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Ann Arbor Elections Update

The deadline for filing sufficient petition signatures to qualify for the Aug. 5, 2014 ballot in Ann Arbor city council and mayoral primary elections is April 22. So this is the last weekend to collect signatures. Council candidates must collect 100 signatures from voters registered in the ward they seek to represent. Mayoral candidates need 50 signatures from each of the city’s five wards.

The city’s offices closed today at noon for the holiday weekend.

Here’s a quick status report as of noon April 18 on who’s taken out petitions, who’s filed signatures, and whether they’ve been verified by the city clerk’s staff. All candidates who have taken out petitions and are eligible are Democrats.

Mayor

  • Sabra Briere: petitions filed
  • Sally Petersen: petitions filed
  • Christopher Taylor: petitions filed
  • Stephen Kunselman: petitions filed and verified

Ward 1

  • Don Adams: petitions filed
  • Sumi Kailasapathy (incumbent): petitions filed and verified
  • Eric Sturgis: took out petitions but has indicated to clerk staff he will not be filing
  • Bryan Kelly: took out petitions as a candidate with no party affiliation on April 18, but according the city clerk, he does not meet the one-year durational residency and voter registration requirements in the city charter. He moved from Ward 4 to Ward 1 on Nov. 19, 2013.

Ward 2

  • Nancy Kaplan: petitions filed and verified
  • Kirk Westphal: petitions not yet filed

Ward 3

  • Bob Dascola: petitions filed and verified, but a lawsuit is pending to determine eligibility in light of one-year durational residency and voter registration requirements in the city charter.
  • Julie Grand: petitions filed and verified
  • Samuel McMullen: petitions filed

Ward 4

  • Graydon Krapohl: petitions filed and verified

Ward 5

  • Leon Bryson: petitions filed and verified
  • Chuck Warpehoski (incumbent): petitions not yet filed

Bus Stop Concrete Work Goes to Saladino

A one-year contract with Saladino Construction for small concrete jobs has been approved by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board of directors. The contract, which has the option to be extended for four additional one-year periods, will cover work for access walks, shelter and bench pads, sidewalk extensions, curb extensions and bus pullouts.

Action to approve the contract came at the April 17, 2014 meeting of the AAATA board. The one-year contract is expected to be worth about $54,000 a year, which is under the $100,000 threshold requiring board approval. But because the board was approving potentially a five-year period, with the value of the work expected to exceed $100,000, the contract required board approval.

Saladino was selected from four bidders for the work. Even though 445 vendors were sent notice of the RFP, only four bids were received: Audia Concrete Construction of Milford; Hartwell Cement of Oak Park; Luigi Ferdinandi and Son Cement of Roseville; and Saladino Construction of Ann Arbor Township. The AAATA staff analysis indicated that small concrete jobs at multiple locations are not attractive to many contractors.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where the AAATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow.

AAATA Adopts Title VI Policy

A policy on service equity analysis has been adopted by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, as part of the authority’s Title VI compliance. Title VI is the civil rights legislation that in the context of public transportation requires proof that a service change has no adverse effect on disadvantaged populations. [.pdf of Title VI policy included in April 17, 2014 AAATA board packet]

The adoption of the policy on service equity analysis came at the board’s April 17, 2014 meeting – in the context of a 5-year service improvement plan the AAATA hopes to implement if voters approve a millage request on May 6, 2014. The AAATA is required to have such a policy as one element in a Title VI program submitted to the Federal Transit Administration by October 2014.

The policy includes a method of analyzing disparate impacts on different populations for various changes in service, including: fare increases, decreases in frequency of service, decreases in span of service, and reduction in days of service.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave., where the AAATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow.

Equalization Report: Taxable Value Up

Most local governments in Washtenaw County will see increases in tax revenue this year, according to the 2014 equalization report that county commissioners approved at their April 16, 2014 meeting. The report was presented by Raman Patel, the county’s long-time equalization director.

Equalized (assessed) value is used to calculate taxable value, which determines tax revenues for the county as well as its various municipalities and other entities that rely on taxpayer dollars, including schools, libraries and the Ann Area Arbor Transportation Authority, among others.

For 2014, taxable value in the county increased 2.02% to $14.18 billion. That’s a greater increase than the 1.68% climb in 2013, and an improvement over declines seen in recent years.

It’s also an improvement over projections made when the county administration prepared its 2014 budget. The general fund budget was approved with a projection of $63.79 million in tax revenues. But actual revenues, based on 2014 taxable value, are now estimated at $64.511 million – for an excess in 2014 general fund revenues of $720,486. Patel stressed that at this point, the taxable value is a recommendation and must be approved at the state level.

Patel also presented tentative taxable values for specific jurisdictions. The city of Ann Arbor shows a 2.68% increase in taxable value, while the city of Ypsilanti’s taxable value is an 0.87% increase over 2013. All but three municipalities showed an increase in taxable value. Those municipalities with decreases are the city of Saline (-1.41%), Ypsilanti Township (-0.37%), and the city of Milan (-0.85%).

Properties in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district – which includes the city of Ann Arbor and parts of surrounding townships – will see a 2.37% increase in taxable value. Properties taxed by the Ann Arbor District Library, covering a geographic area which in large part mirrors the AAPS district, increased in value by 2.36%.

Taxable value is determined by a state-mandated formula, and is the lower of two figures: (1) a parcel’s equalized (assessed) value; or (2) a capped value calculated by taking last year’s taxable value minus any losses (such as a building being torn down), multiplied by 5% or the rate of inflation (whichever is lower – this year inflation is 1.016%), plus the value of any additions or new construction.

In 2014, commercial property showed a 3.97% gain in equalized value. Residential property value – the largest classification of property in the county – showed an increase of 5.84%. That’s stronger than last year’s 2.37% increase, which had been the first climb in value since 2007.

Values for developmental property – a relatively small category that covers properties not yet developed – continue to struggle, registering a decrease of 9.54% in equalized value. Industrial property, which dropped 4.78% in equalized value last year, is essentially flat in 2014 at 0.1%. Over the past few years that category has lost significant value, falling from an equalized value of nearly $1 billion in 2007 to this year’s value of $422.146 million.

Countywide, about $400 million is captured by local downtown development authorities (DDAs), local district finance authorities (LDFAs), brownfield tax increment financing, and other entities that are allowed to capture funds from taxing jurisdictions. For taxes levied by Washtenaw County government alone, $2.472 million goes to these other tax-capturing entities that would otherwise be revenues for the county’s general fund.

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

Final Approval Granted for Police Services

A two-year pricing proposal for contracts to provide police services to local municipalities has received final authorization from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 16 meeting.

For 2016 and 2017, the police services unit (PSU) price will be  $156,709 and  $158,276, respectively. An initial vote had been taken on April 2, 2014.

By way of background, on July 6, 2011, commissioners had authorized the price that municipalities would pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 per “police services unit” – was unchanged from 2011, but has been rising in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures in 2011 involved more than a year of discussion between the sheriff’s office, other county officials and leaders of local municipalities that contract for these services.

The board’s decision in 2011 was based on a recommendation from the police services steering committee. That same group recommended the next pricing changes as well, based on the cost of a police services unit (PSU). The PSU price for 2014 is $153,621. For 2015, the PSU price will be $155,157. In the following two years, the PSU price was proposed to be $156,709 in 2016 and $158,276 in 2017. The pricing for those two years was authorized by the board in its April 16 action.

Those figures are based on a 1% annual increase in direct costs to contracting municipalities. That rate of increase for PSUs is included in revenue projections for the county’s four-year budget, which the county board passed at its Nov. 20, 2013 meeting. The budget runs from 2014-2017, and includes revenue projections based on contracts for 79 PSUs.

According to a staff memo, there will be an addition to the 2016 and 2017 prices for in-car printer replacement, after the total cost of ownership is determined. The memo also notes that the pricing is based on salaries stipulated in current union contracts with the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM). Those contracts run through 2014, and new contracts are currently being negotiated. The memo states that ”no assumptions were made for salaries or fringes change in this cost metric in anticipation of any union negotiations.” [.pdf of staff memo]

The county – through the sheriff’s office budget – pays for the difference between the price charged for each PSU, and the actual cost to provide those services. In 2011, that difference was $25,514.

