its doors at 124 E. Washington St. on Easter Sunday. [Full Story]

Milestone: Monthly Reminders

The Chronicle’s milestone column was originally conceived as a monthly feature – an opportunity for either the editor or the publisher to relay housekeeping news to readers, or offer opinions on topics related to media and journalism. It was also conceived as a monthly reminder to readers that actual human beings who live among them are reporting, writing and editing this publication.

Blue overlay reminder notice

Screenshot of blue overlay reminder notice. After it’s been closed – by clicking the “close button” in the upper righthand of the overlay – it should not appear again as a reader continues to navigate through The Chronicle’s site.

The monthly milestone column was also a vehicle for reminding readers that it takes regular financial contributions from readers like them to sustain this publication. As we look to transition this from a monthly to an occasional column, we’d like to maintain a monthly schedule of reminders to folks: If you perceive a benefit from The Chronicle to yourself and the broader community, then please consider contributing financial support so that benefit can be sustained.

So, to maintain a regular monthly reminder, especially in those months when we don’t publish a milestone column, we’re trying out a blue overlay – which should have appeared on your screen if you visited the website today (Feb. 2, 2013). In some ways, it’s an awful and ostentatious way to greet Chronicle readers. But to make it go away, just click in the upper righthand corner on the “close button.” It shouldn’t appear again for the duration of your visit.

Of course, instead of clicking on that “close button,” we’d prefer you clicked on the SUBSCRIBE link. Or failing that, we’re hoping that the blue overlay might remind you to review your check register for the last time you wrote out a check to The Chronicle.

And of course, if you’re already sending your regular financial support to The Chronicle, we’d like you to interpret that blue overlay as a thank-you. We hope it will encourage you to mention to your friends, co-workers and acquaintances that you voluntarily subscribe to The Chronicle, and suggest they do the same. [Full Story]

Milestone: Flipping Your Calendar to 2013

The start of a new year is a plenty good excuse to talk about calendars – or event listings.

Screenshot of excerpt from Chronicle event listings

Screenshot showing an excerpt from The Chronicle event listings.

Ordinarily, I would be inclined to bore you to death by discussing Internet standards, syndication, multiple-data entry problems, connections to authoritative sources, the myriad ways I am smarter than our pet cat, and how all this should cause us to grumble and make very serious faces as we lament the future of journalism.

But I figure I have a whole year to do that.

For now, I’d like you to consider this: The Chronicle’s calendar listings currently include 4,217 events.

That’s because we’ve embraced an approach to event listings based on the idea that: (1) event hosts are in command of the most accurate information about their events; and (2) event hosts should be able to just maintain their own calendars, and expect their event information to show up all over the Internet, without doing one bit of extra data entry for any publication.  [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

The Kerrytown BookFest’s Community Book Award, which honors local contributions to publishing and book arts, will go to Tom and Cindy Hollander when the festival returns for its 10th year on Sunday at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market.

Cindy and Tom Hollander

Cindy and Tom Hollander. (Photo by M. Morgan)

Chief among those contributions is Hollander’s School of Book & Paper Arts, which for almost 20 years has offered workshops, classes and studio space for book artists (my husband among them) and drawn students and teachers from around the country to Ann Arbor. So there is more than a touch of irony in the timing of Sunday’s award: When the 11th annual BookFest rolls around, the school will be no more.

I talked to Tom and Cindy earlier this week about their decision to close the school at the end of the spring 2013 term. In response to what they describe as diminishing enrollment, they say they are stepping away from one branch of a business that has expanded dramatically from the tiny shop on the second floor of Kerrytown Market & Shops in 1991. Today, the main floor of Hollander’s offers a lavish collection of fine papers and stationery, desk sets, decorative boxes and gifts along with bookbinding supplies; Hollander’s Kitchen Store is upstairs.

“When we opened our store,” Cindy said, “I can say I never heard the word ‘book art.’” But by 1994, she and Tom were teaching workshops and by 2002, they were using the lower level of their Kerrytown space for the Hollander’s School of Book & Paper Arts. Tom gives some credit for that expansion to local book artist Barbara Brown, who in the mid-1990s was leading occasional workshops at Hollander’s while also attending summer sessions at the American Academy of Bookbinding in Telluride, Colo.

“She’d come back after taking these classes,” Tom said, “and she really talked it up” – eventually persuading him to check things out for himself. “I’d been around the next level [of book arts] for long enough that I got interested in more than just business – I was ready for something different,” he said. “I wanted to go to the next level myself.” [Full Story]

Milestone: Celebrating Our Community

As The Chronicle approaches its fourth anniversary, it’s time to continue a new tradition that we began last year – the annual Bezonki awards.

Bezonki Award

One of six Bezonki awards created by local artist Alvey Jones for The Chronicle. (Photos by Barbara Tozier.)

A year ago, we looked for a way to recognize some of the many people who make this community special. The Chronicle’s inaugural Bezonki awards were given to an amazing, eclectic group – and this year’s recipients were equally inspiring: Roger Rayle; the digital archives team at the Ann Arbor District Library – Andrew MacLaren, Amy Cantu, Debbie Gallagher, and Jacki Sasaki; Anna Ercoli Schnitzer; Jim Toy; Common Cycle; and Jeff Micale.

You’ll read more about them below. They are representative of so many others who work to make this community a better place, in ways that are well-known in some cases, or that more often play a critical but less high-profile role.

The physical awards were fashioned by local artist Alvey Jones, creator of the inscrutable Bezonki cartoons published monthly in The Chronicle. Each of the six Bezonkis is unique, and captures this community’s quirky attributes. The awards embody a nod to the past – some of the parts were salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News – and a wink to the future.

There’s another twist to these awards. We ask that each winner of the Bezonki be a steward of the physical award for a year. They then pass it on to the next year’s winner – that happened at a July 27 reception held at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth. Our goal is for the awards to create connections between people in the community year after year – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.

That’s actually one of the things that has been most rewarding for me since we launched The Chronicle – crossing paths with so many remarkable people that I might not otherwise have met. So the Bezonki awards are also an opportunity to thank the many people who have supported us along the way – as advertisers, subscribers, commenters, contributors or Chronicle readers and enthusiasts. We thank you all.

