The Ann Arbor Chronicle » 100 Units it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The 100 Units of Affordable Housing Sat, 13 Dec 2008 19:55:31 +0000 Dave Askins

Sites A, B, C, identified as possible locations to build affordable housing units. The image is linked to a higher resolution file in which dimensions are legible.

Ann Arbor City Council Working Session (Dec. 8, 2008) At a council working session on Monday evening, attended by all councilmembers including the mayor, one option (consisting of three different sites) was presented for how to replace the 100 units of affordable housing previously provided by the YMCA building at Fifth and William streets.

The three sites that were offered by city staff to council for consideration have some different constraints, but the proposed construction on each site is similar. All three sites are located along a roughly one-block long stretch of Fourth Avenue from the south side of Ann Street to the north side of Catherine Street.

Based on official council action to date, this set of three sites can be fairly seen as one option of three still under conceptual consideration for a replacement location for the 100 affordable units: (i) the old YMCA site, (ii) an alternate downtown location, and (iii) a location outside of downtown.

We begin with some brief background of the history of these 100 units before December 2007, trace the interaction between council and the Housing and Human Services Advisory Board between December 2007 and May 2008, and finally summarize the presentation and council discussion from the council’s working session on Monday in customary Chronicle meeting-watch style.

Brief background

In connection with the construction of the new YMCA building located at 2nd and Washington streets, the city acquired the old YMCA building in 2003 in order to preserve the 100 units of affordable housing that the building offered. The YMCA had no plans to incorporate residential units at its new site, and neither did the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which had contemplated redeveloping the old building as a transit center and office headquarters.

In 2005 mechanical systems in the old YMCA building failed to such an extent that residents needed to be moved out of the building. City staff led by Jayne Miller, community services area administrator, worked over the following few years to find alternate accommodations for them, which they did. The city maintained a stated commitment to eventually replacing the 100 units, but not necessarily at the site of the old YMCA. A private development at that site, William Street Station, was to include some affordable units, but city council pulled the plug on that project, when the developer failed to meet various deadlines.

Seeing no immediate prospects for re-development of the property, the city (in coordination with the DDA) took the first step that any re-development would require: demolition of the building. Since summer 2008 the site has served as a surface parking lot. At its last meeting on Dec. 1, city council refinanced the property at the site of the old YMCA, which it purchased for $3.5 million dollars.

December 2007 to May 2008

At its Dec. 3, 2007 meeting a little over a year ago, city council passed a resolution directing the Housing and Human Services Advisory Board (HHSAB) to research and study the question of where to develop 100 units of affordable housing to replace those at the former YMCA site at Fifth and William streets and to report back to council no later than May 31, 2008 with a recommendation. The directive from council was specific with the issues to be addressed. From the language of the resolution (in which “the Site” means the old YMCA site):

RESOLVED, That the HHSAB’s Report shall address, at a minimum, the following issues:

  • Whether the 100 units of affordable housing should be located on the Site or elsewhere;
  • Whether the 100 units of affordable housing should be developed on one site or dispersed in a variety of locations;
  • Whether the 100 units of affordable housing should be located in the downtown area, outside the downtown area, or dispersed both inside and outside the downtown area;
  • Likely requirements and possible sources of funding for development of the 100 units of affordable housing, including provisions of social services for the housing residents;
  • Whether non-profit developers, for-profit developers, and social service providers in the community have sufficient capacity to develop and provide services for 100 units of affordable housing within the next four (4) years; and
  • Any other challenges or opportunities related to the development of 100 units of affordable housing for low-income residents.

HHSAB returned its recommendation on May 1, 2008 in a memo to council that identified the old YMCA site as the best location for development of the 100 units of affordable housing, and recommended that city council direct the city administrator to issue an RFP (request for proposals) for the site:

Recommendation: Based on the information provided above, the HHSAB recommends that City Council charge the City Administrator with re-issuing an RFP to develop 100 units of permanent supportive housing on the former YMCA site.

However, in the same memo, HHSAB provided alternatives to that recommendation for city council to consider as well.

The HHSAB recognizes that Council’s decision to accept, reject, or amend this recommendation will be based on a complex array of issues that includes financial and neighborhood considerations. Alternative options are presented below for Council’s reference and consideration.