In 2016, the cost per PSU is expected to be $195,104 – a difference of $38,395 compared to the price being charged to municipalities. In 2017, the cost per PSU is estimated at $199,188 – a difference of $40,912. [.pdf of cost estimates]

Discussion during the April 2 meeting included concerns by some commissioners about the financial sustainability of this approach to funding police services, and the need for new revenue sources for public safety. Sheriff Jerry Clayton was on hand to present the pricing proposal, and supported suggestions to seek new funding for public safety. As he’s done in the past, Clayton characterized the issue of public safety as one that encompasses economic development, human services and other aspects of the community.

There was no discussion on this item during the April 16 meeting.

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

Thompson Block Brownfield Plan Gets OK

Final approval for a brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town area was given by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 16, 2014 meeting. [.pdf of Thompson Block brownfield plan] Commissioners had granted initial approval on April 2, 2014.

The plan covers 400-408 N. River St. and 107 E. Cross St., an historic property that has been declared ”functionally obsolete and blighted.” That qualifies the project as a brownfield under the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing act (Public Act 381), which allows the owner to receive reimbursements for eligible activities through tax increment financing (TIF). Approval also will allow the developer to apply for Michigan Business Tax Credits. The property is currently owned by Thompson Block Partners LLC, led by Stewart Beal of Beal Properties.

Beal plans to create 16 “luxury lofts” in the structure’s second and third floors, and up to 14,000 square feet of commercial space in the remainder of the site. The project is estimated to cost about $7 million.

The resolution passed by the board also ends a previous brownfield plan for part of the same site, which was approved in 2008. A fire in 2009 delayed the project. The new plan now covers the 107 E. Cross, which was not part of the original plan, and includes public infrastructure improvements, such as streetscape enhancements along North River Street.

The Washtenaw County brownfield redevelopment authority approved this plan at its March 6 meeting. Subsequently, the plan was approved by the Ypsilanti city council on March 18. The city council’s action included approving an “Obsolete Properties Rehabilitation” certificate, which freezes local millages at the current, pre-development level for 12 years. Because of that, the project’s TIF capture will apply only to the state’s school taxes.

The project can get up to $271,578 in eligible cost reimbursed over a 12-year period, for activities including brownfield plan and work plan preparation, limited building demolition, selective interior demolition, site preparation and utility work, infrastructure improvements, architectural and engineering design costs, asbestos and lead abatement, and construction oversight.

The intent of the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing is to support the redevelopment of urban sites that will increase the municipality’s tax base. Tax increment financing allows an entity to capture the difference between the taxable value before a project is undertaken, and the value of the property after it’s developed.

A public hearing on this proposal was held at the April 2 meeting, when the board also voted to give initial approval to the plan. Only one person – Tyler Weston, representing Thompson Block Partners – spoke, telling the board that it would help the project. Weston attended the April 16 meeting, but did not formally address the board. There was no discussion on this item.

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

Distribution of Accommodation Tax Approved

Initial approval of proceeds from a countywide tax on hotels and other accommodations has been given by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

For 2013, $472,846 was available for distribution. Given initial approval at the board’s April 16, 2014 meeting was a distribution that sees the county keeping 10% ($47,285) to pay for enforcement of the accommodation ordinance. The remainder will be divided between the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau ($319,171) and the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau ($106,390).

A final vote on that distribution is expected on May 7.

The county collects the 5% excise tax from hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts, which is then distributed to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti convention & visitors bureaus and used to promote tourism and convention business. The contract calls for the county to retain 10% of that tax to defray the cost of collection and enforcement. (Until 2009, the county had only retained 5% for this purpose.) The remaining funds are split, with 75% going to the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau, and 25% going to the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In December 2009, the board approved five-year contracts with the CVBs, outlining the distribution arrangement and creating an accommodation ordinance commission to oversee the process. A amendment made in September 2011 addressed the process for distributing excess funds that might accumulate from the county’s 10%, if that amount exceeds the expenses required to administer and enforce compliance with the tax. Beginning in May 2013, the county retained 10% of the tax proceeds, plus 10% of any remaining fund balance. If additional funds accumulate in the fund balance, they are to be returned proportionally to the two convention & visitors bureaus – 75% to Ann Arbor, and 25% to Ypsilanti.

Subsequently an ordinance change was made in October 2012, when the board voted to shift responsibility for collecting and enforcing accommodation tax from the county treasurer to the county finance director. The ordinance amendment transferred a 0.7 full-time equivalent accounting job from the treasurer’s office to the county finance department, and amended the accommodation tax policy to clarify that the tax is only assessed against the actual price of a hotel, motel or other rental – not against other amenities that the business might charge its customers, such as Internet access or an extra cot in the room.

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

Urban County Action Plan: Initial Approval

Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval to the 2014 Urban County action plan at their April 16, 2014 meeting. The plan covers the period from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015 and outlines how the Urban County consortium intends to spend federal funding received from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). [.pdf of draft action plan]

Washtenaw Urban County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of Urban County participants.

The Urban County is a consortium of Washtenaw County and 18 local municipalities that receive federal funding for low-income neighborhoods. Members include the cities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Saline, and 15 townships. “Urban County” is a designation of HUD, identifying a county with more than 200,000 people. With that designation, individual governments within the Urban County can become members, entitling them to an allotment of funding through a variety of HUD programs. Locally, the Urban County is supported by the staff of Washtenaw County’s office of community & economic development (OCED).

Two HUD programs – the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership – are the primary funding sources for Urban County projects. For the upcoming year, the Urban County will be receiving $2.914 million, including $1.832 million from CDBG and $925,308 from HOME. That represents a 5% decrease in CDBG compared to the current year, and a 2% increase in HOME funding.

The 2014 plan identifies six overarching goals: (1) increasing quality, affordable homeownership opportunities; (2) increasing quality, affordable rental housing; (3) improving public facilities and infrastructure; (4) promoting access to public services and resources; (5) supporting homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing services; and (6) enhancing economic development activities.

A public hearing on the 2014 plan was previously held on March 19, 2014. A final vote on the plan is expected on May 7.

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

Urban Forestry Plan Moves to Council

The city’s first comprehensive plan for managing Ann Arbor’s urban forest has been recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its April 15, 2014 meeting. [.pdf of Urban & Community Forest Management Plan]

An urban forest is defined as all the trees, shrubs and woody vegetation growing along city streets, in public parks and on institutional and private property. In Ann Arbor, about 25% is on public property, with 75% on private property. Based on a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service i-Tree Eco Analysis done in 2012, Ann Arbor’s urban forest has an estimated 1.45 million trees. It creates a 33% tree canopy – the layer of leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.

The city manages 43,240 street trees and about 6,900 park trees in mowed areas. A tree inventory conducted in 2009 didn’t include natural areas, she noted, so there are thousands of trees that aren’t counted. The urban forest includes over 200 species, representing 82 genera.

Map of selected tree variety by The Chronicle from city of Ann Arbor 2009 survey.

Map of selected tree variety by The Chronicle from city of Ann Arbor 2009 survey. Image links to dynamic map hosted on geocommons.com

PAC had been briefed on the 135-page Urban & Community Forest Management Plan at its Feb. 25, 2014 meeting by Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest & natural resources planning coordinator. The management plan includes 17 recommendations, listed in priority based on community feedback for implementation. Each of the 17 recommendations includes action tasks and implementation ideas, case studies, and resources that are needed, including funding. The recommendations are:

  1. Implement proactive tree maintenance program.
  2. Strengthen tree planting and young tree maintenance programs.
  3. Monitor threats to the urban and community forest.
  4. Increase landmark/special tree protections.
  5. Secure adequate city‐funding for urban forestry core services.
  6. Develop street tree master plans.
  7. Pursue grant and philanthropic funding opportunities.
  8. Strengthen forestry related ordinances.
  9. Update tree inventory and canopy analysis.
  10. Develop urban forest best management practices.
  11. Increase urban forestry volunteerism.
  12. Strengthen relationships with outside entities who impact trees.
  13. Implement community outreach program.
  14. Obtain the best use of wood from removed trees.
  15. Create city staff working groups to coordinate projects that impact trees.
  16. Engage the city’s Environmental Commission in urban and community forestry issues.
  17. Review the urban forest management plan periodically and update as needed.

