Govt. Section

April 21, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

The presentation of the city administrator’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, 2014, is the main event of the Ann Arbor city council’s April 21 meeting. As the second council meeting of April, it’s the occasion specified in the city charter for that presentation.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the April 21, 2014 meeting agenda.

At its April 21 meeting, however, the council won’t be voting on next year’s budget. Under the city charter, the council will need to adopt the budget by the time of its second regular meeting in May, which falls on May 19 this year. The Chronicle has covered the FY 2015 budget preview in a separate article.

Related to this year’s budget is an agenda item for April 21 that will transfer $600,000 from the affordable housing trust fund to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. The city administrator had been directed by the council to prepare the budget amendment at its March 3, 2014 meeting. The action was contingent on the final closing of the sale of the former Y lot – net proceeds of which were roughly $1.4 million and were deposited into the affordable housing trust fund. The $600,000 will support AAHC’s efforts to make major capital improvements to its public housing properties.

The AAHC is featured in two other resolutions related to its plan of capital improvements, which include projects at North Maple Estates, North Maple Duplexes, Lower Platt, Broadway, and White/State/Henry apartments. One resolution approves a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for those AAHC properties. A second resolution approves a 50% waiver of the site plan, zoning and street vacation fees for the North Maple Estates and Lower Platt projects.

Also on the April 21 agenda based on previous action by the council, at its April 7, 2014 meeting, is the second and final reading of a local ordinance that would regulate smoking in certain outdoor places. Those places include locations near entrances of buildings and potentially in parts of city parks at the discretion of the city administrator. A public hearing will precede the council’s vote on the outdoor smoking regulations.

Measured by the number of items on the agenda, sidewalks are a significant highlight. Sidewalk gaps on Scio Church Road and Newport Road have two resolutions each – related to the special assessments that will be imposed on property owners adjoining the stretches where sidewalks will be constructed. One resolution directs the city assessor to prepare a special assessment roll of properties to be assessed. The other resolution sets a public hearing on the special assessment – for May 5, 2014 at the council’s regular meeting on that date.

The council will also be asked to approve $177,100 of city funds for the construction of the Scio Church sidewalk and for an additional sidewalk on Barton Drive. The Barton Drive sidewalk will also be special assessed – with the associated resolutions to be presented to the council at a future meeting.

Related to sidewalks as part of the city’s non-motorized infrastructure will be a possible attachment to the council’s agenda from the city administrator that outlines his plan to “to fund, effect, and otherwise implement actionable near-term recommendations of the 2013 Update to the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan.” The council gave direction to the city administrator at its Dec. 16, 2013 meeting to provide the report – as one of a series of updates.

Rounding out the council’s April 21 agenda are some land use items. The council will be asked to approve the site plan for an overhaul of a Shell station and a new drive-thru restaurant at the northeast corner of the East Eisenhower Parkway and South State Street. Another site plan the council will be asked to approve is for the expansion of an office building at 278-280 Collingwood on Ann Arbor’s west side. A third site plan on the April 21 agenda is for an expansion to the Concordia University gym, which also includes reconfiguring nearby parking lots and stormwater management features on the 187-acre site at 4090 Geddes Road, just west of US-23 and north of the Huron River.

Also on the April 21 agenda are appointments to the environmental commission for David Stead, Kirk Westphal, and Susan Hutton. Appointments to this commission are different from most appointments to boards and commissions, in that the mayor does not nominate them. The appointments are under control of the council as a body.

The April 21 agenda also includes the authorization for some street closings for upcoming events: NTI Block Party (July 30, 2014), Rolling Sculpture Car Show (July 11, 2014), and Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park (June 9 through July 9, 2014).

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

FY 2015 Budget Preview: Cops, Trees

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers’ proposed general fund budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts on July 1, 2014, will approach $100 million.

Left: Stumps (black) and vacant sites (gray). Right: Maples (purple), Crabapples (red) and oaks (blue).  Maps by The Chronicle from the city's 2009 tree inventory.

Left: Stumps (black) and vacant sites (gray). Right: Maples (purple), Crabapples (red) and oaks (blue). Maps by The Chronicle from the city’s 2009 tree inventory. The city administrator’s proposed FY 2015 budget includes a one-time $1 million expense to address the backlog in pruning and removal of trees that are dead or in poor condition.

Funded as part of the FY 2015 budget are five new full-time employees, four of them in public safety: one additional firefighter; three additional police officers; and an additional rental housing inspection position. The additional positions were all presented as possibilities at a Feb. 10 city council work session. The additional police positions will bring the total number of sworn officers in the city of Ann Arbor to 122.

Not previewed as a possibility at that February work session is a one-time expense of $1 million to address a backlog in critical pruning and removal of trees that are in the public right of way. The allocation comes in the context of the development of an urban forestry management plan.

The $1 million one-time expense for street trees brings the total of non-recurring expenses in the FY 2015 general fund budget to about $2.8 million. Other one-time expenses budgeted for FY 2015 are: $80,000 to cover transitional costs for art administration; $606,000 for repairs and maintenance of the city’s hydroelectric dams; $100,000 for consultants to assist with completing the downtown zoning amendments and sign inventory; $300,000 for demolition of city-owned buildings at 415 W. Washington; $200,000 for a corridor studies; and $209,000 in operational support for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission’s (AAHC) transition to a rental assistance demonstration program.

The housing commission also accounts for the bulk of a $13.8 million (17%) increase in general fund recurring expenditures compared to last year. That’s due to an accounting change that recognizes 22 AAHC employees as city employees. By recognizing revenue and expenses for AAHC employee compensation through the general fund, the AAHC can avoid the negative impact of a new accounting rule. The GASB 68 rule requires unfunded pension fund liabilities to be recorded in the financial statements for proprietary funds (like the AAHC) but not for governmental funds like the general fund.

Also included in the FY 2015 budget proposal is about $3,000 for a pilot program for closed captioning of public meeting broadcasts on the Community Television Network. According to city of Ann Arbor communications manager Lisa Wondrash, the cable commission meeting recommended approval of the money at its Feb. 25 meeting, and she notified the commission on disability issues about the pilot on April 16. The pilot will begin with meetings of the city’s commission on disability issues, with a goal of testing out a closed captioning system in July this year.

The $98.1 million of general fund expenditures in FY 2015 will include $95.3 million in recurring expenditures and $2.8 million in one-time expenses.

When the general fund is added in with the rest of the city’s budget – the street fund, water fund, sewer fund, parking fund, and the like – the total expenses proposed for FY 2015 come to $334,434,101.

Powers will present the proposed budget to the city council at its April 21 meeting, the second meeting this month. The council will need to adopt the budget, with any changes, at its May 19 meeting, also the second meeting of the month. That timeframe is specified in the city charter.

The Chronicle sat down with Powers and city CFO Tom Crawford for a conversation about the FY 2015 budget. That conversation is presented here as a Q&A. Within the context of the budget, other issues discussed include state funding, long-term planning, affordable housing, animal control, and fund balance policy. [.pdf of April 21, 2014 pre-dated memo from Powers to city council] [Full Story]

Column: Stop Reading the City’s Website

Among the incidental, minor topics touched on at the April 16, 2014 mayoral candidate forum was the city of Ann Arbor’s website. Praise was not heaped upon it – as a2gov.org was described by one candidate (Sabra Briere) as “a terrible website to try to tell anybody how to navigate.”  That’s not an uncommon view.

How to search just one site with Google and reduce frustration when you can find information by navigating to it.

How to search just the city of Ann Arbor’s website with Google and reduce frustration when you are unable to find information by navigating to it.

So stop navigating it. Stop “reading” it.

Start searching it – and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.

That’s not to defend the user interface or the look and feel of a2gov.org. Maybe it is terrible. I don’t have a strong opinion on that. It’s worth noting that the city council approved a contract with Keystone Media ($26,900) at its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting to redesign the basic templates for the city’s website.

I’m not sure if that work has yet been implemented – as I just don’t pay that much attention to the look and feel or the navigational features of the city’s website. That’s despite the fact that part of The Job is to look stuff up – quite frequently on the city’s website. And mostly I find what I’m looking for pretty quickly.

So my point in writing is to share one simple technique I use dozens of times a day to do The Job. I use Google search – but constrain the search to just the one website where I’m looking. [Full Story]

Brigham Home To Get Upgrade, Expansion

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 15, 2014): A revised version of renovations and expansion at 515 Oxford – a house originally designed by architect George Brigham in 1940 – will move to the city council for approval, following action by the city’s planning commissioners.

Robb Burroughs, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Robb Burroughs, architect for renovations at 515 Oxford. (Photos by the writer.)

At a meeting with a third of the nine-member commission absent, the group voted unanimously to grant a special exception use that will allow the building to be used by the Delta Gamma sorority. It will be limited to 20 residents, and will be used as an annex to the main sorority house down the street.

The commission also recommended approval of a “planned project” site plan, which will now be forwarded to city council for consideration. Unlike a preliminary version of the project – when the architect had been unaware of the building’s historical significance – the current proposal works to preserve the integrity of the original design. The new design keeps the existing structure, but nearly doubles the square footage with an addition in the back.

During deliberations, some commissioners mentioned the relatively large amount of correspondence they’d received about this project, including letters from several preservation groups – a2modern, Detroit Area Art Deco Society, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Board, and the Washtenaw County Historic District Commission. The house is not located in an historic district, and is not protected by any other historic designation.

City planner Jill Thacher, who serves as support staff for the city’s historic district commission, said she appreciated that the renovations are sensitive to the history of the structure, keeping the front design in tact and minimizing the overall visual impact of the rear addition.

