The Ann Arbor Chronicle » downtown plan it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Connecting William” To Be Resource Plan Tue, 12 Mar 2013 15:44:02 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (March 5, 2013): Despite protests by members of the Library Green Conservancy and hesitation by some commissioners, the city planning commission voted unanimously to add the Connecting William Street plan to its list of resource documents that support the city’s master plan. After the vote, Wendy Woods tried to reopen the item for reconsideration, but she was unsuccessful in garnering support from the majority of commissioners, so the initial decision stands.

Sabra Briere, Jack Eaton, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jack Eaton talks with Sabra Briere before the start of the Ann Arbor planning commission’s March 5, 2013 meeting. Briere serves on the commission as the representative from city council. Eaton spoke during a public hearing on the Connecting William Street plan.

The Connecting William Street project was undertaken by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the behest of the city council. It focuses on recommendations for coordinated development of five city-own sites in the William Street area, on the south side of downtown. By becoming a resource document, the CWS plan carries less weight than it would if it were part of the city’s master plan.

Amber Miller of the DDA gave a presentation during the March 5 commission meeting, similar to those previously given to the council and the DDA board.

Much of the discussion among commissioners focused on the issue of open space. Miller noted that recommendations on that issue have been deferred to a committee of the city’s park advisory commission. That downtown parks committee is in the early stages of its work – it was scheduled to meet earlier in the day on March 5, but that meeting was canceled.

Commentary during a public hearing on the CWS plan also focused on open space, with several members of the Library Green Conservancy advocating for a centrally located park atop the Library Lane underground parking structure. They criticized the DDA’s process for developing the plan, and felt the planning commission had not adequately publicized the fact that a public hearing on Connecting William Street would be held that evening.

Additional public commentary came after the commission’s vote. Woods said her decision to ask for reconsideration of the item was prompted by concerns raised during this final public commentary. She felt it wouldn’t hurt to wait two weeks until the commission’s next meeting, so that more people could have the chance to weigh in, if they wanted.

Sabra Briere, who had expressed strong reservations before casting her original yes vote, said she supported Woods in her effort to reconsider the item, suggesting that postponement would be appropriate. She expressed concern that the commission was deciding to use the CWS plan as a future planning document – which would be referenced when the planning staff and commission make their recommendations to the city council on site plans and other planning and development actions. Given that importance, Briere – who also serves on city council – wanted to be absolutely certain before accepting it.

Other commissioners disagreed. Kirk Westphal, the planning commission’s chair, also served on a DDA leadership outreach committee (LOC) that helped craft the Connecting William Street plan. He said he felt extremely comfortable with the public process that had led to these recommendations. Eric Mahler also argued against reopening the item for another vote, saying the commission needed to bring closure to this long process. He was satisfied that sufficient public notice had been provided.

It’s unclear whether the city council will take any action on the Connecting William Street plan. As to what happens next, Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, told planning commissioners that the DDA will be following the council’s guidance. Councilmembers have already taken a first step related to one of the five parcels – the former YMCA lot. At their meeting on March 4, 2013, councilmembers voted to direct the city administrator to prepare an RFP (request for proposals) for brokerage services to sell the lot. A $3.5 million balloon payment on the property is due at the end of 2013.

Connecting William Street

Since the summer of 2011, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has been working on the Connecting William Street project, which was undertaken following a directive from the city council at its April 4, 2011 meeting.

Streetscape view towards the east from Ashley Street

Streetscape view looking down William Street toward the east from Ashley Street – a schematic rendering of the Connecting William Street recommendations.

The work focuses on future use of five city-owned parcels in the downtown area: (1) the Kline parking lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the parking lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the former YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), which is now a surface parking lot, and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.

The DDA board adopted the recommendations at its Jan. 9, 2013 board meeting. The city council was briefed on the recommendations at a Jan. 7, 2013 working session, but has not taken any other action on the plan.

Amber Miller of the DDA gave a presentation during the March 5 planning commission meeting, similar to those given to the council and the DDA board. She described the public input process that the DDA had undertaken, and highlighted recommendations in the CWS report. Broadly, those recommendations are organized into eight categories: (1) adjacencies – improving the pedestrian experience and spaces between buildings; (2) streetscape and transportation; (3) parking; (4) density & massing; (5) land uses; (6) architecture; (7) street “edge” – building design that showcases active ground floor uses; and (8) sustainability.

The CWS report also includes recommendations for each of the five sites, with specific references to how those recommendations fit within the eight broader categories of the plan. [.pdf of Connecting William Street recommendations]

Miller noted that recommendations on the issue of open space have been deferred to a committee of the city’s park advisory commission. That downtown parks committee is in the early stages of its work. The committee was scheduled to meet earlier in the day on March 5, but that meeting was canceled. [For background, see Chronicle coverage: "Committee Begins Research on Downtown Parks."]

DDA executive director Susan Pollay arrived after Miller’s presentation, but was on hand to answer questions.

Connecting William Street: March 5 Meeting Logistics

The city council’s directive in April of 2011 had called for the DDA to engage in a public process with experts, stakeholders and residents, and then to develop a plan for those five parcels. The council’s resolution described a step in the process when the city council and the planning commission would adopt the recommendations on the five parcels into the city’s downtown plan. The downtown plan is one component of the city’s master plan. Other components include: the land use element, the transportation plan, the non-motorized transportation plan, parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, and the natural features master plan.

Based on the phasing described in the council’s April 2011 resolution, any request for proposals (RFP) to be made for the five parcels would come after the planning commission and the city council formally adopt recommendations on the five parcels into the downtown plan.

The original agenda item for the planning commission’s March 5, 2013 meeting – posted on the city’s online Legistar system – referenced the downtown plan: “The Planning Commission will consider whether to consider the Connecting William Street Plan as an amendment to the Downtown Plan.” Prior to the meeting, no resolution or staff memo for this item had been posted.

But the resolution handed out at the meeting did not mention the downtown plan. That resolution, recommended by staff and ultimately approved by commissioners, stated:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Planning Commission hereby approves the “City of Ann Arbor Resource Information In Support Of The City Master Plan Resolution,” dated March 5, 2013.

An attachment to the resolution included an updated resource list, with the Connecting William Street plan as one of 13 resources. The other 12 resource documents – listed on the city’s website for its master planning documents – include the downtown design guidelines, the Washtenaw Avenue corridor redevelopment strategy, and a flood mitigation plan, among others.

During the March 6 meeting, concerns were raised about the timing of adding this CWS resolution to the planning commission’s agenda. It had not been mentioned at the commission’s previous meeting, on Feb. 21. Typically, each meeting includes a notice of public hearings that will take place at the subsequent meeting. And at a meeting of the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee on Feb. 22, there was even some discussion about the possibility of canceling the March 6 meeting, for lack of any agenda items. That Feb. 22 ORC meeting had been attended by several commissioners, including chair Kirk Westphal.

But the March 6 meeting ultimately proceeded as scheduled, with consideration of the CWS plan as the only action item on the agenda when it was posted on Legistar on March 1.

The commission’s bylaws address the issue of how and when the agendas are made available. In part, the bylaws state:

Article X Agenda and Order of Business
Section 1. Agendas for all Commission meetings shall be developed by the Planning and Development Services Unit Manager and the Commission Chair. Agendas for all regular meetings of the Commission, along with reports related to matters listed on the agenda for Commission action, shall be available to concerned parties or other interested citizens the Friday preceding each regular meeting. Whenever possible, the Planning and Development Services Unit Manager shall advise persons known to be involved in a particular matter of any changes in procedure or scheduling which become necessary after preparation of the agenda. [.pdf of planning commission bylaws]

Connecting William Street: Public Hearing

The need for more open space and a centrally located downtown park was highlighted by the five people who spoke during the planning commission’s March 5 public hearing on Connecting William Street. Most of the speakers were affiliated with the Library Green Conservancy, which is advocating for a park on top of the Library Lane parking structure – one of the five sites in the Connecting William Street plan.

Ethel Potts told commissioners that the public hearing had not been well-publicized – and she presumed they would hold another one. She found the process to be very frustrating. The survey that had been conducted by the DDA was “amateurish,” she said, and didn’t even try to ask the public what they wanted to talk about. There were lots of group meetings, but “they were sort of a set-up,” Potts said. Participants were given something to respond to, she added, but the meetings weren’t designed to allow people to simply say what they wanted to say. So for her, the public outreach “was quite unsatisfactory.” If the planning commission wants to really know what the public thinks, commissioners might have to supplement the DDA’s process with public hearings and other outreach efforts. She also argued that many of the underlying documents used by the DDA to develop this plan were dated, and shouldn’t be used until they were updated.

Wendy Rampson, Skyline High School students, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning manager Wendy Rampson signed agendas for Skyline High School students as proof that they attended the March 5 planning commission meeting for a class assignment.

Jack Eaton encouraged the commission not to accept the report as a resource document. It’s the result of a fundamentally flawed process, he said. The DDA has been obstinate in its refusal to include parkland and open space uses as considered appropriate for these five parcels, even though broad public support has been expressed for such uses, he said. This set of recommendations views density as good, regardless of other factors, “and that’s just not the case.” He recommended that commissioners read the book “Made for Walking: Density & Neighborhood Form” by Julie Campoli. It states that a vibrant, walkable town requires more than just density, he said. You need a diversity of uses – open space, public uses, the ability to have privacy. “There’s more to this than just filling empty lots with tall, densely populated buildings.” Eaton said the city council had a cool reaction to the CWS presentation – and he thought that was likely the reason that it’s now being recommended only as a resource document, rather than an addition to the master plan. There isn’t significant enough support on the council or in the public to incorporate these recommendations into the master plan, he said. Eaton urged commissioners not to accept it – even as a resource document – where it would just “sit there like a time bomb.”

Eaton also contended that William Street is not the core downtown, but rather the edge of downtown. The CWS recommendations suggest putting up buildings that go right to the sidewalk, he said. That doesn’t make the area more walkable – it makes it less pedestrian friendly. The CWS plan is fundamentally flawed in its process, he concluded, and is too narrow in its recommendations. He urged commissioners not to act until they received recommendations from the city’s park advisory commission and environmental commission. After that, the planning commission should proceed from those broader views.

Will Hathaway said he’s a lifelong resident of Ann Arbor, and a member of the Library Green Conservancy. They’ve been following the process closely and trying their best to encourage people to participate, he said, but it had been frustrating and difficult to believe they were being taken seriously. In fact, it seemed like the process was preordained to end up were it did, Hathaway contended.

It was unfortunate that there was confusion about that night’s public hearing, Hathaway said, because the commission could have heard from a lot more people who had similar experiences with this process. Alluding to a reference by Amber Miller that the CWS plan reflected what the DDA heard from the public, Hathaway contended that “it’s only what the DDA allowed itself to hear.” A lot of input had been intentionally screened out, he said. The only reason there’s now a focus on open space is because “we wouldn’t go away. We had to really make ourselves a nuisance instead of just participating.” That’s because there wasn’t a good-faith effort to welcome public input and have a real dialogue, he said.

If the commission makes the CWS plan a resource document and relies on it for planning purposes, then they will be enshrining a misleading process, Hathaway said. It’s not fair to say the plan is based on legitimate public input, he said, and the underlying documents examined by the DDA were “cherry-picked.” Hathaway also felt there was a missed opportunity with the land use economist hired by the DDA on this project – an expert who helped create the High Line park in New York City [Todd Poole of 4ward Planning]. “But they didn’t even ask him for any input about how a public park in Ann Arbor’s downtown could generate benefits.” The DDA hadn’t been open to new ideas, he concluded, and this hadn’t been an honest public process.

Stephan Trendov told commissioners that he’d gotten really involved in the Library Green effort, and had analyzed different options for that property. The Library Green group has come up with different ideas for that site, such as putting buildings there that are 3-4 stories high. The DDA is now saying that there can be a small area for grass.

Trendov said some people don’t want fountains on the site. But why do people go to Rome? It’s to see fountains, he said. The DDA asked for people to get involved, but when people said the main thing they wanted was green space, the DDA “hid it underneath the table.” Trendov contended that the mayor has said people come to him and rant, but don’t offer solutions. But the Library Green group has given three or four solutions about how this space could bring the community together, Trendov said. It would soften the downtown. “We’ve given ideas,” he concluded. “I don’t know what to do anymore.”

The final speaker was Alan Haber, who said it seemed that commissioners were just looking to respond to the DDA’s work product, rather than actually discuss what should be happening downtown. He hoped that they didn’t take it on as a resource document. It’s flawed in two ways, he said. The DDA took as its mandate to put a building on every property, “but that wasn’t in the mandate.” The mandate was to look in an integrated way at how these properties can be developed to benefit the downtown, he said. That doesn’t necessarily mean a profit-making building on every property. It could be a civic building.

Haber remembered the days when Ann Arbor had a center – a courthouse and a green, a sense of having a center. That has been dissolved, he said. In its place is a vision of buildings everywhere. But there’s another vision, Haber said – a place that can be a center, that’s built by the community and is a living, vibrant focal point. And “the only place to make it is on that Library [Lane] lot.” If the commission wants a center, Haber said, then they shouldn’t accept the DDA’s report. That’s what the people want.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion

Planning commissioners had an extensive discussion about the CWS plan, covering public process, open space, density, zoning, and a range of other topics. This report organizes their remarks thematically.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Public Input

Sabra Briere began by apologizing to the public. Several people had emailed her, she said, asking if there would be a public hearing. She had relied on an email she’d received from planning staff the previous week that had described the agenda item as a “discussion,” and that’s what she communicated to others. “I did not realize it was a public hearing until tonight.” She had imagined that if the commission planned to hold a public hearing on this topic, it would be broadly noticed. Briere felt that more people would have attended, if she had responded in a different way.

Amber Miller, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Amber Miller of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Tony Derezinski asked for more information about how the commission’s meeting had been publicized. Planning manager Wendy Rampson said the meeting was advertised in the Washtenaw Legal News, and the meeting notice had been emailed on Friday, March 1 to anyone signed up for the city’s GovDelivery system. The agenda posted on Legistar stated that the CWS item included a public hearing, but Rampson said she wasn’t sure how many people looked at the agenda in that level of detail.

Derezinski said he had had no doubt that the commission would be considering this matter at the meeting. He noted that the people who spoke during the public hearing are ones who have consistently been very “energetic” in stating their beliefs, and he’s seen them at several meetings.

He asked Amber Miller how many public hearings were held on the CWS project, saying he had attended two. Miller replied that after the initial CWS plan was drafted, there were about 30 public meetings and three public webinars. Briere noted that the term “public hearing” has a specific meaning. There have been a lot of public meetings, Briere said, but that’s different than a public hearing.

Bonnie Bona asked about the written comments that were made by the public, as part of the CWS survey. Would those be included in the report? Miller replied that the comments from the survey are on the DDA website for the CWS project.

Kirk Westphal, who served on the CWS leadership outreach committee, praised the DDA, saying he didn’t think there’s been a planning process that has reached as many individuals as this one did. “It’s been an extremely well-commented-on plan,” he said. It’s unfortunate that so much of the discussion has focused on just one site [Library Lane] and the issue of open space on that site. He said he’s comfortable that the park advisory commission is taking up the topic of open space.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Library Lane

Bonnie Bona quoted from an email that the commission had received from Kitty Kahn. The email referenced the Calthorpe report on downtown development strategies, which the city had commissioned in 2005. From the email:

The Calthorpe Plan also came to the conclusion that there should be green space downtown. In fact, the Calthorpe Plan said the perfect place for such green space would be a green roof on the Library Lane parking structure. The DDA ignores the findings of the Calthorpe Plan and ignores the wishes of the citizens of Ann Arbor. [.pdf of full email from Kitty Kahn]

Bona asked planning manager Wendy Rampson if she recalled what the Calthorpe report actually said. Rampson could not remember, but indicated that she would look it up. [When the report was completed in 2006, the site was still a surface parking lot and was not yet named Library Lane. The report does include this recommendation for the site: "Redevelop the library parking lot. This lot might be appropriate for a design competition and should include a central 'town square,' underground parking, and residential uses."]

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Parks & Open Space

Tony Derezinski noted that the CWS report provides criteria for open space on these parcels. The report also makes a reference to Liberty Plaza, and he said it seemed like the criteria for open space is a response to problems at Liberty Plaza, located at Liberty & Division. He asked Amber Miller to talk about that.

Miller described some issues that have been raised about Liberty Plaza – that it’s not very welcoming and there aren’t ways to “activate” the site, she said. Primarily, there are no building fronts that face the site. Instead, the plaza faces the sides of two adjacent buildings – Kempf House Museum to the south, and the building that houses Ann Arbor SPARK offices to the west.

Tony Derezinski, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioner Tony Derezinski.

Miller also said the size of an urban plaza is important. Ideally, a plaza would be about the size of Sculpture Plaza (at Catherine & Fourth) or the Library Lane plaza that’s recommended by the CWS report. The smaller size forces people to be closer together, she said, which adds energy and interaction to the space.

Derezinski pointed out that the CWS recommendations call for this kind of space to be maintained primarily by private entities. That’s right, Miller said. She noted that when there are privately sponsored events at Liberty Plaza – like the summer concert series Sonic Lunch, sponsored by the Bank of Ann Arbor – it’s very active. But the city doesn’t have the budget to program it every day, she said. That’s why the CWS recommendations call for private entities to step up, and at least partner with the city.

Derezinski asked if the DDA looked at other cities for examples of successful urban plazas. Miller cited San Francisco as having several examples of publicly accessible space that’s privately owned.

Noting that he’d been a part of the DDA’s leadership outreach committee for CWS, Kirk Westphal said he knew there was a high priority placed on using existing city plans as the basis for drafting the recommendations. For the concepts of shaping buildings and open space, what did the DDA use as resource documents?

Miller replied that for massing and how a building interacts with the sidewalk, the DDA primarily referenced existing zoning and the downtown design guidelines, because those documents were most recently approved. Regarding open space and plazas, the CWS plan drew from existing zoning regulations as well as the parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan.