Site Plan for Sorority on Oxford OK’d

Ann Arbor planning commissioners acted on two requests related to converting a house at 515 Oxford for use as an annex to the Delta Gamma sorority. The action took place at the commission’s April 15, 2014 meeting.

Delta Gamma, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing the location of 515 Oxford, south of Geddes and at the eastern end of South University.

First, commissioners granted a special exception use to allow the house to be used as a sorority. The main sorority house is located nearby at 626 Oxford.

In a separate vote, commissioners recommended approval of a “planned project” site plan, conditional on rezoning the site from R4A (multi-family dwelling) to R2B (two-family dwelling and student housing). The rezoning request, which the commission recommended for approval on Jan. 23, 2014, has been forwarded to the city council.

According to a staff memo, the timeline for this project is coordinated so that the site plan will be on the same council agenda as the second reading of the rezoning request.

The two-story house at 515 Oxford includes two one-story wings. It is currently a rental property with three units – a studio apartment, one-bedroom apartment, and four-bedroom apartment – and a maximum occupancy of 8 people. One of the units is in a former garage. The existing house was designed by George Brigham and built in 1940 as his home and architectural studio. He designed over 40 houses in Ann Arbor, including many in Arbor Hills and Barton Hills.

The proposal for a renovation would accommodate a maximum of 20 residents, including a required resident manager. The structure would be expanded, with an addition to be constructed in the back that roughly doubles the building’s square footage. An existing carport in the front would be glassed in and used as the front entry. The site would include four parking spaces and more than 10 bicycle parking spaces.

Planned projects allow for variations of the city’s area, height and placement requirements, if certain criteria are met. Among those criteria are “preservation of historical or architectural features.” In this case, reduced side and rear setbacks are being requested to allow the original footprint of the Brigham house and studio to be retained to preserve the house’s existing façade. The house is not located in a historic district.

The commission received more than a dozen letters and emails about this project. Several communications focused on concerns about compromising the building’s historic integrity – from representatives of the Detroit Area Art Deco Society, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Board, the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission, and a2modern, a group created to highlight mid-century modern architecture in Ann Arbor.

Communications were also received in support of the project from sorority representatives and neighbors. One email from George Price was particularly pointed:

Apparently, this property was designed by some distant relative of mine, and now there is a bunch of whining from various relatives about how turning the property into housing for Michigan students is some kind of crime against humanity or some such nonsense. But I have been asked by people who otherwise couldn’t pick me out of a lineup to email you expressing my love of this house I was once dragged to kicking and screaming.

You can tear the place down for all I care, and I hope you do, just so I can laugh at the complaints of these idiots. Definitely don’t waste the public’s resources debating the completely legal rezoning of this property any further.

The site is owned by Dan Pampreen and is located in Ward 2. The project is estimated to cost about $250,000.

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

Adams Takes out Petitions in Ward 1 Race

Don Adams has taken out petitions to run in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic city council primary in Ward 1, according to Ann Arbor city clerk staff. He took out the petitions on April 14, 2014.

Incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy, who was first elected to the city council in 2012 and is seeking re-election, has taken out petitions and had 102 signatures verified by city clerk staff as valid.

Adams serves on the PTO Council of the Ann Arbor Public School District. The PTO council is an umbrella organization of PTOs for the district. He’s described  on the PTO council’s website as having a background in health administration. Kailasapathy is an accountant.

Like all candidates for city council,  Adams will have until April 22 to submit at least 100 signatures from voters in the ward in order to appear on the ballot. Mayoral candidates must submit 50 signatures from registered voters in each of the city’s five wards.

Adams’ entry into the Ward 1 race means that four out of five council races will likely be contested in the Democratic primaries, provided those who intend to submit signatures do so. All prospective candidates so far are Democrats.

In Ward 2, the council race looks to be between Ann Arbor District Library board member Nancy Kaplan and current planning commissioner Kirk Westphal.

In Ward 3, a race will likely unfold between former park advisory chair Julie Grand and University of Michigan student Samuel McMullen. And they might be joined by downtown barber Bob Dascola, if his lawsuit asserting this eligibility to run is successful. Today, on April 14, the city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and a response to Dascola’s motion for summary judgment that would find Dascola eligible. The city contends that Dascola does not meet city charter durational residency and voter registration requirements for council candidates. The case is being handled on an expedited schedule so that the question can be settled by the time ballots are finalized in June.

In Ward 4, Graydon Krapohl, who currently serves as vice chair of the city’s park advisory commission, is the only candidate to take out petitions so far. The incumbent, Democrat Margie Teall, has stated that she does not intend to run for re-election.

In Ward 5, incumbent Chuck Warpehoski is seeking re-election and faces a challenge from Leon Bryson.

No incumbent is running in Ward 2 or Ward 3 because Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) are running for mayor, instead of seeking re-election as councilmembers representing their respective wards. Joining those two for mayor are Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere and Ward 3 councilmember Stephen Kunselman. Briere and Kunselman would serve out the remaining year of their two-year terms on the council if not elected mayor.

For a comprehensive update on the status of petitions and filings for city council and mayoral races see previous Chronicle coverage from last week.

Election Update: Kaplan, Bryson Verified

Ann Arbor city clerk records at the end of the day on Friday, April 11 show that no additional candidates have taken out petitions to run for city council or for mayor.

That would leave anyone with an interest in contesting the partisan primaries on Aug. 5 with just one weekend and seven week days to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. That’s if petitions were taken out on Monday, April 14. Signatures are due on April 22 – 100 for council candidates and 50 from each of the city’s five wards for mayor. If no one else takes out petitions and submits signatures, races in Ward 1 and Ward 4 would be uncontested.

The only action in the races for council and mayor this week was the clerk’s verification of signatures on nominating petitions for two council candidates: Nancy Kaplan in Ward 2 and Leon Bryson in Ward 5. Clerk records show that 104 and 101 signatures were verified for Kaplan and Bryson, respectively.

Kaplan – who serves on the board of the Ann Arbor District Library – took out petitions on March 26 to run for the city council seat. Kaplan’s term on the AADL board runs through 2016. She’s indicated to The Chronicle that if elected to the city council, she would resign from the library board. Another potential candidate in Ward 2, Kirk Westphal, took out petitions on Jan. 15. Westphal currently serves as chair of the city’s planning commission. He has not yet submitted signatures.

The Ward 2 incumbent, Democrat Sally Petersen, is not running for re-election to that seat, because she’s running for mayor instead. Each of the city’s five wards is represented by two councilmembers, who serve two-year terms. The other sitting Ward 2 representative is Jane Lumm, who won re-election in November 2012.

Joining Petersen in the mayoral race are three other Democratic city councilmembers: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Mayor John Hieftje announced last year that he will not seek re-election. Of the mayoral candidates, only Kunselman has so far submitted the required 250 signatures, which have been verified.

Bryson will appear on the Ward 5 city council Democratic primary ballot along with incumbent Chuck Warpehoski, who took out petitions last year on Nov. 7, 2013. Warpehoski has not yet submitted signatures, but does intend to seek re-election. Bryson describes himself in an introductory letter as an Ann Arbor resident since 1999, originally from Detroit. He holds an engineering degree from Wayne State and now operates a small business.

Warpehoski has served on the council since first being elected in November 2012. Warpehoski has served as director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) for eight years. The other sitting representative for Ward 5 on the council is Mike Anglin.