This was the only major agenda item in a relatively brief meeting that lasted about an hour. The commission’s next regular meeting is on May 6 and will be held at the county administration building at 220 N. Main. The second floor of city hall, where the commission’s meetings are typically held, will be used by election staff for the May 6 transit millage vote.

Before then, the commission will hold a retreat on April 29 starting at 3 p.m. at the NEW Center, 1100 N. Main. It will likely last until about 8:30 p.m. and will include a walking tour of the area. [Full Story]

Town Hall: Four Mayoral Candidates

Four candidates for the Democratic mayoral primary in Ann Arbor will appear on Wednesday, April 16 in a town hall format at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy to answer questions from students enrolled in Public Policy 456/756.

From top: Petersen, Briere, Kunselman, Taylor.

From top: Petersen, Briere, Kunselman, Taylor.

The class is taught by Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje, who announced last year that he would not be seeking re-election.

Hieftje and the students organized the town hall format event, which is scheduled from 1:10-2:30 p.m. in the Ford School’s Annenberg Auditorium at 735 S. State St.

The event is open to the public. The town hall will be moderated by students in the class. Questions from the audience will be considered as time allows.

Confirmed to appear at the event will be Sabra Briere, Stephen Kunselman, Christopher Taylor and Sally Petersen. All are Democrats and are currently serving on the Ann Arbor city council.

As of the morning of April 16, only Kunselman had submitted the required signatures from registered voters in each of the city’s five wards to qualify for the ballot. Signatures must be submitted to the city clerk by April 22. Although no one other than these four councilmembers has announced an intent to contest the mayoral primary race, it’s still technically possible to take out petitions and collect signatures in time to qualify for the ballot.

The forum is being co-sponsored by UM’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The Chronicle has made arrangements to provide CART (Communication Across Real Time) text streaming services for the event. If all technical challenges have been met, text will start streaming after the jump around 1:10 p.m. on April 16. [Full Story]

Homeless Issues Emerge on County Agenda

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 2, 2014): Responding to several homeless residents who spoke during public commentary, commissioners spent about 90 minutes on April 2 discussing how to address short-term and long-term needs of the homeless.

Yousef Rabhi,  Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, talked with an advocate from the homeless community before the April 2 county board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The board ultimately 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. Later in the week, she allocated $35,000 to the Delonis Center – which is run by the nonprofit Shelter Association of Washtenaw County – to keep its nighttime warming center open through April 30. The warming center had originally been slated to close for the season on April 6.

The resolution also directed 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.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) had initially 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 included on the agenda, representatives from the shelter staff didn’t attend the meeting.

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 board had received a briefing from the association’s executive director, Ellen Schulmeister, at their Feb. 6, 2014 working session.

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 were 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.

In other action, commissioners gave initial approval to a two-year pricing proposal – for 2016 and 2017 – to provide police services to local municipalities through contracts with the county sheriff’s office. Some commissioners expressed concern about the financial sustainability of this approach to funding police services, and cited 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 a new funding source. 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.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to a new brownfield redevelopment plan for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town, and took final action to add autism coverage to the health care benefits for employees. They postponed action on a resolution related to the county road commission until May 7, following an April 17 working session that will focus on that issue. The board also was briefed on the 2013 audit and comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), and received an award for financial reporting from the national Government Finance Officers Association.

During communications, Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) reported that the review of applications is underway for the current cycle of coordinated funding, a partnership to fund social service agencies that involves the county, city of Ann Arbor, and several other entities. For this cycle, 105 applications were received, representing $8.7 million in requests. The amount of available funding this year from all partners is $4.4 million. “So it’s a difficult, difficult process,” she said. Funding recommendations will be brought to the board in May.

On April 2, the board also honored five local businesses and institutions with “healthy workplace” awards, and recognized the Ann Arbor Community Center for 91 years of service. [Full Story]

Sustainability Action Plan Takes Shape

Ann Arbor planning commission and energy commission joint working session (April 8, 2014): Continuing a process that began more than four years ago, members of the city’s planning and energy commissions received an overview of the draft sustainability action plan and gave feedback toward finalizing the document.

Jamie Kidwell, Wayne Appleyard, Ann Arbor energy commission, sustainability, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jamie Kidwell, the city’s sustainability associate, and Wayne Appleyard, chair of the Ann Arbor energy commission. (Photos by the writer.)

The action plan identifies steps to implement 16 broad goals in a sustainability framework that was added to the city’s master plan last year. The goals are organized into four categories – resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community – that were culled from existing city plans and reorganized into this new framework.

The intent is to track efforts toward achieving the 16 goals, which cover a wide range of issues – from increasing renewable energy use and developing a resilient local economy to eliminating pollutants and maintaining Ann Arbor’s unique sense of place. The action plan includes specific indicators that measure progress in each area.

Jamie Kidwell, the city’s sustainability associate, is taking the lead on this project, and fielded questions from commissioners. Part of the goal is for each of the city’s commissions to incorporate these sustainability efforts into their own work plans, she noted. But the action plan is primarily to guide staff efforts. The action plan is also coordinated with the city’s budget process, tying in to the city council’s budget priorities.

Commissioners expressed interest in more collaboration – both among the city’s various commissions, and with other jurisdictions. One start will be to share their work plans, though not all commissions have those.

Commissioners also discussed the idea of holding an annual joint meeting of multiple commissions, possibly in September. Planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that the kick-off for developing the sustainability framework had begun with a joint meeting – with the planning, energy and environmental commissions – in April 2010. [Full Story]

Column: Ann Arbor’s Dumb Old Charter

Are you bored by baseball? Of course you are. And you’re bored even more by the inside baseball of Ann Arbor city politics.

So this is not really a column about city politics or baseball. Instead, it’s a column based on a saying that baseball Hall of Famer Casey Stengel loved to repeat: “You can look it up.”

A standard football-themed bit of joke advice on Ann Arbor politics goes like this: "Fake left, run right." But football season is long since over and baseball season has started. This is a variant of that joke – a spoof of the Ann Arbor city charter language projected onto a baseball. ("Art" by The Chronicle).

A standard football-themed bit of joke advice on Ann Arbor politics goes like this: “Fake left, run right.” But football season is long since over and baseball season has started. This is a variant of that football joke – a spoof of the Ann Arbor city charter language projected onto a baseball. (“Art” by The Chronicle).

Yes, we can look stuff up. And we do look stuff up. Because looking stuff up and writing it down is part of The Job of a journalist. It’s just as much a part of The Job as showing up to a place and writing down what you see there.

Where does a local journalist look stuff up? When the past actions of the Ann Arbor city council are of interest, one place I check is the set of official minutes of city council meetings. When basic law is of interest, one place I check is the Ann Arbor city charter.

Now, the city charter has been the subject of some recent community conversation because of the eligibility requirements it appears to impose on city officers. That conversation has been prompted by Bob Dascola’s attempt to run for a seat on the Ann Arbor city council representing Ward 3.

Fair warning: This is going to be a long windup.

According the city clerk, Dascola doesn’t meet the city charter’s requirements on eligibility for office. Those requirements include two separate one-year durational requirements dating from the time of election: residency in the ward and voter registration in the city. Dascola contends he does meet the requirement on residency. But he concedes he doesn’t meet the requirement on voter registration.

But Dascola is represented by local attorney Tom Wieder, who’s arguing that both charter requirements are null and void as a result of two court decisions in the early 1970s. The city’s position is that court decisions after those from the 1970s have re-established the validity of the charter requirements.

That lawsuit is currently in the U.S. District Court, slated to be handled on an expedited schedule. So the matter is likely to be resolved before ballots are finalized sometime in early June for the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary election. A key question of law in the case is whether subsequent court rulings in other jurisdictions can be interpreted in a way that restores Ann Arbor’s charter provisions, which had previously been ruled null and void.

In a recent blog post on the topic of Dascola’s lawsuit, local attorney and Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Joan Lowenstein argues that the Ann Arbor city charter’s eligibility requirements have, in fact, been revived by subsequent court cases. She further argues that Ann Arbor voters themselves also “revived” the charter requirements – by citing a failed 2003 voter referendum on a proposed charter amendment.

About that referendum question, which the city council voted to place on the ballot, Lowenstein had this to say: “After Wieder lost the Wojack case in 2002, he convinced the city council to put the residency requirement to a vote, which it did.”

In her blog post, Lowenstein does not quote out the language the council voted to place on the ballot, though she does include in its entirety a post-election Ann Arbor News article from 2003.

Had Lowenstein included the council-approved ballot language from the 2003 city council minutes, it would have been clear that the vote was about much more than just durational residency requirements for city councilmembers.

And had Lowenstein included the council minutes from March 3, 2003 in their entirety, it would have been clear that she herself was part of the council to which she refers. And it would have been clear that she herself co-sponsored the resolution, which includes the following statement in a “whereas” clause: “Fewer restrictions on holding office are more consistent with open and democratic government;”

How do I know this? I took a dead baseball player’s advice: I looked it up.

Now here comes the pitch: I think it’s about time to establish a charter commission – to review a document that is nearly 60 years old and no longer can be interpreted without studying the state’s history of legislation and jurisprudence. [Full Story]

Park Commissioners Question Council Action

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 18, 2014): The main discussion at PAC’s March meeting focused on implications from city council action the previous day regarding the Library Lane site – the surface of an underground parking garage.

Tina Rosselle, Becky Gajewski, Erika Pratt, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Tina Rosselle, Becky Gajewski, Erika Pratt. All three are city staff who are involved in volunteer and outreach efforts for the parks & recreation unit. (Photos by the writer.)

But the council followed up at its April 7 meeting by considering a total of four resolutions on the Library Lane site – including the reconsideration of the two March 17 resolutions. At the end of the April 7 meeting, a portion of the site was still reserved for an urban park, and the city administrator was still directed to hire a broker to list the property for sale. A vote on how to use the proceeds of a possible sale was put off until June. For more details on the council’s April 7 actions, see Chronicle coverage: “Council Wrangles on Library Lot – Proceeds, Process.”

