The Ann Arbor Chronicle » design guidelines it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 618 S. Main Project Moves to City Council Fri, 20 Jan 2012 03:36:31 +0000 Chronicle Staff The site plan and development agreement for 618 S. Main – a major new residential project in downtown Ann Arbor – received a unanimous recommendation of approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting. The project now will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

The planned project is located at the site of the former Fox Tent & Awning building, north of Mosley between Main and Ashley. It borders properties in the Old West Side historic district, but is not in the district itself. The proposal calls for demolishing two existing structures and erecting a 7-story, 153,133-square-foot apartment building with 190 units for 231 bedrooms.

The building would contain 70 studio apartments, 70 one-bedroom units, 42 two-bedroom units, and 7 duplex units with 1 bedroom each. The proposal is slightly modified from details discussed at a Nov. 11, 2011 neighborhood meeting about the project, hosted by the developer, Dan Ketelaar, and his design team – one of several public forums regarding the project.

Underground parking would include 121 vehicle spaces – including two spaces for a car-sharing service like Zipcar – and 89 bicycle parking spaces. Other proposed features include solar panels installed on the roof to help heat water for the building, and a private open space on the west side of the building with an outdoor pool and pool deck, a pool house/rental room, two fire pits, three rain garden/bio-retention areas, landscaping areas and patio areas made of porous pavement. The developer has agreed to make a $117,800 contribution to the city’s parks system, in lieu of providing dedicated parkland on the site.

The building as proposed would be 85-feet tall – 25 feet higher than permitted in the D2 zoning district, where the site is located. Planned projects allow for some flexibility in height or setbacks, in exchange for public benefits. They don’t allow as much flexibility, however, as a planned unit development (PUD).

The project was evaluated by the city’s design review board. According to a staff report, the board found that the design generally adhered to the downtown design guidelines. Some modifications were made to the design in response to the board’s suggestions – for example, the portion of the building along South Main Street was stepped back five feet above the third floor and 10 feet above the sixth floor, to enhance the pedestrian experience along the west side of South Main.

Six people spoke during a public hearing on the project, including Ketelaar and two representatives from his design team. In addition, Barbara Murphy spoke on behalf of the Old West Side Association in support of the project, as did Ray Detter, who said he represented the Downtown Citizens’ Advisory Council and the design guidelines neighborhood group – a coalition of eight neighborhood groups in the city. One neighbor opposed the project because of its height.

In the public commentary time at the end of the meeting, Don Wortman of Carlisle/Wortman Associates – which owns South Main Market across the street from the proposed project – said he welcomed the development but had concerns over its height, as well as traffic and parking issues.

Parking and traffic concerns were also raised by some commissioners, but the project generally received praise for its design and its potential to enliven that part of the city. The planning staff had recommended approval.

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

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Public Gets View of 618 S. Main Proposal Mon, 14 Nov 2011 13:21:30 +0000 Mary Morgan Residents gathered in the sewing room of the former Fox Tent & Awning building on Friday night for the first public meeting about 618 S. Main – a proposed apartment building that fronts Main, Mosley and Ashley streets.

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

Architectural rendering of 618 S. Main project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

618 S. Main: Background & Presentation

Dan Ketelaar began by noting that the site sits on about an acre of land – roughly 44,000 square feet – bounded by Main Street and Ashley to the east and west, respectively, and by Mosley to the south. The property’s northern edge falls midblock, south of the Happy’s Pizza lot on Main and Affordable Vet Services on Ashley. Single-family houses line Ashley Street across from the site; all other sides face commercial property – South Main Market is across the street on Main.

The neighborhood meeting was held in the building of the former Fox Tent & Awning, which closed in late 2010. Other buildings on the site house Ivory Photo, Deluxe Drapery and Overture Audio. These commercial buildings – which were constructed in the 1930s – would be demolished to make way for the project.

Dan Ketelaar

Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development Co., the developer of the 618 S. Main project.

Ketelaar said his team began working on the project in March, looking for examples of the style they wanted to reflect. He pointed to photos posted on the wall of the room – images of Bach Elementary School, the old Argus building, Liberty Lofts – that evoke the character he says he wants to bring to this project. The buildings he cited are older, with brick facades. Liberty Lofts, at First and Liberty, is a former manufacturing plant that was converted to condos a few years ago.

The site is zoned D2, a designation for areas that transition between the densest zoning allowed (D1) and residential areas. For this site, D2 zoning allows for a maximum 400% FAR (floor-area ratio). FAR, a measure of density, is the ratio of the square footage of a building divided by the size of the lot. A one-story structure built lot-line-to-lot-line with no setbacks corresponds to an FAR of 100%. A similar structure built two-stories tall would result in an FAR of 200%.

With a 400% FAR, a building could be constructed up to 60 feet tall with 170,000 square feet of floor space, and still meet the zoning requirements.

Ketelaar noted that the site is in the southern part of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district, and he hoped his development would encourage the DDA to improve the Main Street section south of Packard – perhaps in a similar way to the DDA’s current Fifth and Division streetscape project.

He also contrasted his vision with that of Ashley Mews, a condo development up the street at Main and Packard. Ketelaar described that building as a “hardscape,” saying he’d like his project to have a “soft streetscape” by comparison. He pointed to photos of a residential urban development in Portland, Oregon, which converted old railroad cars into housing, with a stepped-back front entry of greenery. Ketelaar also hopes to evoke the ambiance of Portland’s Hotel Modera, which features outdoor gathering spaces with fire pits and other amenities. [Ketelaar's daughter lives in Portland.]

Mike Siegel of VOA Associates – the Chicago-based architecture firm that’s working on this project – reviewed previous designs that had been considered by Ketelaar for the site. The team had begun by conceptually envisioning what a building would look like as permitted by zoning. When he described it as a glass block that’s 60 stories tall, he was quickly corrected to 60 feet. “It’s been a long week,” he quipped.

The team initially considered putting in two buildings, with a narrow courtyard in the center. The structure facing Main Street would have been apartments, while the building on Ashley would have included townhouses and duplexes. Both would have been six stories tall. However, “we didn’t feel it was very sensitive to the neighborhood,” Siegel said.

A second version was designed, with a smaller building on Ashley. But that version didn’t create enough density to cover the cost of construction, Ketelaar said. He noted that it’s true with any business – if you’re making donuts, but you sell the donuts for less than it costs you to make them, you won’t stay in business very long. “It’s a reality of business,” he said, “and that’s what we all need to deal with.”

618 South Main neighborhood meeting

Residents and representatives of the developer look at drawings for a proposed six-story apartment building on 618 S. Main during a Nov. 11 neighborhood meeting, held in the sewing room of the former Fox Tent & Awning building.

Siegel said the development team worked with Ann Arbor’s planning staff and came up with the design they’re proposing. The intent is to soften the edge facing the neighborhood on Ashley, which is lined with single-family homes. The main massing of the structure faces Main and Mosley, with a large courtyard area off of Ashley.

The development team also knew that the project needed more than the minimum amount of required parking, Siegel said, “or the neighbors are going to scream.”

Ketelaar noted that the site requires only about 70 parking spaces. They could have designed a surface parking lot, like Liberty Lofts, but “that didn’t seem right,” he said. Their current proposal calls for building two parking levels underground, with between 130-140 parking spaces.

One issue is that the water table in this area is high, he said. They hit saturated soil about 10-12 feet below ground. So while one level of parking will be completely underground, the second level will be about halfway above ground – and that drives up the height of the building, he said.

At the tallest point – the top of the elevator shaft – the building is about 80 feet high, as currently designed. That’s about 20 feet taller than the D2 zoning would allow. So the development will be submitted as a “planned project,” a designation that allows for flexibility in height and setback requirements, in exchange for public benefits.

A “planned project” allows modifications of the area, height, and placement requirements related to permanent open space preservation, if the project would result in “the preservation of natural features, additional open space, greater building or parking setback, energy conserving design, preservation of historic or architectural features, expansion of the supply of affordable housing for lower income households or a beneficial arrangement of buildings.” However, all other zoning code requirements must still be met – including the permitted uses, maximum density, and maximum floor area.

Ketelaar pointed to the additional parking and greenspace in the courtyard as among the public benefits of the project.

Shannan Gibb-Randall – a landscape architect with Insite Design Studio, the Ann Arbor firm that also built the new rain garden in front of city hall – described the landscaping and other exterior features of the project. On the Main Street side, the 9-foot width between the street and the property line seemed too narrow, so the building will be set back an additional 5 feet from the property line, she said. Gibb-Randall also cited the Portland railroad car project as a model, with the intent to create layers of greenscape and richness to soften the front of the building. Balconies will also create a recess on the side facing Main Street, she said.

Ideally, the city and DDA would eventually allow parking along that stretch of Main Street, she said, which would help to calm the traffic. Vehicles tend to pick up speed along that part of Main Street, she noted, as the road widens to four lanes south of Packard.

For stormwater management, the project will use surface infiltration rather than underground detention, Gibb-Randall said. Large planters and porous pavement are among the strategies they’ll use – much like the design of the plaza and rain garden in front of city hall, she said.

Siegel concluded the presentation by noting that the project will use sustainable building techniques and aim for LEED Silver certification.

618 S. Main: Questions from Residents

The meeting was attended by about 50 people, including nearby neighbors as well as people who are active in development issues citywide. Among others, they included Ray Detter of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council; former planning commissioner Eppie Potts; Christine Crockett, president of the Old Fourth Ward Association; Alan Haber, who’s spearheading an effort to create a community commons on top of the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure; Ann Arbor Ward 5 councilmember Mike Anglin; and Barbara Murphy, vice president of the Old West Side Association.

For this report, questions and responses are summarized and organized thematically.

618 S. Main: Questions from Residents – Traffic, Parking

A woman identified herself as the owner of a house on Ashley, between Madison and Jefferson, that was built in the 1800s. Often, there’s no parking along Ashley now, she said, and traffic is heavy. She said she can’t imagine what it will be like with this new development. It will likely be worse, she noted, “and I don’t want that.”

Ketelaar said he didn’t think they could solve that problem – any development would have the same issues. Siegel noted the project will have about 140 parking spaces, double the number of required parking spaces. The development team also plans to have some vehicles on site from the Zipcar car-sharing service, as well as bike storage areas to encourage the use of alternative transportation.

Mike Siegel of VOA Associates

Mike Siegel of VOA Associates, a Chicago architecture firm, points to a detail in the courtyard of the proposed 618 S. Main apartment complex.

In response to another concern raised about parking, Ketelaar said that the site is part of downtown, and the project is intended to attract young professionals in their mid-20s to mid-30s. About three-quarters of the apartments will be studios or one-bedroom units, he said. The apartments will be attractive to people who work in the growing high-tech sector, he said, like Barracuda Networks, which earlier this year announced plans to add several hundred employees here. These young professionals are active, he said, and the reason they live downtown is so that they can walk.

One resident said the 25-35 age range might be low – the apartments would also appeal to people in their 40s or older, she said. Ketelaar agreed, observing that people his age often had the same kind of desires, in terms of urban living, that young professionals had.

Another resident pointed out that the area is in a transition. The reality is that there’s no grocery within walking distance, for example, so most tenants would use their cars for that kind of trip. Someone asked whether the Ashley Mews condo development was fully occupied – that complex didn’t seem to have much impact on parking. It is full, Ketelaar said, and each unit has its own parking space within the structure.

Siegel noted that if a “by-right” project were built on the 618 S. Main site, it could have about 200 units and 70 parking spaces, which would be allowed based on the D2 zoning. The project that they’re proposing would have fewer units – about 180 – but double the parking (about 140 spaces).

Another resident noted that he lived on South Main and walked in that area frequently. From Jefferson to Hoover, parking in the neighborhood is already full, he said, adding that he didn’t there would be much difference in parking caused by the new development.

Siegel asked whether neighborhood parking permits might be a solution. A resident noted that in some areas of the neighborhood, residential parking permits are already required.

One resident asked whether the DDA is helping finance parking for the project. No, Ketelaar said, but he hoped the DDA would consider making improvements along Main Street south of Packard, including possibly adding onstreet parking to that stretch.

In response to a concern about the visibility of the first-level parking, Ketelaar said it will be enclosed so that passers-by wouldn’t be able to see it. There might be some kind of greenery screen used as well. The two parking levels won’t be connected – one will have an entrance off of Ashley, with the other accessed from Main Street. There will be some guest parking available, possibly as surface spots in the courtyard area.

618 S. Main: Questions from Residents – Building Structure

A resident asked how tall the building would be, and why it would be allowed to go higher than 60 feet. The proposal calls for six stories plus a penthouse level: The first three stories would form a “street wall,” with three additional stories above that set back a few feet. A penthouse level on the roof would be set back even further, allowing the units there to have verandas.

Ketelaar explained that a “planned project” designation allows for variances in height or setback. This project will ask for a height variance, he said. The public benefits that the project offers in exchange for that variance include a 17,000-square-foot courtyard and additional parking. He allowed that not everyone might agree that these are public benefits, but he thinks they are.

He also noted plans to install solar panels on the roof, to reduce the building’s energy costs. When asked whether the use of large windows throughout the building will contribute to energy loss, Siegel said the building will use insulated, high-performance windows, possibly tinted. Residents will be able to open the windows, he said.

One resident asked whether the mechanicals on the roof would be enclosed – does LEED certification address sound requirements? No, but the city’s building and zoning codes do, Ketelaar said. Siegel added that the mechanical systems will be surrounded by walls, but open on top.

In response to a query about more details regarding the units, Siegel said there will be three sizes for two of the apartment types – studio and one-bedroom units – and five different sizes for the two-bedroom units. Rents will likely range from $950 to $1,400 per month.

Another resident asked where the garbage and recycling would be located. There will be an area for trash and recycling on each floor, Siegel explained. Building staff will then empty the trash and recycling into a dumpster and containers on the north side of the building. The developer is negotiating an easement with the property owner on that north side to allow for trash and recycling trucks to make pickups from Ashley.

In response to another question, Siegel said the public entrance to the building will be off of Ashley Street. Residents will have another entrance off of Main.

How committed are the designers to the use of brick masonry? a resident asked. A decision on materials hasn’t been made yet, Ketelaar said. Siegel added that they’re very committed to using brick with steel detailing on the first three stories. He indicated a range of other architectural detailing that he hopes to include, including cornices at the street level and other ornamental touches.

618 S. Main: Questions from Residents – Neighborhood

One resident said he’d like to see the first floor be retail, adding that it would be “great for the neighborhood.” Ketelaar said he’d thought about it, but couldn’t figure out what might work.

Ketelaar said that when he first came to town in the late 1960s, there were a lot of businesses to serve downtown residents, such as drug stores and groceries. Though there aren’t that many now, he acknowledged, the idea is that with growth of developments to bring more residents, the services will follow.

Doug Raab, Mike Anglin

Doug Raab, owner of Washtenaw Dairy, talks with Ann Arbor city councilmember Mike Anglin at the neighborhood meeting for the 618 S. Main apartment project. Washtenaw Dairy is located a block away from the proposed development.

A resident asked whether Ketelaar had considered putting his building on the empty lot where the Glen Ann project had been proposed. Glen Ann was a 9-story residential project that another developer had proposed and that the city approved, but it was never built. The vacant parcel is at the corner of Glen and Catherine streets, across town near the University of Michigan medical center.

Ketelaar said he hadn’t considered that. The 618 S. Main property is in a unique location, he added, close to downtown and the UM campus.

The same resident noted that neighbors are concerned about the impact of the development on the neighborhood, in part because apartment dwellers aren’t as invested in the neighborhood as condo owners, who would be less inclined to trash the neighborhood.

Ketelaar noted that condos aren’t selling now, and that apartments appeal both to young professionals as well as to older people like him, who have the same interests in finding places to live where you can walk downtown, and that require far less maintenance than a house. One of his goals is to create a community, he said – that’s why they’re designing the courtyard space with seating, a small pool (though not one for swimming), and an indoor common living room on the first level, where people can hang out.

When asked about public access, Gibb-Randall clarified that the courtyard isn’t a public park. It’s intended for use by residents. Ketelaar described it as the equivalent of someone’s back yard.

A resident noted that the neighborhood already is a community. How will residents of the development interact with the existing neighborhood? They’ll become part of it, Ketelaar replied. Just because people are new to the area doesn’t mean they’ll be bad, he said.

When asked about putting in a coffee shop as a way to help integrate the neighborhood, Ketelaar said he was concerned about competing with the existing coffee shop – presumably referencing Washtenaw Dairy, located less than a block away at Madison and Ashley. Doug Raab, an owner of Washtenaw Dairy, was sitting across from Ketelaar at Friday’s meeting. One of the residents responded by saying that with 200 more people in the neighborhood, they could use more than one coffee shop.

Ketelaar was asked about other projects he’s been involved with, and what the impact was like on the neighborhoods for those. He said he hasn’t done a lot of development in Ann Arbor recently. He had been a principal in the 601 S. Forest project, but was bought out. That residential development is being constructed now and was controversial when it went through the city’s approval process – Ketelaar noted that some people who had been vocal about that project were also at the current meeting. He also cited Ridgewood condos, on West Liberty east of Stadium, as another project he’d developed.

618 S. Main: Questions from Residents – Environmental Issues

In response to a question about the floodplain, Ketelaar said the site isn’t located in the floodplain – it’s a few hundred feet from the edge of the floodplain, which is to the south, he said. One resident commented that in the flood of 1968, waters covered that area, and that while new federal floodplain maps will be released in April 2012, he wasn’t convinced they’ll be accurate. Bob Wanty of Washtenaw Engineering, who is also working on this project, said they have to use the maps that are available.

618 S. Main neighborhood meeting

Alan Haber, top center, asks a question while Julie Weatherbee raises her hand with another query. Dan Ketelaar, developer of the 618 S. Main project, is seated at the far left. Behind him is Shannan Gibb-Randall, a landscape architect for the project.

A resident asked how the stormwater system will work, given the building’s large footprint on the site, and the fact that there will be two levels of underground parking. Gibb-Randall said they plan to “max out” the courtyard in terms of greenspace to absorb the water. When asked if this approach will work in the winter, Gibb-Randall said yes. Her firm has done over 70 rain gardens in Ann Arbor, she said, and while there is a limited palette of plants that can handle the seasonal changes, it’s possible to do. She described how when plants put down roots, about a third of those roots eventually die – creating channels underground that allow water to flow through. She plans to use as many native plants as possible.

Mike Anglin – one of two Ann Arbor city councilmembers representing Ward 5, where this project is located – asked Ketelaar about the project’s brownfield status. The site is considered a brownfield because it includes an underground fuel tank. The site across the street – Armen Cleaners, at the northwest corner of Mosley and Ashley – is also a brownfield, and there are monitoring wells in the area because of contamination there.

The 618 S. Main project is developing a brownfield plan, which will be submitted to the city along with the site plan. Ketelaar said they’ll apply for tax increment financing (TIF) to help remediate the site, but he wasn’t sure what amount they’d seek at this point. Anglin said it would be useful for the community to have results from any environmental testing that’s done on the site. Ketelaar noted that those tests would be submitted as part of the brownfield plan.

The city had approved brownfield credits for 601 S. Forest in 2008, when Ketelaar was still involved in that project.

618 S. Main: Questions from Residents – Financing

In response to a query about taxes, Ketelaar said that the owners of Fox Tent & Awning were paying about $18,000 in taxes each year, because they had owned the property since the 1930s. After the new development is built, he said the taxes will increase to over $500,000 annually.

Ketelaar was asked if he is confident he can build the development, from a financial perspective. He explained that typically, a project like this is 65% debt financed, with 35% equity. In this case, he said, the project is eligible for financing from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), through a 40-year loan – that will be part of the financing package. He noted that even now, many banks aren’t lending.

Next Steps

When asked what would happen if the city didn’t approve a planned project for the site, Siegel replied that they would still want to develop a site that will improve the community. If all goes according to plan and the planned project is approved, construction could begin in the fall of 2012. However, Siegel added, sometimes it’s hard to predict what Ann Arbor’s city council will do or how long the process will take. It was a line that drew laughs from many of the residents, but Ketelaar called out to councilmember Mike Anglin, “Mike, you weren’t laughing!”

[Anglin perhaps found no humor in the situation because of recent developments in the saga of a project on South Fifth Avenue. Demolition of seven homes occurred earlier in the week as the start of City Place, a by-right residential project that many people see as inferior to another project – Heritage Row – previously proposed as a planned unit development on that same site. Anglin was one of four councilmembers who voted against Heritage Row. Most recently, he attempted to forestall City Place from moving ahead by proposing a second time to form a historic district study committee for that area, but did not get enough support from other councilmembers. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "Chapter Added to Fifth Ave. Historic Saga"]

Following Ketelaar’s quip, Anglin said he wanted to encourage Ketelaar to think about working to make Main Street a two-lane road along the section south of Packard. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be just one lane in each direction, Anglin said, and it would help the community for Ketelaar to make that happen.