  1. Council directs the City Administrator to research and recommend an alternative downtown or near downtown location (within ½ mile of the DDA district) for 100 units of permanent supportive housing by October 2008.
    a. PROS
    i. Accessibility to public transportation and many support services
    ii. The City and County both own surface parking lots that could be developed as affordable housing, with underground public parking
    iii. A stand-alone facility would make the financing less complicated than a mixed-use development
    iv. Proceeds, after paying off debts, from the sale of the YMCA site could be used to provide support service to these units
    b. CONS
    i. Potential neighborhood opposition
    ii. The City will need to secure the site if it is not currently owned by the City
  2. Council directs the City Administrator to issue a Request for Qualification to select a developer to work with the Office of Community Development to develop 100 units of permanent supportive housing on one or two sites anywhere in the City, including the downtown. Council directs the OCD to work with the HHSAB to draft an RFQ for Council by October 2008.

City council took no formal action based on the recommendation of HHSAB or its alternatives that resulted in the analysis of sites it heard on Monday evening. However, the presentation made by staff is consistent with the first of the two alternatives referenced by HHSAB.

Presentation by Staff to Working Session

[.pdf containing materials provided to council is here.]

Jayne Miller introduced the presentation by saying that she wouldn’t be delving into the history of the 100 units. The focus of the presentation, she said, would be the scenarios associated with constructing units on three different publicly-owned sites. She introduced staff who had been working on the analysis: Mary Jo Callan, community development director; Jennifer L. Hall, housing program analyst for community development; Pete Perala, with systems planning in the city; and Alexis DiLeo with the planning department.

Callan led off with a description of the population that the new units of affordable housing would serve: individuals (as contrasted with families) who have a history of struggling to achieve and maintain housing. It is a very low-income population that struggles to maintain housing, she said, which might have co-occurring challenges related to substance abuse, mental illness, or physical disability. It’s a population that requires intensive services to help them maintain housing. Success in providing housing for this population, Callan said, is contingent on wrapping supports around them, such as social services (including mental health), life skills, and a variety of other supports. To increase the stability and safety of this population, the approach being explored is a “front-desk model” which provides controlled access and a 24-hour desk for check-in.

DiLeo laid out the zoning issues connected with each of the three sites. Site A is at the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Ann Street. Site B is on the southwest corner of Fourth and Catherine. Catherine and Ann streets. And site C is at the northwest corner of Fourth and Catherine Fourth Avenue and Ann Street. Two of the sites, A and B, are surface parking facilities owned by the county. Site A includes underground parking as well. Site C is a surface parking lot owned by the city. The existing zoning for site A is PL, public land, which has no maximum or minimum setbacks, maximum or minimum heights, no floor area requirements. Sites B and C are currently zoned C2B/R (commercial business district with residential), which reverts to R4C standards (multiple family dwelling district) if developed for residential use.

Under current zoning, DiLeo said, anyone could build eight dwelling units on those sites. So under current zoning, she said, they would not be suitable for development as housing where economies of scale would be required, as is the case with affordable housing. But sites B and C are already slated to be rezoned as a part of the A2D2 rezoning effort, DiLeo continued, and no additional action would be needed for that rezoning to take place. Under A2D2, the parcels would be zoned as D2, which allows a 200% floor area ratio, with up to 400% with the affordable housing premium.

DiLeo explained that the 55-foot wide building design recommended for each parcel was a function of industry standards for a straightforward plain vanilla development: a double-loaded corridor – a hallway down the center with units on each side. The square footage of the buildings reflect individual unit sizes of around 450 square feet, whether that is a 1-bedroom apartment or an efficiency. All three sites, DiLeo said, could support 100 or more units. Four stories, she explained, is the threshold between stick-built construction (wood construction) and steel frame. Because steel comes from China, and steel is bought by China as well, she said that the initial construction costs for steel frame building would be significantly higher. That meant, she said, that to achieve economy of scale, a steel frame building would need to be built much taller than just five stories.

Their scenarios for the three sites would focus therefore on four-story stick-built options. DiLeo described how site A would really have only three stories of usable space, because the bottom story would be largely open, in order to preserve access to the ramp to the underground parking garage at that site. Sites B and C would have usable space starting from ground level. So all three sites, DiLeo said, could support 60 units on a stick-built scenario. The footprint of the buildings on all three sites would be in the 9,000-square-foot range.