On March 17, the city council had passed two resolutions regarding the site: (1) reserving a portion of the west side, along South Fifth Avenue, as the site for an urban public park; and (2) directing the city administrator to hire a broker to explore the sale of development rights on that site. The council’s meeting, which adjourned at about 1 a.m., included debate that lasted more than 2.5 hours on the future of this city-owned property, located north of the downtown library.

The following day, at PAC’s March 18 meeting, commissioners were briefed by the two councilmembers who also serve on PAC as ex officio members: Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Anglin, who had co-sponsored the park resolution along with Jack Eaton (Ward 4), told commissioners that he’d been comfortable with both resolutions, and that he had voted for both of them.

Anglin said he hoped PAC would now start working on guidelines for developing a portion of the site, and to make sure all stakeholders are well-represented. “Feelings were hurt last night,” he said, “and so now we’re in damage control, and we’re also in the idea of further discourse. And we need to do that.” There needs to be a real dialogue, including the library, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, PAC and others in the community, he said – all stakeholders need to help decide what to do as a town.

For his part, Taylor pointed out that the council’s urban park resolution doesn’t actually ask PAC to do anything. The “resolved” clauses make no mention of PAC. He said he didn’t know the rationale for that – whether it was an attempt to go around PAC, or whether there’s an expectation that PAC will be brought in. “There’s a measure of uncertainty there,” Taylor said, so PAC’s role is unclear.

Taylor also noted that there’s complete consensus on the idea that there will be public space on the Library Lane parcel, to which the public has full access. “There is not complete consensus on who owns that element of the parcel,” he added. “Nor, I think, is there complete consensus on who will maintain and provide security for that part of the parcel.”

Ingrid Ault, PAC’s chair, noted that the commission had developed recommendations for downtown parks, adding that it was “very disappointing to feel that we weren’t listened to” as the council resolution was developed. If that had happened, she added, “we wouldn’t have hurt feelings.”

Though Anglin had supported the council’s March 17 actions, subsequently – at the council’s April 7 meeting – he co-sponsored another resolution that would have delayed hiring a broker until additional public process had been undertaken, including the possibility of reserving the entire site for a park. After a 40-minute debate and a recess to discuss a possible compromise, the council unanimously voted down that resolution – though it could be brought back for future consideration.

Anglin also supported another action on April 7, which passed, that increased the amount reserved for a park to 12,000 square feet, along the entire west side of the South Fifth Avenue parcel. Previously, the council had indicated a range for the space – between 6,500 and 12,000 square feet, with a northern boundary to be determined. A range, instead of 12,000 square feet, had been the result of an amendment made at the council table on March 17. During deliberations on April 7, Anglin said he hoped for an even larger park at the site.

PAC’s March 18 meeting agenda also included a resolution to recommend that the city apply for a grant to help renovate the Gallup Park pathway, which is part of the countywide Border-to-Border Trail. The grant application is to 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). At its April 7 meeting, the city council authorized the grant application.

Also on March 18, Dave Borneman, parks and recreation deputy manager, gave an overview of volunteer efforts within the parks, recreation facilities and natural areas, and talked about how people in the community can participate. Ault encouraged others to volunteer, saying she’s taken part in the frog and toad survey for the past couple of years. “I’ve gone to places that I didn’t really know existed,” she said. “And I can tell you what a spring peeper and a leopard frog sound like.” [Full Story]

April 7, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s April 7, 2014 meeting includes all the material from an earlier preview article published last week. The intent is to facilitate easier navigation from the live updates section to background material already in this file.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

The council’s April 7 agenda features two significant items of old business: a first reading of an ordinance that would regulate outdoor smoking in certain locations; and an allocation of funds for the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force.

The pedestrian safety task force funding resolution is now expected to be withdrawn. 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. Even if the resolution is withdrawn at the April 7 meeting, however, the task force will be able to continue its work.

Pedestrian issues form one of the themes of the meeting agenda – as the council will be approving annual contracts for the sidewalk repair program, as well as applying for a grant to renovate the pathway in Gallup Park – from the Geddes Dam at the east end of the Gallup Park pathway, to the parking lot east of Huron Parkway. Along with the sidewalk maintenance program contracts, the city council will also be asked to approve the annual street resurfacing program contracts.

Another main theme of the meeting is land use. Carried over as a topic from the council’s March 17 meeting is the surface of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor. After voting on March 17 to hire a real estate broker, the council will consider a resolution on April 7 that would allocate to the city’s affordable housing trust fund half of the proceeds of any sale of the site’s development rights.

But on April 7, the council will also be considering an amendment to the March 17 resolution that directed the city administrator to list the surface of the Library Lane parking structure for sale. The amendment would require a public process to take place before brokerage services are obtained or the real estate is listed for sale. That public process is supposed to allow discussion of the possibility that the entire surface of the underground parking garage could be used as a park or plaza. The amendment is sponsored by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Jack Eaton (Ward 4).

The council will also be considering some items that arrived on its agenda via the city’s planning commission: rezoning of a nature area to PL (public land); and a resolution calling on the University of Michigan to incorporate the city’s land use recommendations as it considers the future use of the Edwards Brothers property on South State Street. The April 7 agenda also includes, as an item of communication, a resolution passed by the city planning commission on March 18, 2014 that gives advice to the council about how to develop the Library Lane property.

In other business, the council will be considering a resolution to approve an expansion of the Main Street business improvement zone (BIZ). The geographic area of the self-assessment district – which handles sidewalk snow removal, sweeping and other upkeep for property owners – would more than double. The final decision rests with the property owners in the expanded area.

Also at its April 7 meeting, the council will consider a resolution asking that Michigan state officials stop opposing a recent court ruling that allows same-sex marriages.

The council’s agenda also includes several street-closing approvals for upcoming events: Taste of Ann Arbor on June 2; The Event on Main Street on June 19; the Ann Arbor Jaycees Fourth of July Parade on July 4; and the Townie Street Party on July 14.

Among the reports and communications attached to the agenda is the final report of a council economic collaborative task force.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. Click here to skip the preview section and go directly to the live updates. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

DDA: Transit, Housing, Parking

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 2, 2014): On a day when most of the routine work of local government was overshadowed by a visit from U.S. President Barack Obama, the Ann Arbor DDA board approved over $1.2 million in grants.

City administrator Steve Powers was game enough to don as a hat the "meter moon" he was presented during the meeting by Shary Brown of Wonderfool Productions.

City administrator Steve Powers was game enough to don as a hat the “meter moon” he was presented during the April 2, 2014 DDA board meeting by Shary Brown of WonderFool Productions. (Photos by the writer.)

A $674,264 grant to support the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s getDowntown program will allow employees of participating downtown Ann Arbor businesses to use their go!passes to ride the bus for another year, without themselves paying a fare for any of their bus boardings. That’s a program the DDA has funded out of public parking system revenues for over a decade

In other transportation-related business, the board 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 this connector study will be an environmental review. 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.

A $600,000 grant to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission will be invested in capital improvements to two properties in or near the DDA tax capture district: Baker Commons and Miller Manor. Baker Commons is a 64-unit building located at the southeast corner of Packard and Main, within the DDA district. Miller Manor is a 103-unit building on Miller Avenue outside the DDA district, but within a quarter-mile of the district boundary. That conforms with the DDA’s policy on use of its tax increment finance (TIF) funds for housing. The $600,000 is to be paid in three $200,000 annual installments starting this year.

The board also approved a policy that provides guidelines for defining a “community benefit” – when it comes to evaluating the elimination of on-street parking spaces in downtown Ann Arbor. That policy comes in the context of a related city council-approved policy setting the fee for permanent removal of an on-street metered parking space. If a new development requires the elimination of an on-street parking space, the developer is required to pay $45,000, plus some of the projected future revenue the space would have generated. But an exception can be granted by the DDA – which operates the city’s public parking system under contract with the city – if it’s determined that the parking space removal is a “community benefit.” Exceptions could include new developments that meet or exceed goals laid out in various existing plans or public health and safety codes.

In other business, the DDA board denied the appeal of a request made under the Freedom of Information Act, affirming a decision to redact a portion of a public document that had been available for several years in un-redacted form on the city of Ann Arbor’s website.

The board also held a closed session lasting about a half hour, citing a desire to review the written opinion of legal counsel.

During public commentary, the board heard a pitch from Alan Haber for the DDA to be a partner in creating an Earth Day (April 22) celebration on the surface of the Library Lane underground parking structure. Also during public commentary, the board heard from Shary Brown, thanking the DDA for its past support of FoolMoon and FestiFools. This year’s events, held in downtown Ann Arbor, take place on the first weekend in April.

Among a range of various updates, the board received a presentation from public art commissioners on the status of the East Stadium bridges public art project. It’s a presentation that the art commission is providing to several boards and commissions, including the planning commission at its April 1, 2014 meeting. [Full Story]

Planning Agenda: Art, Eats, Drive-Thrus

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 1, 2014): Ordinance revisions, site plan approval and a look at proposed artwork for the East Stadium bridge filled the planning commission’s first meeting in April.

Catherine Widgery, Ann Arbor public art commission, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

An image by artist Catherine Widgery for artwork on the East Stadium bridge. This night view shows how the structures would be lit from below, illuminating the images of trees that are etched into louvered glass panels.

John Kotarski and Bob Miller of the city’s public art commission presented images of a revised design for public art on the East Stadium bridge, a $400,000 project that includes columns of louvered glass panels on the bridge as well as underneath it, along South State Street. The artist – Catherine Widgery, who’s based in Massachusetts – had changed her original proposal at the request of a selection committee. The public art commission is seeking feedback on this new design, including at a public forum on Monday, April 21 at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

The public art commission likely will vote on a recommendation at its April 23 meeting. The proposal would then be forwarded to the city council for approval.