Ketelaar responded by noting that “all we can do is suggest it.” [Changes to city roads would involve the city government and, for trunk lines, the Michigan Dept. of Transportation.] He said he’d had a brief conversation about it with Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, but that the DDA and city council would make any decision regarding Main Street traffic lanes.

Anglin asked whether at least the group could leave the meeting that night with the idea that a traffic study will be done. Ketelaar replied that a traffic study will be done as part of the required site plan submission. He also said he’d be happy to talk with Anglin about making a presentation on this issue to the DDA.

Describing the meeting as wonderful, Ray Detter noted that this is the second project that will go through the city’s new design review process. The first project to be reviewed in this way – The Varsity Ann Arbor – had just been approved by city council the previous night, he observed.

The city of Ann Arbor adopted design guidelines in February 2011. New developments must be evaluated by the design review board, but compliance with the board’s feedback is voluntary.

Detter urged people to attend the design review board meeting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16 in the same location, at 618 S. Main. That meeting will be followed by another community forum on Tuesday, Nov. 22 from 5-7 p.m. Ketelaar has previously met with some local business owners and members of the Old West Side Association board to discuss the project.

The project is expected to be formally submitted to the city later this month. After review by the city planning staff, it will be considered by the planning commission, which will make a recommendation to city council.

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Despite Concerns, The Varsity Moves Ahead Sat, 08 Oct 2011 16:39:22 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Oct. 4, 2011): At a meeting that started later than usual to accommodate the dedication of city hall’s new Dreiseitl water sculpture, planning commissioners approved two projects that had previously been postponed.

Stephen Ranzini at sculpture dedication

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

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

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

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

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

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

University Bank PUD

The planning commission first reviewed University Bank’s proposal at its Oct. 19, 2010 meeting. Bank officials had requested approval to revise a planned unit development (PUD), allowing an increase in the total number of employees and parking spaces permitted at the bank’s headquarters at 2015 Washtenaw Ave. – the site known as the Hoover Mansion. The proposal included a request to build 14 new parking spaces on the east side – behind the main building – for a total of 53 spaces on the site. At the time, planning staff recommended denial, stating that the project impacts natural features and doesn’t offer an overall benefit to the city, as required by a PUD.

Rather than denying the proposal, planning commissioners voted to postpone it and asked staff to work with the bank in finding an alternative parking option.

Nearly a year later, a revised proposal was on the agenda for the commission’s Sept. 8 meeting, reflecting a consensus that had been reached among planning staff, neighbors and bank officials. However, commissioners ended up postponing a recommendation again, because the final site plan had not yet been submitted by the bank.

By the Oct. 4 meeting, all pieces were in place. The proposal would increase the number of allowable employees from 50 to 59 at the bank’s headquarters and add a new parking lot on the site, with a setback of 24 feet from the eastern property line. That’s an additional nine feet away from the property line than originally proposed.

A continuous six-foot-high wall is proposed along the eastern and southeastern property lines, to screen the parking lot from 2021 Washtenaw Ave. and 2107-2109 Tuomy. Two landmark trees and 19 woodland trees totaling 186 caliper inches will be removed as part of the project, but the bank has proposed planting trees throughout the site totaling 223 caliper inches – more than is required.

The changes require amending the supplemental regulations of the site’s planned unit development (PUD) zoning district, which was originally approved in 1978.

University Bank: Public Hearing

Five people spoke during a public hearing on the proposal, including two representatives from the bank.

Dan Dever introduced himself as an attorney representing the Serwers, a couple who own a home that’s the closest residential property to the bank. He thanked planning staff for their work, but noted that there are two issues that are of serious concern to the Serwers. Nowhere in the supplemental regulations does it state that bank employees “shall not park on the driveway.” [The driveway into the Serwers' property is accessed via the bank's driveway.] He noted that for the past year, bank employees have been parking along the driveway leading to the bank building. Dever then read an excerpt from a letter that Ranzini had sent to the planning commission on Oct. 21, 2010, following the Oct. 20 planning commission meeting. From Ranzini’s letter:

We HATE the alternative proposal of building up berms that encroach into the lawn and parking spots alongside the driveway. This was foisted on us by the planning staff and at the suggestion of Kem-Tech, since it is the second least worst alternative to the proposed 13 unit parking lot. To illustrate to you and the neighbors how impractical the planning staff’s suggestion of parking alongside the driveway is and how this will damage the view shed, we will conduct the following experiment until the parking lot is approved: While previously we had taken a variety of measures to actively discourage our employees, visitors and bank examiners from parking in the driveway, we will remove those restrictions and encourage them to park there. I hope you have the opportunity to drive by over the next few weeks and take a look and how unsightly the cars in the front lawn area are.” [.pdf of Ranzini's letter]

Dever asked commissioners to add stronger language in the supplemental regulations: (1) adding that vehicles can’t be parked on either side of that driveway, and (2) requiring more than just one No Parking sign along that stretch. It’s important, he said, because bank officials “do not historically observe the written word.”

Ken Sprinkles of University Bank said he’s been working on this project for three years. The reason that cars are parked along the driveway is that there’s insufficient parking, he said. If the city approves additional parking, the bank would enforce a no-parking requirement along the driveway. The bank also plans to start issuing parking permit stickers for employee vehicles – that’s something they don’t currently do, Sprinkles said.

Gerald Serwer, who owns the home with a driveway that’s accessed via the bank’s driveway, told commissioners that changes to the bank’s site plan would affect the financial value of his home, as well as his ability to enjoy living there. If the bank has no intention of parking along the main driveway, he said, then it didn’t seem like bank officials should object to adding more No Parking signs. He also wanted to ensure that there’d be no parking along that driveway during construction of the new parking lot. Serwer also noted that he’s asked the bank to use stone veneer on the side of the 6-foot-high wall that faces their house, to match the house’s exterior. But the main issue is parking, he concluded.

Stephen Ranzini, president of University Bank, began by noting that the bank began this process 36 months ago. Since September, the bank has hired 30 people, he said, but only one of those is working in Ann Arbor. University Bank is the 11th largest employer of any bank in Michigan, he said, but job growth is happening at the bank’s offices in Farmington Hills and Clinton Township, instead of Ann Arbor, in part because of delays with this project.

Regarding No Parking signs, Ranzini said his preference is for one sign, because signs are ugly and affect the viewshed. In reference to the removal of trees, he noted that 100 years ago, the site was a sheep farm – every tree on the property is less than 100 years old. Regarding parking on the driveway, the bank started its “experiment” in having employees park along the driveway after the city requested alternatives to a new parking lot, he said. He wanted everyone to see what that would look like. And because the process to get approval has been so slow, he said, the experiment has lasted a year.

Ranzini urged the commission to approve the project, so that it can be considered by the city council. He hoped commissioners would do their part to help preserve an historic building, which he said is expensive to maintain. One of the biggest problems since the building was converted to offices in 1978 has been inadequate parking, he concluded.

Sheryl Serwer noted that it’s also been three years that she and her husband have been dealing with this issue – she first heard about it on her birthday three years ago. “Now I’m three years older and still worrying about it.” She said she’s come to accept the loss of trees on the site. But she’s still concerned about the parking – she’d like to get out of her driveway safely. In the winter, if it’s icy and there are cars parked on both sides of the entrance to her driveway, she said she’s afraid her car might slide into the parked vehicles. No Parking signs should be posted, she said, and parking shouldn’t be allowed there. She concluded by congratulating Ranzini for the growth of his business, and the recent birth of his child.

University Bank: Commission Discussion

Tony Derezinski began by asking planning staff to respond to the questions raised during public commentary, related to parking. How would the supplemental regulations be enforced? He said he thought the parties had reached an agreement – was this a new item?

Alexis DiLeo noted that this isn’t a public street – it’s not even a private street. It’s a driveway. The number of signs is discretional, she said, and the bank’s preference is for one sign.

If it meant that the project wouldn’t otherwise be approved, would the bank be willing to add another sign? Derezinski wondered. Ranzini said he wanted to make clear that bank employees didn’t start parking along the driveway until the planning staff suggested there might be a more viable alternative to the new parking lot. Parking in the driveway is ugly, he said. The experiment is done, so there won’t be parking there any longer. The bank might reluctantly put up another sign, he added, but signs are ugly.

Derezinski asked whether it would be possible to add the requirement of an additional sign in the supplemental regulations. “A beautiful one,” he quipped.

DiLeo suggested a possible place within the supplemental regulations to insert a sign requirement, and Derezinski made a motion to do that. Kirk Westphal clarified with DiLeo that previously, there was no mention of a sign at all. When asked about enforcement, DiLeo said a violation would be handled just like any other zoning violation – for example, if the bank removed a tree that had been stipulated to be preserved by the PUD’s supplemental regulations.

Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, said the city wouldn’t ticket or tow cars parked on private property. If someone complained about a violation, the city could fine the property owner. She indicated that adding something like the sign requirement was highly unusual.

Derezinski then expressed frustration, saying ”it’s too bad we’re getting formal.” This shouldn’t be a problem, he said, but there’s been a lot of history regarding this project. He thought the parties had moved past that, but now they’re quibbling over a small thing.

Derezinski said he’d made a motion to amend the supplemental regulations so that everyone could reach resolution. But now he felt there’s a clear understanding of expectations, so he was withdrawing the motion to amend.

Evan Pratt hoped that people felt all of the issues were being addressed. When changes to a PUD are requested, it requires give and take, he observed. He applauded the bank’s parking experiment. The original thinking was that it would be good to avoid adding more pavement, he said, and the experiment tested whether other parking options were viable. It’s taken a year, but it sounds like they now have a good outcome, he said.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of changes to the bank’s site plan and supplemental regulations. The project will now be forwarded to the city council.

The Varsity at Ann Arbor

At their Sept. 20, 2011 meeting, the planning commission had made an initial review of The Varsity, a 13-story building at 425 E. Washington, stretching from East Washington to East Huron in the block between South State and South Division. The proposed development is located east of the 411 Lofts building and west of the First Baptist Church, and is currently the site of a two-story office building that formerly housed the Prescription Shop. Alexis DiLeo of the city’s planning staff told commissioners that the design hasn’t altered significantly since that meeting.

Minor modifications include narrowing the walkway on the building’s east side, mounting lights on the building instead of poles along the east side of the path, and removing decorative pillars at both ends of the walkway, previously proposed on the east side of the path and on the First Baptist Church property. Because the church is located in an historic district, any changes on its property would have required approval by the city’s historic district commission.

The main features of the project are unchanged. The 177,180-square-foot apartment building is to include 181 apartments with a total of 415 bedrooms, to be marketed to university students. The plan also calls for 70 parking spaces, both underground and on the street level, with entrances off of East Huron and East Washington. In addition, two spaces would be provided on adjacent property (owned by the same developer) to use for a car-sharing service like Zipcar. A total of 121 bike spaces are also proposed for the project.

The Varsity at Ann Arbor: Public Commentary

Fourteen people spoke during a public hearing on The Varsity.

Hugh Sonk spoke on behalf of the Sloan Plaza Condominium Association, and restated many of the concerns that he raised at the commission’s Sept. 20 meeting. Sloan Plaza is located at 505 E. Huron, just east and across the street from The Varsity site, and residents are concerned about the development’s impact on their quality of life. Specifically, they are concerned about increased traffic congestion as vehicles turn into the building’s Huron Street entrance.

People who currently have monthly parking permits at the existing site will be displaced, Sonk said, potentially causing parking problems in the area. Sonk’s final concern related to the Huron Street facade, which he described as bland. It doesn’t reflect the character of the adjacent historical buildings, he said, and it needs to be treated as an important front to one of the city’s major thoroughfares. The current design doesn’t do that, he said.

Ethel Potts, a former planning commissioner, described the public hearing as an important one, since it’s a new major building downtown and the first one that’s gone through the city’s new design review process. She noted that city officials have said the recent downtown zoning changes and design review process will be reviewed next spring, to see if it’s delivering what residents want.

This building and its review show some flaws in the process and in the city’s ordinances, she said. For one thing, the design review doesn’t deal with height and mass, Potts noted – and The Varsity isn’t compatible with the scale and character of surrounding buildings. How will the small, elegant, historic church live with a tall, broad wall along its lot line? Potts also pointed to a lack of green space in the design. “Weren’t we seeking downtown livability?” she asked.

Christine Crockett introduced herself as president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, and a member of the committee that helped write the city’s design guidelines. The design review board, neighbors and people who’ve spoken during public commentary have all been emphatic that design of The Varsity’s north facade is unacceptable, Crockett said. It’s been tweaked a little, but is essentially 13 stories of yellow brick that’s unrelieved by pattern, texture or sympathy with the surrounding character district, she said.

The building will be there for decades, Crockett noted, so it’s important to make it as attractive as possible, adding that the architect should be ashamed. The Varsity developer and design team have the chance to make that block of Huron Street better and more pedestrian friendly, she said. “There are ways they can do it, but they won’t.”

Another issue is the walkway on the building’s east side, Crockett said. The design review board had indicated this summer that the walkway is too narrow, but now the developer has narrowed it even more, she said. It’s going to be like a tunnel – unattractive and dangerous, she said.

Stephan Trendov, an urban planner, said he’s in favor of the project. This summer he had attended a 2.5-hour meeting about The Varsity at the Michigan Union, and the group there had spent time talking about the building facade and pedestrian walkway. The vision is to move pedestrians from Huron all the way to East Liberty, he said, but this walkway doesn’t do that. There are opportunities for improvements, like adding a pergola or landscaping. The community is watching, he said, and so far, the reaction to what’s been discussed hasn’t been impressive. There haven’t been enough changes.

Donnie Gross, the project’s developer, told commissioners that he’s proud of the project. He could have designed a box-like by-right project, he said, but they’ve done more than that. Despite what people during the public hearing have indicated, Gross said, he and the design team have listened to input and changed the design 20-30 times. Turning to some of the previous speakers, Gross told them that just because they didn’t get everything they want doesn’t mean he hasn’t listened and made changes.

One of the first things his team did was to meet with the neighboring church, Gross said. It’s important to get the church’s approval, because they’ll be neighbors for the next 100 years. They’ll also be asking the church for an easement, so that the walkway on the east side of The Varsity can be widened, he said.

Gross said he’s not opposed to retail in the building, but he’s seen the difficulty that the neighboring 411 Lofts has had in finding tenants. “I’m opposed to retail that’s empty.” Instead, The Varsity is designed so that residents of the building will be like a “3-D billboard,” using a fitness area and lounge in the lower levels. The building would look naked and drab if the first floor were dark, but as long as there is light and activity, it doesn’t matter if the activity is someone getting a pizza or using a computer. The Varsity will add life to East Washington, he said. He noted that the plaza area on East Washington will include a green roof.

Noting that he owns the historic house next to The Varsity site, Gross told commissioners that even the soil beneath the house is declared historic, so he’s unable to excavate it. If he could excavate, he could add more underground parking and have only one entrance – but that’s not possible. He concluded by noting that citizens can say anything to make developers look bad, but there are reasons behind these decisions.

Maurice Binkow, another Sloan Plaza resident, said he joined others in objecting to the unsightly design of The Varsity’s Huron facade, along a road with so many distinguished buildings. He also expressed concern about the Huron entrance into the parking garage, noting that cars would likely be backed up onto Huron as they wait to enter. It would also be a problem for cars coming out onto Huron, if they were making a lefthand turn. He asked that the developer put a lease restriction in place that would prevent left turns onto Huron.

Noting that she is Maurice Binkow’s wife, Linda Binkow said that some of the city’s greatest assets are the properties along Huron Street– they are an exceptionally attractive and valuable part of the city. The city collects tax revenues from those properties, she added. Putting a building like The Varsity on Huron will cause traffic problems and greatly decrease the value of property in that area, she said. It’s not in the city’s interest to do that. She suggested that the building could be designed with a setback, and additional stories.

Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Area Association, observed that The Varsity could be built by-right, and that although the design review is mandatory, compliance is voluntary. He said he respected the views of neighbors in the area and residents of Sloan Plaza, but noted that the association’s board has reviewed the building plans and had voted unanimously in support of it. The association has been told that parking spaces will be freed up in Tally Hall [Liberty Square] as soon as the underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue is completed. That should help the parking situation.

The plaza on the East Washington side is an essential buffer for the church, Heywood said. And while the association would prefer retail on the first floor, that can’t be mandated – and the association doesn’t want to see empty space there, like it’s been for 411 Lofts. He noted that the space could be easily convertible into retail or commercial use, if a good proposal comes forward in the future. The association board respectfully requests approval of The Varsity, he concluded.

Ray Detter of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) told commissioners that he appreciated the building’s green roof – this was the first time he’d heard about it. This whole design review process is new, he said, and it’s an educational process too. Everyone’s had a chance to discuss the design, even though changes aren’t compulsory. He noted that CAC supports the plaza setback on East Washington, and the mews on the east side. The developer didn’t have to do those those things. The CAC would like to see the first-floor parking moved underground, and wants the mews walkway expanded even more, Detter said. That walkway, leading to a crosswalk across Washington and into the alley next to Tally Hall, would result in improving the alley, he said, so that it’s ”not the dump it is now.”

Stacey Simpson Duke, co-pastor of the First Baptist Church, handed out a letter she’d written in support of the project. [.pdf of Simpson Duke's letter] She said she never wanted a high-rise building next to the church – she liked seeing the sun set from the church – and she had spoken against the A2D2 zoning changes for downtown that were ultimately approved.

However, the people involved with The Varsity have been the best neighbors they could possibly be, Duke said. The design team has met with church representatives monthly, have listened to input and have explicitly incorporated design elements to address the church’s concerns. Simpson Duke said she’s especially excited about the walkway and the plaza next to the church. She’s also excited about the 400 students who’ll be living there, and the increased foot traffic in that area. She thanked the developer and his team for being good neighbors.

Joan French, a resident of Sloan Plaza, urged commissioners not to allow the Huron Street facade to be a back door. People along Huron can see the beautiful buildings like Campus Inn and the University of Michigan’s new North Quad. She supported the project, but wanted to see details on the Huron entrance that will make people say “wow.”

Brad Moore, an architect on The Varsity project, brought up a panel with samples of the materials that would be used on the building. The renderings of the building that were projected on-screen during the meeting showed a color of brick that was more yellow than it actually would be, he said. The brick evokes the exterior of UM’s original chemistry building, and is intended to be distinctive from the bright red brick of 411 Lofts.

There will be architectural detail, Moore said. Regarding the walkway, there’s no objection to widening it, Moore said, but The Varsity developer can’t do a site plan on the church’s property. Moore said he was certain that in the future the walk would be widened – that action might be handled administratively by city staff, or with the help of the church working through the historic district commission process.

Moore also reported that there will be a lease condition that specifies “right in, right out” only turns for the entrance off of Huron Street. There will be video surveillance cameras to monitor compliance, and if there are complaints, the building’s owner can impose sanctions against tenants who violate that condition, Moore said.

Bob Keane, a principal with WDG Architects in Washington D.C. who also spoke at the Sept. 20 meeting on behalf of the developer, addressed design concerns of the Huron facade. He described several ways in which the design has been changed. For example, the former metal garage door now will have frosted glass panels and look very elegant, he said, evocative of a storefront. There’s also a pedestrian entrance on the Huron side. People will drive by and think it’s the front entrance, Keane said, describing it as an “elegant urban facade.”

The final speaker was Rita Gelman, a resident of Sloan Plaza. (Her husband, Chuck Gelman, attended the meeting but did not speak during the public hearing.) She handed out a letter to commissioners, and said her main concerns are parking, green space and traffic. It’s important to keep the quality of the Huron Street corridor, but the proposed building looks humongous and commercial, she said. In contrast, Sloan Plaza is a building that looks residential, she said.

The Varsity at Ann Arbor: Commission Discussion

Kirk Westphal noted that the city had received a letter from Laura Houk, chairperson of the Ann Arbor Cooperative Preschool, a tenant at the First Baptist Church. [.pdf of Houk's letter] Houk had expressed concern about possible hazardous materials, noise and traffic during the demolition and construction phases of the project, and the impact on the preschool, which uses an outdoor playground year-round. She wanted the city to ensure that the developer mitigate the effects of the demolition and construction.

Westphal asked how those concerns would be addressed. Alexis DiLeo said she planned to meet with the preschool director, and go over the basic process for projects like this. The developer has had at least one meeting with the preschool too, she said. Regarding hazardous materials, if there are any on that site, there are state and federal regulations that govern the handling of those materials. She said she trusted that the developer would take steps to minimize the impact.

Erica Briggs noted that the developer’s ultimate intent is eventually to widen the walkway – that’s great, she said. In response to a query from Briggs about lighting, Brad Moore said there’s not currently room for pedestal lighting along the walkway – lights will be mounted on the building. But the intent is to include pedestal lighting in the future, and the developer would pay for it.

Briggs expressed concern that the sidewalk in front of the East Washington entrance isn’t clearly defined – that might be a safety issue, she said. She encouraged the design team to give more thought about how to make the pedestrian experience as safe as possible, especially in the driveway area leading to the parking garage.