In Ward, 3 Samuel McMullen took out petitions on April 3 to contest the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary on Aug. 5. The University of Michigan freshman joins Julie Grand and Bob Dascola as the third candidate to take out petitions for the Ward 3 primary. McMullen is a graduate of Rudolf Steiner High School in Ann Arbor. According to Ann Arbor city clerk Jackie Beaudry, McMullen does meet the city charter’s one-year durational residency and voter registration requirements – through his voter registration indicating an address on East University Avenue in Ward 3, which dates from October 2013.

Those charter requirements have become a point of contention for Dascola’s candidacy. The city clerk’s office has informed Dascola that he’s not eligible to run because he doesn’t meet the city’s one-year residency and voter registration requirements. And Dascola has now filed a lawsuit to assert his right to run, based on federal court decisions from the early 1970s. The city clerk’s office has verified 103 signatures for Dascola, but the question about his eligibility remains.

The other candidate who has taken out petitions for that Ward 3 race is Julie Grand. The former chair of the park advisory commission competed in the August 2013 primary against Stephen Kunselman, who received more votes in that race.

In Ward 1, incumbent Democrat Sumi Kailasapathy filed petitions on March 19, and 102 signatures were verified by the clerk’s office on March 20. The other person shown in city clerk records to have taken out petitions for Ward 1 is Eric Sturgis. But an asterisk recorded next to his name includes a note that says Sturgis has indicated to the clerk’s office that he does not intend to file signatures to become a candidate. Sturgis contested the Ward 1 Democratic primary in 2012, which was won by Kailasapathy.

In Ward 4, the only candidate to take out petitions so far is Graydon Krapohl, who currently serves as vice chair of the city’s park advisory commission. The incumbent, Margie Teall, has stated that she does not intend to run for re-election. Krapohl has not yet submitted signatures.

All candidates for city office so far are Democrats.

Council Wrangles on Library Lot – Proceeds, Process

The Ann Arbor city council debated a total of four resolutions at its April 7, 2014 meeting related to land located in central downtown Ann Arbor. The land in question is the surface of the Library Lane underground parking structure, which completed construction in the summer of 2012.

The result of council action is that a significant portion of the surface is still reserved as an urban park, and the property will be listed for sale without any delay for a public process. A decision on how to use the net proceeds of a potential sale of the land will be put off at least until June.

The Library Lane parking deck is highlighted in yellow. The name “Library Lane” is based only on the proximity of the structure to the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The library does not own the structure or the mid-block cut-through. (Base image from Washtenaw County and City of Ann Arbor GIS services.)

The Library Lane underground parking deck is highlighted in yellow. The name “Library Lane” is based only on the proximity of the structure to the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The library does not own the structure or the mid-block cut-through. (Base image from Washtenaw County and City of Ann Arbor GIS services.)

Originally on the agenda were just two resolutions related to the Library Lane parking structure: (1) a resolution directing the city administrator to allocate half the net proceeds from a possible upcoming sale of development rights to support affordable housing; and (2) a delay in hiring a broker to list the property for sale, until an additional public process could be completed. The council had voted at its March 17, 2014 meeting to direct the city administrator to list the property for sale.

But the council wound up re-debating that March 17 resolution on listing the property for sale, as well as a resolution from March 17 that designated a 6,500-12,000 square foot area on the western portion of the Library Lane site as an urban park. At the start of the meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) added the reconsideration of those two March 17 resolutions to the agenda.

First up for the council was the March 17 resolution on reserving a portion of the surface for an urban park. Kunselman moved to amend that resolution to restore the original wording of the March 17 resolution, which had called for a 12,000 square foot portion of the surface to be reserved as an urban park. That amendment passed over dissent from councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), and mayor John Hieftje. An attempt to postpone the resolution then failed on a 5-6 vote, with Kunselman, Hieftje, Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) voting no. The vote on the question – which specified the portion of the Library Lane site to be reserved for an urban park as 12,000 feet – passed on a 7-4 vote, with dissent from Taylor, Teall, Warpehoski, and Hieftje.

Next up was reconsideration of the March 17 resolution directing the city administrator to list the Library Lane property for sale. Kunselman made it clear that he was bringing back the resolution for reconsideration to highlight why he had wanted the property listed for sale: He wanted definitive answers on the question of how many of the Library Lane structure parking spaces could be dedicated for private use – while still meeting the restrictions of the Build America Bonds used to finance the structure. The vote on that reconsidered resolution was 7-4 with dissent from Kailasapathy, Lumm, Eaton, Anglin.

When the council arrived at the resolution that would have delayed the listing of the property for sale until a public process could be completed, a roughly 40-minute debate ensued. After a brief recess to sort out some kind of compromise, the general consensus – shared even by the resolution’s sponsors (Eaton, Anglin and Briere) – was that it should be voted down and possibly brought back sometime in the future. The vote to reject the delaying resolution was 11-0.

On the item allocating 50% of the net proceeds from a potential sale of the Library Lane development rights, the council wound up postponing the question until the first meeting in June, which comes after the council approves the FY 2015 budget. The vote was 6-5 to postpone, with dissent from Briere, Taylor, Teall, Warpehoski, and Hieftje.

More details on the debate to increase the square footage of a park is provided in The Chronicle’s live updates from the April 7 meeting. The live updates also cover deliberations on reconsidering the resolution about listing the Library Lane site for sale, and on a move to delay hiring a broker. The discussion about allocating net proceeds from a potential sale is also part of The Chronicle’s live updates.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall located at 301 E. Huron after the meeting concluded at around 1:30 a.m.

Funding Resolution for Pedestrian Safety Group Voted Down

A resolution appropriating a total of $197,250 to fund the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force was voted down at the Ann Arbor city council’s April 7, 2014 meeting. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) attempted simply to withdraw the resolution, but the council wound up debating the question for more than a half hour before unanimously voting it down.

Previous action to postpone the resolution until April 7 had come at the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting amid concerns over the amount of funding and questions from councilmembers about the need for support from a consultant.

The rejection of  the resolution at the April 7 meeting does not mean that the task force will be prevented from doing its work. Here’s why. In the resolution that was rejected, the total amount proposed to be appropriated for the task force project budget was $197,250. That amount included an “estimated $122,500” as the approximate cost of the anticipated city staff effort for the project. The total project budget included $77,400 for a professional services agreement with Project Innovations Inc.

So the portion of the project budget that requires hard costs to be covered – other than city staff time – is the cost for the consultant to provide facilitation services. And according to a staff memo to the city administrator written after council’s March 3 action to postpone, the bulk of the cost can already be covered in an existing budget allocation. From the March 27, 2014 staff memo to the city administrator: “The estimated amount for the facilitation work is $70,000 to $90,000. Of this amount, $75,000 is currently budgeted for pedestrian safety and sidewalk-gap planning. The remaining $15,000 will be included in the City Administrator’s recommended FY 14 budget amendment.”

The connection between sidewalk gaps and the task force’s work is based in part on one of the “resolved” clauses establishing the task force: “… the task force will also address sidewalk gaps and create a tool for setting priorities for funding and filling those gaps; …” Another key “resolved” clause establishing the group’s scope of work includes the following: “… the task force will explore strategies to improve pedestrian safety and access within a framework of shared responsibility through community outreach and data collection, and will recommend to council improvements in the development and application of the Complete Streets model, using best practices, sound data and objective analysis.”

In addition to authorizing the funding, the April 7 resolution would have authorized a $77,400 contract with Project Innovations for the facilitation work. But now, it’s not clear whether that particular consultant will be selected for the work. Originally Project Innovations had been identified by staff as a contractor uniquely qualified to do the facilitation work. Project Innovations is familiar to city staff as the facilitator for a sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study the city is currently conducting. But now the city has decided to issue an RFP (requests for proposals) for the facilitation work. [.pdf of RFP No. 893] Responses to the RFP are due by April 22, 2014.

At an April 4 task force meeting, Connie Pulcipher – a systems planner with the city of Ann Arbor – told members of the task force that they could be involved in the process of interviewing respondents to the RFP.