Also heading to city council is the site plan for a new Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which planning commissioners voted to recommend on April 1. The plan involves major renovations to the existing building at 314 S. Fourth Ave., which most recently housed the Dream Nite Club that closed in 2012. The renovations include adding a second-floor mezzanine level to the front of the building.

Part of the planning commission’s discussion focused on whether there might be outdoor dining in front of the restaurant. The project’s architect, Stephen Fry, indicated that at this point, outdoor seating wouldn’t be appropriate, in part because of bus traffic. The building is located near the Blake Transit Center, a hub for public transportation. “Ruth’s Chris is about a known and consistent dining experience,” Fry said, “and we just don’t feel we can control it out there.”

Fry also reported that the restaurant will likely be using valet parking, with valets positioned in front of the building. “So we’re going to activate the street with humans that are dressed up and looking good,” he said.

Commissioners also reviewed proposed ordinance revisions related to drive-thrus, and recommended that the city council approve the changes. The amendments would add a definition of a “drive-thru facility” to Chapter 55 of the city code. Currently, the term used throughout the code is “drive-in,” which is not explicitly defined in the code.

In addition, the changes would require that drive-thru projects obtain a special exception use from the planning commission, and would be allowed only in the O (office), C2B (business service) and C3 (fringe commercial) zoning districts. Basic layout requirements would also be added to the ordinance. Currently, drive-thrus are allowed in C3 districts without a special exception use. They are allowed as special exception uses in the C2B district.

The changes will give planning commissioners more discretion in approving drive-thru businesses, including restaurants, banks, pharmacies and other types of drive-thrus. [Full Story]

April 7, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

The first council meeting in April comes after a somewhat rare three-week gap between council meetings. The first-and-third Monday schedule most often yields an every-other-week pattern.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the April 7, 2014 meeting agenda.

The council’s April 7 agenda features two significant items of old business: a first reading of an ordinance that would regulate outdoor smoking in certain locations; and an allocation of funds for the work of a pedestrian safety and access task force.

[Updated 5 p.m. April 4, 2014. The pedestrian safety task force funding resolution is now expected to be withdrawn. 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. Withdrawing the resolution at the April 7 meeting would not mean that the task force will not be able to do its work. Details are included after the jump.]

Pedestrian issues form one of the themes of the meeting agenda – as the council will be approving annual contracts for the sidewalk repair program, as well as applying for a grant to renovate the pathway in Gallup Park – from the Geddes Dam at the east end of the Gallup Park pathway, to the parking lot east of Huron Parkway. Along with the sidewalk maintenance program contracts, the city council will also be asked to approve the annual street resurfacing program contracts.

Another main theme of the meeting is land use. Carried over as a topic from the council’s March 17 meeting is the surface of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor. After voting on March 17 to hire a real estate broker, the council will consider a resolution on April 7 that would allocate to the city’s affordable housing trust fund half of the proceeds of any sale of the site’s development rights.

But on April 7 the council will also be considering an amendment to the March 17 resolution that directed the city administrator to list the surface of the Library Lane parking structure for sale. The amendment would require a public process to take place before brokerage services are obtained or the real estate is listed for sale. That public process is supposed to allow discussion of the possibility that the entire surface of the underground parking garage could be used as a park or plaza. The amendment is sponsored by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Jack Eaton (Ward 4).

The council will also be considering three items that arrived on its agenda via the city’s planning commission: rezoning of a nature area to PL (public land); approval of a site plan for the gym expansion at Concordia University [now expected on the April 21 meeting agenda]; and a resolution calling on the University of Michigan to incorporate the city’s land use recommendations as it considers the future use of the Edwards Brothers property on South State Street.

In other business, the council will be considering a resolution to approve an expansion of the Main Street business improvement zone (BIZ). The geographic area of the self-assessment district – which handles sidewalk snow removal, sweeping and other upkeep for property owners – would more than double. The final decision rests with the property owners in the expanded area.

Also at its April 7 meeting, the council will consider a resolution asking that Michigan state officials stop opposing a recent court ruling that allows same-sex marriages.

The council’s agenda also includes several street-closing approvals for upcoming events: Taste of Ann Arbor on June 2; The Event on Main Street on June 19; the Ann Arbor Jaycees Fourth of July Parade on July 4; and the Townie Street Party on July 14.

Among the reports and communications attached to the agenda is the final report of a council economic collaborative task force.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Old Y Lot: 2 More Years of Surface Parking?

Starting this past weekend, the city-owned 87-space surface parking lot at Fifth and William streets in downtown Ann Arbor – known as the former Y lot – was closed. And it might sit unused for a year or longer.

View to the east from Fourth & William parking structure, overlooking the Old Y lot on March 30, 2014. The lot had been closed off to any vehicle access.

View to the east from the Fourth & William parking structure, overlooking the former Y lot on March 30, 2014. The lot had been closed off to any vehicle access.

For the parcel to remain in use as part of the city’s public parking system, the pending purchaser of the property, Dennis Dahlmann, would need to reach an agreement on a leasing arrangement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city.

Eventually, Dahlmann intends to build a mixed-used development on the parcel, but wants to provide surface parking while the project is in the planning stages. A site plan could easily take a year to design, and to obtain necessary approvals from the planning commission and city council. The city council approved the sale of the land to Dahlmann last year at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting.

Ben Dahlmann, senior vice president with Dahlmann Properties, attended the March 26, 2014 meeting of the DDA’s operations committee to present a revision to the leasing proposal that Dahlmann had made in January. The original proposal had been for the DDA to lease the property back from Dahlmann for $150,000 a year.

The revised proposal would be for Dahlmann and the DDA to split the net income (after expenses) from the parking lot for the next two years. Dahlmann ballparked that number at around $180,000, which would translate to a $90,000 share for Dahlmann – less than the $160,000 per year that Dahlmann figured he’d owe in property taxes.

The final sale of the property by the city to Dahlmann – at a purchase price of $5.25 million – is scheduled for April 2. No agreement on Dahlmann’s offer to lease property to the DDA was reached at the March 26 meeting. But the committee will be taking up the issue again at its April meeting. [Full Story]

County Board Handles Budget, Policy Items

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 19, 2014): Budget and finance issues were the focus of several items at the March 19 meeting, including a report that the county saw a $3.92 million surplus for its general fund in 2013. The county’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year. Total general fund revenues were $105.797 million, with total expenses of $101.876 million.

Pat Kelly, Dexter Township, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Pat Kelly, former Dexter Township supervisor, talks with county commissioner Conan Smith and finance director Kelly Belknap before the March 19, 2014 county board meeting. The board passed a resolution of appreciation for Pat Kelly during the meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The board also heard from county treasurer Catherine McClary, who reported that foreclosures are decreasing, as are delinquent taxes. Delinquent taxes are a leading economic indicator for both mortgage foreclosures and tax foreclosures, she noted, so the decreases are good news. Commissioners gave initial authorization to the treasurer’s office to borrow up to $30 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all of the county’s 80 taxing jurisdictions, an annual process.

Commissioners also authorized the county administrator to hire a contract employee who will support budget-related work this year for the county board and administration. The vote came over dissent from Rolland Sizemore Jr., who felt the work could be absorbed by existing staff.

The budget was also the focus of an update from lobbyist Kirk Profit and his colleague Gary Owen at Lansing-based Governmental Consultant Services Inc., who talked about how action in the state government might impact Washtenaw County. GCSI is the lobbyist for the county and several other local governments, including the city of Ann Arbor. Their updates included the fact that legislation has been introduced to repeal Act 88, which the county uses to levy taxes for economic development and agriculture. This year, the county has budgeted $973,000 in revenues from an Act 88 levy.

In other action, the board appointed former Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane to the county road commission board, to fill the seat left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The remainder of that six-year term runs through Dec. 31, 2014.

Commissioners supported McFarlane, but also discussed the possibility of changing the process so that interviews with applicants would be held at a public meeting. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), who as board chair makes these nominations, described the process of nominating a new road commissioner as a difficult one, and highlighted the need for a five-member road commission. Currently the road commission board consists of three members. It’s an issue that Rabhi plans to bring up at an April 17 working session.

The board also took a step toward allowing employees to get health insurance coverage for the treatment of autism. Commissioners gave initial approval that would authorize adding an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rider to existing active employee and retiree benefits.

And a resolution to oppose a mineral mining operation in Lyndon Township drew criticism from Dan Smith (R-District 2), who objected to the county board weighing in on an issue that’s not within its purview. Other commissioners felt the county had a vested interest in formally voicing an opinion, both because of broader economic and environmental impacts that would affect residents, and because the county parks & recreation commission owns property in the township. Smith’s decision to state “present” – rather than casting a yes or no vote – resulted in brief discussion about board rules. [Full Story]

Planning Group Gives Advice to Council, UM

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 18, 2014): The planning commission has weighed in with advice on the use of two publicly owned sites: the city-owned Library Lane in downtown Ann Arbor, and the former Edwards Brothers property on South State that’s being bought by the University of Michigan.

Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters, Paras Parekh, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor planning commissioners Wendy Woods, Jeremy Peters and Paras Parekh. (Photos by the writer.)

One day after the Ann Arbor city council took action related to the Library Lane site, planning commissioners made recommendations to the council about how to develop that South Fifth Avenue property. The council’s action on March 17 included asking the city administrator to hire a brokerage service to sell development rights to the Library Lane surface, on top of an underground parking structure. The council also voted, after a long debate, to designate part of the surface for an urban public park.

