Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Sept. 7, 2011): In the main business of its September meeting, the DDA board voted to renew a $500,000 grant previously awarded to Avalon Housing for its Near North affordable housing project on North Main Street. The project is planned to include 39 units of affordable housing on the site where eight now-vacant houses stand.
Russ Collins (left) shakes hands with former board member Gary Boren, who was recognized for his service at the DDA's Sept. 7, 2011 board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)
The Near North decision came over the objection of three board members, who expressed concern over unanswered questions about the project’s timeline. Avalon had also requested that the intent of the resolution be expressed in the form of a contractual agreement and that the period of the grant be two and a half years, instead of the maximum two years normally attached to DDA grants. The additional time is needed in order to cover a sufficient period to achieve LEED certification.
Representatives of the construction trades, who objected to the selection of the Grand Rapids-based Rockford Construction as the general contractor for the Near North project, as well as a resident spoke against the DDA’s grant award during the time allowed for public participation.
The three votes against the grant renewal came from Newcombe Clark, Roger Hewitt and Russ Collins. With the absence of board members Keith Orr and Bob Guenzel, the 12-member board still achieved the minimum seven votes it needed for approval of the grant.
Despite his absence from Wednesday’s meeting, Guenzel was voted as the new chair of the DDA board, filling a vacancy in that position left when the recently elected chair, Gary Boren, was not nominated for reappointment to the board when his term expired on July 31. Boren was on hand to accept a resolution of appreciation for his service on the board.
In connection to the officer election timing issue, Clark asked for a review of the board’s bylaws by the board’s executive committee. Clark has raised the issue during the July officer elections for the last two years. Because the mayor has been reticent about his intended appointments, DDA board members have elected their officers for the coming year without knowing if all board members with expiring terms will be reappointed. Clark asked that the bylaws possibly be changed so that board officers are elected after appointments are made, so that it’s clear who will be serving on the board.
In other business, the board unanimously passed a resolution of support for the RiverUp! program amid some discussion of the appropriateness of the resolution – in light of the fact that the Huron River does not flow through the DDA tax district.
The board also passed a resolution encouraging the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to enact an economic development tax on county residents. About half of the tax proceeds would go to Ann Arbor SPARK. The resolution came at the request of DDA board member Leah Gunn, who also serves on the Washtenaw County board. The Ann Arbor city council had previously passed a resolution encouraging the county board to enact the tax. The county board gave initial approval to the tax later that evening.
As part of the reports from various board committees, Roger Hewitt stressed that the parking rates and hours of enforcement discussed at the previous week’s operations committee meeting were merely the start of the discussion. The DDA is currently discussing what kind of proposal it will present to the city council at a November joint work session on parking. Under its new contract with the city to manage the public parking system, the DDA’s authority to set rates and hours of enforcement comes with specific requirements on public input.
The city council also has directed the DDA to explore alternate uses for some of the city-owned surface parking lots in the downtown. Board members got an update on the status of the DDA’s effort to plan how to implement that directive. [Full Story]