Westphal said that in reading the PROS plan, it was hard to find a lot of information specifically about downtown open space – saying it seemed like a fairly low priority. Miller pointed out that this is why the park advisory commission is taking another look at that issue, via its downtown park subcommittee. The subcommittee will be looking at Liberty Plaza, as well as prioritizing existing park commitments and connections, she said.

Westphal wondered if that process is in conflict with adopting the CWS plan. No, Miller said – it closely aligns with the CWS recommendations. Westphal ventured that the recommendations of that subcommittee, if incorporated into the PROS plan, would take precedence over CWS because the PROS plan is part of the city’s master plan.

Ken Clein said it’s worth having more discussion about open space, and he looked forward to the park advisory commission’s report. He’s not a proponent of a central park like the one advocated by some people, because of the size. But he thinks there’s room for more open space downtown. Areas that are privately owned and maintained have worked well in other cities, he said. It’s challenging for local governments to do that, he added, because tax revenues can be unstable. Having open space amenities doesn’t just mean having a huge park, he said. Small inlet parks along the street can be wonderful places to escape, and the downtown needs a diversity of places like this.

Eric Mahler expressed several concerns regarding open space, saying the city has looked at this issue “time and again.” He’d heard these issues repeatedly when the city issued a request for proposals for developing the top of the Library Lane parking garage several years ago. [Mahler was on the advisory committee that evaluated the RFPs, but the city council eventually rejected that committee's recommendation and no project was selected.] He said there haven’t been meaningful solutions from the public about the concerns he has. For example, if open space is privatized – as the CWS plan recommends – there will be challenges in keeping it active. There will also be issues of security, he said.

Connecting William Street, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Excerpt from a drawing in the Connecting William Street report, showing possible buildings on city-owned land. William Street is indicated in green. The dark purple spaces indicate the proposed location of open space. The building in the foreground is on the former Y lot. The taller building toward the top of this image is on the Library Lane site.

Mahler also noted that he’s had private conversations with other planning commissioners, who have stressed that any open space must be meticulously planned. But that won’t happen under private ownership, he said.

Mahler added that if the city starts offering premiums for open space in the CWS area – but not elsewhere in the city – then there will be a disincentive for developers to build profit-making buildings on the CWS sites. Developers will look elsewhere to build, he said.

Wendy Woods referenced an image in the CWS report, which showed a building on the former Y lot with just a small section designated for open space. Given the input that the DDA has heard from many citizens, Woods said, why isn’t that open space larger? To have a drawing with only a small amount of open space “just irritates people,” she said.

Susan Pollay responded, saying that the drawings are meant to suggest possibilities. In the case of the Y lot, the image shows an alternative to a solid rectangular building, she said. Pollay noted that students of UM professor Doug Kelbaugh had come up with other potential designs, including some with two buildings and lots of open space on that parcel. The drawings aren’t meant to be prescriptive, Pollay said, but rather are meant to show what’s possible when conforming with the city’s design guidelines.

Bonnie Bona pointed out that the city has recently adopted a sustainability framework that includes fiscal responsibility. She noted there was a recent media report about the University of Michigan buying property and taking it off the tax rolls. Bona said she’s more concerned about the city buying property for parkland and taking it off the tax rolls that way.

In addition, there are a huge number of properties in the floodway that can’t be developed, Bona said, which means the property taxes won’t be as great. The good news, she added, is that some of those properties are in the Allen Creek greenway, which fits with the city’s plan to create the greenway. As a member of the North Main Huron River task force, Bona said there’s a lot of parkland in that area, and more might be added there.

But the city needs to look at parkland in a broader context, Bona said, not just one site. “We can’t have parkland everywhere.” Bona said she’s excited that the park advisory commission is looking at the issue of downtown parks – the PROS plan has recommended that such an analysis be done for many years. She hoped they’d look at it in the context of the whole city.

Responding to Bona’s remarks, Woods noted that as a community, people in Ann Arbor talk about bringing more density downtown, while at the same time taking pride in green space and access to recreation. “Those two things are unfortunately going to be in conflict at times,” Woods said. The CWS plan calls for bringing more people downtown, so it’s incumbent on the city to provide more green space and open space for those people, Woods said. Some people think Ann Arbor has enough parks, she added, but those parks aren’t necessarily located in the downtown area.

While the city might want to develop land that will build its tax base, Woods said, it’s important for people living in these downtown areas to have access to green space, too.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Zoning & Density

Bonnie Bona referenced a recent project at 624 Church by the Pizza House owners to build a 14-story apartment building. In a previous renovation of Pizza House, she noted, they had “oversized” the foundations to allow this kind of taller building eventually to be constructed. She said she’s a strong supporter of buildings that can last for 100-plus years – so new structures must be flexible. She’d like buildings with an initial 400% FAR (floor-area ratio) to have the potential to build up to 700% FAR in the future.

By way of background, 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 a FAR of 100%. A similar structure built two-stories tall would result in a FAR of 200%.

Amber Miller replied that all five sites in the CWS plan are within the D1 zoning district, and the CWS recommendations aren’t meant to override that. Rather, the recommendations reflect the community feedback, she said. Bona pointed out that it might be appropriate to achieve D1 density in phases. [D1 allows for the highest level of density in the city.]

Bonnie Bona, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioner Bonnie Bona.

Bona also stressed that she’d like all the buildings designed to be flexible, so that they could possibly be converted to different uses in the future. She pointed to the difficulties that Sloan Plaza has had in converting some of its office space to residential use. Sloan Plaza is an office and condo building at 505 E. Huron.

Sabra Briere pointed to the recommendation that there would be buildings on each of the five sites – and for some people, that sounds like it will happen immediately, she said. That’s not necessarily what some people want to do, she said, and the concept implies rapid change, in some people’s minds.

Miller said the concept of building on each parcel came from the goal of wanting to increase downtown activity – more space for people to live, work and do activities. Asked by Briere what the timeline might be for this development, Miller said the timeline would be driven by the city council and by the sale of those sites.

Briere noted  that city councilmembers had voted at their March 4, 2013 meeting to direct the city administrator to prepare an RFP (request for proposals) for brokerage services to sell the former YMCA lot. No one was referencing the CWS plan during the council discussion, she said, as they spoke about how the site should be promoted to potential buyers. It concerns her that all of this work took place on the plan, but it’s not seen by councilmembers as a reference point. Briere noted that the main part of the plan that councilmembers pulled out is the recommendation that potential developers would need to go to the design review board twice.

Briere’s final concern was that density isn’t a goal – it’s a means to an end. The end is to keep downtown vibrant. The council might decide to sell these sites rather than have the city try to plan the sites. That’s especially true for the former Y lot, she said. The council could easily decide just to sell it rather than work with prospective developers. And if it’s land on the open market, then it’s governed by the master plan.

Ken Clein said it’s good that the city is planning for the future, to see where problems and opportunities exist. In his experience, communities that plan for the future are more successful. But the reality is that if properties are just going to be sold, then its D1 zoning that really will control development. Responding to a query from Clein, Miller said that drawings of what could be built on these parcels – based on D1 zoning – are available on the DDA’s website. The drawings included in the CWS recommendations reflect community input, she said, but that doesn’t override the zoning.

Clein noted that if the city put out development proposals, they could put stipulations on what could go on these lots. But if the city simply sells the property, “then all bets are off.” He indicated that the “stir” about the 413 E. Huron project – a proposed 14-story apartment building at Huron and Division – is caused in part because people didn’t understand what could be built on that site under D1 zoning.

Clein also had concerns about the D1 zoning of the lot next to Palio restaurant, at the northeast corner of Main & William. Allowing a building of 5-8 stories would be a harsh contrast to the existing height on that street, he said.

Westphal wondered what the process would be to encourage development in the way that the CWS plan recommends. Miller replied that the land use economist hired by the DDA – Todd Poole of 4ward Planning – had looked at the recommendations and concluded that they were viable. But if the community wants something that’s not supportable by the market, then the city might need to be flexible in price, she said. The amount that a developer might pay for land to build a student high-rise apartment building wouldn’t likely be the same as for a mixed-use building with a cultural venue.

Another factor is that the DDA has created a tax increment finance (TIF) grant policy to incentivize uses that the public values, Miller said – in situations where those uses aren’t supported by the market.

Ken Clein, Ann Arbor planning commission, Quinn Evans Architects, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioner Ken Clein is an architect with Quinn Evans Architects.

Westphal noted that buildings with better architectural features or materials might better serve the community’s long-term interest, and provide greater value for the tax base, compared to lesser-quality construction that might serve a developer’s shorter-term financial interests. Miller agreed, saying the community values a longer-term return.

Bona returned to the issue of density, noted that if the city council decides to sell the Y lot and it’s zoned D1, the building could be taller than what’s depicted in the CWS plan’s images, with more open space on the lot. She asked planning manager Wendy Rampson if that’s a correct interpretation. Rampson replied that the Y lot is in the midtown character area, which sets a maximum height of 180 feet.

Bona said she wanted to warn the council about the potential for a taller building, compared to what’s suggested in the CWS plan. She also noted that if the Y lot is zoned D1, then the developer could potentially use a “super premium” – by providing affordable housing – to achieve 900% FAR, which would result in an even larger building.

Bona recommended that the council wait until the D1 zoning is reviewed before selling the lot and zoning it. [Her comment was an allusion to a proposal that the council has now postponed twice. The proposed resolution would set a six-month moratorium on the consideration of new site plans for downtown Ann Arbor. It also gives specific direction to the planning commission during the moratorium to review the D1 zoning code and to make recommendations to the city council on possible revisions to the code. The proposal is expected to be considered again at the council's March 18 meeting.]

Connecting William Street: Discussion – Pedestrian Connections

Ken Clein asked about the term “connecting,” and wondered what that implied. Amber Miller explained that the primary idea is to improve the connection between Main Street and State Street. If the city is trying to make those connections – creating pedestrian activity through some sort of development – Clein said he wasn’t sure if there was adequate space along William for streetscape developments that people will feel comfortable walking and lingering in. The sidewalks are quite narrow, and he wondered how that would impact recommendations for buildings to be constructed there.

Clein recalled that several years ago for the city’s Huron, Fifth & Division study, there was a lot of discussion about the need to encourage buildings to be set back from the property line – especially along Huron, with a high traffic volume. The idea was to create enough sidewalk space so that pedestrians would feel comfortable there.

Miller replied that a lot of the sidewalk expansion is recommended in the city’s non-motorized plan, and includes narrowing the street to accommodate broader sidewalks.

Diane Giannola asked about the image that shows a possible mid-block cut-through. Is that conceived as being on public or private land? Would it be a long park or just a walkway?

Miller replied that the image is simply meant to reflect the need for some kind of connection. The idea has been around for a long time, she noted, with the challenge of connecting Main Street to State Street. She said the CWS plan doesn’t address specifics of how this cut-through would be accomplished.

Connecting William Street mid-block cut-through

From the Connecting William Street plan: The yellow areas indicate possible locations for a mid-block cut-through from Ashley to Division.

Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, elaborated on this issue. Some pieces are already in place, she said. Library Lane, running between Fifth and Division, is publicly owned. Also, the AATA is hopes to acquire a strip of land on the Federal Building site, to the north of Blake Transit Center. If that happens, the AATA could create a walkway between Fourth and Fifth, she said.

The other parts of the cut-through are “very conceptual,” Pollay said. For years, people have talked about using the gate by the Chinese restaurant and chocolate shop on Main Street to connect to the city-owned Kline lot on Ashley. But that Main Street frontage is private property.

Pollay noted that the Fourth & William parking structure has an exit into an alley, which could form part of a connection. So the answer to Giannola’s question is complicated, Pollay concluded, and would involve some public property, and some private. “It would take all of us working together to make it happen.”

Bona also addressed the mid-block issue, saying that the concept was mentioned in the most recent PROS plan as a downtown priority. It’s also important to think about connections between existing parks, she said.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Transportation

Bonnie Bona noted that at one point, there had been discussion of a possible bike boulevard along William Street. It was intriguing to her, because that street doesn’t have the kind of automobile traffic that Liberty or Washington have. However, she didn’t see that concept in the final CWS plan.

Amber Miller replied that the reason the report doesn’t include a bike boulevard is that more exploration is needed to see if it’s possible. Feedback from the city’s transportation staff is that William might not be wide enough and there are too many turning lanes to accommodate a bike boulevard.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Affordable Housing

Eric Mahler thought the CWS recommendations related to affordable housing were vague, especially E-6. It states:

City Planning Commission is encouraged to examine an amendment to the zoning premium available for providing affordable housing on site (See Zoning Code: Title V, Article IV, 5:65 Floor Area Premium Options, (b) in Appendix, page 11)

  • To provide greater flexibility in on-site uses and affordable housing resources, strongly consider providing the premium for developments that choose to make an in-lieu payment for affordable housing; This provides resources to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and can be spent on additional units, services, and maintenance as needed.
  • To ensure consistency, clearly define how the in-lieu payment will be calculated.

He said he’s in favor of premiums that result in payments to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, but it wasn’t clear to him what the goals were, other than generating money for that fund. Is the city really trying to incentivize people to build affordable housing downtown? That issue has been discussed a lot, and there are reasons why it doesn’t happen. Those goals need to be more explicit, he said.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Resource Doc or Master Plan?

Bonnie Bona addressed the issue of adding CWS as a resource document. One thing to keep in mind is that these sites are public property. For her, the master plan is helpful in dealing with zoning for private property. For city-owned land, the council can do anything it wants, she said – and it doesn’t have to follow zoning or the master plan. So she didn’t see the value in adding CWS to the master plan.

Planning manager Wendy Rampson noted that the planning commission deals primarily with private property, but the master plan includes recommendations related to a broader range of issues, including public assets like parks, the transportation system and other elements. A resource document doesn’t have the same weight as a master plan, which would guide rezoning or land acquisition. In contrast, resource documents are used as references to “fill out the question marks” when issues arise, Rampson said – but those documents don’t dictate direction.

Bona felt there are pieces of CWS that might help improve the master plan. Specifically, she cited the section on affordable housing and how to incentivize it. She also pointed to the concept of a cultural venue. “If we don’t incentivize something like that, I expect it’s not going to happen because it’s not what private developers do.”

Wendy Woods said the commission wasn’t really approving the CWS plan – but rather receiving it. “Approving” had a different meaning for her. If the commission approves the CWS plan as a resource document, she said, that takes on a different weight for the commission’s deliberations. When she served on the city council, Woods said, she and other councilmembers would often refer to documents “as if they were written in stone.” In the future, people won’t understand that this document was meant to be just a guideline. A future planning commission could look at the CWS plan and say, “On this block, this is what we as a city said we should be doing.”

Rampson explained that the main resolution is actually “approving” a second resolution. The main resolution states [emphasis added]:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Planning Commission hereby approves the “City of Ann Arbor Resource Information In Support Of The City Master Plan Resolution,” dated March 5, 2013.

That second resolution, referenced by the main resolution, states:

RESOLVED, The planning documents listed below shall be used by the Planning Commission and Planning staff as resource information in support of the City Master Plan: … [.pdf of full resolution and staff report]

Woods said that cleared things up for her.

Kirk Westphal noted that he had been part of the commission’s ordinance revisions committee, which had been tasked with trimming the city’s downtown plan – part of the master plan. It’s a good choice to keep that downtown plan lean and approachable, he said, so the CWS plan would be better as a valuable resource document.

Bona noted that while she would love to have her comments incorporated into the CWS plan, the commission typically accepts resource documents as they are written, and doesn’t attempt to revise them. She supported adding the CWS plan as a resource document that night, saying that there had been a robust process.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Next Steps

Sabra Briere noted that the city council resolution directing the DDA to develop these recommendations had laid out a very detailed process, in four phases. She directed her question to Susan Pollay: If the planning commission accepts this report as a resource document, would that complete the third phase? If so, would the DDA then want to move to the fourth phase of implementation?

Diane Giannola, Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioners Diane Giannola and Kirk Westphal.

Pollay replied that the DDA takes its direction from the council. The previous night, for example, the council voted to develop an RFP for hiring a broker to possibly sell the former Y lot. The DDA could help by offering grants that would help the council achieve its goals. So the DDA will follow the council’s lead, she said.

Briere, who also represents Ward 1 on the city council, wondered when the DDA would be coming to the council to discuss potential implications of selling the Y lot. Pollay indicated that the DDA would do whatever is useful to the council. The DDA staff could meet with the broker to help that person understand what’s available to market the land. Developers will be asking if parking is available, for example, or whether there will be any infrastructure improvements happening in that area. The DDA could help the council in any way it wants, she said. “I see us as being on call – in the batter’s box, as it were,” Pollay said. The DDA’s partnerships committee – which includes representatives from the council and planning commission – is a good place for those discussions to occur, she said.

Westphal asked Rampson what happens procedurally if the commission approved the CWS plan as a resource document. Would that action be transmitted to the council? Rampson indicated that unless the commission directed staff to transit it to city council, the document would simply be added to the planning commission’s list of resource documents, and posted online.

Briere asked how the commission and staff actually use these resource documents. Rampson replied that the staff uses the documents in preparing staff reports for projects that are submitted to the city. They might also use it in discussions with developers prior to the submission of proposals – to give developers a sense of community sentiments.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Postponement?

Ken Clein suggested that in light of the confusion associated with the public hearing, he might propose postponement. Eric Mahler said it would only be worth postponing if the commission intended to modify the document. Wendy Rampson, the city’s planning manager, clarified that the commissioner had several options. They could approved the recommendation to accept the CWS plan as a resource document, or they could send suggestions for revision to the council. Or they could just leave it as is and not accept it.

Tony Derezinski pointed out that this CWS report comports with the city council’s directive of providing recommendations. It’s very thorough, he said, and there had been a lot of public input. No one gets everything they want, but that’s part of the democratic process. He felt that if the commission were considering whether to add the report to the master plan, then the process might be different. But it’s proposed as a reference document, and he suggested the commission vote on that proposal, rather than postpone.

Several others indicated a preference to vote that night, so toward the end of the discussion Clein said he didn’t have a problem voting, either. No motion to postpone was made.