On March 18, the commission’s advice focused on conditions for developing the site that would garner economic benefits to the city, such as a mixed-use development that generates foot traffic, with an entry plaza or open space and a design that “creates an iconic addition to the skyline.” The recommendations drew on material in several existing documents, including the Connecting William Street report that was completed by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority about a year ago.

After the vote, Sabra Briere – who serves on both the planning commission and the city council – noted that many members of council don’t believe that the Connecting William Street project was successful in its public outreach. She also said that many councilmembers “do not believe that maximizing density, scale and mass of a building on that site is in the public interest.” Briere said she hadn’t raised these issues during the commission’s deliberations because she didn’t want anyone to feel that she was trying to tell the planning commission what to do.

In separate action on March 18, commissioners passed a resolution with recommendations on uses for the Edwards Brothers site on South State Street, which the University of Michigan is acquiring. The intent is to encourage representatives from the city and UM to discuss their mutual interests in that area – weighing the university’s need to expand its facilities against the city’s interest in strengthening its tax base. Issues include the possible private development of the section that fronts South State, impact on the park-and-ride lot in that area, and the extension of Oakbrook Drive from South State to South Main, through UM property. The city council is expected to consider the same resolution at its April 7 meeting.

Further south on the State Street corridor, at the intersection with Eisenhower Parkway, a proposal to renovate the Shell station, tear down the car wash, and add a drive-thru restaurant was recommended for approval by the commission on March 18. The existing convenience store and gas station would remain open during construction. The specific drive-thru restaurant to be located there is still being negotiated, according to the owner.

Some of the discussion on this project related to upcoming ordinance revisions that the commission will consider on April 1 regulating drive-thru restaurants.

Also recommended for approval on March 18 were an expansion to an office on Collingwood near West Stadium Boulevard, and an easement related to a new Belle Tire on West Ellsworth. [Full Story]

Lawsuit Now Filed on Dascola Candidacy

On Friday, March 28, 2014, the Ann Arbor’s city clerk staff validated 103 signatures for Bob Dascola’s attempted candidacy to represent Ward 3 on the Ann Arbor city council.

Bob Dascola, who owns a barbershop in downtown Ann Arbor, has filed a lawsuit to assert his right to appear on the ballot as a candidate for Ward 3 city council.

Bob Dascola, who owns a barbershop in downtown Ann Arbor, has filed a lawsuit to run for Ward 3 city council.

That same day, Dascola filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Michigan’s U.S. District Court to assert his right to compete in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary election. [.pdf of March 28, 2014 complaint Dascola v. City of Ann Arbor]

Even though Dascola has more than the required 100  signatures to stand for election, the city clerk previously informed Dascola that he does not meet the city charter eligibility requirements for candidates.

And city clerk records still indicate in red type that Dascola does not meet the eligibility requirements.

The city has two different eligibility requirements for city council candidates. The first requires one year of residency in the ward that a candidate seeks to represent, prior to election. The second requires one year of voter registration in the city of Ann Arbor, prior to election.

Dascola’s lawsuit is based in part on the fact that each of Ann Arbor’s charter requirements were explicitly struck down in federal court in the early 1970s. [Feld v. City of Ann Arbor] [Human Rights Party et al v. City of Ann Arbor]

The complaint indicates that the city apparently believes Dascola doesn’t meet either of the requirements. Dascola contends that he actually meets the city charter’s residency requirement.

Previous coverage from The Chronicle includes: “Dascola to Assert Right to Run in Ward 3.” [Full Story]

Committee Meeting: Why a Police Presence?

On March 20, 2014, a citizens advisory committee (CAC), created in conjunction with Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study (SSWWES), met at Slauson Middle School. Two Ann Arbor police officers were present.

File photo of Robert Czachorski of OHM Advisors, which is the consultant the city hired to conduct a study of flows in the santitary sewer system during wet weather. The photo was taken at the Feb. 13, 2014 meeting of the citizens advisory committee. No police officers attended that meeting.

File photo of Robert Czachorski of OHM Advisors, the consultant that the city hired to conduct a study of flows in the sanitary sewer system during wet weather. The photo was taken by The Chronicle at the Feb. 13, 2014 meeting of the citizens advisory committee. No police officers attended that meeting.

According to sources at the meeting, the two officers sat at the back of the room for the duration of the meeting.

Part of the backdrop to March 20 included the removal of a resident from the committee on the day before the meeting. The series of events leading up to the expulsion included several email exchanges dating from a Feb. 13 meeting of the committee, when the group reviewed “group norms” for committee work.

Occasionally, AAPD officers will attend Ann Arbor city council meetings. So it’s not unprecedented for the AAPD to have a presence at a public meeting.

Still, in The Chronicle’s five years of covering Ann Arbor government, a police presence at a citizens advisory committee meeting counts as unusual.

To get additional insight into the issue, The Chronicle sent city administrator Steve Powers some questions about the tasking of the two police officers for the March 20 CAC meeting. More background and the answers from Powers are included below. [Full Story]

Column: When Lawyers Fool with FOIA

Two weeks ago, the city of Ann Arbor took a deliberate step to remove a document that had been publicly available on its website for nearly half a decade. Why?

Redacted version of Library Lot RFP No. 743  from Aug. 14, 2009 produced by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a recent FOIA request. The un-redacted document had been disseminated on the a2gov.org website from Aug. 14, 2009 until sometime around March 20, 2014.

Redacted version of Library Lot RFP No. 743  from Aug. 14, 2009 produced by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a recent FOIA request. The un-redacted document had been disseminated on the a2gov.org website from Aug. 14, 2009 until sometime around March 20, 2014.

Allegedly, that document contains information that – if it were disclosed – would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy. Never mind the fact that the context of the document itself makes clear that the information in question is clearly and deliberately intended to be publicly available.

To erase any possible doubt about that, I resorted to an advanced investigative technique: I asked the guy. And it turns out that current Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member John Splitt had been content to have jsplitt@comcast.net publicly disclosed as his email contact information in the document – the same as elsewhere on the Internet.

The document in question is RFP No. 743 – issued in 2009 by the city for development of the Library Lot. Why did it even occur to anyone at the city to delete RFP No. 743 from a2gov.org? [Full Story]

County Parks Commission Gives Trail Grants

Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission meeting (March 11, 2014): Commissioners approved an application for state funds to develop a major new recreation area just northeast of Ann Arbor. They also awarded $600,000 in grants for trail projects throughout the county.

Staebler Farm, Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Site plan for Staebler Farm.

Commissioners approved an application to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources trust fund for a grant to help develop Staebler Farm for recreational use. WCPARC has owned the 98-acre property in Superior Township since 2001, and Donald Staebler – who is 103 years old – still lives there in a lifetime agreement with WCPARC. The plan calls for adding fishing piers to the property’s two ponds, as well as putting in a trail system and other features. A second phase might involve developing a farm incubator program.

Commissioners also awarded $600,000 in grants through WCPARC’s Connecting Communities program, which supports trail projects throughout the county. Grants were given to projects in Ann Arbor Township, Northfield Township, Pittsfield Township, and the village of Manchester.

In non-voting business, WCPARC director Bob Tetens gave an update on the east county recreation center, a proposed partnership between the city of Ypsilanti and WCPARC in which the city would supply the property and WCPARC would provide the building. The center would be located on part of the 38-acre Water Street redevelopment area. Tetens said they’ve been working with the city of Ypsilanti on a development agreement.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber and city councilmember Pete Murdock both spoke to the commission about Water Street during public commentary. Schreiber told commissioners that he wasn’t aware of any “show-stopping” issues. He also gave an update on Water Street Flats, an apartment project that’s planned for the site. The complex would be rental apartments for residents with between 50-90% of area median income.

In other action, commissioners approved about $500,000 for repairs at the Rolling Hills water park, and were briefed on several financial reports and project updates.

An issue that had been raised during public commentary at the Feb. 11, 2014 meeting emerged again on March 11: How should deer overpopulation be managed? Two residents – Maurita Holland and Barb Lucas – urged commissioners to play a role in dealing with the issue, which is affecting WCPARC parks and preserves. “We know there’s a lot of political fallout and a lot of education that needs to be done,” Holland said. She reported that a new group has formed – Washtenaw County for Ecological Balance. Members of WCEB include Larry Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County’s clerk/register of deeds, and Chris Graham, who serves on Ann Arbor’s environmental commission.

Commissioners discussed the issue at length. Jan Anschuetz advocated for a cautious approach, noting that it’s a complex problem that needs to be addressed by multiple entities, not just WCPARC. She also expressed concern that action by WCPARC could affect the 10-year renewal of the operations millage that WCPARC expects to be put on the November 2014 ballot. “If we do something that displeases our public, we will not have a millage and will not have a parks commission and we will not have a preserve,” she said.

Janis Bobrin noted that in this community, “If we start talking about killing anything, there are people who will just not hear anything after that.” There’s the actual management of the problem, she said, but also a major education piece that’s needed. “How do we begin to get a dialogue that isn’t one camp against another? That would seem to be a productive first step.”

Tetens told commissioners that WCPARC has applied for a $29,960 grant through the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources wildlife habitat grant program. Those funds would allow WCPARC to quantify the deer impact on county parks and preserves more precisely. Everyone agrees that the growing deer population is a problem, Tetens said, but “nobody can solve it on their own.”

Commissioners also authorized Tetens to draft a letter opposing a proposed sand and gravel mine that McCoig Materials wants to start in Lyndon Township, on 189 acres north of Chelsea on M-52. The rural site is located near several parks and nature areas, including Waterloo State Recreation Area, the Pinckney State Recreation Area, Park Lyndon, the Green Lake Camping area, and the Waterloo-Pinckney Hiking Trail. WCPARC has been interested in buying the property for at least two decades, and is hoping to work with the current landowner to add the site to the county’s nature preserves, rather than being mined.