The pedestrian safety and access task force was established through a council resolution passed on Nov. 18, 2013. Confirmed as members of the task force on Jan. 21, 2014 were: Vivienne Armentrout, Neal Elyakin, Linda Diane Feldt, Jim Rees, Anthony Pinnell, Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Kenneth Clark, Scott Campbell, and Owen Jansson.

All members attended the first meeting on April 4. At that meeting, task force members decided that they would elect a chair and secretary from among its members. They left until their next meeting the decision about who would serve in those roles. The delay in selecting a facilitator means that the original timeline for the group’s work, which included a final report by February 2015, has shifted to around August 2015.

Council deliberations on this item, which began after midnight, are included in The Chronicle’s live updates filed during the April 7 meeting.

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

Outdoor Smoking Regs Get Initial OK

A new local Ann Arbor law regulating smoking in some outdoor locations has been given initial approval by the city council. The law would regulate smoking outside of public buildings and also potentially in areas of some city parks.

Action to give the ordinance initial approval came at the council’s April 7, 2014 meeting, after it had been postponed on March 3, 2014, and before that on Feb. 3, 2014. The initial approval came over dissent from Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Jack Eaton (Ward 4).

To be enacted, the new law will need a second vote from the council at a future meeting.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), sponsor of the proposed new local law, appeared before the city’s park advisory commission on Feb. 25, 2014 to brief commissioners on the proposal and solicit feedback.

Made punishable under the proposed ordinance through a $50 civil fine would be smoking within 20 feet of: (1) bus stops; (2) entrances, windows and ventilation systems of the Blake Transit Center; and (3) entrances, windows and ventilation systems any city-owned building.

The ordinance would also authorize the city administrator to have signs posted designating certain parks or portions of parks as off limits for outdoor smoking, and to increase the distance from entrances to city buildings where outdoor smoking is prohibited.

Where no signs are posted noting the smoking prohibition, a citation could be issued only if someone doesn’t stop smoking immediately when asked to stop.

An existing Washtenaw County ordinance already prohibits smoking near entrances, windows and ventilation systems, according to the staff memo accompanying the resolution – but the county’s ordinance can be enforced only by the county health department. The memo further notes that the Michigan Clean Indoor Air Act does not regulate outdoor smoking.

Ellen Rabinowitz, interim health officer for Washtenaw County, attended the April 7 meeting and spoke to councilmembers about the county’s experience. She supported the city ordinance, as did Cliff Douglas, director of the University of Michigan’s Tobacco Research Network. Douglas addressed the council during public commentary and answered questions later in the meeting.

Council deliberations on this item are included in The Chronicle’s live updates filed during the April 7 meeting.

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

Council Echoes Planning Commission on Advice to UM

A resolution recommending that the University of Michigan collaborate with the city of Ann Arbor on the future development of the former Edwards Brothers property at 2500-2550 South State Street has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council. The resolution had been put forward by the city planning commission, which also approved the recommendation.

The property in question is located immediately adjacent to existing UM athletic facilities. The university is purchasing the 16.7-acre property, following the Ann Arbor city council’s decision on Feb. 24, 2014 not to exercise its right of first refusal to buy the site.

The city planning commission passed the same resolution at its March 18, 2014 meeting and forwarded it to the city council.

The resolution was drafted by planning manager Wendy Rampson based on previous discussions by the planning commission and city council. [.pdf of resolution as amended at March 18 planning commission meeting]

The one resolved clause states:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council and Ann Arbor City Planning Commission request that The Regents of The University of Michigan and President authorize University staff to meet with City representatives to collaborate on issues related to future development of the South Athletic Campus area, including, but not limited to:

  • Exploring the creation of one or more parcels fronting South State Street to be developed, preferably privately, for complementary uses adjacent to the South Athletic Campus that also follow the South State Street plan recommendations;
  • Discussing options for the relocation of park-and-ride facilities as the South Athletic Campus develops; and
  • Discussing the opportunities for a future pedestrian and vehicular connection between South Main Street and South State Street via the planned Oakbrook Drive extension through the South Athletic Campus site.

At the planning commission’s March 18 meeting, Rampson said she’s already shared a draft of the resolution with UM planner Sue Gott and Jim Kosteva, the university’s director of community relations.

The city council voted not to exercise the city of Ann Arbor's right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers property, at a special session of the council on Feb. 24, 2014.

The city council voted down a resolution that would have authorized Ann Arbor’s right of first refusal on the Edwards Brothers Malloy property, at a special session of the council on Feb. 24, 2014. That will allow the University of Michigan to purchase the property unimpeded. The council is asking UM to collaborate with the city on the property’s development.

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

Sidewalk, Street Repair Contracts Approved

Contracts related to Ann Arbor’s annual sidewalk maintenance and repair program, as well as for the annual street resurfacing program, have been approved in action taken by the city council at its April 7, 2014 meeting.

A sidewalk marked with a "C" – which indicates it needs to be cut flush – on Fifth Avenue south of William Street.

A sidewalk marked with a “C” – which indicates that it needs to be cut flush – on Fifth Avenue south of William Street.

The sidewalk repair program is funded out of a five-year millage approved by voters in November 2011.

Some sidewalk slabs are in reasonably good shape but are out of alignment with adjacent slabs. The city takes the approach of shaving the portion that’s out of alignment so that it’s flush.

Cutting the concrete is more cost effective than replacing the entire slab. The contract for the cutting work for the upcoming 2014 program was awarded to Precision Concrete Cutting for $207,350.

The other part of the program involves outright replacement of sidewalk slabs.

That contract with Doan Construction Company for $1,707,037 was also approved by the council at its April 7 meeting.

Areas of the city of Ann Arbor where sidewalk repair will be done in 2013 and 2014.

Areas of the city of Ann Arbor where sidewalk repair will be done in 2013 and 2014.

In addition to an annual sidewalk repair program, the city manages an annual street resurfacing program. Also on April 7, the council approved a construction contract with Barrett Paving Materials Inc. for $3.409 million for the 2014 program. Also approved was a contract for materials testing – with CTI and Associates Inc. for $82,332.

Heavy black highlights indicate stretches of road that are a part of the city of Ann Arbor's street resurfacing program in 2014.

Heavy black highlights indicate stretches of road that are a part of the city of Ann Arbor’s street resurfacing program in 2014.

Text descriptions of the streets to be resurfaced are as follows:

  • Washington: First St to Fourth Ave (April – May)
  • Fuller: Maiden Lane to Huron River Bridge (May – June)
  • Newport: Sunset to south of Bird Rd (June – July)
  • Linwood:, Doty to Wildwood (April – May)
  • Northside Grill Alley: Broadway to End (April – May)
  • Vinewood: Berkshire to Avon (May – June)
  • Steeplechase: Whiltshire to Blaney (June – July)
  • St. Aubin: Platt to Creek Dr (June – July)
  • Woodbury: Astor to Stadium (July – July)
  • Prairie: Plymouth to Aurora (July – August)
  • Burlington Court: Burlington to End (July – August)
  • Waldenwood & Adjacent Courts: Penberton to Earhart (north end) (July – September)

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

Ann Arbor Applies for Gallup Path Repair

The Ann Arbor city council has approved a grant application to fund renovations to a pathway that runs through Gallup Park, which is part of the countywide Border-to-Border Trail connecting the eastern and western borders of Washtenaw County. Renovations would include repairs to the existing asphalt, as well as widening to 10 feet – in part to meet current American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards.

Gallup Park, Border to Border trail, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view showing location of trail improvements at Gallup Park. (Links to larger image.)

The council approved the grant application as a part of the consent agenda at its April 7, 2014 meeting. The consent agenda is a group of items that are voted on all in one go.

The city will be applying for a grant from the federal transportation alternatives program (TAP), which is administered in this region by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and statewide by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT). The grant funds, if awarded, would fund renovation of the pathway from the Geddes Dam at the east end of the Gallup Park pathway, to the parking lot east of Huron Parkway. The work would include the loop that leads around that part of the park. Total length of the pathway to be renovated is about two miles.