Connecting William Street: Commission Discussion – Vote

After the discussion concluded, a vote was called on the resolution accepting the CWS plan as a resource document. All commissioners except Briere voted in favor of the resolution. Briere hesitated. She explained that she was concerned that if the park advisory commission recommends one or more of the sites to be used as open space, then that’s a conflict with the CWS plan, which shows a building on each site. She said she’d vote in support of the resolution, but was hesitant about the outcome of this process.

Outcome: The resolution to accept the CWS plan as a resource document passed unanimously on an 8-0 vote. Eleanore Adenekan was absent.

Connecting William Street: More Public Commentary

In public commentary after the commission’s vote to accept the plan as a resource document, four people spoke to criticize commissioners and the DDA for how this process has been handled.

Alan Haber told commissioners he hoped they would pull out for the city council one part of the CWS plan – the part that called for a park on the unbuildable section of the Library Lane site. That would make it possible to move forward on plans for that one space – saying there’s agreement on that. “The other stuff, no agreement at all.” He’s concerned that the CWS plan is taken as a representation of public input. The commission should also accept a citizens report done by the Library Green Conservancy and others, he said, about what should go on the Library Lane lot. That should be a reference document, too.

Haber alluded to some commissioners who had described the public input as robust. “A lot of the robustity was citizens banging on the door and saying ‘Listen to us!’” The Library Lane spot is the center of a circle, he said. While there are other parks, a town center is needed. Haber said the conservancy is looking at other sites, too. There should be some green and public space on all of these five parcels, he said. He argued that the commission should look at other views of the sites, and not just take the CWS plan as the only reference document for that area.

Stephan Trendov said he’s lived in Ann Arbor for 20 years, and he designs cities all over the world. Pointing to the unbuildable part of Library Lane, he noted that a lot of things have been carved out of it – elevator shafts, exits from the parking structure, a road. Only about 35% of the surface is left, he said. The people overwhelmingly want green space, he said, but the trees were taken out. He criticized Bonnie Bona for flip-flopping. “Some of you people vote politically – I don’t understand you!” he said. He called out Wendy Woods and Sabra Briere for voting in favor of accepting the CWS plan, even though they spoke against it. Trendov said he’d continue to fight for green spaces.

Mary Hathaway referenced Kirk Westphal’s comment that the CWS project had the most thorough study that he could recall. “You apparently weren’t here for the Calthorpe study,” she said. That process was much more thorough and many more people had participated. The commission shouldn’t have voted that night, Hathaway said, because they didn’t have all the information they needed. “I’m so sorry you did this. I think it’s very regrettable.”

The final speaker was Ethel Potts, who said it’s not just regrettable, “it’s potentially dangerous.” Now, the CWS document has official standing as a resource. There are many other plans out there, she said, yet the commission is willing to settle for this one. Potts contended that the council was presented with the CWS report without a public hearing. Now the commission had voted without an officially notified public hearing, she said. The survey that the DDA conducted was bad, she continued. It’s true there were a lot of public meetings, but it was done with a “divide-and-conquer” strategy that only provided ideas for people to react to – contending that nothing was offered as an alternative. “You don’t know what the public wanted, because none if it is in this plan,” Potts said. “You are taking a plan from the DDA. You are not taking a plan from the public.”

Connecting William Street: Motion to Reconsider

After the public commentary, Wendy Woods said she wanted to bring back the item for reconsideration. She said her decision to ask for reconsideration of the item was prompted by concerns raised during this final public commentary. Under the planning commission’s bylaws, anyone on the prevailing side of a vote can make a motion to reconsider. Woods’ comment drew applause from the half dozen or so people affiliated with the Library Green Conservancy.

Wendy Woods, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Planning commissioner Wendy Woods.

Sabra Briere seconded the motion. It was troubling to her because many people had left the previous planning commission meeting believing that there would be no public hearing on March 5. [Typically, public hearings are announced at the meeting two weeks prior to when the hearings are held.] Many people rely on having more notice, and she’d be much happier postponing the item. Her remarks also drew applause, which she attempted to quell.

Briere also cited concerns that the commission would be accepting this as a reference document for future planning, when the city council had been at best lukewarm to it. So she wasn’t sure she could go to the council and ask them to use it as a reference.

Diane Giannola said she looked at it in a different way. It was a council-sanctioned project that the DDA performed. It was a compilation of public input, and the commission isn’t supposed to amend it – they’re supposed to accept it. It bothered her that some people have come to this meeting and are saying their input is more important than the input reflected in the CWS report. She opposed reconsidering the vote.

Woods said the commission can never hurt itself by allowing anyone to have the opportunity to comment. She didn’t propose holding open the issue forever, because that would paralyze them. But there’s enough “cloudiness” around this issue that a two-week postponement, until the commission’s next meeting, would be valuable. She didn’t seen any harm in it. Maybe the commission’s final vote wouldn’t change, she said, but there’s enough of a question about the public process that it’s worth postponing.

Eric Mahler argued that the council isn’t being asked to use the CWS plan as a reference document – it’s being added as a resource for the planning commission and staff. He opposed postponement. He was satisfied that sufficient public notice had been provided, and said they needed closure on this project.

Briere responded, saying it’s true that the council won’t directly be using the document. But if the planning commission and staff use the CWS plan in making its recommendations to the council, then it does concern the council. That gives her pause. The DDA did what it was asked to do, she said, but the commission and council have the option of not using it.

Bonnie Bona said the main concern is whether the CWS plan includes enough open space. She noted that the plan gives the responsibility for making those kinds of recommendations back to the park advisory commission, “and that’s where it belongs.” The CWS report doesn’t contain anything that overrides the city’s master plan, which includes the parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan. There’s no reason to reopen the discussion, she said, because nothing will change in two weeks. “We know what the concern and controversy is – it’s open space.” And that’s addressed by asking the park advisory commission for its input, Bona concluded.

Ken Clein agreed with Bona. While he’d like to see more open space referenced in the CWS plan, his preference is probably for less than what others would like. But the commission can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, Clein said, and this is a good reference document. Even if the report were perfect, he added, at the end of the day it’s the city council’s call. They could sell off all the properties without any regard to the CWS plan, if that’s what they wanted to do. He did not support reopening the item for reconsideration.

Kirk Westphal said normally if there’s any doubt about public input, he’d be inclined to support postponement. But given the scope and number of people involved in developing the CWS plan, he was comfortable accepting it.

Woods said she’d respect whatever her colleagues decided, but she was not convinced she’d heard everything there is to be heard about this issue. This is a massive document, she said, and there could be someone else out there who didn’t know about the public hearing and who might want to say something. “It’s two weeks,” she said. “It’s not a lifetime.” The outcome might be the same, but she’d heard enough to give her pause, and didn’t see the need to hurry. That’s why she wanted to postpone.

Outcome: The motion to reopen this agenda item for reconsideration failed 2-6, with support only from Woods and Briere. Eleanore Adenekan was absent.

Present: Bonnie Bona, Sabra Briere, Ken Clein, Tony Derezinski, Diane Giannola, Eric Mahler, Kirk Westphal, Wendy Woods.

Absent: Eleanore Adenekan.

Next regular meeting: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of publicly-funded entities like the city’s 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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Planning Group Acts on Connecting William Wed, 06 Mar 2013 04:49:11 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Ann Arbor planning commission has voted to add the Connecting William Street plan to its list of resource documents that support the city’s master plan. It was the main agenda item at the commission’s March 5, 2013 meeting, and was approved unanimously. By adding the CWS plan to the list of resource documents, the planning commission did not alter the city’s downtown plan or the master plan.

However, there was some concern about whether the agenda item had been adequately publicized. Those concerns were voiced by several people during public commentary before and after the vote, which led Wendy Woods to attempt to reopen the item for reconsideration at the end of the meeting. The vote to reopen the item failed 6-2, with support only from Woods and Sabra Briere. So the original unanimous vote stands.

Streetscape view towards the east from Ashley Street

Streetscape view looking down William Street toward the east from Ashley Street – a schematic rendering of the Connecting William Street recommendations.

Since summer 2011, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has been working on the Connecting William Street project, which was undertaken following a directive from the city council at its April 4, 2011 meeting. The work focuses on future use of five city-owned parcels in the downtown area: (1) the Kline lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the former YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.

The DDA board adopted the recommendations at its Jan. 9, 2013 board meeting. The city council was briefed on the recommendations at a Jan. 7, 2013 working session, but has not yet acted on them.

The city council’s directive had called for the DDA to engage in a public process with experts, stakeholders and residents, and then to develop a plan for those parcels. The council’s resolution described a step in the process when the city council and the planning commission would adopt the recommendations on the five parcels into the city’s downtown plan. The downtown plan is one component of the city’s master plan. Other components include: the land use element, the transportation plan, the non-motorized transportation plan, parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, and the natural features master plan.

Based on the phasing described in the council’s April 2011 resolution, any request for proposals (RFP) to be made for the five parcels would come after the planning commission and the city council formally adopt recommendations on the five parcels into the downtown plan.

The agenda item for the planning commission’s March 5, 2013 meeting – posted on the city’s online Legistar system – also referenced the downtown plan: “The Planning Commission will consider whether to consider the Connecting William Street Plan as an amendment to the Downtown Plan.” But prior to the meeting, no resolution or staff memo for this item had been posted.

The resolution handed out at the meeting did not mention the downtown plan. The resolution, recommended by staff and ultimately approved by commissioners, stated:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Planning Commission hereby approves the “City of Ann Arbor Resource Information In Support Of The City Master Plan Resolution,” dated March 5, 2013.

An attachment to the resolution provided an updated resource list, with the Connecting William Street plan as one of 13 resources. The items are also listed online, on the city’s website for its master planning documents. Other resource documents include the downtown design guidelines, the Washtenaw Avenue corridor redevelopment strategy, and a flood mitigation plan, among others.

Amber Miller of the DDA gave a presentation during the March 5 commission meeting, similar to those given to the council and the DDA board. DDA executive director Susan Pollay also was on hand to answer questions. Much of the discussion among commissioners focused on the issue of open space. Miller noted that recommendations on that issue have been deferred to a committee of the city’s park advisory commission. That downtown parks committee is in the early stages of its work – it was scheduled to meet earlier in the day on March 5, but that meeting was canceled. [For background, see Chronicle coverage: "Committee Begins Research on Downtown Parks."]

The need for more open space and a centrally located downtown park was also highlighted by the five people who spoke during the planning commission’s March 5 public hearing on Connecting William Street. Most of the speakers are affiliated with the Library Green Conservancy, which is advocating for a park on top of the Library Lane parking structure – one of the five site in the Connecting William Street plan.

In public commentary after the commission’s vote to accept the plan as a resource document, four people spoke to criticize commissioners and the DDA for how this process has been handled. Woods said her decision to ask for reconsideration of the item was prompted by concerns raised during this final public commentary. She felt that it wouldn’t hurt to wait two weeks until the commission’s next meeting, so that more people could have the chance to weigh in, if they wanted.

Briere had expressed strong reservations before casting her original yes vote. She supported Woods in her effort to reconsider the item, suggesting that postponement would be appropriate. She expressed concern that the commission was deciding to use the CWS plan as a future planning document – which would be referenced when the planning staff and commission make their recommendations to the city council on site plans and other planning and development actions. Given that importance, Briere wanted to be absolutely certain before accepting it.

Other commissioners disagreed. Kirk Westphal – the planning commission’s chair who also served on a leadership committee that helped craft the Connecting William Street plan – said he felt extremely comfortable with the public process that had led to these recommendations. Eric Mahler also argued against reopening the item for another vote, saying the commission needed to bring closure to this long process. He was satisfied that sufficient public notice had been provided.

It’s unclear how the council will proceed with the Connecting William Street plan. Pollay told planning commissioners that the DDA will be following the council’s guidance as it moves forward. Councilmembers have already taken a first action step related to one of those parcels – the former YMCA lot. At this week’s city council meeting on March 4, 2013, the council voted to direct the city administrator to prepare an RFP (request for proposals) for brokerage services to sell the lot. A $3.5 million balloon payment on the property is due at the end of 2013.

This brief was filed shortly after adjournment of the planning commission meeting. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead Wed, 18 Nov 2009 05:13:50 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 16, 2009) Part I: The Ann Arbor city council’s Monday night meeting, which started at its usual 7 p.m. time, stretched to almost 1 a.m. before it concluded. In this part of the meeting report, we focus on planning and development issues, which contributed to the unusually long meeting.

a ball of yarn on somebody's lap

A ball of yarn on the lap of an audience member at city council’s Monday meeting. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) compared his colleagues’ proposed amendments on the A2D2 zoning package to unwinding a tightly-wound ball of string. (Photo by the writer)

On the main planning question before the council – the A2D2 rezoning package for downtown Ann Arbor – the council approved the zoning package with its two basic categories of D1 (core) and D2 (interface) zones.

Neither the effort to postpone consideration of the zoning ordinance – led by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – nor the attempt to reduce maximum height limits in the South University area – led by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – met with any success.

The maximum building height for the majority of D1 areas is thus 180 feet, with the exception of a swatch along East Huron and in South University, which have maximums of 150 feet. D2 areas have a maximum  building height of 60 feet.

There were also no amendments passed to accommodate the request to change the proposed zoning of an individual parcel at 1320 S. University from D2 (interface) to D1 (core), or to change the proposed zoning of an area along East Huron Street from D1 to D2.

A public hearing was held on the design guidelines, which are also a part of the A2D2 effort, though no vote was scheduled or taken at Monday’s meeting. It did emerge during deliberations on the zoning that it’s estimated to take another 8-12 months of planning staff work, in order to establish a mandatory review process that goes along with the design guidelines.

In response to councilmember questions, Wendy Rampson, who’s interim director of planning and development services, said that with approval of the new downtown zoning – based on staff conversations with developers – there are two projects that would now likely be submitted.

Three public hearings were held that related to downtown planning. The first related to design guidelines for Ann Arbor’s  downtown buildings and open spaces. The second was for the proposed A2D2 zoning for downtown. And the final public hearing concerned the rezoning of 1320 S. University – a hearing granted to the property owner under Michigan state law.

Design Guidelines

For an overview of some history of the downtown design guidelines process, see Chronicle coverage: “Another Draft of Downtown Design Guides” and “Downtown Design Guides: Must vs. Should

woman looking at printed material

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) flips through the design guidelines document. Next to her is Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). (Photo by the writer.)

A central focus of prior community criticism has been the lack of a defined mandatory review process that accompanies the design guidelines. Among those advocating for a mandatory review process, there is somewhat less consensus on whether the compliance with the guidelines themselves should be mandatory.

On its agenda, the city council had only a public hearing, but no vote on design guidelines. We include in this section any council deliberations on a zoning amendment vote that related specifically to the design guidelines.

We also include a summary of public commentary from the zoning public hearing, to the extent that it was pertinent to the design guidelines.

Public Comment on Design Guidelines

Much of the commentary at the city council’s public hearing reflected similar sentiments to those that had been expressed at the previous night’s caucus. [Chronicle coverage: "Zoning, Design Guides on Council's Agenda"]

During the public hearing, Peter Nagourney spoke on behalf of a committee of citizens that was preparing an annotated copy of the proposed guidelines to forward to the council and to planning staff. Nagourney said that their main request was to extend the time for consideration. [The council heard from city staff during their deliberations on the zoning package that an 8-12 month delay would be necessary, if the council wished to include a mandatory review process with the design guidelines.]

Some key points identified by the volunteer citizen committee included:

  • Coordination between new zoning codes, design guidelines and the Downtown Plan. [Link to the city's master plans website, which includes information about the Downtown Plan.]
  • Specification of a design review process; the city’s new public participation ordinance helps define a “schedule” for a project approval process – where does the design review process fit into this schedule?
  • Elimination of the checklist, because “checking all the boxes doesn’t mean good design.”
  • Context of new construction in terms of respecting surrounding buildings.
  • Use of example projects on which to test-run the guidelines before they’re formally adopted.
  • Use of premiums for additional floor area ratios (i.e., taller buildings) only when a project is approved by a design review panel; this would be a way to leverage compliance.
  • Improvement of photographs and graphics in the design guidelines document.
  • Sustainability should be included in the design guidelines document not just in the context of new buildings, but also in the context of rehabbing older buildings.
  • Character districts are not completely articulated and in some cases seem rather “open ended.”

An advocate for walkers and bicyclists appeared at the public hearing to echo the sentiment that while the design guidelines themselves did in part promote a green and sustainable future, they “lacked teeth,” and did not reflect a mandate, but rather just a “wish list.”

Bob Snyder, president  of the South University Neighborhood Association, focused on Nagourney’s third point: context. He suggested that the Calthorpe report, with its recommendation of buildings no taller than 3-8 stories, was more suggestive of D2 (interface) zoning than D1 (core) zoning. The previous night at council’s Sunday caucus, he’d read from the character district guidelines for South University, saying that they sounded more like D2 than D1. Snyder concluded that the design guidelines for South University should be changed to reflect D1, or else the zoning changed to D2 to match the design guidelines. [Snyder's clear preference is to change the zoning of South University to D2.]

Ray Detter spoke on behalf of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council – which, he reminded city councilmembers, had been involved in the A2D2 process since the very beginning. Detter stressed that a mandatory review process needed to be provided for the design guidelines.

Christine Crockett, who served on the A2D2 design review committee, also stressed that zoning dovetails with design review. She pointed out that increasing density is not the sole purpose of the zoning and design changes – it’s one of many principles at play.

Thomas Partridge called for the tabling of any resolution until the plan was clearly written with a provision for affordable housing.

Council Deliberations on Zoning that Related to Design Guidelines

While the city council did not have a resolution before it on the design guidelines, the guidelines did factor into the deliberations on the A2D2 zoning package. They played a significant role in the arguments concerning the merits of a motion, brought forward by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), to postpone the consideration of the zoning package until council’s first meeting in December.

Mayor John Hieftje said that he had come to the council meeting prepared to support a postponement in order to sync up the design guidelines with the zoning package so that they could be approved together. In wanting to see them passed together, he was supporting a similar sentiment to that which Ethel Potts had expressed during the public hearing on zoning – zoning can’t stand alone without design guidelines, she said.