Briggs also asked whether the developer planned to add any amenities for bicyclists – she had broached this subject at the Sept. 20 meeting, suggesting that things like a free air pump would be a public amenity. Donnie Gross, the developer, said he couldn’t make a commitment about that, but said they would explore that possibility.

Diane Giannola said her only concern is parking. She realized that the project includes the minimum number of parking spaces required by the city, and noted that the intent is to encourage people not to use cars. But she’s more of a realist, she said, and worries that there’ll be an even bigger parking problem in that area than there is now. [This issue was also addressed in an email sent to the planning staff by Jerry Weaver, manager for the Firestone shop at the corner of Division and Huron. He stated that because of parking needs at 411 Lofts, people are parking at other lots in the area and more cars have been impounded this fall than the prior 10 years combined. .pdf of Weaver's letter]

Giannola said that the way The Varsity selects its tenants will determine whether the development is a good neighbor. She asked that the owner find ways to discourage people from bringing cars. Eric Mahler, chair of the planning commission, quickly added that the city doesn’t advocate for discrimination based on anything.

For his part, Mahler pointed to the development agreement for The Varsity, citing the section stipulating that plazas on the site are intended to serve in lieu of a financial contribution to city parks:

(P-8) For the benefit of the residents of the PROPRIETOR’S development, in lieu of a contribution of $112,000 to the CITY Parks and Recreation Services Unit prior to the issuance of building permits, to construct and maintain as an integral part of the development the proposed amenities in the north and south plazas and the walkway along the east side of the site as generally illustrated and described in the exhibits to this Agreement. [.pdf of draft development agreement]

Mahler wondered whether the city can seek an injunction against the developer, if the plazas aren’t built as envisioned. DiLeo said the city won’t issue a certificate of occupancy unless the project passes a site inspection and meets all the requirements outlined in the development agreement.

Westphal weighed in again with several observations. He said he can see how the plazas benefit the church, but it gets tricky when zoning is bent to fit one neighbor.

By way of background, The Varsity is a “planned project,” which allows some limited flexibility in design. The setback to accommodate the plaza on East Washington, for example, is greater than would otherwise be allowed for a by-right project on that site. It differs from a planned unit development (PUD) in granting far less flexibility. From Chapter 55 of the city code [emphasis added]:

Planned Projects. 5:68. The intent of this section is to provide an added degree of flexibility in the placement and interrelationship of the buildings within the planned project and to provide for permanent open space preservation within planned projects. Modifications of the area, height, placement requirements, and lot sizes, where used for permanent open space preservation, of this Chapter may be permitted if the planned project would result in the preservation of natural features, additional open space, greater building or parking setback, energy conserving design, preservation of historic or architectural features, expansion of the supply of affordable housing for lower income households or a beneficial arrangement of buildings. A planned project shall maintain the permitted uses and requirements for maximum density, maximum floor area and minimum usable open space specified in this Chapter for the zoning district(s) in which the proposed planned project is located.

Westphal praised the plans to eventually widen the walkway, and said he appreciated the bike parking. Regarding vehicle parking, he said things won’t change until the message gets out that the city doesn’t want to see large portions of land used for car storage. He doesn’t have a problem with limited parking on that site.

He also commended the design review board, saying that they didn’t suggest changes that are too burdensome. He hoped that people would stay tuned for a review of the design process next year.

Noting that he hadn’t attended the Sept. 20 meeting, Evan Pratt asked whether the design of the Huron facade had changed since then. No, DiLeo replied, but the design had changed since the developer’s team met with the design review board in the summer.

Tony Derezinski said the planned project approach is a creative way to work with The Varsity’s neighbor and create an attractive plaza, even though it’s larger than what would otherwise be allowed by code. He indicated that some people wouldn’t be satisfied with any design, and at some point it’s the commission’s responsibility to say enough is enough. The developer has shown willingness to make some changes, he said, and if retail eventually becomes viable, the developer will include that. Derezinski concluded by saying The Varsity will add to the area and improve the city’s tax base.

Giannola asked whether it would be possible to require a No Left Turn sign – could that be added to the development agreement? Gross said he’d welcome that. Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, said the city can’t require that a sign be added to the public right-of-way – that’s the purview of the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, since Huron is a trunkline. Rampson said the developer could certainly put a sign on his property, but she didn’t recommend altering the development agreement to address traffic engineering issues like this. No amendment was made.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the site plan for The Varsity at Ann Arbor. It will be considered next by city council.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Erica Briggs, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal.

Absent: Bonnie Bona, Wendy Woods

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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The Varsity Prompts Design, Traffic Concerns Sat, 24 Sep 2011 19:01:49 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Sept. 20, 2011): Commissioners handled one major agenda item at its most recent meeting: A site plan proposal for The Varsity Ann Arbor on East Washington.

Site of the proposed 13-story Varsity apartments

Site of proposed 13-story The Varsity Ann Arbor, at 425 E. Washington, where a two-story office building is now located. To the left is 411 Lofts. To the right is the entrance to the First Baptist Church parking lot. (Photos by the writer.)

The Varsity is a 13-story apartment building proposed for 425 E. Washington St., east of the 411 Lofts building and west of the First Baptist Church. Currently on the site is a two-story office building that formerly housed the Prescription Shop. The proposed 177,180-square-foot apartment building would include 181 apartments with a total of 415 bedrooms, to be marketed to university students.

Four residents spoke during a public hearing on the project, and were generally supportive. However, they cited concerns over the attractiveness of the facade facing Huron Street and traffic issues that might arise from that entrance. Some commissioners also raised issues about parking and design, and wondered about the possibility of retail space on the first floor. The developer’s representatives felt retail wasn’t feasible at this time.

City planning staff recommended that site plan approval be postponed, so that some relatively minor issues could be resolved. Commissioners followed that advice, and postponed action on the project. It’s expected to be on the agenda again for the commission’s Oct. 4 meeting.

In addition to The Varsity, Tuesday’s meeting included several communications from staff and commissioners. Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, reported that a Sept. 21 meeting of the R4C/R2A advisory committee had been postponed and will be rescheduled. City planning staff had heard from several committee members who felt they needed more information before reconvening. The advisory group is developing recommendations for zoning changes in Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods.

Tony Derezinski, a commissioner who also serves on city council, reported on planning-related items that emerged at the council’s Sept. 19 meeting. He noted that although it wasn’t on the council’s agenda or discussed publicly, the issue of the City Place apartment complex, which is poised to break ground in the coming weeks, was “quietly being discussed” among councilmembers, he said. While it looks like the project will move forward and that an alternative project on that site called Heritage Row won’t be realized, Derezinski said – somewhat cryptically – there’s “many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.” 

The Varsity

Alexis DiLeo of the city’s planning staff gave a report on The Varsity project. The 13-story building, with 181 apartments, also calls for 70 parking spaces – 45 in an underground level, with an entrance off of East Huron Street, and 25 on the street level, with an entrance off of East Washington. In addition, two spaces would be provided on adjacent property (owned by the same developer) for use by a car-sharing service like Zipcar – the city counts each of those shared-car spaces as four parking spots. A total of 121 bike spaces are also proposed for the project.

Aerial view of the proposed Varsity apartments

Rendering of an aerial view of the proposed Varsity apartments, located on the left, between Washington and Huron streets. In the lower right is the First Baptist Church. In the upper right, across Huron, is Sloan Plaza.

The building is set back 15 feet from Huron Street. The side facing East Washington has zero setback for about half the frontage, then about a 25-foot setback for the remaining area, creating an entry plaza next to the First Baptist Church.

A public walkway – which the developer describes as a “mews” – will run along the east side of the building, from Huron to Washington. A mid-block pedestrian crosswalk is proposed across Washington, leading to the walkway/alley across the street next to McKinley Towne Centre. That alley extends to East Liberty. [.pdf of staff report]

By way of background, the alley between Washington and Liberty has been the subject of recent complaint voiced at a recent meeting of Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Authority, because of the placement of dumpsters there.  Maintaining the alley as publicly accessible has been the focus of conversations involving the Downton Citizens Advisory Council dating back at least to late 2009.

The Varsity was the first project evaluated by the city’s new design review board, which discussed the proposal at a meeting in June. According to a memo prepared by city staff, the board reported that the building’s design was generally in line with the city’s design guidelines. Issues cited by the memo as weaker design elements included a significant area devoted to vehicle circulation, front facades disconnected from the base, and an underutilized plaza, among other things. [.pdf of report from the design review board, and the developer's response]

The city’s planning staff had recommended postponement to give the developer – Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Maryland – more time to address several outstanding issues. Those issues were listed as an inadequate drive approach on East Washington to access the service alley; changes to the landscape plan and grading plan, as requested by city staff; and revisions to the site’s solid waste plan, which city staff had deemed unacceptable. A representative for the developer described these as minor, and city staff expects they’ll be resolved by the commission’s Oct. 4 meeting.

The Varsity: Public Commentary

Seven people spoke during a public hearing on the project, including four residents and three representatives from the developer.

Hugh Sonk spoke on behalf of the Sloan Plaza Condominium Association – Sloan Plaza is located at 505 E. Huron, just east and across the street from The Varsity site. He said he’d been deeply involved in developing the city’s design guidelines and design review board, and he had several concerns about the proposed project and its impact on residents in the neighborhood. He wasn’t opposed to the project, but wanted to address those concerns: (1) traffic on Huron; and (2) the design of the facade facing Huron. Regarding traffic, Sonk said that having an entrance off Huron into the building’s underground parking will exacerbate an already congested corridor – a major traffic artery that will be even more crowded when the University of Michigan’s new children’s hospital opens in November. There’s not adequate space on the site to queue cars, he said, which will result in backups on Huron.

Sonk’s other concern was the design of the facade facing Huron. The idea behind the design guidelines is that new buildings should complement existing structures, he said. In this case, The Varsity is adjacent to historic buildings, which that are located in the Old Fourth Ward historic district. The current design, he said, doesn’t look like it’s a street facade – it looks like the entrance to an alley. He likened it to the large AT&T building, located further west on Huron.

Bob Keane, a principal with WDG Architects in Washington D.C., introduced himself as representing The Varsity’s ownership group. He described the process so far as collaborative, working with city staff and input from the neighbors, including the adjacent First Baptist Church. A lot of good comments came out of the design review process, he said, and they’re working to keep the project feasible while trying to beautify it as well.

Keane told commissioners it’s important to take a step back and look at the entire neighborhood, city and UM campus, when considering the building’s design. He showed several slides of other buildings in Ann Arbor and on campus, that were meant to provide context to The Varsity. Keane also described several elements of The Varsity’s design, including the mews along the building’s east side, and the courtyard on the East Washington site that opens onto the gardens of the First Baptist Church.

The Varsity (view from Huron Street)

Architect's rendering of The Varsity – the view from Huron Street. The dark brick building on the right is 411 Lofts, at the corner of Washington and Division.

Christine Crockett introduced herself as president of the Old Fourth Ward Association, and a member of the committee that helped write the city’s design guidelines. She didn’t object to the project – it’s appropriate for the D1 zoning, and more student housing near campus is needed. But her principal objection is the design of the Huron Street facade, saying it looked like a back door garage. For years, the city has been talking about ways to make the Huron Street corridor more attractive, she said. The building should incorporate elements of the historic district character overlay, she said.

There didn’t seem to be any design changes made since the design review board meeting, Crockett contended, and she felt the architects could do a better job. Comparing the building to other structures that were several blocks away (as the developer’s architect had done) wasn’t germane. She suggested removing the garage entrance from Huron completely, saying that it would help alleviate a lot of problems, including traffic concerns. Crockett concluding by saying that “a garage door is simply not acceptable. This is not the back door to anything.”

Ray Detter spoke on behalf of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council. He called The Varsity a significant project. Over the years, planning commissioners have noted that they didn’t have purview over the design of a project – but now, they do, he said, because of the city’s design guidelines and review process. The developers of The Varsity did a good job, Detter said, and also responded to input by improving the project. However, “our position is it can be even better yet,” he said.

Detter suggested making all parking underground, for example, and getting rid of the first floor parking that’s adjacent to the mews. The building could have a deeper setback in exchange for adding a couple of floors to its height – no one would object to that, he said. Perhaps the mews could be wider, too. Detter said that everyone knows this project will be approved. It’s just a matter of how good it will be, and of how good the process will be. Every time he sees it, as the project moves forward, he hopes to see improvement.

Earl Ophoff of Midwestern Consulting, who’s working on the project, addressed some of the outstanding issues that had been cited by staff as the reason for postponement. He noted that the solid waste plan, which city staff deemed unacceptable, is similar to plans that the city already approved for the apartment buildings Zaragon I and Zaragon II [now known as Zaragon West]. The staff also indicated that the entrance to the service alley off of East Washington is inadequate, but Ophoff said the driveway was narrowed on the west side because a dumpster is not planned for that location.

The staff requested corrections to the project’s landscaping plan sheet, which Ophoff described as housekeeping details. His final point related to a staff request for corrections to the grading plan sheet, as noted by the city’s development inspector. Ophoff said he’s at a loss to know who the development inspector is – this was the first he’d heard about such a person, and he’d previously received no staff comments about the site’s grading plan.

Brad Moore, Bob Keane

Brad Moore and Bob Keane, architects for The Varsity.

Brad Moore, an architect on the project, spoke about the Huron Street facade, which he said had changed significantly from the original design. The original design called for a solid, opaque garage door facing Huron, he said. Now, the door will be designed to look more like windows. The design uses hues from nearby buildings, Moore said, including Campus Inn. A small plaza has been added, with benches and an area for plantings. All of these things are intended to make it more like a front facade, he said.

By having entrances off of both Huron and Washington, Moore said, the traffic situation will actually be better – the cars won’t be coming in and out of just one place. They’re trying to minimize the conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians, he said, noting that there are fewer pedestrians on Huron than on Washington.

Steve Kaplan said he’ll be a neighbor of the future building, and appealed to developers to put more of the parking underground. He urged them to keep the ground-level space available for future retail or commercial use. In conversations he’s had, Kaplan said the sense is that there’s not demand for retail there. But the area is changing rapidly, he noted, with this project, the nearby 411 Lofts and North Quad (a UM dorm). The opportunities are just starting to grow, and it would be a waste if that ground floor were squandered on parking. The developers have said they’re constrained by the site’s topography, but since they’ll need to build a foundation for the structure, Kaplan said that would negate issues with the existing topography.

The Varsity: Commissioner Discussion

Commissioners asked a range of questions, focusing primarily on traffic, parking and the design of the building and surrounding site. For this report, their discussion is organized by topic.

The Varsity: Commissioner Discussion – Traffic

Tony Derezinki was one of several commissioners who asked about traffic in relation to the entrances, especially off of Huron. He noted that in addition to public commentary, the commission had received a letter from Maurice Binkow, a resident of Sloan Plaza, who was concerned about traffic. [.pdf of Binkow's letter] Derezinski asked if any traffic studies had been done.

Earl Ophoff of Midwestern Consulting said the traffic study they’d done was based on the existing structure, which was an office building. There were peak hours in the morning and evening, but students don’t have those same peaks, he said – they operate on different schedules.

Site of the proposed Varsity apartments, from the Huron Street side

Facing south across Huron Street – the site of the proposed Varsity apartments. In the background to the right is 411 Lofts. To the left is the top of the Liberty Square (Tally Hall) parking structure.

Kirk Westphal said the additional curbcuts make it more difficult for pedestrians. He wondered what the heaviest trips per hour are expected to be, compared to what’s there now. Alexis DiLeo said she could get that information from the traffic study, but that in general, residences tend to have lower traffic volume per unit than office buildings. And students – The Varsity’s target market – won’t likely be going to 9-5 jobs, she said, so the traffic volume would be significantly different than it is now.

Eleanore Adenekan wanted to know whether there are more pedestrians than vehicles on Huron. DiLeo said she didn’t have counts, but her sense is that there are significantly more vehicles than pedestrians, given that Huron is a four-lane road and one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

Westphal said it was inexcusable to have two curbcuts out of the building, leading out onto two busy streets. He didn’t buy the argument that it diffused traffic – most students use their cars infrequently. Regarding the aesthetics, it’s not possible to dress up the garage, he said, adding that it’s “dangerous and not a pedestrian-oriented use.”

The Varsity: Commissioner Discussion – Parking

Diane Giannola said her main concern was with parking. There are 78 spaces in the structure for 415 bedrooms – is that enough? Brad Moore responded, saying that the parking ratio conforms with the city’s zoning ordinance, and is similar to the parking provided at 411 Lofts, Zaragon and 601 S. Forest – other downtown apartment buildings designed for students. He said it’s the experience of the owner, in other projects, that students living in apartments this close to campus don’t need cars on site.

Responding to Giannola’s query about how the spots will be assigned, Moore said residents can lease the spots. He noted that it’s a separate lease from the apartment leases.

Giannola wondered if there’d been problems with residents of 411 Lofts parking in the neighborhoods. Moore said he wasn’t aware of any problems. He said he’d been told by someone at the State Street Merchants Association that a significant number of permits for spaces at Tally Hall [the parking structure that's now called Liberty Square] will be rotated out of that structure into other city parking garages, including the new underground structure being built on South Fifth Avenue. When that happens, it will free up more spots at Tally Hall, he said.

Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, told commissioners that there’s a waiting list to get parking permits, but that about 700 new spaces will be coming on line in about a year at the underground structure. When that happens, there’ll be a lot of shifting of permits among the city’s parking structures, she said.

Moore noted that the underground structure will be opening before The Varsity does.

Even so, Giannola said she worried about the impact on neighborhoods if students end up parking their cars on neighborhood streets, rather than in city structures or The Varsity.

[Later in the meeting, during the final opportunity for public commentary, Ray Detter said he wanted to clarify the situation regarding parking in the State Street area, which he believed had been misrepresented. The intent is to free up space in the State Street area to use for short-term parking, he said, as part of a demand management system being developed by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA manages the public parking system for the city. By moving long-term permit parking to the underground structure on South Fifth, the idea is not to fill the freed-up spaces elsewhere with more long-term parking, he said.]

Diane Giannola, Erica Briggs

Planning commissioners Diane Giannola and Erica Briggs.

Erica Briggs asked about a possible Zipcar partnership. Moore indicated that two spaces are planned for a car-sharing service like Zipcar.

Briggs also wondered why all the parking isn’t underground. Bob Keane, one of the project’s architects, noted that the design uses the underground parking that’s in the existing building, with an entrance off of Huron. It’s cost effective to do that, he said. They they’ll build a separate entrance off Washington leading into parking on a level above that underground area. There will be a screen of vines and other greenery to shield the cars from the mews, he said, so it will feel like you’re walking through a garden.

Briggs wanted to know more about the bike storage, too. A total of 121 bike parking spaces are proposed, including 6 hoops in the entry plaza on the south side of the building, 6 hoops on the north side of the building, 37 covered hoops in the parking levels, and 72 spaces in a secure bike storage room on the ground level of the building. Briggs asked whether there will be amenities like a free air pump provided in the storage room or in the plaza, as a community benefit. The developer’s representatives said they could explore that possibility.

The Varsity: Commissioner Discussion – Building Design

Kirk Westphal asked Alexis DiLeo to clarify the commission’s ability to talk about design, in the context of the city’s new design guidelines and review board. DiLeo replied that with the council’s adoption of the design guidelines, the topic of design is “fair game” for commissioners now. She reminded them that while the design review process is mandatory, compliance is voluntary.

Tony Derezinski asked for more information about design of the north facade, facing Huron. Earl Ophoff of Midwestern Consulting replied that they were treating it more like a plaza than a garage. Bob Keane added that both entrances – on Huron and Washington – were being treated the same, using the same materials and configuration. On the Huron side, they’ve added windows above the garage door, and tried to make it look more like a storefront, with a large metal canopy overhang above the garage door. The design also attempts to mirror the context of the two-story houses that are on either side of the building, he said. He felt the facade contributed greatly to the streetfront.

Derezinski replied that it seems like the objection is to having any entrance at all on that side. Given that there is an entrance, this design is probably as good as it can get, he said.

Westphal clarified with DiLeo that the cutout – the plaza in front of the building on the East Washington side – was the result of discussions with neighbors, particularly the First Baptist Church to the east of the site. DiLeo said the plaza had always been part of the design – she was unsure what the original inspiration was for it. She said it has the effect of making a nicer transition between 411 Lofts to the west, which has a 10-foot setback, and the church to the east.

Erica Briggs asked the developer to discuss the plaza in more detail. She also noted that a lot of the design influence came from the church.

Ophoff described attributes of the plaza and mews. Multi-colored pavers will be used to create a design in the walkway, he said, that will lead pedestrians through the space. Other features include ornamental fencing and gates, and plantings – both annuals and perennials. Ophoff also described a “green screen” – a wire matrix on the building over which Virginia creeper vines and flowering hydrangeas will grow, to mask the first-floor parking area. There will be lots of opportunity for artistic details and richness in this area, he said.

