The Ann Arbor Chronicle » airport it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 AATA Looks to Extend Airport Service Thu, 21 Mar 2013 23:50:06 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board has voted to extend for another four months the current pricing agreement it has with Michigan Flyer to provide bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metro airport.

AirRide Weekly Boardings: April 2012 through March 2013

AirRide Weekly Boardings: April 2012 through March 2013.

The current agreement has a yearly not-to-exceed cost of $700,000 per year, running for two years starting April 1, 2012. As the second year of the agreement is approaching, Michigan Flyer has indicated a willingness to renegotiate the arrangement in the context of a Transportation, Community, and System Preservation (TCSP) grant that Michigan Flyer might be awarded. The grant could support four additional trips from East Lansing to the airport, which would also stop in Ann Arbor.

The agreement authorized by the board at its March 21, 2013 meeting will extend the current pricing arrangement until the negotiations on the options offered can be completed. The cost during the four-month extension is not to exceed $230,000, based on current annual costs.

The weekly ridership for the hourly service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport now averages more than 1,000 passengers a week, with some weeks reaching 1,400 riders.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Public Art Rehashed by Ann Arbor Council Sun, 13 May 2012 19:29:16 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 7, 2012) Part 2: Public art was one of two highlighted themes of the council meeting, along with possible future additions to the park system. The future additions to public parks and open space are handled in Part 1 of this meeting report: “Council Parcels Out Tasks: Open Space.”

Left to right: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

Left to right: Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) are asking to be recognized to speak as Jane Lumm (Ward 2) gives her views on public art. (Photos by the writer.)

Public art was featured in two specific agenda items. One was a presentation of the annual public art plan given by Wiltrud Simbuerger, a member of the city’s public art commission. The council gave the presentation a basically positive reception.

But the second agenda item required a vote – on a $150,000 piece of art proposed by Ed Carpenter, to be hung in the lobby of the new Justice Center. The city’s public art commission had selected Carpenter from responses to a request for proposals. A vote on the artwork, a piece called “Radius,” had been postponed from the council’s April 2, 2012 meeting over concerns about public access to the Justice Center lobby, where the sculpture will be hung.

A nearly one-hour debate unfolded about the Carpenter piece, with the specific artwork serving as a kind of proxy for a rehash of previous council debates on the city’s Percent for Art ordinance. The ordinance requires that all city capital improvement projects include 1% for public art, up to a cap of $250,000 per capital project. For capital projects that aren’t suitable to have public art incorporated into them, the 1% is “pooled” for use in some other public art – which must be related to the purpose of the funding source. For example, the fountain outside the new Justice Center, designed by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl, is funded with money pooled from 1% of some sanitary sewer projects, drinking water projects, and stormwater management projects.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) proposed an amendment that would have canceled Carpenter’s project and appropriated the art project funds to invest instead in the city hall building. That amendment failed, but piqued mayor John Hieftje into announcing that he’d be sponsoring a future resolution to take $50,000 from public art funds, and deposit that amount into the general fund. That move is susceptible to the same critique made by several councilmembers as well as the assistant city attorney against Lumm’s amendment: The public art ordinance prohibits transfer from public art funds to other funds. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) stated that he would be content for the council simply to violate that ordinance. Carpenter’s sculpture eventually was approved over the dissent of Kunselman and Lumm.

Besides public art, the council approved the city’s portion of the State/Ellsworth traffic roundabout project, which includes an improvement for a water main connection – to pipe water from a well on the property of Ann Arbor’s municipal airport to the city’s water treatment plant. The airport also made it onto the agenda in the form of a resolution that settled outstanding legal issues surrounding the construction of hangars on the property.

Prompting extended discussion by the council was a resolution that invalidates sidewalk occupancy permits for vendors in a specific area around Main Street between Huron and William, whenever Main Street is closed down for special events.

The council delayed action on a tax abatement for the battery technology company Sakti3, pending review by the city council’s budget committee. And the council authorized another five-year extension of its contract with Waste Management to haul the city’s trash to a landfill.

The council also heard its usual range of public commentary. The public hearing on the fiscal year 2013 budget enjoyed light participation. The council will vote on that budget, and any amendments, at its May 21 meeting.

Public Art

The council had two public art-related items on its agenda: a presentation of the art commission’s annual plan, and the approval of a $150,000 sculpture for the new Justice Center. Submission by the public art commission of an annual plan to the city council is a requirement of the city’s public art ordinance.

From the ordinance:

The oversight body shall … by April 1 of each year, submit to City Council a plan detailing potential projects and desirable goals to be pursued in the next fiscal year; …

Public Art: Annual Plan

The council received a presentation on the public art commission’s annual plan from Wiltrud Simbuerger, a member of the commission.

The city’s public art commission had discussed the public art plan for FY 2013 at its March 28, 2012 meeting. The plan describes projects that AAPAC intends to work on between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. [.pdf of FY 2013 annual public art plan].

  1. Develop a master plan for 2013-2016 that will create community engagement and expedite work of the commission.
  2. Advance the following projects that are underway, meeting all deadlines. All the projects have task force oversight, approved budgets, and are in various stages of completion. The projects are: (1) installation of Ed Carpenter’s “Radius” sculpture in the lobby of the Justice Center by November 2012 ($150,000); (2) a mural in Allmendinger Park by Mary Thiefels, to be completed by September 2012 ($12,000); (3) two additional murals by August 2013 ($40,000); (4) artwork for a rain garden at Kingsley and First by August 2013 ($27,000); (5) artwork for the East Stadium bridges by the fall of 2014 ($400,000); and (6) installation of artwork in the Detroit Institute of Art’s Inside|Out project by the spring of 2013 (budget TBD). That project involves installing framed reproductions from the DIA’s collection at outdoor locations on building facades or in parks.
  3. By June 2012, identify and prioritize new projects for FY 2013, allocating existing funds using agreed-upon criteria of type, location, and community involvement. The criteria will be defined during the master planning process.
  4. By Aug. 1, develop and begin to implement an effective communications plan about the uses and value of public art and the operation of the commission.
  5. Collaborate with commissions, organizations, and agencies to accomplish public art projects.

The first objective – developing a master plan – included details on its purpose. The intent of the master plan is to: (1) guide AAPAC’s efforts to include public art throughout the city, involve community groups and create substantial visibility for public art as an integral part of community life and a city asset; (2) train commissioners and task force members with the goal of increased community knowledge, engagement and advocacy for public art; and (3) better integrate the public art administrator with every city department with the goal of increasing public art in the city.

Simbuerger concluded her presentation by thanking Aaron Seagraves, who provides staff support to the city’s public art commission as the city’s public art administrator.

Public Art: Annual Plan – Council Deliberations

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked about the public art budget and request for proposals that’s connected to the East Stadium bridges project – $400,000. Simbuerger clarified that the 2014 date in the annual plan was not the date that the RFP would be issued, but rather the date of anticipated completion for the public art associated with the bridge project. The RFP is currently under review by the city attorney’s office, Simbuerger explained.

Lumm said the reason she was asking about it is that a lot of people see architecture as art. The Broadway bridges are like that, she ventured. She said she’d been told that the East Stadium bridges can’t be that nice, because there’s not enough money. She wondered if art could be incorporated into the bridge design.

Simbuerger indicated that the bridge design is done, so there’s some room for flexibility on only a few things, like railings or sidewalks. The art commission can’t influence the basic design of the bridge anymore, she said. Art could be added to the bridge, she said, and there’s also a park next to the bridge as well as a fence that leads up to the bridge along Stadium Boulevard – which could potentially serve as locations for public art.

Lumm concluded her remarks by commending the planned mural project at Allmendinger Park, for involving the community. The project, by local artist Mary Thiefels, will incorporate found objects into a mosaic on the pillars of the park’s bathroom building.

Later in the meeting, Lumm cited those earlier remarks she’d made – to argue against mayor John Hieftje’s contention that she was attacking public art. That discussion centered around the second public art-related agenda item – approval of a $150,000 piece of art for the lobby of the new Justice Center. The Justice Center is also known as the police-courts building. The overall construction project for the new building, which connected city hall with the new Justice Center, is also known as the municipal center building project.

Justice Center Art: Background – Building

The proposed public art project would be located in the lobby of the new municipal building called the Justice Center – on the northeast corner of Huron Street and Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. The Justice Center houses the 15th District Court and the Ann Arbor police department.

The sculpture is called “Radius” by Ed Carpenter of Portland, Oregon. Previously council had postponed approval of public art funds for Carpenter’s project at its April 2, 2012 meeting.

Rendering of "Radius" sculpture

A rendering of Ed Carpenter’s proposed “Radius” sculpture in the southwest corner of Ann Arbor’s Justice Center lobby. This image was revised from earlier drawings by the artist to include more glass, at the request of a selection task force. (Links to larger image)

Because it houses the district court, the building features airport-style security measures at the entrance, and visitors must surrender electronic devices like cameras and cellphones to be locked in cubicles during their visit to the building. Concern about accessibility by the public to the public art was the subject of councilmember deliberations that led to the postponement on April 2.

The council expressed interest in using the delay to explore the possibility of moving the security screening to a point well past the entrance in the interior of the building. The visibility of the proposed sculpture from outside the building was also a point of discussion at the April 2 as well as at the May 7 meeting.

At the May 7 meeting, before the council began its deliberations on the Justice Center lobby art, city administrator Steve Powers indicated to the council that the question of public access to the lobby and art had been reviewed by city staff. He suggested that he was prepared to go into detail on that issue, or that the information could be reviewed by the city council’s building committee. He noted there are some details on use of the building by the police department that have an impact on its 24/7 accessibility. Powers also said that staff had some answers about the visibility of the art itself from the exterior of the building. The visibility of the art and the accessibility to the building, he said, are two separate issues. He noted that moving the security checkpoint would have a budgetary impact.

At its Jan. 25, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor public art commission had unanimously recommended selecting Carpenter for the $150,000 project. A task force had recommended the selection of Carpenter’s proposal from three finalists.

Carpenter plans to create a hanging sculpture of dichroic glass, aluminum, stainless steel and lighting, including LED spot and flood lighting. Among the reasons for recommending Radius, the task force cited the sculpture’s metaphor: That the activities in the Justice Center have a “rippling” effect throughout the community, which echoes the water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl that’s located in the plaza outside the building.