During deliberations on the zoning package, Hieftje asked Wendy Rampson, interim director of planning services for the city, what the projected timeline would be for developing a mandatory process for the design guidelines. She explained that it would be 8-12 months before such a mandatory process could be developed. Why so long? Rampson said that planning staff had a pretty “full plate” with several other projects that the council had asked for: a review of R4C zoning, an historic district review, master planning consolidation, and a zoning ordinance legal review.

It would take even longer, Rampson said, if it was council’s direction to develop not just a mandatory process, but also a way to enforce mandatory compliance.

Hieftje wound up voting for the failed motion to postpone anyway, but said that obviously it was not feasible to try to sync up the zoning with the design guidelines.

Asked by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) what the risks were of waiting for design guidelines to be approved before approving the zoning ordinance, Rampson reported that two projects were expected to be brought before the city for site plan review, once the new A2D2 zoning ordinance was approved. So waiting the 8-12 months to pass the zoning package until a mandatory review process was written by planning staff, then approved by council, would mean delaying the submission of those two projects, Rampson said.

Without the design guidelines or any process in place, Rampson said, those projects would go through the normal review channels. However, she allowed that planning staff would fully apprise the developers of those projects about the intent and content of the guidelines as they currently stood, as a reflection of community sentiment.

Outcome: There was no vote on the design guidelines. The A2D2 oversight committee is scheduled to meet at a date to be determined, to make a recommendation as to how to proceed in light of Rampson’s estimated 8-12 months that would be needed to write up a mandatory design review process.

A2D2 Zoning

The majority of speakers at the public hearing addressed the specific geographic regions of East Huron Street or South University, but some spoke to the overall proposal.

Public Comment on Zoning: East Huron

The First Baptist Church is located on East Washington Street between Division and State in an area that’s proposed as D1 (core) zoning in the A2D2 proposal. Members of the First Baptist Church, along with the church’s co-pastor Stacey Simpson Duke, spoke against the idea of D1 zoning for their block. Their concerns were based on the shadow cast on the church that could result from any tall building constructed immediately to the west of the church.

Residents of Sloan Plaza on Huron Street weighed in against a D1 zoning designation for East Huron, saying that D2 was more appropriate. One Sloan Plaza resident pointed to the University of Michigan’s new North Quad dormitory, which has now begun to take definite shape on the southeast corner of Huron and State streets. Buildings constructed according to the D1 zoning standards could rise almost twice as tall as North Quad, she said.

Bruce Thomson, who owns property along Huron Street, acknowledged that it was a tough issue for the council to weigh the interests of residents of adjoining property against the rights of property owners. He noted, however, that East Huron is already zoned for high density, and appropriately so, as it was the main drive through the city. He said he felt that the planning commission did a great job of finding a compromise that afforded a D1 designation, with a slightly lower height (150 feet versus 180 feet) compared to other D1 districts, as well as greater setbacks.

Public Comment on Zoning: South University – Including 1320 S. University

Some of the public commentary and much of the subsequent council deliberations focused on the South University area.

Susan Friedlaender represented the owner of the property at 1320 S. University, who had requested a separate public hearing on the rezoning of the parcel to D2. She contended that a D2 designation for the parcel conflicted with the state zoning enabling legislation, because it went against the emerging trend of building and population development. A D2 designation, she said, defeated the goals of the city’s downtown plan, transportation plan, and affordable housing plan.

Barbara Copi praised the new Downtown Development Authority wayfinding signs that have been installed, but criticized those that have been placed on Washtenaw Avenue near South University, which indicate “Downtown.” If anything, she said, they should say “Campus.” It wasn’t possible to change reality by putting a sign on it, she said.

Eleanor Linn supported the D2 zoning of 1320 S. University, which abuts the property she owns. She pointed to the hard work that had gone into finding a way to allow development yet provide a buffer.

Public Comment on Zoning: General

Roger Hewitt – who serves on the DDA board and is a member of the A2D2 steering committee, along with Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Evan Pratt of the planning commission – introduced himself as a downtown business owner. He cautioned that the currently proposed zoning would be damaging to downtown, because the residential premiums for additional floor area ratios (FAR) were not high enough. He also expressed concern that the construction of on-site parking was penalized by the proposed zoning package in the way it factored into floor area ratios (FAR).

Council Deliberations: South University Height

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) led off deliberations, with a proposed amendment to clean up the language on the side and rear setbacks in the East Huron character district – the base of buildings needed to be included, as well as the tower.

people sitting at city council table

Left: Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). Right: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).  In the distant background is DDA board member Roger Hewitt. (Photo by the writer.)

Then Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – attending his first council meeting since being elected on Nov. 3 – re-opened the question of the height limit in the South University area. He proposed an amendment that would have changed the maximum building height in the South University area from 150 feet to 60 feet. Even though in general, the maximum building height limit for D1 districts was proposed to be 180 feet, in the South University area it is proposed to be 150 feet.

At 60 feet, Kunselman’s amendment would have made South University’s D1 maximum building height the same as the standard maximum building height in D2 districts. This was a point that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered about. Kunselman clarified that he was simply suggesting a height limit that was “in keeping with what we’ve been telling the community it should be.”

Kunselman went on to explain that he was in part trying to make amends for missing a planning commission meeting back in 2006 when the parcel at 1320 S. University, along with several others, were recommended by planning commission to be rezoned from R4C (multi-family dwelling) to C2A (Central Business District), which is an up-zoning. [Kunselman served on the planning commission at the time. The city council subsequently approved that rezoning. The current C2A designations have been pointed to as part of the justification for designating the South University area as D1.]

From the Aug. 15, 2006 planning commission meeting minutes:

Borum and Lipson both expressed concern about the rezoning of the Park Plaza apartment complex.

Moved by Potts, seconded by D’Amour, to amend the main motion by removing the Park Plaza apartment complex at 1320 South University.

A vote on the amendment showed:
YEAS: Borum, D’Amour, Lipson, Potts
NAYS: Bona, Carlberg, Emaus
ABSENT: Kunselman, Pratt

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), picking up on an allusion to “six stories” by Kunselman and its apparent equation with 60 feet, expressed her confusion: Sixty feet doesn’t make six stories, she said. Kunselman replied that as a student of urban planning, he was actually against setting height limits in terms of feet, and preferred stories. He noted that he did not wish to send the whole A2D2 zoning proposal back to the drawing board, but said that he would stand firm on South University.

Mayor John Hieftje weighed in, saying that he had difficulty supporting a 60-foot height limit, because at that height nothing would change on South University – an area he said he visited twice daily. At that height, he said, a developer could not eke out the necessary economic advantage to undertake a project.

Briere then noted that a 60-foot height limit is really a four-story height limit, and observed that whoever came up with a 60-foot height limit for D2 didn’t talk to people who actually built things. She concluded that 9-10 story buildings are what they’d like to see in the South University area. At 150 feet and a D1 zoning designation, however, Briere cautioned that there was an incentive to pile lots together and build big. The message to property owners, she said, was they could sell their land to people who will amass lots and build something.

people standing around looking at a map

Left to right: Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Roger Hewitt (DDA board member), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). (Photo by the writer.)

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) then expressed support for Kunselman’s overarching point, saying that he concurred that the South University area, as then proposed, “admits of too much height.” But he suggested that 60 feet was too restrictive. However, 120 feet, said Taylor, is a mass that would allow for “commercial exploitation – in the best sense.”

Taylor noted that he would like to bring 120 feet as an amendment as the conversation progressed.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) was unambiguous in saying that he would not support the amendment to change the maximum building height in the South University area to 60 feet, or even 120 feet, saying that there was an economic tipping point, and that there’d be no economic redevelopment at 60 feet.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) then adduced an analogy to which he’d return later in the deliberations: The zoning ordinance as proposed was tightly wound, and if they began picking it apart, it would unravel.

Kunselman tried to give some assurance to his colleagues that economic redevelopment could still happen at 60 feet, pointing out that the “ace in the hole” for a developer is the PUD (planned unit development).

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) addressed Kunselman’s PUD strategy, suggesting that there’s community concern about the frequency with which PUDs are deployed. It was important, said Hohnke, that they not be surprised by requests for the kind of rezoning allowed by PUDs. A PUD should be a rare circumstance, he continued, and should provide a significant and bold benefit to the community, not be a standard redevelopment strategy.

On his 60-foot height limit amendment for South University, Kunselman was the lone vote in favor.

The deliberations then took a detour from South University, when Hieftje did not call on Taylor, who had his hand raised to speak – presumably to offer the 120-foot alternative he’d mentioned he’d like to bring forward.

That detour involved the role of design guidelines in the timing of the zoning approval – which is already explicated in the Design Guidelines section above.

When Taylor was eventually recognized to speak, he turned the conversation back to South University. He first clarified with senior assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald what the procedural implications would be if a 120-foot height limit for South University were to be adopted. [In the spring of 2009, the council had previously approved amendments to the A2D2 zoning ordinance that had required revision of the Downtown Plan, which then had to be referred back to the city's planning commission. The planning commission and the city council must adopt the same Downtown Plan.]

Taylor wanted to know from McDonald if a change to 120 feet would require referral back to the planning commission, or another “first reading” before the city council, or neither of those. McDonald clarified that the height change would not cause a conflict between the zoning and the Downtown Plan. He suggested that an additional reading before the council would be in order, but that it would not necessarily need to be referred to the planning commission.

With that understanding, and understanding also that it would require an additional subsequent reading before the city council if passed, which would incur the costs of providing official notice, Taylor moved an amendment to change the South University height limit to 120 feet. [Subsequent deliberations by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) would draw out the fact that the cost of providing notice to everyone inside the district to be rezoned and those who live within 1,000 feet is $8,000-$10,000.]

In arguing for the amendment, Taylor adduced the principle of “like should be treated as like, and unlike should be treated as unlike.” South University, Taylor contended, was unlike Huron Street, and therefore should be treated unlike Huron, with its D1 zoning and 150-foot height limits. As far as the contention that establishing a different height limit for South University would diminish the clarity of the zoning, Taylor’s response was straightforward: You consult the table, he said, referring to a table in the zoning code that lays out the height limits. “That is entirely clear,” he concluded.

Briere offered her support for Taylor’s 120-foot height limit in South University, saying that a 10-story building in that area was rational.

Hohnke acknowledged that the height change did not explicitly conflict with the D1-D2 boundaries drawn on the Downtown Plan. But he wanted to know if the floor area ratios (FAR) associated with D1 premiums could actually be achieved at a height of 120 feet. If they could not, then that would have implications as to the D1 zoning, which would implicitly conflict with the Downtown Plan. Noting that Kunselman’s previously proposed 60-foot maximum seemed to conflict with the idea that it was zoned D1, Hohnke wanted to know where the line was between 60 feet and 12o feet that constituted a “material change,” and that would entail referring the ordinance back to planning commission.

man sitting a table with microphones

Senior assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald. (Photo by the writer)

McDonald replied that the proposed ordinance before the city council definitely fit the Downtown Plan and that the city attorney staff – before they could determine whether there was still a good fit – were waiting and listening to hear what the council would recommend. At that point, Hohnke interjected: “120 feet!” McDonald replied that the city attorney’s office would need to do a review.

Derezinski then expressed some frustration in saying, “We’re back here unraveling the ball!”

Rapundalo concurred with Derezinski, saying that they were beginning to disrespect the work of those in the community who had worked so hard through the whole process. He cautioned that a height of 120 feet might now allow a developer to realize an affordable housing premium – when affordable housing was a community goal. Characterizing the proposed amendment, Rapundalo said, “It’s totally irrational, quite frankly.”

At that point, Briere suggested a postponement until Dec. 7. But with Taylor’s amendment on the floor for discussion, it needed to be withdrawn, if the council was to consider the postponement. After establishing that he could bring back the 120-foot amendment if the postponement failed, Taylor withdrew the amendment.

The postponement did fail – deliberations on Briere’s motion to postpone are detailed below.

After the postponement failed, Taylor re-introduced the amendment to reduce the maximum building height in the South University area from 150 feet to 120 feet. Deliberations were now brief. The amendment failed.

Voting for the 120-foot height limit for South University: Kunselman, Taylor, Anglin, Hieftje, Briere. Voting to leave the proposed height limit at 150 feet for South University: Derezinski, Rapundalo, Teall, Higgins, Hohnke, Smith.

Council Deliberations: Postponement?

In moving for a postponement, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) had suggested that everyone who had an amendment to make put them in writing well before the Dec. 7 meeting so that they could be looked over and evaluated by councilmembers as well as the city attorney’s office. That way, the implications of various amendments would be clear, she said.

Mayor John Hieftje suggested that the choice was between postponing and making changes before approving the zoning package versus approving it now and making any required adjustments in the future.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) suggested to those who wished to bring amendments that they should simply vote the zoning package down and start over. “This is ludicrous!” she exclaimed. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) agreed with Higgins: “We’ve got to get a move on this,” he said.

For her part, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) felt like any amendments should entail that the package be referred back to the planning commission, whether or not the city attorney’s office felt like they were on the right side of the fine line that defined a material change. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) declared: “It’s time to act.” He recalled how in the spring of 2009 there’d been a raft of amendments put into writing before the council’s vote – as Briere was suggesting they do now – and that he had a sense of deja vu.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she agreed with the intent of the postponement, but could ultimately not support it.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) made a final attempt to persuade his colleagues by arguing that the community voice will not feel offended by the postponement.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Wendy Rampson, interim director of planning and development services, what recourse citizens might have to overturn the zoning. Rampson deferred to Kevin McDonald, a senior assistant city attorney. McDonald wanted no part of the question: “It’s not part of my job duties to advise on recourse against the city!”

Kunselman then indicated that he would heed Higgins’ advice to vote the proposed ordinance down when the vote came on the main motion. The motion to postpone failed.

Voting for the postponement: Kunselman, Taylor, Anglin, Hieftje, Briere. Voting against the postponement: Derezinski, Rapundalo, Teall, Higgins, Hohnke, Smith.

Council Deliberations: The Final Vote

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) moved to add a “Resolved” clause to the main motion that would direct planning staff to take up recommendations from an Aug. 18 memo they had prepared, and to bring back the ordinance for review in January of 2011.

With that resolved clause added, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) expressed her thanks to Higgins for all her work, and then called the question – a parliamentary way of saying, “Let’s vote now.” The vote on calling the question came out on the same 6-5 split as the vote on the 120-foot height limit and the postponement.

Outcome: The Ann Arbor city council approved the A2D2 zoning amendments, with dissent only from Kunselman.

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: Monday, Dec. 7, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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City Place Delayed, Downtown Plan OKed Thu, 18 Jun 2009 17:14:59 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (June 15, 2009): The council covered a lot of ground at its Monday night meeting, much of it related to streets and transportation. Besides dealing with a raft of garden-variety street closings that generated some unexpected “controversy,” the council put in place a plan to delay the installation of some parking meters in near downtown neighborhoods, launched a safety campaign, and funded a bike path, pedestrian amenities and the city’s portion of a north-south connector feasibility study.

But it wasn’t the bike path that drew more than 20 people to speak at a public hearing. That turnout was for the adoption of the Downtown Plan. It was ultimately adopted as amended by the city’s planning commission so that the D2 buffer in the South University area is a small area in the southeast corner.

The expected vote on the City Place project along Fifth Avenue was delayed again after additional technical errors by planning staff were discovered related to the planning commission’s April meeting. That project will now start over with the planning commission public hearing.

Audience members who waited until the end of the long meeting heard Mayor John Hieftje appoint a subcommittee of councilmembers to meet with the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee to discuss the parking agreement between the city and the DDA.  In the discussion after the jump, we provide a record produced in the preliminary response to a Chronicle FOIA, which dates the renegotiation of the parking agreement to as early as September 2008 and connects it to discussions between the mayor and a candidate for the DDA board, Keith Orr, who was eventually appointed to the board.  The record shows that his appointment was not contingent on a commitment to a particular vote on the parking agreement.

Development – Downtown Plan

More than 20 people spoke at the public hearing on the adoption of the Downtown Plan. Readers interested in details of their comments can view the video of Monday’s meeting here.

Downtown Plan Background

In broad strokes, what’s at issue are two kinds of policy: zoning ordinances and planning documents. Ideally they should support each other and not be in conflict. The Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown (A2D2) process was an effort to revise both the zoning ordinances and planning documents to bring them up to date to reflect the goals for future development, and to make them compatible.

The city’s planning commission recommended a set of new zoning ordinances and sent those to the city council for final approval this spring. The council made its own revisions to the zoning ordinances that had been recommended by planning commission. The city council has the legal authority to adopt those ordinances as amended with no further input from the planning commission. While council has completed the preliminary step (the “first reading”) for approval of the zoning ordinances, the final step (“second reading”) is not scheduled until July.

Earlier in the spring, planning commission also sent to the city council its recommendation for a new Downtown Plan, which was considered by the city council after it had undertaken changes to the zoning ordinances recommended by the planning commission. The Downtown Plan that had then come from planning commission – while consistent with the planning commission’s recommended zoning ordinances – was inconsistent with the changes that city council had made. But council does not have the legal authority to amend the Downtown Plan  and adopt the plan as amended. Instead, council must vote the plan up or down – the two bodies (planning commission and city council) must adopt the same plan. Council and commission have equal status in this case.

So when the Downtown Plan first came before the city council several weeks ago, it was rejected and sent back to the planning commission.

Planning commission then reconsidered its Downtown Plan in light of city council’s zoning changes and revised the plan – but a major inconsistency remained between the version of the Downtown Plan presented to the city council this past Monday (June 15, 2009) and the zoning ordinance package that, procedurally speaking, is between its preliminary and final approval by the city council.

At its June 15 meeting, then, the city council faced essentially two alternatives: (i) insist upon a Downtown Plan that was exactly consistent with the zoning ordinances it wanted to pass and send it back to planning commission, or (ii) accept the Downtown Plan, together with the implication that council would need to revise the zoning ordinances to be consistent with that Downtown Plan.

Previous Chronicle coverage of the interplay between planning commission and city council can be found here. One key issue is the setting of the D1/D2 boundary in the South University area: planning commission recommended a very small D2 buffer area in the southeast corner, whereas council had seen fit to assign the D2 zoning designation to the southern half of South University.