Briggs encouraged the developer to widen the walkway as much as possible. It’s generally 5 feet, but widens up to 10 feet in some places. She also urged the developer to add even more details to the design, noting that it would be one of the longest pedestrian connections downtown, running from Huron to Liberty. It should be an area that people want to use and explore. Milwaukee does a good job of putting in touches of public art throughout the city, she said. One possibility might be to ask Ann Arbor’s public art commission for funding, she said.

Westphal praised the report of the design review board, saying that it sounds like the process led to some positive changes. He applauded the developer for including things like the walkway and bike spaces above the minimum required. However, his sticking point is the cutout – the plaza area in front of the building facing East Washington. The city can’t require that the building include retail, but it looks like the plaza is going to be underutilized, Westphal said, “and goodness knows we have enough of them around town – we don’t need more.”

Westphal also urged the developer to take another look at the building’s east facade, facing campus – it could be improved.

Brad Moore responded to Westphal’s criticism of the plaza, saying that the planning staff thought a larger plaza would be better, but the developer would be willing to reduce it in size so that it simply complies with code. Westphal asked whether they’d be willing to compromise on the design of the plaza, to make it more pedestrian friendly. Moore indicated that his client wouldn’t be willing to do that.

The Varsity: Commissioner Discussion – Retail

Westphal wondered if there’d been any discussion about adding retail to the first floor. The planning staff did suggest it, DiLeo said, and it would be possible to renovate the building later and add it. Currently a lounge for residents in planned in the first floor area, with another lounge – and an outdoor patio – on the top level.

Eleanore Adenekan asked for additional explanation about why the developer wasn’t putting in retail. Moore noted that the first floor facing Washington includes a lounge area, and in the floor above that there’ll be a fitness room. Those areas are designed to engage the plaza and streetscape, he said. There’s also a top floor lounge, so if the first floor lounge is converted into a coffeeshop or other retail in the future, residents will still have a lounge area.

But in talking with other landlords in the area and doing market research, Moore said, it didn’t seem like the time is right for retail. He noted that the leasing office at 411 Lofts is being relocated from one of the upper levels down to the first floor, because the owner couldn’t find a tenant for the first floor retail space. The former leasing office is being converted into another apartment.

Outcome: Commissioners voted unanimously to postpone the project.

Misc. Communications

Every meeting includes points on the agenda for communications from commissioners and staff. Several topics were mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting.

Misc. Communications: City Place, Heritage Row

In addition to serving on planning commission, Tony Derezinski is a city councilmember representing Ward 2. He gives regular updates to the commission about city council actions, and on Tuesday reported a variety of items from the council’s Sept. 19 meeting. In addition to council action related to the city’s public art ordinance – which he characterized as leading to a “pretty husky debate” – Derezinski mentioned that the council postponed action on rezoning a property on South State, which houses a medical marijuana dispensary. The planning commission had recommended denial of that request from the Treecity Health Collective.

Other council action related to the planning commission included passing revisions to the commission’s bylaws and authorizing staff to move ahead with systematic annexation of township islands within the city.

Derezinski also noted that although it wasn’t on the council’s agenda or discussed publicly, the issue of the City Place apartment complex, which is poised to break ground in the coming weeks, was “quietly being discussed” among councilmembers, he said. If nothing changes, then the City Place project will be built and some houses along South Fifth will be demolished. [An alternative proposal, called Heritage Row, would have preserved those houses, in addition to building new apartment buildings. That proposal failed to achieve the eight votes it needed on the 11-member council.]

Derezinski said a lot of the focus has been on those councilmembers who voted against Heritage Row. [Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).] Derezinski concluded by saying you never know what might happen, adding that there’s “many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.” [For background, see Chronicle coverage: "City Place Project Moves Forward"]

Eric Mahler

Eric Mahler, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission.

Misc. Communications: Public Hearing on 2333 S. State

Eric Mahler, chair of the planning commission, announced that the planning staff is reviewing a request to divide a 4.13-acre parcel at 2333 S. State into two separate lots for commercial use. According to a staff memo, this is an administrative process – assuming that the request conforms to the state Land Division Act, it will be approved. The planning commission does not have authority to act on this request.

Misc. Communications: R4C/R2A Committee

Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning staff, reported that a Sept. 21 meeting of the R4C/R2A advisory committee had been postponed. City planning staff had heard from several committee members who felt they needed more information before reconvening. Rampson reminded commissioners that they’d received a preliminary report at a working session in June. The advisory group is developing recommendations for zoning changes in Ann Arbor’s near-downtown residential neighborhoods. Rampson said committee members feel that they might be able to reach consensus, or at least form a majority opinion – that’s what the next meeting is intended to do. It will likely be rescheduled in 2-3 weeks.

Misc. Communications – Sustainability Joint Session

Rampson reminded commissioners of a joint session on Tuesday, Sept. 27 with the city’s energy commission, environmental commission and park advisory commission. The meeting, which will focus on the city’s sustainability efforts, starts at 6 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Road. A previous joint session on this topic was held in April 2010.

Present: Eleanore Adenekan, Erica Briggs, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Kirk Westphal.

Absent: Bonnie Bona, Evan Pratt, Wendy Woods

Next special meeting: On Tuesday, Sept. 27, the planning commission will be meeting in a joint session with members of the city’s energy commission, environmental commission, and park advisory commission. The focus of the meeting will be on the city’s sustainability efforts. The session starts at 6 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Road.

Next regular meeting: The planning commission next meets on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the city planning commission. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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Ann Arbor Design Guidelines: Final OK Tue, 07 Jun 2011 00:51:39 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its June 6, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to an amendment of its land use control ordinance that will establish design guidelines for new projects in downtown Ann Arbor, and set up a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines. It’s the final piece of the A2D2 rezoning initiative.

Review by the DRB will come before a developer’s meeting with nearby residents for each project – which is already required as part of the citizen participation ordinance. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

The city council had previously approved the design guideline review program at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. The city planning commission unanimously recommended the change to the city’s ordinance at its April 5, 2011 meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

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

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Ann Arbor Council Delays Budget Vote Thu, 19 May 2011 15:56:45 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 16, 2011): Ann Arbor’s city charter requires that the city council amend and adopt a city budget by its second meeting in May. If it fails to act, by default the unamended budget proposed in April by the city administrator is adopted.


During public commentary, Sue Maguire addressed the council on the topic of proposed reductions to the fire department. (Photos by the writer.)

But Monday, at its second meeting in May this year, the city council did not act, choosing instead to recess and continue the meeting the following week, on May 23. The decision to delay was prompted by uncertainty about revenue from the public parking system. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city were poised to ratify a new agreement on parking revenue on May 2, but that agreement was put off when questions were raised about the DDA tax increment finance (TIF) capture. The DDA later called a special meeting on Friday, May 20 to address that issue.

Even though the council did not act on the budget, most of the evening’s discussion was dominated by budget talk, including extensive public commentary on the proposed cuts in the police and fire departments. The council also got a briefing from its chief of police and interim fire chief, Barnett Jones, who responded to an article published in about fire department response times, calling the calculations presented in the piece inaccurate.

In addition to putting off action on the FY 2012 budget, the council also tabled decisions on human services funding, funding for a water system study, and fee increases for next year.

However, the council did transact some business. It authorized an increase in taxicab fares in light of rising gas prices. The council also approved neighborhood stabilization funds for demolition of three houses on North Main Street to prepare the site for construction of the Near North affordable housing project. Two large vehicle purchases – a street sweeper and a sewer truck – that had been postponed from the previous meeting were authorized.

The council also revised its administrative policy on how the 2006 parks millage is to be spent. Funds outside the general fund can count as general fund money for the purpose of the policy, as long as those funds are not drawn from the parks millage. The council also gave initial approval to an ordinance on design guidelines for new buildings downtown.

FY 2012 Budget Decisions

Before the council was approval of the 2012 fiscal year budget that had been proposed by then-city administrator Roger Fraser just before he left that position to take a post as a deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan. The city’s fiscal year starts on July 1.

The city’s charter stipulates that the administrator must submit the proposed budget to the council in April and that the council must approve a budget by its second meeting in May, which this year fell on May 16. If the council fails to approve the budget – with any amendments – by its second May meeting, the budget as proposed by the administrator is adopted by default.

The budget as proposed included $77,900,405 in general fund revenues and tapped the reserves for a total of $1,022,136. The city of Ann Arbor’s total budget, including all of its funds (major street fund, parks millage, water fund, sewer fund, etc.) stands at $312,182,605 for FY 2012.

FY 2012 Budget: Announcement of Delay

At the beginning of the council’s May 16 meeting, mayor John Hieftje indicated that when the council reached the budget item on the agenda, they intended to recess the meeting and continue it the following Monday. The budget was the next-to-last agenda item.

As a reason for delaying, Hieftje cited uncertainty about the status of a new parking agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Later in the week, the DDA board announced it would hold a special meeting at noon on Friday, May 20 in an attempt to address questions about its TIF capture and to ratify its side of a new parking contract with the city.

Expected amendments to the budget when the council takes it up on May 23 include: (1) use of $90,000 in general fund reserves to add to the parks allocation; (2) use of $85,600 in general fund reserves to add to human services funding; (3) use of a nominal amount of general fund reserves to cover the cost of an additional primary election (as proposed, the FY 2012 budget anticipated primaries in only two of the city’s five wards – there will be primaries in three wards); and (4) elimination of a proposed fee for three-times-weekly trash pickup in the downtown area.

Before the meeting, no budget amendments were anticipated that would change the proposed cuts in public safety positions – 13 in police services and seven in fire protection services. However, at the meeting, Hieftje hinted that some, but not all, of the cuts in police and fire might be avoided.

FY 2012 Budget: Safety Services – Public Commentary

The formal hearing on the FY 2012 budget took place at the council’s May 2 meeting. But several people had signed up for the public commentary reserved time at the beginning of the meeting, including some familiar faces from local government, past and present. [At the council's next gathering on May 23, there will presumably not be public commentary reserved time offered, as it is a continuation of the same meeting.]

Leading off public commentary was Fred Veigel, who serves on the Washtenaw County Road Commission. He introduced himself as president of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, AFLCIO, which includes 37 local unions with 18,000 members, he said. Terminating police and firefighter positions below national standards would endanger lives and property of Ann Arbor citizens, warned Veigel. Responding to comments by Hieftje at the start of the meeting about the separation of the budget into various funds, he said, “Balderdash!” Money could be borrowed from different funds, he contended, not taken away.

He asked if the last audit of fund balances has been reviewed to see if funds are available for public safety services. The council should cut other services first, he said, like human services. The council should amend the city’s parks policy and let Washtenaw County take over the two city golf courses – that would save several hundred thousand dollars. He said he’d talked with councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) about enforcing state vehicle codes on unmarked commercial vehicles that don’t pull permits to work in the city – that could generate additional revenue.

Following Veigel to the podium was Wes Prater, who currently serves on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. He introduced himself as a retired firefighter, and vice president of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, AFLCIO. He told the city council it was good to be back before them – he hadn’t been there in a while. He asked to council to reflect on some basic points. What services do citizens expect to receive from government? What are the basic quality of life issues? What will ensure sound economic development in the community? What are best practices for re-entry of those who are incarcerated and for dealing with mental health issues? These are all related to the function of the emergency safety system of the city, he said.

For the fire department, eight minutes is too long for a response time – four minutes is recommended by national standards, he said. After four minutes, Prater said, a fire doubles in size every minute. Closing stations and rotating stations gives citizens a false sense of security. The fire department is struggling at this time to provide a basic level of service to the citizens, and the further reductions will make it difficult to answer more than one fire at one time. Multiple fires would require mutual aid from departments in other communities, which would require more than eight minutes, he warned.

Prater noted that according to a recent report from Washtenaw County’s equalization director, Ann Arbor’s property values had dropped less than the values in the rest of the county.

University of Michigan Graduate Student Organization Sign Ann Arbor city council meeting

University of Michigan Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) supporters in the audience at the May 16 Ann Arbor city council meeting.

Chelsea Del Rio introduced herself as the vice president of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan. She told the city council that the GEO stands in solidarity with the firefighers. The GEO is concerned about the rotating closure of fire stations, especially when Station 5 on the university’s north campus is closed. It’s a great concern to the UM community, she said. It’s a concern about physical property, ranging from the safety of historical documents to research facilities, as well as a concern about safety and well-being of students, faculty staff and all Ann Arbor residents.

The unions at UM – from lecturers, to building trades, to nurses – have expressed this view to UM president Mary Sue Coleman as well, Del Rio said. She concluded by saying that the members of the GEO stand with Ann Arbor firefighters, and they urged the council to do the same.

Noting that he was a former member of the city’s park advisory commission and the planning commission, James D’Amour told the council that he was speaking to them as a citizen, not as a member of any group. He said he’d seen declines in terms of services and the promise the city was supposed to keep with respect to the parks, but said he might address that issue later. That evening, he said, he wanted to put a face on the important public safety services offered by the city.

D’Amour then recounted how 12 years ago, his second-floor neighbors – he and his wife lived on the third floor – had started a fire through careless behavior. He said that without help from the fire department, his wife wouldn’t be alive today and likely neither would he. He said he’d seen thousands of dollars paid by the city for consultants, parking structures and public art. He concluded by thanking the firefighters who saved his wife’s life 12 years ago.

Lisa Dusseau told the council she was born and raised in Ann Arbor. She was speaking to them for the first time due to the pending fire department layoffs. She said she admired the skill and fortitude it takes to be a firefighter. She said she’d been following the budget discussions on She wondered why it took so long to get the information out. She had concerns about response times and deaths per calendar year. Increased cuts will turn Ann Arbor’s fire protection service into a surround-and-drown department. If she wanted that level of service, she said, she’d move to a township.

Dusseau contended that once staffing levels fell below 100 firefighters, the number of deaths due to fire had started to increase – even one is too many, she said. Non-essentials need to be eliminated from the budget. She’d read that money to supplement the budget was available but not applied for. She said that people wearing swim goggles at the city council was good theater, but doesn’t serve needs of the city as a whole. [This was an apparent allusion to the May 2009 public hearing on that year's budget, which included advocates for keeping Mack pool open. They had worn swim goggles – among them was James D'Amour. ] She told the council to take another look at the budget and not let staffing levels deteriorate.


Standing is Wendy Woods, former Ward 5 councilmember and current city planning commissioner. She was talking to Sandi Smith (Ward 1) before the meeting.

Former Ward 5 councilmember and current planning commissioner Wendy Woods told the council she wanted to address the issue of police and fire fighters. She said the myth needs to be debunked that fewer fires means we need fewer firefighters. The fire department has served our residents admirably, she said. They are first to respond when you’re at the lowest point in your life. They bring a calm reassurance that someone is there to help you.

Woods said she was concerned about protecting lives of citizens and their property, and also about the safety of firefighters. She urged the council to take the steps necessary to bridge the gap between the fire department and city hall. It’s just a street [Fifth Avenue] that separates them, but it might as well be the Grand Canyon, she said. She concluded with three requests: (1) don’t cut the fire department; (2) don’t cut the police department; and (3) keep residents safe.

University Bank president Stephen Ranzini introduced himself to the council as speaking for himself. He noted that he was a member of the city’s economic development corporation board.

He criticized spending $59 million on the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage at around $90,000 per parking spot – he called the project “the Big Dig.” He continued by criticizing the $43 million expenditure on the “Taj Mahal.” [He was alluding to the new municipal center, or police-courts facility, which the city is officially calling the Justice Center. Some residents have tagged the facility with the name "Raj Mahal" after former city administrator Roger Fraser.]

Ranzini said the city had a $29 million net increase in assets in FY 2010 – which the private sector would call a “profit.” He also said the city had $103 million in unrestricted funds, based on the city’s audited statements. He was referring to the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) [emphasis added]:

$103,726,801 is unrestricted and may be used to meet the government’s ongoing obligations to citizens and creditors, subject to the purpose of the fund in which they are located. This balance is comprised of $43,955,179 in governmental activities and $59,771,622 in business-type activities. [page 10]

“Governmental activities” include general fund activities such as police and fire protection and parks and recreation. “Business-type activities” include funds like water, sewer, and solid waste.

In light of the increase in assets and the amount of unrestricted funds, Ranzini questioned the need to cut police and fire staffing. There’s only one ladder truck owned by the city that is capable of responding to rescue his family from the 10-story building downtown where his family lives, he said. [The 95-foot ladder truck is deployed at Station 1 on Fifth Avenue, across from city hall.] If that ladder truck is responding to a fire in another part of the city that would have otherwise been handled by a station that is closed, he and his wife and children would die, because they can’t jump to safety, he said.

As a downtown resident, Ranzini said he could tell the council that it’s already unsafe at certain times of the day to walk outside. It’s a hostile environment for pedestrians, he said, because a culture of panhandlers is allowed to operate with impunity. The city had allowed 10 Level IV registered sex offenders to take up residence in the homeless shelter, he said, which is one block from the YMCA, and there is no visible police presence.

Ranzini said his wife is correctly afraid to leave their home by herself at night. It’s not just a rainy day, but a “financial hurricane,” he said, so what else is the $103 million rainy-day fund for, if it’s not for times like now, he asked. People say that the money is in buckets, he said, and that the money in one bucket can’t get access to the money in other buckets. So, he said, “Let’s drain the buckets.” Persisting with the fiction of the various buckets enables claims of poverty, he said.

Ranzini noted that there are “leaks in the buckets,” citing as an example the $12 million in revenue to the general fund – used in part for police and fire protection – which the city has received from the city’s public parking revenue via the Downtown Development Authority over the last six years. If the DDA had not decided to build the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, he said, more money could have been transferred to the city. He contended that one fund can lend money to another fund. He said the city is very talented at charging fees to funds located outside the general fund. If the leaks in the buckets aren’t enough, then he suggested that the city’s charter be amended to access the money the city needs until the storm passes.

Sue Maguire introduced herself as a life-long Ann Arbor resident. She told the council how she’d been driving down Eisenhower Parkway recently, when her daughter yelled at her to call 911. Why? she asked her daughter. She pointed to the sign on the fire station, which read “Fire station closed. Call 911.” [The city is currently closing some fire stations on a rotating basis. The station near Eisenhower has a Briarwood Circle address.] They got a good laugh out of it, she said, but it really is an emergency – it’s an emergency that the city council has the ability to respond to. She told the council they need to say no to public safety cuts. She said she works in the field of crash research and knows the importance of immediate emergency response. As an Ann Arbor resident who has paid taxes her whole life, she wants public safety service to stay the same.

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Democratic Party member and leader. He called on the city council, the public attending the meeting and the community at large to look at major issues and the direct issues. He told them to look at the movement to recall Gov. Rick Snyder. He called on the citizens of Ann Arbor to think creatively when it comes to budgeting and to do it for multiple years, not just a single year. [The city of Ann Arbor's charter mandates that budgeting be done year by year, but the city has a two-year planning cycle.] He asked that responsible business owners think about “adopting” fire stations and police stations. He called for joining the fire departments of Ann Arbor with those of neighboring communities.

FY 2012 Budget: Council Commentary – Municipal Center

After public commentary, several council members used their communications time to discuss budget-related issues.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he wanted to address a FY 2011 allocation for non-departmental contingencies – $639,000 in construction overruns for new the municipal center. He said there is money allocated in FY 2012 for asbestos abatement, but he thought the asbestos abatement had already taken place. Funds seem like they’re being shifted, he said. The building is 50,000 square feet over-sized, he said.


Sign on the Huron Street entrance to city hall before the May 16 meeting. As the logistical routines settle into place for use of the new building, staff use practical means to ensure things work as planned.

Anglin suggested that the city should simply complete the work that needs to be done – and not do anything else on the extra 50,000 square feet, until it’s an economically better time. At that point we could put money into it. He noted that this year the city had eliminated the $700,000 economic development fund. [It's been folded into the general fund balance reserve.]

He noted that there was $3 million promised from a developer of the city-owned First and Washington parcel, but the city had not ever seen that money. [The city council extended the purchase option for the developer, Village Green, most recently in August of 2010, through June 1, 2011. The council set in place a series of milestones to be met and amended the development agreement in February 2011.] Anglin said that if he’d been asked in 1990 about building a new building, he’d have been right on board. But now we need to know what we can afford and what we can’t afford.

Responding to Anglin’s remarks about cost overruns with the municipal center, mayor John Hieftje asked interim city administrator Tom Crawford about cost overruns: Were there any? Crawford said that no, he was not aware of any.

Hieftje also clarified with Crawford, who’s the city’s CFO, that it would be possible for the city to amend the budget after it’s adopted if the financial situation changes. Crawford noted that the city council does not do it frequently, but it’s a possibility, and includes bringing back laid-off workers.

FY 2012 Budget: Council Commentary – Funds/Buckets

Mayor John Hieftje asked Ann Arbor’s CFO and interim city administrator Tom Crawford to respond to comments by Stephen Ranzini during public commentary about $103 million being in a rainy day fund. Crawford suggested that Ranzini was referring to the aggregated fund balance. For some of that amount, it’s not appropriate to use it for the general fund, he said, because it comes from ratepayers for utilities.