Ann Arbor’s public art funds come from the application of the city’s Percent for Art ordinance, which requires that 1% of all capital projects (up to a limit of $250,000 per capital project) be set aside for public art.

Justice Center Art: Background – Ordinance

There was confusion on the part of councilmembers about how the public art ordinance actually works and where the money for Carpenter’s sculpture had originated. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was convinced that the source of funds for the Dreiseitl fountain – located outside, on the side of the building facing Huron – was the same as the source of funds for the interior piece. Kunselman pointed to the metaphor of the “rippling” effect that Carpenter’s sculpture was supposed to mirror, which was similar to the “water theme” that is supposed to justify the expenditure of sewer, stormwater and drinking water funds on the project. He also pointed to the original interior art pieces commissioned from Dreiseitl, which were planned to tie thematically to the fountain with lit blue spheres. [Those pieces were proposed but not authorized to be created, because of budgetary concerns.]

By way of background, the ordinance describes two ways that pieces of public art can be funded. They can be funded as pieces of art that are integrated into or stand on the site of some capital improvement project. The budget of all such projects must include 1% for public art.

But not every capital improvement project lends itself easily to the integration of public art or even a piece of art that can stand on the site of the capital improvement project. It’s also possible that the size of a capital improvement project would not generate adequate funds to contemplate funding a piece of art. In those cases, the 1% of the project’s budget is “pooled” together, and can be spent on a piece of art that is “related to the purposes of that fund [which paid for the capital improvement project].”

From the ordinance:

1:834. Inclusion of public art as part of a capital improvement project …

(3) Funds for public art that are included as part of a capital improvement project financed from a City fund other than the City’s general fund shall be accounted for within that fund and may be used as part of that capital improvement project for the creation, purchase, production or other acquisition of art incorporated as a part of the capital improvement project, including art located on the site where the project is located.

(4) Funds for public art that are included as part of a capital improvement project financed from a City fund other than the City’s general fund may instead be pooled in a separate public art fund within that fund. Public art funds that are held within a city fund other than the general fund shall be expended only on projects that are related to the purposes of that fund.

(5) Funds in pooled public art funds may be used for the creation, purchase, production or other acquisition of art for display in public spaces or facilities; for extraordinary maintenance, repair or refurbishment, including structural reconstruction, and for relocation, alteration and removal of public art.

The funding strategy for the Carpenter sculpture contrasts with that of the Dreiseitl fountain, which used “pooled” funds. The fountain had an initial budget created from pooled funds from other capital improvement projects – projects that were paid for out of drinking water ($210,000), sanitary sewer ($510,000) and stormwater ($30,000) funds.

In contrast, the Carpenter sculpture is funded from the Justice Center (aka police-courts or municipal center) building fund. The amount initially available for public art from that project was $250,000. One percent of the project budget would have been more than $250,000, but the ordinance caps the total public art allocation from any project at $250,000.

That building fund stemmed from various sources. At the council’s Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, then-public services area administrator Sue McCormick said that ordinarily, city staff would not go back and trace how much of that $250,000 could be attributed to various sources. However, because they’d been asked to do that by councilmembers, McCormick said that of the $250,000, around $50,000 could be “associated” with the general fund.

That $50,000 was a number batted back and forth by councilmembers at their May 7 meeting – it’s the amount that mayor John Hieftje said at the meeting that he wants to take out of public art and put back into the general fund. He said he wanted to settle that issue once and for all.

Hieftje’s proposal came in response to a gambit by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to amend the resolution on the Carpenter sculpture – to cancel the project and to put the public art money into city hall building renovations. Either proposal would founder on the language of the public art ordinance, a portion of which assistant city attorney Mary Fales wound up reading aloud, in an apparent attempt to ground the council’s discussion in the options that are legally available. From the section that Fales read aloud:

1:835. Disbursement of public art funds.

(3) Funds for public art that are included as part of a capital improvement project or that are part of a pooled public art fund may be not be transferred to any other fund, encumbered or utilized for any purpose except the purposes specifically set forth in this chapter.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he did not believe it is necessary for the council to follow its own ordinances. Ordinances are there for the staff to follow, he suggested, not for the council.

Justice Center Art: Initial Council Deliberations

Major John Hieftje opened the council deliberations by saying he’d be happy to vote for approval of the piece of art that evening, leaving the issue of access to the lobby for future resolution.

City Administrator Steve Powers. Behind him is a poster for the getDowntown Commuter Challenge, which runs through the month of May.

City administrator Steve Powers. Behind him is a poster for the getDowntown Commuter Challenge, which runs through the month of May.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated that her concern, dating back to a few weeks ago, was not about the art, but rather the use of the lobby space in the Justice Center. She’d talked with city administrator Steve Powers about the issue. She said she was not opposed to voting for the artwork; however, she was concerned about the possibility that the council’s building committee came back with a recommendation to change significantly the use of the lobby space. Will that piece of art still be the right piece of art for that location? She said she had every intention of asking that a council building committee be re-appointed.

Higgins asked interim public services area administrator Craig Hupy about possible changes to the use of the lobby space – to use more of the floor area in a utilitarian way. Hupy indicated that the piece of art is suspended from the ceiling, so it’s well above the floor space. His concern would be with the lighting of the piece. Public art administrator Aaron Seagraves explained that there’s internal lighting as a part of the artwork itself.

Higgins asked if the building committee determines that the proposed location in the lobby would not be the best place for the sculpture, is there another spot in the building where it could be installed? Seagraves indicated that for a suspended piece, that corner of the lobby is the best, or the only location, because there’s a drywall recess there – the rest is a plaster ceiling. It’s also the most visible corner, he said. He suggested it would be an option for the public art commission to fund an additional piece of art for the Justice Center.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that the piece of art has been designed to be viewed from outside the building. She noted that the location of the art is dependent on its size, so she asked if there’s a basic diameter for the sculpture. From the center to its farthest point, Seagraves said, the piece is 37 feet. Briere followed up by asking if the piece is “circular.” Yes, said Seagraves. Based on some ensuing confusion, it was clear that Briere intended the question to include the symmetric properties of “circular,” not just the rounded qualities.

Briere ventured that the piece was 74 feet across – no, said Seagraves, more like around 50 feet, because it’s not symmetric. [It's not clear if the participants in the exchange appreciated the irony of the name of the piece – "Radius."] Briere wanted to know if it would fit into the city hall building [which is adjacent to the Justice Center.] Hupy indicated that it wouldn’t be a matter of just moving the artwork over to another building – the suspension points would need to be adapted. Briere ventured that the piece of art had been designed specifically for the proposed location, a sentiment with which Hupy agreed.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said her initial concern had not been about the piece of art itself or where it is located. Rather, her concern was about the intended use of the Justice Center lobby and the ability of the public to see the art from inside the building. That had been the reason she’d asked for the postponement of the issue, she noted. Smith wondered if reappointment of the building committee would be needed or if city staff would be prepared to answer those questions about use and access.

Powers noted that there is currently 24/7 access to the Justice Center lobby. After hours, people can be buzzed in by the police department. Staff has looked at options of downsizing the footprint of the security checkpoint and relocating it. However, there are budgetary and space challenges, he said. There are four or five different options than can be provided to the city council or to a building committee of the council, Powers said.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who serves on the public art commission, indicated that the piece of art that’s been chosen, the work by Carpenter, is intended to hang in that specific spot. He felt it’s a beautiful use of the building.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she couldn’t imagine people needing to be buzzed in to see the art. She said she wanted to see renderings of the sculpture as viewed from outside the building. Based on what other councilmembers had said, she thought it didn’t sound like the council was heading toward postponing again. She said she’d be fine with appointing a building committee.

Lumm then introduced an amendment to the resolution by saying, “We’ll get this out of the way, I’m sure, but I’d like to make an option here for council to consider.”

Justice Center Art: Lumm’s Amendment

Lumm gave as background to her amendment her understanding of the city hall (Larcom building) renovation project. The bathrooms in the basement and the first floor had been upgraded as part of the municipal center project, she said. But there was no money in the building fund budget for bathroom renovations on other floors. So those renovations would be funded out of general fund money over two years, through the facilities budget in the public services unit.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) reacts with body language to the proposal by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to cancel the $150,000 Justice Center lobby art project.

Lumm noted that the council had approved the first phase of the upgrade to bathrooms on other floors at the council’s April 16, 2012 meeting – at a cost of $93,438. Another $165,000 is needed for that project in 2013, she said. The community has been told that no general fund dollars were used on the municipal center, Lumm contended, so she proposed that the public art project be canceled. The $150,000 budget for that public art would, according to her amendment, go back into the municipal center building fund. The bathroom would then be funded out of the building fund.

Higgins said she did not consider those upgrades to be a continuation of the municipal center building project. The bathrooms that were renovated in conjunction with the municipal center renovation were done because of the installation of the new elevator, she said. The renovations now being done in addition are standard upgrades, she said, like those that would be done in any other facility. She appreciated the idea of canceling the art project, but would not support the amendment.

Briere asked under what circumstances the council can cancel a project and reallocate the dollars. Assistant city attorney Mary Fales clarified the funds from a canceled art project have to be reallocated to another art project.

Kunselman, Briere, Hupy and Lumm then engaged in a conversation about the original source of funds for the artwork. Seagraves told them that the Justice Center lobby sculpture by Ed Carpenter didn’t come from pooled funds, but rather from the municipal center building fund.

Hieftje stated that not all the funds generated for public art from the municipal center building fund [a total of $250,000] are general fund monies. He allowed that hypothetically, $50,000 of that $250,000 may have originated as general fund money. Hupy noted that the funds for the Justice Center came from a multitude of funding sources beyond just the general fund – that would have to be analyzed to identify the specific contributions.

The city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, essentially agreed with Higgins’ earlier description of the bathroom renovations as not part of the scope of the municipal center building project. There’s been a lot of deferred maintenance on the building, he said. One of the expectations is that there’d be a higher level of regular maintenance needed.

Kunselman wanted to revisit the issue of the theme of Carpenter’s sculpture – to which fund’s purpose was the art’s theme related? Seagraves reiterated that it wasn’t funded with “pooled funds,” so there’s no requirement that it be related in theme to some specific fund’s purpose. It was funded out of public art money generated by the center’s building fund.