Funds would be used to renovate the path from the Geddes Dam at the east end of the Gallup Park pathway, to the parking lot east of Huron Parkway. The project also entails renovations to the large loop that encircles that portion of the park, totaling about 2 miles of trail. The application amount hasn’t yet been determined, but will likely be for $400,000 to $500,000. The entire project budget is in the $600,000 range, with likely about $200,000 in matching funds to come from the city’s parks and recreation maintenance and capital improvements millage.

The city would provide the $200,000 in grant matching funds from the parks and recreation capital improvements millage.

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

Windemere Park Tennis Courts Contracted

The tennis courts at Windemere Park in Ann Arbor will finally be reconstructed at a different location within the park – as the result of city council approval of the construction contract. The $134,297 contract with Nagle Paving Co. to relocate and rebuild the tennis courts at Windemere Park was approved in April 7, 2014 city council action.

Windemere Park, tennis courts, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Recommended new location for new Windemere Park tennis courts. (Image included in Jan. 28, 2014 meeting packet for the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.)

The park advisory commission recommended approval of the contract at its Feb. 25, 2014 meeting.

PAC’s recommendation on the contract followed its approval on Jan. 28, 2014 of a revised new location for tennis courts at Windemere Park, on the city’s northeast side. The final location approved by PAC was one put forward at a public meeting earlier this year.

The new location for the tennis courts has been disputed among neighbors who live near Windemere Park, a nearly four-acre parcel north of Glazier Way between Green and Earhart roads. The tennis courts there have deteriorated, and the city has been looking at options for replacing them. Neighbors had originally advocated keeping the courts in the same location, but the soil there is unstable. Before the area was developed, the current location of the courts was a pond.

Nagle Paving was the lowest of five responsible bidders on the project, according to a staff memo. Including a 10% construction contingency, the entire project budget is $147,727. Funding will come from the FY 2014 park maintenance and capital improvement millage revenues. [.pdf of staff memo and resolution] [.pdf of cost comparison chart]

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

Main Street BIZ Expansion Gets Council OK

An expansion of the geographic area of the Main Street Business Improvement Zone in downtown Ann Arbor has received approval from the city council. The business improvement zone was established in 2010 by a vote of property owners in the zone to provide a mechanism for taxing themselves to pay for items like sidewalk snow removal, sidewalk sweeping and landscaping. [For the state enabling legislation for a BIZ, see Public Act 120 of 1961]

The council’s action approving the expanded area came at its April 7, 2014 meeting, after a public hearing, during which four property owners in the proposed BIZ area – including BIZ board chair Ed Shaffran – spoke in favor of the council allowing property owners to vote on the issue. Shaffran also fielded questions from councilmembers later in the meeting.

While the council must give its approval of the plan, the expansion is contingent on a vote among the owners of more than 60 different parcels in the area, which has to be set for no later than 49 days after the date of the council’s resolution. The total assessment generated by all properties for the first year of the 10-year assessment would be $273,870. To succeed, the vote needs a 60% majority in the combined new BIZ area.

The current geographic area of the Main Street BIZ extends north-to-south from William to Huron on both sides of Main Street, extending to the mid-block alleys. The expansion would extend the area westward by a half block from the alley to Ashley Street. The expansion would also extend the area eastward by a half block along the whole north-south dimension; and between William and Liberty, the zone would expand westward an additional block – to Fourth Avenue.

Main Street BIZ geographic area and expansion.

Main Street BIZ geographic area and expansion. (Map by The Chronicle from the BIZ plan using Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS services mapping tools.)

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

Ann Arbor Passes Resolution on Same-Sex Marriage

Ann Arbor city councilmembers have approved a resolution asking that Michigan state officials stop opposing a recent court ruling that allows same-sex marriages. [.pdf of draft resolution on same-sex marriage] The council’s action came at its April 7, 2014 meeting.

The vote on the resolution was unanimous.

The ruling in question was issued by federal judge Bernard Friedman on Friday, March 21, 2014 in the case of Deboer v. Snyder. In that ruling, Friedman found that Article I, Section 25 of the Michigan Constitution – which limits the benefits of marriage to unions between one man and one woman – did not advance any legitimate state interest. So the ruling had the effect of making same-sex marriages legal in Michigan.

But the day following the decision, on March 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a temporary stay on Friedman’s ruling. Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette are appealing Friedman’s decision.

The council’s resolution reads in part:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council urges Governor Snyder and Attorney General Schuette to immediately suspend all efforts to appeal or otherwise contest Judge Friedman’s Ruling…

Before the stay on Friedman’s ruling took effect, Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum opened his office for business on Saturday, March 22, and issued 74 marriage licenses for same-sex couples in Washtenaw County. The county board had already set the stage for those couples to receive what practically amounts to a fee waiver for the expedited processing of a license, which ordinarily takes three days. The “fee” approved by the board at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting reduced the usual fee from $50 to 1 cent.

The resolution passed by the county board on Feb. 19 allows the county clerk, consulting with the county administrator, to establish a “fee holiday” on the day preceding a period during which the office’s vital records division would be closed for four or more days, or when an unusual number of marriage license applicants are expected to appear. During a “fee holiday,” the charge for immediately processing a marriage license is 1 cent.

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

McMullen Takes Out Petitions for Ward 3

Ann Arbor city clerk records show that Samuel McMullen took out petitions on April 3 to contest the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary on Aug. 5. The University of Michigan student joins Julie Grand and Bob Dascola as the third candidate to take out petitions for the Ward 3 primary.

According to Ann Arbor city clerk Jackie Beaudry, McMullen meets the city charter’s one-year durational residency and voter registration requirements – through his voter registration indicating an address on East University Avenue in Ward 3, which dates from October 2013.

Those charter requirements have become a point of contention for Dascola’s candidacy. The city clerk’s office has informed Dascola that he’s not eligible to run because he doesn’t meet the city’s one-year residency and voter registration requirements. And Dascola has now filed a lawsuit to assert his right to run, based on federal court decisions from the early 1970s. The city clerk’s office has verified 103 signatures for Dascola, but the question about his eligibility remains.

The latest update on that lawsuit is that a motion for summary judgment has been filed by Dascola. And both sides – the city of Ann Arbor and Dascola’s attorney, Tom Wieder – are working to expedite proceedings so that the question might be settled before ballots have to be finalized. According to a response filed by the city with the federal court, ballots need to be finalized by early June. [.pdf of March 29, 2014 brief on motion for summary judgment]

The other candidate who has taken out petitions for that race is Julie Grand. She competed in the August 2013 primary against Stephen Kunselman, who received more votes in that race.

That Ward 3 seat has no incumbent in the race this year because sitting councilmember Christopher Taylor is running for mayor, along with three other councilmembers: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Mayor John Hieftje announced last year that he will not seek re-election.

Even if the question of Dascola’s appearance on the ballot is still open, McMullen’s candidacy would mean that races for city office this year would be contested in at least three wards and for mayor. Not yet contested are the races in Ward 1 and Ward 4.

Each of the city’s five wards is represented by two councilmembers, who serve two-year terms. In any given year, only one of the seats is up for re-election. The mayor also serves a two-year term, and is up for re-election in every even-numbered year.

In Ward 1, incumbent Democrat Sumi Kailasapathy filed petitions on March 19, and 102 signatures were verified by the clerk’s office on March 20. The other person shown in city clerk records to have taken out petitions for Ward 1 is Eric Sturgis. But an asterisk recorded next to his name includes a note that says Sturgis has indicated to the clerk’s office that he does not intend to file signatures to become a candidate. Sturgis contested the Ward 1 Democratic primary in 2012, which was won by Kailasapathy.

If the other Ward 1 councilmember, Sabra Briere, were to win election as mayor, the council would need to appoint someone to fill that open seat. The same scenario applies to a win by Stephen Kunselman in the mayor’s race.

In Ward 2, Nancy Kaplan – who serves on the board of the Ann Arbor District Library – took out petitions on March 26 to run for the city council seat. Kaplan’s term on the AADL board runs through 2016. She’s indicated to The Chronicle that if elected to the city council, she would resign from the library board. Another potential candidate in Ward 2, Kirk Westphal, took out petitions on Jan. 15. Westphal currently serves as chair of the city’s planning commission. The Ward 2 incumbent, Sally Petersen, is not running for re-election to that seat, because she’s running for mayor instead.