A lot of that $103 million is reserved for construction of the new wastewater treatment plant, Crawford said. Use of those funds is not a city charter issue – it’s a basic law. Crawford said that he had a lot of concern about the idea of borrowing funds from one fund to another. He allowed that the current situation is painful, but said the city has historically not taken short-term solutions for long-term problems. And that’s the kind of fiscal discipline that has allowed the city to remain financially stable.

Hieftje asked city attorney Stephen Postema to lay out what the legal consequences would be from the state if the city were to take money inappropriately from a utility fund. Postema said he’d have to get back to the council with the specifics on that.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that it was an opportune time to discuss the issue of using restricted funds as they relate to public art. [The city's Percent for Art program allocates 1% of all capital projects for use on public art.] Kunselman said the council had never received a written opinion from the city attorney on that issue, and now was perhaps a good time to get that opinion.

Kunselman asked if it were possible to pass an ordinance to pay for human services in the same way that public art is paid for. Kunselman said that for the public art program, the city is pulling from restrictive funds to build a fountain. [Kunselman has raised this issue previously about obtaining a legal opinion from the city attorney: "Getting Smarter About the City Charter"]

Kunselman wanted to know about possible increases in revenue now being projected by the state. He asked Crawford if the council would receive adjusted revenue projections by their next meeting. Crawford said that would be very unlikely. Of the additional revenue being discussed by the state, Crawford said, it’s not clear how much may roll down to the local level. It will be well past May before that’s clear, he said.

Kunselman asked about the city’s own property tax projection. Crawford told Kunselman that the numbers are pretty solid – he’s not expecting a change.

Marica Higgins (Ward 4) responded to public commentary by saying what she’d heard was not a suggest to take money from one fund and put it into another, but rather to borrow against it. That, she thought, was a fair question. Hieftje said he thought that would not be wise, even if it’s possible.

Kunselman asked about a comment from the city’s public services area administrator, Sue McCormick, to the effect that there is a formula through which the city is paying for police and fire protection from utility funds, not borrowing it. Hieftje commented that the formula-based allocation is made because the city’s public safety area is delivering a service for protection of facilities, given heightened national security concerns. Crawford added that the reason for the safety services fee as applied to utility infrastructure is that the property is government-owned, so there’s no property tax collected. The fee for safety services is a mechanism the city utilities can use to contribute to the city, Crawford said.

FY 2012 Budget: Response Time Reporting by

Mayor John Hieftje introduced the topic of an article about fire protection in the city that was published over the weekend, noting that for him, it raised more questions than it answered. From the podium at the front of city council chambers, chief of police and interim fire chief Barnett Jones agreed that the article called to mind a lot of questions.

Jones said the information he’d seen in the article was not in the official reports. The article contended that at an April 23, 2010 fire, a father and six-year-old had “jumped” from a roof. Jones said that no indication of that had been made by firefighters in the written report. When he looked at it, it made him wonder, “Where did that come from?”

By way of clarification, an article published last year on April 23, 2010 about that fire included the headline: “House fire injures 3 Ann Arbor firefighters; father, child jump from roof to safety.” The first sentence of the article states: “A father and his 6-year-old daughter jumped to safety from the roof of a burning house …” Near the end of the article, the description of the descent from the roof attributed to then-fire chief Dominick Lanza is less dramatic: “Lanza said they had made it off the roof by the time firefighters arrived.”

The AAFD official documentation for that fire includes the reports that people were on the roof, but indicates firefighters were told on arrival that everyone was out of the house:


The fire investigation documentation reports an interview with the father of the family as follows:

He went to [the daughter's] bedroom and woke her up to get her out but when he attempted to escape he could not make it down the stairs through the smoke so he exited out the window on to the outside ledge and proceeded to the garage roof and then to the ground.

The Chronicle was not able to identify any descriptions in the report, or attributions to fire department officials in the article, that specifically indicate a jump was made from the roof.

Jones said the article stated that the response time for that fire was 9 minutes [and 4 seconds], but Jones said that in fact the total complement of firefighters was on the scene in 7 minutes. These are professional firefighters whose reputations could be damaged by what’s in the article, he said. Jones said he wanted to look at the reports and get together with the assistant fire chiefs and reach out to Ryan Stanton, the reporter who’d put together the article, and compare it to what’s in the actual reports. The information in the article doesn’t appear to be what the city has in the fire department reports, Jones said.

Hieftje wondered if it would make a difference if six people or four people were staffed – he wondered how they would get to the scene any faster. Jones said that for some of the fires discussed in the article, the houses were totally engulfed before the firefighters arrived. They did their best to get there as quickly as they could. So to have information put out in the community that indicated that they didn’t get to the scene fast enough – when the official reports show a different time – that needs to be clarified and corrected, Jones said.

Hieftje asked for a clarification of how “response time” is calculated. Jones said you hear a lot about the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 1710 Standards. Jones described the standards to the council. The text of the response time standard [emphasis added]: Initial Arriving Company. The fire department’s fire suppression resources shall be deployed to provide for the arrival of an engine company within a 240-second travel time to 90 percent of the incidents as established in Chapter 4. Personnel assigned to the initial arriving company shall have the capability to implement an initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC). Initial Full Alarm Assignment Capability. The fire department shall have the capability to deploy an initial full alarm assignment within a 480-second travel time to 90 percent of the incidents as established in Chapter 4.

Jones told the council that it’s the four-minute “response time” standard they’ve been hearing a lot about. And based on the fire department official reports, Jones said, the fire trucks are covering the distance in the appropriate time from anywhere in the city. He said he believed there are some errors in Stanton’s calculations published in the story that need to be cleared up.

FY 2012 Budget: Fire Reporting – Background

In terms of the NFPA standards, it’s clear that the “response time” of the fire department is a time interval – with a beginning and an end. The start of the “response time” interval is when the firetruck is on the way (i.e., is en route) to the fire scene. The “response time” interval ends when the truck arrives on the scene of the fire.

This fits with the idea that the “response time” standard is meant in part to address the issue of adequate geographic fire protection coverage, which is related to the number of fire stations, hence to staffing levels. That standard does not address how efficient firefighters are at getting themselves into their gear and onto their trucks after they are notified that they need to roll. And the “response time” also does not include the interval before firefighters are notified – that is, the time it takes the 911 operator and fire dispatcher to deal with a call.

Obviously, the intervals that precede the “response time” interval also matter. And separate standards apply to those intervals. For the interval that starts with the call to 911 and ends with the notification of a fire station that it needs to roll its trucks down the road, the standard is 60 seconds. From the time a fire station receives notification, i.e., is dispatched to the fire scene, to the point when the trucks are actually on the way, the standard is also 60 seconds.

In terms of time points and the intervals between them, this is The Chronicle’s summary of what the NFPA timeline looks like:

Timepoint 1: The time when the emergency alarm is received by the public safety operator.
Interval: 1-2 [Dispatch Time (or Call Processing Time)] 60 seconds
Timepoint 2: The time when sufficient information is known to the dispatcher, and the relevant fire station is notified of the emergency.
Interval: 2-3 [Turnout Time] 60 seconds
Timepoint 3: The time at which a fire truck is en route to the emergency incident.
Interval: 3-4 [Response Time] 240 seconds (4 minutes), 480 seconds for full-alarm assignment of vehicles and personnel.
Timepoint 4: The time when a fire truck arrives at the scene.

Determining the actual intervals for a given fire is a matter of performing the clock arithmetic on the correct timepoints. The reporting in the article about the AAFD response times was based on timepoints drawn from AAFD official reports. However, instead of using Timepoint 3 (the actual en route time) for the arithmetic, it appears a different timepoint was used.

The fire reports used in the article were uploaded by that publication to

  • April 3, 2010
  • April 13, 2010
  • April 23, 2010
  • Sept. 16, 2010
  • Nov. 7, 2010
  • -

    Based on The Chronicle’s review of the AAFD reports used in’s arithmetic, it seems that AAFD’s practice is not to record Timepoint 3 as a separate datapoint, but instead to copy the timepoint labeled “dispatch time” into the report field labeled “enroute time.” From a Sept. 16, 2010 report:

    Ann Arbor Fire Department Report

    Ann Arbor Fire Department report for Sept. 16, 2010 fire reporting, illustrating the identical timepoint recordings for "notify time" and "enroute time."


    If the timepoint labeled “enroute time” is used for the clock arithmetic, ignoring the fact that it’s identical to the “notify time” (an equivalence that seems impossible), the result of the clock arithmetic for “response time” is 4 minutes 9 seconds [05:59:44 – 05:55:35 = 00:04:09], or 9 seconds longer than the NFPA standards that should be met for 90% of fires.

    In multiple places elsewhere in the same Sept. 16, 2010 report, a “dispatch time” is recorded as 05:55 – it’s only precise to the minute. And an “alarm time” is recorded as 05:55:35 – which is also identical to the “notify time” and the “enroute times.”

    The sum of the NFPA standards for the interval between the dispatch timepoint (Timepoint 2) to the on-scene arrival time (Timepoint 4) is 5 minutes. Based on that interval, the Sept. 16, 2010 “response time” + “turnout time” would be classified as meeting the NFPA standard.

    One of the reports used in the article does include Timepoint 3 as a separate datapoint – in the form of a screen grab from a dispatcher’s screen. For the April 23, 2010 fire, a separate timepoint – between “dispatch” and “on-scene” – is recorded as “respond.” That’s the timepoint when the firefighters alert dispatchers that they are on the way.

    AAFD screen grab report

    Excerpt from a dispatcher screen grab included in the Ann Arbor fire department report for April 23, 2010. The "respond time" corresponds to the "enroute time," or Timepoint 3, when the firefighters let the dispatcher know they're on the way to the scene.


    Using the “respond” timepoint for the clock arithmetic on the April 23, 2010 fire yields a 2 minute 37 second “response time” for the first-arriving vehicle and a 7 minute 6 second response for the fifth vehicle on the scene (including the battalion chief), which is Ann Arbor’s “full alarm assignment.” Both of those “response times” meet the NFPA standard.

    In an email to The Chronicle, assistant fire chief Chuck Hubbard noted that sometimes firefighters tell the dispatcher over the radio at the station that they’re responding to a call, then climb aboard the trucks and head to the fire scene, rather than radioing from the truck. That introduces some uncertainty in the response time data.

    assistant fire chief Chuck Hubbard

    Assistant fire chief Chuck Hubbard attended the council's May 16 meeting.

    While the “response time” standard addresses travel time to a fire scene, and relates to the number of stations maintained in the city and their geographic distribution, the other time intervals relate to call-center efficiency and the ability of firefighters to assemble their gear and start rolling down the road. It’s not clear what accounts for the three-minute interval between “dispatch” and “respond” for the April 23, 2010 fire.

    It does seem clear that, without an understanding of actual AAFD operating procedures and how they relate to the data included in official AAFD reports, it’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions from those reports about the actual time intervals that are relevant for evaluating Ann Arbor fire department performance against NFPA standards.

    The uncertainty of the data in the reports is supported by a notation in a report made five days after an April 13, 2010 fire [emphasis added]:

    04/18/2010 09:51:55 ETAYLOR All individual personnel names were added to each apparatus for complete accountability of who was at the scene. The injury report was updated with the proper age of the firefighter who was injured at the scene. Also wanted to note that some of the times were estimated because of inaccurate times reported by central dispatch.

    FY 2012 Budget: Community Comparison Reporting

    At the council meeting, chief Jones went on to say that a article had failed to include in its presentation of data about other Big 10 university communities that some of those fire department have their own ambulances. That requires additional staffing, he said.

    Each ambulance would require an additional seven staff, he said. Taking East Lansing as an example [home of Michigan State University], Jones said that if the ambulance personnel were subtracted, it would work out to approximately the same relative staffing level as Ann Arbor.

    FY 2012 Budget: Council/Staff Response – Fire Protection

    Speaking about the fire protection study that the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) is conducting for the city, chief Jones characterized that organization as the neutral third party that would bring in experts from the fire service profession to do the study. [The contract with ICMA, for not more than $54,000, was authorized at the city council's Feb. 7, 2011 meeting.]

    Toward the beginning of the council meeting, mayor John Hieftje had asked interim city administrator Tom Crawford about the status of the fire protection study that the city has commissioned. Crawford said it’s expected to be delivered in July. [In connection with the appointment of the interim administrator from an internal pool of candidates, the fire protection study was one of the major projects identified as important for the appointee to carry forward.]

    Chief Jones noted that he’d been working with the two assistant fire chiefs, and he’d be bringing a recommendation to fill the open fire chief position by promoting from within. [Jones is head of public safety services for the city and is serving as interim fire chief in the wake of Dominick Lanza's resignation this spring, after only about a year on the job.]

    Ann Arbor is an intelligent community, Jones said, and we need to have the facts in front of us. The ICMA would provide those facts. ICMA would give clear advice so that Ann Arbor is prepared to go in the right direction, he said.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know who would be doing the fire protection study – city managers? Who are the actual people who have the expertise to evaluate the fire department, she asked. Jones told her it would be experts from the relevant field of city government. For Ann Arbor’s study, it would be Don James, a firefighter from Florida, who would lead the study. He’d be assisted by a data analyst and a third person who is an ex-fire chief, Jones said.

    Higgins asked who would write the report. She wanted to know if it would be filtered. Jones told Higgins, “No, ma’am.” He said a personal friend of his – the fire chief in Troy – had tried to influence that report, and they’d “slapped him” a few times. ICMA will not “water down” their results, Jones assured Higgins.

    During his communications time, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he wanted to clear up some misinformation. He said there’s a perception that the city has refused to meet with firefighters to negotiate a new contract. He said that’s clearly not accurate. The city has met at least 16 times with the firefighters’ negotiating team, most recently a week or so ago. A state mediator has participated in meetings on three occasions. Another another meeting was scheduled later this week. The firefighters had filed an Act 312 petition requesting arbitration in March. Among the issues in dispute are wages, pension, rank differential, and staffing levels. All of those have the potential to affect the budget, depending on how the arbitrator rules, Rapundalo said.

    Despite the uncertainty of the situation, the city continues to meet and hope that “cooler heads will prevail,” Rapundalo said. He hoped that the two sides can come to an understanding to mitigate some of the cuts.

    FY 2012 Budget: Council Deliberations

    The decision to recess the meeting and continue it a week later is driven by a city charter requirement that the council adopt its budget no later than the second meeting in May, which began May 16. When the meeting resumes on May 23, it will be considered to be the same meeting.

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she’d looked it up in Robert’s Rules of Order and what should happen is to “adjourn to date and time specific” After clarifying with city attorney Stephen Postema that either the word “recess” or “adjourn” would work, Hieftje noted that the date and time would be 7 p.m. on May 23.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to recess the meeting until Monday, May 23 at 7 p.m.

    Human Services Funding

    Before the council was a resolution to allocate $1,159,029 in funding to nonprofits in the city that provide human services.

    The $1,159,029 amount to be allocated reflects a 9% reduction from FY 2011 human services funding levels. The council had postponed consideration of the human services allocation at its May 2, 2011 meeting in order to explore ways of “finding another dime.”

    The city’s support for human services is allocated in coordination with other entities: the United Way of Washtenaw County ($1,677,000), Washtenaw County ($1,015,000) and the Washtenaw Urban County ($363,154).

    On Monday, councilmembers were inclined to delay action on all budget-related issues, given their plan to delay action on the FY 2012 budget, which was achieved through a recess of the meeting until Monday, May 23. When the meeting continues at that time, the resolution on human services funding can be taken off the table for deliberation and a vote.

    It’s possible that when the budget resolution is considered on May 23, an amendment will be proposed to draw $85,600 from the city’s general fund reserve to increase the human services allocation. That budget amendment is expected to be proposed by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

    Outcome: The council voted to lay on the table the resolution on human services funding. It can be taken up off the table when the meeting resumes on Monday, May 23.

    Water System Study

    Before the council was a $208,984 contract with AECOM for a study of the city’s water distribution system. The money for the study, which dates from a 2007 request for proposals (RFP), was allocated in the fiscal year 2011 budget of the city’s water fund. The level of service (LOS) study to be done by AECOM will recommend a sustainable level of service for the city’s water distribution system, and determine how much investment it would take to achieve that level. The study would also help the city decide, for example, which water mains should be replaced first.

    Water System Study: Council Deliberations

    Cresson Slotten, unit manager in the systems planning department, fielded questions from the council on the study. He described it as the second part of a two-part study. The first part had addressed the capacity and technical function of the water distribution system. The second phase looks at the level of services and will involve a citizens group, addressing issues like taste and odor, and will provide cost estimates to deliver the desired level of service.

    Mayor John Hieftje pointed out that the money for the study derives from fees paid by water consumers.

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Slotten if the four water main breaks in his neighborhood in the last year would be included in the scope of the study. Slotten allowed that this kind of issue is part of the study. Other factors include taste – as pipes begin to age, taste might be affected – color and odor.

    Kunselman then noted that the city has a very qualified staff. They know where breaks are, so why can’t the city do this internally? Why do they need to hire it out? Slotten said the city has maintained the system well, but hasn’t gone out to citizens and asked them for their views.

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said if she understood the proposal correctly, what the city is seeking is a consultant to communicate better with people who live in Ann Arbor, to ask the right questions and give the staff the information they have to share. Briere said it seems not to be a one-time thing – it seems to be a recurring theme about why the city hires consultants. Is it that the city doesn’t have the capacity to do the work, she asked, or doesn’t have the capacity to communicate?

    One thing a consultant brings, Slotten said, is the ability to compare standards to other communities across the U.S. and Canada. The consultant has evaluated assets in communities across the country, and brings that experience and context. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said the question has come up from residents about the city possibly privatizing its water distribution system. Smith provided the historical note that Ann Arbor had actually purchased its system originally from a private company in 1908.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Slotten to speak to the value of the consultant as it relates to the city’s capital planning. Slotten said that one of the reasons this particular firm was selected is that they use a capital asset prioritization simulator (CAPS) that takes advantage of information that the city is already tracking, like where breaks are occurring.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she could appreciate that the city wants to have the study done. However, she had a problem taking on a $200,000 study. She said she was not sure she could support it. She was particularly concerned about the $10,550 contingency. She felt like the city did not do a good job making sure that unused contingencies are returned to fund balances.

    CFO Tom Crawford noted that contingencies are used only if needed. Contingencies are reviewed quarterly, he said, and when the project is closed, contingencies go back.

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he was not for the amendment, saying that if there are concerns about accounting and how contingencies are closed out, then that issue should be addressed directly. Hieftje said he would not support the amendment either, saying the contingency could cover critical work that needs to be done.

    Outcome on contingency amendment: Amending out the contingency was approved on a 6-5 vote with support from: Smith, Briere, Rapundalo, Higgins, Kunselman and Anglin.

    Hieftje then asked if Higgins perhaps would like to delay a final vote until other budget issues were also addressed. So she moved that the issue be laid on the table.

    Outcome: The council voted to lay the resolution on the table. They’ll be able to take it up off the table when the meeting resumes on May 23.

    Neighborhood Stabilization Program Funds: Near North Demolition

    Before the council was a resolution to add to its neighborhood stabilization program (NSP) budget, and a corresponding expenditure to pay for the demolition of three houses as site preparation for the Near North affordable housing project on North Main.

    The addition to the NSP budget came from a reimbursement. The owner of a house paid back NSP money to the city, previously expended to demolish the owner’s property. That reimbursement amounted to $24,135. NSP funds come originally from federal grants allocated through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

    In addition, city staff identified an NSP homeowner acquisition and rehabilitation project that was completed under budget by $11,750. Combined, the additional revenue to the NSP budget and the savings on the rehabilitation project amount to $35,885. Of that amount, $33,292 will be used to pay for the demolition of 718, 722, and 724 N. Main St., with the remaining $2,593 going to administration costs in the office of community development, which oversees the NSP. The money will be allocated to the nonprofit Avalon Housing, which is developing the Near North project with Three Oaks.

    The city council originally approved rezoning for the project – a four-story, 39-unit mixed use residential building on a 1.19-acre site – on Sept. 21, 2009.

    NSP Near North Demolitions: Council Deliberations

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Mary Jo Callan, head of the city/county office of community development, to explain how the funding worked. Neighborhood stabilization program (NSP) funds received in 2009 were used initially to demolish a residential property. A lien was placed on it for $24,135. When the property was sold, the sale proceeds were used to pay back the city. When the NSP program receives income, the city tries to apply the money to an existing, shovel-ready project, Callan said.

    Kunselman noted there are lots of blighted properties in the city that could use these funds. Why were these houses on North Main selected and not others? Why wouldn’t the developer be responsible for tearing down the houses? Callan told Kunselman those were great questions. The funds have a time limit on them, so part of the reason to use them on the Near North demolitions is that it’s a project ready to go, there’s a clear owner, a clear title, and there are no potential delays. In addition, NSP funds can only be used on certain census tracts.