Based on some remarks by Crawford, Hieftje said he’d be interested in a resolution to take $50,000 and put it into the general fund – to resolve the question of whether general fund money was used for public art.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5)

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) tried to achieve some clarity on the question of what the legal, possible uses of the sculpture’s budget would be if the project were canceled. He ventured that even if the sculpture were voted down, the money would be required to be spent on public art. So he concluded that the whole notion of monies going back and being applied for a different purpose would be tantamount to overturning the Percent for Art ordinance.

Given that the money could not be spent on something other than art, Hohnke asked Lumm what the point would be of canceling the sculpture for the Justice Center lobby. Lumm indicated that the point was so that the money would not need to be spent on a piece of art. Hohnke responded by saying that as long as the Percent for Art ordinance is on the books, what Lumm is saying simply isn’t true.

Crawford confirmed that once money goes into a specific fund, it’s not just a normal budget action – once the money gets into that fund, it has to be used for that purpose.

Derezinski equated the conversation around the table to a debate on the approval of the allocation of funds under the Percent for Art ordinance. The council had already had this debate, he said, and the people who were opposed to cutting funds for the program lost. He characterized what was going on at the table that night as an attempt slowly to kill off the Percent for Art program. [The council last debated revisions to the public art ordinance at its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting, which resulted in some revisions, but not a reduction of the specific percentage from 1% to 0.5%.]

Briere responded to Lumm’s amendment by saying that it could be reduced to three questions: (1) Should the sculpture be canceled? (2) Can money allocated to the public art program be allocated to a different capital improvement project? (3) Does either of those reflect support for public art? With respect to the first question, Briere said that if the council voted the project down, that would cancel it. With respect to the second question, she felt that it wasn’t legal to reallocate the public art money in the way Lumm wanted to.

Smith added a fourth issue, which was an attempt to revisit the decision to build the Justice Center: “I gotta say, it’s there and it’s operating!” Reflecting on the Larcom building’s age, and the need to renovate bathrooms, she ventured that at 49 years of age things start to break that need to be fixed.

Higgins noted that the money that’s been budgeted has to be used on public art, even if the project is canceled. She thought the city has spent enough money on art at the Justice Center location – given the Dreiseitl sculpture. She suggested some other location in the city could be found.

Kunselman agreed that too much money had been spent on art at the Justice Center and repeated his belief that the Justice Center lobby sculpture budget had drawn on water funds, given the allusion to the “rippling effect” the sculpture was supposed to have. He observed that bathrooms also have a theme of water.

Kunselman then stated that although the public art ordinance is an ordinance, the council did not need to follow its own ordinance.

Hieftje picked up on Derezinski’s earlier point, by stating that it would be a more honest approach to attack public art directly instead of the way that Lumm was proceeding. The council had twice before had that direct debate, he said.

Hohnke added that if the council wanted to cancel the project, as Lumm’s amendment stated, then the council could just vote the project down.

Outcome on the amendment: Lumm’s amendment canceling the project and reallocating the money to renovate bathrooms failed, with support only from Lumm and Kunselman.

Justice Center Art: More Deliberations

Lumm responded to Hieftje’s characterization of her lack of support for the specific project as an attack on the public art program. She felt that was “an outlandish claim.” She pointed out that earlier in the meeting, she’d asked questions regarding the East Stadium bridges project about incorporating art into that project and had praised the Allmendinger mural project. She allowed that she’d voted in the past to reduce the percentage allocation in the public art ordinance. But her opposition to the project was not based on opposition to the public art program, she said, but rather based on how much the city is spending on the Justice Center building. She expressed her disappointment that the artist who was selected was from out-of-state.

Hieftje responded to Lumm by saying it wasn’t a vote against the project that he was calling an attack on the public art program, but rather Lumm’s attempt to reallocate the public art money to a different purpose.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) had opposed the construction of the Justice Center. But he noted that the proposed piece of art was different from the history of that building. He stated that as long as the Percent for Art ordinance exists, councilmembers should support public art. He described how someone could get access to the lobby after hours by getting buzzed in by police. He said the issue of better access could be pursued in the future and it’s important to do that. Given the amount of money that had been spent on art on the site, it’s important to figure out a way to draw the public in to view the art, he said.

Kunselman was not inclined to accept the idea that because the council had previously discussed the issue of the public art ordinance, the council could not or should not continue to discuss it. “We’re always going to be talking about this.” People could say it’s been discussed and voted on and that the majority rules and that councilmembers need to move on – but he cautioned against that. “Every council is different and there will be new councilmembers and this discussion will carry on for years until a methodology of funding public art is done that can be universally embraced.” He mentioned the possibility of a millage just for public art, or the removal of restricted funds from the public art program.

Kunselman indicated he would not support the project. Among the reasons he gave were horizontal bands of etched glass on the windows that won’t allow people to see it from outside, he contended.

Smith said she’d support the art project, but wanted to see the issue of the security checkpoint addressed as well.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) rearranges a chair before the meeting started.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) rearranges a chair before the May 7 meeting started.

Briere said that for her, the issue is whether the lobby can be casually available for a group of visitors who don’t want to go through the security checkpoint, emptying their pockets and taking off their shoes. Part of the reason that’s unclear is that there’s a cost factor involved, she said. She feared that the council would approve the art project, only to discover that the council is not also willing to fund the cost of making the art accessible.

Briere was not willing to let go of the concept that the lobby to the Justice Center should be available to the public. For that reason, she hoped to have the cost information available before the council votes on the fiscal year 2013 budget – a vote that will be taken on May 21. She said she is not against this piece of art, and she believes it can only be observed well from inside the building.

Hieftje indicated he’d support the piece of art, but also said work needed to be done on opening up the lobby of the Justice Center to make it more accessible. He mentioned three different receptions that have been held in the lobby without the security checkpoints.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated he’d support the artwork. But he wanted to address the issue of the “ownership” of the building. He said it’s been suggested that it’s only a limited few who benefit from the building – that it’s city workers and councilmembers around the table who benefit from changes to city hall. He disputed that wholeheartedly. He said it’s obviously core public space that is important to the city – of government, courts and police. It’s also the place people come to do a wide variety of business for various purposes, he said.

Outcome: The sculpture “Radius” by Ed Carpenter was approved by the council over dissent from Lumm and Kunselman.

State/Ellsworth Roundabout

The council considered an agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw County road commission for a $2.52 million roundabout project at State and Ellsworth.

Roundabout at State and Ellsworth

Roundabout design for State and Ellsworth. (Image links to higher resolution .pdf)

The current design calls for a roundabout that is 150 feet in diameter. All four approaches to the roundabout have two lanes entering and two lanes exiting, except for the northern approach from South State, which will include a third lane. The planned design features include non-motorized paths that connect with the existing sidewalk system and new on-road bike lanes. Underground electrical conduit will be installed for the possible future addition of advanced pedestrian-activated crossing signals (HAWK) or rectangular rapid flash beacons (RRFB). [.pdf of State/Ellsworth roundabout layout]

Of the total $2.52 million project cost, $2.17 million is for the intersection improvements per se, and the remaining $350,000 is for a city water main improvement. That will replace a 20-inch water main, which serves to pipe untreated water from the Steere Farms wells on the Ann Arbor municipal airport property to the city’s water treatment plant.

The city of Ann Arbor is paying for the water main portion of the project as well as contributing $135,000 to the intersection improvement. The remaining cost is paid by the road commission ($135,000), Costco ($500,000) and a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant ($1.4 million). Costco is building a store near the intersection that’s expected to open this summer.

State/Ellsworth Roundabout: Council Deliberations

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked that the item be pulled out of the council’s consent agenda, saying it’s a big deal and a big change. [Consent agenda items are voted together all in one go. The consent agenda includes those items considered to be routine, with contracts under $100,000. It's not clear how the roundabout qualified for inclusion under the consent agenda. In any case, an item must be pulled out of the consent agenda for separate consideration if any councilmember requests it.]

Lumm asked Homayoon Pirooz, head of project management at the city, to review the background, which he did. He noted that State and Ellsworth is a very busy intersection.

By way of background, the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) website provides a database of traffic counts for various intersections. For example, data available from that database shows that the northern leg of the intersection of State and Ellsworth was studied in November 2009 and showed a total two-way, 24-hour count of 26,733 on the north segment of State out of the intersection. That compared with a two-way count of 17,566 on the south segment of State, measured about seven months later. To get an idea of whether those counts are a lot or a little, here’s how that stacks up with counts from another intersection that many drivers would likely consider “busy” – Main and Stadium. The most recent counts available from WATS date from over a decade ago, in 1999 – 23,957 for two-way traffic on the north segment of Stadium out of that intersection.

Pirooz described the Washtenaw County road commission as having taken the lead on the project. He highlighted the jurisdictional issue – the fact that two legs of the intersection are locate in the city and two of them in Pittsfield Township. The two legs in the city are the State Street section north from the intersection and the Ellsworth section east of the intersection.

The city’s share of the intersection work, Pirooz said, is estimated to be $135,000. The plans are completed, he said, and a public meeting was held a few months ago. As usual, Pirooz said, some forum attendees were excited and others had reservations. [For Chronicle coverage of that public forum, see the March 6, 2012 planning commission meeting report.]

Lumm ventured that the forum was well-attended. She wondered about the inclusion of provisions for non-motorized infrastructure, wiring for pedestrian activated crossing beacons. She allowed that Pirooz is the expert, but she had difficulty understanding how it’d be safer for pedestrians and drivers. The idea of a roundabout is that traffic is expected to flow continuously – but motorists might be expected to stop for pedestrians. She asked for an explanation if that’s typical.

Pirooz explained that the roundabout is designed so there’s adequate distance between cars. He said that statistics of roundabouts show an improvement, measured by accident rates. He cited the new roundabout at Nixon and Huron Parkway as an example, noting there’d been concerns similar to Lumm’s that had been discussed before that roundabout was constructed. Pirooz explained that vehicles entering a roundabout are simply forced to slow down – you can’t go through a roundabout at 45 mph. He concluded that roundabouts are safer than standard signalized intersections.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) added his personal observations, saying that he’d worked with Pirooz when some roundabouts in Ward 2 were first proposed – Nixon and Huron Parkway, and Geddes and Earhart. Derezinski said a lot of people who opposed the roundabouts came to believe in them. The traffic through Geddes and Earhart now flows through beautifully, he said. It really is “a win,” he said, and there’d been a couple of requests for more roundabouts.