The March 11 meeting began with a moment of silence for Fred Veigel, a long-time parks & recreation commissioner who represented the road commission on WCPARC. He died on March 2. Commissioners also passed a resolution of appreciation for his work. A replacement to WCPARC will be appointed from one of the current three road commissioners: Barb Fuller, Doug Fuller or Bill McFarlane. [Full Story]

Column: City Council as Entertainment

About the author: Dave Askins is editor and co-founder of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. He’s covered  every Ann Arbor city council meeting since September 2008.

asdf

This is a mock-up of how the city of Ann Arbor might provide a text box with councilmember amended text in real time, just underneath the online CTN video stream of council meetings. (Art by The Chronicle.)

If you’ve never watched an Ann Arbor city council meeting in person or on Community Television Network, you really should give it a try sometime. The next chance to watch your local elected officials in action is April 7, 2014 with a scheduled start of 7 p.m.

As an entertainment option, I’d allow that a city council meeting probably falls somewhat short of the Netflix series “House of Cards” or the ABC series “Scandal.” That’s actually OK with me – because journalists in those dramas have been shoved in front of trains and shot dead on the street.

But any long-running TV series is more entertaining to watch if you understand exactly what is going on. If you have elderly eyes, for example, you might not be able to see if that text message Frank Underwood received was from Zoe Barnes or Olivia Pope. It makes an episode hard to follow, if you don’t know who sent Underwood that text message.

One of the hardest parts of a city council meeting to follow – even if you are well-versed in the subject matter – is any deliberation featuring wordsmithing of amendments to text.

So in the interest of making Ann Arbor city council meetings more entertaining, I’d like to propose a simple step toward helping the viewing public understand exactly what’s going on: Let the public see amended text in real time.

How could councilmembers, in real time, make visible to the public proposed amendments to text already under consideration?

An easy technical solution already exists.

It’s free, and it requires no registration or creation of user accounts. And it’s not Google Drive. [Full Story]

AirRide OK’d, State Funding Reviewed

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (March 20, 2014): Board chair Charles Griffith opened the meeting by noting that the agenda was a lot lighter than last month, when the board had passed 10 separate resolutions – including a vote to put a transit millage proposal on the May 6 ballot.

Looking north on Fifth Avenue at the AirRide stop, just south of the newly opened Blake Transit Center.

Looking north on Fifth Avenue at the AirRide stop, just south of the newly opened Blake Transit Center. (Photos by the writer.)

The only voting item handled by the board at its March 20 meeting was the extension of a contract with Michigan Flyer to provide service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport. The board authorized the first of three one-year extensions on the initial two-year contract for the service, called AirRide.

For the third year of the agreement, the not-to-exceed amount is $170,000. That compares with the first year of the contract that was not to exceed $700,000. The drop in the cost to the AAATA stems from a revenue-sharing agreement based on fare revenues – and ridership has exceeded projections.

The board also received an update on statewide transit issues from Clark Harder, executive director of the Michigan Public Transit Association, and Dusty Fancher, a lobbyist with Midwest Strategy Group. A main theme from their presentation was the need to focus on overall funding increases, as opposed to trying to fine-tune the part of the funding formula that divides public transportation funding among the 78 transit agencies in Michigan.

Harder also described an initiative to provide a non-emergency medical transportation brokerage that would tap public transportation resources. A demonstration program, to be provided through the newly formed Michigan Transportation Connection (MTC), could be up and running by Oct. 1, 2015, Harder reported.

Another highlight of that presentation included the idea that the abysmal road conditions – which have resulted from the long and harsh winter – could be a rallying point for more transportation funding. To the extent that additional money for transportation is funneled through the general transportation funding formula, that would lead to an increase in public transportation funding, along with funding for road infrastructure.

The harsh winter and the challenge of clearing snow at the 1,200 bus stops was also a part of another basic theme of the board’s discussion – accessibility of the bus service to those in the disability community. Carolyn Grawi of the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living addressed the board to stress the importance of making sure all the bus stops are accessible. She also reiterated the CIL’s support for the upcoming May 6 millage vote.

Other highlights from the meeting included a round of applause for AAATA maintenance manager Terry Black, who managed the Blake Transit Center construction project. The driveways still need concrete to be poured before the project is completed, but the building itself is now open to the public. [Full Story]

Library Board Weighs Urban Park, Survey

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (March 17, 2014): About three hours before the Ann Arbor city council took action on the issue of a park at the Library Lane site, the Ann Arbor District Library board passed a resolution on that same topic.

Eli Neiburger, Prue Rosenthal, Jan Barney Newman, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: AADL associate director Eli Neiburger, board president Prue Rosenthal, and board treasurer Jan Barney Newman.

On a 6-1 vote, the board asked the council to reject designating a portion of that city-owned site – which is adjacent to the downtown library – as a public park or plaza at this time. Nancy Kaplan cast the lone dissenting vote.

In presenting the resolution, Rebecca Head noted that the library hasn’t objected to the concept of open space at the Library Lane site, as part of overall development of that city-owned property. But the AADL board resolution states that the council resolution “does not allocate the City resources needed to create a successful park, such as physical maintenance, programming, and monitoring unsafe behavior; and … the City has not been able to allocate resources for those purposes to the nearby Liberty Plaza park, Wheeler park, Sculpture plaza on North 4th Ave., or the Kerrytown plaza. …”

Several trustees weighed in to support the resolution. Barbara Murphy said she was conflicted, because she supports having a park or plaza on the Library Lane site at some point. But the council resolution seemed to be putting the cart before the horse, she said. She pointed out that the AADL board resolution is not advocating for tall buildings – but some kind of development is needed, she said.

In dissenting, Kaplan described the long history of efforts to put a public park or plaza on the Library Lane site. She didn’t want to cut off that process. Kaplan also raised the point that the library board would be asking the council to reject a resolution without knowing the exact content of that resolution – because the council could amend the resolution during its deliberations later in the evening. [The council did make a significant amendment to the part of the resolution addressing the amount of square footage.]

Board president Prue Rosenthal told Kaplan that “I don’t think we’re trying to cut off anything.” All that the AADL is asking, Rosenthal said, is that issues should first be addressed – like how the park would be used, who’ll take care of it, how the security will be handled – “so that behavior we’ve seen around the outside of the [downtown library] building will not increase in that space and spill over into our library.”

AADL director Josie Parker attended the city council meeting, which started at the same time as the library board meeting but didn’t adjourn until 1 a.m. Parker read aloud the board’s resolution to the council, and described some of the challenges that the downtown library faces with security.

The downtown library was the focus of another part of the March 17 AADL board meeting, as trustees were updated on renovations to the front entrance. Ken Van Tine, an architect from InForm Studio, answered questions about possible design revisions since a March 13 public forum. InForm will be presenting a revised design to the board’s facilities committee, before the design is brought to the full board for approval.

Trustees also received results from an EPIC-MRA survey that the library had commissioned. About 500 respondents were surveyed in mid-February. Bernie Porn – president of the Lansing-based firm – described the outcome as “a great news poll, in terms of results, and I think you all should be very, very proud.” There are a couple areas of concern, he said, “but they’re not the kinds of things that can’t be overcome.”

The library previously did a survey in early 2012, in part to gauge public support for financing a new downtown library. The board later put a bond proposal on the November 2012 ballot to fund a new downtown building, but it failed to receive a majority of votes. Since 2012, the positive job rating for AADL has increased by 7 points – from 81% in 2012 to 88% in 2014. That’s a significant increase, Porn said. The 2014 survey also showed that only 3 in 10 respondents knew that AADL is “an independent governmental body” funded by its own separate tax assessment. This is one area of concern, Porn noted, adding that it’s certainly something that’s “solvable.”

The current survey results are expected to help guide development of the library’s next strategic plan, which will be completed later this year.

On March 17, the board also passed a resolution authorizing the library director to enter into a bike share program license agreement with the nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition. The CEC is managing the new program called ArborBike, which is launching this spring. It would include a bike station on AADL’s downtown library property on South Fifth Avenue, as well as locations at other sites in downtown Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. There will be about 14 bikes at the downtown AADL station on the north side of its property. [Full Story]

County Board Briefed on Transit Tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (March 6, 2014): Two months before voters will weigh in on a public transit millage proposal, staff with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority briefed county commissioners about the initiative, and answered a wide range of questions.

Michael Benham, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Michael Benham, special assistant for strategic planning at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

The proposal – for an 0.7 mill tax to pay for expanded transit services – was placed on the May 6 ballot by the AAATA board on Feb. 20, 2014. The tax would be levied by the AAATA only if it wins a majority of support among voters across its three member jurisdictions: the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), an Ann Arbor commissioner who chairs the working sessions, pointed out that those three jurisdictions touch seven of the nine districts represented by the Washtenaw County board.

The three commissioners representing Ann Arbor – LaBarre, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) – attended the March 6 working session. The two commissioners representing Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township – Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent. A small portion of Ann Arbor is in District 2, represented by Republican Dan Smith. District 4, represented by Democrat Felicia Brabec, includes a small portion of Ypsilanti Township.

Questions during the March 6 session included clarification that the millage revenues would not support rail service, and a query about why the tax proposal was being put forward in May rather than November, when turnout would be higher for the general election. Another issue raised was whether a property tax for this type of activity is fair, considering that residents of apartments don’t see the impact of a property tax as directly as a homeowner does.

Michael Benham, AAATA’s special assistant for strategic planning, noted that the possibility of rail service is part of the authority’s 30-year plan, but it’s not in the current five-year plan for expanded services that would be funded by the new millage. He told commissioners that a May election will focus attention on transit, while there would be many other issues in November competing for attention. Benham also stressed the urgency of moving ahead on more services, which will include increased service hours, greater frequency of buses along some routes, and expanded Dial-a-Ride services.