Perala offered a description of the utilities infrastructure for the three sites. He said there were storm water pipes already in place that could move water from the sites. All three sites would require roughly similar investments to address storm water, probably in the $40,000-$50,000 range for onsite detention, and around $120,000 for installation of water quality improvements – swirl concentrators, for example. A green roof on any of the sites would cost in the range of $250,000, he said.

As for drinking water, Perala said that there are a lot of 6-inch and 8-inch pipes in the area, and that they would look to improve the grid system with 12-inch pipes, in order to ensure proper flow for fire protection. As you go from site A to B to C, heading north, the cost goes incrementally up, he said, to establish that grid. On the sanitary sewer side, he described how all three sites could use the following flow route: a southern route starting between B and C and heading east, turning south, then heading back west along Ann Street. On that route, some infrastructure improvement would be required. Site C has a second option, to flow straight north up Fourth Avenue, with no infrastructure improvements required. Footing drain disconnects for the three sites would cost in the range of $90,000-$100,000.

Hall explained why staff had looked at the three sites being presented. They had considered sites all around the city on acquisition and rehab scenarios both inside and outside of downtown. Citing the recommendation of HHSAB, she said that they had focused on downtown sites. There was already community support for a high number of low-income residents in one location downtown. In that environment, she said, they can more easily blend in to the surrounding community. She noted the difference in impact of 100 units of housing on a single-family neighborhood versus the downtown. Availability of services, like the Blake Transit Center, was another factor she cited.

One of the criteria for the land was that it be publicly owned, because the city or county cannot issue an RFP on a property that they do not own. Other sites the city owns (on Washington and Main streets) did not come into consideration because they are in a flood plain and thus did not meet basic environmental requirements. Two types of scenarios were considered: (i) a minimum of 60 units, which is the minimum to achieve the economies of scale for a secured front door and services, and (ii) a 100-unit scenario, which is more expensive from the point of view of construction (steel frame), but is less expensive in terms of the cost per resident to provide supportive services.

Hall contrasted the type of units proposed for any of the three sites with those in the old YMCA, which were 10×10-foot living spaces, with a common bathroom and kitchenette. In addition to not being a best-practice model, Hall said that such a project would result in funding challenges, because investors in tax-credits (the likely funding model) would be looking for a hedge, in case the project did not succeed for its originally intended purpose. Such investors, she said, don’t look at the fact that in the community we intend for the project to serve a low-income population, but rather at whether it’s at least possible to convert the building to market-rate housing. And the dorm-style accommodations of the old YMCA would not be convertible in that way.

Of the costs that were factored into the scenarios for each of the three sites, Hall said that land cost was not one of them. Donated land, she explained, enhanced the application for tax credits. It’s not an eligible cost to be paid by tax-credit funding, so if the land were not donated, the funding for land acquisition would need to come from elsewhere, perhaps federal funds.

The cost scenarios being presented, stressed Hall, were not estimates based on hiring architects and engineers, but rather on conversations with them, in order to get a rough idea. The rent to be charged for each unit would likely be $200-$300 per unit, depending on the person’s income. That means that annual revenue in rent would amount to around $3,000 per unit. Based on projects funded through other nonprofits, the cost of maintaining a facility is closer to $4,500 to $5,500 per unit per year. As a consequence, she said, it would be necessary to find a way to establish project-based vouchers to make up the gap. She’d had conversations with Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and the Ann Arbor Housing Commission to establish project-based vouchers, because otherwise, “it will not work.”

But Hall concluded by pointing to the financial summary in the materials provided to council and saying, “it appears to be do-able.”

Callan concluded the presentation by discussing the operational costs after construction. She said that the per-unit cost for services would be around $2,700 per year on a 100-unit scenario, versus $3,800 on a 60-unit scenario.

Council Discussion

Leigh Greden led off council questions by asking Callan how the $3,800 figure had been achieved, when previously the number $5,000 had been discussed. Callan stressed that the higher number did not include “mainstream” funding sources. Greden followed up with a question about the “city cash” required, an amount that is referenced in the tables provided in the council packet (the lowest amount for any scenario is $141,870 and the highest amount is $368,117). He got clarification that this could include various types of city funds (including HOME funds), not just General Fund dollars. In that light, he characterized the amounts as “reasonable.”