And now, I’m delighted to introduce our 2012 Bezonki winners! [Full Story]

Milestone: On Crime and Calendars

In a comment on last month’s milestone column, reader Jim Rees wrote, “If I had a million bucks to endow a reporter’s desk at the Chronicle, I would ask that Bill Treml be hired for the crime desk.”

xx article by Bill Treml in the Ann Arbor News

A 1968 article by Ann Arbor News police reporter Bill Treml from the Ann Arbor District Library's digital archives project.

For readers who are not familiar with Treml, he was a long-time reporter for the Ann Arbor News. Some of Treml’s work is already part of the Ann Arbor District Library digital archives project.

From the lede of a piece by Treml, “Police Believe Several People Saw Murder Victim Enter Car,” published on July 10, 1968: “Police hopes of solving the Joan E. Schell murder case spurted sharply upward today with the revelation that as many as three persons may have seen the Eastern Michigan University coed get into a car on the night of June 30.”

While The Chronicle doesn’t currently cover crime, we do reflect occasionally on possible models for covering that topic – as a contingency for an unexpected million-dollar endowment. Several possible newer approaches are sketched out in a recent piece by Jonathan Stray for Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab: “Beyond the Crime Scene: We Need New and Better Models for Crime Reporting.”

As Stray notes, police departments no longer need to rely on third parties like newspapers, radio and television stations to disseminate information about crimes that have taken place. A police department can communicate directly with the public about those crimes – using its own website and RSS feed, for example. The University of Michigan department of public safety maintains a crime alerts public data feed and a daily incidents log like that. The Ann Arbor police department contracts through crimemapping.com to provide publicly accessible basic information about crime location, type and time, which is updated once a day. And the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office uses the Nixle service to let people sign up for crime alerts and other information, delivered via text message or email.

For this basic “spot news” type of information, public safety agencies are a single-point source of authoritative information, which they can share directly with the public. It’s authoritative, because a police department has unique access to basic descriptive information about crimes.

Now, I’m going to draw an analogy that might seem at first like a non-sequitur: A police department’s unique access to descriptive information about crime events is comparable, I think, to a party host’s unique access to details about an upcoming party. And that has consequences for a reasonable model of at least one small component of crime reporting. [Full Story]

Milestone: The Science of Journalism

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

Describe what you see. Only what you see.

Describe what you see, but only what you can see.

Description. Analysis. Explanation. Remember those three concepts.

Last month I participated in a video teleconference with students who are members of Bowling Green State University’s Online News Association. It’s a group that’s advised by department of journalism and public relations faculty member Dave Sennerud. The focus that evening was on hyperlocal news sites, which is a specialty of BGSU’s Mike Horning. Horning recently completed a dissertation on that topic at Penn State University.

I view any interaction like that video conference as a chance to evangelize a bit about The Chronicle’s approach to writing the news – which prioritizes description over storytelling. And that chance came when a general question was posed about advice to journalism majors who will be entering the field.

My advice: Got a journalism degree? That’s great, but I’d prefer that you were a scientist.

As we used to say back in Indiana, that is currently a mute point. Right now, although the amount of advertising and individual subscriber support continues to increase each month, not enough readers subscribe voluntarily and not enough advertisers purchase ads for us to contemplate hiring additional full-time staff. But that’s the direction we’re working towards, to supplement our freelance reporters and to make our own workload more sustainable.

So while we’re not in a hiring mode now, we do anticipate a time when we’ll be making those decisions, and it makes sense to think about the type of skills we’d like a reporter to have.

The main skill a Chronicle reporter needs – and the one I think the entire field of journalism has largely forgotten – is the ability to describe, in detail, an event or an issue in a way that is designed mostly to engage the intellect of readers, not their emotions. It’s actually a scientific skill. But that approach to writing the news contrasts with the way institutional journalism has evolved to train its next generation of practitioners.

If basic description is a part of traditional, institutional journalism, it’s typically well-hidden, behind attempted analysis and attempted explanation – in the form of “stories.” And when I write the word “stories,” I put those scare quotes around it consciously. That’s so it’s not confused with other ways of referring to items that might appear in a journalistic publication, like “articles,” “briefs” or “reports.”

Most items that are written by traditional journalists these days are attempts at “stories” in that term’s literal sense – a narrative with a conflict, a plot, and characters who say interesting and provocative things. But as a reporter, if you begin with the idea of a story you want to tell, you’ve ordered your task backwards. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA Updates: Budget, TIF Talk

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 4, 2012): The absence of four out of 12 DDA board members had no effect on any outcomes at the meeting, because the board did not have resolutions on its agenda.

Susan Pollay, Marcia Higgins

Before the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority's April 9 budget presentation to the Ann Arbor city council, DDA executive director Susan Pollay rolls up her sleeves as she chats with councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). (Photos by the writer.)

The meeting took place against the backdrop of the DDA’s budget presentation to the city council the following week – on April 9 – and various other ongoing projects. So the board’s agenda consisted of a collection of regular committee updates and status reports.

Those included an update on the Connecting William Street project – an initiative to explore alternative uses of a limited set of city-owned parcels currently used for parking. The DDA embarked on the project at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council in a resolution it approved about a year ago – on April 4, 2011. The DDA had wanted the ability to lead that exploration, partly in exchange for renegotiating a contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. That new contract was finally settled on May 31, 2011, and features a clause that provides the city of Ann Arbor 17% of gross revenues out of the public parking system.

Total parking revenues for fiscal year 2013 are projected at around $18 million in the budget approved by the DDA board at its meeting the previous month, on March 7, 2012. That budget was presented by the DDA at a city council work session on April 9. The budget presentation featured a review of the DDA’s history of infrastructure investment and impact on the downtown district since its formation in 1982 – over $100 million of DDA investment, accompanied by $300 million in private investment and an increase in taxable value from $89 million to $386 million.

Another work session highlight was a series of questions posed by councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) about compliance with Ann Arbor’s ordinance that regulates how the tax increment finance (TIF) tax capture works for the DDA district. Last year, the city’s financial staff pointed to Chapter 7 of the city code, which appears to limit the amount of taxes the DDA can “capture” from the other taxing units in the district. The DDA board agreed with the city’s interpretation, and returned $473,000 in combined TIF revenues to the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw Community College and Washtenaw County.