As for the fairness of a property tax, Benham pointed out that the AAATA has few available options for raising revenue, and that revenues from the new millage will leverage additional state and federal funding.

Most commissioners were supportive of the millage and expanded services, citing reasons of environmental sustainability, social equity and economic development. Rabhi said he wanted to make it clear that his support for the transit millage does not mean he supports using public transit to divide the community based on socioeconomic levels. People should be able to live in downtown Ann Arbor even if they don’t earn above the area median income, he said. The concept of “segregating our community along economic boundaries is one that sickens me,” he said, adding that he didn’t think AAATA’s five-year plan buys into a segregated vision for this area.

At the end of working session, six commissioners – including the three who represent Ann Arbor districts – announced their official support for the millage in a press release.

For additional background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Tax Question Focus of Transit Board Meeting“; “5-Year Transit Plan: Possible Tax Vote Soon“; “Survey: Majority Favorable on Transit Tax“; “Transit Vote for A2 and Ypsi: May 6, 2014“; “Committee to Oppose AAATA Millage“; and “Column: Let Data Steer Local Transit Policy.” [Full Story]

March 17, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s March 17, 2014 meeting includes all the material from an earlier preview article published last week. The intent is to facilitate easier navigation from the live updates section to background material already in this file.

The Ann Arbor city council’s March 17, 2014 meeting features an agenda with one significant item held over from the March 3 meeting: a resolution that reserves a portion of the surface of the Library Lane underground parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor for an urban park that would remain publicly owned.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

But related to that item is a new resolution that directs the city administrator to move toward listing for sale the development rights for the top of the parking structure. The urban park designation was postponed from the March 3, 2014 meeting in part to synch up its timing with this resolution, which is being brought forward by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

An additional related item is a resolution that would waive the attorney-client privilege on a document prepared by Dykema Gossett, the city’s outside bond counsel. The Build America Bonds used to finance construction of the Library Lane structure have private-use limitations on facilities constructed with financing from such bonds. The Dykema memo analyzes those limitations with respect to Library Lane.

That’s one of two separate resolutions on the waiver of attorney-client privilege. The other one, postponed from the council’s March 3 meeting, would waive privilege on a city attorney memo dated Feb. 25, 2014 on the topic of how appeals to property assessments work. The memo apparently helps explain “… the effect of a reduction of the assessment for one year by the Board of Review and/or the Michigan Tax Tribunal on the property tax assessment for the subsequent year.” The council’s agenda also includes an attachment of a report sent to the state tax commission, explaining how the city has complied with various deficiencies in documentation identified previously by the commission.

The council will be considering two items related to energy issues. First, the council will consider a resolution that directs the city’s energy commission and staff to convene a stakeholder work group, with the support of the city attorney’s office, to draft a commercial building energy benchmarking and disclosure ordinance. It’s an effort to help achieve goals in the city’s climate action plan.

The second energy-related item is a resolution that would direct the city administrator to hire an additional staff member for the city’s energy office, bringing the total back to two people, according to the resolution. The energy office staffer would “create and implement additional community energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy programs that further the Climate Action Plan’s adopted targets.”

After approving the purchase of 18 replacement vehicles on March 3 and several pieces of basic equipment at its Feb. 18 meeting, the council will be considering three resolutions that involve additional vehicles and equipment: two forklifts for the city’s materials recovery facility, a Chevrolet Impala for use by police detectives, and a lease for golf carts from Pifer Inc.

The 15th District Court, which is the responsibility of the city of Ann Arbor, is featured in two agenda items. The council will be asked to approve a $160,000 contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office for weapons screening services for the 15th District Court, which is housed at the Justice Center – the police/courts building immediately adjoining city hall at the northeast corner of Huron and Fifth.

A second item related to the court is an introduction of Shryl Samborn as the new administrator of the 15th District Court. Samborn is currently deputy administrator. Current administrator Keith Zeisloft is retiring. His last day of work is March 28.

At its March 17 meeting, the council will also be asked to approve the temporary relocation of Precinct 1-7 from Pierpont Commons, 2101 Bonisteel, to Northwood Community Center (family housing). That relocation will be in effect for the May 6 vote on the transit millage and for the Aug. 5 primary elections.

Among the items attached to the March 17 agenda as reports or communications is one from the city administrator noting that for the April 5 Hash Bash event on the University of Michigan campus, all sidewalk occupancy permits and peddler’s licenses in the immediately surrounding area will be suspended. The possibility of such suspension – which the city administrator’s memo indicates is motivated by a desire to relieve congestion – is part of the terms and conditions of such licenses. They’ve been suspended for Hash Bash for at least the last six years, according to the memo.

Also among the attachments are the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s annual reports for 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Those reports have been the subject of back-and-forth between Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and The Ann Arbor Observer over a report in The Observer’s December edition. A follow-up to an initial correction by The Observer is anticipated in the April edition – establishing that Kunselman’s contention had been correct: The DDA annual reports had not been filed with the governing body as required.

The consent agenda also includes approval of street closings for seven upcoming events: a soap box derby, SpringFest, Cinco de Mayo, Burns Park Run, Dexter-Ann Arbor Run, Washington Street Live and the Mayor’s Green Fair.

This report includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. Click here to skip the preview section and go directly to the live updates. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Dascola to Assert Right to Run in Ward 3

Earlier this year, longtime downtown barbershop owner Bob Dascola announced his intent to compete for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 3 on the Ann Arbor city council. And on March 12, 2014, Dascola took out nominating petitions from the city clerk’s office.

Bob Dascola sitting in the audience of the April 19, 2011 city council meeting. He addressed the council during public commentary on the topic of panhandling in the State Street area, where his downtown barbershop is located.

Bob Dascola sitting in the audience of the April 19, 2011 Ann Arbor city council meeting. On that occasion, he addressed the council during public commentary on the topic of panhandling in the State Street area, where his downtown barbershop is located. (Image links to Chronicle report of that council meeting.)

But Dascola was subsequently notified by the city clerk that he did not meet city charter eligibility requirements to represent Ward 3 on city council for this election cycle.

Dascola will be challenging the city clerk’s conclusion based on court cases from the early 1970s.

The Ann Arbor city charter includes two time-based eligibility requirements for city office: (1) a requirement that any local elected official must have been registered to vote in the city for a year before election to office; and (2) a requirement that a city councilmember must have been a resident of the ward they’re elected to represent for at least a year before being elected.

Dascola has lived on Baldwin Avenue in Ward 3 for about a year and a half, he told The Chronicle, but he did not register to vote in the city until Jan. 15, 2014. So he appears to meet the residency requirement, but not the voter registration requirement.

However, both of those Ann Arbor city charter provisions were explicitly ruled unconstitutional in federal court cases dating from the early 1970s.

So Dascola will be asserting his right to compete in the Ward 3 primary. He is represented in the matter by attorney Tom Wieder.

In a telephone interview on March 15, Wieder indicated that if “friendly persuasion” does not result in a change to the city’s position, then he’s prepared to move forward to file a lawsuit to ensure that Dascola can run.

And in the meantime, Wieder told The Chronicle, Dascola will be collecting signatures and submitting them to the city clerk as soon as possible. Dascola confirmed by phone that he was collecting signatures on the afternoon of March 15 – a change from an earlier strategy of waiting until the matter is sorted out.

Wieder ventured it is possible that based only on the charter language, someone might in good faith think that Dascola would not be eligible to represent Ward 3 if he were elected this year. But two separate federal court orders – one from Jan. 12, 1972 and the other from March 29, 1972 – struck down as unconstitutional the Ann Arbor city charter residency requirement and voter registration requirement, respectively.

It does not appear likely that a July 30, 2002 ruling by 22nd circuit court judge Timothy Connors might play any role in the resolution to Dascola’s case. The Wojack case – also handled by Wieder – involved the 2001 candidacy of Republican Scott Wojack to run in Ward 1. Wojack was told he could not run based on the in-ward residency requirement. He was allowed to run. But after the 2001 election, Connors issued an opinion upholding the charter residency requirement.

However, according to Wieder: “A state court cannot overturn an existing, binding decision of a federal court on the same subject.” Further, the Wojack case involved the residency requirement, not the voter registration requirement. And it is the voter registration requirement that appears to be the basis of the city’s conclusion on Dascola’s ineligibility. [Full Story]

March 17, 2014: Ann Arbor Council Preview

The Ann Arbor city council’s March 17, 2014 meeting features an agenda with one significant item held over from the March 3 meeting: a resolution that reserves a portion of the surface of the Library Lane underground parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor for an urban park that would remain publicly owned.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the March 17, 2014 meeting agenda.

But related to that item is a new resolution that directs the city administrator to move toward listing for sale the development rights for the top of the parking structure. The urban park designation was postponed from the March 3, 2014 meeting in part to sync up its timing with this resolution, which is being brought forward by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

An additional related item is a resolution that would waive the attorney-client privilege on a document prepared by Dykema Gossett, the city’s outside bond counsel. The Build America Bonds used to finance construction of the Library Lane structure have private-use limitations on facilities constructed with financing from such bonds. The Dykema memo analyzes those limitations with respect to Library Lane.

That’s one of two separate resolutions on the waiver of attorney-client privilege. The other one, postponed from the council’s March 3 meeting, would waive privilege on a city attorney memo dated Feb. 25, 2014 on the topic of how appeals to property assessments work. The memo apparently helps explain “… the effect of a reduction of the assessment for one year by the Board of Review and/or the Michigan Tax Tribunal on the property tax assessment for the subsequent year.” The council’s agenda also includes an attachment of a report sent to the state tax commission, explaining how the city has complied with various deficiencies in documentation identified previously by the commission.