Downtown Plan: Deliberations

Councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) opened deliberations by suggesting the addition of a resolved clause, which would direct staff to revise the zoning map in accordance with the revised Downtown Plan that planning commission had forwarded to the council. Otherwise put, the resolved clause would take the council down path (ii) above.

The resolved clause also stipulated that on July 6 the zoning ordinance revisions would be brought back before the council for an additional first reading. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), an attorney himself, asked if that point had been reviewed by the city attorney, and Higgins clarified that the decision had come directly from the city attorney’s office.

At issue legally would have been whether these new changes to the zoning ordinances – which were procedurally between their preliminary and final passage – were substantial enough to require starting the process over with a first reading. In the view of the city attorney, they were substantial enough to restart the process.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that he was against accepting the Downtown Plan as is. He acknowledged that with respect to the Downtown Plan, planning commission and the city council were on an equal level. Specifically, it was not up to city council to amend and then adopt a plan, but rather they needed to accept or reject the plan as a whole.

Taylor noted that city council had undertaken a specific action to designate South University areas outside of the Downtown Development Authority district as D2 zoning and that within a short time following that decision the planning commission had contravened it. He allowed that the planning commission had a right to vote its conscience on the matter. He contended that though the two bodies on this question were co-equals, that elected officials had some incremental measure of preference. The fact that planning commission had not respected council’s decision reflected a “failure of process,” he said, and he continued by stating that planning commission should have respected the decision of the “electeds.”

Speaking by phone the following day with The Chronicle, Taylor clarified that the distinction he was drawing between the two bodies did not have to do with the status of planning commission as volunteer public servants versus the paid public servants on council but rather was rooted specifically in the more direct connection – via election – of the council with the community. Asked by The Chronicle if he’d reflected on the fact that the three-year appointments of planning commissioners gave that body a greater buffer against “political fads” than council enjoyed [councilmembers are elected to two-year terms], Taylor said that in this case he gave priority to direct democracy as opposed to checks-and-balances.

[Editorial aside: In considering the priority assigned to the two different bodies, it's worth factoring into the mix the presumably greater expertise in subject matter that planning commissioners have for a planning exercise as compared to councilmembers – which is not to suggest that all planning commissioners are architects or urban planners by trade. They're not.]

Higgins, for her part, said that she supported the Downtown Plan. For her, the critical point was that changing the lower half of the South University area to D2 zoning would amount to “down zoning.”

Leigh Greden (Ward 3) noted that the city council did not have the legal authority to amend and adopt the plan. To send the Downtown Plan back to planning commission would delay a plan that had several significant improvements over the current plan, including a height limit, said Greden. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) echoed the same sentiments as Greden, adding that it was important to retain the D1 zoning designation along East Huron Street for the technical reason that to make it D2 would result in existing properties’ nonconformance.

Margie Teal (Ward 4) said she shared Taylor’s perspective and was disappointed about the redesignation of most of South University as a D1 area but thought that she would probably vote for it for the good of getting it in place. She was not convinced, she said, about having D1 zoning outside the Downtown Development Authority district.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she had gone to the planning commission meeting and watched that body decide as it went through its revisions to the Downtown Plan. She said it was not any easier for that body than it was for the city council. She commended Taylor for saying that what council had marked as D2 should stay as D2. She said that the question to ask was whether that area should be a buffer or whether it should be built to a maximum 150-foot height limit. She was not comfortable with the idea that the document could become a ping-pong ball, she said. However, she did not support the Downtown Plan’s adoption.

Outcome: The city council adopted the revised Downtown Plan as put forward by the planning commission, with Taylor and Briere dissenting.

Development – City Place

City Place had been postponed already from the last council meeting due to errors in the online documentation.

City Place Public Hearing

Jim Mogensen: This is a “by right” project, he began, which he characterized as meaning that everybody basically has to say this is the way it has to be. He said that the project reflected a “community failure.” The way the project had evolved came from the playbook of the developer, he added, and it was the same narrative that had been told in connection with the 828 Greene Street development. Mogensen said he didn’t understand why the proposal for the Germantown study committee did not happen at the same time that 828 Greene Street had been proposed. He acknowledged that there was a plan to look at the R4C (multi-family dwelling) zoning, but noted it would be an effort complicated by the fact that there was a need to have multi-family zoning so that students would be able to live there. An additional constraint is that it wasn’t desirable to undertake zoning that amounted to a “property taking.”

Tom Luczak: Luczak said he appreciated the fact that city council had seen fit to reexamine R4C zoning in detail. But suggested the following analogy for not deciding to put a moratorium on development in R4C zoning districts: It would be like conducting a study to see if you should close the horse barn and having Secretariat [Triple Crown winner] run out of the barn during the study period. He contended there were many gray areas in the zoning code, among them the definition of roof height.

Alex de Parry: De Parry introduced himself as the project owner and noted that he had the entire development team with him if council had any questions. He told the city council that they had before them a project that meets the zoning and code requirements of the city of Ann Arbor and cited its conformance with the following chapters: 55, 57, 59, 62, 63, 105. He described the project as using the latest in energy technology. He said that the 24 six-bedroom units each would be equipped with a kitchen, living room, dining room and that, contrary to rumor, bedrooms would not be equipped with a kitchen. De Parry pointed to three other projects that had used the same interpretations of terms like “dormer,” “ridge height,” and “window wells”: 133 Hill Street, 922 Church Street and 818 Forest.

John Floyd: Floyd said that the decision not to do a study on the question of whether a historic district should be established in the area was a failure of process, “a grand mistake.” He suggested that it was an opportunity to run the government in a more straightforward way, and not just use process when it meets a predetermined end.

Scott Munzel: Munzel is legal counsel on the project. He noted that the homes slated for demolition are older, and are divided into rentals, and represented quite an investment to maintain. He said that it was not a realistic option for owner-occupiers to purchase them and rehabilitate them. He continued by saying that the law is very clear for site plan approval, noting that city council’s role is very limited. He said that the Central Area Plan is not legally relevant – though he noted that the project in many ways does, in fact, meet the goals of the Central Area Plan. He allowed that the buildings are old and attractive, but concluded that the decision is straightforward.

Fred Beal: Beal introduced himself as a member of the Downtown Residential Task Force. He described the project as beneficial because it increases density in an edge area. He said it should be approved because it meets zoning and that he’d like to see more of this kind of project.

Brad Moore: Moore is the architect on the City Place project. He stressed that the interpretation of the code of the city of Ann Arbor had been the same for this project as for every other project examined by the planning staff and the planning commission. That included setbacks, reach height, unit size, sized bedrooms, etc.

Yousef Rabhi: Rabhi said that as a student at the University of Michigan and a future lifelong resident of the city of Ann Arbor, he wanted to live in a city of cultural significance.

Ray Detter: Detter noted that city council was considering the Downtown Plan that evening and that he did not see how tearing down the seven historic houses was consistent with the Downtown Plan or the Central Area Plan. About the proposed building, Detter said, “It’s a dog,” from a design point of view. The problem in this case, Detter said, had resulted from planning documents that were inconsistent with zoning documents.

Lou Glorie: Glorie sketched out an analogy with a medical procedure – a needle biopsy, in which “needle” is a euphemism for a much larger implement. The point of comparison was “public process,” [echoing a sentiment from John Floyd, an earlier speaker]. Glorie characterized the public process as consisting of a conversation that began with the chamber of commerce, developers, councilmembers and ultimately was controlled by those parties. She suggested that urban sprawl had been replaced by the desire to pack 1,000 more souls into the downtown of some city. “Concrete is the new green,” she concluded.

City Place Deliberations

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began deliberations on the City Place site plan approval by indicating to his colleagues that he had brought information to the city attorney’s office concerning a possible conflict of interest on his part with respect to the City Place project. He stated that councilmembers had the analysis provided by the city attorney’s office and indicated he was prepared to accept their recommendation, if any, on the topic. [Council rules require members to vote on any resolution before them, unless their colleagues request by a majority vote that a councilmember recuse himself/herself.] No one moved that Hohnke should recuse himself.

Instead of deliberating on the resolution before them, a completely different resolution was substituted – and that resolution called for the site plan to be returned to the planning commission to be reconsidered. Kevin McDonald, senior assistant city attorney, clarified for councilmembers that the parliamentary mechanism by which the substitution would be achieved was the same as that used for an amendment. In this case, however, the “amendment” to the resolution replaced the existing language in its entirety with new language.

The reason cited for the return of the site plan to planning commission was errors in the documentation provided by planning staff in connection with the commission’s April meeting on the plan. This marked the second council meeting in a row at which a vote was expected on the site plan by council, but did not happen. Two weeks ago, council delayed the decision for two weeks due to errors in the documentation provided online for council’s meeting that week.

The expected time frame for reconsideration of the site plan by the planning commission is for a new public hearing and recommendation to be made at the planning commission’s July 7, 2009 meeting. Assuming the planning commission makes the same recommendation as before, it would come before the city council on July 20, 2009.

Taylor asked what the affects of the substitution resolution would be on the public hearing that had just been held. Hieftje clarified that there would be another public hearing, assuming that planning commission again recommended that the site plan come to city council. Rapundalo asked whether this procedural development had been discussed with the petitioner. Hieftje indicated he was not sure, but assumed that the petitioner was learning of the situation in the same way that he himself was. Higgins had indicated she was sending to all of her colleagues an email with the replacement language.

Derezinski, who is the city council’s representative to planning commission, said this was simply a technical glitch, and that there had been a thorough discussion and deliberation on the site plan at the planning commission’s meeting in April. He described the return of the matter to the planning commission as simply exercising caution and making sure that every aspect of due process was respected.

Higgins took care to point out that the decision to return the product to the planning commission was in no way a negative reflection on the developer and that there had been no error on his part.

Outcome: The decision to return the site plan to planning commission passed unanimously.

Development – What Goes On Top?

The city council entertained a resolution that established a site development committee to initiate a search for a private development partner for the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure site.

It was a resolution brought by councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1). At the previous council meeting, she had alerted her colleagues of her intention to bring the resolution. At that meeting she described her intention to call for a request for qualifications (RFQ). However, on Monday she indicated that she had rethought that intention, saying it was to be the purview of the committee to determine the best way to engage the community in a process. The idea was that representatives from planning commission, the Downtown Development Authority, downtown residents, and city council could use the short-lived committee to determine whether it would be best to issue an RFP (request for proposal) or an RFQ.

Higgins moved to postpone the decision until the council’s July 1, 2009 meeting, saying that she wanted to have more dialogue about what other things they’d like to see. She said she’d like to have the resolutions reflect a “council view” instead of a “councilmember’s view.” Smith asked Higgins for a better idea of the process that they could expect over the next two weeks. Higgins offered only that she just wanted to have some more dialogue.

Hieftje said to Smith that to him it sounded like Higgins wanted to have coffee with Smith. Councilmember Margie Teall (Ward 4) alluded to her work on the Downtown Development Authority partnerships committee, which had made an offer help with community dialogue on the parcel’s development.

Outcome: The resolution was postponed, with dissent from Smith.

Development – Design Guidelines

Council considered a professional services agreement with Winter & Company for the Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown design guidelines revision project in the amount of $34,230. Higgins reported that the A2D2 steering committee had had a phone call with Bruce Race, the consultant who is helping with work on the design guidelines. She indicated that there would likely be a joint September working session with city council and planning commission to address the design guidelines project. That project is part of the zoning and planning effort, and is seen by many in the community as crucial to its success.

Outcome: The resolution was passed unanimously.

Parking Meters

Parking Meters: Public Commentary

Several people spoke during public commentary reserved time (at the start of the council meeting) on the topic of the installation of parking meters in residential neighborhoods near downtown Ann Arbor. The meters were proposed as a part of the FY 2010 budget that the city council recently adopted. City officials hope the meters will generate an additional $380,000 per year in revenue. The meters in question should not be confused with the E-Park stations currently being rolled out by the DDA inside the downtown area.

Gwen Nystuen: Speaking for the North Burns Park Association Advisory Board, she said that they supported the resolution to place only a limited number of parking meters in specific areas. She said that the board objected to the fact that there had been no public hearing on the proposal to introduce parking meters into residential neighborhoods near downtown. She noted that the Burns Park Association had had residential parking permits for over three years now, and it had improved the ambiance of the neighborhood. The introduction of such permits, she said, made the neighborhood more pleasant to be in – it was nice not to be a part of the parking lot. She said they didn’t support any kind of parking meters – not 21st-century, not streamlined, not blue, not gold, not digital parking meters.

John Hilton: Hilton spoke representing the North Central Property Owners Association. He reflected on the fact that 25 years ago city council had come up with the idea of a residential parking permit system in response to a situation in his neighborhood. He expressed his thanks to Sandi Smith, who had worked hard on the resolutions.

Bob Snyder: Snyder spoke representing the South University Neighborhood Association. Snyder said that he was speaking against the introduction of parking meters in residential neighborhoods and hoped to derail further attempts to install such meters. He asked to see a map of the precise locations of the proposed meters. Snyder criticized the proposed introduction of parking meters into residential neighborhoods as having the sole purpose of generating an extra $380,000 of revenue. He noted that eight different neighborhood associations are against “planting” parking meters in residential neighborhoods. The next step, he said, is to fast-track residential parking permits in those areas that do not currently have them.

Ann Schriber: Ann Schriber spoke representing the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association, consisting of 150 households. She summarized the meetings that the neighborhood association had had, and reported that the Oxbridge Neighborhood Association strongly opposes the addition of such parking meters. They want to be informed in advance of such proposals, she said. She concluded that residential parking permit programs work and they don’t want to see them changed.

Parking Meters: Deliberations on 415 W. Washington

How are parking rates at 415 W. Washington related to the installation of parking meters elsewhere?

If parking meters were not to be installed in all the areas planned by city staff as a part of the FY 2010 budget plan, then the revenue shortfall needs to be addressed. And part of the strategy for addressing that shortfall is – in cooperation with the Downtown Development Authority – to raise the parking rates on the surface lot.

Smith introduced a resolution to approve the extension of the temporary use of the 415 W. Washington parking lot as a parking lot. She noted that when the fees were set up in that parking lot, they were not set at a market rate. Her resolution raised the monthly fee from $40 to $80 a month. Smith noted that this was still quite competitive with the surface lot at First & William, which charges $105 a month. Part of the rationale for extending the use of the parcel as a surface parking lot is that redevelopment of the parcel at 415 W. Washington is not going as fast as previously hoped. At the July 1 meeting of the Downtown Development Authority, the board will be asked to approve their side agreement, Smith said. In broad summary, the increase in revenue from the higher rates would go to the city instead of the DDA. [Smith also serves on the DDA board].

Briere noted that on May 18 the idea of installing parking meters in neighborhoods near downtown was not something that council had really been prepared to deal with. She commended Smith for trying to solve the problem very creatively and in a very rapid way. Briere noted that the work is not finished and that it was really a stopgap that didn’t solve the problem permanently. Briere noted that it had been Smith plus herself and the two council representatives from the Fifth Ward, Carsten Hohnke and Mike Anglin, who had worked together on the resolution.

Hohnke said that although he had concerns that introducing parking meters were inherently a sign of commercial activity, he felt it was a necessary revenue solution in an extremely tight budget year. The resolutions, he said, are limited in timeframe. We’re not leaving a potential gap, he said, because the default plan remains for parking meters to be installed if no alternative revenues can be found. [See moratorium below.] He pointed out that it would be important to monitor what happens on Washington Street as the prices on the 415 W. Washington lot were brought into alignment with other parking in the DDA system. He said it might be possible that as prices are raised, motorists would seek more economical free parking out on the street, which could add to the traffic challenges around the new YMCA, located at 400 W. Washington.

Anglin noted that Ward 5 and Ward 1 representatives had worked together on the problem and had had some community meetings on the issue. He noted that it dismayed him a bit that downtown neighborhoods might have such meters installed. Councilmember Leigh Greden (Ward 3) thanked Smith for her hard work. He said that a key point about the plan was that this particular parking lot was never included in the parking agreement with the DDA, and they had never gotten around to closing a loophole. It was not a final solution, he allowed, but it was a step forward to finding a solution.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

Parking Meters: Deliberations on Installation

Council also contemplated a resolution to begin the installation of some of the parking meters. Smith explained that the spaces along Depot Street were selected in part due to the possible east-west commuter rail that might be developed.

  • East Madison (18 spaces)
  • Depot Street west of Broadway (16 spaces)
  • Depot Street in front of Gandy Dancer (5 spaces)
  • Depot Street Lot (20 spaces)
  • Wall Street (115 spaces)
  • Broadway (4 spaces)

The plan applies a moratorium to all the proposed meter installations except those listed above, but the moratorium ends on Oct. 5, 2009. The upshot of the plan is that by Oct. 5, which is a council meeting date, there would need to be an alternative plan in place to replace any shortfall against the $380,000 in the budget.

Rapundalo suggested that Upland – in the commercial district on the east side of the street – is an area with free parking that would be a good place to think about introducing parking meters.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

DDA and City of Ann Arbor Parking Agreement

In his communications to council, Hieftje appointed councilmembers Teall, Greden, and Hohnke to work with the “mutually beneficial committee” of the Downtown Development Authority to talk about the parking agreement between the DDA and the city. The appointment of the council subcommittee came subsequent to the challenge from DDA board chair, Jennifer S. Hall, at the DDA board’s last meeting, for council to finally seat its own committee, in light of the fact that she had removed herself from the DDA’s committee – her presence on the DDA’s subcommittee had been cited by the mayor as an obstacle to the city council’s appointment of its own committee.

Related to that upcoming discussion of the parking agreement is an email sent on Sept. 22, 2008, from Keith Orr, who was subsequently appointed by Hieftje to the DDA board to replace Dave Devarti. The email was included in a preliminary batch of records provided to The Chronicle under a FOIA request.