Subsequently, the DDA reversed its position and gave a different interpretation to Chapter 7. Responding to Kunselman at the work session, DDA board chair (and retired Washtenaw County administrator) Bob Guenzel told Kunselman that the DDA had informed other taxing units of the DDA’s revised position, which was not to say they agreed with the DDA, he said.

Also the focus of TIF monies captured by the DDA is a proposed development at 618 S. Main, which received a positive recommendation from the Ann Arbor planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012. The 7-story building would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles. The developer of the project, Dan Ketelaar, has estimated that the tax on the increment between the current valuation of the property and the final built project would yield around $250,000 a year in TIF revenue to the DDA.

Ketelaar is was initially asking that in addition to reimbursement of certain costs (at around $1.4 million) within six months of the project’s completion, the DDA pledge 80% of its TIF capture money for six years – an additional $1.3 million – to support certain aspects of the project in connection with the state’s Community Revitalization Program. But subsequently, Ketelaar revised the request to include just the TIF reimbursement. So the total request, over six years, is $1.3 million. The CRP is the successor to the brownfield and historic preservation tax credit program. In order to approve the tax credit, the state would like to see a commensurate commitment from local units – and Ketelaar is proposing that it take the form of the DDA’s support.

Ketelaar has pitched his idea to the DDA board on several occasions now – first at the full board meeting on Feb. 1, 2012, and at three subsequent DDA partnerships committee meetings. DDA board members are cautious about the precedent that such a pledge might set, and the appropriateness of the DDA’s role at this early stage in the project. (Ketelaar has not yet acquired the land.) At the March 28 partnerships committee meeting, DDA board member Newcombe Clark expressed concern that, depending on the precise role defined for the DDA’s participation, the DDA could effectively be artificially inflating land values.

This report takes a look in more detail at Connecting William Street, the DDA’s April 9 budget presentation to the city council, the lingering TIF capture issue, and the 618 S. Main project, as well as odds and ends from the April 4 DDA board meeting. [Full Story]

Milestone: Getting on Board With Taxis

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

Taxicab Meter Ann Arbor

This taxicab meter reads "VACANT" – just like two seats on Ann Arbor's taxicab board.

This little taxi ride is going to start where Mary Morgan’s milestone column last month left off – she drew a comparison between news media choices and transportation choices.

This column also will deliver readers to a destination that asks them to consider applying for a mayoral appointment to Ann Arbor’s taxicab board.

If you’d like to take a shortcut, then go ahead and download the application form for the city’s boards and commissions, and return it to the mayor’s office. The address is printed right on the form.

But the longer route will include some discussion about who’s paying the fare for this media cab we call The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Last Friday evening, Mary Morgan and I ordered an actual cab to cover the 3/4 mile from our Old West Side neighborhood to the near edge of downtown Ann Arbor. Who on earth orders a cab to cover that short a distance? A journalist who needs a piece of art for a column involving taxis, that’s who. The trip required a detour from the planned route. That’s because Washington Street between Ashley and Main was closed for the FoolMoon festival – which we were headed downtown to see.

The taxicab driver circled around to have another go at it from Huron Street.  And he told us he’d knock a quarter mile off the final distance on the meter. He could exercise that discretion, because taxicab drivers function essentially as independent contractors, who lease the vehicles from the taxicab company each night.

There’s a limit to a cabbie’s discretion. I’m guessing he wouldn’t earn a livelihood if he decided just to let passengers ride for free, for as long as they liked, and expect that they might later send him an equitable fare. Yet if operating The Chronicle were like driving a cab, that’s what the voluntary subscriptions part of our business model would look like.  [Full Story]

Planning Action: Cars, Noodles, Donuts & Gas

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 6, 2012): Site plans for two food chains – a Tim Hortons at State and Ellsworth, and Noodles & Co. on West Stadium Boulevard, south of Liberty – were recommended for approval at the most recent planning commission meeting.

Former Szechwan West building

A car pulls into West Stadium Boulevard from a driveway next to the former Sze-Chuan West restaurant. The Ann Arbor planning commission recommended approval of a proposal to tear down the structure and build a Noodles & Co. restaurant there. (Photos by the writer.)

Much of the discussion about the Tim Hortons site focused on a proposed roundabout at that intersection. Though the coffee and donut shop will likely be built by late summer – about a year before the roundabout is expected to be in place – a spokesman for the company said they’ll be designing the site with the roundabout in mind.

Commissioners also recommended approval of a new AAA branch on South Main, across from Michigan Stadium. The plan calls for rezoning a portion of the site to accommodate more parking than the current office zoning would allow – a total of 35 spaces. That’s a reduction from the amount of parking currently on the site, which was approved in the mid-1970s, but it no longer conforms with existing zoning.

Commissioners Bonnie Bona, Erica Briggs and Kirk Westphal expressed concerns about rezoning an area along Main Street for parking. They also wondered whether 35 spaces were necessary, especially when there are alternative parking options – at a park-and-ride at Pioneer High, and in the nearby neighborhood. Briggs noted that it ran counter to the city’s efforts to encourage alternative transportation. Those three commissioners voted against the rezoning, but the resolution passed on a 6-3 vote. It will still require city council approval.

Also at the March 6 meeting, commissioners postponed action on a request from owners of the Shell service station at the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and West Eisenhower Parkway. Owners of the station hope to build additions onto the existing 1,000-square-foot convenience store, but planning staff recommended postponement in order to gather additional information and analysis about the plan. [Full Story]

Liquor Committee: Two Hearings on Licenses

At a meeting on Feb. 23, 2012, the Ann Arbor city council’s liquor license review committee continued deliberations on the annual review of roughly 120 liquor licenses in the city. The three-member committee consists of city councilmembers Tony Derezinski, Mike Anglin and Jane Lumm.

Dream Nite Club Sign

Dream Nite Club door sign. Reflected in the glass is the AATA bus stop next to the Blake Transit Center, across Fourth Avenue from the bar. (Photos by the writer.)

At their meeting, also attended by several city staff, the trio set in motion a process by which the licenses of Dream Nite Club (314 S. Fourth Ave.) and Rush Street (312 S. Main St.) might not be renewed by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC).

The committee had begun the work at its previous meeting, on Feb. 7. City staff from various departments – building inspection, police, city attorney’s office and treasurer’s office – identified around a dozen establishments with problems ranging from delinquent taxes to building permit issues. Those businesses were sent letters notifying them of the problems. The majority of those businesses took steps before the Feb. 23 meeting to rectify their situation.