The council will be considering two items related to energy issues. First, the council will consider a resolution that directs the city’s energy commission and staff to convene a stakeholder work group, with the support of the city attorney’s office, to draft a commercial building energy benchmarking and disclosure ordinance. It’s an effort to help achieve goals in the city’s climate action plan.

The second energy-related item is a resolution that would direct the city administrator to hire an additional staff member for the city’s energy office, bringing the total back to two people, according to the resolution. The energy office staffer would “create and implement additional community energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy programs that further the Climate Action Plan’s adopted targets.”

After approving the purchase of 18 replacement vehicles on March 3 and several pieces of basic equipment at its Feb. 18 meeting, the council will be considering three resolutions that involve additional vehicles and equipment: two forklifts for the city’s materials recovery facility, a Chevrolet Impala for use by police detectives, and a lease for golf carts from Pifer Inc.

The 15th District Court, which is the responsibility of the city of Ann Arbor, is featured in two agenda items. The council will be asked to approve a $160,000 contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office for weapons screening services for the 15th District Court, which is housed at the Justice Center – the police/courts building immediately adjoining city hall.

A second item related to the court is an introduction of Shryl Samborn as the new administrator of the 15th District Court. Samborn is currently deputy administrator. Current administrator Keith Zeisloft is retiring. His last day of work is March 28.

At its March 17 meeting, the council will also be asked to approve the temporary relocation of Precinct 1-7 from Pierpont Commons, 2101 Bonisteel, to Northwood Community Center (family housing). That relocation will be in effect for the May 6 vote on the transit millage and for the Aug. 5 primary elections.

Among the items attached to the March 17 agenda as reports or communications is one from the city administrator noting that for the April 5 Hash Bash event on the University of Michigan campus, all sidewalk occupancy permits and peddler’s licenses in the immediately surrounding area will be suspended. The possibility of such suspension – which the city administrator’s memo indicates is motivated by a desire to relieve congestion – is part of the terms and conditions of such licenses. They’ve been suspended for Hash Bash for at least the last six years, according to the memo.

Also among the attachments are the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s annual reports for 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Those reports have been the subject of back-and-forth between Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and The Ann Arbor Observer over a report in The Observer’s December edition. A follow-up to an initial correction by The Observer is anticipated in the April edition – establishing that Kunselman’s contention had been correct: The DDA annual reports had not been filed with the governing body as required.

The consent agenda also includes approval of street closings for seven upcoming events: a soap box derby, SpringFest, Cinco de Mayo, Burns Park Run, Dexter-Ann Arbor Run, Washington Street Live and the Mayor’s Green Fair.

This report includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Concerns Voiced over Urban Park Proposal

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Feb. 25, 2014): Of the four briefings given at PAC’s February meeting, drawing the most discussion was a proposal to build an urban park on top of the Library Lane underground parking structure.

Will Hathaway, Library Green Conservancy, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Will Hathaway gave a presentation about a proposal to build an urban park at the Library Lane site. He spoke on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy, which is working with some city councilmembers on the proposal. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners were briefed by Will Hathaway on behalf of the Library Green Conservancy, which has been advocating for a large section of the site to be designated as a park. He described a resolution that was later brought forward by Jack Eaton (Ward 4) at the council’s March 3, 2014 meeting.

Hathaway highlighted aspects of the proposal that drew on recommendations made by PAC to the city council last fall. He said he wasn’t asking for PAC to take any specific action on this proposal, but asked for feedback. Several commissioners raised concerns, including some that focused on the process of bringing this resolution forward without specific direction from the council. Hathaway noted that the resolution is intended to start the process, with council direction, to begin working with stakeholders, PAC, the public and others in the design and development of this park.

Subsequently, at the March 3 council meeting, PAC chair Ingrid Ault and former chair Julie Grand both spoke during public commentary and urged postponement of the resolution. Mayor John Hieftje, responding to the initiative, gave his own presentation on March 3 with a different vision for connected urban spaces downtown.

And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) told councilmembers that he wanted a postponement to have time to meet with Ann Arbor District Library board members about moving the library over to the surface of the Library Lane structure. He also plans to bring forward a resolution that would move towards hiring a broker to list development rights on the Library Lane surface for sale.

Ultimately, the council voted to postpone action until its March 17 meeting. At that meeting, it’s likely that Eaton will bring forward a revised resolution, a copy of which was provided to The Chronicle on March 13. The revised resolution indicates that the area designated as a park would be 12,000 square feet, compared to 10,000 square feet in the original resolution. That square footage reflects the actual dimensions of the proposed boundaries, according to a staff memo. The revised resolution also eliminates an October 2014 deadline for making design recommendations to the council, and deletes any reference to PAC. [.pdf of revised resolution for March 17 council meeting]

In other action at PAC’s Feb. 25 meeting, commissioners heard three other presentations related to city parks. Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) described a proposed ordinance that he’s brought to council regarding outdoor smoking in public places, including parks. Elements of the ordinance include authorizing the city administrator to have signs posted designating certain parks or portions of parks as off limits for outdoor smoking.

Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest & natural resources planning coordinator, gave a presentation to PAC about the urban and community forest management plan. The city recently released a draft and is seeking input. And Doug Kelly, Ann Arbor’s director of golf, gave an update on the city’s two golf courses at Huron Hills and Leslie Park.

In voting items, PAC recommended approval of an amendment to the city’s golf cart lease with Pifer Inc., and supported approval of contracts for work at Windemere and Clinton parks.

Commissioners also got a brief financial update for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, 2014. Bob Galardi, chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee, summarized the status this way: “Basically, we’re in great shape.” [Full Story]

Column: Rocking Back on the Library Lot

Collectively, we residents of Ann Arbor are a little bit like an old man who sits in a rocking chair telling the same old stories over and over again to anyone who will listen. Before we start, we do not say: Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Because even then we would not stop.

Man in rocking chair.

This illustration is a mashup of a photo taken on July 12, 2012, the day of the grand opening of the Library Lane parking structure, and a photograph from the author’s family archives on which an original lyric is based: “I’m an old man, and I don’t care, I’m sitting here in my rockin’ chair, watching the mean old world go by …”

And so it is that we’ll talk about the nuisance of the deer herd in 2008 … and again in 2014. We’ll talk about slush puddles in the downtown in 2009 … and again in 2014.

We talk about those things not because we suffer from community-wide senility, but rather because they are issues that remain in some way unresolved.

And that is why we are again talking about the top of the Library Lane underground parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor. The project included not just the parking deck itself, but also streetscape improvements to Fifth and Division, other pedestrian improvements, and investments in foundations and other work to support future development – a total of about $59 million worth of stuff.

The bulk of that cost was financed through Build America Bonds. What are the implications of the BAB financing for the future use of the parking structure’s spaces? That’s the question prompting me to write this column. I’d like to orient the public to the city’s analysis of how those spaces can be allocated to private uses.

Related to that, a resolution to be placed on the city council’s March 17 meeting agenda by the council audit committee is good news. The resolution would waive attorney-client privilege on a document that I think will help clarify questions associated with those bonds.

But I want to fill in some background first. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. [Full Story]

County Board Handles Lawsuit, Art, Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 5, 2014): A light agenda at the March 5 meeting was punctuated by a relatively rare closed session to discuss pending litigation. The specific litigation wasn’t cited.

Jim Casha, Mary Jo Callan, southeast Michigan regional transit authority, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jim Casha shows Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s office of community & economic development, a map of the Michigan state fairgrounds. Casha is advocating for the southeast Michigan regional transit authority to develop the site as a regional transit hub. (Photos by the writer.)

However, in the previous week, a jury had awarded nearly $1.2 million to a former Washtenaw County employee, Ali Aboubaker, who had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county in 2011. Responding to a query after the March 5 meeting, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger told The Chronicle that the county would be evaluating its options for appeal. The administration would also be meeting with the county’s insurance carrier to discuss the situation.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to hire a contract position that would support budget-related work for the board and administration. The item had been originally considered, but postponed, at the Feb. 5, 2014 meeting. The vote on March 5 was 7-1, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

Commissioners also voted to accept a grant from the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs for the Youth Arts Alliance (YAA). Washtenaw County is the fiduciary for this five-county collaborative, which provides creative arts workshops to youth in the juvenile justice system. The county also provides office space for YAA.

The grant will pay local artists to install public art at each of the five county juvenile facilities, made with help from the youth at those facilities. The youth will also work with local musicians to create an original album. The alliance’s director, Heather Wilson, told commissioners: “We are seeing huge transformations with the kids experiencing creative arts as an outlet.”

During his communications to the board, chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) laid out the application process to fill the seat on the Washtenaw County road commission board left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The deadline for submitting applications is Sunday, March 16. Rabhi hopes to make a nomination at the board’s March 19 meeting. The appointment would be to fill the remainder of Veigel’s term, through Dec. 31, 2014. During the March 5 meeting, commissioners passed resolutions honoring Veigel as well as local activist Lois Mayfield, who died on Feb. 21.

Commissioners also scheduled a public hearing to give input for the Washtenaw Urban County 2014-15 action plan. The hearing will be held at the county boardroom in downtown Ann Arbor during the March 19 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. It’s intended to solicit feedback about proposed projects and programs that the county intends to implement with federal funding – through community development block grant (CDBG), HOME and emergency shelter grant programs – from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

The March 5 meeting included an update from Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, about a proposal to offer autism health care coverage for county employees. A formal resolution is expected to be on the March 19 agenda for the board’s consideration.

Public commentary included advocacy from Jim Casha, who has previously addressed the board regarding the southeast Michigan regional transit authority. Washtenaw County is a member of the RTA, and the county board appoints two representatives to the RTA board. Casha’s remarks focused on the benefits of using the former state fairgrounds as a regional transit hub, instead of private development. [Full Story]