Pirooz commented that one of the new roundabouts is right at the entrance to Concordia University, and the school was concerned before construction about pedestrians on campus crossing the street to get to an athletic field. But the university is very happy with the roundabout, Pirooz reported, and feels that pedestrians are now safer.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she appreciated the use of roundabouts and noted that everyone had likely driven through them. But the Ward 2 roundabouts have a different environment than the State and Ellsworth location, she contended. There’s a lot of truck traffic that goes through the State and Ellsworth intersection, she said. The proposed roundabout design is 150 feet in diameter. She wanted to know if that design took into account the size of the trucks that go through the intersection, noting there are many major corporations located south of Ellsworth on State.

Pirooz responded to Higgins by starting to describe the alternative to a roundabout, which would be to add more lanes. Higgins interrupted Pirooz, telling him she was not asking for more lanes, but rather was just making sure that the entrances to the roundabout can accommodate trucks. Trucks add another dimension to the traffic challenge, she said, and there’s a tremendous amount of truck traffic that goes through the intersection. Higgins told Pirooz she just wanted him to tell her he’d look at that issue. Pirooz replied, “We have and we will,” and Higgins indicated that was all she needed.

Pirooz indicated that he would expect trucks to be in the right lane as they navigated the roundabout. The roundabout is designed with the understanding there’s a large amount of truck traffic on the roads, he said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the resolution on the State and Ellsworth roundabout.

Ann Arbor Airport Hanger Project

The council considered two change orders totaling $46,238 to resolve all remaining issues related to a lawsuit that CMA Design/Build Inc. had filed against the city in connection with the construction of hangars at the Ann Arbor municipal airport.

The original contract was approved by the city council on May 5, 2008 for $2.39 million, of which $1.101 million was for the local share. Because CMA failed to complete the project, Ann Arbor terminated the contract and CMA’s bonding company, North American Specialty Insurance Co., finished up the work. CMA filed suit against the city; and one of CMA’s subcontractors filed suit against CMA. Claims by CMA involved costs it incurred due to stop work orders issued by Pittsfield Township (where the airport is located) over jurisdictional questions between the city and the township.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the airport hangar change orders.

Landfill Contract

The council considered approval of the third five-year agreement since 2002 with Waste Management of Michigan – to dispose of the city’s trash in the Woodland Meadows landfill in Wayne, Michigan. For years 11 through 15 of the contract (2013 through 2017) the rates are as follows: $12.99/ton; $13.28/ton; $13.57/ton; $13.87/ton; and $14.18/ton. The increases reflect a 2.3% escalator. Responding to an emailed query from The Chronicle, city of Ann Arbor solid waste manager Tom McMurtrie explained that those rates don’t include the additional transfer charge of $12.12 a ton, paid to ReCommunity, which operates the city’s materials recover facility (MRF) and transfer station.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, the city disposes of 62,000 tons of trash in the Woodland Meadows landfill per year. The city’s street sweepings and seasonal wastewater treatment sludge are also disposed there.

In 2002, the city council first approved the five-year contract, and then approved a five-year extension in 2007.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contract with Waste Management.

Sidewalk Permits

The council considered a resolution that, beginning June 1, 2012, invalidates sidewalk occupancy permits and solicitor/licenses for a specific area of the downtown on occasions when Main Street is closed for special events between William and Huron streets. The special events include, but aren’t limited to, the Taste of Ann Arbor, Rolling Sculpture Car Show, the Children’s Holiday Parade, Green Fair, and FestiFools.

The area where sidewalk permits will be invalidated is the interior of the rectangle defined by Huron Street on the north, Fourth Street on the east, William Street on the south, and Ashley Street on the west. [.pdf of the area where sidewalk permits will be invalidated]

The resolution doesn’t apply to businesses that have been issued permits for permanent locations.

Council deliberations were driven by a request from Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to amend the resolution. She did not want to allow the resolution to prevent the city from granting permits for use of the Palio parking lot at Main and William or the parking structure at Fourth and William. In the context of the Connecting William Street planning project, being managed by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Smith did not want to tie the city’s hands on uses for the two lots.

Mayor John Hieftje wondered what kind of uses Smith had in mind. [Both Hieftje and Smith also serve on the DDA board.] Both areas Smith had identified are within the geographic scope of the Connecting William Street project. People had talked about ways to use the Palio lot as open space. Non-parking activity on the lots might “leak out” into the sidewalk, she said. She just wanted to leave options open for the city.

Maura Thomson (left), executive director of the Main Street Area Association, talks with Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

From left: Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, talks with councilmember Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, was asked to the podium to clarify. She described such a resolution as being on a “wish list” for the MSAA for a long time. She stressed that it would invalidate sidewalk permits only when the streets are closed – for specific events. Further, she said, it applies to sidewalk and peddler permits. For activity on the Palio lot or in the Fourth and William parking structure, she ventured that approval could be obtained from the DDA, but there’d be no sidewalk permit or peddler permit involved.

Asked by Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) if Smith’s amendment impeded her, Thompson indicated she was mostly confused by it. When 7,000 people visit Main Street for Taste of Ann Arbor, she said, the more control over management she has in that area, the safer it is. The resolution is looking out for businesses that are open 365 days a year. She described how undesirable it would be for the owner of a bookstore, which contributes dues to the MSAA to help put on a special event, to have to watch a sidewalk peddler selling books in front of their bookstore.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wondered if the DDA proposed some non-parking use of a public parking lot, whether the city council would have something to say about that. He was not sure that the DDA’s contract with the city, under which the DDA manages the city’s public parking system, allows for that.

Smith indicated that she wasn’t at all opposed to the resolution. She was just trying to protect the city’s right to do something that it hasn’t thought about yet. She ventured that the DDA has no evil plans to take over the downtown for special events.

Derezinski suggested that the DDA and MSAA get along pretty well and the two organizations could work out things informally if they needed to.

Outcome on amendment: Smith’s amendment got support only from Smith.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the concept behind the resolution is to encourage people to frequent the businesses that are there year round, not just for an event. So she said she supported the resolution – because it might make a difference in how people spend their time and money when they go downtown for an event.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution invalidating sidewalk permits when Main Street is closed.

Sakti3 Tax Abatement

After a public hearing held at the May 7 meeting, the city council considered a tax abatement for Sakti3 – a battery technology spinoff from the University of Michigan. Sakti3 is led by UM professor Ann Marie Sastry.

Conversation during a meeting recess, from left to right: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), city administrator Steve Powers, Ann Marie ?? of Sakti3, and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

A conversation during a May 7 council meeting recess, from left to right: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), city administrator Steve Powers, Ann Marie Sastry of Sakti3, and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

According to a staff memo accompanying the resolution, the abatement would be on $151,433 of real property improvements and $1,374,861 of new personal property. According to a memo from city financial staff, the value of the tax incentive to Sakti3 over three years totals $36,000. The council had voted to set the public hearing on the tax abatement at its previous meeting, on April 16, 2012.

Reasons given in the staff memo for the abatement include the need for Sakti3 to expand and add new equipment for the continually changing alternative energy business and the expected addition of five new employees due to the firm’s expansion. The memo concludes that the retention and expansion of such operations is consistent with the economic development goals of the city of Ann Arbor and of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency.

Previously, the council voted on March 21, 2011 to set a public hearing on the establishment of the industrial development district under which Sakti3 is applying for an abatement. And on April 4, 2011, the city council approved the establishment of that district.

The city is prohibited by state statute from abating taxes on any more than 5% of the total state equalized value of property in the city. Responding to an emailed query, city of Ann Arbor chief financial officer Tom Crawford wrote to The Chronicle that total SEV for the city for 2012 stands at $5,294,974,640, and the total SEV of abated property in 2012 is $8,935,974. That works out to 0.169% – well under 5%.

Sakti3 Tax Abatement: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge asked that mayor John Hieftje ensure that there’s an introduction to every public hearing by having a councilmember or the city administrator explain the substance of the resolution, before asking people to come forward to speak about it. Partridge asked Hieftje if he would do that with the Sakti3 resolution. When Hieftje did not respond, Partridge told him that Hieftje’s silence spoke for itself. Hieftje then told Partridge that the city attorney had informed Hieftje that Partridge needed to stay on the topic of the public hearing. At that Partridge said he was then ready to speak specifically to the requested tax abatement. Partridge said that Sakti3 and other companies need to justify their request, and he opposed the resolution – unless the company agrees to terminate the exemption when it can find finances on its own. He also warned that we should be cautious about battery manufacturing, due to the toxic chemicals that are used.

Sakti3 Tax Abatement: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who chairs the council’s budget committee, asked that the tax abatement request be postponed, until it could be reviewed by the budget committee.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) stressed that there would be an expedited meeting of the council’s budget committee [on Wednesday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m.]. Sakti3 had developed a whole new technology, he said, and was quite worthy as a candidate for a tax abatement. He noted that representatives of the company had been present earlier in the meeting. He said he’d like to show Sakti3 the council’s ability to act quickly.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) appreciated Higgins’ request to postpone. Lumm said an analysis had been provided to her on the impact of the abatement, and the city of Ann Arbor actually does very little of this. She felt postponing was fine.

Outcome: The council postponed the tax abatement for Sakti3 until its May 21 meeting.

Street Closing: Monroe

There were several separate resolutions to approve street closings for special events. Mayor John Hieftje said he would lump them all together for one vote, unless someone objected. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wanted separate consideration of a request from the University of Michigan law school to close Monroe Street for its dedication weekend, Sept. 7-8, 2012.

Smith indicated that she did not have an objection to the Monroe Street closing – that was not the reason she was requesting separate consideration. She wanted to highlight the fact that UM would like it closed on a permanent basis. Instead of a permanent closing, she said, she’d prefer to see requests for closing come before the council for specific occasions.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) – who’s a UM law school alum and has served as an adjunct professor at the school – responded to Smith by saying he loved part of her sentiment. [Derezinski has worked out of public view to facilitate a permanent granting of the public right-of-way on Monroe Street to the University of Michigan. See Chronicle coverage: "Column: Ann Arbor's Monroe (Street) Doctrine"] He highlighted the fact that the dedication would be attended by Elena Kagan, justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the final opportunity for public commentary at the meeting, Thomas Partridge suggested that when Kagan comes to Ann Arbor for the dedication ceremony, she should take cognizance of the willful disregard for justice here locally, and the total disregard – during an historic recession – of the needs for the most vulnerable, and for working residents who actually keep Ann Arbor operating on a day-to-day basis.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the Monroe Street closing, along with all the other street closings on the agenda.