Left unresolved were licenses for two businesses. So the committee voted to recommend to the city council that licenses for those businesses not be renewed – Dream Nite Club (for maintaining a nuisance) and Rush Street (for delinquent taxes) – with a hearing on the matter to be set for March 19. That recommendation will appear on the city council’s March 5 agenda.

After the council authorizes notification of the licensee, and is followed by the hearing, the recommendation of the hearing officer will be forwarded to the council for its meeting that same day, on March 19. The hearing officer, previously appointed by the council, is chair of the liquor license review committee, councilmember Tony Derezinski.

The council will then need to confirm Derezinski’s recommendation at its March 19 meeting. The timeline is determined by the MLCC’s March 31 deadline for the city council to submit an objection to the renewal of a liquor license. The Ann Arbor city council’s last regular meeting before then is March 19.

Also discussed at the committee meeting was the Elks Lodge on Sunset Road, which holds a club liquor license. The regular entertainment that takes place at the lodge is a violation of the residential zoning of the parcel, according to city planning staff. The city has sent a letter to the Elks Lodge in an effort to bring the Elks into compliance with zoning regulations. Added on March 5, 2012 after initial publication of this article: [.pdf of letter from city of Ann Arbor to the Elks Lodge] [Full Story]

Milestone: Getting on the Media Bus

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

In this month’s Chronicle milestone column, I’d like to talk about options, and how some recent experiences with transit caused me to reflect on the current somewhat chaotic media landscape.

This is called an odometer.

This Ruckus scooter is only slightly older than The Chronicle, and over the last four years it has logged over 3,700 miles around Ann Arbor.

In my household, a few years ago we made a decision to get rid of our one car. So when I need to go somewhere, a car parked in my driveway is not the go-to option. Instead, I choose to walk, ride my Ruckus, take the bus, use a Zipcar, or on rare occasions, bum a ride from a friend or call a cab.

Generally, I don’t miss having a car. But so far this year, I’ve had occasion to get smacked by our decision not to use our community’s mainstream mode of transportation. At times like those, I fantasize what it would be like if car ownership weren’t the norm in most of America, including Ann Arbor. Surely the options we have would become more second nature to everyone, and there would be sufficient demand to support better service and access. Everyone would develop different expectations, and habits.

By way of analogy to media, the decision about a mainstream mode has already been made for us here in Ann Arbor. The media “car” – the one daily newspaper that most people received because there were no other options – has been pulled off the road. But for some of us, our expectations and habits haven’t fully adapted, and the alternatives can seem confusing, disjointed and unreliable.

I (still) regularly hear complaints that Ann Arbor lacks a “real” newspaper, and I react in two ways. First, I do feel nostalgia for the Ann Arbor News – I spent a good chunk of my life there, after all. I miss a daily local newspaper, too. But what I really miss is the ideal of a daily local newspaper – and that’s something I’m not sure The News, at least in its final years, actually delivered.

In its place is a collection of options for news and information, some better than others. I would expect to see even more in the coming years. The Chronicle is certainly one of those options, but will not satisfy the full range of our community’s information needs. Still, I’d argue that The Chronicle’s focus on local government provides Ann Arbor residents with far better coverage of local government than it’s enjoyed in the nearly two decades I’ve lived in Ann Arbor.

I’d like to circle back to the topic of media options later in the column.

But first, my transit tales. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Time with AT&T (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This installment of the column is published in two parts. Mostly that’s because Nelson wrote too many words this month. Part 1 of the column documented Nelson’s experience with AT&T customer service, as he attempted to get an unjustified service call charge removed. Nelson was ultimately successful in getting the charge removed.

Left unpaid, Nelson would have faced the standard legal methods available to businesses to recover payment from non-paying customers, including being turned over to a collection agency. 

I hate to be accused of mincing words, so I’m gonna put aside my usual genteel beat-around-the-bushiness and just say it: What AT&T is doing is straight up extortion.

A person [1] with whom I have a very shallow business relationship sends me a letter demanding money, either in the form of cash, or in a greater sum of my time. If I don’t pay up, he is going to pass my name to his “collection agency,” who will then hound me until I give them the money they want, and do me lingering economic harm even after they get the cash. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Time with AT&T (Part 1)

Editor’s note: This column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This installment of the column will be published in two parts. Mostly that’s because Nelson wrote too many words this month.

Listen: I’m fully aware that a healthy, employed man in a functioning industrialized democracy kvetching about his phone service is basically the canonical First World Problem.

In my defense, this is illustrative kvetching; c’mon, it’ll be fun!

I have AT&T for my home phone and high-speed Internet service. In September last year this service took a nose dive; suddenly my Internet connection would suffer hours-long periods of dropping, negotiating, reconnecting, then dropping again – a process that I could readily monitor, since my phone line was now so lousy with modem whistles that I could hear little else (although callers could hear me with crystal clarity, which made me sound somewhat prematurely demented as I hollered for them to speak up over all the damn noise). [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: Draggin’ Tail, Dragon Tale

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle currently has no plans to implement a choice of "skins" for the website, especially not one that would allow readers to view the publication as if it were printed on dragon scales.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle currently has no plans to implement a choice of "skins" for the website, especially not one that would allow readers to view the publication as if it were printed on the scales of a dragon we slew.

Some eagle-eyed regular readers might have noticed that in the spot on the “masthead” where the current date used to sit are now four links: Civic News TickerStopped. Watched.CommentsEvents. We’re also expecting the sad grey box at the top of the left sidebar to be retired sometime soon.

This does not signal that a major design change is in the offing. We have no plans, for example, to implement a choice of “skins” for the website, especially not one that would allow readers to view the publication as if it were printed on the scales of a dragon we slew.

That initial change – swapping out the masthead date with links we’d like to highlight – was prompted by some confusion that resulted from the appearance of a current date … on the same page as an article originally published three years ago.

It’s actually somewhat encouraging that The Chronicle has now been around long enough that this kind of confusion could result.

What I’d like to share with readers this month is a little vignette from the city council’s last meeting, which concluded near midnight – so I was draggin’ tail. And the vignette itself is a little dragon tale. [Full Story]

Milestone: Starting Small, Thinking Big

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

Cross Hands

Not long after midnight, the Kerrytown neighborhood was treated to several tunes played by a group of folks Joe O'Neal had gathered up. Among the songs was "Danny Boy," performed by Chronicle editor Dave Askins. Joe's daughter, Heather O'Neal, guided performers by pointing to the notes as they played.