Councilmember Tony Derezinski asked about the percentage of potential clientele that would be veterans, and whether any outreach to veterans organizations had taken place. Callan said that she would be guessing about percentages but could provide that information. Hall also responded to the question by stressing that they tried to not predetermine the population. She said that while the developer is putting the proposal together, they would access various funding as set-asides for VA units, for example, and that the developer would pull funding from a range of sources in order to fund a mix of people. Derezinski also asked whether the population to be served would include families. Hall said that the idea was to serve individuals and not families, citing the individual units that were lost at the old YMCA as the gap that had been created in the housing inventory. Mixing the two populations, she said, would also be more challenging.

Derezinski also inquired about how the possible mix of retail on ground floors of the development would work. Hall clarified that on the 4-story stick-built scenarios (60 units), there would not be room for retail. On the 100-unit scenario, which would mean 8-9 stories, retail on the ground floor would be possible on sites B and C, but not on A, due to the need to keep access open for the underground parking ramp.

Councilmember Carsten Hohnke asked what other units had been created since the original 100 units from the YMCA had been lost. He also asked staff to speak to the overall need for this type of housing in the community. Hall cited the Blueprint to End Homelessness, which calls for creation of 500 units of supportive housing – a step beyond affordable housing. She described a 20-unit development by Avalon Housing, of which six were set aside for chronically homeless people. She also described other projects that would add between 20 to 40 units of supportive housing, which were not under development yet, but which had realistic prospects.

Councilmember Sabra Briere noted that the three locations cited are across the street from the Farmers Market, and across the street from the Fourth Avenue business district, which she described as “burgeoning business districts.” She said that a number of people would be concerned about the impact of construction, in an area that will be affected by other construction projects in the near future (an allusion to Fifth and Division street improvements as well as Farmers Market renovation). She also said that a number of people would be concerned about the population of people who would be coming in. She asked staff how they would address those concerns. Hall and Callan asked Jayne Miller to handle the question. Miller stressed that their intent was to take the presentation to the public and get feedback from the public on it about the three sites and to take feedback into consideration as decisions were made about moving forward.

Councilmember Sandi Smith got clarification that the parking at site A was not secured parking and that there were 85 spaces underground.

Councilmember Mike Anglin characterized the plan as “well-thought-out” and asked for examples of similar operations like the ones proposed, citing one in New York that he had seen, where residents seemed to fit into the community. Hall said that the model of supportive housing was used widely across the country and said she would send along examples by email. (Some of those are now attached to the working session agenda.) Locally, Callan suggested that an example of “fears that didn’t pan out” about the influx of the population into the neighborhood was the former YMCA residents who were relocated to Tuscan Creek.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor followed up on Briere’s question by asking whether there had been participation of the business community to date in connection with the formulation of the project. Hall said that the HHSAB in taking its charge from council (to make a recommendation about where to locate the replacement units) held two public hearings and had input from the business community, citing Jesse Berstein Bernstein, who is the president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. She said that it was a project on which they would continue to seek input from the public, including the business community.

Taylor then asked whether Hall would characterize it more as “a beginning proposal” than “a semi-formulated” proposal, which Hall said she would.

Greden followed up on comments by Briere and Anglin by saying that council and community needed to approach the issue “without the initial assumption that this population consists of troublemakers.”

With respect to the long-term operating costs, Greden noted that vouchers seemed to be key to making it work and asked how they could be obtained. Hall said that a main source of project-based vouchers was MSHDA, which likes to see the local housing commission match them. Hall said that this would require an administratively intensive effort on the part of the local housing commission, but that they had begun discussion to make sure there was capacity to do that. Greden said that the council’s new liaison to the housing commission, Tony Derezinski, would look forward to working with staff and the commission to help the process.

Clarifications and Reactions

One point that took some time for The Chronicle to clarify was the fact that the presentation heard at their working session was not the result of a council directive. In particular, there was no directive from council as a body to staff to remove the old Y site from consideration for development of replacement units. Thanks to councilmembers Margie Teall, Leigh Greden, Sabra Briere, director of community services Jayne Miller, and Anissa Bowden in the city clerk’s office, who all helped us establish that – either by email or by phone. Thanks also to Jennifer L. Hall for insight into why tax-credit investors care about unit size in a development like this.