Street Repair: Willard, et al

The council had on its agenda an item to approve a $206,900 contract with the E.T. MacKenzie Company for a project to reconstruct Willard Street, using permeable pavement. It’s a 21-foot wide, 700-foot long street that runs between East University Avenue and South Forest Avenue. The project covers replacement of curb and gutter, sidewalk ramps and installation of a permeable asphalt pavement.

The general topic of street repair was discussed by the council early in the meeting, during communications time.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wondered about Madison Street from Seventh to South Main – when would it be resurfaced? He felt that there could be more deterioration on streets where public buses travel due to vehicle weight. He felt that the buses are an important service, but could also be an annoyance, because of the impact they have on roads.

Back and forth between mayor John Hieftje and Homayoon Pirooz, head of project management, indicated Madison is in very poor condition, so it needs to be rebuilt from scratch – which would take a whole summer. The city is also resurfacing Seventh Street, and Madison is serving as a detour, so it’s a coordination problem, Pirooz said. But Madison is definitely on the list for 2013, he said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he thought that Madison had been done within the last 10-15 years – why is the city doing it again? Pirooz was not sure when the last time Madison had been reconstructed. He told Kunselman it’s possible it was just resurfaced, not rebuilt. Kunselman wanted the documentation on that. He picked up on Anglin’s comment about buses, by saying it’s also the bigger city trucks that are causing more rapid deterioration. The road along Madison is sloughing downhill, he said. Pirooz pointed out that resurfacing alone doesn’t help the road base.

When the council came to the Willard Street reconstruction, Kunselman questioned city engineer Nick Hutchinson about the cost of permeable pavement compared to regular pavement. Hutchinson indicated that the cost of the asphalt itself is about 1.5 times regular pavement; however, given the complete reconstruction required, the cost of the permeable asphalt as a component made the project more expensive – but not 1.5 times as expensive.

Hutchinson reviewed the number of permeable pavement installations in the city: (1) Easy Street, which has permeable pavers lining the sides; (2) Sylvan Street; (3) an alley in Burns Park; and (4) Willard Street. Kunselman noted that University of Michigan buses run for one block on Willard – how does permeable pavement hold up under heavy weight? Hutchinson said he believes the pavement will hold up very well – it’s designed in a heavy duty way. Kunselman wondered if permeable pavement might last even longer than traditional pavement, because there’s less freeze-thaw. Water drains through the courser material instead of being trapped inside it.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the Willard Street permeable pavement project.

FY 2013 Budget Hearing

Mayor John Hieftje introduced the hearing on the city of Ann Arbor’s FY 2013 budget by noting it will be on the council’s agenda at its next meeting, on May 21. According to the city charter, he observed, the budget needs to be approved by the city council by the end of its second meeting of May. [Last year, the second meeting in May was conducted in multiple sessions, stretching until the end of the month.]

Thomas Partridge said that despite Hieftje’s pronouncement that the budget is available on the Internet, he did not see a rush of residents to speak at the public hearing. He called for the budget resolution to be reviewed again by the individual city departments, before it’s put forward for passage at the council’s next meeting. Partridge stated that he is convinced the budget is based on the undemocratic principle of one tax rate for all, that it victimizes senior citizens and lower-income people, and people who need vital public services, which will not be provided by this budget. He called the proposed millage rates “conservative right-wing millage rates.”

Michael Benson introduced himself as a Ward 2 resident. He thanked the council for placing all the documents online.

Stephen Ranzini introduced himself as a resident of Ann Arbor, who wanted to address the declining quality of fire safety in Ann Arbor in the context of the budget. He began by telling the council a story about his nine-month-old daughter, who was baptized on Sunday, April 29 at St. Mary’s downtown. During the baptism, across the street in a residential high-rise building, there was a fire in the upper story of the building, he said. [According to an news report, a publication for which Ranzini writes op-ed pieces, an April 29 fire in the Maynard House – located at 400 Maynard St. – originated in a garbage chute located in the basement. It spread up to the first and second floor sections of the chute, according to the report, where firefighters were able to contain the fire. According to the report, firefighters also discovered a small fire on the 11th story, that had resulted from a resident leaving the stove on after hearing the building's fire alarm and evacuating the building.]

Ranzini said that while the firefighters responded in a timely way, they were not able to bring the tower truck or ladder truck to reach upper stories, because the trucks are currently out of repair. As a result, he contended, firefighters and residents were placed in harm’s way.

Ranzini called for the budgeting and hiring of 88 firefighters, not just the 82 in the currently proposed budget – of which only 76 positions are now actually staffed. Commenting on a proposed new station model for the department [which would use three stations instead of the current five], Ranzini cited a poll by that indicated overwhelming opposition to the three-station model. Rather than continuing to study that station model, he called on the city council to hire the full complement of firefighters who are budgeted, add six additional firefighters to this year’s budget, and replace or repair the tower truck and the ladder truck.

He described the current staffing levels as an “experiment with public safety” by the mayor.

Ranzini said he knew about the fire on April 29, not because of the fact that he was nearby, but rather because he’d received an anonymous communication from a firefighter. That communication was anonymous, he contended, because the fire chief has ordered firefighters not to talk to the press. Ranzini indicated that the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan has told him that if the city administrator does not correct that situation, a lawsuit might ensue.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Smart Meters

Nanci Gerler and Darren Schmidt had also addressed councilmembers on the topic of “smart meters” at the council’s April 16, 2012 meeting.

Gerler told the council that five other communities in Michigan have passed resolutions and bans on smart meters and she called on the Ann Arbor city council to do the same. The current installation by DTE Energy is going rapidly, she said, with 30 trucks working six days a week. She contended that DTE is not maintaining a list of opt-out requests. She went on to describe that many residents haven’t received notification or a knock on the door to alert them of the installation of the meters. Installation has occurred over people’s protests, she said. The utility company has accepted no responsibility for people’s health, she said.

Schmidt said he supports a halt to installation of smart meters. He described several patients with a history of symptoms that are hard to get rid of. After stumbling around looking for solutions, he said they found that many of their symptoms could be attributed to electromagnetic fields. While it’s possible get rid of other consumer wireless devices, people can’t get rid of smart meters, he said.

Comm/Comm: Localized Flooding

David Foster told the council he lives in the Lansdowne neighborhood a few houses down from the Fisher family, who’d addressed councilmembers at the council’s April 16, 2012 meeting. He described how his own house had received severe water damage during the March 15 storm. He described how there’d been a “river effect” on the streets, rendering them impassable. On the west side of his house, he reported, the water had flowed up over some block and into the basement egress window – a window that is required by the city. His basement had water seven feet deep, he reported. He noted that he’s 5-10 and his son is 4-2 – so the water would have been well over their heads, if they’d been home at the time. And they would have been in the basement, he said, because they’d have been seeking shelter from the tornado. He asked that the council acknowledge that a problem exists. It’s not a question of whether similar events will occur in the future – it’s a question of when, he concluded.

Responding to Foster’s comments, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) wanted to know if there could be an update on the meetings that Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated had taken place between residents and city staff. Higgins, who represents the ward where this localized flooding is located, told Lumm that staff are still analyzing the situation and that there’s nothing ready to report yet.

Comm/Comm: Advocacy for Most Vulnerable

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Democrat and grandfather and a resident of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County – an advocate for those who can’t attend the meeting, the vulnerable people who are disconnected from the multimillion-dollar projects on the agenda. He called on the council to advance human rights, and public transportation, to give priority to the need to end homelessness and poverty and to provide access to expanded shelters, transitional housing and permanent housing. That should take precedence over talk about art commission projects, he said, which are unnecessary to the cause of human rights.

Comm/Comm: Energy Production

Kermit Schlansker opened by telling the council that every furnace now being sold is obsolete. He observed that heat is a byproduct of making energy, so furnaces could manufacture energy while generating heat. He described the process of “co-manufacturing” heat and energy.

Comm/Comm: Warpehoski’s Ward 5 Candidacy

Henry Herskovitz said that the report that the director of the Interfaith Council on Peace and Justice had entered the race for the Ward 5 seat on city council had come as a shock to members of the former ICPJ Middle East task force. [Herskovitz didn't name the director, but he was referring to Chuck Warpehoski.] Under the leadership of Warpehoski, Herskovitz said, the task force was summarily disbanded by the ICPJ’s board of directors. The task force had voted unanimously in 2006 to support the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel. Herskovitz attributed the disbanding of the task force to a few powerful supporters of Israel on the ICPJ board of directors. The task force, Herskovitz continued, had sought to resolve the dispute with outside professional mediation. Herskovitz characterized the board’s action, supported by Warpehoski, as overrunning democratic procedures. Voters in Ward 5 deserve representation by someone who embraces democratic ideals, Herskovitz concluded.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Margie Teall.

Next council meeting: Monday, May 21, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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Ann Arbor Council Approves Capital Plan Tue, 08 Feb 2011 04:04:05 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved its capital improvements plan (CIP).  The plan covers the fiscal years 2012-2017, and includes a list of major capital projects – for projects that have identified funding sources as well as those that do not. The city code requires that the CIP be developed and updated each year, looking ahead at a six-year period, to help with financial planning. It’s intended to reflect the city’s priorities and needs, and serves as a guide to discern what projects are on the horizon.

Included in this year’s proposed CIP was a plan for a runway extension at the city’s municipal airport, an item that the council had voted to remove last year before last year’s CIP was finally adopted. This year, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) raised the same objection about the runway that he had voiced the previous year, and the council again removed the item by a narrow 6-5 vote.

The city’s planning commission recommended adoption of the CIP at its Jan. 4, 2011 meeting, when commissioners discussed in detail how the plan was developed and how public input was sought. [Previous Chronicle coverage of the possible airport runway extension: "Ann Arbor Airport Study Gets Public Hearing"]

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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In the Archives: Runway to the Future Sun, 14 Feb 2010 19:54:45 +0000 Laura Bien Editor’s note: At a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, an item in the city’s capital improvements plan to shift and extend the runway at Ann Arbor’s municipal airport generated much discussion.  This installment of “In the Archives” takes a look at Ypsilanti’s airport, which has faded from the landscape.