The Chronicle spent part of its New Year’s Eve – the midnight part – at a small gathering in Kerrytown Market & Shops. Owner Joe O’Neal credits Mary Cambruzzi, proprietor of FOUND Gallery, with the idea: Open up the building for a few people to toast the new year with champagne or sparkling juice, and give people a chance to ring in 2012 by playing the carillon.

We were able to join the small event, because earlier in the day on New Year’s Eve, I happened to run into Joe at the Ann Arbor farmers market.

As Joe and I chatted, he showed me a new alcove outside the building – with benches and a plaque – honoring Ginny Johansen, a former Ann Arbor city councilmember and farmers market supporter who died last year. We also talked about the success of this year’s KindleFest, which on one night in early December drew several thousand people to Kerrytown. The regular stores stayed open late, and the farmers market was filled with vendors – selling everything from holiday greenery to glühwein. The energy of the crowds was exhilarating, and made me wish for more events like that.

In that context, Joe mentioned the New Year’s Eve gathering later that night, and invited us to drop by and play the carillon. Though it’s been a small affair for the past couple of years, he sees the possibility for more. His vision 10 years from now is to draw 10,000 people to Kerrytown on New Year’s Eve. Maybe someone could build a sort of reverse Times Square ball, he said, that would shoot up instead of dropping down. There could be fireworks. And carillon-playing, of course.

His vision made me think of how some of the most special things in this town start small, with one or two people thinking just a little bit bigger. So in this month’s Chronicle milestone column, I’d like to share a few thoughts on that as we head into the new year. [Full Story]

Traver Village Site Plan Approved

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Dec. 20, 2011): With four of the city’s nine planning commissioners absent, the last meeting of the year was brief, with only one action item: site plan approval for changes at Traver Village.

Earl Ophoff, Jeff Kahan

From left: Earl Ophoff of Midwestern Consulting talks with Jeff Kahan of the city's planning staff about proposed changes at Traver Village. (Photos by the writer.)

The owner, First Martin Corp., plans to reconfigure retail space that the Blockbuster video store previously occupied, at the southern part of the complex near Plymouth Road, converting it into three smaller retail spaces.

Plans call for adding a new 25-space parking lot to serve that location, between the south side of the building and Plymouth. Elsewhere within the complex, 128 parking spaces will be removed – primarily in the northwest area behind the Kroger grocery. More bike spaces and landscaping are part of the plan as well, which was approved unanimously by commissioners after brief discussion. It will now be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Communications during the 30-minute meeting included a reminder of a series of public forums on sustainability starting early next year. The first one, on Thursday, Jan. 12, will feature a panel of city staff on the topic of resource management. All forums will be held at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building, 343 S. Fifth Ave., beginning at 7 p.m. It’s part of a broader sustainability initiative that began earlier this year, funded by a Home Depot Foundation grant. [Full Story]

Public Gets View of 618 S. Main Proposal

Residents gathered in the sewing room of the former Fox Tent & Awning building on Friday night for the first public meeting about 618 S. Main – a proposed apartment building that fronts Main, Mosley and Ashley streets.

That part of town is perhaps best known for the local landmark Washtenaw Dairy, located less than a block away from the proposed development. At Friday’s meeting, donuts from the shop were offered as refreshment, next to a wall of drawings and maps of the project. Washtenaw Dairy owner Doug Raab was among the 50 or so residents who attended.

Architectural rendering of 618 S. Main project

This architectural rendering of the 618 S. Main project was posted on a wall at the Nov. 11 neighborhood meeting about the project. This view is from the perspective facing northeast, from the intersection of Ashley and Mosley streets. (Photos by the writer.)

The building – a six-story structure, with additional apartments on a penthouse level – will consist of about 180 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with rents likely in the $950 to $1,400 range. Two levels of underground parking are planned, with about 140 spaces. The project targets young professionals in their mid-20s to mid-30s, developer Dan Ketelaar told the group on Friday – people who are interested in an urban lifestyle, within walking distance of the downtown and University of Michigan campus.

Ketelaar hopes the project will transform that section of Main Street and perhaps encourage the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to make improvements in that area, as it’s doing now along Fifth and Division.

Because the project as designed is about 80 feet at its highest point – 20 feet taller than what zoning would allow – it will be submitted to the city as a “planned project.” Planned projects allow for some flexibility in height or setbacks, in exchange for public benefits. They don’t allow as much flexibility, however, as a planned unit development (PUD). Ketelaar cited a large courtyard along Ashley as a benefit to the neighborhood. Another benefit he cited was the provision on site of double the amount of required parking.

Parking was among several concerns mentioned by residents during a Q&A on Friday with Ketelaar and his project team, which includes a landscape architect who also helped design the new plaza and rain garden in front of city hall. Several residents said parking and traffic are already an issue in that neighborhood.

City councilmember Mike Anglin – who represents Ward 5, where the project is located – urged Ketelaar to work toward narrowing Main Street south of Packard from four to two lanes, to slow speeds along that stretch. Ketelaar had mentioned the idea of improving that part of Main Street earlier in the meeting. He said he could suggest narrowing the road, but noted that it’s up to the city to make that decision.

Other issues discussed at the meeting include the need to integrate the development with the neighborhood, the project’s financing, and details of the building’s design. Environmental issues covered at the meeting included: the site’s brownfield status; stormwater management; and relation to the floodplain.

This is the second project to go through the city’s new design review process. The first project to be reviewed in this way – The Varsity Ann Arbor – had been approved by city council the previous night. The design review board will meet at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the former Fox Tent & Awning building at 618 S. Main. That meeting, which is open to the public, will be followed by another community forum on Tuesday, Nov. 22 from 5-7 p.m. at the same location. Ketelaar has previously met with local business owners and members of the Old West Side Association board to discuss the project.

The project is expected to be formally submitted to the city later this month. After review by the city planning staff, it will be considered by the planning commission, which will make a recommendation to the city council. Construction could begin in the fall of 2012. [Full Story]

Public Hearing Starts Without Aparkolypse

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Nov. 2, 2011): At a meeting that included no business requiring a vote, the Ann Arbor DDA board began a public hearing on possible parking rate increases for the city’s public parking system.