After the presentation, Ray Detter (Downtown Citizens Advisory Council) and Christine Crockett (Old Fourth Ward Association) spoke briefly with The Chronicle. They indicated that they still thought of the old YMCA site as “on the table” as far as where to build replacement units for those lost there. They also talked about the fact that the business district along Fourth Avenue was gaining strength but was “still fragile,” a sentiment addressed by Briere during the council discussion.

Speaking by phone with councilmember Briere, she said she saw the sites partly from the historical perspective of a decision-making process regarding location selection for the police-courts facility now to be built on the site of the Larcom building. With respect to the county parking lot, she wondered: “Why is the city willing to house homeless people there but not judges?”

Addendum: After this article was first published, we gained some insight into a natural question that might have arisen in some readers’ minds: if the city is contemplating some scenarios that would require the sale/donation of county properties, has anyone at the county been consulted? Leigh Greden provided this insight: “Roger Fraser organized a meeting of me, [Bob] Guenzel, and [Dick] Soble as a follow-up to the HHSAB report which recommended that alternative sites to the old Y would be OK. At that meeting, we agreed we should look at alternative sites, including County-owned sites. Roger then directed City staff to begin planning, which led to the report.” Guenzel is the Washtenaw County administrator, and Soble is chair of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance.

Editor’s note: The Chronicle did not cover other discussions at Monday’s working session, including discussion of the Community Success plan and the golf course finances.

Present: Sandi Smith, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje.

Absent: None

Old YMCA site at Fifth and William streets, looking northwest.

Site A: Fourth & Ann streets, looking southwest.

Site B: Fourth & Catherine streets, looking southwest.

Site C: Fourth & Catherine streets, looking northwest.

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Meeting Watch: DDA board (3 Dec 2008) Fri, 05 Dec 2008 16:27:35 +0000 Dave Askins Wednesday’s noon meeting of the Downtown Development Authority board saw one transportation initiative move forward: funding for a fourth Zipcar for downtown was approved. A second resolution was returned to the transportation committee: the board was not ready to approve an increase from $50,000 to $160,000 for its share of a north-south connector study.

Also on the agenda was an amendment to a parking agreement between the city, the DDA, and Village Green, which is developing the City Apartments project on the southeast corner of First and Washington. Even though the resolution was passed, Jon Frank, VP of development for Village Green, didn’t get the language he needed in the resolution, which means that City Apartments project will require some additional back and forth before the final Ts are crossed.

Among other news, in verbal summaries of various committee reports, came word from operations committee chair Roger Hewitt that the pilot valet parking program will begin on Dec. 15 at the Maynard Street structure.

Valet Parking

Hewitt reported that the pilot program for a valet parking option, which was recommended as an option in the Nelson Nygaard study, will begin on Dec. 15 at the Maynard parking structure using the Thompson Street entrance. The charge is $5 for the valet service, which runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. Pick-up options include a standard valet: the car is retrieved on return to the structure. But visitors also have the option of calling ahead 15 minutes, in which case the car will be waiting ready to go on return to the structure.


The board considered and passed a resolution authorizing funding for a fourth Zipcar in addition to the three for which funding had already been approved in May 2008. The amount of the original authorization was up to $54,000 for $1,500 a month in guaranteed revenue to Zipcar and $10,000 for marketing and promotion. The new resolution added $18,000 to account for a maximum of $1,500 per month for a fourth vehicle. Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, which will work with the DDA and Zipcar on the marketing end, clarified for the board that it’s conceivable that the guaranteed revenue would be covered completely by actual Zipcar usage. This assessment was based on the fact that the $1,500 revenue level corresponded to 40% usage, and the UM Zipcar program currently enjoyed 60% usage. Board member Gary Boren asked if the arrangement was a dollar-for-dollar abatement, and Shore said that she believed it was.

Shore said that with the final contracts to be signed on Dec. 15, the availability of Zipcars downtown would begin in January or February of 2009.

North-South Connector Study

Eli Cooper, transportation manager for the city of Ann Arbor, was on hand to clarify some of the issues surrounding the north-south connector study. The funding of the study is currently proposed at levels of $160,000 each for four partners: the DDA, UM, AATA, and the city of Ann Arbor. Cooper explained that while UM and AATA had formally authorized the funds (which represented increases from a previous round of authorizations), the city of Ann Arbor had made an administrative recommendation that still required approval by the city council.