In basic summary, the email is apparently a reply to a verbally conveyed question from Hieftje to Orr about whether he’d be willing to commit to a revision to the parking agreement between the city and the DDA in the context of a possible appointment to the DDA board. Orr wrote:

As far as funding issues we talked about, I certainly believe that city solvency is a critical issue … And I have a general understanding (as much as can be understood from A2 News, and other secondary sources), of the funding issue as it relates to parking issues. I am uncomfortable making a firm commitment to a vote on an issue of several million dollars/year without knowing the full context of the budget issues. I guess that is as close as I can come to making an absolute statement of how I feel on the issue. If those are acceptable parameters, I’ll be happy to fill out the application. If you need a more absolute commitment, I understand, and hope you understand my reluctance to commit beyond that statement.

Contacted via email by The Chronicle, Orr confirmed the basic summary of the message’s context, and added:

… my response remains the same. I am sympathetic to the city’s fiscal needs, and could not promise a particular vote. That was apparently acceptable since I did get appointed.

I remain committed to helping the city. Indeed, the budget passed by the DDA Board contains a line item of “Contingency – $2M”. Thus, the entire board is committed to some type of transfer of funds to the city. The vehicle for that transfer is up in the air. Fortunately the city has finally appointed folks to the “mutually beneficial” committee so talks can finally begin. … I am convinced that reasonable policy determined by intelligent folks will prevail.

The Chronicle has also learned that Newcombe Clark is expected to be appointed to the DDA board as a replacement for Rene Greff when her term expires next month.


Local Development Finance Authority Budget Amendment

City council considered a resolution to amend the SmartZone of the LDFA budget to increase the total by $25,000. Stephen Rapundalo, who is the city council representative to the LDFA board, explained that there had been a question about a line item in the previous budget providing funds to a private investor network to support the connection of investors with companies in need of venture capital.

Rapundalo reported that the city attorney’s office had done due diligence on the proposal and that it was clear from the state enabling legislation, together with the tax increment financing plan, that money from the LDFA cannot be used for third-party staffing. However, said Rapundalo, the necessity to connect investors with companies who need capital is a legitimate need. That’s why the dollars were reinstated to the budget – in order to realize the same goals but with a different means. How? Instead of allocating money to a private angel investment group, Ann Arbor SPARK should develop a program to connect angel investors with companies.

LDFA Budget Reaffirmation

An additional resolution was added at the council table to reaffirm the 2010 LDFA budget. Rapundalo explained that there had been a leftover question about where and how marketing dollars could be spent. He said that it was clear that marketing dollars could not be used outside of the jurisdiction and the TIF (tax increment financing) plan makes it clear that marketing dollars are to be spent within the jurisdiction.

Ann Arbor SPARK

Council considered a resolution to approve a contract with Ann Arbor SPARK for business support services in the amount of $75,000. As the “whereas” clauses in the resolution indicate, Ann Arbor SPARK is the entity that resulted from the merger of Washtenaw Development Council and SPARK. Historically the city of Ann Arbor had contributed $50,000 to the Washtenaw Development Council. Ann Arbor SPARK is funded partly through tax capture in a SmartZone, which geographically consists of the union of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority districts. In the next year, Ann Arbor SPARK will receive around $1 million in Ann Arbor property taxes, administered through the LDFA.

Deliberations by the Ann Arbor city council began with Higgins’ expression of support for the contract approval, saying that SPARK would leverage it well for the city of Ann Arbor. Hieftje added that when he was outside of Ann Arbor talking to people who have heard about Ann Arbor SPARK, they say they would like to have one too. He said he was sure it would make good use of these funds. Hohnke, who was recently appointed to the SPARK executive committee, did not offer any commentary at the table. Councilmembers had no questions for Michael Finney, CEO of SPARK, who had remained in attendance at the meeting up through the recess just before SPARK’s contract was considered.



Transportation: Non-motorized Safety Outreach

Council considered a resolution to support a nonmotorized safety education outreach campaign. It had been introduced at the previous council meeting by Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager.

The resolution did not allocate new funds, but provided guidance to staff on how to spend those funds – up to $10,000 for development and implementation of a non-motorized safety education outreach program. The money comes from the alternative transportation fund created from Act 51 funds directed to development of a safe system of on-road bicycle lanes.

The campaign itself, which has already been developed, will include brochures, radio spots, and video spots. Higgins noted that there had been an ongoing discussion about how to accomplish the educational component. She noted that deputy chief of police Greg O’Dell had previously worked with bicycling groups on the topic. She wanted to know if the city had ever heard back about how that worked. Hieftje noted that the previous effort had never actually been funded. He cited the statistic that at any given time, the majority of people on the road in Ann Arbor don’t actually live here. So the outreach campaign had a certain challenge in reaching the population. Signage would be key, he said. Higgins stressed that she felt it was important that education be provided for cyclists about their responsibility for using the road.

Hohnke asked Cooper to explain how the various constituencies would be engaged through the campaign. Cooper cited the slogans themselves as reflective of targeting all users of the roadway, not just motorists: “Share the road” and “Same road same rules.” He described the brochure that had been developed as a tri-fold that when opened displayed a motorist on the left and a cyclist on the right.

Transportation: North-South Connector Feasibility

City council approved its $80,000 contribution to a north-south connector feasibility study. As transportation program manager Eli Cooper explained, the feasibility study would determine whether the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors could be enhanced as a “signature corridor” in terms of the transportation master plan update, using either existing buses, bus rapid transit, or streetcar systems.

Funding from the city of Ann Arbor apparently completed the funding authorization among the four partners in the feasibility study. Already authorized were the contributions from the DDA, AATA, and the University of Michigan. [However, at the AATA's Wednesday, June 17, 2009 board meeting, the board balked at the $320,000 portion it was asked to pay, postponing that final decision until August – the AATA board does not meet in the month of July.]

Outcome: The resolution authorizing $80,000 for the north-south connector study was passed unanimously.

Transportation: Pedestrian Safety Improvement Project

Briere indicated that she would be glad to see the countdown pedestrian walk signals installed in a few areas outside the downtown and suggested that people would come to appreciated them.

She was referring to countdown pedestrian signals at 12 locations and various crosswalk signing and pavement marking improvements encompassed by the project. The project will also include three pedestrian refuge islands to be constructed on South Main at Oakbrook, Packard at Woodmanor and Ellsworth.

The estimated cost of the project is $244,100, with $195,300 coming from a federal grant and $48,800 from the city. Construction is scheduled to begin in June 2009 and continue until September 2009.

Higgins expressed reservations about one of the pedestrian refuge islands.

Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.

Transportation: Bike Path

Council entertained a resolution to approve an amendment to the professional services agreement with Midwestern Consulting in the amount of $111,870 for a nonmotorized path along Washington Washtenaw Avenue, from Tuomy Road to Glenwood Road. The money would cover design. The city has been approved for a MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) Transportation Enhancement Grant of up to $538,527, plus an MDOT Surface Transportation Program grant of up to $460,000 for the construction of this project.

Outcome: The resolution passed with no discussion by the council.

Street Closings

Street closings on the agenda generated a bit of unexpected “controversy.” The Main Street Area Association had requested an East Washington Street closing for Oktoberfest on September 18-22, 2009. For the same days, a resolution to approve a West Washington Street closing was on the agenda, requested by Grizzly Peak Brewing Company and Blue Tractor. Rapundalo voted against both street closings, saying that it was a University of Michigan home football weekend and that safety services had not yet signed off on the idea.

For the street closing requested by Grizzly Peak and Blue Tractor, Taylor asked his colleagues to consider voting to require his recusal in light of the fact that his law firm does work for the parties involved. Apparently realizing that the same potential conflict of interest applied to himself with respect to a previous agenda item, Greden asked for a previously approved item to be reconsidered. That item involved a resolution to approve the temporary outdoor sales, service and consumption of alcoholic beverages during the 2009 Ann Arbor Art Fairs. Greden said that his law firm did work for the Red Hawk Bar and Grill, which was one of the parties that could potentially benefit from the outdoor sales.

In both cases, councilmembers asked for their recusal, and both measures passed. At issue was the potential for enhanced profits on the part of the parties benefiting from the resolutions passed.

Fire Dispatch

Council considered a resolution to approve a contract with Huron Valley Ambulance for two years for a fire dispatching service [ $99,420 FY 2010 and  $109,620 in FY 2011].

A representative from the fire department explained that the contract would provide that HVA handle dispatching for the city’s fire department. HVA already handles the dispatch for several other fire departments in the area, which would make it easier for the city of Ann Arbor to undertake mutual aid agreements with those departments. The new system would also reduce the use of fire trucks on medical emergency calls not involving fires, which would reduce the wear and tear on those trucks.

Outcome: The contract was approved unanimously.

Department of Justice Allocation

Jim Mogensen: During the public hearing on a Department of Justice grant, Mogensen noted that every year the Department of Justice appropriates grants. He encouraged councilmembers to ask the question, “So what strings are attached?” He observed that last year’s grants were used to purchase bicycles and shotguns. This year he said, it’s digital video recorders to be installed in patrol cars with the provision of up to 30-50 terabytes of storage. The grant also provided for mobile license plate readers, he said, at a cost of $20,000 apiece. He suggested reflection on the probability that all of this information would be collected, including face recognition software together with the driver license photos, so that one could imagine a protest taking place at the Federal Building and being able to identify people participating in the protest.

The Department of Justice grant was for  law enforcement policing equipment and technology for Ann Arbor police department’s Patrol Division. The $168,158 grant award requires no matching funds.

Senior Center Task Force

A resolution to establish a Senior Center Task Force was postponed, with councilmember Teall explaining that not all of the proposed task force members had been contacted. Higgins elicited the clarification from Teall that the appointment would be made by council as opposed to by the mayor.


Councilmember Taylor will be appointed to the Council Rules Committee, which was consistent with councilmember Briere’s report from the previous night’s caucus that some councilmembers are interested in exploring revisions to council rules to address, among other things, protocols for sending electronic mail.

Public Comment

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen spoke to councilmembers on the issue of electronic communications. He recalled an occasion on which the planning commission was conducting a work session and he was the only person in the audience. The planning commission had on that occasion received a presentation from an attorney in the city attorney’s office, and he said that they seemed to forget that he was still there in the room. He said that he learned all kinds of interesting things about ways people could use to get around the Freedom of Information Act. He suggested that some standards be put in place to address how electronic communications are used. He noted that physically there are rules about how documents can be submitted and when they can be submitted, and that  standards needed to be developed for electronic documents as well. One of the ways that was discussed for getting around FOIA with the idea of using the email address of an employer if that employer was a law firm. The law firm’s email address, he said, was thought to convey the idea that its communication was protected from FOIA due to attorney-client privilege.

Phelps Connell: Phelps introduced himself as a resident who lived adjacent to the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. He said that when they had bought their house he had been assured that the airport would not be expanded. He allowed that he enjoyed living next to the airport and that it was fun to watch. As an example, he cited the Goodyear blimp, which had been moored at the airport this past weekend, as well as the occasional B-17 bomber. He said that safety is the stated reason for needing the runway extension, but noted that the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport is one of the safest airports. An expansion of the runway, he said, would mean that larger, faster and heavier airplanes would be using it and would put those aircraft 950 feet closer to homes in the area.

Henry Herskovitz: Herskovitz brought with him a photograph of himself taken with Bassem Abu Rahmah four years ago in the city of Bi’lin in Palestine. He said that every Friday they would go in protest near the Israeli wall that goes through Bi’lin. He reported that rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound grenades had been shot at them. Herskovitz said he was saddened to report that two months ago his friend had been hit in the chest with a tear gas canister and killed. He noted that the teargas canister had been paid for by “me and you,” which is to say U.S. taxpayers. Herskovitz stated that he did not care about the emails that councilmembers sent back and forth while speakers were addressing the city council. What he cared about, he said, was the abdication of a previous city council’s responsibility to uphold the U.S. Constitution five and a half years ago, when it had condemned the demonstrations held weekly outside of Temple Beth Israel in Ann Arbor. He called on the current city council to rescind the resolution passed in 2004 that had condemned the demonstrations.

Ed Fontanive: During public commentary reserve time, Fontanive spoke in favor of zoning East Huron Street as a D2 area instead of a D1 area. He noted that across the street are two old churches and a behind the area lay the Old Fourth Ward. He said that a 60-foot-tall building could be built under D2 zoning, which would help it blend better with the rest of downtown.

John Floyd: Floyd noted that last summer, the day after the primary election, Hieftje had been quoted in the Ann Arbor News as being pleased that the candidates had the same “shared high-level vision” for the future of Ann Arbor. Floyd asked what that vision was. He noted that the occasion of consideration of a Downtown Plan as council was undertaking that evening meant that it was an appropriate time to find out what the shared high-level vision was. [Rummaging through the Ann Arbor News archives of the Ann Arbor District Library turned up the quote from Hieftje that Floyd likely meant, in an Aug. 6, 2008 article by Tom Gantert: "We have elected five council members with a big-picture vision of the future of Ann Arbor. They have the ability to work together to see it through."]

Thomas Partridge: Partridge noted the continued need to address the serious issue of discrimination in Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, in southeast Michigan, the entire state, and in fact the whole nation. He called on all elected bodies to address this problem with respect to housing, public transportation, healthcare, and education.

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

Absent: none.

Next Council Meeting: Monday, July 6, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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Planning Commission Draws Line Differently Thu, 21 May 2009 13:25:16 +0000 Dave Askins woman sitting at desk with projected image behind her of a map

Bonnie Bona, chair of the Ann Arbor planning commission, leads the commission through discussion of the 322 E. Kingsley property. On the map projected behind her, that's the light blue sliver to the east of the thick dashed line. The dashed line is the DDA boundary.

At its Tuesday meeting, Ann Arbor’s planning commission voted to adopt a downtown plan that was different in significant ways from the one they’d previously adopted just three months ago. A small D2 (interface) in the South University area has been carved out, when none previously existed on the planning commission’s map. And  a one-parcel-wide expansion of the D2 area has been undertaken to include a property owned by Zingerman’s Deli.

Why was the commission considering the changes? Since the plan’s previous adoption, the city council had undertaken revisions to the proposed city zoning ordinances that had rendered the downtown plan inconsistent with those ordinances.

While the city council has final say over the ordinances, the council and planning commission must agree on the adoption of the same downtown plan. [See previous Chronicle coverage of the commission-council relationship on this issue.]

The planning commission’s action taken Tuesday night does bring its adopted downtown plan closer to consistency with the city council’s proposal for Ann Arbor’s new downtown zoning, but a significant incompatibility in the South University area remains. Before planning commission met, the revised downtown plan was scheduled to be presented for action by council at its June 15, 2009 meeting, with consideration of the final vote on the zoning package on July 6, 2009.  Now that time frame could change, depending on the path taken by council. More on possible outcomes after the break.

Planning commission was working from an affirmative resolution to adopt a downtown plan – changed in ways recommended by city staff – that conformed to the zoning changes made by city council at its April 6, 2009 meeting. The “amendments” referenced in the staff report reflect differences between planning commission’s originally adopted downtown plan and the downtown plan as it would need to be changed in order to be consistent with council’s zoning.

Text Amendments

Planning commission did not deliberate on the text amendments to the downtown plan, which addressed the fact that the city council had introduced specific height limits as a part of its zoning package. But in relevant parts, planning commission’s downtown plan adopted Tuesday night now reads:

[page 28] Incorporate recommended land use and urban design objectives, including the  consideration of height limits, into overlay zoning districts for the review and approval of projects in the Core Areas.

[page 53] Properties in the Downtown Interface district should have a minimum height of two stories and a maximum height of up to 6 stories. Placement standards should  require a small amount of open space to be maintained and limit the building coverage to 70-80% of the lot. Additional building massing and setback  requirements for Downtown Interface properties should be set by the character  overlay districts.

Map Amendments

Revisions to two different maps were considered: (i) the future land use [core/interface], and (ii) base and overlay zoning map [D1/D2].  Three geographic areas were involved: East Huron Street, 322 E. Kingsley, and South University.

Huron Street: For Huron Street, only the zoning map was at issue. City council had split the East Huron character area into East Huron 1 and East Huron 2. For the East Huron 1 area, which is the north side of Huron Street between North Thayer and Division, the building height limit is proposed by council to be 150 feet. That contrasts with the rest of the D1 areas, which have a height limit of 180 feet. The key point is that the council left the zoning as D1 in both of the Huron Street character areas. Because D1 zoning translates as “core” for the future land use map, that map – which doesn’t reflect character areas – didn’t require revision. The base and overlay zoning map reflects character areas, and thus needed revision.

During the public hearing, some residents of Sloan Plaza and of One North Main weighed in for designation of that section of Huron Street as D2 – an interface zone that would limit the height of buildings to 60 feet. That would be a more dramatic height reduction than the East Huron 1 character district provides, which has a maximum of 150 feet – 30 feet reduced from the 180 foot maximum in other D1 areas. The planning commission spent little time deliberating on this particular issue, essentially agreeing with one representative of a property owner in the affected area, who spoke at the public hearing about the various compromises that had already been struck – no further compromise was required, he said.

South University: Both maps came into play for the South University area. During the public hearing, planning commissioners heard arguments on both sides that will have been familiar to them from the years-long process that’s now drawing to a close. On the one side: residential areas need a buffer, don’t make South U. a “dumping ground for density.” On the other side: increased density is essential for economic sustainability, and a D2 zoning, with its 60-foot height limits, would amount to a “taking” of property value.

We focus on the future land use map, because it’s visually a bit more accessible than the cross-hatching used by the city in the zoning map – the two maps mirror each other in a straightforward way. Although planning commission had originally proposed the entire South U. area as “core,” the city council revised the proposed zoning at its April 16, 2009 meeting so that there’s a D2 transition area on the southern portion that wraps upward along the eastern edge:

south university area of ann arbor core interface map

Excerpt from the Downtown Plan Future Land Use Map as it would need to be drawn to be consistent with city council's proposed zoning at its April 6, 2009 meeting. This map was extracted from city documents. The heavy dashed line is the DDA boundary.