DDA public hearing

Deanna Relyea spoke to the Ann Arbor DDA board at the Nov. 2 public hearing on behalf of the Kerrytown District Association. (Photos by the writer.)

The hearing will continue at the board’s Dec. 7 meeting, after a Nov. 14 joint working session with the Ann Arbor city council, when the two bodies will discuss proposed increases. A vote by the DDA board on the rate increases would not come until January.

Around a half dozen people spoke at the initial opportunity for public comment on the proposed rate increases, most either downtown merchants or representatives of merchant associations. They were uniformly in support of one feature of the proposal – no extension of meter enforcement past 6 p.m. Extension of enforcement hours has been actively on the table for at least two years. Based on board discussion at Wednesday’s meeting, evening enforcement could eventually be implemented – but not for the current rate increase cycle.

Those who spoke at the initial part of the hearing were generally opposed to increasing rates, but also acknowledged the financial decisions the DDA faces. And some speakers put part of the blame for that situation on the city of Ann Arbor. Under a new contract, the city of Ann Arbor now receives 17% of gross public parking revenues, which could otherwise be put back into the parking system, reducing the pressure to raise rates. Under the contract, the DDA operates the system, and is responsible for ongoing maintenance. Rates are controlled by the DDA in consultation with the city council.

The details of proposed parking rate increases were first announced towards the end of last week, most of which would be implemented starting in September 2012. Some increases would be implemented starting in February. [.pdf of DDA proposed parking rate changes]

Highlights of the changes to be enacted in September 2012 include predominantly $.10/hour increases: hourly structure parking rates would increase from $1.10/hour to $1.20/hour; hourly parking lot rates would increase from $1.30 ($1.50 after 3 hours) to $1.40 ($1.60 after 3 hours;) hourly parking meter rates would increase from $1.40/hour to $1.50/hour; monthly parking permit rates would increase from $140/month to $145/month.

The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports, including the quarterly financial numbers and parking report, and updates on the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage construction as well as the most recent development in the Nov. 8 sidewalk millage ballot proposal.

At the city council’s Oct. 17 meeting, the council passed a resolution clarifying how the millage proceeds would be used inside the DDA’s geographic district. And at the DDA’s Wednesday meeting, mayor John Hieftje gave the clearest public indication to date that he does not want to take a position on the sidewalk millage, saying that residents would have to “figure it out for themselves.”

The board also held a closed session, under the provision of the Michigan Open Meetings Act that allows such a session to discuss the meaning of legal advice contained in a written document protected under attorney-client privilege.  [Full Story]

Heritage Row Proposal Withdrawn

According to a city council source, developer Jeff Helminski has withdrawn the revised proposal for Heritage Row, a planned unit development on South Fifth Avenue. A different project, City Place, is now expected to be built on the same site by the same developer, though some possibility exists to contest the City Place project via the city’s zoning board of appeals.

The plan for the matter-of-right City Place would demolish seven houses and construct two apartment buildings separated by a parking lot. The two City Place buildings would comprise 144 bedrooms in 24 6-bedroom units. By contrast, Heritage Row would have constructed three buildings behind the row of seven houses and either rehabilitated or reconstructed the seven houses. That project would have included up to 85 units with 180 bedrooms. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Library Set to Publish “Old News”

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Oct. 18, 2011): On Friday, the public will get online access to 18,000 articles, 3,000 photos, and an index with over 160,000 names – the initial phase of a massive digitization of The Ann Arbor News archives being undertaken by the library.

Old bound copies of The Ann Arbor News

Old bound copies of The Ann Arbor News from the early 1900s. The archives are stored in a climate-controlled office complex on Green Road.

Andrew MacLaren – one of the librarians who’s been working on the project since the library took possession of the archives in January 2010– gave board members a brief preview of what AADL is unveiling at a reception on Friday. Called “Old News,” the online archives will initially feature items selected for digitization primarily by library staff, with a focus on the 1960s and ’70s, but with other eras included as well.

The hope is that future additions to the collection will be driven in large part by queries from the public. As librarians respond to research requests – people seeking newspaper articles or photos about specific events, institutions, or individuals – AADL staff will digitize their findings to be posted online for anyone to access.

The launch will also include special features from the collection that the library staff felt would draw more interest, including hundreds of articles and photos related to John Norman Collins, a serial killer whose killings in the late 1960s drew national attention. Other features include the history of West Park, and the 1968 Huron River floods.

Podcasts will be posted of interviews with former Ann Arbor News staff – including long-time crime reporter Bill Treml and photographer Jack Stubbs. AADL staff is also interviewing owners of “heritage” Ann Arbor businesses. Initial podcasts include conversations with David Vogel of Vogel’s Lock & Safe, and Charles Schlanderer Jr. and Charles Schlanderer Sr. of Schlanderer & Sons Jewelry. Additional podcasts will be added to the collection over time.

Though the cornerstone of this collection is from the 174-year-old Ann Arbor News – which its owners, New York-based Advance Publications, shut down in mid-2009 – another 97,000 articles from local 19th century newspapers will be part of the initial launch, too.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, AADL director Josie Parker praised the librarians who’ve been the primary staff working on this project – MacLaren, Amy Cantu, Debbie Gallagher, and Jackie Sasaki – and thanked board members as well for their support. It was the board’s decision in 2009 to move ahead with the project that made the resulting work possible, she said. The library does not own the originals or hold the copyright to the material, but the library did not need to pay for the archives. AADL still incurs costs related to the project, including staff time, insurance, and leasing of the Green Road offices where the archives are located. That location is not open to the public.

A reception for the launch is planned for Friday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The event will feature a talk on the digitization of newspapers by Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. [Full Story]

Despite Concerns, The Varsity Moves Ahead

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Oct. 4, 2011): At a meeting that started later than usual to accommodate the dedication of city hall’s new Dreiseitl water sculpture, planning commissioners approved two projects that had previously been postponed.

Stephen Ranzini at sculpture dedication

Stephen Ranzini looks up at the water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl, during a public reception and dedication for the piece at city hall on Tuesday evening. Ranzini, president of University Bank, later attended a planning commission meeting inside city hall, where he told commissioners that No Parking signs are ugly. It's not clear what he thought about the sculpture.