The delicate blue Waco 10 biplane roared 10 feet over the grass, past the crowd in the stands. Approaching trees at the airfield’s far end, its nose rose and it climbed, becoming smaller and smaller in view.

Waco 10 biplane

An photograph of a Waco 10 from the airshow program. Five aviators at the 1927 Ypsilanti air show competed in the cutting-edge biplane. (Photos courtesy of the Ypsi Archives.)

The gargling buzz of its 90-horsepower engine grew fainter, until the craft sounded like a distant housefly. Watchers from Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor under the 4 o’clock June sun shaded their eyes with their hands.

The buzz stopped: 1,500 feet in the air, the plane was without power.

The biplane arced to the left, trying to loop back towards the field. The crowd watched intently. The biplane curved again, losing altitude. A box of popcorn fell from the hand of a little boy watching, his mouth open. The plane’s wings wobbled. Airplane and crowd were quiet. On a nearby farm, a dog barked.

The plane dropped. Nearing the field, it slowed, its toylike wheels just a yard over the ground. The plane nearly stalled – and then landed as gently as a butterfly. It rolled to a stop. Its nose nearly touched a black and white checkered pylon. The crowd began clapping and cheering as two men ran to the plane and stretched a yellow measuring tape between the plane’s silver nose and the pylon. One yelled a number. The crowd grew louder, some people standing to cheer and whistle.

The pilot grinned and thrust both fists up. He’d won the “dead-stick” engine-off gliding and landing contest at the 1927 Ypsilanti Airport air show.

Aviators from around the country were there. J. P. Wood had flown his Waco 9 from Big Stone Gap, Virginia to the three-day show. D. Young from San Diego was there with his Ryan M-2. Roy Nass, a 23-year-old Ypsilanti aviator, competed in his Waco 9 against the other 29 flyers, none from Ann Arbor. Half of the aviators flew elegant, almost dainty Waco 9 or Waco 10 biplanes made in Troy, Ohio. Aside from some steel tubing, the planes’ wings and fuselage were made entirely of wood, covered in fabric.

Promotional poster for the Ypsilanti Air Show

A 1927 air show at the Ypsilanti Airport – near the present-day I-94 and US-23 interchange – drew thousands of spectators.

Like the Wright Brothers’ forerunner 24 years earlier, almost all of the planes at the show were biplanes. Exceptions included Young’s Ryan M-2 and famous Chicago aviator Wilford Yackey’s silver “Yackey Monoplane.” The long wings of the monoplanes required sturdy and heavy reinforcement.

Biplanes offered an equal or greater wing lift area, and their double wings were trussed to each other and to the fuselage in a manner that strengthened the craft and compensated for the relatively fragile materials available to 1920s airplane builders.

Four months after the Ypsilanti air show, Wilford Yackey died while flying. As he performed daring maneuvers near Chicago, one of his monoplane’s wings snapped off.

Hosting famous aviators at the show was not the only point of pride for the Ypsilanti airport, an area that at one time spanned 160 acres, with a northwest corner that’s now crossed by the I-94/US-23 interchange. Two years after the 1927 show, the airport was chosen as the region’s designated airmail stop. The airmail service pilots refused to land at Ann Arbor’s small airport “because of its condition which is unsatisfactory for both landing and taking off,” noted the July 13, 1929 Ypsilanti Daily Press. A courier drove the airmail from the Ypsilanti airport to Ann Arbor.

Ypsilanti was proud of this honor. An airport committee “agreed to obtain additional letters to complete the name ‘Ypsilanti’ on the hangar roof, which now appears in the abbreviated form of ‘Ypsi’,” reported the July 14, 1929 Ypsilanti Daily Press. A bigger beacon light was proposed.

A few days later, the Press reported, “Four planes bearing delegates to a special banquet of real estate men held this noon at the Michigan Union in Ann Arbor . . . were originally scheduled to land at Ann Arbor’s port, but due to conditions there which were made less favorable by a light rain this morn the group chose the local field instead and were driven to Ann Arbor in automobiles.”

Newspaper clipping of 1947 airplane

This newspaper clipping from the 1947 Ypsilanti Daily Press shows the TWA Constellation, a 51-passenger aircraft.

In 1947, TWA chose Ypsilanti as a stop on its international route. “Nearly 15,000 persons are expected to gather at the Airport here tonight,” reported the June 18, 1947 Ypsilanti Daily Press, “to wish godspeed to 40 passengers scheduled to make the inaugural trans-oceanic flight from Ypsilanti aboard a Trans World Airline four motored Constellation.” An accompanying photo of the Constellation called the 51-passenger craft a “huge aerial argosy.”

When passenger service switched to Detroit Metro Airport in the mid-1960s, the Ypsilanti Airport fell into disuse. By the 1980s it was no more than a peaceful weedy field lined by trees with a crumbling wooden barn-like structure. The airport’s days of glory were gone.

But years earlier, before the excitement of serving as an international stop, the airport was also a source of wonder and distraction to children in the nearby Roberts school. In late winter or spring of 1928, about half a year after the air show, one schoolchild wrote a composition about the airport.

The Ypsilanti Airport is across the fields from our school. It is about a half mile away. When there is a warm day, the man will start some of the planes going, and they fly around over the school.

Sometimes they fly up high, and loop the loop in the air. Then they fly still higher. . . sometimes they made so much noise that it seems as if they were coming down on top of our school. It is hard for us to keep from looking out of the window . . .

Sometimes Ford’s big plane lights [lands] there, but it doesn’t stay too long. Thousands of people were there last summer to the big air meet. We hope they have another meet this year.

The paper suggests that the writer was in the crowd at the air show. The child’s parents likely lived through and remembered the stunning event of the Wright brothers flight. Sitting with parents in the stands, being treated to popcorn, and watching with wonder the beautiful crafts based on the Wright discoveries must have felt like a big party.

Or perhaps even the child saw that these delicate, elegant biplanes were time machines, flying straight into the future, and that everyone in the crowd was a passenger.

This biweekly column features a Mystery Artifact contest. You are invited to take a look at the artifact and try to deduce its function.

Mystery artifact

Mystery artifact

Last week’s Mystery Artifact generated some shrewd guesses. Cosmonican and Pete correctly guessed that the object in question was a strike-plate for matches. The object has a small sandpaper area on the bottom part. The matches likely were stored in a wall-mounted tin “match safe” nearby, both near a stove in the kitchen.

This week’s Mystery Artifact also has something to do with heat, but its function is far more obscure. Take your best guess and good luck!

“In the Archives” is a biweekly series written for The Ann Arbor Chronicle by Laura Bien. Her work can also be found in the Ypsilanti Citizen, the Ypsilanti Courier, and as well as the Ann Arbor Observer. She is the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives,” to be released Feb. 25. Bien also writes the historical blog “Dusty Diary” and may be contacted at

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Police-Courts: Get Your Shovels Ready Tue, 03 Feb 2009 21:15:57 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council (Feb. 2, 2009): “This is one of the most significant things we’ll do this year,” councilmember Leigh Greden said. But he wasn’t talking about the final budgetary approval of construction on the municipal center project (also known as the police-courts facility), which will likely see shovels hitting the ground in two months. Greden was talking about the commercial recycling program, which was passed on its first reading Monday – there’ll be a public hearing and second reading before it receives its final vote. In other business, council tabled indefinitely the resolution authorizing the budget for renovation of the Farmers Market, passed a raft of resolutions connected with the city airport renovation project, and gave approval to a planned project with smaller setbacks than current code allows.

Municipal Facility: Public Commentary

The majority of speakers signed up for public commentary at the start of the meeting were there to address the question of the police-courts facility. Council was considering the construction manager agreement for $35,874,422, representing the final step to approving construction on the facility, which will house the 15th District Court and the Ann Arbor Police Department.

Stewart Nelson: Nelson characterized the building as large and unnecessary. He acknowledged that the police department needs renovation,  so confined his remarks to the courts component of the project and the  $26 million in interest payments the project would require.  He said that the project meant that the city and county would duplicate services like security for the courts, and suggested that the city revisit the county’s offer to re-engineer  government in a collaborative way. Nelson was disappointed that the cost reductions sought in the new building were driving consideration of the possibility that the LEED Gold standard wouldn’t be met.

Harvey Kaplan: Kaplan said he was against moving forward with the police-courts building, citing sinking employment and decreasing general fund revenues. It was not the time to rush ahead with a new police-courts building, he said. Kaplan said that double-digit deficits in the years to come will  lead to cutbacks in services and layoffs in personnel. The current recession was not merely a bump in the road, he said, but rather had no end in sight. He said  we need public discussion on the state of our city economy and that it was a  time for dialogue between citizens and our government.

Virginia Simon: Simon said we can’t afford a project this big at this time, saying that a struggling economy had placed a burden on our citizens, and that the new building will place an additional burden. She characterized it as a luxury we really don’t need,  and that we really can’t afford.  She acknowledged that the current situation is not ideal, but said that it is working. If  it’s a good project, she said, and thoroughly thought out, it’ll go forward, eventually. But now is not the right time, she concluded.

Patricia Lesko: Lesko said that she grew up in Dearborn, where pools and other recreational facilities were free. But Ann Arbor was a municipality that didn’t even plow the snow downtown, she said, citing an Ann Arbor News editorial on the topic. She then quoted extensively from  the campaign literature of current councilmembers that reflected their commitment to basic services. A sampling here. Carsten Hohnke: “We have to get the basics right.” Tony Derezinski: “The fundamental responsibility of the city is municipal services.” Sandi Smith: “The key issue is maintaining the quality of services.” Christopher Taylor: “If you want a council representative who will think long term, vote Taylor. It’s simple – we must live within our means, we cannot spend what we do not have.”

Karen Sidney: Sidney said that the public had heard that the building would make government more efficient,  but she conveyed skepticism at the claim by asking if the city does a better job of plowing streets after construction of the new Wheeler Service Center. Sidney said that the city does not have the down payment on the building in hand, because the $3 million from the sale of the First & Washington parcel has not been transacted. She said that the repayment schedule required by the bonds does not equal the amount the city currently spends on leases. Based on her analysis, an additional $1.1 million  is needed, and when factoring in utilities, the shortfall rises to  $1.5 million. That would mean service reductions, said Sidney. She warned that if council thought a 5% budget reduction is hard right now, that in  2012 and 2013, the city’s projections show a 10% reduction, or 15% if a recommended additional pension fund contribution is made. At that point, if a new building is sitting on the lot, she wondered if the public would think that council had made a wise choice.