Cooper then explained some of the nuts and bolts of the need for the study and why it was necessary. Chief among these reasons is to keep the project eligible for federal funding. John Hieftje, mayor of the city of Ann Arbor, asked if the winning bidder for the study contract, URS, had a record of success in obtaining federal funding. Cooper confirmed that they had.

Cooper clarified also the difference between this phase one study and the subsequent phase two, which would result in a “locally preferred alternative.” What the board was currently considering, said Cooper, was a study that would focus on feasibility, anticipated alignments (not a specific route), the establishment of a “purpose and need” and would entail generating ridership forecasts. The result would be a recommendation of two or three alternatives. Phase two would entail a far more technical engineering analysis, and would result in a specific preferred alternative. The order of magnitude for the phase two study would grow from the hundreds of thousands of dollars for phase one to $1.5-2.0 million for phase two. Where, asked board member John Mouat, can money be sourced to pay for phase two? Cooper said that a certain amount of federal dollars could come into play.

The result of phase two, said Cooper, was the first point of variance with respect to timing and cost for the final project. If it were to be a bus rapid transit system, the construction costs would be in the tens of millions, with light rail (street cars) around double that. Timing-wise, the best case scenario, felt Cooper, was 3-5 years to have something rolling.

The board discussion centered around the relative portion of the study cost to be born by the DDA. The shares had evolved from a previous $50,000 contribution for each of UM, city of Ann Arbor, DDA, with AATA contributing $100,000. Board member Rene Greff reiterated a point she’d made at the inaugural meeting of the transportation committee: If the DDA considered the $160,000 it was currently being asked to contribute as an amount they’d be willing to spend to get pertinent information (where do people come from when they visit downtown, where do they go after leaving?), then she thought it was an amount worth considering. But getting pertinent information became that much more important, Greff said, pointing specifically to the bullet points in the resolution:

  • What is the estimated number and type of downtown workers and residents who will use this future connector? What is the estimated percentage use by downtown workers, UM faculty/staff/students, and other users?
  • Why would a downtown worker use this connector rather than a single occupancy vehicle and/or the existing bus system?
  • What is the optimal course though the downtown portion of its route to maximize its attractiveness to downtown users and transit connections?
  • What are the various transportation modes the connector could use in addition to a trolley?

Board member Sandi Smith said that she was resistant to using that many city dollars when the main beneficiary would be UM. Hieftje took up Smith’s theme in more specific terms, saying that three-quarters of the money was coming from a single pot: the taxpayers of Ann Arbor, with only a quarter from UM, an institution with a $6-7 billion endowment. Hieftje said he thought UM should pay for half of the study. He thus supported tabling the resolution as the transportation committee had recommended.

With the exception of board chair Jennifer Hall, who was prepared to vote, the board supported the motion to table the resolution, sending it back to the transportation committee.

Village Green Parking Agreement

The resolution before the board concerned an amendment to the parking agreement struck between the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor and Village Green on January 2008 in which the DDA approved a 241-space design at a total cost of $9.035 million. The site plan approved by city council on Monday was for a 244-space design. The amendment sought by Village Green proposed to move the cap to 251 parking spaces at a total cost of $9.435 million.

The board had before it two versions of the resolution: one with language requested in written communications between the DDA and Village Green brought to the board by its partnership committee, and a different one based on verbal communications between Village Green and the DDA in the last couple of days. The latter had been examined by the DDA executive committee, but not necessarily recommended to the board.

In board deliberations, board chair Jennifer Hall said the executive committee was not comfortable with the more recently formulated resolution, but was comfortable with the version that came from the partnerships committee, co-chaired by Sandi Smith and Russ Collins. The deal-breaking clause (from Village Green’s perspective), which was included in the resolution brought forward from the partnerships committee was this:

RESOLVED: The DDA asserts its interest in acquiring full-size car parking spaces only (not compact), and will retain its right to review and approve any additional parking space as well as the new parking structure layout and design.

Collins wondered if that resolution was of any practical benefit to Village Green. Jon Frank, VP of development for Village Green, confirmed in a side conversation with The Chronicle that this clause did not serve their purposes. They needed a commitment from the DDA, Frank said, that was not based on a contingency involving the judgment of the board, but rather one that was based on objective criteria about the size and shape of the parking spaces. Otherwise, Frank said, a bank would not consider the funding secure. And banks, especially in the current economic climate, need an absolute guarantee, even from municipal groups with great credit.