    Kunselman wanted to know if a lien would be placed on the property and how the Near North developer would pay it back. Callan said that certain liens are forgiven. But if the property were sold, it would have to get paid back. Kunselman concluded from what Callan said that the money for demolition is a grant. Callan told him, “It’s an investment in permanently affordable housing.” The expectation is that the housing will be permanently affordable. The city’s strategy is not heavily weighted towards “recycling” the money, as Kunselman was suggesting: use money for demolition; place a lien on the property; the property sells; the lien is paid back; and the money becomes available for demolition of another blighted property.

    Kunselman asked community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl how many blighted properties the city’s nuisance committee had identified. Bahl said the committee is prioritizing a list and in the next few months, that list would be shared with the council. Kunselman wondered if the city would have any money to undertake demolitions. There was a house torn down in his neighborhood where the money was paid back. Was there any way to make sure the North Main property owner does pay it back?

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she was intrigued that it’s a permanent loan that gets paid back only if a property is sold. She said it’s a disincentive to sell, and a reason to give this kind of grant. She asked if there are other similar situations in the offing. Callan said this is the city’s model for investing in affordable housing. She said the need to repay on sale of the property is absolutely a disincentive to sell, but that Avalon Housing doesn’t need the disincentive in the case of the Near North project, because affordable housing is their mission.

    Briere wondered if, generally speaking, NSP funds were not for demolition. Callan explained that demolition is, in fact, an allowable activity for NSP funds – it’s about stabilizing neighborhoods. Although the city has not used NSP funds often for that, she said she’d talked with Margie Teall (Ward 4) about setting aside some of the NSP funds for demolition.

    Outcome: The council voted to approve the NSP allocations so that the houses on North Main could be demolished in preparation for the Near North housing project.

    Large Vehicle Purchases

    Before the council were authorizations for the purchase of two large vehicles – an Elgin street sweeper ($273,300) and a combination sewer truck ($398,806).

    The staff memo accompanying the request for the sweeper states: “The sweeper being replaced has been in service ten years and has 5,960 hours of use. Over the last two years, this unit has been taken to Fleet Service for maintenance and repairs 87 times of which 33% have been for breakdowns. The total cost of all repairs over the same time frame have exceeded $113,250.”

    About the combination sewer truck: “This truck will replace a 2004 unit with 8060 hours of use. Over the last two years, this unit has been taken to Fleet Service for maintenance and repairs 53 times of which 58% have been for breakdowns. These breakdowns have taken the unit out of service from as little as four hours to as long as two weeks.”

    The council had postponed the purchases from its May 2, 2011 meeting with a request for additional information about the vehicles.

    Large Vehicle Purchases: Council Deliberations

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know if the trucks had any resale value. Craig Hupy, head of systems planning for the city, said they did. The city is known for keeping its trucks in pretty good shape, he said. But the city kept the trucks in service for a longer time than a dealership would be willing to offer a guaranteed buy-back, so the re-sale value depends on the market, Hupy said.

    Kunselman asked if the same sewer truck purchase proposal had been brought before the council last year. No, said Hupy. It was in a previous year’s budget. But Hupy described how the city had a desire to do cooperative bidding with other cities and they’d gone together with three other cities to bid for the truck. Agreeing with the other cities on the specifications for the trucks was like “herding cats,” Hupy said, but in the end the city had gotten about a 10% better deal than if it had gone out to bid by itself.

    Mayor John Hieftje drew out the fact that the vehicles to be replaced had frequently been out of service, and in the case of the combination sewer truck could delay cleaning out of sewers, which could result in sewers backing up.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) picked up on the idea that the city needs the truck – it’s needed to do sewer clear-outs, which can result in sewer backups for residents if they’re not done. Hearing that, said Higgins, boggled her mind. She said she understood comments by Hupy and Hieftje to mean that if the city doesn’t do sewer clear-outs, it can cause sewer backups in the basement. Hupy allowed that the failure to do sewer clear-outs “can result in” sewer backups – not “cause.” Hupy said it was his understanding that if the city has not performed adequate sewer maintenance and a resident experiences sewer backups, then it can result in a payable claim.

    Higgins also wanted to know how the vehicles were being paid for. If a vehicle is not originally paid for out of the fleet fund, does the revenue from resale go back to the fund it was paid out of? Hupy said he’d defer to the financial folks to answer the question – Sue McCormick, public services area administrator. The truck was originally paid out of sewer funds, said McCormick. So money from resale goes back to the sewer fund.

    As the city moves ahead, McCormick said, it purchases new vehicles from the fleet fund. So the next time a truck like this is replaced, it’ll be bought out of the fleet fund with money contributed by the sanitary sewer fund. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted McCormick to explain why the city was moving to a strategy of paying for vehicles out of the fleet fund.

    McCormick described the history at the city related to pressures on general fund fleet purchases. That had resulted in a very slow vehicle replacement schedule, with older vehicles. And the city wound up with very low reliability on daily production work. So the decision was made years ago to stop purchasing vehicles from the fleet fund and to pay for vehicles through cash flow. The city has now done away with that practice, McCormick said, and is returning to a strategy of paying for new vehicles out of the fleet fund. The reason, she said, is that if you think about paying annual depreciation on a vehicle, as opposed to “cash flowing it,” the cash-flow approach impacts utility rates in the year when the expense is incurred, instead of spreading it over the life of the vehicle. The fleet fund approach is thus more favorable to ratepayers, she said.

    Kunselman wrapped up his comments by saying he would be supporting the purchase. He noted there have been four water main breaks within two blocks of his house, and when the city comes with the trucks, they’re right there and they pull everything out of the hole.

    Outcome: The council approved both truck purchases on separate votes.

    “Parks Fairness” Resolution

    Before the council was a proposed revision to the 2006 administrative policy that governs the use of the city’s parks capital improvements and maintenance millage, including how the city’s general fund should support Ann Arbor’s parks.

    A key point to the revision includes an additional provision that “for the purpose of this resolution all funds other than the Millage which are used to support Parks and Recreation system activities shall be considered the same as City’s General Fund support.” The proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 calls for using money from the METRO Act fund and the city’s stormwater fund to pay for certain parks operations, which the city would like to count as general fund support.

    The new provision in the policy helps the city’s planned budget for FY 2012 conform with another administrative policy requirement – that the amount of general fund parks support not decrease any more than other parts of the general fund.

    A further amendment that was before the council on May 16 would have changed the standard of general fund support from one that is based on hard dollars to one that is based on service levels, with FY 2011 as a baseline: “[T]he General Fund budget supporting the Parks and Recreation system for that year may be reduced by a higher percentage than the average percentage reduction of the total City General Fund budget as long as the FY11 level of service within Parks and Recreation system is not materially reduced.”

    That second amendment would have helped the city conform with the policy this year, because the proposed FY 2012 budget called for spending $90,000 less on parks than would otherwise be required if the administrative policy were left unamended. The city contends that the $90,000 reduction in expenditures is due to increased efficiency, and would not affect service standards. [Chronicle coverage: "Council to Get Reminder of Parks Promise"]

    The city council also revised the 2006 administrative policy during the FY 2010 budget cycle, so that millage funding for the natural area preservation program would not automatically increase by 3% every year.

    Parks Fairness Resolution: Council Deliberations

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) began by introducing the background for the resolution: The 2006 parks maintenance and capital improvements millage was accompanied by a city council resolution outlining how the millage money should be spent. Generally speaking, he said, the resolution was meant to have any reductions/increases in parks funding be on a parallel track with general fund reductions/increases.

    Taylor indicated that he’d be suggesting a friendly amendment to a resolution revising the 2006 policy. In the midst of his remarks, which Taylor self-described as a “long and wandering introduction,” Mayor John Hieftje wanted to get the issue of the amendment settled. But Taylor told the mayor that he’d not gotten to the actual amendment yet.

    The amendment that Taylor wanted to make to his own resolution was this:  Strike the proposed addition of a clause that would establish service levels as the standard that parks spending would be measured against, instead of a hard dollar figure comparison to the general fund. The reason he wanted to strike the clause was that he felt it might be possible to find a way to make up the additional $90,000 for parks in the FY 2012 budget, which the current administrative policy would require, if it were not amended.

    Confusion ensued among councilmembers as they struggled to understand what Taylor intended. In sum, the following language from his amendment was stricken, which left that part of the administrative policy intact.

    [T]he General Fund budget supporting the Parks and Recreation system for that year may be reduced by a higher percentage than the average percentage reduction of the total City General Fund budget as long as the FY11 level of service within Parks and Recreation system is not materially reduced.

    Surviving amendment was the part of Taylor’s resolution that allowed non-millage funds outside the general fund to count for purposes of calculating the amount of general fund support for the parks.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to revise the parks millage administrative policy to allow non-millage funds external to the general fund to count as general fund money for purposes of the policy.

    Taxicab Fares

    Before the council was an increase in the allowable fare for cabs operating in the city. The rate increase affects only the mileage component of fares, which were last approved on May 19, 2008.

    The mileage increase from $2.25/mile to $2.50/mile had been requested by several taxicab companies in light of rising fuel prices, which are currently just over $4/gallon. The city’s taxicab board has indicated that with this increase, it does not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices are over $5/gallon for at least two consecutive months. The board had voted to recommend the change at its April 28, 2011 meeting.

    Members of the taxicab board include the city’s CFO Tom Crawford, and William Clock, an officer with the Ann Arbor police department, as non-voting members. [The city's ordinance actually requires that the city's CFO and the chief of police serve as non-voting members.] The five voting members are Stephen Kunselman (representative to the board from the city council) as well as Barbara Krick, C. Robert Snyder, Tom Oldakowski and Timothy Hull.

    [Hull has filed nominating petitions to contest the city council Democratic primary in Ward 2 against incumbent Stephen Rapundalo. Kunselman will be running for re-election in the Ward 3 Democratic primary.]

    Crawford, who is also interim city administrator, had announced the public hearing on the taxicab fare increase at the city council’s May 2, 2011 meeting.

    Taxicab Fares: Public Hearing

    Michael Benson introduced himself as a Ward 2 resident and president of the University of Michigan graduate student body. He told the council he wanted to speak about the process for the increase. He noted fuel costs are in fact going up and he understands the need for the increase. But he noted that in the past, a temporary surcharge has been used to address increased fuel prices – why not this time? He asked that the increase be amended with some kind of sunset clause that would require the increase to be reviewed after a certain period, and that a recommendation be brought back to the council.

    Thomas Partridge called on the council to postpone the increase. Any increase in rates harms the most vulnerable residents first, he said. Executives in limousines pulling up to Google are not concerned about taxicab rates, he said. He called on the council to table the measure and come up with a better proposal.

    Taxicab Fares: Council Deliberations

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) inquired whether a formula been considered that would tie taxicab rates to some objective third-party measure of fuel prices, so that requests for fare increases would come before the council less frequently. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who sponsored the resolution as the city council’s appointee to the taxicab board, responded to Hohnke by saying that other costs have also increased – it’s not just the gas increase that’s driving this. He told Hohnke that no formula tied to fuel prices has been discussed.

    In response to Benson’s suggestion made during public commentary to sunset the increase, Kunselman said he was not going to make that recommendation. Taxicab companies are struggling for other reasons. Kunselman amended one of the “whereas” clauses to make it clear that gas prices have now exceeded $4/gallon – they didn’t jump by $4/gallon.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the fare increase.

    Downtown Design Guidelines

    Before the council was initial approval to an amendment of its land use control ordinance that will establish design guidelines for new projects in downtown Ann Arbor, and set up a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines.

    All city of Ann Arbor ordinances require approval at an initial first reading before the council, a public hearing, and a final approval.

    The project review by the DRB will come before a meeting with nearby residents – which is already required as part of the citizen participation ordinance. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

    The city council had previously approved the design guideline review program at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. The city planning commission unanimously recommended the change to the city’s ordinance at its April 5, 2011 meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

    Council deliberations were brief. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that the ordinance now before the council is coming back after being presented at the February meeting. The city’s planning commission had been asked to expedite it, she said, and they had done that. That means that new construction will fall under the ordinance. She urged her colleagues to pass it, saying, “It’s exactly what we wanted.”

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the design guidelines, which will need a final approval before the ordinance is enacted.

    Communications and Comment

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

    Comm/Comm: Transformers in Neighborhoods

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) informed his council colleagues that in response to an issue raised in Arbor Oaks subdivision by a city engineer – it concerned electrical transformers in the easements of backyards – he and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) had contacted Paul Ganz, DTE’s regional manager, and DTE had sent crews out to investigate. Everything is safe, he reported, and there is no danger of electrocution. DTE is going to address some of the visual issues that had caused concern.

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

    Council meeting to be continued: May 23, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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    Design Guideline Law Gets Initial OK Tue, 17 May 2011 00:33:03 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its May 16, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to an amendment of its land use control ordinance that will establish design guidelines for new projects in downtown Ann Arbor, as well as a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines.

    All city of Ann Arbor ordinances require approval at an initial first reading before the council, a public hearing, and final approval at a meeting following the initial approval.

    The timing of project review by the DRB will come before a meeting with nearby residents – which is already required as part of the citizen participation ordinance. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

    The city council had previously approved the design guideline review program at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. The city planning commission unanimously recommended the change to the city’s ordinance at its April 5, 2011 meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

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


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    Planning Commission OKs Design Review Sat, 09 Apr 2011 21:22:49 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (April 5, 2011): In another step toward completing a years-long process to develop design guidelines for downtown properties, planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of amendments to Ann Arbor’s city code that establish a design review board and design review procedures.

    Kirk Westphal

    Kirk Westphal, an Ann Arbor planning commissioner, served on the city task force that helped developed design guidelines for downtown development. (Photo by the writer.)

    One person, former planning commissioner Ethel Potts, spoke during a public hearing on the topic. Potts said she was glad the design review comes early in the project approval process, but she wondered how the review would be used – that could be a challenge. Commissioners discussed the issue only briefly before the vote.

    In the city’s project approval process, the design review would take place before the mandatory citizen participation meeting, so that the design review board’s comments could be incorporated into the project’s design before it’s presented to citizens. However, developers aren’t required to act on the review board’s recommendations. Though the review process is mandatory, implementation of the board’s suggestions is voluntary.

    Downtown Design Review Program

    The city council had approved a program of design guidelines at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, and also appointed a temporary design review committee. In addition, they asked the planning staff and planning commission to draft ordinances that would lay out details of a design review program in the city’s code. On Tuesday, planning commissioners got an update from staff on the code changes, held a public hearing on the proposal, and briefly discussed it before voting to recommend approval by the city council.

    Downtown Design Review: Staff Report

    Wendy Rampson, who leads the city’s planning staff, gave a brief history and overview of the design guidelines process, which is part of the broader A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) initiative. She noted that it’s an issue they’ve been talking about for many years, going back to the 1980s. More recently, in 2007, the city council identified five priorities that emerged from the Calthorpe study, which had been commissioned by the city to plan a strategy for future downtown development. Design guidelines were one of those priorities. [Other aspects of A2D2 include downtown zoning changes; historic preservation updates; changes to the development process; and parking and transportation strategies.]

    An advisory committee was formed to work on developing design guidelines with city staff and a consultant, Winter & Co., who had been hired to lead workshops and community discussions. In 2009, a set of design guidelines was presented to the community. Feedback at the time, Rampson said, was that the guidelines were too difficult to understand – that they needed to be simplified, with examples to illustrate the different design concepts. It was also felt that a design guidelines process should be developed too.

    In early 2010, the council dissolved the original advisory committee and formed a new design guidelines task force to review the guidelines and develop a review process. Members included city councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), planning commissioner Kirk Westphal, Tamara Burns, Bill Kinley, Dick Mitchell, Peter Pollack and Norm Tyler. That group met 34 times, and came up with recommendations that the city council approved at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting after holding a working session on the topic in January.

    Also at that Feb. 7 meeting, council appointed a temporary design review committee, which will become the official design review board (DRB) after changes to the city code are approved. Its members are: Chet Hill (landscape architect); Mary Jukari (landscape architect); Dick Mitchell (architect); Tamara Burns (architect); Paul Fontaine (planner); Bill Kinley (developer); and Geoff Perkins (contractor). [For additional background on the process of developing design guidelines, see Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

    To codify the design review process, two new sections were added to the city code: (1) Section 1:239 “Design Review Board” was added to Title 1, Chapter 8; and (2) Section 5:126 “Design Review Board review for certain downtown properties” was added to Title V, Chapter 57. [.pdf file of proposed city code changes – new additions to the code are underlined; strike-throughs indicate deletions.]

    The design review will apply to certain downtown properties:

    • projects on land that’s zoned D1 or D2, or rezoned to PUD (planned unit development) within the Downtown Development Authority district;
    • projects that result in an increase in usable floor area;
    • projects with a site plan that requires planning commission or city council approval, a PUD site plan; a planned project; or an administrative amendment that significantly alters the appearance of the building from the public right of way.

    Projects located in a historic district will not go through this design review process, because those properties would be covered by the Historic District Commission design review.

    As the first step in a project approval process, developers would submit preliminary project design plans to the DRB, along with an application and fee. The review process would occur before the mandatory citizen participation meeting.

    At the DRB meeting, the developer will present the project to board members and discuss whether it meets the intent of the downtown design guidelines. No public commentary will be allowed at the meeting. The DRB will make a report of its finding, which will be forwarded to the planning commission and city council.

    If a project goes through the design review process but later changes significantly, the project is allowed – but not required – to reapply to the DRB for another review.

    Downtown Design Review: Public Hearing

    Ethel “Eppie” Potts was the only speaker during the public hearing on Tuesday. “This has indeed been a long process,” she began, adding that it seems this is the end of the years-long A2D2 process. She said she wished that the different elements of A2D2 had been better coordinated, so that they could be more effective as a whole. Potts wondered what planning commissioners expected out of the design guidelines and review board. She said she asked some people she knew what they thought the design guidelines would accomplish. Their expectation is that the guidelines will result in a much better quality of architecture, suitability, scale, context of buildings downtown, she reported. But many of these results stem from zoning, not design guidelines, she observed.

    Potts wondered what the legal force of the design guidelines would be. She thought the process was good, since the design review comes at the beginning of the approval process – even before the mandatory citizen participation meeting. The review board will provide a report on each project, but what will planning commissioners do with that feedback? It will be a challenge for them to decide how much weight to give the review board’s input, Potts said, and how that will fit in with all the legal requirements they have to consider. “We are all going to be learning to what degree we can make this all fit together,” she concluded.

    Downtown Design Review: Commissioner Discussion

    Bonnie Bona said it was exciting to see these design guidelines finally ready to be implemented. Responding to Potts’ comments, Bona said it’s important to have a document that tells developers what the community wants, rather than having to ask for changes later in the process. Giving developers a better idea of what the city wants to see in a building will make a significant improvement in the projects that are brought forward, she said. It was important to get this process started, she added – but they need to be willing to make changes to it in the future, if necessary.

    Eric Mahler pointed to one of the review board’s duties as stated in the revised code:

    1:239 (3) c: To report periodically to City Council regarding the effectiveness of the design review process and make recommendations for any changes to the Downtown Design Guidelines.

    What’s meant by effectiveness, he asked, and how will it be measured?

    Kirk Westphal, who served on the design guidelines task force, said his understanding is that for each project, the board will track what kind of information and feedback is most helpful to the developer. The hope is that there will be communication between the board and the city council, and that the process can be tweaked if needed. The language in the code is to ensure that there’s an expectation of feedback, he said.

    Tony Derezinski, who serves on the planning commission as well as city council, said that if certain design guidelines prove particularly useful or popular, there’s the possibility that the council could enact them into the city’s zoning ordinances.

    Outcome: Planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of amendments to Ann Arbor’s city code that establish a design review board and design review procedures. The item needs city council approval before taking effect.

    Communications from Staff

    Wendy Rampson – head of the city’s planning staff – gave several updates during her report to the commission. She noted that the city’s budget for fiscal 2012 would be presented at the April 11 city council work session, followed by an April 13 town hall meeting, where city administrator Roger Fraser will answer questions from the public. [The meeting will be held from 7-9 p.m. at the studios of Community Television Network (CTN), 2805 S. Industrial Highway.] The council will formally receive the budget at its April 19 meeting, and is expected to give final approval in May.

    Rampson reported that a farewell open house for Fraser – who’s leaving the city at the end of April to take a job as deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan – will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Friday, April 29 at city hall, 301 E. Huron St.

    At the planning commission’s April 12 work session, they’ll be discussing details of their April 26 retreat, Rampson said. They’ll also talk about possibly moving ahead on a request for proposals (RFP) to seek a consultant for the State Street area corridor planning process.

    Finally, Rampson noted that at their April 19 meeting, the city council is expected to take a final vote on both licensing and zoning regulations for medical marijuana facilities. City staff is preparing to implement these new regulations, in case they are in fact approved on April 19. Several different areas are involved in addition to planning staff, she said, including representatives from the city attorney’s office, the police department, and the clerk’s office. She said she’d keep the commission updated on that progress.

    Present: Bonnie Bona, Jean Carlberg, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Evan Pratt, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods.