The planning commission did not eliminate all of the transition area implied by council’s zoning proposal, leaving the southeast corner of it intact:

south university area of ann arbor core interface map

Excerpt from the Downtown Plan Future Land Use Map as it would be drawn by planning commission at its May 19, 2009 meeting. This depiction of planning commission's map was drawn by The Chronicle – any errors are ours. The heavy dashed line is the DDA boundary.

The vote was 5-2, with Bonnie Bona, Wendy Woods, Kirk Westphal, Tony Derezinski and Jean Carlberg voting for the re-introduction of the “core” designation for most of the area. Eric Mahler and Ethel Potts voted against that. [Evan Pratt and Craig Borum were absent.] Mahler said he found the claim of a “taking” to be “a little bit over the top,” and was concerned about designating areas as “core” that are outside the DDA area. On the prevailing side, Carlberg said that the area they were designating as “core” would be appropriate for high-density student developments.

322 E. Kingsley (Zingerman’s): At its April 16, 2009 meeting, city council changed the proposed zoning for the parcel at 322 E. Kingsley from R4C to D2. Zingerman’s Deli owns the parcel, located directly behind their operation at 422 Detroit St. Zingerman’s would like to incorporate the property (where there’s currently a fire-damaged building) into its operations, thereby removing some of the stress on its current buildings. Any rennovation to the 322 E. Kingsley property would be subject to review by the Historic District Commission, because it lies within the Old Fourth Ward historic district.

During the public hearing, the  planning commission heard from several speakers who objected to the assignment of the D2 designation to the property, on the grounds of  “fairness” and “favoritism” – everyone loves Zingerman’s, themselves included, they said. But that didn’t translate into changing the zoning, just because Zingerman’s asked for it.

They also heard from representatives of Zingmerman’s about why the D2 zoning was requested, as well as from a speaker who noted that he’d just witnessed two hours of “serious participation” by citizens who were engaged, and had been properly noticed, and concluded that the notion of fairness had not been violated.

The vote on the commission was 4-3 for following council’s lead in assigning D2 zoning to the parcel. Voting for the D2 designation were: Eric Mahler, Tony Derezinski, Jean Carlberg, and Wendy Woods. Voting against it were: Bonnie Bona, Kirk Westphal, and Ethel Potts. Mahler, responding to an argument made by Peter Pollack at the previous week’s work session, said that the option of pursuing a PUD for a particular project (as an alternative to having the D2 zoning) would, in his opinion, be difficult. For a PUD, Mahler said, a public benefit would have to be demonstrated – and from what he could tell, the kind of project Zingerman’s was contemplating would most likely be for Zingerman’s benefit.

Westphal did not cite “fairness” in voting against the D2 designation, but rather a respect for the long, extended process of community participation that had extended over a few years – none of which had included discussion of the 322 E. Kingsley parcel.

Next Steps: The potential area of conflict between city council and planning commission has been reduced to the South University area. If on June 15, 2009, city council is presented with the downtown plan that’s been newly adopted by planning commission, and it chooses to adopt that plan, it will still need to contemplate changing the zoning proposal it considers on July 6.

The current status of that zoning proposal is that it’s been approved on its first reading before council, with the reading on July 6 counting as the second and final reading. At that meeting, if  council changes the zoning ordinance to match the downtown plan’s maps in the South University area, then the question becomes: Is that change substantial enough to require that the ordinance be given another first reading?  That’s a question that will likely be put to assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald, who specializes in land use and planning matters.

If council declines to adopt planning commission’s newly-revised downtown plan at the June 15 meeting, then the document would cycle back to planning commission for reconsideration. It’s possible that the A2D2 oversight committee – Marcia Higgins (city council), Roger Hewitt (DDA), and Evan Pratt (planning commission) – would provide some coordination between the two bodies so that an endless ping-ponging of the downtown plan would not result.

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What’s Your Downtown Plan? Wed, 13 May 2009 19:14:47 +0000 Dave Askins At its work session Tuesday night, the city of Ann Arbor’s planning commission got a preview of a new floodplain zoning ordinance that Jerry Hancock has been working on with other staff. Hancock is the stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator for the city.

For over an hour, planning commissioners discussed the floodplain ordinance with Hancock before tackling the issue that could result in a near-term flood of communication between city council and planning commission: revisions to the downtown plan. At planning commission’s next meeting on May 19, 2009, commissioners will likely focus on possible revisions to that planning document.

At that May 19 meeting, planning commission will weigh the downtown plan it adopted on Feb. 19, 2009 against the changes that city council made to the commission’s recommended zoning package at council’s April 6, 2009 meeting. And based on the discussion at the commission’s Tuesday work session, it’s not a forgone conclusion that planning commission will revise the downtown plan to accommodate the council’s ordinance changes.

So what’s  the big deal, if the downtown plan doesn’t match up with the zoning ordinances? And why doesn’t the city council just amend the downtown plan the same way it amended the proposed zoning ordinances and just “overrule” the planning commission?  Otherwise put, why is that planning commission meeting on May 19 going to be worth watching on CTN’s Channel 16 starting at 7 p.m.?

What’s the big deal if the downtown plan doesn’t reflect changes in the proposed zoning ordinance? At Tuesday evening’s work session,  Wendy Rampson, with the city’s systems planning unit, put it this way: “Master plans should support the zoning.” It’s not an academic exercise, either. When confronted with a master planning document that’s inconsistent with a zoning ordinance, it’s not clear to  developers, or city planners, or councilmembers, which one ought to take precedence.

In the case at hand, the downtown plan and the zoning ordinance package sent to city council by the planning commission were consistent with each other. Changes undertaken to the zoning ordinance package by council made the downtown plan inconsistent in four possible places, which Rampson summarized in a memo to planning commissioners dated May 6, 2009. They’re related principally to two issues: (i) council’s inclusion of an absolute height limit in the core (D1) area of downtown, and (ii) council’s subdivision of the South University area into a core-interface (D1-D2) zone. The second of these “map issues” includes some other areas besides South University: the subdivision by council of the East Huron character area, and the designation as D2 of a specific property [322 E. Kingsley] outside the Downtown Development Authority boundaries.

From Rampson’s memo, the two revisions suggested with respect to the height limit are these [page numbers reference this .pdf file – the version of the downtown plan adopted by planning commission]:

1. Core Areas (page 28) Revise Action Strategy (4) to read: “Incorporate recommended land use and urban design objectives, [including height limits, into] as overlay zoning districts for the review and approval of projects in the Core Areas.”

3. Recommended Zoning Plan (page 52) Revise 1) Downtown Core District, Scale and Massing to read: “Properties in the Downtown Core district should have a minimum height of two stories [and a maximum height of between 14 - 18 stories]. Massing and height requirements for Downtown Core properties should be consistent with the proposed character overlay zoning districts …”

The bracketed material reflects additional language that Rampson has suggested would make the downtown plan consistent with council’s suggested ordinance changes. At the planning commission work session, there was lively discussion on the wording, with chair Bonnie Bona offering the suggestion that the phrase from (1) “including height limits” be changed to “considering height limits.”  Commissioner Eric Mahler offered (seemingly in lighthearted fashion) “including the consideration of height limits” as an alternative.

On the wording changes in (3) a consensus seemed to evolve that no reference to height limits was necessary at all. Rampson will draft the language that the commission will consider in its formal deliberations on May 19 – this was just a work session.

Unlike the wording changes, changes to the downtown plan’s maps seem less amenable to compromise solutions:

2. Downtown Planning Zones: Future Land Use Map (Figure 9 on page 30) Revise map to show proposed South University Interface area (see attached map) and 322 E. Kingsley, which Council proposed to be added to the Interface/D2 area.

4. Future Base and Overlay Zoning Plan (Figure 14 on page 55) Revise map to include the proposed South University Interface area, 322 E. Kingsley, and the proposed East Huron 1 and East Huron 2 character areas

As originally adopted by the planning commission, the South University portion of the future land use map looks like this:

map with green blob and blue blob designating futured land use in South University Area in Ann Arbor

Future land use map excerpt: South University Area as adopted by planning commission in February 2009.

And as originally adopted by the planning commission, the South University portion of the future base and overlay zoning map looks like this:

map with brown blob and red dotted line showing zoning base overlay for South University Area in Ann Arbor

Future base and overlay zoning map excerpt: South University Area as adopted by planning commission in February 2009.

But one of the significant changes made by city council to the zoning proposal was to allow for a D2 (or interface) area inside the South University area. The corresponding map looks something like this (only “something like” because the intent of council was to include the 601 S. Forest development in the D1 section, not the D2 area as shown, because otherwise that building would be non-conforming):

future zoning and overlay map

South University area zoning map reflecting changes city council made to the proposed zoning package at its April 6, 2009 meeting.

Both the future land use map and the future base and overlay zoning maps adopted as a part of planning commission’s downtown plan in February are inconsistent with the splitting of the South University area into core (D1) and interface (D2).

At Tuesday’s planning commission work session, commissioner Wendy Woods sought some clarity on what the role of planning commission now was – simply to make the downtown plan conform to council’s revisions? Rampson clarified that with respect to master plans, of which the downtown plan is a part, city council and planning commission have “equal authority.” State law mandates that master plans be adopted by both the planning commission and city council. That is, the typical pattern (with respect to site plans, for example) of planning commission making a recommendation and city council having the final say, does not apply here.

The current timeline for moving the downtown plan and the associated zoning package through to final adoption calls for planning commission to return the downtown plan for action by council at its June 15, 2009 meeting, with consideration of the final vote on the zoning package on July 6, 2009. That would allow the A2D2 oversight committee and city staff to focus on getting design guidelines – which are the final piece of the A2D2 project – done by September 2009.

One possibly scenario is that the downtown plan is repeatedly sent back and forth between planning commission and council with neither body changing its collective mind.

Rampson’s advice to planning commissioners, if they chose not to accommodate the downtown plan to city council’s revisions: “It would behoove you to all sit down in one room!”

If and when city council and planning commission conduct a joint session, it likely won’t be just the South University area that’s discussed. Another revision undertaken by council at its April 6 meeting could be a possible sticking point. That revision entailed the rezoning of 322 E. Kingsley, a property owned by the partners of Zingerman’s Deli, located behind the deli building. Council changed the proposed zoning to D2.

Grace Singleton, one of the managing partners of the deli, explained to the commission during the time allotted for public commentary at Tuesday’s work session, that the goal was to move the operations out of the deli building to the 322 E. Kingsley parcel. The deli building took quite a bit of wear and tear by housing those operations, she said. Speaking at the meeting in support of the rezoning for the Zingerman’s property was John Hilton, editor of The Ann Arbor Observer. Speaking against rezoning (but for the possibility that Zingerman’s could get what it needed through a PUD), was local architect Peter Pollack. Ray Detter, downtown resident and president of the downtown area citizens advisory council, agreed with Pollack.

The property at 322 E. Kingsley is currently zoned R4C. For residents interested in the possibility of a moratorium on construction in R4C areas, that’s another reason to watch the planning commission’s May 19, 2009 meeting on CTN’s Channel 16. At Tuesday’s work session, commissioner Evan Pratt indicated that the meeting would include introduction of language for a proposed recommendation to city council to impose a temporary moratorium in R4C areas.

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Ann Arbor Allocates Human Services Funding Wed, 22 Apr 2009 13:46:17 +0000 Dave Askins red ribbon closed loop

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) holds a red ribbon representing the general fund dollars in the Ann Arbor city budget. In the background are Mayor John Hieftje and Jim Mogensen, who gave a presentation during public commentary.

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (April 20, 2009): At its Monday night meeting, Ann Arbor city councilmembers approved around $1.3 million in human services funding (after a “red-ribbon” presentation during public commentary on that subject).

They also heard the 2008 annual report from the chair of the local development finance authority (who was closely questioned by councilmember Marcia Higgins), allowed Tios an early exit to its lease, accommodated the University of Michigan’s request for a lane closure in connection with the football stadium renovation, and rejected the planning commission’s adopted downtown plan (which was expected) – which bumps the final decision on A2D2 zoning to early July.

During public commentary, council again heard support for  public art, a critique of the proposed early-out option for police officers as a part of the proposed budget, a suggestion to remove the East Stadium bridge, as well as Jim Mogensen’s “red ribbon” presentation.

Roger Fraser also gave the official presentation of the city’s budget, which had been presented twice previously last week – at a working session and also at a town hall meeting.

Human Services Funding

Mogensen’s “red-ribbon” presentation has become somewhat of an annual event on the occasion of the allocation for human services funding. So that’s where we begin.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen began by displaying a bar chart indicating how much was spent on human services, the attorney’s office, and the finance office – all of which are bars short enough to fit onto the chart he was holding. With the assistance of Steve Bean, he then unrolled a red ribbon used to indicate the bar for the entire general fund – which ran around to his left past Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) – who helped to hold the red strand aloft – around the corner where city attorney Stephen Postema sits. Bean handed off to Mayor John Hieftje, who unfurled the ribbon along the Ward 1 through Ward 3 side of the table, where it was held up by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), then back to the speaker’s podium. The point of the red ribbon, Mogensen said, was to counter the notion that if “liberal Ann Arbor wouldn’t spend so much of the general fund money on human services, that everything would be all right.” He said the city actually outsourced human services funding – issuing RFPs and then not fully funding the RFPs. He asked that council members consider the impact of failure to fund human services on nonprofits and on the police and court system.  What might be cut out of human services, he said, would have to be put back in for police and court services.

Guy with bar chart with expanding bar unrolling red ribbon

Steve Bean begins unrolling the general fund ribbon for Jim Mogensen's bar chart.

Council deliberations: The resolution that was considered by council allocated roughly $1.3 million to fund various organizations providing human services. The issue was summarized by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) during deliberations as the tension between a giant pile of need versus a much smaller pile of cash.

The presentation on how the allocations were parsed out was made by Mary Jo Callan, director of community development, which is a collaborative venture between the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

Callan said there had been 63 applications for a total of $3.4 million – a number not met by the $1.3 million from the city plus around $400,000 from the Urban County. “You can do the math,” she said. Callan said that they’d set out clear criteria against which each application was scored (a 70-point total scale).

[The complete criteria, plus the scores assigned to various proposals, are included in this .PDF file. As an example, "community need" was one area to which scores were assigned. The 0-5 scale for the "community need" item, like the other scales, were defined with descriptors for each point on the scale. For example " ... 1=identifies needs aligned with priority area, but does not evaluate whether the need is currently being met in the community ... 4=proposal identifies needs aligned with priority area; similar services are available but inaccessible by the target population ... "]

Flow chart of funding process for human services

Flow chart of process for allocation of human services funds. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Callan explained that the idea was to “bolster what we have,” but there was also room in the process to include some new programs. New programs, however, had a ceiling of $10,000. Based on the scoring of proposals on the 70-point scale, the proposals were broken down into quartiles, with the funding levels based on those quartiles. The first quartile was assigned a 10% increase over 2008-09 levels. The second quartile was assigned unchanged funding from last year. The third quartile received a decrease of 15%, and the bottom quartile was assigned a 35% decrease until funds ran out. To be funded, a new program had to be among the top two quartiles.

The process elicited praise for its clarity and its objectivity from several councilmembers. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who has served on the housing and human services advisory board for three years, said that the intent behind the scoring metrics was to steer towards a mindset of a focus on services. The intent was also to encourage consolidation where  appropriate, Rapundalo said.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who’d submitted an emailed question beforehand on the topic, raised the question of whether there were any implications for the allocations – which come from the FY 2010 budget – given that they’re being made before the budget is adopted. Hohnke noted that the reason the allocations were coming in advance of the FY 2010 budget adoption was the need to meet a Housing and Urban Development application deadline. Callan clarified that the HUD deadline related to the Urban County portion of the funding. An application could be amended, she said. She said that city council and the Urban County were authorizing a “package deal” and that any changes would need to be authorized by both entities.

Callon clarified for Hohnke that the amount of the allocation was the same, but that the contingency amount was slightly different, because the contingency reflected the amount leftover after funding was allocated according to the algorithm.

guy with red ribbon streching across his foot

City attorney Stephen Postema's right foot kept the ribbon from dragging the floor at his corner of the table.

Taylor noted that he was disappointed to see some of the programs that had been left behind and not funded, mentioning specifically some in the Bryant neighborhood. Taylor was thus interested in knowing what kind of resources might exist to which they could appeal. Callan said that she was working with the Community Action Network (CAN) [which had proposed two different programs for the Bryant neighborhood that were not allocated any funds.]

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) inquired how federal stimulus package funds might factor into offsetting some of the gaps. Callan explained that the community development stimulus funds focused on housing and neighborhood revitalization – the kind of projects, she said, that Avalon Housing does. There’s no stimulus funds for services, she said.

Hieftje expressed concern that it was only going to get tougher next year and that to hold the human services funding level this year (as compared to last) was difficult. Callan said that the Urban County was a step in the right direction, as was the consolidation of processes – which the process on the table that evening reflected. That freed up staff time to focus on identifying the outcomes they wanted to see and to work with nonprofits to achieve those outcomes.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen also spoke at the time allotted at the end of the meeting for public commentary – in response to the nature of the council’s discussion, which had focused on the desirability of scoring metrics and objectivity, as well as the advantages of consolidation of nonprofits. He began by posing the question: “Why is consolidation not a good idea?” He drew analogy to all-in-one business machines that could copy, fax, print, email, but when they failed to function, then nothing at all worked. So he urged caution with respect to the idea of consolidating nonprofits. He also urged councilmembers to consider the unintended consequences of scoring metrics – the possibility that the highest-scoring organizations would up with geographic distributions that weren’t reflective of where people lived who were in need.

Outcome: The allocation was unanimously approved.


Richard King, chair of the local development finance authority, began his presentation by giving a quick history of the LDFA in Ann Arbor, which is responsible for overseeing the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone. The SmartZones were created in 2001 by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to help generate technology-based businesses and to promote job creation in the SmartZone areas.

Woman standing next to a man at a podium

At the podium is Elizabeth Parkinson, who is managing director for marketing and public relations at Ann Arbor SPARK, and Richard King, chair of the LDFA.