In Ward 4, the only candidate to take out petitions so far is Graydon Krapohl, who currently serves as vice chair of the city’s park advisory commission. The incumbent, Margie Teall, has stated that she does not intend to run for re-election.

In Ward 5, Leon Bryson took out petitions on March 25 to run against incumbent Chuck Warpehoski, who took out petitions last year on Nov. 7, 2013.

All candidates who have taken out petitions so far are Democrats. April 22 is the deadline to file petitions for the Ann Arbor city council and mayor in the Aug. 5 partisan primary.

Ped Task Force Funding Item: To Be Pulled?

Now expected to be withdrawn is a resolution currently on the Ann Arbor city council’s April 7, 2014 agenda that would allocate funding for the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force. At the first meeting of the task force, held on Friday, April 4, Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere, speaking from the audience, told the group that it was her intent to withdraw the funding resolution when the council meets on April 7.

Action to postpone the pedestrian task force funding resolution until April 7 came at the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting.

Withdrawing the resolution at the April 7 meeting would not mean that the task force will be prevented from doing its work. Here’s why. In the resolution that’s expected to be withdrawn, the total amount proposed to be appropriated for the task force project budget is $197,250. That amount includes an “estimated $122,500” as the approximate cost of the anticipated city staff effort for the project. The total project budget includes $77,400 for a professional services agreement with Project Innovations Inc.

So the portion of the project budget that requires hard costs to be covered – other than city staff time – is the cost for the consultant to provide facilitation services. And according to a staff memo to the city administrator written after council action to postpone, the bulk of the cost can already be covered in an existing budget allocation. From the March 27, 2014 staff memo to the city administrator: “The estimated amount for the facilitation work is $70,000 to $90,000. Of this amount, $75,000 is currently budgeted for pedestrian safety and sidewalk-gap planning. The remaining $15,000 will be included in the City Administrator’s recommended FY 14 budget amendment.”

In addition to authorizing the funding, the resolution would authorize a $77,400 contract with Project Innovations for the facilitation work. But now, it’s not clear that particular consultant will be selected for the work. Originally Project Innovations had been identified by staff as a contractor uniquely qualified to do the facilitation work. Project Innovations is familiar to city staff as the facilitator for a sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study the city is currently conducting. But now the city has decided to issue an RFP (requests for proposals) for the facilitation work. [.pdf of RFP No. 893] Responses to the RFP are due by April 22, 2014.

At the April 4 task force meeting, Connie Pulcipher – a systems planner with the city of Ann Arbor – told members of the task force that they could be involved in the process of interviewing respondents to the RFP.

The pedestrian safety and access task force was established through a council resolution passed on Nov. 18, 2013. Confirmed as members of the task force on Jan. 21, 2014 were: Vivienne Armentrout, Neal Elyakin, Linda Diane Feldt, Jim Rees, Anthony Pinnell, Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Kenneth Clark, Scott Campbell, and Owen Jansson.

All members attended the first meeting on April 4. At that meeting, task force members decided that they would elect a chair and secretary from among its members. They left until their next meeting the decision about who would serve in those roles. The delay in selecting a facilitator means that the original timeline for the group’s work, which included a final report by February 2015, has shifted to around August 2015.

For a preview of other agenda items see: “April 7, 2014: Council Meeting Preview

County Board Discusses Homelessness

After about 90 minutes of discussion on an item not originally on its April 2, 2014 agenda, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners took steps to address short-term and long-term needs of the homeless.

The board voted to direct county administrator Verna McDaniel to work with community partners to address immediate needs of the homeless. [In general, McDaniel has budgetary discretion to spend up to $50,000 on professional services contracts, and up to $100,000 for any proposed goods, services, new construction or renovation.] The resolution also directs the administration to develop a plan by May 7 for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was adopted in 2004 but appears to be dormant. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

The agenda item on homelessness was added after about a half dozen advocates for the homeless – including several people who’ve been staying at the Delonis Center homeless shelter in Ann Arbor – raised concerns that the shelter’s overnight winter warming center will be closing on April 6. The warming center is typically open from mid-November through March. It’s located in the shelter’s dining room, and is set up for a maximum of 65 people. Because this winter has been particularly harsh, the warming center has accommodated more than 70 people at times.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) suggested allocating $40,000 to the shelter to keep the warming center open another month. Other commissioners had concerns about throwing money at the shelter without any input from shelter staff, and without knowing specifically how the money would be used. Because the item hadn’t been on the agenda, representatives from the shelter staff weren’t at the meeting.

The county owns the Delonis Center building, but does not operate the shelter. Operations are handled by the nonprofit Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, led by executive director Ellen Schulmeister. Schulmeister had briefed commissioners about services for the homeless at their Feb. 6, 2014 working session. Her briefing had come in response to advocacy from several homeless advocates at the board’s Jan. 22, 2014 meeting, when commissioners had also discussed the need to do more.

The county budget included $51,230 for the Delonis Center in 2013 and that amount was increased to $160,000 this year as part of the regular budget approval process late last year. The county funding is set to increase again to $200,000 in 2015 and remain at that level through 2017. The Shelter Association’s annual budget is $2.583 million.

Some commissioners thought there should be a strategic plan in place before any additional funding is given – and they seemed to assume that such a plan doesn’t already exist. Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, noted that the city of Ann Arbor and several other entities are working on this issue, in partnership with the Shelter Association.

The vote on the resolution was 6-2, over dissent from Republicans Dan Smith (District 2) and Alicia Ping (District 3), who both objected to the process. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

Dan Smith called it “completely and entirely inappropriate” to be making policy and budgetary decisions on the fly, in response to a few people who showed up to speak during public commentary. He supported updating the Blueprint to End Homelessness, but thought it was a discussion that should take place at a working session before taking action at a regular board meeting. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) responded by saying that commissioners are elected to work for the people. When people come to the board, it’s important to address their concerns in a serious manner, he said.

Because of the length of the meeting, some men who are staying at the shelter missed the 9:30 p.m. curfew. Typically, anyone showing up after that time isn’t allowed inside. Greg Dill, the county’s director of infrastructure management, contacted the shelter staff and made arrangements for the men to be accommodated.

Update: McDaniel has allocated $35,000 to the Delonis Center, which has agreed to keep the warming center open through April 30. The funding will come from the county’s unearmarked reserves.

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

Action on Road Commission Postponed

Washtenaw County commissioners have postponed a resolution regarding the county road commission until their May 7, 2014 meeting. It’s the first board meeting that follows an April 17 working session, when issues related to the road commission will be discussed. The vote to postpone took place at the county board’s April 2, 2014 meeting.

The resolution, if passed, would leave the county road commission as an independent entity. The resolution also states that the county board does not support making the road commission’s board an elected body. [.pdf of board resolution]

The resolution is in line with recommendations of a board subcommittee that was appointed in October of 2013 to look at the future of the road commission. At its final meeting on March 1, 2014, the subcommittee voted to recommend that the road commission remain an independent operation, and not be absorbed into the county government.

That subcommittee vote came over dissent from Conan Smith of Ann Arbor (D-District 9), who argued that consolidating the road commission into the county would allow for more flexibility and accountability in oversight. Currently, the road commission is overseen by a board with three members appointed by the county board of commissioners to six-year terms. Smith thought that asking voters to approve a countywide road millage – when the revenues aren’t allocated by an elected body – would be a tough sell. It would be especially tough to sell to voters in the city of Ann Arbor, who already pay a millage for street maintenance within the city.

But others on the subcommittee were in line with the strong support from township officials for keeping the road commission independent. Most township boards in the county have passed resolutions supporting the current structure, citing their strong relationships with the road commission staff and board.