    Absent: Erica Briggs.

    Next regular meeting: The planning commission has canceled its April 21 meeting because no projects are ready to come forward. Its next regular meeting will be on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 N. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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    Design Review Changes to City Code OK’d Tue, 05 Apr 2011 23:49:28 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its April 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission unanimously recommended approval of amendments to the city code that establish a design review board and design review procedures for certain downtown properties.

    The city council had approved design guidelines at their Feb. 7, 2011 meeting, as well as a temporary design review committee, but asked the planning staff and planning commission to draft ordinances that would lay out details of a design review program in the city’s code. The review process would take place before the mandatory citizen participation meeting, so that the design review board’s comments could be incorporated into the project’s design before it’s presented to citizens. Though the review process is mandatory, developers aren’t required to act on the review board’s recommendations.

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

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    Marijuana Law Stalls; Future Projects OK’d Thu, 10 Feb 2011 16:11:41 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 7, 2011): At its Monday meeting, the council made some progress on further amendments to a proposed licensing scheme for medical marijuana businesses, but ultimately decided to postpone their initial vote on the licensing law. Among the amendments made by the council on Monday night was one that provided a definition of a “cultivation facility” – something that a council caucus attendee had suggested the night before.

    The postponement of an initial vote to the council’s next meeting, on Feb. 21 22, means that a final vote on licensing could not come sooner than the council’s March 7 meeting. An initial vote on zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses was already taken by the council at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. On Monday, the final vote on those zoning regulations was also postponed to March 7. The council’s pattern over the last two months has been to postpone the final vote on zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses so that it will coincide with the final vote on licensing.

    Betsy and Alex de Parry

    Betsy and Alex de Parry listen as councilmembers deliberate the question of whether to grant a fee waiver if de Parry resubmits his Heritage Row project to the city.  (Photos by the writer.)

    The council also took action on several development-related issues. Without discussion, councilmembers approved an amendment to a contract with Village Green to develop a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story building, City Apartments – a 156-unit residential planned unit development (PUD) at First and Washington. The contract approval is part of a series of milestones that is planned to culminate in Village Green’s purchase of the city-owned land parcel for $3 million by June 1, 2011, and with construction starting later in the summer.

    The council also approved an application fee reduction, from nearly $5,000 to $2,000, for the developer of Heritage Row, a residential project proposed for Fifth Avenue just south of William Street – if  the project is resubmitted within 90 days. The resolution began as a fee waiver, but was amended to be a reduction. On resubmission, the project will go through the complete review process, starting with a citizen participation meeting.

    The council also took action to implement the city’s new design guidelines for new downtown buildings. It sets a purely voluntary review and compliance process in place for now, with the expectation that the mandatory review process with voluntary compliance will be implemented later.

    The council unanimously approved the city’s new capital improvements plan (CIP) after a close 6-5 vote that removed an item calling for an extension to the Ann Arbor municipal airport runway. And one item appearing in the CIP was moved ahead to possible fruition: A possible roundabout for the Maiden Lane and Fuller Road intersection will be studied and engineered under a $460,139 contract with DLZ Michigan Inc.

    At Monday’s meeting, the council also authorized applications for federal matching funds to acquire development rights for two greenbelt properties.

    And labor issues found their way into the deliberations in two ways. First, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), chair of the council’s labor committee, gave a breakdown of the large disparity between health care costs paid by the city’s fire and police union members as contrasted with the city’s non-union staff, as well as with University of Michigan employees. Second, as part of its consent agenda, the council approved a $54,000 contract with a consultant to study fire protection service requirements in Ann Arbor. The city administrator cited such a study at a recent council budget retreat as useful if the city decides to contemplate a shift to a combined paid-on-call and full-time staff fire department.

    Medical Marijuana Licenses

    Considered again by the council was a proposed set of licensing requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities in the city.

    By way of background, at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting, the council gave its initial approval to a set of zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, but it has not yet given its final approval to those regulations. The council’s strategy is to bring both licensing and zoning forward at the same time for a final vote. All new city ordinances require two votes by the council, the second of which is accompanied by a public hearing.

    The context for developing zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities. They also directed the planning commission to come up with zoning regulations. Subsequently, the city attorney’s office began working on a licensing system, which the council first considered at its Dec. 6, 2010 meeting.

    At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the council heavily amended the licensing proposal. Among the key amendments made at that meeting was one that stripped “home occupation” businesses out of the proposal. At the Jan. 3 meeting, the council also increased a cap on the total number of licenses available to 20 for dispensaries and 10 for cultivation facilities. Another major amendment made on Jan. 3 was the creation of a board to govern the issuance of licenses. However, the council delayed voting on the first reading of the proposal. [.pdf of licensing ordinance language at the start of the Feb. 7, 2011 meeting]

    At its Jan. 18 meeting, the council was poised to undertake further amendments to the licensing proposal, including many that concerned limiting the amount of information that is required to be divulged by those associated with license applications. However, the council did not amend the proposal further at that meeting.

    The moratorium on additional facilities in the city to be used as medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities was extended by the council at its Jan. 18 meeting to go through March 31, 2011.

    Medical Marijuana: Public Commentary

    At its meetings over the last few months, the council has heard extensive public commentary on medical marijuana, but that commentary does not constitute a formal public hearing, which will be held at the same meeting when the council votes on final approval of the licensing, provided it eventually gives initial approval to the licensing system. At Monday’s meeting, several speakers addressed the issue during time set aside for public commentary.

    T.J. Rice introduced himself as the owner of the first dispensary in Ann Arbor – he’d established it at Fourth and Washington on Feb. 2, 2010, he said. He reminded the council that people’s lives and our future is at stake. He told the council he hoped by the end of the evening that the provisions for list-keeping would be written out of the proposed licensing system. He reminded the council of Ann Arbor’s rich history of tolerance for cannabis, pointing to the large plurality of local support for the 2008 state referendum, as well as the 2004 Ann Arbor city charter amendment. He asked the council not to forget the city charter amendment in the process. He allowed that his past felony conviction for cannabis is real, but that his concern is for patients and he hoped the council would make wise decisions.

    Dennis Hayes began by saying that the council’s work on the issue is yet unfinished. He stated that in the legislative intent section of the ordinance, the 2004 charter amendment should be mentioned. It should also include a statement about state and constitutional mandates as they apply to patients and caregivers. He asked the council to think about what they could do besides maintaining lists of information so that the lists themselves would not become evidence of violating federal law. He asked the council to consider the geographic transportability of licenses. He said that labeling also needs to be addressed. He suggested that the proposed licensing board doesn’t currently have a slot for a patient as a member, and that it should have one.

    Like many of the speakers, Tony Keene had previously addressed the council on the topic of medical marijuana. At the council’s Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, he’d been critical of dispensaries as a business model to provide access to medical marijuana for patients. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting:

    [Keene] had distributed a yellow two-side sheet to the audience that described an alternative strategy to the city’s proposed licensing scheme. During his public commentary turn, Keene highlighted some of main points of the alternative. Key among them is the idea that “dispensaries” are in concept not lawful under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, but that business models developed along the lines of “compassion clubs” and “co-ops” are. So the proposal would be to close down all dispensaries and start from scratch – with compassion clubs and co-ops and individual caregivers making up “caregiver centers.”

    Keene attended the council’s Feb. 6 caucus, on the Sunday night before its regular meeting, and reiterated to the one councilmember who attended, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), his view that dispensaries are not a good solution, and that dispensaries are the only voices being heard. At the caucus, he told Briere that the council had no understanding of the topic and that they had no idea what they were doing. As an example, he pointed out that the current licensing had no explicit definition for a “cultivation facility.” [Briere brought forward an amendment on Monday that provided a definition of such facilities.]

    On Monday night, Keene complimented the council for keeping the spirit of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in mind, noting that nothing would require his business, which involves caregiver support services, to have a license.

    Keene’s commentary was distilled into a simple message: Say yes to medical marijuana, say no to dispensaries. It’s time to shut down the dispensaries, he said. There are adequate mechanisms of caregiver support that patients who cannot grow for themselves can find a way to get their medicine, he said. A dispensary is a million-dollar-a-year business, he said. If a medical marijuana business owner is not willing to purchase marijuana from an exchange and to be completely open and transparent, Keene said, then that person has no business being in the medical marijuana business.

    Rhory Gould reminded the council that their challenge is to find a balance between the concerns that some people might have and the interests of patients. Offering patients more choices, he said, would result in competition, thus lower prices and better service. He reminded the council that Ann Arbor is surrounded by more conservative communities. He suggested that parking affects ease of access to dispensaries, and in light of that called for a geographic distribution of licenses: 10-15 licenses for downtown and 15 for the rest of the city, and 5-8 licenses for growing facilities. He noted that the original moratorium was only for 120 days and had then been extended well beyond that time. He wanted to get employees hired, space rented and start paying taxes, he said.

    Chuck Ream told the council that they’d come a long way and that he wanted to focus on three remaining areas. First, the section expressing the legislative intent of the licensing ordinance, said Ream, is negative and pejorative and should be changed to reflect the city’s charter amendment. Second, he said there is no need to have more than one person’s name posted on the wall – warning that 15 people have been killed and others robbed. There is no need to post people’s names so that every junkie and robber can have access to that information. Third, he said there’s no need to require a listing of all suppliers. That kind of listing would drive the “little guy” out of business, he said.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off deliberations by noting that some of the proposed changes that had been analyzed by the city attorney’s office had been forwarded to councilmembers only around 6 p.m. [The council had a budget work session that began at 6 p.m.]

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 1 (Define Cultivation Facility)

    Briere then waded into proposed changes, starting with definitions. The amendment offered and eventually approved defined cultivation facilities this way:

    Medical marijuana cultivation facility means a structure or each space in a structure that is separately owned or leased by a person other than the owner of the structure, in which marijuana plants are being cultivated other than as a medical marijuana home occupation.

    Queried by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) about the motivation for the change, Briere observed that the definition of “cultivation facility” in the original draft was essentially a tautology: “Cultivation facility means a medical marijuana cultivation facility.” She added that the desire was to distinguish cultivation facilities from home occupation-type businesses. [At the Jan. 3 meeting, the council had stripped out home occupation businesses from the licensing requirements.]

    Higgins said the definition seemed to indicate a large structure, leased to different people – could there be several cultivation facilities in one structure? City attorney Stephen Postema did not answer Higgins’ specific question, but essentially reiterated the content of the definition. Higgins indicated that she found the definition more confusing now than before. Postema said some definition of cultivation facility was needed.

    Sandi Smith (Ward 1) clarified with Postema that the consequence of the proposed definition was that each individual cultivation facility in a larger structure would need to have a license.

    Amendment outcome: With dissent from Rapundalo and Higgins, the definition of “cultivation facility” was approved.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 2 (Define Authorized Person)

    Next up was the definition of an “authorized person.” The eventual language accepted by the council was this:

    (e) Authorized person means:
    (i) an owner of a dispensary or cultivation facility;
    (ii) the directors, officers, members, partners, and individuals of a dispensary or cultivation facility that is a corporation, limited liability company, partnership, or sole proprietorship;
    (iii) any person who is in charge of and on the premises of the dispensary during business hours.

    Briere explained that the definition of an authorized person is important in the context of the licensing requirement that city staff be able to enter the premises for inspection, if allowed by an “authorized person.” Briere drew an analogy to the idea that a plumber working at a resident’s home would not be authorized to allow someone else to enter.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wondered why “an employee” was not on the list of possible persons who would meet the definitional criteria.

    Briere explained that depending on the business model, some employees might be more in charge or less in charge of the facility. A cleaning person would not be in charge, for example.

    Amendment outcome: The new definition of “authorized person” was unanimously approved.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 3 (Combined Facilities)

    Briere carried the next amendment forward, indicating some weariness. The next amendment clarified whether a combined operation that includes both a cultivation facility and a dispensary would require two licenses – one for the cultivation facility and one for the dispensary. The eventually approved language reads:

    (4) The first year’s licenses shall be capped at a number 10% higher than the licenses applied for in the first 60 days, but not more than 20 dispensaries and 10 cultivation facility licenses. Any license terminated during the license year returns to the City for possible reissuance. A business that is a combined dispensary and cultivation facility shall require two separate licenses.

    Briere reported that the metaphor she’d discussed with city attorney Stephen Postema that morning was that of a brewpub, which manufactures and distributes alcohol on the same premises. Having both kinds of operation puts you in a different position, Briere said. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked that the word “possible” be inserted before “reissuance” to make clear that the city was not obligated to reissue a returned license.

    Amendment outcome: The council unanimously approved the amendment making it clear that a combined facility would need two licenses.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 4 (Proof  of Insurance)

    Saying that she would love it if someone else would take up the issue of bringing amendments forward, Briere trudged ahead. Next up was a general provision that required proof of insurance for licensees. The exact types were left blank in the amendment, with the idea that the blanks would be filled in before the second vote on the ordinance. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) expressed some reluctance in leaving the items blank, but said that if city attorney Stephen Postema could provide the information to fill in the blanks by the second vote, he was okay with it.

    (4) Before the City officially issues a license, the applicant shall provide the City with proof of insurance in the following types and amounts:

    Amendment outcome: The council unanimously voted to insert a requirement of proof of insurance.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 5 (Strike Physician Names)

    Next up was an amendment to strike the names of physicians who would be rendering services on the premises from the information required on an application form.

    (f) Name and address of all physicians who will render services on the premises of the cultivation facility or dispensary.

    Briere said there were undoubtedly reasons for wanting to know this information. But she pointed out that if the goal was to find out which physicians were referring patients to a dispensary, then this requirement would not meet that goal, because a physician need not be on the premises to make the referral. She also pointed out that the physicians doing the referrals could change from time to time.

    Smith supported striking the requirement, saying that it would not inform a licensing board decision about whether to grant a license.

    Roger Fraser, Marcia Higgins, Ann Arbor city council

    City administrator Roger Fraser and Marcia Higgins share a humorful aside during the Feb. 7 meeting.

    Higgins asked why a physician would render services at a dispensary. Why would they do that? she asked. If this is an additional place the physician would be practicing, then she’d want to know that, she said.

    Assistant city attorney Kristen Larcom explained that there is locally at least one dispensary with a physician on the premises to review and make referrals for state of Michigan medical marijuana registry cards. Why can’t a physician do that at their office? wondered Higgins. Higgins stated she’d not be supporting the amendment.

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) raised the practical issue of whether the changing of a physician on the premises could cause the license to be invalid. Postema indicated that the information should be updated with the city if it changed. He also said there’s no requirement that a physician be on the premises and that the majority of dispensaries don’t have one.

    Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) both said they’d support the amendment.

    Amendment outcome: With dissent from Rapundalo and Higgins, the requirement was eliminated that physicians’ names be included in a license application.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 6 (Strike Services)

    Next up was an amendment that altered the requirement that the license application include a description of products and services to be offered by the licensee. In its final form, the language was simply stricken:

    (j) A description of the products and services to be provided.

    Briere said that there simply needed to be language indicating whether an applicant is applying for a dispensary license or a cultivation facility license. Smith suggested striking the item in its entirety. She said a licensing board decision would not be informed by knowing what strain of marijuana or delivery methods were being offered.

    A back and forth that included Rapundalo and Derezinski – who serve on the council’s liquor license review committee – drew out the fact that liquor licenses are specific to the kind of alcohol served and the specific types of entertainment offered on the premises. So they were keen to see the language stay in the ordinance.

    Mayor John Hieftje questioned whether the analogy to liquor licenses was the best one to use – he thought a pharmacy would be a better point of comparison.

    Amendment outcome: The council voted to strike the language about products and services, with dissent from Higgins, Derezinski, Rapundalo, and Taylor.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 7 (Security Measures)

    The council next considered an amendment to modify the requirement on video security measures. [Language to be stricken is displayed in strike-through; added language in italics.]

    (i) security cameras to monitor all areas of the licensed premises where persons may gain or attempt to gain access to marijuana or cash. Recordings from security cameras shall be maintained for a minimum of seventy-two hours in a secure off-site location. The Administrator may adopt regulations implementing this requirement, including but not limited to regulations on the design, location, maintenance, and access to the cameras and recordings. Those regulations shall take effect 30 days after being filed with the City Clerk unless modified or disapproved by the City Council.

    Smith stated that she was uncomfortable with the city administrator having that role. Kristen Larcom indicated there are a number of ordinances where the city administrator promulgates such regulations. Higgins ask if Larcom had had a conversation with city administrator Roger Fraser about it – no, she hadn’t. Taylor noted that the language doesn’t give an instruction to the administrator, but rather gives the administrator an authority.

    Kunselman expressed reluctance to adopt measures modeled after Colorado’s laws – which had been mentioned in connection to the video requirement – because for Colorado, the video recordings are all about tracking revenue. [At the Sunday night caucus, Tony Keene had said that in Colorado, the video feeds go straight to the treasury department.]

    Amendment outcome: The council approved the video surveillance language, with dissent from Kunselman, Higgins, Smith and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 8 (Package Labeling Warning)

    Next up was insertion of additional language [indicated in italics] on the package labels for medical marijuana.


    Smith said that she hoped that they might eventually also contemplate some language indicating educational resources.

    Amendment outcome: The council unanimously approved the additional language.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendments 9, 10 (Rephrase to Positive)

    Two amendments were made that essentially replaced “no person shall fail to” with language that asserted what is required. In their approved form, the amended portions of the ordinance read:

    An authorized person shall consent to the entry into a cultivation facility or dispensary by the Building Official and zoning inspectors for the purpose of inspection to determine compliance with this chapter pursuant to a notice posted in a conspicuous place on the premises two (2) or more days before the date of the inspection or sent by first class mail to the address of the premises four (4) or more calendar days before the date of the inspection.

    All security measures required in this chapter shall be maintained in good working order. The premises shall be monitored and secured twenty-four hours per day.

    Amendment outcome: The council unanimously approved the rephrasing of the language.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 11 (Changes to Facility)

    Next up was an amendment to make clear how changes to the operation of a business and possible changes to the physical structure would be handled in the licensing. These acts would be prohibited [deleted text is shown as strike-through, with added text in italics]:

    (d) Make any changes or allow any changes to be made in the operation of the cultivation facility or dispensary as represented in the license application without, applying for and being issued a new license first notifying the City by amending its application.

    (e) Make any changes or allow any changes to be made to the structure in which the business is operating without applying for and being issued appropriate permits and obtaining final inspection approval.

    Amendment outcome: The council unanimously approved the amendment.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Amendment 12 (Posting Names)

    An amendment that reduced the number of names required to be posted on the premises of a business, together with the license, was approved [deleted text is shown as strike-through, with added text in italics]:

    A cultivation facility or dispensary license issued by the City under this chapter, including the name and contact information for the owner(s) and business manager(s),  for an authorized person and business manager(s), if any, shall be conspicuously posted in the cultivation facility or dispensary where it is easily open to public view.

    Higgins asked why you wouldn’t want to display the names on the license itself. Taylor drew a distinction between posting ames versus the city having the names in the city’s hands. Higgins summarized her objection by saying that this is a big business, and it seems shady not to list the owners.

    Amendment outcome: The council voted to modify the number of names required to be posted, with dissent from Higgins and Rapundalo.

    Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations – Unresolved Issues

    In the course of handling the multiple amendments, one was withdrawn – it would would have provided a specific way to trace the origin of the medical marijuana by requiring the state registry ID number of a caregiver.

    Another issue was not formally introduced as an amendment – the provisions in the licensing that address prior convictions of felonies.

    As it became apparent that the council’s inclination was to again postpone the measure, Hieftje reiterated some of the frustration that he’d expressed midway through the handling of the amendments, saying that he would like to see a marked-up copy of the licensing proposal that reflected all the amendments the council had made. He wanted to be able to consider the material in a form that was more appropriate than what they’d had to contend with that evening.

    In response, Postema told the mayor that he could have such a copy to the council by next week. Hieftje seemed to indicate that next week [it was Monday evening] would not be an acceptable delay, saying that it would be very helpful if the council had the material available several days in advance of their next meeting.

    Outcome: The council unanimously voted to postpone its initial vote on the licensing scheme until Feb. 22, 2010, but passed several amendments before postponement. [.pdf of licensing proposal as amended on Feb. 7, 2011] The vote that was postponed is the first of two votes the council must take on any new ordinance it enacts. The second vote on licensing would come no sooner than March 7, 2011. A second vote on the zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, which won council’s initial approval at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting, also was scheduled for March 7, 2011.

    Heritage Row Application Fee

    Before the council was a proposal to waive the application fee if the developer of the Heritage Row project, Alex de Parry, resubmits the planned unit development (PUD) within 90 days.

    To qualify for the fee waiver, the project would also need to include the same revisions that previously had been reviewed by city staff – after the project had been rejected, and then rejected again upon reconsideration by the city council in the summer of 2010. The resolution notes that to date, de Parry has paid the city over $30,000 in review fees, a number that was revised upward during council deliberations to more than $42,000.