Changes to a University Bank site plan for property at 2015 Washtenaw Ave., known as the Hoover Mansion, were approved unanimously, despite some concerns voiced by neighbors during a public hearing on the proposal. The changes – which primarily relate to creation of a new parking lot – required amending the supplemental regulations of the site’s planned unit development (PUD) zoning district originally approved in 1978.

Also back for review was The Varsity, a proposed “planned project” consisting of a 13-story apartment building with 181 units at 425 E. Washington, between 411 Lofts and the First Baptist Church. Intended for students, it’s the first project to go through the city’s new design review process. Only minor changes had been made since the proposal was first considered at the planning commission’s Sept. 20 meeting.

Fourteen people spoke during a public hearing on The Varsity, including several residents of the nearby Sloan Plaza who raised concerns about traffic at the Huron Street entrance, as well as aesthetic issues with the building’s facade facing Huron. The project was supported by a paster pastor at the First Baptist Church and the head of the State Street merchant association.

In addition to public hearings held on these two projects, one person spoke during public commentary at the start of the meeting. Rick Stepanovic told commissioners that he’s a University of Michigan student, and that Wendy Rampson – head of the city’s planning staff – had spoken to one of his classes last year. Among other things, she’d mentioned the city’s need for more student input, he said. Since then he’s been elected to the Michigan Student Assembly, and was offering to provide that input, either as a resident – he lives in the neighborhood near Packard and Hill – or by taking an issue back to MSA for broader student feedback.

Stepanovic indicated his intent to attend future planning commission meetings, but noted that MSA meetings are held at the same time – on Tuesday evenings. [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: Measuring Time, Activity

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.

A2A3 Channel Swim

Ann Arbor Active Against ALS (A2A3) is sponsoring a two-way swim across the English Channel to raise money for ALS research. This image links to the website, where non-channel swimmers can help the cause by keeping track of their own swimming and running milestones.

It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

The appearance of this monthly column does not mark any particular quantifiable achievement, but rather the simple passage of time. It’s just an occasion to note that another month is in the books for The Chronicle.

It’s a measurement of survival.

Other kinds of milestones are easy enough to contemplate as well. Among those are the finer-grained milestones – the odd statistics that reflect the actual activity that goes into the survival of a publication. For example, a query of the Chronicle’s database shows 540 government meeting reports filed in a little over three years. Included in 141 of those reports is the public commentary of Thomas Partridge. The database also contains 2,832 Stopped.Watched. observations. Of those, 614 were made along Liberty Street.

These smaller kinds of incremental milestones are important, too, because they reflect not the passage of time, but the actual stuff out of which survival is made. I was reminded of this by news of an upcoming event, sponsored by Ann Arbor Active Against ALS (A2A3), which continues that organization’s effort to ensure survival for patients with ALS – a neurological disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The event itself will take place next summer. It’s a six-woman relay swim across the English Channel, in both directions. That’s 42 miles of swimming. As part of the fundraising effort, A2A3 is inviting people to do their own swims (or runs) locally. They’ve computed a running-miles equivalent of 73.5 miles for a one-way channel swim. The six-woman relay hopes to break the world record for such a channel swim of 18 hours 59 minutes.

Thinking about people who want to participate in the event locally, most of them would not be able to hop into Half Moon Lake and swim for 19 hours. And most local runners would not be able to lace up a pair of shoes and hit the pavement, knocking out 73.5 miles all in one go.

So A2A3 is providing a log sheet for those who register to participate. That way people can keep track of their miles over a longer period of time. There’s no requirement that people complete their miles at the same time the channel swim takes place, in the summer of 2012. You can start right now.

Those log sheets will measure milestones that aren’t counted with a calendar. And those are the kind of milestones I want to think about this month. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

So after Borders, now what?

What will it take for another bookseller to open shop in the Borders/Shaman Drum neighborhood at State and Liberty, and operate a browseable place with content deep and wide? We’re talking about a books-and-mortar store a stone’s throw from the University of Michigan campus. A spot where you arrange to meet up with your husband after the two of you go your separate ways for an hour. Where you hang out until the movie starts at the Michigan Theater. Where you actually buy a book now and then – sometimes a title other than the one that got you in the real, live door.

The No. 1 Borders bookstore at Liberty & Maynard in Ann Arbor.

The No. 1 Borders bookstore at Liberty & Maynard in Ann Arbor.

Keith Taylor, the poet, UM creative writing teacher and veteran local bookseller, says “it will take idealism, a lot of 80-hour work weeks, a willingness to be constantly present.”

Check, check and check. This is Ann Arbor, after all.

And then there’s Taylor’s fourth condition: “A landlord willing to rent space for less than the going rate.”

“Rents in central Ann Arbor right now will not allow for an independent bookstore, or an independent anything,” he says, “until the business owner owns the building the store is in.”

Karl Pohrt concurs – and the owner of the former Shaman Drum Bookshop, but not the building that housed it, should know: “It’s essential to own the building. If they don’t, they’ll be vulnerable.”

“Rent,” replies Nicola Rooney flatly when the proprietor of Nicola’s Books is asked why she won’t consider a move from Westgate Shopping Center to the State Street area.

We knew that, really. This is downtown Ann Arbor, after all. The market apparently won’t bear an independent bookstore in that neighborhood – Shaman Drum, which was located on South State just around the corner from Borders, closed in 2009 after nearly 30 years in business. Its former storefront is now a burger joint.

So the real question is this: If the market won’t bear a full-blown downtown bookstore, how will the community respond? [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: Celebrating Three Years

Three years ago today, we launched The Ann Arbor Chronicle with a lot of hope but no certainty of success – we didn’t know if others would embrace our passion for intense coverage of local government and civic affairs. We’re grateful that you did – and on July 29, we hosted an open house to thank the people who’ve helped us get this far, and to honor a few of the people who make this community special.

Jeremy Lopatin

Jeremy & Penelope Lopatin at the 2011 Ann Arbor Chronicle open house in July. (Photos by Lynn Monson)

The lead photo in this column was taken at that event, and like the other photos below, it was shot by my former Ann Arbor News colleague, Lynn Monson. Many of you will recognize Jeremy Lopatin in this image – he and his wife Aubrey are owners of Arbor Teas. They’ve been Chronicle supporters from Day One, but that’s not why we chose this photograph.