John Floyd: Floyd began his remarks by citing a headline in The Onion recently: “Black Man Given Worst Job in America.” He used that to segue to an Ann Arbor News report on collaboration and regionalism in government: “Thank you!” he said. He allowed that it could be that court functions aren’t amenable to consolidation, but that there must be a strong case to make, and asked council to  please make it. “No doubt you believe you’ve made the case, and God in heaven might agree with you,” Floyd said, but several thousand Ann Arbor voters [who signed the Ask Voters First petition] didn’t think they’d made the case. He asked council to sell the case to the public before proceeding.

Municipal Facility: Council Deliberations

Councilmember Marcia Higgins led off council discussion by expressing a desire that the expenditure of contingency funds in the project budget be brought back to the building committee before being spent, and asked city administrator Roger Fraser if council needed to pass a resolution or could just “give direction.” Fraser said he’d interpreted her remarks as such direction. In similar fashion, Higgins asked that the community meeting room option not be further pursued, with Fraser confirming that it was “not a part of the mix.”

Much of council’s deliberations were questions of staff meant to elicit information that was likely not new to councilmembers. Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo asked the city’s construction manager on the project, Bill Wheeler, about pricing for construction and labor. Wheeler said that costs are low now, but can be expected to go up when the federal stimulus package starts to generate many other projects and the labor market tightens up.

Rapundalo asked what would happen to the bonds if they elected not to build, given that they’d already been floated. Paul Stauder, the city’s bond advisor, said the bonds had been been issued at 4.77% and would be called in 2018. To defease them would cost something like $6 million, Stauder said. Defeasement would entail taking the $26 million from the bond issuance and putting the amount in interest-bearing Treasury securities, which currently yield between 2 and 3% – less than the 4.77% payments the city would need to make on the bonds. The difference between 4.77% and the lower percentage means, said Stauder to council, “you’d be under water,” to the tune of around $6 million.

At the conclusion of the meeting during public commentary, the suggestion was made to simply “buy back the bonds.” Reached by phone the day after the meeting, Stauder clarified that while this was technically a possibility that could be pursued, its outcome was unknown. The bonds are not callable until 2018, which means that they could almost certainly not be bought back from the bond holders at face value – the people who bought the bonds would expect a premium. So while the city could make an offer to buy back the bonds from those who purchased them, there is no way to force a bondholder to surrender their bonds at any price. If the city were to tender such an offer, some bond holders might accept while others might not, in which case the city could, as one option, choose to buy back those bonds from holders willing to sell, and defease the rest.

Rapundalo elicited from Crawford some discussion of the cost savings through collaboration with the county on a combined data center. Crawford said that the county would be paying around $35,000 a year in rent, and that the county’s IT services would be moved into the Larcom Building by the end of this month, then eventually re-locating to new police-courts building.

From city administrator Roger Fraser, Rapundalo elicited the lack of any communication from his counterpart at the county, Bob Guenzel, about the possibility of continuing to lease space for the 15th District Court on a long-term basis. Fraser said that in conversation, Guenzel had indicated that the county’s space needs hadn’t changed.

Councilmember Mike Anglin indicated that he’d been against the project all along. The council does a lot of talk about affordable housing and diversity, he said, but are pulling the bar higher and higher. He noted that the CFO of the city, Tom Crawford, had told council about the possibility of a 3% deficit by 2010, rising to 7% by 2011. It wasn’t the time to undertake a building project like this, Anglin said. He asked that the city continue to negotiate with the county, even in the 11th hour. Every argument that councilmembers present as a positive, Anglin said, was countered by citizens who had a different perspective on it. He said that he supported the need to renovate the police facilities. He noted that the library board had the wisdom to pull back from their planned building project and that council might do well to follow their example.

Mayor John Hieftje weighed in by noting that in the summer of 2008 the city’s bond rating had been improved, reflecting confidence of the market that the city was fiscally responsible, and that Moody’s (the bond rating agency) knew full well at that time the city was moving forward with this project. From Tom Crawford, Hieftje elicited a cost of not moving forward at $10 million: $6 million for the bond defeasment, plus $4 million in design costs already paid. Not moving forward would, said Hieftje, leave $10 million on the table.

Councilmember Margie Teall asked Wheeler to clarify whether the construction contract had been awarded as a no-bid contract. Wheeler said that they’d hired Clark Construction in a quality-based selection process. Clark would take bids on the subcontracting work, and those bids would be presented as if they were the city’s bids. Greden asked for clarification about the “quality-based selection process.” Wheeler said that they’d started with six firms, winnowed it down to three and determined that Clark was the most able of  the three. If someone were to claim that it was not a competitive bidding process, asked Greden, “That would be a false statement, isn’t that right?” Wheeler allowed it was a competitive process but it wasn’t a lowest bid process. At the conclusion of the council meeting during public commentary unreserved time, Karen Sidney would tell Greden that the bidding process would not meet the standard for competitive bidding required by the school system.

Councilmember Sandi Smith took up the question raised by Stew Nelson during public commentary about the LEED Gold status being in jeopardy. Wheeler said that one cost-saving option would be to make it a less green building. “We rejected that idea,” he said, because council gave the staff the direction to make it an environmentally-friendly building.

Anglin asked Wheeler to specify what areas of the construction would be the first targeted for cost cutting. Answer: They would talk to the mechanical and electrical contractors about “value engineering.” Anglin said he hoped that other improvements not included in the project might be procured through the existing contracts, like a new roof on Larcom, and a new power supply.

Concilmember Carsten Hohnke sought clarification about how much money the project budget was for new furniture. Wheeler said they’d be using existing furniture and equipment, and that there was no money in the budget for new furniture and fixtures.

Hohkne asked Crawford if the funding of the building would come from a reduction in services. Answer: Over the last five years, the city has become more efficient and the building’s funding comes from savings through efficiency, and through debt services with existing cash flow. Crawford said that over the last four years, the project has shrunk in size every year. In the initial vision, the Larcom building (city hall) was going to be knocked down, Crawford said.

In response to the question of what the city would do in December 2009 if they didn’t move forward with the building project, Fraser said, “I don’t have  a good answer to that.” Fraser said they’d spent over 2 years exploring alternatives inside and outside downtown. A task force had spent 10 months looking at 11 alternative sites downtown. The conclusion of that effort was the recommendation that they need to build something. Fraser noted that the city still needed to negotiate the lease with the county to get through the construction period, but that negotiating it into the indefinite future was not a real possibility.

Hieftje challenged those who opposed the building to look at where the city is today having already issued the bonds and spent money on design. If we back away, he said, that leaves $10 million left on the table with nothing to show for it. He compared the construction project with what the new president is asking the country to do: put money into the economy and put people to work. Hieftje said that the last he’d heard from Bob Guenzel was that the city needed to move the courts out of the leased space. Hieftje said he ran into county commissioners as a part of his job all the time and that not once had he heard that the county had changed its mind about where the courts are going to be. For his part, Hieftje said, “I think it’s clear cut.”

Councilmember Sabra Briere did not see it as clear cut. “A voice of dissent is never bad in a democracy, and it’s not irresponsible to be that voice of dissent.” [Editor's note: In council deliberations on the 42 North project, Hieftje had said that voting against it was "irresponsible." Briere voted against approval of 42 North.]

Briere said she wasn’t sitting at the council table when the project was first discussed, but rather at her dining room table and she’d read about it in the newspaper. She said she thought that repairing the existing city hall was more cost effective than constructing a new building. Investing in staff improves morale, she said, and improves services.

Briere noted that the city had submitted its wish list for the stimulus package, and she was startled to see that this project was among those proposed. We’ve been told we have sufficient funding, she said, from a mix of bonds, sale of property, and lease payments. Why, then, is this project included in the stimulus package wish list, she wondered. “Have we been misled?” she asked. She said the city should have specified that they needed $30 million to help improve the project instead of asking for $65 million as indicated on the wish list. She concluded by saying that she was not opposed to it because of the current economic circumstances, but rather that she’d opposed it consistently all along.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor focused his comments on addressing the issue of the current economic situation: How can we go forward on this? Why aren’t we spending it on snow removal or parks? Taylor sought to refute the natural (but incorrect) assumption that we’re dealing with a big pile of cash that can be used for anything. The analogy Taylor drew was to home ownership: “Our rented house is falling apart and our rents are rising.”

The money to pay for building something new, Taylor said, came from the bonds – comparing it to a homeowner’s mortgage. The down payment had come from savings. To raid that money for operating expenses would break faith with council’s predecessors, Taylor said, and saddle those who come after us with the problem. “The price is large, and is enough to make anyone reasonably blanch,” he said, but is commensurate with the value offered.

Councilmember Leigh Greden echoed Taylor’s sentiments. He also acknowledged Briere’s question about the project’s inclusion in the the stimulus package as fair. He clarified that the $65 million figure specified in the “wish list” included both Phase I and Phase II, noting that the current construction project would only be for Phase I. Phase II included a re-skinning of the exterior of the Larcom building.

Saying that Briere’s comments had been reasoned, Greden explicitly declined to assign the same description to some comments from the public voiced that evening or via e-mail. He ticked through some of them. The claim that the contract had been awarded in a no-bid process was false, he said, pointing to information elicited earlier in the deliberations. The idea that we can’t afford it at this time, said Greden, was countered by the fact that labor is cheap right now, and that soon the effect of the stimulus package will be to increase the cost of labor and supplies. As for more collaboration with the county, Greden said, they have their own plans for the space. Alluding to Anglin’s earlier comment about the library board having the wisdom to pull back from their project, Greden said they’d held back because they needed to raise taxes to execute their project, plus they had no credit. Greden concluded by saying that to delay would result in reduction of general fund services, but taking action would not.

For his part, Rapundalo echoed Greden, saying that “as usual” Greden had been extremely thorough. Rapundalo stressed the financial implications, which he felt were not understood by those who were opposed to the project. The city is obligated for the bonds, he said, and would take a penalty there by defeasing them. He noted that we’d also incur extra construction costs by any delays and pointed to the economic opportunities for local trades people. There are no definitive alternatives, Rapundalo concluded.