Board member Rene Greff said that there was “no way” they could agree to the additional parking spaces without seeing the plans, so she weighed in for the resolution with the contingency. Board members Sandi Smith and Leah Gunn expressed their support for the contingent resolution as well. Gunn said that the board had “bent over backwards” to cooperate with Village Green and that they wanted to retain the right to see the drawings.

The resolution with the deal-breaking clause was passed.

At the conclusion of the meeting, there is always time alloted for additional audience participation, which Frank used to express his disappointment about what had happened. He said that if they’d asked him two days ago – after the site plan had been approved by council, with the support of councilmembers, neighborhood groups, the planning commission, and neighbors – if they’d done a good job of communicating, he would have said yes. After today’s meeting, he said, he wasn’t sure. He said it was disheartening. From his perspective, Frank said, they had made a deal in January with the criteria about the size and shape of the parking spaces “baked in” and all Village Green was asking for was for the board to extend the same deal, not a different one, to the additional ten spaces. Frank indicated that he was not in a great hurry and that he was willing to sit down and work through whatever needed to be fixed: “I want to tell you that we are going to fix everything,” he said.

When Frank had finished, board chair Hall emphasized to him that he should not interpret that day’s resolution to mean that the DDA was not willing to continue to work with Village Green on the question of the extra 10 spaces. She said they simply wanted to see what the 10 spaces were going to look like. Frank assured the board that he would get them drawings, but expressed some concern that there would be people on the board looking at them for the very first time, and was concerned that the criteria could change. Hall told Frank he would have to bear with the board on the issue.

Greff was upset with Frank’s comments: “I’m upset with your characterization that we’re going back on our deal!” Greff said the DDA was “ready to roll” and that it was Village Green that was changing the deal, by asking for an additional 10 spaces, not the DDA. Frank offered that he would re-educate himself as to the details of the January deal, and asked others to do the same.

Miscellaneous Items from Committee Reports

John Splitt, reporting out from the capital improvements committee, said that this week holes are starting to be dug along Fifth Avenue in connection with the underground parking garage to find out where the utilities are. At their next committee meeting on Wed., Dec. 10 at 11 a.m. they will address how the garage will interface with the library in light of the recent news that the library’s new construction project has been placed on hold.

Out of the partnerships committee came news that Ed Shaffran and Ellie Serras had expressed an interest in creating a business investment district centered on Main Street. They’d inquired about start-up funding, which would entail mostly a consultant and some legal work.

Also out of the partnerships committee came the report that discussions of providing video documentation of DDA board meetings were moving ahead. There would be a proposal at some point either for the DDA to acquire its own equipment or to have CTN provide equipment and personnel for the taping.

Susan Pollay gave an update on the background work she’d done in connection with an idea that John Hieftje had floated at the board’s annual retreat: an advocacy campaign on behalf of downtown merchants appealing to landlords to keep rents reasonable. Pollay said she’d determined that among merchants the sentiment was that this was not the right way to go. It was perceived as somewhat unseemly, she said, for government to impose itself into the private relationship between a renter and a landlord. As an alternative to helping businesses that were in trouble, she suggested making small business agency services available to those merchants who simply “can’t get out from behind the cash register” to pursue assistance.

Affordable Housing at Council Working Session

In the section on the agenda reserved for other DDA business matters, John Hieftje reiterated city administrator Roger Fraser’s announcement at the previous Monday’s council meeting that on Dec. 8 there would be a working session for council starting at 7 p.m. in council chambers. At that working session, a proposal will be made to replace the 100 units of affordable housing lost at the old YMCA site at possibly three different locations. Board member Gary Boren asked, “Are they going to name it the DeVarti Center?” Hieftje made no response discernible to The Chronicle. Part of the context for Boren’s remark is Hieftje’s decision recently not to re-appoint Dave DeVarti to the DDA board when DeVarti had expressed an interest and willingness to do so. DeVarti had consistently supported affordable housing while on the board and had described himself as a “squeaky wheel” on the issue.

Audience Participation

Front-ending the meeting was participation from the audience, which included presentation of Art Fair survey results, an update from the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council and a critique of the scheduling information for the LINK bus.


The LINK is a free circulator bus system that runs through downtown. At its inaugural meeting, the transportation committee discussed the fact that there were problems with the service and saw their solution as something that needed to be addressed.