    The residential project, located on the east side of South Fifth Avenue, would renovate seven houses and construct three new 3.5-story apartment buildings behind those houses, with an underground parking garage. The council initially rejected Heritage Row on June 21, 2010, with a 7-4 vote in favor. It required an 8-vote majority for approval, due to a petition filed by adjoining property owners. The city council then reconsidered the project at its July 6, 2010 meeting, and it failed again, on a 7-3 vote. Then at the council’s Dec. 6, 2010 meeting, some councilmembers seemed poised to suspend council rules to allow another reconsideration, but the vote to suspend council rules failed.

    The last proposal reviewed by the city includes the following revisions: (1) the top floor of the new south building would be removed from the design; (2) the density would be reduced from 79 units to 76 units and the number of bedrooms would be reduced from 154 to 147; (3) the project would include five affordable units at the 50% AMI (average median income) level, in addition to six affordable units at the 80% AMI level; and (4) the three new buildings would be LEED certified.

    Complicating the decision-making on Heritage Row is a different, matter-of-right project called City Place, for which de Parry already has site plan approval. That approval was given at the council’s Sept. 21, 2009 meeting.

    Heritage Row Fee: Public Comment

    Dissenting views held by the public were expressed in letters to the city from nearby property owners Tom Whitaker and Beverly Strassmann, whose communications were attached to the council’s online packet of materials.

    Among other points, Whitaker’s letter raised the question of whether the project would be considered a new project or would be considered to be the same project as before:

    But will the City really treat this as a new project? Will Heritage Row Revisited actually receive the same rigorous and comprehensive review that any other new PUD petition would receive? The resolution explicitly says NO, it will not. This time, Heritage Row is to only receive the most minimal of reviews by staff in order to justify the waiving of all fees and to speed it through the process (which will invariably lead to the same conclusion as the last three times). So which is it – the same or new?

    Strassmann’s message to the council – as well as Whitaker’s – included a specific issue that emerged during council deliberations: Would de Parry actually build the City Place matter-of-right project? For Strassmann, it’s clear:

    The de Parry’s have no intention of building their R4C project. The R4C project would be very foolish to build and it is unlikely to get bank approval. They know that. Nor is it likely that the de Parry’s are about to cash in and move out of state given that they have another local project.

    Heritage Row Fee: Council Deliberations

    The resolution was introduced by Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who had co-sponsored it along with Sandi Smith (Ward 1). He recalled that when the council had last had the project on its agenda, on Dec. 6, 2010, the parliamentary requirements would have entailed what some people considered to be extraordinary rule suspensions. The resolution before the council takes care of that, Derezinski said.

    Derezinski went on to say that the resolution to waive the application fee had come at the request of the developer, Alex de Parry. Though the information accompanying the resolution indicated that de Parry had paid more than $30,000 in application fees in connection with projects at the site, Derezinski said the exact number was $42,020. The rationale for the fee waiver, he said, was that the city’s planning staff would have relatively little work to do in reviewing the plans, which they’ve seen before.

    Sabra Briere, Carsten Hohnke, Sandi Smith, Kevin McDonald

    From left: councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) at the budget work session before the Feb. 7 city council meeting. At right is Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office.

    Derezinski said that he and Smith as well as other councilmembers had worked with the developer to make changes to the project to make it better.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she thought it was great to see that the project would be coming back, but noted that waiving fees was not standard practice. She suggested instead a reduced fee that would be commensurate with the 15-20 hours of staff time that would be required for the review. The actual fee worked out to $4,900, and Higgins suggested something like half that – $2,000 was the figure she settled on. Derezinski said he didn’t like the idea, but as a practical matter he would not oppose it as a friendly amendment.

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he had concerns about making such an exception, but said he was prepared to support some version of the resolution. He described how a previous version of the project had been unanimously rejected by the city council. He said that progress had been made in improving the project and he felt the council had some responsibility to be proactive.

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he did not like the idea of waiving fees. He wondered if the council would be waiving fees for the developer of the Georgetown Mall property. He did not agree with the conclusion that the alterations to the project represented a substantial change. He also wondered what level of LEED certification would be achieved.

    Kunselman went on to discuss taxes owed on the individual properties that constitute the site of the project, which came to more than $19,000. He concluded that the developer was a “tax scofflaw.” He also noted that not all the sidewalks had been repaired in front of the properties – the city’s ordinances require that property owners maintain their own sidewalks. He said he did not think City Place would get built, because all the properties would have to be paid off – he seemed to indicate a general skepticism that the developer had the financial wherewithal to build the project.

    Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said there’d been a good dialogue on the project. He noted that the city’s R4C/R2A zoning study was not yet finished. There were ways the council could have dealt with preventing City Place from being built, he said, which included a proposed moratorium on projects in R4C areas and establishing a historic district. [A prior proposal from Anglin for a moratorium got little traction on the council. And the council had previously rejected a historic district study committee's recommendation to establish a district in the area.]

    Mayor John Hieftje said he would normally not support a fee waiver. The mayor picked up on a comment that Derezinski had made to the effect that in Derezinski’s short time on the city council, he’d never seen anything like the history of the Heritage Row project: Hieftje said in his long time on the council [more than 11 years], he’d also seen nothing like it. He called it a special situation. If it weren’t for City Place, he said, he wouldn’t contemplate supporting the resolution. But he did believe that City Place would be built, if Heritage Row weren’t approved. In an apparent allusion to Whitaker’s letter, Hieftje said that people had suggested other ways to block City Place, but he did not think there were any that were legally acceptable.

    Hohnke acknowledged the unusual nature of the situation. He said that the long, hard, tough negotiations had served the community well – City Place had not yet been built.

    Outcome: The council approved the application fee reduction for Heritage Row by a 9-2 vote, with dissent from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

    Design Guidelines

    Before the council for approval was a program of design guidelines for downtown buildings as the final piece of its A2D2 rezoning project. The program was long in the works but the item was a late addition to the Feb. 7 agenda, getting added the same day as the council meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review"]

    Norm Tyler, Marcia Higgins

    Local architect Norm Tyler consults with Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

    The resolution did not incorporate a mandatory process of design review into the city’s ordinances, but instead creates a framework for eventual incorporation of such a mandatory process. Part of the temporary arrangement will be a design review committee consisting of: Chet Hill (landscape architect); Mary Jukari (landscape architect); Richard Mitchell (architect); Tamara Burns (architect); Paul Fontaine (planner); William Kinley (developer); and Geoff Perkins (contractor).

    Compliance with the recommendations of a permanent design review board to be established by ordinance would be voluntary. For now, developers would be asked to participate voluntarily with the process, with recommendations coming from the design review committee that was appointed as part of the council’s resolution.

    Design Guidelines: Public Commentary

    Peter Nagourney addressed the council by recapitulating the long history of the effort to formulate design guidelines. He recounted how the design guidelines had been presented to the city council at their work session on Jan. 10, 2011. He said he was impressed with the work of the task force.

    Design Guidelines: Council Deliberations

    During the first slot for communications time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) was critical of the belated way the item had been brought to the agenda. [Items are ideally to be ready for the agenda's first publication on the Wednesday before the council's Monday meetings, but according to their own council rules, councilmembers are supposed to use best efforts to make sure that items are placed on the agenda before the Friday prior to a Monday meeting.] Briere said that placement of an item on the agenda as late as Monday should be reserved only for emergencies. Something as important as the design guidelines, said Briere, should not be added to the agenda that late.

    At the start of the meeting, a mayoral proclamation was presented to Peter Pollack’s widow, Eleanor Pollack, for his wide-ranging contributions to civic life in Ann Arbor, which included work on the design guidelines task force that produced the final program of guidelines. Upon presentation of the proclamation, the council rose from their seats and were joined by the audience in their applause honoring Pollack’s memory.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who led the design guidelines task force, said the task force wanted to dedicate their report to Pollack’s memory. Higgins had announced Pollack’s imminent passing at the council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting.

    When the council came to the agenda item, Higgins led things off by describing the task force’s work as diligent and noted the public input over the last five years. After the Jan. 10 work session, Higgins said the task force had met again to discuss how the mandatory review process and voluntary compliance would be implemented.

    She said the completely voluntary process that the resolution put into place sees the design review taking place before the citizen participation meeting, which is required by city ordinance for all new project submissions.

    Outcome: The council unanimously approved adoption of the design guidelines program.

    Fuller-Maiden Lane Intersection

    Before the council was the authorization of a $460,139 contract with DLZ Michigan Inc. to review previous studies of the Fuller Road/Maiden Lane/East Medical Center Drive intersection and propose a design for reconfiguring the intersection. Previous studies point to a roundabout as a good solution to the traffic congestion at the intersection. The poor level of service (LOS) in that area has prompted the city to propose various solutions to the intersection redesign, dating back at least to 2005. Depending on the time of day, the intersection currently rates D and E on the letter-grade scale used to evaluate traffic flow.

    In the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP), the intersection improvement is categorized with bridge projects – it’s immediately adjacent to the Maiden Lane bridge over the Huron River.

    In 2009, the city studied the intersection in the context of increased traffic load due to possible construction of the Fuller Road Station – an intermodal transit center and parking deck proposed for the area between Fuller Road and East Medical Center Drive. The city’s online meeting packet included drawings of the current configuration of the intersection, as well as the possible roundabout configuration.

    The engineering and design of the roundabout project will be funded out of the FY 2011 capital budget for the city’s street reconstruction millage. Construction is expected to be funded out of a combination of: (1) millage revenues in future years; (2) possible funds from a federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant; and (3) a contribution from the University of Michigan.

    In a telephone interview Monday morning before the evening council meeting, Homayoon Pirooz, in the city’s project management unit, told The Chronicle that construction on any project would not begin before the summer of 2012, with 2013 a more likely timeframe. Pirooz ballparked the construction cost of a project like this – once all the traffic lanes leading to the intersection are modified, and the pedestrian amenities are installed – as possibly more than $2.5 million.

    Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contract for design and engineering of the Fuller-Maiden Lane intersection.

    Capital Improvements Plan (CIP)

    At its Feb. 7 meeting, the council voted on approval of the city’s 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.

    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"]

    CIP: Public Hearing

    Libby Hunter rendered her public commentary in the form of a song, as has become her standard practice. She used the melody from the University of Michigan fight song “Hail to the Victors” and sang lyrics critical of the Fuller Road Station project, which is included in the CIP: “Hail to Hieftje’s transit center …”

    Joel Batterman introduced himself as a 2006 graduate of Huron High School and currently a master’s student in the University of Michigan urban planning program. He discussed the Fuller Road Station, an item in the CIP. He said there needs to be a prioritization. The city of Ann Arbor, he said, has a desire for a train station. And the University of Michigan, he continued, has a desire for greater parking capacity. Batterman urged consideration of UM’s own phase 2 draft reports for its Integrated Assessment of Campus Sustainability. Batterman suggested that a better strategy than increased parking capacity was to make better use of existing parking resources. He described thousands of empty spaces on outlying lots, which could be used more effectively through judicious setting of parking fee levels. [Batterman addressed the UM regents at their January meeting on the same topic: .pdf file of Batterman's remarks to regents].

    Andrew McGill

    Andrew McGill, prior to the start of the Feb. 7 city council meeting. It was a long wait for McGill to hear the vote on the city’s capital improvements plan. He left knowing that the council had removed the airport runway extension project from the plan – he’d advocated for its removal.

    Andrew McGill spoke on behalf of The Committee for the Preservation of Community Quality, noting the 2012 line item in the CIP for the municipal airport runway extension. He said that labeling the extension as a “runway safety extension” is disingenuous. He reminded the council that they’d removed the item from the plan last year by a majority vote. He reminded them that they had only approved an environmental assessment of the airport, not a plan to extend the runway. The environmental assessment, he said, was still being evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration. McGill concluded by asking the council to affirm the decision made the previous year and to delete the item again.

    Providing a counterpoint to McGill’s remarks was Chris Gordon, who introduced himself as president of the Ann Arbor General Aviation Association. Gordon, who lives in Dexter, emphasized the idea that the Ann Arbor municipal airport is not just a city asset – it’s a regional, state, and national asset. He noted that in terms of number of operations, Ann Arbor’s airport is ranked eighth out of the state’s 238 public use airports. He stressed that there are aviation funds that can only be used on aviation assets – it’s not as if money not spent on airport projects could be spent on other, non-aviation projects elsewhere in the city. He urged the council’s support of all the airport projects in the CIP.

    Thomas Partridge called for development of a unified plan to invest in people and services.

    CIP: Council Deliberations

    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.

    Amendment outcome: Voting for keeping the runway extension in the CIP were: Teall, Higgins, Smith, Derezinski and Rapundalo. Voting against the runway extension were Kunselman, Hohnke, Anglin, Hieftje, Briere and Taylor.

    Mike Anglin (Ward 5) questioned what the principles were for developing the CIP and expressed some frustration that there are projects included in the plan that the council has not yet voted on, but they’re included in the plan as if the city is moving forward with them. Anglin also wondered to what extent input from the public had been included in the plan.

    Cresson Slotten, senior project manager with the city, described for Anglin how the plan had been developed, including the survey of the public that had been conducted. Slotten’s remarks mirrored his presentation to the planning commission about the plan at their meeting a few weeks ago.

    City administrator Roger Fraser noted that the planning commission is required to propose the CIP, but that not every item in the plan needs to have funding identified. Development of the plan, he said, complies with state law, and technically, the city council should simply be voting to receive the plan – implying that it was not really expected that the council would alter the plan.

    Outcome: The council unanimously approved the CIP after the narrow 6-5 vote that eliminated the airport runway extension.

    Greenbelt Matching Funds

    The council was asked to approve applications to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRLPP) for matching grant funds. The funds would be used for the purchase of development rights on two additions to the city’s greenbelt program: 110 acres on the Lindemann-Weidmayer farm in Lodi Township, and 92 acres on the Grosshans farm in Superior Township.

    The city’s cost would be paid out of the greenbelt millage funds. The federal match would be up to 50% of the appraised fair market value of the development rights, up to a maximum of $5,000 per acre. The greenbelt advisory commission recommended at its Dec. 8, 2010 meeting that the city make the applications to the FRLPP.

    Outcome: Without comment, the council unanimously approved the two recommendations to submit applications for the federal matching grants, to be used for greenbelt properties.

    Village Green Contract Amendment

    Before the council was approval of an amendment to a contract with Village Green to develop a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story, 99-foot-tall building, City Apartments – a 156-unit residential planned unit development (PUD) at First and Washington. Among other items, the amendment clarifies the ability of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city to provide oversight to the construction process.

    Once the parking deck portion of the building is completed and issued a certificate of occupancy, the city of Ann Arbor has agreed to issue $9 million worth of bonds to purchase the deck, and the Ann Arbor DDA has agreed to make the payments on those bonds. The DDA board approved its part of the contract amendment at its Feb. 2, 2011 meeting.

    The contract amendment comes in the context of a series of milestones that were put in place last year, when the council extended Village Green’s option to purchase the parcel at First and Washington, where City Apartments would be built, for $3 million. That most recent extension came at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, and provides a purchase option through June 1, 2011. The $3 million from the transaction would be put towards the construction fund for the city’s new municipal center, which is now largely complete and partly open for business.

    If the $3 million transaction does not go through, the city has said it would borrow money to cover the construction shortfall, a step that would require city council approval. Based on The Chronicle’s conversation at the council’s meeting with a Village Green representative, the company expects the deal to go though and is planning for construction to start in the summer of 2011.

    At a Wednesday morning meeting of the DDA partnerships committee, Wendy Rampson – head of planning for the city – told The Chronicle that Village Green had not yet made a formal request to lift the entire building by a few feet, in order to avoid having to dewater the site during construction. Depending on the number of feet, she said, such a request could be handled as an administrative change or else as a request that the city council would need to approve.

    Outcome: Without comment, the council unanimously approved the Village Green contract amendment.

    Fire Services Analysis

    As part of its consent agenda, the council considered a resolution that authorized the city administrator to negotiate a contract to get an analysis of and recommendations for Ann Arbor’s fire protection needs. The contract, for not more than $54,000, will be signed with International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Center for Public Safety Management.

    The move comes in the context of two recent budget retreats conducted by the council, where the council discussed the possibility of transforming Ann Arbor’s fire department to a staffing arrangement that would combine full-time career firefighters with paid on-call firefighters.

    The city’s current contract with the firefighters union IAFF Local 693 expired on June 30, 2010. Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), chair of the council’s labor committee, reported at the council’s Jan. 18, 2011 meeting that the city had been negotiating with its firefighters since February 2010, and has used the services of a state mediator on three occasions. Concessions sought by the city from all its unions include a wage freeze and higher employee contributions to the health care and pension plans.

    Outcome: The council does not deliberate on consent agenda items. The fire protection services was approved unanimously along with other consent agenda items.

    Communications and Comment

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

    Comm/Comm: Labor Negotiations

    Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) – consistent with the indication he’d made at the council’s previous meeting that he would give updates on the topic of the city’s negotiations with its labor unions – gave some background meant to correct misperceptions that had been indicated in comments written on the website. He clarified that city councilmembers do not participate in negotiations with the city’s unions. Those conversations are handled by the city administrator and other city staff, he said. What the council does is set general parameters for the conversations. [One of the legitimate reasons for the council to go into a closed session under the Open Meetings Act is to discuss labor negotiations and to develop a strategy for those negotiations.]

    A second point Rapundalo made was that the firefighters were not the only workers to have made concessions in the past. [At the council's previous meeting, Rapundalo had cited non-union workers as well as the Teamsters police deputy chiefs unit, the Teamsters civilian supervisors and Teamsters police professionals as workers who'd made concessions.] Rapundalo also noted that the firefighters’ concessions had enjoyed a duration of only six months.

    As a third point, Rapundalo rejected the idea that the city’s instigation of Act 312 arbitration was somehow an indicator that the city did not want to negotiate with its unions. He said the city is compelled to resort to that strategy, because there is little if any incentive for unions to negotiate – their existing contracts remain in effect even if they expire.

    Rapundalo then went on to lay out the disparity between what non-union staff pay in the way of health care and what members of the police patrol union, the firefighters, and the AFSCME workers pay. Non-union city workers pay 20% for co-insurance, plus a $300-$1,000 deductible per year. In contrast, union workers pay a $225-250 deductible per year and that’s it. He then went on to compare University of Michigan health benefits with union benefits. UM, Rapundalo noted, is generally considered to offer fairly generous benefits. For an individual in UM’s system, the cost per year in premiums is $1,416, compared to the $225-250 deductible per year that city union members might pay. For family insurance, the comparison was: UM – $6,480; city of Ann Arbor unions – $500.

    The city has dealt with rising health costs year after year, and it continues to negotiate to reduce the disparity in health care costs between its employee groups, Rapundalo concluded.

    Comm/Comm: Snow Removal Cost

    City administrator Roger Fraser noted that the cost of the previous week’s snow removal had been around $250,000.

    Comm/Comm: City-DDA Parking Contract

    The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has a contract with the city under which it manages the city’s public parking system. Two committees – one drawn from the DDA board and one drawn from the city – are responsible for negotiating a new contract.

    Christopher Taylor Ann Arbor City Council

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) at the council’s budget work session before their Feb. 7 meeting.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reported that the Ann Arbor DDA’s committee is currently working on contract details. Joint meetings of the two committees, said Taylor, would reconvene shortly. [Under terms of a 2005 amendment to that contract, it appears the DDA would have the option unilaterally to extend the existing contract for at least three years past the 2015 term of that contract. However, the idea of the DDA exercising that option has not been a part of the public discussions of the contract.]

    Comm/Comm: Downtown Street Outreach Task Force

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported that the downtown street outreach task force, which she is chairing, had completed its fact-finding work and is currently writing up its report. The report would be presented to the council, she said, at the second council meeting in March, if not sooner. [The council had appointed the task force at its Sept. 20, 2010 meeting. Previous Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers"]

    Comm/Comm: Environmental Commission Vacancy

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) told his colleagues that for the current vacancy on the city’s environmental commission left by Steve Bean – who chose not to continue his service on the EC – he was nominating Susan Hutton, development director at Leslie Science and Nature Center. He also announced that there would be another vacancy soon on the EC and that the council was actively soliciting applicants. [Anya Dale's term on the EC ends on Feb. 20, 2011.]

    Comm/Comm: Advocating for Least Fortunate

    During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, as well as the general time at the meeting’s conclusion, Thomas Partridge told the council that he was advocating for the least fortunate among us. He called for ending discriminatory housing and transportation policies. He criticized the city snow plows that piled the snow up into “glaciers,” making it difficult to traverse them. He called for a “kinder, more reasonable mindset.” He called for leadership that is forward-looking and fair.

    Comm/Comm: Parks Volunteer Recognition

    A mayoral proclamation at the start of the meeting recognized Delta Rho Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity as volunteers for the city’s parks program. The fraternity focuses its volunteer efforts on Liberty Plaza downtown and includes food distribution to the homeless population who frequent the park.

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

    Next council meeting: Feb. 22, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]

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