Briere, for her second speaking turn, reiterated the theme of the importance of respect for dissent. “I want to just remind my colleagues that a voice of dissent is to be respected,” she stated, because a “no” vote represented people in Ann Arbor who wished her to vote “no.” As for the jobs creation benefit, she noted that it would provide employment for construction workers for a year or so, and noted, somewhat dryly, that the city had already employed some architects for $4 million. She noted that one detriment to the building was its design: “It’s a big forbidding building. It would not be a pleasure to enter.”

The critique of the building’s aesthetics caught Teall’s ear. She said that while she respected Briere’s decision to vote against the building, she took issue with her assessment of the building’s aesthetics. She said it would be a beautiful, welcoming space for thousands of people, that it had been designed thoughtfully, and that the public art is going to be amazing.

Councilmember Smith concluded deliberations by responding to Briere’s question about why the project wound upon the stimulus package wish list. She attributed it in part to the shovel-readiness required by the stimulus package. There’s not a project 90 days away from being shovel-ready that isn’t fully funded – it’s in the nature of the request.

Outcome: Passed, with Anglin and Briere dissenting.

Commercial Recycling Program

After Margie Teall proposed some amendments adjusting the time frame for exemptions from the new recycling program – which were quickly passed – councilmember Leigh Greden invited Bryan Weinert, solid waste program coordinator for the city, to step forward. Weinert was asked to give a brief overview of what’s being proposed with the creation of the commercial recycling program and to describe the public process for what Greden characterized as “one of the most significant things we’ll do this year.”

Weinert reported that it had been a two-and-a-half year process, which included business interests plus the city’s environmental commission. It was spurred in part by the lagging recovery rate in the commercial sector compared to residential: Ann Arbor recovers 50% of residential waste as recycled material verus only 20% of commerical waste. Weinert described a variety of public forums as opportunity for feedback. And when queried by councilmember Mike Anglin, Weinert described in more detail that there had been breakfast forums, presentations to business associations, information sent out via the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as peer-to-peer strategies. He said they’d been very pleased with the willingness of the commercial sector to work with the city.

So what does the new commercial recycling program do? Weinert said it created a structure for building recycling services in the community, offered through the city or through other private haulers. The key feature is the creation of franchise authorities for collection of waste in the commercial sector. Franchises are designed to provide lower cost, and a cost structure that incentivizes recycling. The way Weinert described the predominant current model, once a contract is in place, you’ve got an 8-yard container, say, and you have to pay for it anyway, so that encourages waste. The new program allows for reductions in container sizes, hence reduction in costs, as businesses reduce the amount of waste and increase their recycling.

Carsten Hohnke agreed with Greden’s assessment of the significance of the program, saying: “I think this is going to be one of the more important things we do this year.” Hohnke gave it as an example of how a smart green policy can be the best economic policy. He cited the 60% recovery goal as both environmentally sound, plus leading to better revenues from the recycled material. He said the new program would be strengthening a key asset: the materials recovery facility.

Teall had thanks all around for everyone who’d worked on the program, from Weinert to Steve Bean, who chairs the city’s environmental commission. She noted that it had been a long haul with her first emails on the topic dating back three years.

Mayor John Hieftje took a cue from Teall’s reference to the history of the work on the new commercial recycling program to cite his own recycling credentials which date back nearly more than a decade to the time when he served as board chair at Recycle Ann Arbor. He said that one of the goals back then was to cut down on the amount of material going into the landfill and he characterized the new program as the next big step.

Related to the recycling theme, though not restricted to the commercial sector, were the remarks during public commentary of UM student Alex Levine, who gave council an update from last council meeting on his vision to see No. 6 plastics recycled. He said that he’d talked to some councilmembers, heard that it’d been investigated, but that it was problematic because the companies identified that might process the material wound up shipping the material overseas. Levine said that he would be doing further research and that he hoped council would take another look at the matter when he presented what he’d found.

Outcome: Passed unanimously on first reading. (There’ll be a future public hearing and second reading.)

[Editorial aside: At the beginning of the meeting, Christopher Taylor took some gentle teasing from fellow councilmember Sandi Smith as he returned the council chamber's trash container to its place: "Taking out the garbage?" To which Taylor replied, "I do what I can," but with no apparent winking emphasis on the word "can." A missed opportunity that the Ward 3 representative might well regret, when it comes time to count the best council quips for the year.]

Farmers Market Renovation

The Farmers Market renovation had been postponed from last council meeting, and it had been indicated at caucus the previous evening that the project, which had grown to include a storm water treatment component (possibly in the form of a fountain), would be tabled. That’s in fact what happened, with the motion to table coming from Sabra Briere, getting a second from Stephen Rapundalo. Marcia Higgins got clarification that the tabling would be indefinite. Hieftje alluded to a memo that everyone had received from staff on the subject. Council voted without further discussion.

During public commentary reserve time, Chris Hildebrand addressed the issue of the renovation by alluding to the adage: If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When the administration of the Farmers Market transferred to the city’s parks department, she said, it looked to them like a park. “It’s not a park,” she said. The function of the market is to provide access to fresh food and as a part of that access, parking places are inherently necessary, as contrasted with a park. She said that we should be discouraging birds and rodents from the Farmers Market, not encouraging them to appear. “I simply beg you to keep it a Farmers Market,” she concluded.

Outcome: Motion to table indefinitely passed unanimously.

Wintermeyer Office Building Planned Project

This agenda item attracted the attention of Tom Partridge, who spoke against it during the public hearing, saying that the proposal would demolish two houses, with no provision that affordable housing be built in its place.

It had already drawn scrutiny the previous evening at caucus from councilmember Sabra Briere, who was concerned that the requested smaller setback in the front of the building reflected a desire to build to a new standard for area, height, and placement that had not yet been approved by council.

At the council meeting, Briere asked Mark Lloyd, head of planning for the city of Ann Arbor, to clarify. Lloyd said that the project does conform to the proposed (but as yet not approved) standards for the front setbacks, but that on the other sides, the project conforms to existing code.

Lloyd said that what might be overlooked in reflecting on this issue is that the direction from planning commission and from council to the planning staff has been to make sure that they adhere to sustainable development strategies, and that pedestrian access, reflected in smaller front setbacks, is one example.

Lloyd said that designs with a parking lot in the front are a standard suburban design technique and are consistent with current code, which has a more suburban character. Even though the new standards are not in place, the project is in line with what has been proposed, and the reasons for wanting to create the smaller setbacks go beyond the fact that it’s contained in a proposed document.

Briere also took up Partridge’s issue about the demolition of the houses on the site, and asked Lloyd to clarify for the public whether their current use was residential. Lloyd said that they were not currently, and that it wasn’t clear when the last time the structures had been used in that way.

Outcome: Approved unanimously with 7 members at the table (councilmembers sometimes filter away and back).

City Airport Environmental Impact Study

Council got a description of how the environmental impact of the planned reconfiguration of the city’s airport runway will be studied. Matt Kulhanek, the manager of the airport, introduced Molly Lamroeux, of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), who described how the project would conform to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and would include the formation of a citizen advisory group. There would be a noise impact analysis study as well as other impact studies. There would be no less than a 30-day public comment period after the conclusion of the study, which would take 6-9 months. The anticipated date of the public hearing would be fall 2009, she said, with the design work completed in early 2010.

Kulhanek also introduced Amy Eckland of the consulting firm JJR, who described in more detail what the public process would be like. Key would be the formation of the citizen advisory committee (CAC). The CAC would consist of 12-14 people, who would meet throughout the project, providing the team with feedback. The CAC would include a wide array of people, Eckland said, with the requisite expertise so that they can provide feedback: adjacent property owners, business owners, pilots and homeowners, from Pittsfield Township as well as from Ann Arbor. There would be three meetings by the project team with CAC: (i) beginning, (ii) middle, and (iii) end. The final meeting in the fall would be a preview of the public hearing, Eckland said.

Council considered a host of separate resolutions authorizing funding for the project.

Councilmember Leigh Greden sought clarification on the funding sources. Answer: 80% federal dollars,  17.5%  state, and 2.5% from the city’s airport enterprise fund.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Golf Fee Modification for 2009 Season

In this case “modification” is not a euphemism for “increase.” A scanned PDF of the Golf Fee Modification Schedule 2009 shows that many of the changes from the 2008 fee schedule reflect decreases designed to make the city’s two golf courses more competitive with other facilities in the market.

However, the increase in the senior citizen qualification age from 56 to 57, with a planned increase each year until it reaches 62, drew the criticism of Tom Partridge during the public hearing on the matter. Partridge characterized the change as discriminatory on its face, and said that it had been brought to the public without any explanation as to why it’s on the agenda, let alone why it should be passed. Partridge characterized the resolution blatantly discriminatory based on age, and asked that the proposed increase be struck down.

Outcome: Passed unanimously with no council discussion.

Tom Partridge

In addition to the public hearings mentioned above, Tom Partridge weighed in, as he often does, at public commentary reserved time, as well as during the unreserved time at the end of the meeting. He called on the mayor, the city council, and all other levels of government to end discrimination in all facets of services in the city, the county and the state – starting with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. “I am a victim,” he said, of being cut off from AATA group ride services to the 148-apartment affordable housing development where he lives, off of Jackson Road. Since the AATA stopped serving the area west of Wagner and Jackson, he had no access to service.

At the conclusion of the meeting, he used his time  to talk about regionalization of services countywide and throughout southeast Michigan. Regionalization should focus on transportation, housing the homeless, and extending healthcare that is now unavailable to the most vulnerable. He said it was gratifying to find out that an Ann Arbor News reporter had witnessed his calls for regionalization. But, he said, the AATA board, which had been appointed by Mayor Hieftje, with the consent of city council, continued to provide service on a discriminatory basis. When Partridge talked through the 3-minute time clock beep, Hieftje admonished Partridge: “Sir, your time is up.” At this, Partridge gave his standard call for the time limits on public speaking to be waived for senior citizens [Partridge is a senior]. Hieftje tried again with, “Your time is up, would you please stop!”

Partridge finished and council went into closed session to discuss land acquisition.

Misc. Communications

Councilmember Christopher Taylor advised that the Burns Park Players production of “Annie Get Your Gun” would begin on Friday, Feb. 6, continuing with performances the following weekend as well. Taylor, who has performed in past productions but not this one, said that Eva Rosenwald, his wife, had been selected to play Annie.

Councilmember Margie Teall announced that the Dicken Woods annual candlelight walk would be held on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

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

Absent: Tony Derezinski

Next Council Meeting: Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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