During audience participation at Wednesday’s meeting, the board heard from self-described regular bus rider and occasional LINK rider Ed Vielmetti, who expressed concerns about signage, scheduling information, and online information that get in the way of ridership. Vielmetti characterized the schedule for the LINK in the Ride Guide as “unreadable.” The information should fit on a business card, he said, not take up two pages. The signage at the stops, Vielmetti said, attested to neglect, because there were still signs indicating the LINK is “coming back in August” but it was now December. (The LINK does not run during summer months.) The mobile RideTrak system, Vielmetti said, allowed him to roughly estimated when his regular Number 5 bus is coming in real time, so that fewer “boot hours” needed to be spent waiting at a stop. (The RideTrak system gives data in the form of minutes ahead or behind schedule). For the LINK, Vielmetti said, math was required in order convert RideTrak’s data to useful information about when the next bus might arrive. Instead, it could instead be conveyed with two letters – the letter of the stop where it was most recently and the stop it was headed to – plus the time it was at the last stop.

In responding to Vielmetti, board member Russ Collins sought to make it clear that the DDA was not involved in the operations at the level he was discussing. Vielmetti said that was obvious. In that light, Collins asked what Vielmetti was proposing that the DDA do: “What action would we take?” In the course of the conversation, Vielmetti suggested that the $71,000 of funding not be unrestricted, but rather allotted in two categories: (i) operations and (ii) marketing/signage. Board member Rene Greff was supportive of the idea of funding the LINK contingent on meeting the DDA’s requirements. Chair of the board Jennifer Hall said that it would be a great topic for the transportation committee. Board member Leah Gunn recommended that Vielmetti address the AATA board with exactly the same concerns, because they’re accountable to the public, to which Vielmetti replied, “You are not??” Collins smoothed over the moment by suggesting that Gunn was offering good advice and that it was really the AATA board who needed to hear what he was saying.

Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council

Ray Detter gave an update on the council’s meeting. The DACAC supports the proposal for 415 W. Washington that includes the art center. Detter said that Marsha Chamberlin, president of the Ann Arbor Art Center, had attended the meeting. Margaret Parker, chair of the public art commission, had also attended. The DACAC was still fully in support of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage going forward, despite the pausing of the Ann Arbor District Library’s plans to build a new structure in place of the existing one. Detter said that the DACAC re-affirmed its commitment to densify the core downtown, which was reflected in its support of the City Apartments project. Detter noted that this support did not extend to PUDs proposed near, but not in, the core of downtown. As such a PUD, Detter cited the example of City Place, proposed for Fifth Avenue south of William Street. City Place would be built where seven houses with ties to the history of Ann Arbor now stand. With respect to the A2D2 process, Detter stressed that the DACAC was interested in seeing zoning revisions, design guidelines, and a revised downtown plan passed together. Currently, the process leaves design guildlines for later consideration. Detter urged that the process be returned to the planning commission, saying, “We’ve been working on it for years, there’s no rush.”

Art Fairs

Debra Power, of Power Marketing, presented results of a survey of art fair attendees this past summer which was undertaken to gather information of interest to the four art fairs, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the DDA, AATA, Arts Alliance, and the Main Street Area Association. The methodology, which sampled fair goers across all times and locations during the fairs and offered a free art fair T-shirt as an inducement to complete the 8-10 minute survey, netted 834 completed surveys. Highlights from the results were:

  • female 66.5% | male 33.5%
  • age 50 or older: 41%
  • married: 52.7%
  • college graduates: 43%
  • mean household income: $90,000
  • Caucasian: 83% | African American: 6% | Asian: 3% | Hispanic: 2%
  • Ann Arbor residents 31% | non-Ann Arbor residents of Michigan 52% | non-Michigan residents 17%
  • Arrived by car: 91.3% | by plane: 3.4% | AATA bus: 2.4% | charter bus: 1.5%
  • Average dollars spent on art: $292 | on dining: $50 | shopping: $97 | lodging: $279

Reacting to the relative percentages of modes of transportation, in which Amtrak did not register, Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje said that Amtrak trains into Ann Arbor were fully booked well in advance of the event and that if there had been more trains running, he suspected they, too, would have been booked.

Present: Gary Boren, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Rene Greff, Leah Gunn, Jennifer Hall, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat, Sandi Smith, John Splitt.

Absent: none

Next meeting: noon on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301.

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