The image shows a quiet, gentle moment between a father and his child, amid the cacophony of a crowded room. It’s an intimate detail that likely passed unnoticed by most people around them. But if you were paying attention and witnessed it, it was one of the most special moments of the evening.

Details are important to The Chronicle. We pay attention to them – some might say to a fault. But we see value in the interplay of fine lines that define our community. We’ve strived to bring a finer-grain of detail to the workings of our local government, to record the context in which decisions are made that involve taxpayer dollars. For whatever role you’ve played in helping us do that – as an advertiser, subscriber, commenter, contributor or Chronicle reader and evangelist – we thank you. It’s been an interesting three years.

When we launched The Chronicle on Sept. 2, 2008, we thought we knew this community pretty well. But over the past three years we’ve encountered even more people whose generosity of spirit and commitment to the Ann Arbor area have amazed us.

So as we started thinking of how to celebrate our first three years in business, it seemed obvious that in addition to thanking people who’ve helped us get this far, it was a fitting time to honor some of the people who represent the qualities we admire and respect. And that’s the genesis of the Bezonki Awards, which we gave out at the July 29 open house, held at the Workantile Exchange on Main Street.

We asked local artist Alvey Jones, creator of the Bezonki cartoons published each month in The Chronicle, to make a physical artifact that reflected the uniqueness of this community. And each of the six Bezonki Awards is gleefully unique, at the same time futuristic and grounded in the past – some of the parts were salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News.

The people who received the 2011 Bezonkis are also unique. Yet for everyone who received an award that evening, there are dozens of others who make similar contributions, shaping this community in special ways. We are thankful for all of you, and thankful that the past three years have allowed us to get to know you in ways we didn’t anticipate.

These awards are a bit unusual in another way. In some sense, they’re just on loan. We’re asking that each winner of the Bezonki be a steward of the award for a year. They will then pass on the physical award to next year’s winner. We hope that in this way the awards will create connections between people in the community year after year – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.

So who received the inaugural Bezonkis? They are people you likely already know for their work in the community: Claire and Paul Tinkerhess, Jason Brooks and Matt Yankee, Vivienne Armentrout, the teachers and students at Summers-Knoll School, Yousef Rabhi, and Trevor Staples. You’ll read more about them below.

And now, on to the Bezonkis! [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Rezoning Request Denied

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Aug. 16, 2011): Two zoning-related requests on South State Street received mixed responses from planning commissioners, amid calls for a formal study of that corridor.

Treecity Health Collective

Treecity Health Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary on South State Street. (Photos by the writer.)

One request was the first tied to the city council’s recent approval of zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries. The operator of Treecity Health Collective, a dispensary at 1712 S. State, asked that the location be rezoned from O (office) to C1 (local business). In June 2011, the council approved amendments to the city’s zoning ordinances that prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in office zoning districts. Rather than relocate the dispensary, the operator was asking for the zoning change. The property is located on the west side of State, south of Stimson.

While expressing sympathy for the operator, commissioners recommended denying the rezoning request, noting that the master plan calls for an office district in that area. It will now be forwarded to the city council for final action.

The commission considered a separate request for nearby parcels on the opposite side of South State, where the new Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky opened about a month ago. The property – 1643 and 1645 S. State St., south of the Produce Station – is in Ann Arbor Township, and requires both annexation and zoning. The commission recommended approval of annexing the land, but postponed a decision on zoning. Biercamp owners are hoping for commercial zoning, which would allow them to expand the retail component of their business. The city’s master plan currently calls for light industrial zoning in that section.

In discussions for both Treecity and Biercamp requests, some commissioners pointed to the need for a comprehensive study of the South State Street corridor. Such a study has been planned, but earlier this year the city council voted against funding a consultant to conduct the work.

In other action, commissioners recommended annexing several Scio Township parcels that are located in a recently expanded well prohibition zone related to the Pall/Gelman Sciences 1,4 dioxane underground plume. Pall is paying for the hook-ups to city water and sewer, according to city planning staff.

Commissioners also recommended approval of a site plan at 3590 Washtenaw Ave., at the southwest corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Yost Boulevard. The plan calls for building a 9,500-square-foot, single-story addition to the existing 15,769-square-foot retail building that currently houses the Dollar Tree. It’s in the spot where Frank’s Nursery formerly operated, along the same stretch that’s part of the Reimagining Washtenaw Avenue project.

Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, gave several updates to the commission. Among them, she noted that four projects previously approved by the city council are now asking for two-year extensions on their site plans: (1) The Gallery planned unit development (PUD) on North Main, at the site of the former Greek Orthodox church; (2) the 42 North residential development at Maple and Pauline; (3) the Forest Cove office building on Miller; and (4) the Mallets View office building on Eisenhower. Those requests are being reviewed by city planning staff.

During his communications from city council, Tony Derezinski, who also represents Ward 2 on council, mentioned that a final meeting for the R4C/R2A advisory committee is tentatively set for Sept. 21. He noted that the 21st is also Saint Matthew’s Feast Day, which he quipped might help the group finish up the project.

One member of that advisory committee is former planning commissioner Jean Carlberg, who received a resolution of appreciation from the commission at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting. Her term ended June 30 – she served on the commission for 16 years. [Full Story]

Column: Saying Goodbye to Borders

It’s tough for any sports writer to get a book published – but it was a lot easier with a friendly bookstore on your side, from start to finish.

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to buy a book, there was no Kindle or Nook or Amazon.com – or the Internet. There weren’t even big-chain bookstores. You had to go to one of those narrow stores in mini-malls that sold paperback best-sellers and thrillers and romance novels.

But then the Borders brothers changed all that. They decided to go big, opening a two-story shop on State Street in Ann Arbor. They stocked almost everything, they gave customers room to relax and read, and they hired people who weren’t just clerks, but readers.

When I applied for a job there in college, they didn’t just hand me an application, but a test on literature – which I failed.

But if they wouldn’t let me sell books there, they still let me buy them, so perhaps it was just as well. I bought everything from Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five.” Typically, I’d walk in for one book, and walk out with four – an hour later. I spent over a thousand dollars a year there, then a few hundred more on book shelves.

When Borders became a national chain, we Ann Arborites took an unearned pride in seeing the rest of the country love it as much as we did. [Full Story]