To create the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone, an application was made by the Washtenaw Development Council [which has since merged with Ann Arbor SPARK], together with the IT Zone to the MEDC. Because the SmartZone area covers the geographic regions of both the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Ypsilanti DDA, the two cities had to enter into a joint agreement in order to create it. The LDFA board was created in 2003, with six members appointed from Ann Arbor, and three from Ypsilanti, and one MEDC as an ex-officio member.

The LDFA, King continued, is responsible for spending the tax capture in the Ann Arbor portion of the district. He reported that currently this is the only source of revenue for the LDFA, because the tax capture for Ypsilanti had already been committed prior to the creation of the LDFA. King stressed that despite the lack of any funding derived from the geographic area, Ypsilanti participated actively in the SmartZone, and that grants and other funding sources were used to bring activity into that market.

King said that the main activities for the year were to establish the budget and to determine the scope of work for the contractor that the LDFA works with: Ann Arbor SPARK. [LDFA 2008 Annual Report] He said that they’d elected to make Ann Arbor a focus, because the primary funding came from Ann Arbor, and that the primary point of contact had been SPARK.

He described SPARK as having had a successful year. SPARK operated two boot camps for entrepreneurs who showed high potential for growth, and opened an “incubator” on Liberty Street that houses up to 12 businesses and can support a range of “virtual businesses.” There were five tenants that used the incubator, King said, and 17 total businesses engaged with the incubator, including virtual businesses. He reported that SPARK had also held several events for training and networking to add more focus to Ann Arbor, and to excite the congregation of businesses in Ann Arbor. A total of 50 events were held, he said, and hundreds of businesses came through Ann Arbor in conjunction with that.

The main expenditure, King said, was for “accelerator services” for companies that show high potential to grow rapidly if they’re provided with management assistance, help gaining capital from investors, and ways of developing partnerships with major companies. There were 270 companies that sought assistance from SPARK for these services in 2008. Due diligence (an in-depth look) was done on 148 of those, King reported. There were 98 companies that received accelerator services, which includes marketing and business planning.

In  a survey of companies at the end of the year that SPARK had worked with, they’d learned that 46 jobs had been generated in the course of 2008. Over the three years of history that had been tracked, King reported that around 650 jobs had been created through the SmartZone.

Next Tuesday, the meeting of the LDFA will be organized as a “retreat,” in which they will discuss in depth how the LDFA will approach the next few years of activity. In particular, King said, they felt there’d been an increase in the kinds of services offered beyond accelerator services, and that they could go to another level of support for activity in Ann Arbor. He said it was also important to think through the fact that other states had become more competitive in how they approached SmartZone-type economic development of technology businesses. After being at the front when SmartZones were first created, King said, the rest of the world was catching up.

King invited councilmembers to attend the retreat, which will start at 8 a.m. and run until early afternoon.

Questions on the LDFA: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) engaged King in an extended back-and-forth on a couple of different issues, some of which were clarificational, but others of which were more pointed.

In the clarification category, Higgins elicited from King examples of other states that were competitive in their accelerator services: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and California.

She also had King clarify that there was no LDFA-supported activity in the Ypsilanti portion of the SmartZone, because there is no funding stream.

Noting that the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone was contemplating supporting private investment groups with tax dollars, Higgins wanted to know whether other SmartZones used tax money in that way. King drew a distinction between administrative support and the use of tax money as an investment in the funds, the second of which  he said was not something the LDFA would do. He said that what was being considered was the use of tax dollars to help an angel group get started – getting a basic framework for operation established. Higgins said that she had real concerns about the use of tax dollars for either purpose. She noted that there were already local and regional venture capital firms that provided angel funding at different levels for appropriately vetted start-up companies. She wondered, therefore, why the city would be using tax dollars to do something that was already being done.

She also asked a general question about how the marketing budget is allocated. King responded by talking about the general effort to publicize the fact that Ann Arbor is a place with entrepreneurial activity. Higgins said she wanted more detail in light of the fact that council had authorized $50,000 for SPARK, which she understood to be for marketing and letting people know just now viable the Ann Arbor area was. [Council approved the $50,000 in August of 2007]. She had concerns, she said, if the LDFA was spending money on the same thing for which the city – through its general fund – was already providing marketing dollars. Higgins also said that comparing Ann Arbor’s contribution to other municipalities in the area, Ann Arbor paid higher fees.

Elizabeth Parkinson, who is managing director for marketing and public relations at SPARK, was on hand to provide some of the details. She described the $50,000 as going into the “core fund” – salary and overhead, which could be spent on advertising as well, because advertising comes from the core budget. The LDFA money, she said, could only be put towards business acceleration and business incubation, which is a very different thing. She reported that her total marketing budget for SPARK was $250,000. Higgins said that when the executive director of SPARK, Michael Finney, had made his presentation in August 2007, she’d understood that the money would be spent on the marketing piece, saying at the time the question was: “What does that $50,000 do for Ann Arbor?”

King said that everything SPARK did connected in some way to the marketing of the area, because the purpose of an economic development organization (like SPARK) was to market the area it represents.

Higgins concluded her questions by asking about the 650 jobs that had evolved over the course of SPARK’s history. “Would any of those jobs have evolved in the absence of LDFA funding?” King allowed that they would have – though perhaps not as quickly or in the same places.

Downtown Plan: When Are We Going to Vote?

The downtown plan as recently adopted by planning commission – which is a part of the A2D2 effort to update master plans and simplify zoning for the city –  came before council Monday night. The vote to reject adoption of the plan was unanimous –  a result that was expected based on amendments to the zoning proposal that council undertook at its April 6, 2009 meeting.

It’s not an option for council to amend the downtown plan and then adopt the amended plan, because state law requires that planning commission and council adopt the same master plan, of which the downtown plan is a part. In this respect, the downtown plan is different from the zoning package recommended by planning commission, which council amended at the zoning package’s first reading and can enact on its own.

Jayne Miller, director of community services for the city, explained that with council sending the downtown plan back to planning commission, that would give planning commission time to make needed revisions in May. It could then come back to council on June 15, 2009, in a form that would be consistent with the zoning amendments that council undertook. That would allow council to consider the final vote on the zoning package on July 6, 2009.

Outcome: Unanimous vote against adoption of the downtown plan.

Lanes, Bridges, and Speed Bumps

University of Michigan Stadium: Last year, Jim Kosteva, director of community relations for the University of Michigan, came before council to request a Main Street lane closure in connection with the football stadium renovation. At that time, councilmembers expressed their dissatisfaction that the university was pursuing a construction work schedule that imposed an undue burden of noise on the neighborhood, not having embraced the idea of voluntary compliance with the city’s noise ordinance. The request was not granted.

On Monday night, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) in whose ward the stadium sits, said that while the neighbors had still had to contend with dust from construction, they had not been subjected to continual late night noise, and she urged her colleagues to support the lane closure resolution.

From the memo from city staff supporting the closure:

In 2008, the University of Michigan began the construction of the West Arcade Wall at its Football Stadium on the east side of S. Main Street, north of Stadium Blvd. To date the construction project has continued without a long term traffic lane closure at S. Main Street. However in 2010, the contractors must complete the Wall which is 90 feet tall at its highest point.

To ensure the safety of the construction workers and the general public, the contractors have proposed a temporary traffic control plan for the construction phase from March 2010 through July 2010. The plan requires the temporary closure of the most easterly traffic lane at S. Main Street, from Snyder Ave to Keech Ave. The traffic control plan includes maintaining one southbound and two northbound traffic lanes on S. Main Street. The plan also includes an alternate route for the southbound traffic using Pauline Blvd, S. Seventh Street and Scio Church Road. We anticipate some use of the alternate route during afternoon rush hours in the weekdays.

In 2010, W. Stadium Blvd will be under construction. In anticipation of the proposed S. Main Street lane closure plan, we have scheduled the W. Stadium construction to include the work between the Pauline Blvd intersection and the S. Seventh intersection for the months of April 2010 through July 2010. After July 2010 and the restoration of all the traffic lanes on S. Main Street, the construction of W. Stadium Blvd at S. Seventh Street will begin.

In 2010, we could begin the construction of the two bridges at E. Stadium Blvd. This project may begin shortly before July 2010 or later in the summer of 2010. At this time, we do not anticipate any major conflicts between the proposed S. Main Street lane closure plan and the reconstruction of the two bridges at E. Stadium Blvd.

The plan includes provisions for the restoration of the traffic lanes at S. Main Street for the 2010 Ann Arbor Art Festival. All costs associated with the proposed traffic control plan will be the responsibility of the University of Michigan and its contractors.

Higgins made a successful motion to add a “whereas” clause to cover the eventuality that the East Stadium bridge would need to be closed prior to its reconstruction. The clause gives the city the option to rescind the lane closure under conditions where traffic patterns are dramatically changed. The East Stadium bridge is currently being monitored for its safety. If it were to be deemed unsafe, requiring its closure until its reconstruction, the clause would allow the city flexibility of opening the Main Street lane.

Outcome: Lane closure was unanimously approved.

During  public commentary, Arnold Goetzke addressed the East Stadium bridge situation.

Arnold Goetzke: Goetzke argued for a no-bridge option at the intersection of State and Stadium instead of continuing to invest millions of dollars in bridge construction and maintenance. He said that the making the rail crossing at-grade was reasonable, because there was not sufficient train traffic on the line to necessitate a bridge. He said that in his experience living in Burns Park for several years, he’d never had to stop for a train while driving through town.

Goetzke urged councilmembers to understand how many times trains use the tracks and when they use it before authorizing a bridge project. He said that Ann Arbor was building “a bridge to nowhere” and confirmed the allusion to the critique of a project in Alaska that drew public attention during the presidential campaign of 2008, by saying, “Where is Sarah Palin when you need her?”

In the comment thread on The Chronicle article to which we’ve linked above, there’s a discussion of the no-bridge option.

Iroquois Water Main: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked for a time frame and clarification of scope of work from city staff on the Stadium and Iroquois water main replacement project. It’s slated to begin May 18, 2009, and be finished in September, 2009. The traffic calming devices (a.k.a. speed bumps) on Iroquois – which were installed early in the city’s traffic calming program – will be replaced with a “less aggressive” version that is the current standard. Here’s a Google Street View of speed bumps on Iroquois.


Lease: At its Feb. 17, 2009 meeting, during public commentary, council heard from Tim and Harriet Seaver, owners of Tios Mexican Cafe, objecting to the city’s plans to demolish the building they leased. The city wants to use it for a surface parking. In July 2008, the city of Ann Arbor purchased the building at 333 E. Huron, where Tios Mexican Cafe is housed, for $605,000. The building sits on the same block as the Larcom Building (city hall). The lease to Tios was set to expire on June 30, 2009.

Council considered a resolution that amended the lease to end a month sooner, inorder to accommodate the Seavers’ plans to move to a new location at 401 E. Liberty, the former location of Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina. According to the lease, the monthly rent specified through March 31 was $2,475. From April 1, 2009 through May 31, 2009, the monthly rent is specified as $620.

Outcome: Council voted unanimously to approve the amendment to the lease.

Liquor: Council considered a resolution to withdraw approval of a Class C liquor license for the former tenant of Tios’ new space, Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina. The license is not tied to the address, but Tios could apply for it.

Outcome: Council voted unanimously to approve the withdrawal of the license.

Public Art

As they had at the previous council meeting, a number of public speakers addressed the issue of public art.

Bob Galardi: Galardi said that the Percent for Art program was a wise and forward-thinking investment in government facilities. With respect to the first public art to be funded through the program, he said that the ecological theme of the rain garden to be designed by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl was appropriate for Ann Arbor, which prides itself on being green. He suggested that years from now children of all ages could look at the project and learn about the combination of art and science. He envisioned that the rain garden could become a regular stop for visitors of the Hands On Museum. Although art was generally the “whipping boy” during tough economic times, Galardi said, public art enhances economic vitality – citing the enhanced walkability of the community as one example.

Mark Tucker: Tucker introduced himself as an art teacher in the University of Michigan Lloyd Hall Scholars Program and founder of the FestiFools event. He described FestiFools as not just an entertainment spectacle, but as a dialogue linking the creative process with the community in which artists live. He said that the Dreiseitl project that is proposed as a part of the new municipal center complex had already begun to engage the community in a stimulating dialogue. It was unfortunate, he said, that much of the dialogue got stuck on topics not related to artistic integrity, such as where the artist was from, or how much it cost. He said that the value of the investment could be found in the community discourse about the art that would continue long after the artwork had been unveiled. He suggested that outstanding public artwork acts as a magnet for the community and draws favorable attention to the community. He asked everyone to unite in supporting the public art program.

Tamara Real: Real introduced herself as the head of the Arts Alliance. She said that she used to run a program like the Percent for Art program in New Haven, Conn. There were about 350 communities in North America that had percent for art programs, she said, and that creative entrepreneurs could choose where they want to do their work. A sense of place is therefore important, she said. The Percent for Art program would allow Ann Arbor to compete on a level that it had not been able to previously. She said when she moved here from Connecticut 20 years ago, she was shocked that there was not a percent for art program in Ann Arbor.

Real stressed the importance of the potential economic impact of public art installations, citing examples in Chicago and New York, while allowing that Ann Arbor was not Chicago or New York. She said that art could generate controversy, but that it could lead to a wonderful community dialogue. Ann Arbor is a community that loves to talk about anything and everything, so let’s talk about art, she suggested.

Budget: Senior Center

City administrator Roger Fraser gave his official budget presentation to city council on Monday night, after previewing it at a working session and a town hall meeting. One of the items proposed in the plan for 2011 is the closing of the Ann Arbor senior center. Last week we asked for some clarification from city staff on the situation with the senior center by asking some specific questions. We were able to do some work on them independently, which we’ve already reported. Answers provided by Jayne Miller, community services director for the city, are consistent with that reporting and fill in many gaps. Our questions are in bold with answers in italics.

1. Is there a legal encumbrance on the property that would preclude using the property for something else? (If not, what would the city’s plan be if the center were closed?)

Answer: Parks and Recreation staff has looked through the historical files on both the Senior Center and Burns Park and have found nothing that suggests that the property can only be used as a Senior Center. A title search through the attorney’s office has yet to be conducted, but could shed further light on the matter.

2. What’s the status of the $100,000 gift from Mr. Flinn – is it being handled by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, or the city?

Answer: The $100,000 gift is kept by the city in a segregated endowed fund, and was received July 10, 2007. The current balance is $103,433 due to interest earned. The Senior Advisory Board (an advisory board to the Senior Center) is working on a recommendation on how to best use the gift. This recommendation would then be brought forward to the Park Advisory Commission and City Council.

3. What is the breakdown of expenses and revenues associated with the Senior Center that leads to the projected cost savings in closing the center? We’re assuming that there are some revenues (at least theoretically) inasmuch as some classes seem to charge a fee, and the city’s website indicates that there’s the possibility of renting the facility.

Answer: Expenses for FY 2008 were $171,059, revenues were $17,385 – net cost to the general fund was $153,674. Estimated expenses for FY 2009 are $193,968 while revenue is estimated at $31,950 – resulting in a net cost of $162,018 to the general fund. The proposed expenses for FY 2010 are $189,862 and the revenue is forecast at $38,180 – projecting a $151,682 cost to the general fund.

4. What’s the usage of the center annually – how many total people and how many that use it on a “regular basis”?

Answer: Approximately 12,000 to 15,000 visits are recorded annually at the Senior Center. Approximately 500 people use the center on a “regular basis.”

Budget: COPS Application

Council considered a resolution to apply for the 2009 COPS grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s office of community oriented policing.  City administrator Roger Fraser explained that the grant was designed to provide funding for up to four positions in the event that layoffs from the police force were required. Under the currently proposed budget for FY 2010, there are a number of layoffs possible, depending on how many officers opt for the early-out retirement that the city is offering.

When Fraser indicated that technically, the application had already been made, with council’s resolution representing an affirmation of support, Leigh Greden (Ward 3) suggested that city staff convey details of the grant application to Congressman John Dingell’s office. In that way Dingell’s office could track the application and issue a letter of support, Greden said.

Budget: Early Retirements

Also related to the early retirements offered in connection with the proposed FY 2010 budget were the remarks that Karen Sidney, a local accountant, delivered during public commentary.

Karen Sidney: Sidney began by noting that for the two fiscal years 2010-11, the proposed budget proposed cutting 41 positions in the police and fire departments. Instead of paying salary and benefits to these officers to protect us, she said, we’d be paying them pension and lifetime health care benefits for them to do nothing. “Paying people not to work is not a cost-cutting strategy,” she said, characterizing it as an “accounting gimmick.” While the salary savings was realized in the first year, she said, it took two years for the retirement bill to show up.

Sidney identified the problem as providing generous retirement health care benefits, without setting aside money to pay for them. She traced the problem back to 2005, when she said that a blue-ribbon retirement benefit committee appointed by the mayor had indicated that the retiree health benefit commitment was a looming problem. In the four years since the report, she said, the city had failed to implement its recommendations. [Among them were a change in the composition of the trustee board to a majority of independent trustees and the elimination of the city administrator as a trustee.] Sidney cited the recent resignation of a trustee board member over the failure of the city to act on the committee’s recommendation. [Robert Pollack, Jr. resigned in April 2008 and included the failure of the city to act on the committee's recommendation in the reasons for resigning that he gave in his resignation letter.]

Since 2005, Sidney continued, the shortfall in the retirement health care benefit fund has grown from $92 million to $157 million.

Later in the meeting, during the time allotted for communications from council, Mayor Hieftje called Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, to the podium in an effort to counter some of Sidney’s remarks. Crawford confirmed that the cost for the early retirements would be taken as a one-time payment from the city’s reserve fund.

Progressive Policies

Thomas Partridge addressed council during public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, during the public hearing on approval of the Zahn Medical Office Building site plan, and at the end of the meeting. He offered a “plea and a prayer” that city government, the county government, the state and the voters would all unite to work to bring about non-discriminatory fair housing, public transportation, and public education. He called for the elimination of regressive property taxes.

Partridge asked that whenever a site plan is approved that suitable corresponding acreage be identified and set aside for affordable housing.  To improve the lot of those in need of housing, health care and transportation, he said, initiatives comparable to the Manhattan Project were required.

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

Next Council Meeting: Monday, May 4, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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