The subcommittee did not make any recommendations on whether to expand the road commission from three to five members. The three county commissioners who served on the subcommittee – Conan Smith, Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – had agreed that the question of expansion was primarily a political one, and should be taken up by the county board. Subcommittee members indicated that they’d be willing to discuss it further, if directed to do so by the county board.

Regarding the question of whether road commissioners should be elected positions, the subcommittee unanimously passed a resolution recommending not to pursue that option. The sense was that elections would be dominated by urban voters who are heavily Democratic, but who would be electing commissioners to oversee road projects in rural communities.

The three current road commissioners are Doug Fuller, Barbara Fuller, and Bill McFarlane, who was appointed by the county board at its March 19, 2014 meeting. At that time, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) voiced support for expanding the road commission board to five members. That will also be part of the discussion at the April 17 working session.

These issues come in the context of a state law that opened the door to possible consolidation of the road commission into the county. In 2012, the Michigan legislature enacted amendments to Section 46.11 of Public Act 156 of 1851, which allows for county boards of commissioners to transfer the powers of the road commission to the county board. There’s a sunset to that section of the law, however. Unless extended by the legislature, it will expire at the end of 2014.

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

Brownfield Plan for Ypsilanti Site: Initial OK

A brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town area was given initial approval by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 2, 2014 meeting. A final vote is expected on April 16. [.pdf of Thompson Block brownfield plan]

The plan covers 400-408 N. River St. and 107 E. Cross St., an historic property that has been declared ”functionally obsolete and blighted.” That qualifies the project as a brownfield under the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing act (Public Act 381), which allows the owner to receive reimbursements for eligible activities through tax increment financing (TIF). Approval also will allow the developer to apply for Michigan Business Tax Credits. The property is currently owned by Thompson Block Partners LLC, led by Stewart Beal of Beal Properties. Beal’s father, Fred Beal, attended the April 2 meeting but did not formally address the board.

Beal plans to create 16 “luxury lofts” in the structure’s second and third floors, and up to 14,000 square feet of commercial space in the remainder of the site. The project is estimated to cost about $7 million.

The resolution given initial approval by the board also ends a previous brownfield plan for part of the same site, which was approved in 2008. A fire in 2009 delayed the project. The new plan now covers the 107 E. Cross, which was not part of the original plan, and includes public infrastructure improvements, such as streetscape enhancements along North River Street.

The Washtenaw County brownfield redevelopment authority approved this plan at its March 6 meeting. Subsequently, the plan was approved by the Ypsilanti city council on March 18. The city council’s action included approving an “Obsolete Properties Rehabilitation” certificate, which freezes local millages at the current, pre-development level for 12 years. Because of that, the project’s TIF capture will apply only to the state’s school taxes.

The project can get up to $271,578 in eligible cost reimbursed over a 12-year period, for activities including brownfield plan and work plan preparation, limited building demolition, selective interior demolition, site preparation and utility work, infrastructure improvements, architectural and engineering design costs, asbestos and lead abatement, and construction oversight.

The intent of the state’s brownfield redevelopment financing is to support the redevelopment of urban sites that will increase the municipality’s tax base. Tax increment financing allows an entity to capture the difference between the taxable value before a project is undertaken, and the value of the property after it’s developed.

A public hearing on this proposal was also held at the April 2 meeting. Only one person – Tyler Weston, representing Thompson Block Partners – spoke, telling the board that it would help the project.

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

County Jail Bonds To Be Re-Funded

The  Washtenaw County board of commissioners has given initial approval to authorize the re-funding of up to $16.5 million in outstanding capital improvement bonds, which were originally issued in 2006 to fund expansion of the county jail. The action took place at the board’s April 2, 2014 meeting.

According to a staff memo, $16.9 million in principal remains of the original $21.675 million bond sale. The county’s bond counsel, Axe & Ecklund, is advising the re-funding because of lower interest rates, and estimates a net savings of about $869,000 over life of the bond issue. The new issue would be called “County of Washtenaw Capital Improvement Refunding Bonds, Series 2014.” [.pdf of refunding resolution]

Bond counsel John Axe told the board that current interest rates are between 4% and 4.3%. He estimated that the re-funding interest rates would be between 2.2% and 3.8%.

A final vote on this item is expected at the board’s April 16 meeting.

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

County Board Acts on Police Services Contract

A two-year pricing proposal for contracts to provide police services to local municipalities has received initial authorization from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its April 2, 2014 meeting. A final vote is expected on April 16.

On July 6, 2011, commissioners had authorized the price that municipalities would pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. The price in 2012 – $150,594 per “police services unit” – was unchanged from 2011, but has been rising in subsequent years by about 1% annually. The complex, politically-charged process of arriving at those figures in 2011 involved more than a year of discussion between the sheriff’s office, other county officials and leaders of local municipalities that contract for these services.

The board’s decision in 2011 was based on a recommendation from the police services steering committee. That same group is recommending the next pricing changes as well, based on the cost of a police services unit (PSU). The PSU price for 2014 is $153,621. For 2015, the PSU price will be $155,157. In the following two years, the PSU price is proposed to be $156,709 in 2016 and $158,276 in 2017.

Those figures are based on a 1% annual increase in direct costs to contracting municipalities. That rate of increase for PSUs is included in revenue projections for the county’s four-year budget, which the county board passed at its Nov. 20, 2013 meeting. The budget runs from 2014-2017, and includes revenue projections based on contracts for 79 PSUs.

According to a staff memo, there will be an addition to the 2016 and 2017 prices for in-car printer replacement, after the total cost of ownership is determined. The memo also notes that the pricing is based on salaries stipulated in current union contracts with the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM). Those contracts run through 2014, and new contracts are currently being negotiated. The memo states that ”no assumptions were made for salaries or fringes change in this cost metric in anticipation of any union negotiations.” [.pdf of staff memo]

The county – through the sheriff’s office budget – pays for the difference between the price charged for each PSU, and the actual cost to provide those services. In 2011, that difference was $25,514.

In 2016, the cost per PSU is expected to be $195,104 – a difference of $38,395 compared to the price being charged to municipalities. In 2017, the cost per PSU is estimated at $199,188 – a difference of $40,912. [.pdf of cost estimates]

Discussion during the April 2 meeting included concerns by some commissioners about the financial sustainability of this approach to funding police services, and the need for new revenue sources for public safety. Sheriff Jerry Clayton was on hand to present the pricing proposal, and supported suggestions to seek new funding for public safety. As he’s done in the past, Clayton characterized the issue of public safety as one that encompasses economic development, human services and other aspects of the community.

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

Opinion on Tax Assessment Now Public

Sixteen days after the Ann Arbor city council directed its city attorney to re-draft for a public audience a privileged memo on tax assessment procedures, the city attorney’s office has provided the document to the city clerk’s office, councilmembers and the city administrator.

The council voted at its March 17, 2014 meeting to direct the preparation of a new memo – instead of simply voting to waive privilege on an existing memo. [.pdf of public opinion on tax assessment]

DDA Supports Continuing Connector Study

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board has approved a resolution that expresses notional support, but not does not commit any funding, for the third phase of a study for a high-capacity transportation system – stretching from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The third phase of the study will be an environmental review.

DDA board action came at its April 2, 2014 meeting. The resolution of support will be used as part of an application, due April 28, for a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER 2014 (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant.

The lead agency for the study, which is now in its second phase, is the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. This second phase is an alternatives analysis. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops. The study first winnowed down options to six different route alignments. At the April 2 meeting, DDA board member Roger Hewitt reported from the technical advisory committee for the study, on which he serves, that those six routes had been further reduced to two possibilities. Additional modeling work is being done on those two alternatives.

Hewitt said at the meeting that the final report on the alternatives analysis would be expected by the end of the summer, adding that the project is over time but under budget.

Hewitt also reported that expectations were low that the federal TIGER grant would be received during this year’s funding round – but said it was important to put the project on the radar of federal agencies.

The first phase of the project – a feasibility study completed in 2011 – concluded that there was sufficient travel demand in the corridor to warrant some kind of high-capacity transit system.

This brief was filed from the DDA offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave., where the DDA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link]